Florida attractions, Central Florida travel, Orlando, Kissimmee, South Florida, North Florida, beaches, hotels, vacation, tourist, maps
Welcome to our Central Florida Guide. Here you will find information for vacation planning on your magical gathering in Florida!Here you will find information on a wide range of subjects, all relating to vacationing in the WDW area.
It’s All About Timing
Besides seasonal considerations, certain days of the week are slower at the theme parks, usually Tuesday through Thursday. Arrive early to avoid crowds – timing your arrival can set the mood for the whole day.
Strategy-planning begins before you enter the gate. Study Web sites and maps to plot your priorities. Pre-purchase tickets if possible (multiple-day passes and Orlando Flex Tickets save time and money). Keep in mind that weather, crowds, ride availability and other factors can affect your plan, so be flexible. Do the most popular rides early in the morning, moving to the back of the park first. Use peak times in the early afternoon for eating, shopping and shows. Recharged, you’ll step out into the park ready for more thrilling fun. Ride lines often slack off toward late afternoon, so save the big attractions you missed in the morning for later.
Disney parks issue a FASTPASS outside some of the best rides (available to all guests at no extra charge). FASTPASS tickets set an appointed time for you to return to an attraction via special, shorter lines. Universal’s similar program is Universal Express (available at an additional charge; or free to guests at Universal Resort properties). Universal Express allows you to take the “express” line to some of the most popular rides, and does not require that you come at an appointed time.
If you’re willing to split up your group, opt for quicker Single Rider lines. Afterward, comparing the thrills of the ride with your family and friends is almost as much fun as the ride itself.
Mickey and friend at Disney's Magic Kingdom Walt Disney Company
Comfort & Safety
Wear comfortable shoes, sunscreen and quick-drying clothes. Consider dressing small kids in swimsuits underneath their clothes so they can enjoy the wet play areas. Rather than a purse, a small backpack is a good easy-carry option. If you love the “soak” attractions, bring towels and extra clothes, and rent a locker. Ask store clerks about the convenience of free package pickup or delivery at some theme parks. You’ll want to be unfettered as you enjoy the parks’ attractions.
The Family Way
Before entering the park, prepare your little ones. Explain that, just like in cartoons, most of what the theme parks have in store is not real. If you have children who tend to race ahead or wander off, pin information about the parents/guardians (and a cell phone number) to their clothing. As you enter the park, decide upon an easily identifiable landmark where you can meet should anyone in your family get separated or lost. If you do decide to split up, set up a meeting point that is easy to get to and has comfortable seating in the shade. Walkie-talkies seem to be a popular accessory for groups in the park (Space Mountain? Roger that. 10-4.).
Don’t try to do it all with young kids, or everyone ends up cranky. If you’re staying at a nearby hotel, take a mid-afternoon break from the park for a meal or swimming and return later. Don’t forget to get a hand stamp for free re-admission. A relaxed pace makes for a relaxed day.
Don’t push your kids when they’re reluctant or scared. At any age, most children can sense what experiences they will be comfortable with. Let them explore at their own pace. If this is their first time, everything is wonderfully new.
Best Beaches For...
With 1,100 miles of beaches, it’s no wonder Florida has one to suit every visitor.
Best Beach for Birding: Shell Key, St. Pete Beach
More than half of the 180-acre Shell Key is a bird sanctuary, but the beaches are accessible to human visitors. There are no buildings, no trash, no cars or telephone lines, just coconut palms, Australian pines, white sandy beaches lined with gentle, clear emerald surf and dunes topped with sea oat whiskers.
Best Tropical Beach: Bahia Honda State Park
In this paradise of a Models love South Beach Robin Hill park, palms wave in the breeze over pristine, sandy beaches. Widely considered to have the Keys’ best beaches, Bahia Honda Key is a sheer tropical heaven, with mild, clear water and more than one lush and cosy beach from which to choose.
Best Beach for Surfing: Sebastian Inlet State Park
Sebastian Inlet, south of Melbourne Beach, is the capital of East Coast surfing. The waves along this three-mile stretch of beach divided by the Sebastian River are consistent, hollow and fast. If any surf is breaking on the East Coast of Florida, it will be at Sebastian Inlet.
Best Beach for Feet: The Beaches of South Walton
If you plant your soles on the glistening sands of the beaches of South Walton County, you will instantly become a spoiled-rotten sand snob. The grains are so fine, so white that you’ll feel you are on packed sugar. The sand’s secret is that it’s almost pure quartz, washed down from the Appalachian Mountains over the years.
Best Beach for Treasure Hunting: Vero Beach
A Spanish fleet cracked open upon the reefs of Florida’s East Coast in 1715, spilling its treasure into the sea. Sea Grape Trail in Vero Beach has proved lucrative for treasure hunters combing its sands. Finding a gold doubloon is rare because they are often so encrusted by the sea that it’s hard to recognize them.
Best Beach to See a Millionaire: Palm Beach
Rent a Jaguar and drive to Palm Beach if you really want to see how “the Donald” lives. This 14-mile stretch has a well-deserved reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. But you don’t have to be a millionaire to tan beside one here, second home to the likes of the Kennedy clan.
Best Beach for Shelling: Sanibel Island
With more than 400 varieties of shells, Sanibel Island is so popular with shell seekers that it holds an annual three-day Sanibel Shell Fair and Show in the spring and has a name for the shell seeker’s posture: “The Sanibel Stoop.” Sanibel is equally respected for its beauty and the community’s commitment to preserving it.
Best Beach to Find Sharks Teeth: Venice Beach
Venice Beach is the spot for finding fossilized shark’s teeth from thousands of years ago. The beach concessionaire even rents out metal mesh scoops to aid in the process. Small teeth, the size of a Chihuahua’s, are easy to find while walking along the shoreline and larger teeth by snorkelling along a ridge just offshore.
Best Beach to Be Pampered: Ponte Vedra Beach
Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is one of the best places to find delicious spa treatments along a Florida beach. The resort sits on a beach lined with high dunes and towering palms. The roaring surf makes for exhilarating body surfing or a comforting bedtime song after a day of pampering.
Best Place to Feel Small: Canaveral National Seashore
The Canaveral National Seashore, 24 miles of undeveloped coast, is lined with dunes, beaches and a range of wildlife. It’s not unusual to see a blue heron on the seashore while a bald eagle soars over the shoulder-high marsh grasses. Bordering Kennedy Space Centre, the seashore may also allow you to glimpse an equally astounding flight.
Best Snorkelling Beach: Dry Tortugas
For colourful fish and living coral reefs, pack your snorkelling gear and head to the Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles west of Key West, reachable by ferry or seaplane, but well worth the trip. This cluster of seven islands, made of coral and sand, includes Garden Key, home to historic Fort Jefferson.
Best Beach for a Getaway: St. George Island
Seaside, view of the beach Visit Florida
A remote beach that comes with the comforts of Southern cooking, personal service, rocking chairs and a view of the Gulf, the St. George Inn is a quaint inn with double-decker verandas only minutes from what may be the most uninhabited beach in Florida, Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park.
Best Boardwalk Beach: Hollywood Beach Boardwalk
An Atlantic City-type boardwalk, the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk, just south of Fort Lauderdale, is a 2.5-mile-long, 27-foot-wide concrete promenade bordered by shops, hotels, game rooms, taverns and an outdoor amphitheater. Often live music competes with the surf. The beach is certified as "Blue Wave" for its outstanding cleanliness and safety.
Best Beach for Romance: Lovers Key
On Lovers Key, explore the mangrove wilds of the west coast Florida by kayak or foot in Lovers Key State Park. Lounge beside a waterfall in a lagoon-style pool at the Lovers Key Beach Club & Resort, a posh all-suite resort. At sunset, dine overlooking Estero Bay. Soak in the spa tub-for-two in your suite.
Best Beach to Watch a Sunset: Naples Municipal Beach & Fishing Pier
Naples Municipal Beach & Fishing Pier (built in 1888 as a freight and passenger dock) shines as an all-time sunset favorite. When the sun begins to set low on the western horizon, beachgoers, fisherman, locals and tourists fill the narrow pier in anticipation of the daily show as the sun melts into the Gulf.
Best Beach for a Drive: Daytona Beach
You can watch surfers catch a wave as you drive along the sands of Daytona Beach. The 18-mile stretch of firm sand along Daytona Beach is one of the few remaining beaches in Florida where cars are still allowed. For $5, cruise it all day, but don’t floor it: The speed limit is 10 mph.
Best Beach to Loaf: New Smyrna Beach
New Smyrna Beach is a laid-back beach town, where Orlando co-ed's come for sun, and top surfers come for waves. There are no high-rises along the beach, only low-rise motels and condos giving it a comforting feel. These 13.2 miles of beach is so relaxed even the currents are laid back here.
Best Beach for a History Lesson: Fort Pickens
At Fort Pickens, brick archways and fortifications topped with cannons, a piece of American history, hug the white sand and aquamarine waters the Gulf of Mexico. This massive fort has protected America from the early 1800s until after WWII. During the Civil War, Union soldiers occupied the fort to prevent Confederate shipments into Pensacola.
Best Beach for Paws: Fort De Soto Park
Fort De Soto Park is a canine paradise – beaches are undeveloped, except for a former fort that can be explored by paws (as long as Rover is leashed), dogs can roam freely along a prime stretch of beach near the park's pier. There's also an adjacent fenced field complete with dog facilities – fire hydrants and garden hoses with spray nozzles.
Best Beach to Giddy Up: Amelia Island
On Amelia Island, fulfil that fantasy of riding along the beach, with your windswept hair tickling your face as your horse leaves hoof prints in the sand. At Kelly Seahorse Ranch, experienced riders can canter their steeds along the waves, and actually go into the surf with their horses. These are freedoms most stables won't allow.
Best Beach for Kids: Siesta Public Beach
When it comes to family beach spots, nothing tops Siesta Public Beach in Sarasota – gradual slopes, shallow waters, lifeguards, a playground, gentle waves, fine white sand and translucent waters. It continually makes several of America’s Top 10 lists of best beaches based on sand, water quality and facilities.
Best Beach to See and Be Seen: South Beach
If you enjoy a beach scene, go to South Beach, and look in any direction. Lounge on the beach among serious sunbathers in European-style swimsuits who are as likely to chat in French or German as in English. Watch shirtless guys prove themselves on the sand volleyball courts. On the other side of Ocean Drive there are pastel Art Deco buildings house sidewalk cafes, trendy nightclubs, posh shops and groovy hotels.
If you live in the USA you will already be familiar with most of the names of these businesses and how the system works, be patient with us as we try to explain them all to our international visitors.
One of the more popular categories of restaurants, this section will give you an overview of those that cater to family dining.Family Restaurant definition - Basically, a restaurant that is 'kid' friendly. Catering for the family group as a whole. Usually a very relaxed atmosphere with no specific dress code, other than you having some, at least!
Kids are usually allowed & encouraged to 'do their own thing' as long as you keep them under some sort of control. They will usually have a special menu for the younger party members with some inclusive deals.Among some of the favorites are the Ponderosa Steak Houses and Golden Corral Restaurants both offer a reasonably priced buffet. More information on these restaurants can be found under our Buffet sub-grouping
There are also Denny's Restaurants, Perkins Restaurants and Shoney's Family Restaurants among others throughout the area. Some hotels also have a major franchise restaurant 'on-site'. We know of at least one that has a Shoney's as part of their Amenity Package.
No matter where you stay in the area, you'll always find a restaurant of this type nearby.For some good old 'Country Style Cooking', two restaurants come to mind, Bob Evans and the Cracker Barrel Country Store. Both are well known for their Southern Hospitality and the quality of their offerings.
One of the area restaurants sometimes overlooked is the Morrison's Cafeteria, located in the Osceola Square Mall. This is a restaurant that is definitely worthy of your attention. The selections are usually first-class and are relatively reasonably priced.
Yet another family favorite of the area is the International House of Pancakes, commonly referred to as IHOP. But don't let the name fool you, though they may specialize in pancakes and related items, they also serve up a pretty good selection of American favorites for both lunch and dinner.
In a similar situation are the area Waffle House Restaurants. Though the name implies their specialty, they do offer other American favorites. The atmosphere here is a little less cozy than some of its counterparts, as its environment is more suited to the traditional 'diners' of the past. But if you're on a tight budget, it may be a place that you'll want to explore.
For those who remember the USA of the 50's - 70's HoJos' is now known by it's family name of Howard Johnson's.
First, let's mention that most restaurants that are clearly Steak are also some of the finest Seafood establishments. On this page we will concentrate on Restaurants that advertise themselves as Steak...
Steak Restaurant Definition - Specializing in or seeing the sale of Steak based meals as the primary business of the restaurant. Offering a selection of cuts cooked to order, to you personal preference.There are a variety of different types of Steak Restaurants - The more traditional Steak House will be based on the a la carte' format while many of the Buffet style will offer 'all you can eat' menus.
Many of these restaurants will offer a variety of meal choices, which may include a separate buffet offering an assortment of family style entree, including several variations specific to breakfast, lunch and dinner. All will offer steak as one of the main entree during the afternoon and evening hours.The more traditional steak houses in the area include: Cattleman's Steakhouse, Kissimmee Steakhouse, Kobe Japanese Steakhouse, Longhorn Steakhouse and the Outback Steakhouse.Reservations are recommended.
Among the national chain restaurants that offer steak as part of their specialty are - Black Angus Restaurants, Ponderosa Steakhouses, Sizzler Restaurants and Western Sizzling Steakhouses.
All offer a buffet in addition to an individual selection of various steak cuts. The 'steak' in your meal will not be part of the buffet, it has to be ordered separately as an Entree?and it's purchase will usually include access to the buffet...
Quality and selection may vary, as they are not as specialized as the more traditional steakhouses.
With their family-type dining environments, these restaurants will generally offer a breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet. For this reason, more information on these types of restaurants will be found in our Buffet section.
If your looking for a really good steak, you would be well advised to keep with the traditional Steak Houses.
Though there are many Steak and Seafood restaurants throughout the area, in this section we will attempt just to focus on those restaurants that specialize in the Seafood side. This restaurant type is more likely to be privately owned than part of a national chain. The quality of service is often very high...As you travel around the Orlando area you will probably see the roving landmark of the Boston Lobster Feasts - 'Larry' the Lobster, a 12-foot caricature who sits atop a Volkswagen Beetle and roams the tourist corridors. One of the few restaurants that specialize in 'Maine Lobsters', the Boston Lobster Feast is actually a wholesaler to many of the area restaurants.
Naturally there are other restaurants including Red Lobster - always an American favorite. For something a little a more local there's Shells Seafood Restaurants, which operates a chain of restaurants from Daytona Beach all the way to both the WestCoast of Florida and on the east side of Miami.
Nearby you can also find Calico Jack's Oyster Bar and Seafood Restaurant, which is located in the La Ramada Plaza.
A hidden treasure in Kissimmee and housed in an unassuming location is Pounders Fresh Fish and Lobster House, just off of West Vine Street on Central Avenue - Over 10,000 lobsters can be viewed here, which all adds to the dining experience.
A little further east, and just down the road in the quaint community of St. Cloud you can find some additional favorites. Among these is a local gem called Evelyn's New England Seafood Restaurant, which features a décor to match their name not to mention great food at prices you can afford.
A personal favorite of our American editor, this place is so good - we will give it a recommendation. Evelyn's can be found as you enter St. Cloud. Look for the Checkers restaurant on the left, and the restaurant will be found approximately ½ block off the highway, on the opposite side.
For another local landmark, there's also the Catfish Place Seafood Restaurant, which specializes in fresh caught catfish from Lake Okeechobee - Florida's largest lake (and the third largest in the USA). In addition to this, you'll also find local game specialties that include frogs legs, gator, turtle and fried lobster. All of which are part of their southern-style selections.We must mention the Sea Queen Restaurant as you near the outskirts of St Cloud, as this restaurant has long been another area favorite of the local residents.
Bar & Grill Restaurants
There are Sports Pubs, British Pubs and the traditional American Bar & Grills to choose from in the area, we'll try to cover just a few of the tourist related ones in this section.
Some are a little more specialized on the beverage side while offering food such as Buffalo wings, fish n' chips, light sandwiches or an assortment of appetizers.
Others may provide you with a wide variety of appetizers and entrées.
Many are local favorites such as Chili's Bar & Grill and TGI Friday's. Of special note is the Roadhouse Grill, which provides you with free peanuts that you simply shell and throw on the floor (Why not, your on vacation). To say the least, it does provide a unique experience!
For British Pubs, there are several - London Bridge Tavern, Scottish Corner Pub and Harry Ramsbottom's, located in Liberty Village just east of Polynesian Blvd on US192.For our American viewers, here's a good opportunity for you to try some authentic British Fish N' Chips.
Sports Pubs are dotted throughout the area, most are found either on West Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy. or in the West Vine Street area.
They specialize in bringing televised sporting events to their patrons and will also act as hosts to the area darts competitions. They play an important role in providing a celebratory meeting place following an Area Sporting Event.Area bowling alleys could also provide you with a similar location.
For a truly unique environment, you might just want to stop in at the 'Big Bamboo Lounge', just east of Hwy. 535 on the north side of 192.This area landmark was one of the few businesses that was located on US192 prior to Disney's introduction to the area and the commercial development that followed it. This lounge has truly stood the test of time and it still remains a novelty among the businesses of the area. They don't serve food but you can bring a 'Carry Out' with you...
Buffet Diners defined - Many restaurants will choose to advertise a buffet as an 'all-you-can-eat' experience, while others may call it an 'all-you-care-to-eat' experience, which sometimes takes on the same meaning and sometimes not.
Some of the other area restaurants will ride on this popularity by advertising an 'all-you care-to-eat' entrée
They are all just trying to say the same thing using slightly different words. They are simply referring to a very hearty meal.
We thought we knew at one time which one was which but lately, we're not sure! It can be quite confusing, so the best thing to do is to ask.
Generally, if a restaurant is advertising a buffet, it usually means an 'all-you-can-eat' menu, which may vary from a few main entrées to an unlimited selection. The actual Buffet will be a bar, or series of bars, where you can choose from the traditional trimmings - potatoes, breads, salads, a selection of specialties (Mexican, Italian etc.) and fruits as well as unlimited beverages. Oh yes, don't forget desserts.Though their prices can be quite enticing, please keep in mind that the quality of the food and the experience can vary greatly from location to location, even within the same chain.Just to confuse the situation even more, many restaurants will also offer either a 'one-plate' selection from the salad bar or an 'all-you-can-eat experience', which becomes a meal in itself.
This is one of our American editors favorites. Healthy, and one of the better values available to you -
Restaurants that offer this are numerous but the salad bar at many Pizza Hut Restaurants is well worth a visit...Probably the best known of the area buffets are the Ponderosa Steakhouse and Golden Corral Restaurants but there are many more to choose from. We are attempting to put together a comprehensive list of them all.
There are a lot of Chinese Buffets, probably the former location of Splendid China is helping in this. There's China Pearl, Dynasty Buffet, Emperor's Wok and the Pagoda Restaurant. Further East there is the Regent Chinese Restaurant, located at the east end of Irlo Bronson Memorial just before the Florida Turnpike, on the south side of the road. See our Ethnic section for a more detailed view...
For a more American choice, you can consider the Las Vegas Buffet. Though a little more expensive, the variety that's offered here is a sight to behold!
Additionally, restaurants such as Boston Lobster will also offer the 'all-you-can-eat' experience. In this particular example, lobsters and seafood in general.Breakfast - All You Can Eat.
Can't forget the first meal of the day...
You will find even more places that serve unlimited breakfast than the major locations e.g. Ponderosa & Golden Corral. Many hotels and larger motels will have an 'all you can eat breakfast' that is open to none residents.
Use them wisely -
Eat well here and skip lunch at the theme parks to save money! Usually! Kids under 10 eat free with a paying adult. Watch out for seasonal specials.There's much more waiting to be discovered in the area. These are only a few examples.
This section will try to encompass the many, many pizza joints and pizzerias of the area.A fiercely competitive segment of the restaurant sector, most offer free delivery to your home or hotel. Though these businesses may provide a delivery service, it is important for you to know that it is customary in the US to tip the driver a least 20% of the total purchase.
Many places will also offer a barrage of weekly specials and coupon offerings, which can be found in the myriad of coupon booklets for the area. We hope that in time, we will also be able to list a few of these offers here ...Most of the areas pizza restaurants will generally specialize in either take-out or delivery service with very few of these offering sit-down facilities
However, an exception to this would be the Pizza Hut Restaurants as well as some of the other larger pizzerias.
One to offer a full service is the Pizzeria Uno Chicago Bar & Grill Restaurant serving a full menu of other items such as steak, chicken, fish and 'baby back' pork ribs, which they claim in their advertisements "just fall off the bones". Ummm….
Pizzeria Uno is located just west of the junction of Polynesian Blvd, but there are also several others to choose from with names like Guiseppes's Italian Restaurant & Pizza, Mickey's Pizzeria and Romano's Pizzeria.
Of the more traditional take-out and delivery service restaurants (no sit-down service available), are the Godfather's Pizza, Flippers Pizza and Hungry Howies Pizza shops. More dominant of these (at least judging by the number of their locations) are the many Dominos & Papa Johns Pizza that dot the 192.
There always seems to be one of these close by, regardless of where you are staying.
Fast Food Restaurants
When it comes to fast food choices, you certainly have a lot to choose from in the USA. No different when it comes to the US Hwy 192 area.
In this section we'll try to give you an overview of the selections available.Most predominant in this section will be the many Hamburger restaurants, which will include all the famous names- McDonald's, Wendy's Restaurants, and Burger King. Plus our local 'Checkers'.
Although mostly known for their burgers these restaurants generally do offer an additional selection such as chicken or fish sandwiches - some even offer salads and other specialty items.
A few even offer breakfast, such as McDonald's and Burger King.
Most will always offer a daily special which may include 2 sandwiches for $2.00 or just a $.99 special on one of their featured items. Though the offers may change from time to time, the concept does not. If you're looking for Seafood specialties, Long John Silvers is the place to go. You'll find them located on West Vine Street just west of Hwy 441.
When it comes to Chicken specialties, there are two area favorites that take the top honors, Popeye's Fried Chicken and KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken).
Popeye's Fried Chicken can be found only on West Vine Street, whereas KFC outlets can be found throughout the area.For a little more taste that's south of the border, try the Mexican specialties of the Taco Bell restaurants. These can also be found along US Hwy 192.
Foods from many parts of the world are showcased in the Kissimmee area. We'll try to list a few of these here.
There are many Chinese Restaurants in the area.
Some offer buffets, some offer delivery and take-out service, but all offer an oriental environment to please any palate. Egg Rolls, Won Ton Soup; Chicken, Pork & Beef Chow Mein and Fried Rice Dishes to name but a few.
You'll find names such as the China Pearl Restaurant, Emperor's Wok, Regency Chinese Restaurant, Taste of China and Twin Dragons Restaurant.
Several come to mind-
Probably the largest of these is the Olive Garden Restaurant, a popular local favorite.
There's also Carrabba's Italian Grill at Formosa Gardens.
Antonio's at Celebration, also known as the Café D'Antonio, is on Front Street overlooking the lake.
For a local family owned and operated restaurant, you may want to try Francisco's at the junction of Hwy. 535 or Pacino's Italian Ristorante, located directly across from Old Town...
There are many more to choose from. We'll try to list them all here in time.
There's the Kobe Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar located near Interstate 4 and Parkway Blvd, the Take Japanese Restaurant located at Maingate West or the Yoji Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar located approximately 1-mile east of Hwy. 535.
Other restaurants for this section include - Middle Eastern, West Indian and East Indian Restaurants.
We will include them all here in the fullness of time...
Travelling With Kids
Having travelled with kids, here are just a few tips we found made our holiday that little more relaxing.Before you go, buy some Disney Dollars from the Disney Stores and keep giving them as their pocket money – this way they have some money to spend on that huge cuddly toy that every child has on the plane trip home.Disney caters for everything for children, there are Baby Services – private rooms with seating and low lighting for nursing mothers, feeding rooms with highchairs, bibs, plastic spoons and nappy changing rooms. Baby-care products such as disposable nappies, pull-on rubber pants, formula and teethers are for sale - remember these will be US milk and “diapers” so whilst great for an emergency, obviously have your own supply.They even have nappy changing areas in the men’s room so no excuses for Dads!In-park stroller rental ($6 a day plus $1 refundable deposit) makes travelling through the theme parks easy so no need to worry about taking your buggy, although you will have to carry your child from the car park.Take a swimsuit and possibly a change of clothes for the kids to the parks, kids will love playing on Donald's Boat & in the water fountains around all the parks, & will inevitably get very wet! "Kid Switch" policy gives both Mom and Dad a chance to enjoy the latest attractions without the wait. Here's how it works. One parent waits in line with a small child while the other parent rides the attraction. The first parent returns to the loading area and takes the child while the second parent rides. Make sure your child knows what to do if he/she gets lost - tell them that cast members wear name badges & to go to one of them immediately if he/she gets lost; or for older kids arrange a place to meet if they get lost. Introduce them to one of the Cast Members, they are always happy to chat to the kids to make them feel at ease and tell them to come straight to someone who wears the same uniform as them. If your child has pockets put their name on a piece of paper just in case. Disney does has special name tags for very young children. Guests can get them at - City Hall or Baby Care Center (Magic Kingdom); Guest Relations or Baby Care Center (Epcot); Guest Relations (MGM & Animal Kingdom).If you do lose your child, report to Guest Relations/City Hall, Baby Care Center, or tell a Cast Member. Character Meals are great for youngsters – make sure they eat all their food otherwise the characters won’t visit with them!!!! Works wonders for those fussy eaters.If your son hates having his haircut, wait until your holiday and take them to Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street, Magic Kingdom.Be prepared for the Florida sunshine. Bring extra sunscreen, a hat, umbrella, plus a jacket/cardigan for chilly, air-conditioned theatres. Buy an autograph book for your child to get character's autographs and a big pen for the characters to hold – there hands are too large for small pens and always have the autograph books open ready to save time for everyone.Try to get your child used to the different characters before you get there by watching Disney movies. Explain that the characters will be bigger than them & there's no need to be scared. If your child does get scared when meeting a character, don't force them into it just because you want a picture of them with Mickey Mouse! So many parents seem to push their kids up the characters when it is obvious they are terrified – don’t worry, they do grow out of this practically the next year. Kids under 3 are admitted to the parks for free. Kids over the age of 9 are considered adults in Disney's eyes, & so have to pay adult rates for tickets & passes.And don’t forget when they get tired, take them back to the villa for a nap and return later.
Magic Kingdom Overview The Magic Kingdom theme park -- Disney's first theme park in Florida -- has seven themed lands featuring attractions built around wonder, fantasy and fun. It also features food locations and merchandise locations. History The Magic Kingdom Park opened Oct. 1, 1971, and soon after was dedicated on Oct. 25. Many celebrities were on hand for the festivities, as well as Walt Disney's entire family. Arthur Fiedler conducted the World Symphony Orchestra at the base of Cinderella Castle. Roy O. Disney stood with Mickey Mouse in Town Square and read the dedication plaque. The park opened with six themed lands: Main Street, U.S.A.; Adventureland; Frontierland; Liberty Square, a land originally planned for Disneyland; Fantasyland; and Tomorrowland. (Mickey's Birthdayland was created in 1988 to honor Mickey Mouse's 60th birthday, and eventually changed its name to Mickey's Starland in 1990. In 1996, the land changed again to Mickey's Toontown Fair.) Eventually, all the lands came together with their own unique themes. Ordinary buildings were cloaked with intricately designed exteriors and interiors. Details were installed and the final coats of paint were put on. Imagineers used an architectural trick called "forced perspective" to make buildings look taller than they actually are. They shrunk windows, balconies and even furniture on the second floors and shrunk any third floors even further to achieve the illusion of tall buildings climbing far into the sky. To complete the feeling of being in a three-dimensional movie, background music was created for each particular land, as if it was part of any film's soundtrack. In the end, it took more than 9,000 workers to build the world's most famous vacation resort. Location The Magic Kingdom park occupies 107 acres. It is located off Interstate 4 on Walt Disney World Resort property, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., approximately 22 miles southwest of Orlando. Dining & Merchandise Food locations are situated throughout the Magic Kingdom park, with character dining opportunities located at The Crystal Palace at Main Street, U.S.A.; Liberty Tree Tavern at Liberty Square; and Cinderella's Royal Table at Fantasyland. Priority seating for full-service restaurants can be made at City Hall on the day of visit or in advance by calling 407/WDW-DINE. Merchandise locations offer quality items from clothing to collectibles.
Major Attractions Walt Disney World Railroad (1971): A grand circle-tour of the Magic Kingdom park aboard an authentic steam train. Mad Tea Party, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Snow White's Scary Adventure and Peter Pan's Flight (all 1971): Attractions inspired by animated Disney film classics. It's a Small World (1971): Hundreds of doll-like figures sing and dance in their native costumes. Jungle Cruise (1971): Board from a last-outpost river landing to observe curious gorillas, playful Indian elephants in their daily bath and frolicking hippos created in life-like realism by Disney artists. Country Bear Jamboree (1971): The zaniest troupe of singing bears ever assembled celebrate old-time music with a foot-stompin' beat. Hall of Presidents (1971): The most impressive moments in American history are presented in life-like realism with all of the nation's chief executives on a single stage through the three-dimensional magic of Audio Animatronics. Diamond Horseshoe Saloon Revue (1971): Where dance-hall ladies and elegant gents sing and dance. The Haunted Mansion (1971): The liveliest collection of ghosts ever assembled for all to see as they travel through ancient rooms. Pirates of the Caribbean 1973): Aboard buccaneer launches, adventurers travel through mysterious grottos, then plunge down a waterfall and into the midst of a pirate battle for control of a harbor town. Tom Sawyer Island (1973): Log rafts take guests across the river where Injun Joe's Cave, the Magnetic Mystery Mine and old Fort Sam Clemens await exploration. Space Mountain (1975): Action, speed and perpetual motion await as guests "blast off" into night skies for a twisting, diving "return-to-earth" aboard miniature space shuttles. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (1980): A wild ride on a runaway mine train. Splash Mountain (1992): A log-flume ride with one of the world's longest flume drops -- a five-story, 47-degree descent reaching speeds of nearly 40 mph. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (1995): A mysterious corporation from a distant planet, X-S Tech, displays a new teletransportation device that brings the audience face-to-face with an alien. The Timekeeper (1995): A hysterical blast through time in a Circle-Vision 360 format. The Barnstormer (1996): A kid-sized roller coaster zips and zooms through Goofy's Wiseacre Farm in crop-dusting biplanes. Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (1998): Board your star cruiser, grab hold of your laser cannon and help Buzz defend the universe from the Evil Emperor Zurg. The Enchanted Tiki Birds-Under New Management (1998): Hollywood featherweights Iago, from Disney's animated feature "Aladdin," and Zazu, from "The Lion King," have become the new landlords of this classic attraction, creating a witty, upbeat show filled with old and new choreographed musical numbers. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1999): The whole gang's here, joining guests on a journey into the Hundred Acre Wood. The Magic Carpets of Aladdin (2001): Genies, flying carpets, magic lamps and Middle East mystique inspires this new attraction. Entertainment & Shows Daily entertainment in every "land" includes: "Share a Dream Come True" parade celebrating Disney's 100 Year
"Cinderella's Surprise Celebration," a singing and mingling "party" at Cinderella Castle featuring more than 20 Disney characters.
"SpectroMagic" nighttime parade with spectacular lighting effects.
"Fantasy in the Sky" fireworks presented nightly above Cinderella Castle.
The Dapper Dans barbershop quartet on Main Street, U.S.A.
The Pedaling Piano Bike -- a piano that can be played anywhere you can pedal a bicycle to!
Character greetings at Mickey's Toontown Fair and throughout the park.
Themed holiday entertainment.
High school bands, dance and musical groups from throughout the world.
The idea for a park based on favorite movie themes originated with Walt Disney more than 40 years ago when “backlot tours” were limited to a privileged few. He first considered a park on his own backlot, then looked across the river from the Disney Studios in Burbank on land adjacent to Griffith Park. Lack of enough land combined with potential traffic problems caused him to look elsewhere; namely, Anaheim. The result was Disneyland. In the mid '80s, a greatly expanded production schedule for the Walt Disney Company demanded more facilities. Rather than buy expensive land in California, the company realized it had plenty of land in Florida and the opportunity to combine its new production facilities with a chance for Walt Disney World guests to see behind the scenes of movie and television production.
One mile southwest of Epcot on Walt Disney World Resort property, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., approximately 22 miles southwest of Orlando.
Theme park, 5,100; Production and animation, 400 plus additional technical support as required by individual producers’ needs.
“Who Wants To Be A Millionaire – Play It!” : The thrill and excitement of the hit ABC-TV game show plays out every day in an all-new attraction. All guests get to play for points with a chance to win exclusive “Play It!” merchandise.
“Fantastic!” : Another dream comes true at Walt Disney World Resort, only this time it’s Mickey Mouse’s dream that comes to life in a brilliant display of lights, lasers, fireworks and water animation.
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith : A “super-stretch limo” catapults guests through a series of unexpected twists and turns. Five specially recorded Aerosmith soundtracks echo throughout this indoor roller coaster.
The Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror™ : A thrilling journey through the eerie corridors of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, culminating when guests plummet 13 stories twice -- faster than free-fall -- in a breathtaking finale.
“Bear in the Big Blue House - Live On Stage!” : Meet Bear, Ojo, Tutter and the rest of the gang as they perform some of your favorite songs from the whimsical Disney Channel series.
“Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3D,” presented by Kodak: Three-dimensional film spectacular in a 584-seat theater starring Jim Henson’s famous Muppets and featuring explosive in-theater effects.
“Disney’s Doug Live” : Doug Funnie comes to life through a mix of live performances and animation in this original story. Lucky audience members are chosen to play parts in each performance.
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame - A Musical Adventure” : Colorful costumes and magical music highlight this 32-minute stage show based on the hit animated film, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Performances daily at the Backlot Theater.
The Great Movie Ride , presented by Coca-Cola: 20-minute journey into the movies aboard 70-passenger vehicles; stars a cast of Audio-Animatronics® characters re-creating memorable movie moments, including “Wizard of Oz,” “Indiana Jones,” “Alien,” “Casablanca.” “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!” : 35-minute live show in 2,000-seat amphitheater; daring stunt artists and thrilling special effects, re-creating spine-tingling motion picture stunts.
The Magic of Disney Animation : 25-minute tour; features include animation gallery, 9-minute motion picture in 172-seat theater, view of animation unit at work, and 5-minute motion picture in 140-seat theater showcasing Disney Classics.
Disney-MGM Studios Backlot Tour : 25-minute tour aboard 200-passenger shuttles through studio backlot including costuming, scenic shop, Residential Street and New York Street and Catastrophe Canyon.
“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” Movie Set Adventure : Based on the hit film “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” the movie set adventure playground features an ant the size of a pony, grass blades 30 feet tall and mushroom caps three stories tall.
Star Tours , presented by Energizer: “Space journey” in a 40-seat advanced flight simulator from the creative forces of Disney and George Lucas, the ultimate “Star Wars” adventure.
“Beauty and the Beast -- Live on Stage” : A delightful musical stage show based on the hit Disney movie, “Beauty and the Beast.” Performances daily in the Theater of the Stars.
“Voyage of the Little Mermaid” : Based on the hit animated film “The Little Mermaid,” the show features dazzling special effects which combine with puppets, Audio-Animatronics figures, live performers and favorite clips from the film to tell the tale of Ariel.
Film and Television Production:
The HBO series “From the Earth to the Moon”: A 13-part drama was in production in two sound stages throughout 1997.
Films shot at the studios include: “Marvin’s Room,” “Passenger 57,” “Oscar,” “Quick Change,” “Ernest Saves Christmas,” “Splash Too,” “Separate But Equal” (Emmy-winning TV mini-series) and “Instinct.”
TV shows taped at the studios include: “Sheena,” “Full House,” “Wheel of Fortune,” “World Championship Wrestling,” “ESPN College Football Awards,” “Talk Soup,” “Step By Step,” “Barbara Walters Special” and “Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee.”
Among the hundreds of actors, comedians and entertainers who’ve appeared at the studios are: Charlton Heston, Dustin Hoffman, Bette Midler, Ann-Margret, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Hanks, Liza Minnelli, Billy Joel, Kevin Bacon, Michael J. Fox, Gary Sinise, Samuel L. Jackson, Lou Gossett Jr., Drew Carey, Oprah, Susan Lucci and Britney Spears.
Restaurants, Snack Bars and Lounges:
The Hollywood Brown Derby : 236 seats, full-service; features world-famous Cobb Salad, steaks, seafood, pasta specialties, fine International wines.
50’s Prime Time Cafe/Tune In Lounge : 225 seats, full-service restaurant and 52-seat lounge; features peanut butter and jelly milkshakes, sundaes, delicious fried chicken, old-fashioned meat loaf, chicken pot pie.
Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant : 252 seats, full-service; features cosmic concoctions ranging from salads and sandwiches to linguini and fresh fish entrees. Diners watch the big screen for the best science fiction scenes.
ABC Commissary , hosted by Kikkoman: 562 seats, serving creative fast food with an international flair. Selections include vegetarian stir fry noodles, fish and chips, and Brazilian feijoada (traditional Brazilian black bean stew).
Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano : 250 seats, full-service; featuring gourmet pizza baked in wood-burning brick ovens. Mama Melrose brings old-fashioned Italian cooking to a restaurant with an upscale feel. Delicious pasta dinners and seafood are available.
Hollywood & Vine : 468 seats (80 seats on outside patio) “all you care to eat” buffet features fresh salads, pasta, rotisserie meats, and vegetarian selections
Backlot Express , hosted by Coca-Cola: 600 seats, counter service; features custom-broiled hamburgers, grilled hot dogs, marinated chicken breast sandwich and salads.
Min & Bill’s Dockside Diner : 140 seats on patio, counter-service; features fruit, yogurt, beverages and snacks.
Sunset Ranch Market (featuring Rosie’s All-American Café and Catalina Eddie’s ): 400 seats covered outdoors; hamburgers, hotdog's, individual pizza, baked potatoes, and turkey legs. Beer is available.
Dinosaur Gertie’s Ice Cream of Extinction : Snack bar, features ice cream.
Starring Rolls Bakery , hosted by Nestlé Toll House: 48 seats on patio; bakery; features muffins, cookies, pies, cakes, pastries.
Studio Catering Co. , hosted by Coca Cola: 496 seats outdoors (328 covered); deli stacked sandwiches and soft-serve ice cream
Anaheim Produce : Produce stands featuring fresh fruit, vegetables and beverages.
Dining Priority Seating:
Available for full-service restaurants; can be made at Hollywood Junction Red Car Station (corner of Hollywood and Sunset) on the day of visit for the Hollywood Brown Derby, 50’s Prime Time Cafe, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant and Mama Melrose’s. Priority seating can be made in advance by calling 407/WDW-DINE.
Crossroads of the World : Souvenirs, film, sunglasses, post cards, rainwear, sundries.
Oscar’s Classic Car Souvenirs : Car-themed memorabilia.
Oscar’s Super Service : Stroller, wheelchair rental.
Sid Caheunga’s One-of-a-Kind : One-of-a-kind Hollywood celebrity collectibles, autographed photos, movie and television props.
The Darkroom : Camera sales and rental, film, camera accessories, film processing.
Cover Story : Guest photos are put on magazine covers.
Celebrity 5 & 10 : Studio logo souvenir variety goods.
Keystone Clothiers : Adult Disney fashions, accessories and jewelry.
L.A. Prop Cinema Storage : Children’s Disney character apparel, toys, costumes, souvenirs.
Mickey’s of Hollywood : Character apparel, plush characters and other themed toys and souvenir items.
Golden Age Souvenirs : Walt Disney World Resort logo merchandise.
Animation Gallery : Animation cels, original art and collectibles.
The Disney Studio Store : Disney animated films merchandise.
Tatooine Traders : Souvenirs and collectibles featuring characters from “Star Wars” films.
Indiana Jones™ Adventure Outpost : Clothing, hats and souvenirs based on the adventures of Indiana Jones.
Stage 1 Company Store : Muppets and “Sesame Street” souvenirs.
It’s a Wonderful Shop : Holiday items and decorations.
In Character...Disney's Costume Shop : Princess costumes and accessories.
AFI Showcase Shop : TV-and-Disney-movie related merchandise.
Legends of Hollywood : Pooh and the gang clothing, toys and accessories.
Sunset Ranch Souvenirs : Disney character hats and accessories.
Sunset Club Coutures : Limited edition and one-of-a-kind watches drawn by Disney artisans; jewelry and clocks.
Tower Hotel Gifts : The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ logo apparel, hats and souvenirs.
The Writer’s Stop : Books, gifts, snacks.
Epcot, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, opened in 1982. It was conceived by Walt Disney to "take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry." This concept is best exemplified by Spaceship Earth, the glistening geosphere that has become Epcot's icon.
Epcot consists of two themed areas, Future World and World Showcase. Future World features attractions that focus on energy, communication, health, the land and our environment, the ocean, imagination, transportation and space exploration. "Spaceship Earth" traces the history of communication as it evolved over the centuries. The "Universe of Energy" humorously transports you back to prehistoric times to find the origin of energy as we know it today.
Over at "The Land" Timon, Pumba and Simba are your hosts at the "Circle of Life" film that deals with the environment. The "Living With The Land" boat ride takes you on a fascinating tour of greenhouses and fish-production. "Food Rocks" has a cast of animatronics Kitchen characters who will rock you while you learn about nutrition.
The "Living Seas" is a 5.7 million gallon aquarium that is home to thousands of fish including sharks, sea turtles and dolphins. It features all of the characters from "Finding Nemo" with hands-on activities, a wonderful interactive chat with "Crush" and displays of the fish that inspired this amazing move.
At "Imagination!" you can take a fun filled look at the senses on your "Journey Into Imagination With Figment". The terrific 3-D film "Honey I Shrunk The Audience" transports you into the zany world of that loveable professor Wayne Szalinski, famous for "Honey I Shrunk The Kids". Test Track" takes you on an unforgettable ride as you learn about the rigors of auto testing. "Mission Space" simulates a realistic launch into space as you and your crew pilot your capsule to Mars.
The "Wonders of Life" is currently only open seasonably.
Centered around a beautiful reflective lagoon is Epcot's "World Showcase". Eleven countries are represented, each providing fascinating glimpses into their unique culture. You can sample the cuisine, shop for native wares and enjoy performances, exhibits, movies or rides that reflect the heritage of each nation. Strolling from one land to another, you'll find yourself immersed in the distinct atmosphere that each country offers.
Every evening Epcot presents "IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth". This spectacular presentation is centered around the World Showcase Lagoon where fireworks, lasers and dancing fountains combine in a choreographed display performed to an inspirational musical score.
Walt Disney World Resort's fourth and newest theme park celebrates one amazing adventure after another with wild animals, exciting attractions, lavish stage shows and lovable characters! Highlights include an authentic African safari, a whirling white-water raft ride and a thrilling race back in time to prehistoric worlds.
Location: From Walt Disney World property: take World Drive to Osceola Parkway West. From off Disney property: take I-4 to Exit 25B (U.S. 192 West), to World Drive North, to Osceola Parkway West, to Disney's Animal Kingdom parking plaza.
Size: More than 500 acres
Parking: For 6,000 cars
Project Announced: June 5, 1995
Construction Began: August 1995
Grand Opening: April 22, 1998
Employees: More than 4,500 cast members to date
Animals: About 1,500, representing 250 species -- most acquired from zoos accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
Landscaping: More than 4 million trees, plants, shrubs, vines, grasses, ferns, etc. representing 3,000 species.
Entry Garden: The Oasis -- A lush botanical garden designed for guests to explore habitats of fascinating creatures including iguanas, tree kangaroos, several species of colorful birds and other animals.
Africa -- Journey through the "wild" savannah that seems to put you in the heart of Africa with lions, zebra, giraffes and other magnificent animals roaming freely. There's also an authentic African village filled with sights and sounds of the mysterious continent.
Camp Minnie-Mickey -- The site to meet many of the lovable Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse and friends from classic Disney films. Live shows include "Festival of the Lion King."
DinoLand U.S.A. -- Here's where the world's fascination with dinosaurs and jungles comes to life: race back in time to save the last dinosaur on the thrill ride DINOSAUR; The Boneyard Dig Site lets kids dig, swing and giggle through a prehistoric playground; and the live stage show "Tarzan Rocks!" keeps the jungle jamming. DinoLand U.S.A. is presented by McDonald's.
Discovery Island -- The park hub and home of the towering icon, The Tree of Life, which houses within its trunk "It's Tough to be a Bug," a humorous 3-D and special-effects show in the Tree of Life Theater. Discovery Island also features gifts and food emporiums and the bright tropical colors of hand-carved animal architecture.
Asia -- Home of Kali River Rapids, a white-water raft adventure through a threatened rainforest; Maharajah Jungle Trek, a surprising walking journey past Asian ruins and live exotic animals; and the thrilling "Flights of Wonder" exotic bird show.
The Boneyard (DinoLand U.S.A.)
DINOSAUR (DinoLand U.S.A.)
Cretaceous Trail (DinoLand U.S.A.)
Character Greetings (Camp Minnie-Mickey)
Kali River Rapids (Asia)
Maharajah Jungle Trek (Asia)
Kilimanjaro Safaris (Africa)
Pangani Forest Exploration Trail (Africa)
Wildlife Express (Africa/Rafiki's Planet Watch)
Rafiki's Planet Watch (near Africa)
"It's Tough to be a Bug!" (Discovery Island)
The Tree of Life (Discovery Island)
"Festival of the Lion King" (at 1,375-seat theater/Camp Minnie-Mickey)
"Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends" (at 350-seat Grandmother Willow's Grove/Camp Minnie-Mickey)
"Tarzan Rocks" (at 1,500-seat Theater in the Wild/DinoLand U.S.A.)
"Flights of Wonder" (at 1,000-seat Caravan Stage/Asia)
Where To Eat:
Flame Tree Barbecue (quick dining, outdoor seating/Discovery Island)
Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery (quick-service counter/Africa)
Pizzafari (quick dining/Discovery Island)
Rainforest Cafe (full-service/Entrance Plaza)
Restaurantosaurus (quick dining/character breakfast/DinoLand U.S.A.)
Sundowner Terrace (cocktails/Africa)
Tamu Tamu Refreshments (snack shop/Africa)
Tusker House Restaurant (quick dining/Africa)
Baby Care Center (Discovery Island)
Banking ATM (Entrance Plaza)
First Aid (Discovery Island)
Guest Services (Entrance Plaza)
Kennel (Entrance Plaza)
Lockers (Entrance Plaza)
Lost and Found (Discovery Island)
Lost children (Discovery Island)
Package pickup (Entrance Plaza)
Stroller rental (Entrance Plaza)
Wheelchair rental (Entrance Plaza)
Introduction to Universal Studios
Even with fast-paced grown-up rides based on blockbusters such as Twister, Terminator, and Men in Black, Universal Studios Florida is a ton of fun for kids. And, as an added plus, it's a working motion picture and TV production studio, so occasionally there's some live filming done at Nickelodeon's sound stages or elsewhere in the park. Even if there isn't a film or show in production, you can see reel history displayed in the form of some 40 actual sets exhibited along Hollywood Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. And there are plenty of action shows and rides including Twister . . . Ride It Out, Earthquake -- The Big One, Back to the Future . . . The Ride, Jaws, Terminator, and the just-opened Revenge of the Mummy.
After a period of quiet on the expansion front, 2003 saw Universal add two new attractions -- Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast, and Shrek 4-D -- and 2004 saw the debut of Revenge of the Mummy, a ride based on the hit film, The Mummy.
Universal Characters & Shows, Too--Universal Studios Florida has a host of street characters and shows to entertain the crowds that flock here. The lineup includes: Extreme Ghostbusters: The Great Fright Way, a revised show that has Beetlejuice and The Ghostbusters singing and dancing to hits from the '60s through the '90s; Lucy and Ricky, in which Lucy pulls guests into an impromptu conga line; Sarita and Rico, two Latin characters who get guests singing and dancing to high-energy tunes such as "Hot, Hot, Hot" and "Mambo #5"; and the Men in Black show, in which the agents know there are a lot of aliens in the park, and they must put unsuspecting guests through a humorous screening test. Note: Characters rotate or appear seasonally.
Introduction to Islands of Adventure
Universal's second theme park opened in 1999 with a vibrantly colored, cleverly themed collection of fast and sometimes furious rides. At 110 acres, it's the same size as its big brother, Universal Studios Florida, but it seems larger and it's definitely the Orlando park for thrill-ride junkies. Roller coasters roar above pedestrian walkways, and water rides slice through the park. The trade-off: There are few shows.
Expect total immersion in the park's various "islands." From the wobbly angles and Day-Glo colors in Seuss Landing to the lush foliage of Jurassic Park, Universal has done a good job of differentiating various sections of this $1 billion park (unlike Universal Studios Florida, where you ease into the next area and all of a sudden you realize that you're in San Francisco, not New York any more). It's also done an outstanding job of differentiating Islands from Disney or any other Orlando park. The closest competitor in Florida is Busch Gardens in Tampa, but this park clearly has the edge on the ride front.
The adventure is spread across six islands: the Port of Entry, a pass-through zone that has a collection of shops and restaurants, and five themed areas -- Seuss Landing, The Lost Continent, Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon, and Marvel Super Hero Island. The park offers a concentration of thrill rides and coasters, plus it has generous play areas for kids.
Introduction to Sea World
This popular 200-acre marine park explores the mysteries of the deep in a format that combines wildlife conservation awareness with plain old fun. While that's what Disney is attempting with its latest park, Animal Kingdom, the message here is subtle and a more inherent part of the experience.
Sea World's beautifully landscaped grounds center on a 17-acre lagoon and include flamingo and pelican ponds and a lush tropical rainforest. Shamu, a killer whale, is the star of the park along with his expanding family, which includes baby whales. The pace is much more laid-back than at either Universal or Disney, and it's a good way to break up a long week trudging through the other parks. Close encounters at feeding pools are among the real attractions (so be sure to budget a few extra dollars to buy fishy handouts for the sea lions and dolphins, which make begging an art form).
Sea World manages a few thrills and chills. Journey to Atlantis is a high-tech water ride similar to Splash Mountain at Disney's Magic Kingdom and Jurassic Park River Adventure at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure. And Kraken is a floorless roller coaster that sports seven inversions, much like coasters such as Montu and Kumba at SeaWorld's sister, Busch Gardens in Tampa. But this park doesn't try to compete with the wonders of WDW or Universal. Instead it lets you discover the crushed-velvet texture of a stingray or the song of the seals.
How to See Busch Gardens--You can save a few dollars and avoid waiting in long lines by buying your tickets to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay at the privately owned Tampa Bay Visitor Information Center, opposite the park at 3601 E. Busch Blvd., at North Ednam. Owner Jim Boggs worked for the park for 13 years and gives expert advice on how to get the most out of your visit. He sells slightly-discounted tickets (buying here will also save you from standing in line to buy tickets at the parks) to Busch Gardens, Adventure Island, and other attractions, and he will book hotel rooms and car rentals for you, often at a discount. The center is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5:30pm, Sunday from 10am to 2pm, except Christmas.
Arrive early and allow at least a day to see the park. Try not to come when it's raining, since some rides may not be operating. Bring comfortable shoes; and, remember, you will get wet on some of the rides, so wear or bring appropriate clothing (shops near the rides sell plastic ponchos for $5 or $6, but they're cheaper in the outside world). There are lockers throughout the park where you can stash your gear.
As soon as you're through the turnstiles, pick up a copy of a park map and the day's activity schedule, which tells what's showing and when at the 14 entertainment venues in the park. Then take a few minutes to carefully plan your time--it's a big park with lots to see and do.
Although you'll get close to Busch Garden's predators, hippos, and elephants in their glass-walled enclosures, the only way to mingle with the grazers is on a tour. The best is a VIP Animal Adventure Tour, on which you'll roam the plains in the company of a zoologist. These 2-hour excursions cost a pricey $100 per person (in addition to the park's entry fee) and usually leave about 1:30pm daily. The tours can fill up fast, and you can't call ahead for reservations, so as soon as you enter the park, go to the Expedition Africa Gift Shop, opposite the Crown Colony Restaurant in the Edge of Africa, to reserve a spot. Another (though less attractive) alternative is the 30-minute, zoologist-led Serengeti Safari Special Tours, in which you ride out among the grazers on the back of a flatbed truck. These are worth an extra $30 per person regardless of age. You can make reservations for the morning tour at the Expedition Africa Gift Shop, but the midday and afternoon tours are first-come, first-served. Note that children under 5 are not allowed on either tour.
What to Pack
If you've never been to a Florida rental home before, you may be tempted to pack too much!
You don't need loads of clothes as most people in Florida dress 'casual'. This means shorts or a thin skirt and T-shirts during the day in summer and perhaps some trousers and a sweater or cardigan for the evening in spring, autumn/fall or winter.
Your rental home will have a large washer and dryer available for your use. The wash cycle is much shorter than in UK washers so you can have things washed and dried within a short time.
Leave some space in your suitcase as you'll probably want to buy clothes which are cheaper in USA such as jeans, T-shirts, etc. You won't want to have to buy another suitcase to get them back home in!
The one thing you will want to pack is at least one pair of comfortable shoes! If you're visiting the theme parks, you'll do a lot of walking (you won't notice as it's so interesting) and comfortable shoes are essential. If you find trainers comfortable, these would be ideal.
You don't need to take towels with you (check if your rental home also includes pool towels, otherwise you can take your own or buy them in Florida) or face flannels/washcloths as these are generally provided for you.
You may not need to take hairdryers as some rental homes have these provided too (check with your rental home owner).
Don't take food as you will sign a Customs declaration that you don't have any with you when you enter Florida. Almost all foods available in UK are also available in Florida and you will find a huge selection at the supermarket. You may find that your Florida rental home owner can arrange some welcome supplies for your arrival in your home so please ask them if this is available. If you have a special diet, ask your Florida home owner if this type of food is available, i.e. goat's or soya milk is available in Wal-Mart and other large supermarkets.
You'll need personal items, shampoo, sun tan lotion, etc as these are not supplied but you don't need to take loo paper as at least an initial roll is supplied and UK 'thick and fluffy' toilet paper is not good for American plumbing, which is half the size of that in the UK.
So, don't pack the kitchen sink (there's one provided for you!) in your suitcase and, if you've any doubts about whether something is supplied already or not, just ask your Florida home owner! They will be an expert on what's available in their home and in Florida as they will probably have been there many times.
Don't forget your essentials and make sure these are in your hand luggage - any medication you are taking and a written note of what this is (your GP's repeat prescription request form is ideal if you have these), your passport (which should have 6 months to run after your return), your airline tickets, your car rental vouchers, your travel insurance policy (make a photocopy of this and leave the photocopy at home), travelers' cheques (make these the US$ type and it's useful if at least two of you have a supply in case of emergencies), your credit cards (almost everywhere accepts these) and your driving directions to your Florida home or where you will pick up your home keys.
Last of all, remember to have a great time in your Florida rental home!
Tips For Your Trip
Don’t forget to pack your address book – for all those postcards. My aunt always takes printed labels with her – now that’s organized! There are lots of places with internet access now so remember to make a note of any people you may want to email – you could always send virtual postcards from Innoventions in Epcot.
Pack any tablets you may need and many people like to take aspirin about a week before they travel, this helps prevent DVT – check with your Doctor if you can take this with any other medication you may be on. Buy some bottled water at the airport to take on the plane to ensure that you stay nice and hydrated for those gaps when either the airline staff are busy.
Ensure one of your hand luggage is a small back-pack, essential to carry bits and pieces when you are in the parks. Unfortunately, Dad always ends up carrying this.
Camera – no need for spare films etc but ensure you have your camera and any flash tools etc.
Some villas do not provide Beach Towels, so you may need to pack some.
Pack Beach Shoes - those rubber-soled stretchy shoes for the water parks –the ground can get very hot and this stop you getting any nasty foot infections that may be lurking! These can often be bought in UK at very cheap sale prices at the end of the summer ready for next year.
If you wear contact lenses - make sure you bring a spare set and your glasses.
Hats - straw, baseball whatever...something to keep the sun off.
Insect repellant – if you do suffer with bites, this will help but it is useful to also have some anti-histamine tablets and cream with you.
In the cooler months (ie September to April) – pack some warm clothes for the evening, it can get chilly.
Lip Stuff - like Blistex or Chapstick - with sunscreen!
Portable CD player and CDs – great for passing the time on the flight but also around the pool at the villa.
Travel Insurance documents, in the event you do unfortunately fall ill, you will need to produce these.
Sensible shoes -- Comfy, well-broken in shoes are essential. This isn't the time to try a new pair of shoes. If you must get new shoes for your trip, be sure to break them in well before you depart for Florida.
Sunglasses – even for the kids –the sun in Florida is very strong
Tickets and airline numbers – always best to check with your airline a couple of days before returning home that your flight is still at the allotted time
Toys - for the kids on the plane – DON’T even think of traveling without lots for them to do.
You can buy pretty much everything in America but planning ahead always helps.
This section will give you a special insight into the many shopping opportunities available.
You will want to make the journey to 'I' Drive and The Florida Mall but there is a lot to be bought in the Kissimmee area.
Within a 5 mile radius of the intersections of US 192 and Interstate 4, you will find a variety of shops and services mostly related to the 'tourism-based' market.
This may be in the form of Convenience Shops such as the many 7-Elevens offering toiletries and other conveniences, 'Mini-Supermarkets' providing food and supplies, 1-Hour Photo Processing, Factory Outlets specializing in brand name products, Swim and Sport Shops as well as the many Souvenir and T-Shirt Shops that dot the area.
If you are looking for novelties, be sure to visit some of the area’s Flea Markets or one of the many novelty shops at the Old Town shopping and entertainment complex.
Looking for a little more local flavor?
You may want to consider a visit to the local Market which opens on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Located just east of Kissimmee on US 192.
Here you can purchase a wide assortment of locally grown fruits and vegetables .
Outside of this 5 mile radius you will find the many shops and services of the local businesses along East and West Vine Streets (US 192).
Shops here cater more to the local populous.
Among these are Wal-Mart SuperCenter, Target and K-Mart, supplying almost every convenience or apparel item.
Unless you want to go home with mouse ears on everything, you will need to venture out into the world to experience some of the great shopping venues that Orlando has to offer. Many of you, myself included, need some kind of a shopping fix, and want to indulge in something other than the offerings at the theme park stores. There are two distinctively different options for shopping in Orlando: The local malls, which are home to an excellent and varied selection of retailers (not quite New York or Chicago, but what is?), and outlet shopping. But before putting your credit cards into high gear at the outlets, consider these words to the wise: be as savvy here as you are back home. You can find a lot of what you want, and at the best possible prices, by knowing what is and isn't a bargain.
The Shopping Scene--For away-from-the-park sorties, explore areas such as Park Avenue in Winter Park, downtown's Antique Row, Orlando's outlets and malls, and Mount Dora's quaint shops. No matter whether it's your first or 15th visit, these shopping side trips offer fast relief from the attractions, even if you come away empty-handed (which I doubt serious shoppers will).
Tourist hot spots such as International Drive and Highway U.S. 192 in Kissimmee are packed with more than enough of the 3-for-$10 T-shirt shacks selling undurables that shrink to infant size upon their first wash. Ditto for seashells not sold by the seashore. Every third or fourth storefront sells them. But don't despair; there are plenty of shops that sell quality merchandise as well, you just have to be patient and seek them out.
Ship It--Because Orlando is geared for travelers, many retailers offer to ship packages home for a few dollars more. So, if you're pondering an extra-large purchase, ask. If a retailer doesn't offer this service, check with your hotel. Many can arrange a pickup by United Parcel Service, the slow-but-good-old U.S. Postal Service, or another carrier to keep you from dragging a 6-foot stuffed Pluto into the Friendly Skies.
Many Orlando area stores, particularly those in malls or other shopping centers, are usually open from 9 or 10am until 9 or 10pm Monday through Saturday and from noon to 6pm on Sunday.
Sales tax in Osceola County, which includes Kissimmee, the U.S. 192 corridor, and all of Disney's All-Star resorts is 7%. In Orange County, which includes the International Drive area, Sea World, Universal Orlando, most (but not all) of Disney World, and most of the lesser attractions, it's 6.5%. In Seminole County, about 40 miles north of Walt Disney World, the rate is 7%.
One thing that's no different here than the rest of the country: If you're coming during the holiday season, from the end of November to January 1, it's best to avoid local shopping malls, especially on weekends. They're just as crowded as those back home -- maybe even worse. Also, don't leave your good judgment at the door of the outlet malls. Although there are some bargains, the prices on many items, such as athletic shoes, often aren't much lower than you can find at home. The selection, however, may be much larger than you're used to -- especially if you're from outside the United States. Remember, though, you have to somehow get it home with you, so if you can buy it at home, why carry it all the way from Florida?
Homegrown Souvenirs--Oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus products rank high on the list of local products. Orange Blossom Indian River Citrus, 5151 S. Orange Blossom Trail, is one of the top sellers during the late-fall-to-late-spring season. Alligator-skin leather goods are a specialty of the gift shop at Gatorland, 14501 S. Orange Blossom.