Orlando’s Theme Parks
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Orlando’s theme parks not for you?
Think again, says Neil Bonner.
Orlando, Florida, is home to some of
the best white-knuckle rides in the world. But if you are of an age, or
scaredy-cat disposition, where your role in life is chief bag watcher while
more adventurous, and possibly younger, members of your party do the
heart-stopping stuff, don’t worry. There’s still plenty for you to do within
Orlando and the surrounding area.
Even if you never normally step on
to anything more adventurous than an escalator, don’t dismiss the Disney and
Universal theme parks too readily. Instead, while your thrill-seeking gang
enjoy stomach-churning excitement on daring rides, take time to embrace what
these two giants of the entertainment business have been spending their
billions of dollars on recently.
For instance, whether you’re a fan
of the Star Wars films or not, you cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer
brilliance of Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge, a massive wonderland that includes a
bustling marketplace and a full-sized Millennium Falcon spaceship. The Mickey
Mouse organisation is now pulling in fans by the thousands to ‘fly’ this iconic
monster on a thrilling interactive smuggling mission. Just being there is
fantastic, so take the opportunity to admire the sheer artistry that has gone
into creating the fantasy Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu. Note how
crumbling walls are pock-marked with reminders of blaster power from previous
missions and how metal fixtures appear to be covered in rust. All fake, of
course, but it looks great. You might get a polite but menacing warning from a
passing Stormtrooper, asking you to move on! It’s all part of the fun.
Disney is also scoring big with an
additional new mystical land based on the world of Pandora from the 2009 film
Avatar. The two rides here, Navi River Journey and Flight of Passage, rather
than spinning you senseless, are both quite magical, immersing you in another
land full of beautiful plants and fantasy creatures.
Universal has plenty of big hitters,
too. So, while you might think twice about riding Hagrid’s Motorbike, a new
hardcore thrill ride for which the more daring visitor willingly queues for two
hours or more, soak up the brilliance of Universal dream makers whose Wizarding
World of Harry Potter is simply breath-taking.
In this escalating tit-for-tat war
of fun, nothing stands still for long. Universal is building a new Jurassic
World roller coaster due to open in 2020. So, who will be the eventual winners
in this intriguing battle for thrill seekers?
But not all of Florida’s theme parks
are in Orlando. Head out towards Tampa, an hour’s drive away, and check out Busch Gardens.
This historic park is home to a
collection of arguably the best white-knuckle rides anywhere in the world -
with another one, Iron Gwazi - a hybrid roller coaster of wood and steel, due
to open next year. But once again, there is much on offer for the non-thrill-seeker.
If wildlife is your thing, you’ll enjoy seeing lots of it at this venue,
including lions, tigers, elephants and gorillas. And in case all that’s not
enough, there is also a top-class international ice show to be enjoyed at no
That’s the thing about theme parks,
they offer much more than just white-knuckle rides. At Disney’s EPCOT, for
example, as you stroll around a large lake in their World Showcase, you can
visit a string of countries, from Japan to Mexico, each represented in glorious
style, offering food, drink and handicrafts all served by people of the
respective nations. And for several months each summer there is even more to
tantalise your tastebuds, thanks to an international food and drink festival
Now you may think that after the
50th anniversary celebrations of the Moon Landings last July, the Kennedy Space Center
would be content to bask in its rich history and wallow in the glory of a job
well done. But not a bit of it. This fascinating and educational attraction, an
hour or so out of Orlando, is not just an elaborate museum that movingly pays
tribute to the astronauts and their rockets that achieved so much, but looks
ahead, too. Visitors are taken by bus to sites including the launch pads used
for many of the major lift-offs and are shown the places from which rockets
will head for Mars, in the not too distant future.
The centre is respectful of its past
but has a tangible vibrancy as it points towards an exciting future. A great
way to relax after a hard day’s theme parking and sightseeing is to book in for
a dinner show. As the name suggests you eat dinner while watching a show and
there are several to choose from in Orlando. You can mingle with comedy
gangsters at Capone’s,
play detective at Sleuths
Mystery Dinner Shows, or be baffled by comedy magic.
But my favourite is Medieval
Times, where daring knights of old do battle, astride beautiful
For help and advice on all attractions in Orlando, go to www.visitorlando.com.
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