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Orlando
Walt Disney World® Resort opened in the Orlando area in 1971, setting into motion a Florida tourism boom of grand proportions. With a clone of the West Coast’s Disneyland® Resort in their back yards, devotees of all things Mickey Mouse east of the Mississippi no longer had to trek across country to...
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Introduction
Walt Disney World® Resort opened in the Orlando area in 1971, setting into motion a Florida tourism boom of grand proportions. With a clone of the West Coast’s Disneyland® Resort in their back yards, devotees of all things Mickey Mouse east of the Mississippi no longer had to trek across country to tap into the magic. As Disney’s East Coast kingdom grew exponentially, so, too, did the competition that eventually transformed Orlando into one big theme park of a destination. Walt Disney World® set the bar for wholesome family fun and then raised it time after time with faster rides, cuter characters and livelier entertainment to captivate every age group.

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Beyond Orlando's man-made wonders are sparkling lakes, lovely gardens, relaxing state parks and, within shouting distance, a string of Atlantic Coast beaches. Add to this list championship golf courses, luxury resorts with spas, cuisine to please the international palate and shopping districts that run the gamut from bargain outlets to upscale malls, and Orlando measures up to a full-out, year-round crowd pleaser.


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With Disney's four major theme parks, Universal's two, and marine adventure parks SeaWorld Orlando and Discovery Cove Orlando, plus more than 90 other area attractions, fantasy is always on tap here. If Orlando could be squeezed and reduced to concentrate, like the juicy citrus that used to grow nearby in abundance, its essence would be pure entertainment—nectar for all who thirst for a family-oriented good time.


In Depth
Walt Disney World® Resort shaped the young city of Orlando into one of the world's most popular leisure travel destinations. On average, nearly two-thirds of the domestic visitors head for the theme parks. But while Disney is the centerpiece of Orlando's appeal, the City Beautiful delivers more than fantasy and fast rides.

There are dozens of county and state parks in which to hike, bike or engage in water sports, and wild Florida—in all its natural splendor—is closer than you think. Nature-oriented diversions such as botanical gardens, meandering waterways and swampy wetlands with exotic wildlife were early tourist draws, and still are. Since 1949, Gatorland has thrilled onlookers with dangerous stunts pitting man against reptile.


The city began as a small settlement with one cattle ranch and a trading post; by 1890 the “cow town” had expanded, presenting all the trappings of 19th-century success. The postwar period ushered in the region's most dynamic growth. Kennedy Space Center created new jobs, and the resulting economic activity spawned numerous supporting businesses, attracting an influx of new residents. With the opening of a visitors complex in 1967, KSC officially entered the tourism race, taking its first small step towards becoming a major attraction.

Central Florida's Disney story began in the mid-1960s, when entertainment visionary “Uncle Walt” Disney paid a series of hush-hush visits to the swamplands of southwest Orange County. Secretive property deals soon followed, piquing locals' interest and sparking questions about the mysterious doings south of town. The answer came in 1971 when Magic Kingdom® Park became Orlando's first theme park.

In the decades since the first guests walked through the turnstiles of Magic Kingdom® Park, expansions have presented Epcot®, Disney's Hollywood Studios®, Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park and two water parks. As a self-contained destination, Walt Disney World® Resort imagines every possibility for its guests, including hotel accommodations, restaurants, entertainment areas and golf courses. For many, a Disney vacation represents the culmination of a dream.


Bolstered by Walt Disney World® Resort's success, Orlando evolved into a theme park mecca. On the heels of triumphs in San Diego, Calif., and Aurora, Ohio, SeaWorld creators opened a third park in Florida in 1973. A few decades later, SeaWorld Orlando gained two sister parks: Discovery Cove Orlando, an interactive dolphin encounter, and Aquatica, a water park. Universal Studios Florida had its debut in the summer of 1990. Within 10 years, Universal had made the leap from single theme park to Universal Orlando Resort, a multifaceted family vacation destination with hotels, restaurants and nightlife.

Those who think a trip to Orlando is all about being a kid are in for a surprise. Orlando's cosmopolitan population supports a milieu of cultural museums, all-inclusive spa resorts and celebrity chef-helmed restaurants. The city also plays host to exciting sports events ranging from Orlando Magic basketball games to the PGA's prestigious Arnold Palmer Invitational, which takes place at the legend's own Bay Hill Club.


 
About the City


City Population
238,300

Elevation
111 ft.

Money


Sales Tax
In Orange County the sales tax is 6.5 percent, in Seminole County it is 6 percent, and in Osceola and Lake counties it is 7 percent. Orange and Osceola counties levy a 6 percent resort tax, while Seminole County imposes a 5 percent tax and Lake County 4 percent.

Whom To Call


Emergency
911

Police (non-emergency)
(407) 246-2470; Sheriff (407) 836-4357

Fire (non-emergency)
(321) 235-5200

Time and Temperature
(407) 646-3131

Hospitals
Dr. P. Phillips Hospital, (407) 351-8500; Florida Hospital-East Orlando, (407) 303-8110; Florida Hospital-Orlando, (407) 303-5600; Orlando Regional Medical Center, (321) 841-5111.

Where To Look and Listen


Newspapers
The Orlando Sentinel is distributed in the morning. Friday's Calendar section summarizes the coming week's events. Orlando Weekly provides the city's alternative viewpoint.

Radio
Radio station WFLA (540 AM and 104.5 FM) is an all-news/talk station; WDBO (580 AM and 96.5 FM) is an all-talk/weather station; WMFE (90.7 FM) is a member of National Public Radio; WUCF (89.9 FM) is also an NPR affiliate and one of the few full-time jazz stations in the United States.

Visitor Information

Orlando, Inc. (Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce)

75 S. Ivanhoe Blvd. ORLANDO, FL 32804. Phone:(407)425-1234


Visit Orlando

8723 International Dr. ORLANDO, FL 32819. Phone:(407)363-5872 or (800)972-3304 The bureau distributes a variety of information daily 8:30-6. Closed Christmas.


Transportation


Air Travel
The Orlando area is served by two airports: Orlando International Airport (MCO), at SR 436 and the Beachline Expressway, and Orlando-Sanford International Airport (SFB) in Sanford, which serves commercial and private aircraft.

Rental Cars
Orlando is served by several major rental car agencies. Arrangements should be made before you depart, especially during peak seasons. Your local AAA club can provide this service or additional information. Hertz, (407) 859-8400 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.

Rail Service
Amtrak provides train service to four stations in the metro area. Passenger-only trains stop at the stations at 1400 Sligh Blvd. in downtown Orlando and 150 W. Morse Blvd. in downtown Winter Park; Kissimmee's passenger station is at 111 E. Dakin St. The Auto Train, which runs round-trip from Lorton, Va., stops at the Sanford station at 600 S. Persimmon Ave. Phone (800) 872-7245 for both rail services.

Buses
A Greyhound Lines Inc. terminal, (407) 292-3422 for customer service, (407) 292-3424 for tickets or (800) 531-5332 for Spanish-speaking persons, is off West SR 50 (Colonial Drive) at 555 N. John Young Pkwy.

Taxis
Local taxis are metered and charge $4.20-$5.40 for the first mile and $2.40 for each additional mile plus 60c for each 80 seconds of waiting time. Major cab companies are Ace Metro, (407) 855-1111; Diamond Cab Co., (407) 523-3333; Quick Cab, (407) 447-1444; Star Taxi, (407) 857-9999; Town & Country, (407) 828-3035; and Yellow, (407) 422-2222.

Limousine service is available throughout most of the city; the ride from the airport to downtown Orlando or International Drive is about $70-$110 plus tax and a 20 percent tip but can vary depending on company and other factors.

Public Transportation
Transportation by bus and trolley is available in Orlando.

 
Visitor Information

Orlando, Inc. (Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce)

75 S. Ivanhoe Blvd. ORLANDO, FL 32804. Phone:(407)425-1234


 
Getting There


By Car
Orlando is laced with busy thoroughfares. Primary among these is I-4, a trans-Florida route that combines direct travel through the city with strategic controlled access. From the Daytona Beach area it forks off I-95 and enters Orlando on the northeast side; from the Gulf Coast it comes from Tampa, passing Walt Disney World® Resort and entering town from the southwest.

Florida's Turnpike (toll) links Orlando with the resort areas of southeastern Florida. About 35 miles to the northwest it connects with I-75, a major north-south freeway. Florida's Turnpike interchanges with I-4 at the southwestern city limits.

I-4 and Florida's Turnpike form an X across central Florida. Two older routes, US 17/92 and US 441, also cross at Orlando, traversing different portions of the area.

SR 528, more commonly known as the Beachline Expressway (toll), passes south of the city. It channels traffic between Orlando and the Cape Canaveral area and connects with routes leading downtown.

SR 50 (Colonial Drive) is an east-west route that passes through downtown and connects smaller communities near the Gulf with Atlantic coast areas. To avoid traffic an alternative is SR 408, the East-West Expressway (toll), which links with SR 50 both east and west of downtown. The expressway also connects with the Central Florida Greeneway (SR 417) just south of SR 50. An expansion to the eastern terminus brings the toll road to US 17/92 in Sanford; other eastern and western expansions are planned and sections of the expressway may be undergoing construction.

SR 436 (Semoran Boulevard) swings in a wide northwesterly arc from the airport and SR 528 (Beachline Expressway) southeast of town to US 441 northwest at Apopka and offers an alternative—although often busy—route to I-4.

Air Travel
The Orlando area is served by two airports: Orlando International Airport (MCO), at SR 436 (Semoran Boulevard) and SR 528 (the Beachline Expressway), and Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) in Sanford, which serves commercial and private aircraft. OIA, about 15 miles from both downtown and the tourist district, is a primary destination for many major domestic and international airlines. Serving more than 35 million passengers a year, it is one of the world's fastest growing major airports. Its four satellite terminals are linked to the main terminal by automated people movers, making it easy to navigate; a south terminal is planned to open by 2019. (Note: Orlando's tourist volume often leads to traffic congestion during peak vacation seasons. Allow plenty of transit time—coming and going—between the airport and your destination.)

To reach downtown Orlando, follow Airport Boulevard north as it merges into SR 436. Though heavily traveled, SR 436 offers direct access to central, east and north Orlando via SRs 50 or 408 (toll). To reach the International Drive area, take Airport Boulevard to SR 528 (toll), then head west to SR 482, which intersects International just east of I-4. Take Airport Boulevard south to SR 417 (toll) to go to the Walt Disney World® Resort via SR 536 or to reach Kissimmee via US 17/92/441.

Cab fares from the Orlando airport to downtown or International Drive run about $33-$39; limousines cost about $70-$110 plus tax and a 20 percent tip but can vary depending on the company and other factors; shuttle vans are $19-$20 one way, or $31-$32 round-trip; and bus transportation is $2. Cab fare to the Disney resort averages $55. Many hotels have courtesy shuttle service.

Orlando is served by several major rental car agencies. Arrangements should be made before you depart, especially during peak seasons. Your local AAA club can provide this service or additional information. Hertz, (407) 859-8400 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.

 
Getting Around


Street System
Because much of Orlando's growth occurred during the 1960s and '70s, the city is remarkably car-friendly. Roads are generally in good shape, although construction caused by near-constant expansion is a fact of life around the tourist district and downtown. Points of interest are usually on or near the main thoroughfares, most of which are accessible via I-4. For a small city, Orlando has surprisingly lengthy rush-hour periods, 6:30-9 a.m. and 4-6:30 p.m. Try to avoid traveling on I-4, US 17/92, SR 50 and SR 436 during these times.

Downtown Orlando is basically a grid, with several one-way streets. All street numbering begins at the intersection of Central Boulevard and Orange Avenue, the main strip through downtown. Orange is a one-way road south through the downtown core; its northbound counterpart is Rosalind Avenue. East-west roads accessing important downtown sites include Livingston Street (Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre), Robinson Street (Lake Eola), Central (Orlando Public Library, Lake Eola), Church Street (Amway Center, Church Street Market) and South Street (City Hall).

International Drive, the heart of the tourist area, is south Orlando's busiest road. A profusion of hotels, shopping centers, outlet stores, restaurants, strolling vacationers and cruising teenagers usually combine to create crowded conditions and frequent delays.

Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit on most streets is 30 mph. Unless otherwise posted, right turns are permitted on red after a complete stop.

Parking
Metered street parking downtown is available at $1 per hour, but spaces are generally hard to find at peak periods, which are on weekdays and weekend evenings. Meter enforcement hours are Mon.-Sat. 8-6 except on city holidays. Downtown parking also is available in several open-air lots underneath I-4 between Hughey and Garland avenues, near Amway Center. These lots cost $1 per hour except during events, when the fee is $10 for an evening.

Nearly a dozen municipal garages can be found throughout downtown, including at W. Amelia Street, between Revere and N. Hughey avenues; E. Amelia Street next to the Orange County Courthouse, between N. Magnolia and N. Orange avenues; W. Pine Street, between Garland and Orange avenues; three adjacent lots between W. Jefferson to the north and W. Central Boulevard to the south (between N. Garland and Orange avenues); E. Central Boulevard, between Rosalind and Magnolia avenues; and the garage by the Orange County Administration Building at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and E. Jackson Street (this will service the new Dr. P. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts). Rates are $2 per hour or $15 per day. Event parking costs $10 for an evening. For more details, contact the City of Orlando Parking Division at (407) 246-2155.

The city of Winter Park has free parking along Park Avenue, but spaces can be hard to come by during peak hours. Fortunately, several free public lots are located just a few blocks east and west off Park Avenue.

Most attractions and shopping centers have ample parking, but parking fees for the major theme parks can run as high as $15-$18 per day. Check with your hotel to see if it offers free shuttle service to the theme parks.

Public Transportation
Brightly painted buses are a colorful sight in the metro area, thanks to LYNX, the transit authority for Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, which operates more than 300 buses on 89 routes.

Bus stops, called Links, are marked by fuchsia paw-print signs listing all the routes that are immediately accessible from that stop. The system serves most of the city, including downtown, the tourist district and major shopping centers. Main routes are Links 107 and 108, between downtown Orlando and Kissimmee; 10, through Kissimmee to St. Cloud; 38, downtown to the International Drive area; 436S, between SR 436 and the airport; 42, between International Drive and the airport; and 50, between downtown to the Walt Disney World® Resort.

LYNX fare is $2; transfers are free. Xpress service is $3.50. Exact change is required. Bus passes in daily, weekly and monthly increments also are available. Buses run Mon.-Fri. 4:15 a.m.-3:05 a.m., Sat. 4:45 a.m.-1:05 a.m., Sun. 4:45 a.m.-10:35 p.m.; holiday schedules may vary. For additional information about routes and schedules phone (407) 841-5969.

LYNX also offers LYMMO, three limited fare-free bus routes that primarily use a bus-only lane to transport passengers throughout the downtown area. LYMMO runs Mon.-Thurs. 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 6 a.m.-midnight, Sat. 10 a.m.-midnight, Sun. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

I-Ride Trolleys cater exclusively to tourist traffic along International Drive 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; the wait is about 20 minutes. Trolley fare is $2; $1 (ages 3-9 with adult); 25c (ages 65+); $5 (all-day pass); $7 (3-day pass); $9 (5-day pass); $12 (7-day pass); $18 (14-day pass). Exact change is required.

SunRail, a commuter train operating Mon.-Fri., links Orlando with DeBary. There are 12 stations along its 31.7-mile route, including stops in Sanford, Altamonte Springs, Winter Park and Orlando at Church Street. A round-trip ticket for the longest route (DeBary to Sand Lake Road in Orlando) costs $7.50; $3.75 (ages 7-17 and 65+). By 2017, service should encompass an additional 17.2 miles with four stops: Orlando's Meadow Woods area, Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee's downtown and Poinciana. A third phase could connect Orlando International Airport by 2020. Though there's service during the morning, mid-day and evening on weekdays, the train's schedule may fluctuate depending on special events and demand; it's closed major holidays. Phone (855) 724-5411 for additional details.


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Essentials
• Go to Gatorland (14501 S. Orange Blossom Tr.), a slice of Orlando's roadside Americana since 1949, and watch with amazement as alligators lunge for lunch and wrestle with handlers. Don't leave without having your photo taken between the gigantic alligator jaws at the park's entrance.

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• Meet an astronaut, experience a simulated space shuttle launch, tour launch headquarters, watch space footage filmed by astronauts and relive Neil Armstrong's historic moon landing at

Kennedy Space Center

on the Space Coast. Located 11 mi. e. of I-95 on SR 405, it's a daytrip worth taking.


• Cool off at a local water park—a must in summer, when the mercury routinely moves into the high 90s. Choose from Aquatica (5800 Water Play Way), Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park (1500 W. Buena Vista Dr.) or Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park (1195 E. Buena Vista Dr.).

• Become friends with a bottlenose dolphin; swim in a lazy river replete with waterfalls, sandy beaches and an underwater cave; or snorkel in a cool lagoon filled with coral reefs and stingrays at Discovery Cove Orlando (6000 Discovery Cove Way).

• Catch glimpses of Florida wildlife such as alligators, eagles, turtles and birds while your airboat scoots through wetlands and across the headwaters of the Everglades. Boggy Creek Airboat Rides (2001 E. Southport Rd.) offers this exhilarating “wild Florida” encounter in Kissimmee; then head northeast on John Young Pkwy. and I-4 for a charming detour to

Winter Park

.


• Stroll for the sheer pleasure of it along Winter Park's refined Park Avenue, which features designer boutiques, sidewalk cafés, cozy restaurants, shops with high-end home décor and a centrally located park. At The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (445 N. Park Ave.), bask in the aura of Louis Comfort Tiffany's stunning stained-glass creations, a renowned collection that has no equal. Lovely lakeside residences and natural tropical scenery are highlights of a narrated cruise on Winter Park's chain of lakes and canals, offered by Scenic Boat Tours (312 E. Morse Blvd.).

• Venture out to the quaint village of

Mount Dora

, central Florida's antiques and collectibles capital, by driving west on SR 414. This small town overlooking Lake Dora draws quite a crowd on weekends; arrive early to get a good parking spot. Later, take in a play or a musical at the Sonnentag Theatre at the IceHouse (100 N. Unser St.), where you can see shows like “Bye-Bye Birdie” and “Miracle on 34th Street” performed by local thespians. Mount Dora also holds a plethora of activities throughout the year, such as art and music festivals, a sailboat regatta and craft shows.


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• Drive east on SR 46 and I-4 to

Daytona Beach

, home of Daytona International Speedway . NASCAR races dominate the track several times a year, but tours are available when the track is silent. Then take a scenic afternoon drive to round out your trip. Beach driving, a tradition that harks back to the automobile's early days, can be found in designated areas along the Volusia County coastline. (Although available year-round, beach driving will cost drivers a small fee February through November.)


• Synchronize a pilgrimage west on I-4 to Blue Spring State Park (2100 W. French Ave.), in

Orange City

, with the annual winter migration of manatees mid-November through March from the cool waters of the St. Johns River to the park's warm spring. Enjoy a picnic lunch and a myriad of water sports, including snorkeling, swimming, canoeing and kayaking. Rent a cabin or a campsite and stay overnight. Let St. Johns River Cruises (also at 2100 W. French Ave.) show you more of the state's longest river and its wild residents, including bald eagles, alligators and deer.




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Restaurants
Our favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from simple fare to fine dining.

Once upon a time a variety of chain restaurants covered the land, leaving Orlando and its kingdom only a few places of note fit for foodie royalty. With the explosion of new attractions, and a young and diverse populace, however, Orlando has cast a spell—drawing culinary magic from not only nearby states but also the world—to make Orlando a destination about fun and food.

The city’s location long ago opened the gates to seafood originating in both the Gulf and Atlantic oceans. Big Fin Seafood Kitchen , for example, draws diners into a comfortable setting with not only fresh fish but also crab, oyster, and lobster. Likewise, Copper Canyon Grill offers fresh seafood like Atlantic salmon as well as classic entrées in a location convenient to the city's bustling International Drive. Need something a little more exotic? Seito Sushi serves up everything from creative bento boxes to crowd favorites like the lobster crunch roll and volcano roll. One other sushi hot spot, Dragonfly Robata Grill-Sushi Lounge , features tapas and a sake bar; try the Krispy Krunch or Florida maki (rolls) for tastes and textures straight out of a Japanese lounge.

More culinary delights can be found in nearby Winter Park. Offering dishes inspired by both the season and location, such as corn-fennel soup or ceviche, Luma on Park is fit for Floridians and foodies alike. The Ravenous Pig also sources local products when possible, and neither the namesake pork products nor Gruyère biscuits disappoint. Sister restaurant Cask & Larder , likewise, puts a spin on downhome classics like fried chicken and even frog legs. Yet “downhome” doesn’t always have to be associated with meat-filled dishes; Ethos Vegan Kitchen Inc , also in Winter Park, serves what it calls “sheep’s pie” with veggies or a meat substitute—instead of the original, beefy shepherd’s pie.

If you’re ready to be enchanted in Orlando, there are some refined restaurants at the ready. Consider Norman’s At The Ritz-Carlton whose dishes range from the “four corners of the world”; think fried green tomatoes, cracked conch chowder or venison, depending on the season. If you’ve got a specific food craving from one particular corner of the world, Christini’s Ristorante Italiano may be the way to go. It offers favorites like fettuccine alla Christini’s—its version of fettuccine Alfredo—in addition to other homemade pasta dishes. At Mediterranean-inspired, Primo , meanwhile, you can find everything from salad from the resort’s organic gardens to duck sausage. That’s if you prefer tableside service rather than oysters and a drink at the copper- and wood-adorned bar.

You’ll be out-of-this-world, however, for Walt Disney World Resort ®'s Victoria & Albert’s , which earns its competitive AAA Five Diamond Rating for regal food, service and setting. With dishes such as shrimp wrapped in prosciutto, there’s no doubt the restaurant can create a meal suitable for your trip’s fairytale ending.

See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.



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Attractions
In a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

Without question, Walt Disney World Resort®, a AAA GEM attraction, is the king of family entertainment in central Florida. Four large theme parks beckon, but first-timers and annual repeaters alike know that there is only one place to begin a visit to Disney's magical world—through the gates of Magic Kingdom® Park, the original Fantasyland®. With Cinderella Castle as your landmark, branch off to seven different lands of enchantment—Adventureland®, Frontierland®, Tomorrowland®…you get the idea. All the while you will meet roving, impeccably costumed and coiffed Disney characters eager to pose for snapshots.

The culmination of Walt Disney's vision, Epcot® —Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow—imagines a utopian future and lays world cultures at your feet. Part science fair, part geography lesson and part travelogue, this park touts high technology through cutting-edge adventure rides such as Mission:SPACE®, as close as you'll get to experiencing a real blast-off; Test Track® Presented by Chevrolet, where car and rider prove their mettle; and Soarin'®, an aerial sightseeing tour of California as seen from a hang glider. Shops, restaurants and exhibits in World Showcase invite visitors on a global spending spree: Have a croissant in a French boulangerie, buy the kids a troll in Norway, and sample stout to the sounds of oompah music in Germany's Biergarten.

After you've circled the world and seen the future, plant your feet squarely on terra firma and explore the natural world in Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park. Like Cinderella Castle, this kingdom's centerpiece—The Tree of Life®, a giant, artificial baobab tree carved with more than 300 animal images—commands the attention of all who enter. Step inside the theater-size trunk to view the hilarious animated film “It's Tough to be a Bug!®” The signature attraction here is Africa's Kilimanjaro Safaris® Expedition, a 120-acre animal preserve that is toured safari-style, at the animals' pace.

With movie-inspired rides and shows, Disney's Hollywood Studios®, the fourth of Walt Disney World Resort's theme parks, provides “reel” escapism in true Hollywood fashion. As you enter the park, take note of the real screams emanating from The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Building more nail-biting suspense than a Hitchcock thriller, this “elevator” ride lifts occupants 13 floors and scares the screams out of them as it plunges—seemingly out of control—to the ground, then rises and falls repeatedly. Lighthearted “Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage!” captures the essence of the animated film in a whimsical musical that will have you humming its catchy show tunes for days.

Universal Orlando Resort, a AAA GEM attraction, has two action-packed theme areas and Universal CityWalk, a vibrant, evening entertainment district. Universal Studios Florida, the ultimate movie- and television-based experience, features rides that are equal parts exciting, exhilarating, frightening and fun. Try Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black Alien Attack, Terminator 2: 3-D or Shrek 4-D. Universal's Islands of Adventure has several theme areas, or islands. Ride along with Spider Man at Marvel Super Hero Island; walk through the pages of beloved storybooks at Seuss Landing; or escape from Jurassic Park's animatronic dinosaurs. And if all this does not thrill, take a spin on Dueling Dragons—twin inverted roller coasters that face off at 60 mph—or dare to participate in Fear Factor Live.

With nearly every activity centered on the sea and its inhabitants, the multidimensional marine adventure SeaWorld Orlando is every bit as entertaining as its mega-theme-park neighbors. Shamu and his podmates put on a dynamic display of killer-whale power, intelligence and slap-water humor, while a theater troupe of whales, dolphins, birds and humans team up to perform the Blue Horizons show. There's more splash than high-tech flash here, as it should be, and guests will likely get an education without even knowing it. Discovery Cove Orlando takes marine-life interaction to interpersonal levels with its dolphin encounters. If you've ever dreamed of hugging a sea mammal, this is the place for you. SeaWorld Orlando and Discovery Cove Orlando are AAA GEM attractions.

Elaborate dinner shows are Orlando's answer to “dinner and a movie.” At these one-stop, family-night-out venues, both the meal and the live entertainment are grand in scale. The feast and the equestrian feats are bold at Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament and Pirate's Dinner Adventure , two more arena productions.

Although dinner is not on this show's menu of extravagant—and sometimes bizarre—production numbers, La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil deserves honorable mention in the category of one-of-a-kind entertainment. Defying description (but here goes, anyway), this European-style circus features surrealistically dressed performers executing avant-garde dances and graceful acrobatics to original live music; in Cirque tradition, a story line weaves the vignette performances together. The theater is at Disney Springs™, Walt Disney World Resort's huge dining, shopping and entertainment complex (that was once known as the Downtown Disney Area). Besides Las Vegas, Orlando is the only city in the country with a resident Cirque troupe.

The country's most comprehensive, and indeed renowned, collection of works by an American designer-cum-artist resides in The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, a AAA GEM attraction in Winter Park. Exquisite stained glass pieces by Louis Comfort Tiffany grace open galleries and include windows, jewelry, lamps, objets d'art and the stunning chapel he created for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago; museum founders recovered the chapel from Tiffany's Long Island estate after a 1950s fire and later reassembled it here in its entirety.

If the Morse piqued your interest in art, consider taking in Winter Park's Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, with more than 200 installations on the sculptor's serene, lakeside retirement estate, or the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and its rich collection of American and European paintings; the Cornell is on the Rollins College campus.

Two of the central Florida's blockbuster attractions, both AAA GEMs, lie beyond Greater Orlando but are well within reach on the Atlantic Coast.

Kennedy Space Center

(KSC) is a working space facility and a showcase for achievements of the U.S. space program. Exciting exhibits, from real rockets to reels of space footage to an authentic piece of Mars, pack the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Bus tours pass the enormous Vehicle Assembly Building (the shuttle “garage”) and stop at an observation gantry for a view of the launch pads. Space Mirror Memorial, a sleek granite slab inscribed with the names of astronauts who died in service, moves with the sun to illuminate the names against its mirrored-sky surface, effectively—and quite poignantly—suspending the heroes' names in space. Through simulators at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, guests can command a space shuttle, walk on the moon, experience G-force and, if the facility fulfilled its mission, come to understand the human sacrifices made for space exploration.


See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.



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Orlando in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Orlando.

Millions vacation in Orlando each year. If you're among the park-hopping majority, you've probably arrived clutching multiday passes to Walt Disney World® Resort , Universal Orlando Resort or SeaWorld Orlando —or all of the above. Why not set aside a day or more to discover greater Orlando's other assets? You'll be pleasantly surprised by what lies outside those theme park gates. So hop in a car and go exploring.


Day 1: Morning
Start with a diner-style breakfast at Shakers American Cafe, in the trendy College Park neighborhood. The restaurant's moniker refers to the kitschy collection of salt and pepper shakers displayed on its walls.

Walk off that Western omelet in postcard-worthy Lake Eola Park. A band shell, amphitheater and lighted fountain punctuate the City Beautiful's 43-acre downtown oasis, a landmark since 1888. Toss bread to plucky ducks, pedal a swan boat across Lake Eola, or just plop down on a shaded bench and savor the serenity.

While the dew is still on the roses, amble through Harry P. Leu Gardens and experience sensory overload among vibrant seasonal blooms, lush semitropical plants, a camellia collection unequalled in the South and one of Florida's largest formal rose gardens. At some point, tour Leu House Museum.

Day 1: Afternoon
Lunch recommendations couldn't be simpler. Try Dexter's of Thornton Park, downtown, or head for the original— Dexter's of Winter Park —in nearby

Winter Park.



After lunch, stroll along Winter Park's chic Park Avenue, where you can shop at trendy clothing boutiques or pop into The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art to view an acclaimed Tiffany glass collection.

If you can't get enough of this upscale urban village, pick up an audiotape tour from the Winter Park Historical Museum, check out the fabulous art and lakeside botanical garden at Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens or opt for a relaxing sightseeing cruise offered by Scenic Boat Tours. You'll see lovely lakeside homes as your pontoon boat putters quietly along a chain of canals.

Day 1: Evening
With myriad entertainment options ranging from Broadway stage shows to a resident philharmonic orchestra to concerts by visiting top-name artists, Orlando's cultural calendar never disappoints. Visit Orlando, 8723 International Dr., distributes a variety of information that can help you plan a night on the town starting with a romantic dinner at The Boheme in The Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, Autograph Collection.

Day 2: Morning
If your children equate theme parks with the ultimate Florida adventure, introduce them to one of the state's wildest—and oldest—attractions: Gatorland, established in 1949, teems with wrestling alligators, crawling crocodiles and a serpentarium stocked with snakes.

Discover more of natural Florida with Boggy Creek Airboat Rides in

Kissimmee.

From a dock on East Lake Tohopekaliga, your airboat skims across the Everglades headwaters on a river of grass while you watch for gators, birds and native wildlife. Afterwards, grab a sandwich at East Lake Fish Camp.


Day 2: Afternoon
To stalk the elusive “bargainus fantasticus,” load the words Premium Outlets into your mapping device and aim the car in the direction of International Drive (I-Drive, to locals). Shooting from the wallet will bag trophy-size bargains at this shopping jungle, which harbors big-name designer stores Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger and more. Head to the upscale Mall at Millenia on Conroy Road for Chanel, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and other chic brands.

Day 2: Evening
When the dinner hour nears, get more bang for your buck at such family-friendly dinner shows as Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament and Pirate's Dinner Adventure . In addition to a spectacular arena performance, each venue serves up an informal, finger-licking feast and a good time.

Day 3: Morning
Rock your world at

Kennedy Space Center.

Arrive early and beat the crowds at Shuttle Launch Experience, a realistic simulation of a space adventure. With riveting exhibits, site tours, films, real rockets and an opportunity to have lunch with an astronaut, KSC can hold you in its orbit for the better part of a day.


Day 3: Afternoon
As long as you're on Florida's “Space Coast,” embrace the spirit of exploration. From KSC drive due south on SR A1A to

Cocoa Beach,

stopping at Cocoa Beach Pier for a hot dog and a nice ocean view or at Ron Jon Surf Shop for a souvenir or two. Continue south through a string of beach communities to land's end, at the tip of the barrier island. Or maybe head north from KSC to

Daytona Beach

and steer your vehicle onto the hard-packed sand where auto-racing history was made in the early 1900s.


Day 3: Evening
Hopefully, you've made reservations for La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil , at Disney Springs™. This is one of Orlando's hottest ongoing shows and the only performing resident Cirque troupe outside of Las Vegas. You'll want to arrive early or stay late to explore Disney Springs™—a vibrant place featuring a mix of boutiques, eateries and one-of-a-kind entertainment. Then you can stop for dinner at one of the many restaurants on-site— Portobello Country Italian Trattoria , Rainforest Cafe ® or Bongos Cuban Cafe Orlando, to name a few.

If you've already seen La Nouba, opt for an evening at Universal CityWalk. Laugh ‘till your cheeks hurt at the outrageous antics performed by alienlike Blue Man Group; drool over menu options at Emeril's; and later, sip a signature Hurricane while you belt out a song or two at the piano bar in Pat O'Brien's, a replica of the famous New Orleans nightspot.



close
Orlando in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Orlando.

Millions vacation in Orlando each year. If you're among the park-hopping majority, you've probably arrived clutching multiday passes to Walt Disney World® Resort , Universal Orlando Resort or SeaWorld Orlando —or all of the above. Why not set aside a day or more to discover greater Orlando's other assets? You'll be pleasantly surprised by what lies outside those theme park gates. So hop in a car and go exploring.


Day 1: Morning
Start with a diner-style breakfast at Shakers American Cafe, in the trendy College Park neighborhood. The restaurant's moniker refers to the kitschy collection of salt and pepper shakers displayed on its walls.

Walk off that Western omelet in postcard-worthy Lake Eola Park. A band shell, amphitheater and lighted fountain punctuate the City Beautiful's 43-acre downtown oasis, a landmark since 1888. Toss bread to plucky ducks, pedal a swan boat across Lake Eola, or just plop down on a shaded bench and savor the serenity.

While the dew is still on the roses, amble through Harry P. Leu Gardens and experience sensory overload among vibrant seasonal blooms, lush semitropical plants, a camellia collection unequalled in the South and one of Florida's largest formal rose gardens. At some point, tour Leu House Museum.

Day 1: Afternoon
Lunch recommendations couldn't be simpler. Try Dexter's of Thornton Park, downtown, or head for the original— Dexter's of Winter Park —in nearby

Winter Park.



After lunch, stroll along Winter Park's chic Park Avenue, where you can shop at trendy clothing boutiques or pop into The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art to view an acclaimed Tiffany glass collection.

If you can't get enough of this upscale urban village, pick up an audiotape tour from the Winter Park Historical Museum, check out the fabulous art and lakeside botanical garden at Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens or opt for a relaxing sightseeing cruise offered by Scenic Boat Tours. You'll see lovely lakeside homes as your pontoon boat putters quietly along a chain of canals.

Day 1: Evening
With myriad entertainment options ranging from Broadway stage shows to a resident philharmonic orchestra to concerts by visiting top-name artists, Orlando's cultural calendar never disappoints. Visit Orlando, 8723 International Dr., distributes a variety of information that can help you plan a night on the town starting with a romantic dinner at The Boheme in The Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, Autograph Collection.

Day 2: Morning
If your children equate theme parks with the ultimate Florida adventure, introduce them to one of the state's wildest—and oldest—attractions: Gatorland, established in 1949, teems with wrestling alligators, crawling crocodiles and a serpentarium stocked with snakes.

Discover more of natural Florida with Boggy Creek Airboat Rides in

Kissimmee.

From a dock on East Lake Tohopekaliga, your airboat skims across the Everglades headwaters on a river of grass while you watch for gators, birds and native wildlife. Afterwards, grab a sandwich at East Lake Fish Camp.


Day 2: Afternoon
To stalk the elusive “bargainus fantasticus,” load the words Premium Outlets into your mapping device and aim the car in the direction of International Drive (I-Drive, to locals). Shooting from the wallet will bag trophy-size bargains at this shopping jungle, which harbors big-name designer stores Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger and more. Head to the upscale Mall at Millenia on Conroy Road for Chanel, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and other chic brands.

Day 2: Evening
When the dinner hour nears, get more bang for your buck at such family-friendly dinner shows as Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament and Pirate's Dinner Adventure . In addition to a spectacular arena performance, each venue serves up an informal, finger-licking feast and a good time.

Day 3: Morning
Rock your world at

Kennedy Space Center.

Arrive early and beat the crowds at Shuttle Launch Experience, a realistic simulation of a space adventure. With riveting exhibits, site tours, films, real rockets and an opportunity to have lunch with an astronaut, KSC can hold you in its orbit for the better part of a day.


Day 3: Afternoon
As long as you're on Florida's “Space Coast,” embrace the spirit of exploration. From KSC drive due south on SR A1A to

Cocoa Beach,

stopping at Cocoa Beach Pier for a hot dog and a nice ocean view or at Ron Jon Surf Shop for a souvenir or two. Continue south through a string of beach communities to land's end, at the tip of the barrier island. Or maybe head north from KSC to

Daytona Beach

and steer your vehicle onto the hard-packed sand where auto-racing history was made in the early 1900s.


Day 3: Evening
Hopefully, you've made reservations for La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil , at Disney Springs™. This is one of Orlando's hottest ongoing shows and the only performing resident Cirque troupe outside of Las Vegas. You'll want to arrive early or stay late to explore Disney Springs™—a vibrant place featuring a mix of boutiques, eateries and one-of-a-kind entertainment. Then you can stop for dinner at one of the many restaurants on-site— Portobello Country Italian Trattoria , Rainforest Cafe ® or Bongos Cuban Cafe Orlando, to name a few.

If you've already seen La Nouba, opt for an evening at Universal CityWalk. Laugh ‘till your cheeks hurt at the outrageous antics performed by alienlike Blue Man Group; drool over menu options at Emeril's; and later, sip a signature Hurricane while you belt out a song or two at the piano bar in Pat O'Brien's, a replica of the famous New Orleans nightspot.



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