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Orlando Attractions

Orlando is a city of eternal sunshine where everything grows – whether it’s sprawling, behemoth vacation spots like Walt Disney World Resort, or the 20-foot gargantuan reptiles at Gatorland. Though most find themselves here with families in tote heading for the obvious, there are plenty of places to go and things to see that aren’t brimming with big crowds and commotion. Take refuge in the wilderness at the Harry P. Leu Gardens or spend the afternoon at the Morse Museum marveling at the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Like any other city, downtown Orlando is filled with opportunities to indulge in arts, culture and nightlife – grown-up style – and if you simply must satisfy the urge to mingle with the stars of the city, rest assured you won’t be disappointed.

Discovery Cove
6000 Discovery Cove Way, Orlando, Florida 32821; Tel. 407.370.1280 or 877.4.DISCOVERY
A genuinely peaceful departure from the throngs of tourists that pack into other local attractions, Discovery Cove offers a unique experience for those who love aquatic life enough to want to get up close. Living up to their promise of being a departure from the crowds – only 1000 guests are permitted in the park on any given day – at Discovery Cove you can swim with dolphins, snorkel along a reef and relax by the water. All packages, which permit a day-long excursion on the premises, include lunch, plenty of amenities, and type of personal attention that seems to be so very lacking at most of the other getaway spots in the area. Also included in the price is a pass to SeaWorld Orlando or Busch Gardens Tampa Bay that can be used for several days.

14501 South Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, Florida 32837; Tel. 1.800.393.JAWS
The vision of a former postmaster and butcher, Gatorland began as a backyard animal pit with a gift shop housed inside the kitchen of its founder, Owen Goodwin, Sr. More than fifty years later, the attraction has grown (and relocated!), becoming one of the most popular central Florida destinations that doesn’t have the Disney trademark attached to it. After you’ve literally entered the jaws of this popular tourist spot, you’ll find there are more than just gators to see. Many areas of the naturalistic breeding and display settings are also home to several species of Florida’s winged creatures such as Egrets, Storks and Herons. You can also get a bird’s-eye-view of bright pink plumage when you explore the Flamingo Lagoon. But if you’re strictly there for the alligators and crocodiles, you certainly won’t be disappointed at Gatorland. This 110-acre theme park has three large outdoor exhibits where you can see the snapping reptiles basking in the sun and wading in the wilderness.

Harry P. Leu Gardens
1920 N. Forest Avenue, Orlando, Florida 32803; Tel. 407.246.2620
Sweltering heat and golden tans aren’t the only thing that the blazing Florida rays are able to breed. Set on 50 acres, the Harry P. Leu Gardens is the perfect example of what year-round sunshine can do for the outdoor landscape, so long as it’s well tended. A beautiful refuge of flowers and lush foliage, the Lue gardens feature more than a dozen gardens and other green spaces to stroll, relax and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Walk along the water in the Tropical Stream Garden where fruit trees and brilliant flowers blossom, or become inspired by the Home Demonstration and Urban Patio Gardens where examples of do-it-yourself arrangements are on display. The gardens surround the 19th Century home of Harry P. Leu, a historic mansion that has been converted into a museum. Guided tours of the property are available throughout the day.

Orlando Science Center
777 East Princeton Street, Orlando, Florida 32803; Tel. 407.514.2000 or 888.OSC.4FUN
Sure, you’re probably visiting Florida for the hot and sunny weather, but there may come a time when you want to get away from it. If so, trying heading over to the Orlando Science Center, where the kids can keep busy and maybe even learn a little something about science and technology. There’s the usual fare, with exhibits that provide explanations about how the body works and shed light on our solar system, but the Orlando Science Center also includes unique exhibits like ShowBiz Science, where the artful craft of special effects is exposed, and Touch the Sky, where the mystery and miracle of flight is revealed through a series of interactive exhibits and historical memorabilia. The Dr. Phillips CineDome offers theatrical presentations that makes awesome world of nature come to life in the likeness of celluloid giants and the Crosby Observatory puts you closer to the all the celestial bodies hovering in the Florida night sky.

Ripley's Believe It or Not Orlando Odditorium
8201 International Drive, Orlando, Florida 32819; Tel. 407.363.4418 or 800.998.4418, ext. 3
If you’ve seen one, you haven’t necessarily seen them all. A member in the family of 27 Ripley’s Believe It or Not museums across the world, the Orlando Odditorium is home to a curious collection of the type of specimens that made Robert Ripley famous during the first half of the 20th Century. And, without a doubt, most of the “artifacts” can’t be found elsewhere. In keeping with its notoriety as a refuge for the world of weird, the museum itself is an oddity that appears to be sinking on one side into the depths of Florida’s marshy soil. Inside, you’ll find a behemoth rendition of Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait in Front of Easel, 1888,” made out of postcards and Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” created out of toast. Enough to keep you wondering, “Who are these people?!” Also on site at the Orlando Odditorium is a three-quarter scale model of a 1907 Silver Ghost Rolls Royce … made out of matchsticks.

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
445 North Park Avenue, Winter Park, Florida 32789; Tel. 407.645.5311
As the largest repository of works crafted by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Morse Museum is home to a collection that consists of more than the brilliant glass creations the prominent 20th century artist is most famous for. Paintings, jewelry, pottery, watercolors, furniture and other pieces included in the collection at the museum exemplify the range and scope of Tiffany’s extraordinary talent. Most notable, however, is the Tiffany Chapel where the artist’s popular talent is on display. Originally constructed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and reassembled inside the museum, the chapel features depictions of religious themes that are colorfully rendered in Tiffany’s windows and mosaics. Though the Morse Museum is known mostly for is extensive holdings in Tiffany works, it is also home to a sizeable and esteemed collection of decorative arts where key figures such as William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright and John LaFarge amongst others, are represented.

The Holy Land Experience
4655 Vineland Road, Orlando, Florida 32811; Tel. 407.367.2065 or 1.866.USA.HOLYLAND
An attraction dedicated to the life of Jesus, The Holy Land Experience is the bizarre marriage between the biblical and the secular, where religious faith meets amusement park fantasy. Spread on 15 acres, The Holy Land Experience includes intricately rendered architecture reminiscent of ancient times, costume-clad actors (who at times break out in song) and a series of theatrical presentations. Inside the Wilderness Tabernacle for instance, a 20-minute multimedia presentation tells the story of priesthood and sacrifice in the land of ancient Israel. Also on site is The Scriptorium: The Center for Biblical Antiquities, where once again, theatrics take center stage and visitors are told the story of the Holy Book through special effects and dramatic detail. Inside the large repository’s collection of antique manuscripts, you can get a glimpse of important historical documents like Gutenberg’s Bible, the Eliot Bible and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrims Progress.

The Mall at Millenia
4200 Conroy Road, Orlando, Florida 32893; Tel. 407.363.3555
When The Mall at Millenia was opened a few years ago, it was thought that the retail mecca might give nearby amusement parks a run for tourists’ money. Though it’s hard to fathom a shopping mall putting Mikey and Minnie out of business, or even having an impact on their multi-billion dollar annual revenues, it’s easy to see why some were concerned that tourists might be lured away – at least for a few hours. With large skylights accented by modern steel detailing, the architecture takes full advantage of the sun to make the pristine white décor brighter and more inviting than it already is. If you’re not there for shopping, it’s pleasant enough just to walk around and window shop. Anchored by Neiman Marcus, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, The Mall at the Millenia features popular specialty shops like Bath & Body Works as well as upscale fashion at places like Gucci and Chanel.

Unviersal Studios Florida
1000 Universal Studios Plaza, Orlando, Florida 32819; Tel. 407.363.8000
Tucked inside a resort-style oasis that includes another theme park as well as hotels and restaurants, Universal Studios Florida is a place where you can literally immerse yourself in the land of film and television. Popular cinema releases such as Men in Black, Back to the Future and Mummy take new form as thrill rides, while simulated natural disasters like tornados and earthquakes recall film favorites like Twister and Earthquake. Young ones will enjoy exploring Nickelodeon Studios;, where they can shake hands with Sponge Bob, or land the lucky chance of participating in a game show (watch out for the slime!). Grown ups will get a kick out of the Blues Brothers revue performance and the tribute to Lucille Ball that features show clips, family videos and other memorabilia. If you want to escape all the action, head over to the nearby Universal Cineplex to catch a first-run film or settle down in one of the many restaurants at Universal CityWalk.

Walt Disney World Resort
Orlando, FL 32830; Tel. 407.WDW.MAGIC
There’s Disney Land in Anaheim, and then there’s Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. If you don’t know the difference, suffice it to say that the latter is the mother beast, the former a distant cousin. In other words, there’s no hope for those who don’t get their fill of all that is the Big-D by the time they leave Walt Disney World Resort – a place that most assuredly, along with a thriving black market of exotic plants and animals, helps keep the Florida economy afloat. Home to four theme parks that include Magic Kingdom®, Epcot®, Disney-MGM Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Park, coupled with two water parks, there’s enough of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Ariel, Dumbo, Lilo and the whole gaggle of animated creatures (and humans?) to keep any Disney-o-phile well sedated. Combo tickets that allow you into any of the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks for several days (you choose how many) are a good discount and can be purchased for even less in advance.

-- Orlando attraction reviews by Joy Howard

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