Entire guidebooks are devoted to covering the mind-boggling array of tourist attractions in and around Orlando, but three words would probably suffice: Walt Disney World. As many as 100,000 people come here during the winter and Spring Break peak seasons to experience the magic of the Magic Kingdom, which is divided into four main areas—the Magic Kingdom amusement park; the Animal Kingdom animal park, which is also home to Pandora—The World of Avatar; the once-futuristic 1980s-era Epcot; and the Disney Hollywood studio tours, which is also home to the Aerosmith-themed Rock and Rollercoaster, Disney World’s second-fastest. The best way to see all of them is to get a Park Hopper pass ($162 and up), which allows entry to all four parks on every day covered by your ticket. Hard-core fans can buy an annual pass (around $779). For further information on admission and lodging packages, check online or call 407/939-5277.
At the time of this writing, there’s still no law that says you have to go to Disney World just because you’ve come to Florida, but it is a cultural phenomenon and more than a little fun. While you’re in Orlando, you may want to visit other big-time attractions like Sea World and Universal Studios, but there are also some funky, pre-Disney-era tourist traps, with ad budgets small enough that you won’t have to fight the crowds. Best of this bunch is probably Gatorland (14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 800/393-5297, daily, $27), where thousands of alligators, crocodiles, snakes, and other reptiles are gathered together in a cypress swamp. Pass the original park entrance, shaped like a gator’s gaping jaws, thankfully preserved for posterity. Inside, you can see such sights as live chickens being dangled over a pond, taunting the hungry carnivorous gators just out of reach below. Continuing south along US-441, past the world headquarters of Tupperware, another sight of offbeat interest is the 100-year-old historic district at the heart of Kissimmee (pop. 59,682), where The Monument of States, a 50-foot stone and concrete pyramid, constructed in 1943 with rocks from most states, as well as 21 countries, stands in Lakefront Park.
The entertaining design of Disney World doesn’t stop at the park gates; au contraire. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the Disney experience is seeing how the clever folks at Disney maximize their revenues, specifically by offering a full range of lodging, dining, shopping, and entertainment options around the park. Disney’s extraordinary Animal Kingdom Lodge (407/938-3000, $319 and up), where a 43-acre savannah landscape, complete with roaming giraffes and zebras visible from your balconies, offers families and fans of The Lion King the chance to take an African safari—without the jet lag. And it’s not all just for little kids: sports fans flock to the All-Star Sports Resort, a moderately priced sports-themed hotel near the ESPN/ABC Wide World of Sports complex, spring training home of the Atlanta Braves. For a Disneyfied view of the ideal American town, visit the Walt Disney Company’s pleasant retro-Victorian planned community of Celebration (pop. 7,427 and growing), south of US-192 at the I-4 junction. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the town seen in the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show (that was Seaside, in the Florida Panhandle), but it could have been.
Between Orlando and the Space Coast, the Beachline Expressway (Hwy-528) is a fast, flat toll road, with only four exits in the 30 miles between I-95 and greater Orlando.