The rules of attraction

Simon Veness guides you around Florida’s major parks and shows

Orlando is home to Mickey Mouse, Harry Potter and Shamu the orca, but that's only scratching the surface these days. There's an artfully crafted array of attractions to keep tourists enthralled for days at a time. Most people go for two weeks and find it isn't nearly enough. If you really want to "do it all", you'll need at least a month.

Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando and SeaWorld are located to the south west. Head further south into Florida and you'll reach SeaWorld's sister park, Busch Gardens, in Tampa; the Kennedy Space Center on the opposite coast; and Legoland Florida, 40 miles south of Orlando.

The House of Mouse itself has a staggering footprint, the size of Greater Manchester, but almost two-thirds is undeveloped. It isn't somewhere you can walk around easily. Pace yourself, start early, when it's cooler and crowds are lower, take regular breaks, and have a plan. This isn't a place where you should make it up as you go along.

What about Mickey?

It's been 41 years since Walt Disney World's original park, the Magic Kingdom (pictured), opened its doors. On 6 December, the biggest expansion in the park's history will be unveiled. The new Fantasyland will be a 26-acre celebration of Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Dumbo (with a Snow White ride and Princess Hall arriving in 2013 and 2014 respectively). It features three rides, a water-play area, two elaborate restaurants, gift shops and a Little Mermaid-themed meet-and-greet, all of which have the hallmark of Disney's immersive creativity as riders go "under the sea", to the Circus with Dumbo or through a startling Magic Mirror to meet Belle.

While Universal may have the teen market cornered, Disney is still a huge draw for younger children, with oodles of rich, multi-layered theming and characters that leap vividly from the classic books and films. That isn't to say Disney doesn't do high-energy rides for thrill seekers. Try the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock 'n' RollerCoaster, starring Aerosmith, at Disney's Hollywood Studios park; Mission: Space and Test Track at Epcot; or Expedition Everest and Dinosaur! at Disney's Animal Kingdom. All will provide a major jolt of adrenaline.

disneyworld.disney.go.com

A wizard attraction

One of the biggest draws these days is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, although it's not a park in its own right, as some think. It's inside Universal Orlando Resort's Islands of Adventure, which is linked to the original Universal Studios by the CityWalk entertainment "district" of shops, restaurants and nightclubs, with its artistic mix of high-tech rides and shows. However, JK Rowling's boy wizard trumps them all for imagination – and crowds. All of which explains why Universal has started a massive £1bn project that will – insiders say – be a whole new part of the Potter-verse, with a train ride linking the two in unique fashion. But until it opens, there's still plenty to keep visitors amused in the meantime, including a new Transformers ride scheduled for summer 2013.

universalorlando.co.uk

Penguin central

No visit to Orlando should miss SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, where the mix of thrilling rides, large-scale shows and themed environments easily compares with their big-name rivals. SeaWorld offers three large roller-coasters, as well as its signature sea-life shows, all of which feature a Broadway-quality finesse and staging. This year's new 3D film attraction, TurtleTrek, plunges visitors into the undersea world of the sea turtle. Wait for summer and they will be debuting Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, which promises to be the new gold standard in immersion experiences: a ride-through voyage across the frozen continent that puts riders at the centre of a penguin-filled snowscape.

Busch Gardens is more ride-orientated, with five of the biggest, fastest coasters in America, but also boasts an African-themed backdrop for its 500-plus animals, an elaborate ice-skating show and bags of live musical entertainment.

seaworldparks.com

… and there's more

While Disney, Universal and SeaWorld/Busch are the big boys in theme parks terms, there are still others worth considering.

Legoland Florida ( florida.legoland.com) the world's largest Lego-themed park, arrived last October. The 150-acre lakeside development boasts its own water park and water-ski show.

The Kennedy Space Center ( kennedyspace center.com) continues to reinvent itself and opens a huge Space Shuttle-themed exhibit in July 2013 based around retired orbiter Atlantis, while Gatorland is a snappy look at much of the native wildlife and provides a taste of actually being in Florida.

Fantasy of Flight ( fantasyofflight.com) is a unique aviation-themed attraction with a range of immersion experiences and daily exhibitions, while Florida Eco-Safaris ( floridaecosafaris.com) is a thoughtful journey into the region's flora and fauna – with the bonus of a new eco-park full of zipline adventures.

International Drive, one of the key accommodation areas, could even be termed a theme park, too, with eight other amusement parks, fun houses and interactive museums, such as Ripley's Believe It Or Not and Titanic: The Experience, as well as mini-golf, nightclubs and dinner shows.

It all makes for a comprehensive, but exhausting, panoply of themed entertainment unlike anywhere else on Earth. Just don't call it a Mickey Mouse town.

Simon Veness is co-author with his wife, Susan, of The Brit Guide to Orlando & Walt Disney World. For more details, see orlandoholiday planning.com and DiscoverAmerica.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions