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Orlando + Disney World See And Do

Exit 64A off I-4
Celebration , Florida

In 1994, Disney capitalized on the Central Florida real-estate boom in a controversial way: It opened its own town where it could professionally administer the company's ethos to eager buyers. At first, it seemed as if many of the new residents were actually journalists researching books about living in the enforced paradise, but in time, the town's tastefully arranged, gabled houses and obsessively quaint Market Street acquired earnest residents and businesses, plus a few Disney offices. Now managed by outside real-estate concerns, everything, down to paint color and hydrant placement, was calculated to instill the warm-fuzzies by corporate designers. Drive-by gawking is common, as are return glares from behind shifting curtains.

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
445 N. Park Avenue
Winter Park , Florida
Tel: 407 645 5311

Located a few miles north of downtown Orlando in tony Winter Park, the Morse Museum's core collection, spread over 8,000 square feet of hushed and artfully downlit exhibition space, is the world's most comprehensive collection of works by Art Nouveau glassworker Louis Comfort Tiffany, many of which were acquired by a wealthy collector after the artist's Long Island home was destroyed in the 1950s. Case after case of masterpieces can turn even the most casual visitor into an art glass aficionado. In addition to an original Norman Rockwell, make sure to view the on-site chapel, designed by Tiffany for the Chicago's World Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Disney's Animal Kingdom
Walt Disney World Resort
Lake Buena Vista , Florida
Tel: 407 824 4321

Added in 1998, Animal Kingdom is the most spacious Disney Park by a large margin (500 acres), although most of that belongs to the menagerie of exotic, free-roaming animals. See them on the 20-minute excursion, "Kilimanjaro Safaris," as soon as the park opens, before long lines form and the animals seek shelter from the sun. When Disney realized the Kingdom's big-ticket attractions (the clever, sense-tricking movie It's Tough to Be a Bug! shown beneath the Tree of Life, the bruising indoor ride Dinosaur, and a few exhibits about animal conservation) weren't keeping guests busy enough to stay until closing time (at dusk), they added a roller coaster, Expedition Everest, in spring 2006 and a Broadway-style musical version of Finding Nemo, opened a year later. Despite these additions, visitors still tend to vacate the park by 2pm or so. Since much of the park's attractions are exposed to the elements, either limit your visit to the cooler morning hours or make sure to wear appropriate clothing.

Disney's Hollywood Studios
Walt Disney World Resort
Lake Buena Vista , Florida
Tel: 407 824 4321

Opened in 1989 (in part to head off Universal Studios, which debuted the following year), Disney's third Florida park was intended to double as a functioning studio, but the clients didn't materialize. The resulting property's most celebrated attractions are the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror—a technological and artistic home run that thrills guests by emulating a haunted elevator car—and an indoor roller-coaster (Disney World's only upside-down ride). It's also home to the new Toy Story Mania, an addictive ride through a 3-D video arcade simulating a half dozen carnival games, such as pie throwing and ringtoss. Otherwise, the Studios are mostly a place to catch live shows suited to the very young, including an electrifying car stunt show and bite-size versions of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

Walt Disney World Resort
Lake Buena Vista , Florida
Tel: 407 824 4321

Although Walt Disney wanted Epcot to be a real experimental community, like the Biosphere, what eventually opened 16 years after his death was more akin to a World's Fair, with corporate-sponsored rides and a mini-United Nations of pavilions representing a few of the world's countries. Epcot's focal point, the gorgeous orb of Spaceship Earth, houses one of the last attractions remaining from the 1982 opening, a history of communications. The Future World area, which surrounds Spaceship Earth is really a collection of family-friendly thrills like the launch simulator Mission:Space and the flying simulator Soarin' (it's the current blockbuster attraction, so hit it up early, when the line is short). World Showcase, gathered on a 1.3-mile footpath encircling the World Showcase Lagoon, is staffed by people native to the country of their respective pavilions. The American pavilion takes pride of place at the center, though the most interesting shopping options are in the Japan pavilion, which operates an outpost of Tokyo's historic Mitsukoshi department store. Authentic souvenirs and food are available at each stop, along with alcohol, which isn't sold at the Magic Kingdom.

14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail
Orlando , Florida
Tel: 407 855 5496

Before Disney gave the Central Florida backwoods a modicum of sophistication, Gatorland's oversized gator mouth entranceway, which debuted in the 1950s, was the epitome of the area's populist tourist mentality. It's still going all these years later, feeding the ornery reptiles for the pleasure of cringing tourists. The most popular show, Gator Jumparoo, features the creatures propelling themselves out of the water to clamp their powerful jaws around chicken carcasses suspended from wires. Visit on warm, sunny days when the cold-blooded animals are more active.

Islands of Adventure
Universal Orlando Resort
Orlando , Florida
Tel: 407 363 8000

Considered by aficionados to be the best-designed amusement park on earth, IOA's designers spared little expense. Its five themed areas (Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing) are distinct and hand-designed down to the lampshades and the trash cans. Its entangled Dueling Dragons coasters are synchronized to tease riders with three near-collisions, and the Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges are the wettest and most thrilling of the white-water boat genre. Don't miss the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, where riders don 3-D glasses and whisk through a series of rooms in which motion simulation, animation, and sense trickery (bursts of flame, water droplets) collaborate in thrilling harmony. Next up for the park: A whole Harry Potter universe, set to open in 2010. Leave your bags in your car (the parking lot's covered), since you can't bring anything but yourself and your screams onto the roller coasters.

Magic Kingdom
Walt Disney World Resort
Lake Buena Vista , Florida
Tel: 407 824 4321

When most first-time visitors imagine Walt Disney World, the place with the castle, the Hall of Presidents, and Space Mountain, they're thinking of the Magic Kingdom, which was the first of the four theme parks to open on Disney property back in 1971. A larger version of California's original Disneyland, its idealized mock-up of a prototypical Main Street USA spills into several themed areas (Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Mickey's Toontown Fair) stocked with tame rides and wandering Mickeys, Minnies, Goofys, and the odd Captain Hook. Get those famous mouse ears at Le Chapeau, just to the right as you enter. The lines for the kiddie rides of Fantasyland are shortest immediately after opening and again in the evening, when tykes go to bed. Otherwise, the Fastpass system allows you to pick up timed tickets, which get you onto the ride with a much shorter wait; use it liberally. The Kingdom experiences its biggest crowds on Mondays, so plan your trip accordingly. And if you plan on staying for the evening fireworks, wait around for 45 minutes or so to avoid the crush of departing visitors that overwhelms the transportation systems.

Seaworld Orlando
7007 SeaWorld Drive
Orlando , Florida
Tel: 800 327 2424

Here, the pace is slower than at most amusement parks, because the focus is on wildlife and education instead of magic or thrills. Yes, there's the savage Kraken roller coaster and the Journey to Atlantis flume to appease the kids, but by and large, this well-manicured park provides a place to peer into aquariums at your own speed and observe manatees, dolphins, penguins, beluga whales, walruses, and other giants of the sea. The park's prize orcas, collectively named Shamu, perform several times daily at a specially constructed stadium that affords views from above and under the surface of the water. The killer whale's favorite trick? Dousing anyone within reach—so pay close attention to the "splash zones" delineated on stadium floors.

Hotel Photo
Universal Studios
Universal Orlando Resort
Orlando , Florida
Tel: 407 363 8000

Universal Orlando emerged on Central Florida's theme-park scene back in 1990, but it's safe to say that the park's crowning moment came in June 2010 with the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Devotees descend in (often costumed) droves to sip butterbeer, see quaffle balls fly, and worship at the shrine of screen-set perfection, Hogsmeade Village (if you have to ask what these things are, this attraction is not for you). But there is more to the park than just Harry. Islands of Adventure (which includes the Harry Potter attraction) has high-adrenalin rides like the Incredible Hulk roller coaster and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. Universal Studios, the park's original movie-set offering, includes the Back to the Future ride (still good fun despite all the technology that's come since) and Shrek 4-D. The party continues into the night at Universal CityWalk, the free-admission pedestrian-oriented entertainment complex with live music venues such as Hard Rock Live and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. Perennially popular Universal Orlando events include Halloween Horror Nights and Mardi Gras; basically, it's a party here year-round.—Updated by Terry Ward

Villas of Grand Cypress
1 N. Jacaranda
Orlando , Florida
Tel: 407 239 4700
Tel: 877 330 7377

Orlando is where some of golf's biggest names live: Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, and David Leadbetter all maintain bases here. For them—not to mention all those convention-goers—the more than two dozen local courses have got to be worth their putters. Grand Cypress, which is conveniently located out the north door of the Disney complex, is often hailed as the best golf resort in Orlando and one of the best three in Florida. Longtime local Jack Nicklaus designed the holes (there are 45 on 1,500 acres) and still has a vested interest in the grounds, which operate as a self-contained resort. The easiest way to secure a tee time is to stay at the resort, which gives first dibs on course reservations to villa guests.

Wekiwa Springs State Park
1800 Wekiwa Circle
Apopka , Florida
Tel: 877 857 7625
Tel: 407 884 2008

Most Orlando visitors trek east or west to the state's coastal beaches if they are craving a water adventure. They would be better off at Wekiwa Springs, just a half hour north of the theme park corridor, for cave diving, kayaking, and splashing around in a spring. All you need is a snorkel mask to bask in the beauty of crystal-clear waters bubbling up from a pristine source; canoes and kayaks are available for getting out on the narrow river to spot wading birds, turtles, and, yes, alligators. (Heads up: The water is 72 degrees year-round—downright chilly in the winter, rejuvenating in the summer.) On dry land, there's a fantastic spot for picnicking on the gently sloping knoll that descends to a large swimming area at the spring head. The landscape of oak trees draped in Spanish moss is a window into what Central Florida's landscape was like before the citrus industry and theme parks came to town.—Terry Ward

Open daily 8 am to sunset.

Wet 'N Wild
6200 International Drive
Orlando , Florida
Tel: 407 351 1800
Tel: 800 992 9453

Purchased by Universal in 1998 as another jewel to add to its O-Town crown, Wet 'n Wild made its splash when it opened in 1977 and has since become the most popular water slide park in the country. No cloying themes or lush landscaping here—just wet thrills, like raft flumes, nearly vertical body slides, wave pools, and Disco H20, where cloverleaf rafts swirl around an indoor water disco. The water's heated for year-round sliding, though during winter some rides are shut down in rotation for their annual scrubbing.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.