Tourists from all over the world travel to Orlando for theme park adventures, ranging from posing for a picture with Mickey and Minnie to making a splash with Shamu or reliving the movies. Adrenaline rush junkies experience thrills at Walt Disney World Resort’s Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Expedition Everest. Others prefer to take center stage during The American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Universal Orlando Resort gives ride and movie fanatics their money’s worth with Universal Studios’ The Simpson’s RIDE and Revenge of the Mummy. Next door, at Islands of Adventure, the excitement continues with the Incredible Hulk Coaster, the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman and other rides based on comic book heroes. Spend time with sea creatures at Discovery Cove or get soaked at SeaWorld, Orlando’s Aquatica water park and on one of Wet ‘n Wild’s many water park rides. Experience Orlando’s oldest theme park while watching alligator wrestling at Gatorland. Afterwards, cool off from the heat at the attraction’s Gator Gully Splash Park. Beyond the theme parks, you can surround yourself with 50 acres of floral beauty at Harry P. Leu Gardens; let your imagination run wild as you take part in experiments at the Orlando Science Center and WonderWorks; or visit the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, world-renowned for its superb collection of Tiffany stained glass. The Orlando Museum of Art is worth a visit for its traveling exhibitions, as well as its impressive permanent collection. Orlando has it covered—from animal acts to unbelievable phenomena, wild water, ancient history and action-packed rides—there is something for everyone. Attractions WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT, off Interstate 4 in Lake Buena Vista. 407-824- 2222. The most famous theme park in the world includes the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, Cirque du Soleil, water parks and Downtown Disney nightlife and shopping. UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT, 1000 Universal Studios Plaza. 407-363-8000. The original Universal Studios park doubles as a film- and television-production studio with sound-stage tours, stunt shows and exciting rides. Islands of Adventure brings comic strips to life and is known for its exhilarating roller coasters and thrill rides, while CityWalk combines fantastic shopping and dining with entertainment options. SEAWORLD ORLANDO, 7007 SeaWorld Drive. 407-351-3600. This is the largest marine park in the world. Exhibits here include Shamu, dolphin shows, shark tanks and sea-lion comedy. DISCOVERY COVE, 6000 Discovery Cove Way. 407-370-1280. SeaWorld’s sister park across the street has turned SeaWorld Orlando’s swim-with-the-dolphins educational program into a centerpiece for a resort/theme-park experience, complete with a re-created coral reef to snorkel. WET ‘N WILD, 6200 International Drive. 407-351-1800. This 25-acre water park provides kids and adults with endless options to careen down flumes, run rapids, ride inner tubes and bodysurf on rolling waves. ORLANDO SCIENCE CENTER, 777 E. Princeton St. 407-514-2000. A state-of-theart interactive museum for all ages with live shows. ORLANDO MUSEUM OF ART, 2416 N. Mills Ave. 407-896-4231. Traveling exhibits from around the country are featured here, along with permanent collections of 19thcentury American and pre-Columbian art. HARRY P. LEU GARDENS, 1920 North Forest Ave. 407-246-2620. Roses, palms and orchids abound in this 50-acre botanical garden. A museum on the grounds offers lectures on butterfly gardening, herbs and landscaping. CHARLES HOSMER MORSE MUSEUM OF AMERICAN Art, 445 North Park Ave., Winter Park. 407-645-5311. A stunning collection and tribute to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s stained glass, as well as Lalique and Fabergé jewelry, designs by Frank Lloyd Wright and paintings by John Singer Sargent make this museum a “must see” for fans of Art Nouveau and other 19th -early 20th century decorative arts. GATORLAND, 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail. 407-855-5496 or 800-393-JAWS. This alligator farm has grown into a standard attraction: Gator-wrestling shows, snake demonstrations and wet and dry playgrounds provide lots of entertainment. WONDERWORKS, Pointe*Orlando, 9067 International Drive. 407-351-8800. Enter an upside-down building for virtual-reality experiences that include an earthquake, landing the space shuttle and over 100 interactive exhibits. SPORTS Orlando is more than the theme park mecca of the world. Besides the amusement parks, there is a plethora of sports-related activities for spectators and participants. The Orlando Magic basketball team has been shooting hoops and making slam dunks in the area since 1989 and calls the Amway Arena home. Crowds can also be found there roaring with excitement during the Orlando Predators arena football games. The Orlando Sharks are putting a new bite in the spirit of soccer. At the Daytona International Speedway, about 50 miles northeast, NASCAR aficionados can watch their favorite drivers zoom through the Daytona 500 in February or the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola in July. NASCAR fanatics can also get behind the wheel of a 600-horsepower Winston Cup-style stock car and feel the adrenaline pumping as they round the track at the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Resort. Baseball fans can watch an Atlanta Braves game during the team’s spring training at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Make a wave at the Orlando Watersports Complex (OWC). The facility offers kneeboarding, slalom skiing, surfing with a rope, trick skiing, wakeboarding and wakeskating on a cable or behind a boat. Those who dream of becoming Tony Hawk can hit the ramps at the VANS Skatepark in Festival Bay. The facility features the Doe Boy, an above-ground bowl featuring gigantic pools and both wood and concrete courses. Golfing is another popular sport in the Sunshine State, with more than 125 golf courses in the Greater Orlando and Kissimmee areas alone. PGA and other golf tournaments featuring legends Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and other golf greats are annual events in Orlando. SHOPPING Orlando has an abundance of super shopping sectors, booming boutiques and hip retailers. High-end stores at the Mall at Millenia make shopping a pleasure in O-town. Department stores Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus are the anchors. Designers Adrienne Vittadini, Betsey Johnson, Chanel, Coach and Jimmy Choo give ladies many reasons to shop. Cartier and Tiffany are sure to make any woman sparkle. Men also have a chance to buy the latest fashionable attire from Hugo Boss or Kenneth Cole. The Florida Mall, located near the International Drive tourist corridor, features numerous stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. Take a break and chow-down on Italian family-style large portions at Buca di Beppo. Tea connoisseurs can sample over 100 kinds of fresh tea at Teavana. Down the street, Prime Outlets International provides shoppers with discounted deals and a variety of store options, including Nike, VANS and Levi Strauss. Families can spend hours buying clothes, shoes and accessories, as well as dining in the food court. Follow the sun to Festival Bay, which includes Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. The store specializes in hunting, fishing and camping merchandise. Clothing retailer Hot Topic caters to the gothic and alternative scene. After shopping, catch a flick at the Cinemark theater. Pointe Orlando is an open-air shopping, dining and entertainment complex featuring more than 40 specialty retailers, eateries and entertainment complexes that create a vibrant, eclectic experience under towering palm trees. Orlando Premium Outlets, Orlando’s upscale outlet center, showcases 110 designer shops with styles by Burberry, Dior, Giorgio Armani, Kenneth Cole and many others. Thornton Park in downtown Orlando, Park Avenue in Winter Park and the Winter Park Village showcase independent, chic retailers that sell trendy threads and unique gifts. Waterford Lakes Town Center presents more than 100 specialty shops and eateries—from designers and discount retailers, to a variety of restaurants and a Regal Cinema. DINING Orlando’s multi-cultural cuisines please palates with diverse tastes by offering mouthwatering fare. Here are some popular examples: Experience fine dining at Emeril’s, located at Universal Orlando Resort’s CityWalk, or try the celebrity chef’s Asian-influenced restaurant called Tchoup Chop at the Royal Pacific Resort. Head over to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville for a cheeseburger in paradise and a frozen margarita. The two-story tropical venue features live entertainment, Jimmy Buffett merchandise, the musician’s Hemisphere Dancer seaplane and an outdoor bar. Celebrate the life and music of Bob Marley at Bob Marley—A Tribute to Freedom. This establishment is patterned after Marley’s actual home and garden in Kingston, Jamaica. Listen to live reggae music while eating authentic Jamaican and Caribbean fare, with island drinks or Jamaica’s own Red Stripe beer. Spice up your night at the Latin Quarter, where you can experience the culture, cuisine, mojitos, music and dance of all 21 Latin nations. Salsa, samba and tango dancers heat up the dance floor, accompanied by the rhythms of a DJ or live band. In Downtown Disney, Bongos Cuban Café, Wolfgang Puck Café, the Rainforest Café and Planet Hollywood spice up the night and keep customers coming back for more. Theme dinner theaters such as Arabian Nights and Medieval Times in Kissimmee are popular for family dining. Experience the hip, urban environment at HUE, a trendy, upscale Asian-inspired Thornton Park bar and restaurant, where you can get comfy on high-back cushioned chairs while dining and sipping wine by candlelight. Or make an appearance on the outdoor patio with a martini in hand. A few doors down, the Shari Sushi Lounge serves a variety of delectable rolls and desserts in a mod-looking atmosphere. For those wanting to sit back and relax over a glass of wine and light fare, try the Eola Wine Company in downtown Orlando or Winter Park. This establishment is prepared to serve its guests over 70 wines by the glass in a soothing atmosphere, surrounded by wooden cases filled with red, white, sparkling and dessert wines. LUMA on Park is a destination for those with a posh palate, serving brunch, lunch and dinner with style and flair in an alluring ambiance of rich-colored woods and sumptuous fabric. Diners can also watch chefs prepare a feast in LUMA’s open kitchen or dine under the stars on the patio. Beluga, located in the Winter Park Village, offers its guests a retro dining experience along with music and flavorful martinis. The restaurant serves a menu of steak and seafood. NIGHTLIFE Orlando is a place where barflies can feel the beat, have the last laugh or watch dueling piano players entertain them for the night. Feel the chill while embarking on an Arctic expedition at ICEBAR Orlando. The boldto- be-cold, 27-degree, 1,375-square-foot, air-locked bar is made of 50 tons of ice, from 15,000 gallons of recycled water. The lounge “overflows” with blue and white icy hues, comfy couches and icicle-like chandeliers. Just the spot for a tropical drink on a hot summer night! Hoot and holler seven days a week down the street at Howl at the Moon. Bar hoppers can drink buckets of beer, selections from an array of liquor concoctions or nightly drink specials while listening to dueling pianos. Wet your whistle at the Blue Martini at the Mall at Millenia. The bar features over 20 frou-frou martinis, including a signature eponymous martini that comes with a glowstick straw in a snifter glass. After a day in the park, have a ball at Universal CityWalk Orlando. The multiplex features nine hot spots open nightly. Grab a guide at the visitor’s information booth and start your pub crawl at the Galaxy Bar where you can enjoy a patio atmosphere with specialty drinks and brew. Swank, retro revelers can step back in time at the Red Coconut Club. The ultra lounge features a 1960s-style ambiance while serving delicious martinis and appetizers. Live entertainment and Djs perform nightly while hipsters dance the night away on the lighted dance floor. A native Orlando resident, Sandra Carr has seen Central Florida grow into a metropolitan city since her childhood. Carr currently writes freelance for Us Weekly, the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando.Citysearch.com, Scooter World Magazine, Time Out Chicago and Zagat Survey.
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