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Orlando - Orange County and Mickey Mouse

Orlando is of course right on the door step of Walt Disney World at Lake Buena Vista which many holiday makers will make a bee line for.

Traditionally the economy of Orlando was based around orange growing, hence Orange County, however, apart from the Walt Disney World Resort, the city is well known for hosting large conventions and conferences of all sorts.

Orlando has the second largest number of hotel rooms in the country after Las Vegas so chances are you'll be able to grab one without too much trouble.

Of course if you're looking further afield, Orlando serves as an ideal gateway to other places such as Coco Beach, Daytona Beach and Cape Canaveral.

www.cityoforlando.net

Top 10 things to do in Orlando

Walt Disney Resorts

What trip to Orlando wouldn't be complete without going to the Walt Disney Resorts.

Located about 34km southwest of Orlando, this top attraction has everything to keep kids and adults amused for days.

For theme parks you have the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom along with Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach water parks.

And when you've just about had enough rides for one day you can stroll around Downtown or meander along the BoardWalk.

Each of the resorts offer different styled and priced accommodation or you could stay at the two huge central hotels, The Swan and The Dolphin.

This place is really magical and you don't just have to be a kid to enjoy yourself here.

www.disneyworld.com

Universal Orlando

The resort, consists of two theme parks - Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

First opened in 1990, Universal Studios lets visitors "Ride the Movies" by immersing them in rides that are styled around a particular film.

The park consists of six themed areas - Hollywood, Production Central, New York, San Francisco / Amity, World Expo and KidZone.

Some of the 3D simulator rides are just a little bit too real but you find yourself itching for "just another go".

Islands of Adventure opened slightly later in 1999 and the park is currently composed of six distinct "islands", each having its own theme.

Visitors start off in the Port of Entry and make their way through the various islands - Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing.

A new island themed to the popular Harry Potter film and book series is scheduled to be opening in Spring 2010. Ever wanted to visit Hogwarts?

Once the kids are tucked up in bed and the babysitter is settled in you should head out to sample the night life at Universal CityWalk. You'll find a 20 screen AMC Universal Cineplex, numerous restaurants, shops, and clubs all with a different theme and style.

www.universalorlando.com

Seaworld

SeaWorld is the ultimate aquarium and lets you get up close with a variety of ocean life.

The live shows are great with a good balance of education for the kids and entertainment (for the grown-up kids). Included in the line-up are killer whales, dolphins and sea lions.

Every area that hosts the live shows has a huge TV display showing close ups of all the action so no matter where you sit you'll be able to see all the good parts.

It's not all about watching dolphins jumping through hoops as there are many rides within the park including Kraken, a floorless roller coaster and Journey to Atlantis, a boat/roller coaster ride themed on the mythical Atlantis.

The park itself has three themed areas; Key West, which is designed to mimic the city of Key West in Florida, Shamu's Happy Harbour, a children's play area themed around the park's killer whale mascot Shamu and finally The Waterfront which is the newest section of SeaWorld and resembles a seaside Mediterranean village containing shops and restaurants, as well as the park's iconic Sky Tower ride.

Timings of the live shows, entertainment schedules, opening times and pricing information can all be found on the parks website.

www.seaworld.com/orlando/

Discovery Cove

The main difference between Discovery Cove and it's adjacent sister resorts of SeaWorld and Aquatica is that this one is all about interacting with the different species in park.

Discovery Cove offers the opportunity to schedule a reservation to “talk, touch, play and swim” with bottlenose dolphins. With the help of trained dolphin adventure guides, you receive a safety orientation and information session to learn about the dolphins before moving to the dolphin pool.

You are then shown how to use hand signals and positive reinforcement to encourage the dolphins to perform tricks before participating in a one-on-one swim. An unforgettable experience and top on many peoples to-do lists.

In addition to swimming with dolphins, Discovery Cove guests can interact with exotic birds, tropical fishes, rays, and land mammals.

Admission to the park is all-inclusive including food, drink and equipment rentals along with a complementary ticket to SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica, or Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

www.discoverycove.com

Science Centre

The centre started out in 1955 as an anthropology museum with collections of artifacts relating to Florida and the Caribbean Basin.

In the early 1970's the centre changed directions to become a "hands-on" science and technology centre, changing it's name for the last time in 1984 to it's current one.

It's mission is simple - to inspire science learning for life.

There are usually around 8-10 exhibits that change frequently, so checking the website for what's on is essential before planning your trip.

The current exhibits include Dr. Phillips CineDome, an eight story dome showing giant-screen films and planetarium shows.

The Orlando Science Center is open year round, and is closed on Wednesdays and four other days throughout the year, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

www.osc.org

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Gatorland

Gatorland is a 0.45 km² theme park and wildlife preserve located along South Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando.

It was founded by Owen Godwin in 1949, and still privately owned by his family today and is billed as the "Alligator Capital of the World.

It features thousands of alligators and crocodiles, a breeding marsh with boardwalk and observation tower, reptile shows, aviary, petting zoo, swamp walk and educational programs.

The live shows include an alligator wrestling show done "Florida Cracker" style in a shaded 800 seat stadium.

Gator wranglers catch a 6 to 8 foot alligator by hand and climb onto the snapping animal's back to point out survival features to the audience. After doing stunts that only a few are brave (or foolish) enough to try, the alligator is rolled over and put to sleep...only to be awakened by a tickle!

The park is open daily from 9am until 5pm. Check the website for the daily show times and pricing information, before you visit.

www.gatorland.com

Kennedy Space Centre

Planning your trip further afield, the John F. Kennedy Space Center is located on Merritt Island and is the US government installation that managed and operates America's astronaut launch facilities.

The visitor centre is really the best place to get detailed information about the human space flight programme. This is really a full-day excursion.

To get the most out of the visit it'd be highly recommended to get a guided tour around the complex and launch pads (from the safety of a viewing gantry of course).

Just walking around and underneath the giant Saturn V moon rocket is breathtaking and no picture can really show the huge scale of this feat of engineering.

Along with a variety of IMAX movies and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, you'll probably be pushed to see everything in just one day.

If you time it right you could even experience a launch!

www.kennedyspacecenter.com

Lake Eola Park

The centrepiece of downtown Orlando is Lake Eola Park with 43 acres of generous sidewalks for strolling and jogging on the .9-mile loop around the water.

It's a popular destination with beautiful surroundings to walk at lunch and you'll find a mixture of locals and tourists all round the lake.

Swan-shaped paddle boats or gondolas can be rented for a trip around the lake.

Lake Eola Park also provides a playground, a small outdoor cafe and the Walt Disney Amphitheatre for special events.

The park is located at 195 N Rosalind Avenue and is open Monday through Friday from 6am to midnight.

The fountain in the middle of the lake no longer works after it was struck by lightning in 2009 although it still illuminates the lake at night making it ideal for a romantic stroll.

www.cityoforlando.net/fpr/Html/Parks/lakeeola.htm

Air Boat Trip

Get a bit of real Orlando swamp life up close and personal with a thrilling airboat tour.

You'll be skimming along the surface at over 50mph taking in the sights of the Florida Everglades just like on those TV shows.

With modern in-helmet communications, the airboat captain will give you a guided commentary along the way with chances to see some Alligators at frightfully close quarters and you can ask him any questions you have along the way.

Each of the boats can carry about 6 people at a time and tours can last from 90 minutes to a full 2 hours, at extra cost of course. All ages are catered for.

This type of tour is quickly becoming one of the top attractions outside the usual Disney World resorts so why not try something a bit different to make your trip to Orlando that bit more memorable.

spiritoftheswamp.com

Leu Gardens

The Harry P. Leu Gardens are semi-tropical and tropical gardens covering a 20km² area.

The landscaped grounds and lakes, with meandering trails shaded by 200 year-old oaks and forests of camellias are an idyllic getaway. Each area of the garden is dedicated to the collection of a particular species or related species of flora.

The Leu Gardens were started by Mr. and Mrs. Harry P. Leu, who in 1936 purchased Leu House and 16km² of land. The Leus travelled all over the world and brought back many exotic plants and many varieties (240) of camellias for their gardens. In 1961, the Leus deeded the house and the gardens to the city of Orlando.

At the heart of the Gardens is Harry and Mary Jane Leu’s home, known as the Leu House Museum, which has been meticulously restored and is on the National Historical Register.

Guided tours of the Leu House, illustrating turn-of-the century Florida living, are available on the hour and the half-hour.

www.leugardens.org

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