Walt Disney World Orlando Feature
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Many people love high-speed launches and stomach-churning multiple inversions. Simulator rides that produce similar results are just as popular. Strap on your seat belt and prepare for liftoff!
Roller Coasters. Coaster fans can't get enough of the Incredible Hulk at Islands of Adventure, Manta at SeaWorld, and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios. There's also Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom, Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Universal Studios, and SheiKra at Busch Gardens. Simulators. Soarin' at Epcot gives you the sensation of hang gliding over California. Wild Arctic at SeaWorld takes you on a virtual helicopter ride above polar ice caps. The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios is a cartoonish romp, and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Islands of Adventure uses 3-D technology to the max for high-voltage thrills. At DisneyQuest and WonderWorks you can "build," then ride, your own simulated roller coaster. Pretend you're an astronaut at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Launch Experience. Wet Rides. Hot Florida days and wet thrill rides go together like burgers and fries. Cool off at Journey to Atlantis at SeaWorld; Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls at Islands of Adventure; Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom; and Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom. Waterslides. Wedgie alert: get your bikini in a bunch on Humunga Kowabunga speed slide at Typhoon Lagoon, Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach, Bomb Bay at Wet 'n Wild, and Dolphin Plunge at Aquatica.
Special Effects and Interactive Fun
Bubbles burst on your nose. A 3-D Michael Jackson dances off the big screen. Cartoons come to life. Aliens attack. Anything's possible when theme-park attractions throw special effects, animation magic, and hands-on action into the mix.
Theater Shows. If you get a kick out of special-effects surprises in 3-D films, these top shows should be on your itinerary: Shrek 4-D at Universal Studios; It's Tough to Be a Bug! at Animal Kingdom; Mickey's PhilharMagic at Magic Kingdom; Captain EO (with Michael Jackson) at Epcot; and Muppet*Vision 3-D at Hollywood Studios. Interactive Rides. Competitive streak? These scored rides, complete with hands-on laser guns or spring-action shooters, are just the ticket: MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack at Universal Studios; Toy Story Midway Mania! at Hollywood Studios; and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin at Magic Kingdom. Audio-Animatronics. Disney's Audio-Animatronics characters pop up in every park, and some of the figures can be quite convincing. Among the best: the wicked witch of the Great Movie Ride "Oz" sequence at Hollywood Studios; the President Obama figure at the Hall of Presidents and Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean, both at Magic Kingdom; and the monstrous yeti of Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom. Cartoon Magic. Animation brings characters to life on dozens of rides and attractions, from nutty Homer at Universal's The Simpsons Ride to wacky Mushu of the Disney film Mulan at the Magic of Disney Animation in Hollywood Studios.
Alligators don't just hang out in Orlando's many large lakes—they also headline gator-wrestling shows and whole-chicken feeding frenzies at Gatorland. If reptiles aren't your thing, consider the options.
Natural Habitats. Frolic with dolphins and snorkel amid stingrays at Discovery Cove's Dolphin Lagoon and the Grand Reef. SeaWorld's Wild Arctic and other attractions feature many animals and fish in re-created environments. At Animal Kingdom you'll see Bengal tigers along the Maharajah Jungle Trek, lowland gorillas at Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, and Galápagos tortoises at Discovery Island Trails. Myombe Reserve at Busch Gardens is a rain-forest environment with gorillas and chimps. Safaris. Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom is a bumpy adventure in open-air vehicles through African habitats. No 20-minute safari is the same, as the elephants, hippos, lions, zebras, and other animals are constantly on the move. At Busch Gardens the off-road Rhino Rally safari passes crocs, rhinos, and hippos. Performances. SeaWorld is the top park in which to see animals trained to entertain. Shamu makes a huge splash in the show One Ocean. Sea lions, otters, and walruses astound you at the Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island dramedy. At the Pets Ahoy show, dogs, cats, parrots, and even a pig play for laughs. Critter Connections. At Rafiki's Planet Watch in Animal Kingdom are exotic animal encounters and a petting yard with animals from around the world. At SeaWorld, you can feed and pet dolphins at Key West and stroke rays at Stingray Lagoon.
Parades, Fireworks, and Shows
Lights, fireworks, action! You'll get your fill at Orlando's theme parks. The Magic Kingdom alone uses 683 pieces of pyro nightly for its dazzling 12-minute Wishes fireworks and music show. If you love a parade, find your section of curb and park it early.
Daytime Pageants. You can set your watch by the Magic Kingdom's daily 3 pm Disney character parade, Celebrate a Dream Come True. Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade is a safari of fun at Animal Kingdom, and Pixar Pals: Countdown to Fun is a daily event at Hollywood Studios. Nighttime Spectacles. The Magic Kingdom's Wishes explodes almost nightly over Cinderella Castle, and the Main Street Electrical Parade with millions of twinkling lights charms crowds several times weekly along Main Street, U.S.A. Epcot's nightly IllumiNations combines music, flames, fireworks, and fountains in a 13-minute display of near-cosmic proportion. Get a seat early for Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios, a 25-minute fireworks, laser, lights, and dancing-fountains show starring Sorcerer Mickey Mouse, which runs several times nightly during busy times and two or three times weekly in the off-season. Explosive Action. The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad Stunt Show at Islands of Adventure juices up its story line with 25 minutes of physical stunt work, plus water explosions, flames, and fireworks. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! has dynamic action sequences straight from the film. Car, boat, and motorcycle stunts take the stage at the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show (both at Hollywood Studios).
Orlando attracts millions of visitors each year, and it stands to reason that some are big spenders. Here are our favorite upscale lodging resorts that offer an array of amenities from first-rate service, fine food, and pampering spas to championship golf courses, attractive architecture, and a general ambience of luxury.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. One of the few places at Disney where the exotic animals strolling past your window are real. The soaring thatch-roofed lobby is breathtaking, and staff tell stories about their African homelands. Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. A hotel in the Victorian style, complete with broad verandas, that allows guests to feel as though they've traveled back in time to an era when they were truly pampered. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. The hotel is as close to a clone of the Mediterranean town as you'll find; it's easy to imagine yourself in Italy, sunbathing in a formal Italian garden, drinking Campari and enjoying La Dolce Vita, contemplating a fine Italian dinner or a visit to the restful spa. Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes. A golf course, a spa, and chef Norman Van Aken's signature restaurant are just some of the jewels set in this luxury chain. Waldorf Astoria Orlando. Although it's not an exact copy of the famed Manhattan original, it's a thoroughly updated ode to Waldorf luxury, with a deluxe spa, fine restaurants, and a championship golf course.
Family- and Budget-Friendly Stays
Families flock to this theme-park-oriented area, which means that there are endless budget options that can accommodate the entire clan.
All-Star Sports, Music, and Movies Resorts. Each section of these sprawling resorts is geared to a particular interest, providing fun for kids and a break for parents' wallets. The Music resort pays homage to genres from Broadway show tunes to country, jazz, and rock and roll; the pools are shaped like a guitar and a piano. In the Movies resort, huge characters from classic Disney films frame each building. The Sports resort celebrates baseball, football, basketball, and more, and has a pool shaped like a baseball diamond. Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort. Close enough to Disney to watch the fireworks from your balcony, this hotel has something for every member of the family: free Wi-Fi, free shuttles to Disney and outlet malls, and a fun pool. Best of all, it's within walking distance of Downtown Disney's entertainment complex. Fort Wilderness Resort Campground. This relatively unknown and inexpensive part of Disney World offers a unique glimpse of Florida wilderness, along with entertainment, such as the ridiculously funny Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, which makes the kid in all of us erupt with laughter. If you don't have a tent, staff will provide one and put it up! Nickelodeon Suites Resort. Sponge Bob and Co. are as familiar to kids as Mickey and Minnie, and this reasonably priced hotel complex is near Disney but allows for an escape to something completely different.
The Orlando dining scene does not consist only of hamburgers and hot dogs. You can also find five-star dining and creative cuisine mixed in among the sea of food courts and fast-food chains.
Boma. African-inspired dishes like spiced roasted chicken and curried-coconut seafood stew are a hit with parents and kids at this casual and excellent buffet in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Luma on Park. Under the deft guidance of chef Brandon McGlamery, over-the-top delicious takes on creative American fare are served in a stylish see-and-be-seen space right on Winter Park's tony Park Avenue. Primo. Melissa Kelly's farm-to-table ethos is in full effect at the Orlando outpost of the chef's famed Italian-organic Maine restaurant. Here produce is grown in the hotel garden, so diners can expect all of the dishes to be prepared with the freshest ingredients. The Ravenous Pig. From a charcuterie platter on which every salami is made entirely from scratch to a small inventive menu that changes every day based on what's fresh in the market (plus the best burger in town), this comfortable Winter Park gastropub is worth the drive. Victoria & Albert's. One of the plushest dining experiences in Florida, this restaurant serves up modern American cuisine with a seven-course prix-fixe menu that changes daily.
Part of the fun of Orlando is the over-the-top theme parks, and the restaurants to match. Here are our favorite restaurants where ambience and decor are just as prized as what is on the plate.
Cuba Libre. This expansive eatery replicates the streets of Cuba, and if you close your eyes, sip a mojito, and snack on some papas rellenas, you'll almost feel like you're in Havana. 50's Prime Time Café. Head back in time at this replica of a kitschy, classic American diner. Clips of sitcoms like I Love Lucy and the Donna Reed Show play in the background as you chow down on comfort-food favorites like meat loaf and fried chicken. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. Dine in at this (fake) drive-in, where standard American fare like salads, sandwiches, and burgers are served to you as you sit in a faux convertible and watch movie clips from classic sci-fi flicks from the '50s and '60s. Taverna Opa. Taverna Opa takes Greek dining to a whole new level. While sampling excellent Mediterranean fare, you are entertained by a fire-eating belly dancer. If the spirit moves you, dance around the dining room with a slew of fellow guests. Three Broomsticks. Harry Potter fans should look no further than this fast-food restaurant designed to look like a tavern at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. Dining here feels like you're in the heart of Hogsmeade, rather than the heart of Orlando.Updated: 09-2013
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