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Orlando Executive Airport Code: ORL
International Airport Code: MCO
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The international airport is nine miles south of downtown; collect brochures and discount coupons at the official information booth (daily 7am-11pm). Shuttle buses (24hr; best prices offered by Mears run to any hotel for around $15, while a taxi to downtown, International Drive or the motels on Hwy-192 costs around $30. Buses and trains arrive downtown at the Greyhound terminal, 555 N John Young Parkway, and the Amtrak station, 1400 Sligh Blvd. Pick up discount coupons and promotional offers at the efficient Visitor Information Center, 8723 International Drive (daily 8am-7pm; tel 407/363-5872 or 1-800/643-9492, ). Orlando has more visitors than any other place in the state. The reason, of course, is Walt Disney World , which, along with Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, Sea World and a host of themed attractions, pulls more than 25 million people a year. Despite enormous expansion over the last decade, the town itself remains free of the commercialism that surrounds it.
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Visitor Information about Orlando, FL, Florida
Discovery Cove, the second of Sea World's theme parks, limits visitors to those with reservations and will entitle you to swim and play with dolphins, snorkel up to sharks and barracudas behind a clear partition and feed tropical birds in a resort-like setting.
Of the three Disney-owned waterparks, Blizzard Beach, on World Drive north of the All-Star Resorts, is the most creative, based on the fantasy that a hapless entrepreneur has opened a ski resort in Florida and the entire thing has started to melt. Star of the show is Summit Plummet, which shoots you down a 120ft vertical drop at more than fifty miles per hour. Gentler rides include toboggan-style slalom courses and covered raft rides. As well as the slides, Typhoon Lagoon, at Lake Buena Vista, features geysers and a rainforest, a huge surfing pool and a shark reef, where you can snorkel among tropical fish. River Country is older, smaller and quieter.
Wet 'n' Wild, 6200 International Drive defends itself admirably in the face of the Disney competition, with a range of excellent slides including the challenging seven-story Bomb Bay and the almost vertical Der Stuka. Lines are shorter, too.
Sea World, at Sea Harbor Drive, near the intersection of I-4 and the Bee Line Expressway, the cream of Florida's sizable crop of marine parks, should not be missed; allocate a day to see it all. The big event is the Shamu Adventure show - beginning with a pre-show film attempting to justify the twenty minutes of tricks then performed by killer whales. The Wild Arctic complex, complete with artificial snow and ice, shows off beluga whales, walruses and a couple of claustrophobic-looking polar bears; the experience is topped off by a thrilling simulated helicopter flight through an Arctic blizzard. The park's first thrill ride, Journey to Atlantis, is part fantasy, part waterslide, part roller coaster, and has a sixty-foot drop. You will get drenched - by the ride and by other tourists who pay for the privilege of spraying you. With substantially less razzmatazz, plenty of smaller tanks and displays explain more than you need to know about the undersea world. Among the highlights, the Penguin Encounter attempts to re-create Antarctica with scores of waddling birds scampering over an iceberg; the occupants of the Dolphin Pool assert their advanced intellect by flapping their fins and soaking passersby; and Terrors of the Deep includes a walk through a glass-sided tunnel, offering the closest eye-contact you're ever likely to have with a shark and live to tell the tale.
For some years, it seemed that US TV and film production would move away from California to Florida, which, with its lower taxes was more amenable, and the opening of Universal Studios Escape in 1990 appeared to confirm that trend, now known as Universal Studios, it has become a major player in the theme park arena. While Disney still holds court, Universal has drawn much attention, adding the hi-tech, special effects-laden Islands of Adventure and CityWalk, an earthier lure for nightlife dollars than Downtown Disney. Universal is also aspiring to full-fledged resort status with the Portofino Bay Hotel and plans for other accommodation. For access to all areas, park in the garage half a mile north of exits 29 and 30B off I-94.
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