Detour: Orlando and Walt Disney World
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, a new Animal Kingdom animal park, the once-futuristic 1980s-era Epcot, and the Disney Hollywood studio tours (which is also home to the Aerosmith-themed Rock ’n’ Rollercoaster, Disney World’s second-fastest). A one-day ticket to the whole shebang will set you back around $140 per person; the best way to see all of them is to get a Park Hopper pass, which is valid for multiple days (about $100 a day). Hardcore fans can buy an annual pass (around $650). 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, 407/855-5496, daily, $27), where thousands of alligators, crocodiles, snakes, and other reptiles are gathered together in a cypress swamp. You enter through a gator’s gaping jaws, and 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. 38,200), where a 50-foot stone and concrete pyramid, constructed in 1943 with rocks from most states, as well as 21 countries, stands in Lake Front 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. It doesn’t take a Boy Genius to figure out the customer base of Disney World’s Jimmy Neutron-themed Nickelodeon Suites (877/642-5111, $109 and up), a kid-friendly Holiday Inn with multiple bedroom suites (and a fun but chaotic pool area—avoid the holiday peak times) near Disney World. Another movie spinoff is Disney’s extraordinary Animal Kingdom Lodge (407/938-3000, $284 and up), where a 30-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 next to the ESPN/ABC Wide World of Sports complex, spring training home of the Atlanta Braves.
Between Orlando and the Space Coast, the Beeline Expressway (Hwy-528) is a fast, flat toll road, with only three exits in the 30 miles between I-95 and greater Orlando.