Orlando's many attractions, particularly its theme parks, bring visitors to the area from all over the world. In order to draw tourists and keep them coming back, new projects are always under development. New rides and exhibits are unveiled every year at Walt Disney World's four parks: the Magic Kingdom, with its seven themed lands; Epcot, which provides "journeys" to Future World and to the World Showcase; Disney-MGM Studios, where spectators can experience actual movie and television production; and Animal Kingdom, Disney World's largest attraction at 500 acres. Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, a high-technology movie-themed attraction with more than 40 rides, shows, shops, and restaurants, rank just below the Disney parks in annual attendance. Central Florida is served by Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, which is a combination amusement park and zoo with more than 2,700 animals. The area's newest family theme park is Cypress Gardens Adventure Park; once the first tourist attraction in central Florida, this park reopened in late 2004.
Gatorland offers the chance to observe thousands of alligators, birds, and animals; its alligator breeding marsh was seen in the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Shamu the Killer Whale is the focus at Sea World Orlando marine life park. River Country and Typhoon Lagoon near Walt Disney World are spectacular water parks with rapids, wave lagoons, slides and waterfalls. Wet 'n Wild, Blizzard Beach, and Water Mania offer family slide and tubing fun. Pleasure Island on the Disney site is an entire island of nighttime entertainment with music, shops, and movies.
A view of Florida's floral splendor is the attraction at Harry P. Leu Gardens, featuring the largest formal rose garden in Florida. Also on display are 50 acres of camellias, as well as palm, bamboo, herb, vegetable, and butterfly gardens.
Once known primarily for sunshine and oranges, Orlando is developing its arts and cultural profile as the city continues to grow. Part of the Centroplex facility, the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre stages performances by the Orlando
Orlando Loch Haven Park, a 45-acre cultural oasis, is home to some of Florida's finest facilities for the arts, sciences, and humanities. Among them is the Orlando Museum of Art, considered one of the South's finest museums. It offers permanent collections of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American, pre-Columbian, and African art, as well as summer art camp and studio classes. Also in the park is 207,000-square-foot Orlando Science Center, the largest facility of its kind in the Southeast and home to the world's largest combined Iwerks dome and digital planetarium, and the Mennello Museum of American Folk Art, Florida's only museum devoted solely to displaying vernacular work. Loch Haven is also the site of the Central Florida Civic Theatre, the Orlando Garden Club, and "The Mayor," one of Florida's oldest and largest oak trees.
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park includes the world's most comprehensive collection of leaded and art glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany. An authentic 1926 firehouse complete with antique trucks, and Central Florida artifacts from pre-history, pioneer times, and the Victorian era are on view at the Orange County Regional History Center. Historic Bok Sanctuary, a national historic landmark located about 55 miles from Orlando in Lake Wales, offers tours of its historic bell tower, the visual centerpiece of a magnificent garden, which houses one of the world's great carillons.
The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens displays 200 of the sculptor's works; the museum was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. The Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College houses more than 6,000 works of art. In nearby Eatonville, American's oldest African American municipality, the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts rotates exhibits of works by artists of African descent.
Fun and frolic abound at a variety of special events that attract residents and visitors alike in Greater Orlando. Kissimmee's Silver Spurs Rodeo in February attracts cowpokes from the U.S. and Canada to compete in an event billed as the largest rodeo east of the Mississippi. The Annual Bach Festival is also held in February, as are the GeorgeFest Washington's Birthday Festival, Valentine's Stroll at the Harry P. Leu Gardens, SeaWorld's Annual BBQ Fest, and the Festival of Rhythm & Blues in Kissimmee. The Central Florida Fair, which is approaching its centennial, is held in March. More than 110,000 Harley Davidson enthusiasts participate in Orlando Bike Week each March, and another 12,000 bikers arrive for Biketoberfest in October. Traditional and nontraditional Easter activities take place in Cocoa Beach at the Easter Surfing Festival, featuring an egg hunt and surfing competition, clinics, and demonstrations. April brings the Cabaret Festival, a two-week celebration of comedy and vocal performances, and the Fiesta Medina, Orlando's longest running Latin community festival. Orlando celebrates July Fourth with Fireworks Over the Fountain, a free fireworks display and laser show at Lake Eola. The two-week International Food & Wine Festival is held each autumn at Epcot. Halloween is celebrated at a number of local venues including Universal Studios Orlando, where the celebration lasts for 14 days. The lighting of Orlando's Great American Christmas Tree in early December ushers in the holiday season.
Several arts festivals are held in the region, including the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of Arts & Humanities in late January, and four spring festivals—the Leesburg Fine Art Festival, Winter Park's Sidewalk Art Festival, Maitland Spring Festival of the Arts, and Downtown Orlando Contemporary Arts Festival. The Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival presents Shakespearean works performed by professional actors at the Lake Eola Amphitheater in April. It is followed by the Florida Film Festival, one of the top film festivals in the nation, and the Orlando International Fringe Festival, featuring more than 300 performing artists and theatrical troupes.
The wildly popular Orlando Magic National Basketball Association team plays its home games at the TD Waterhouse Centre from November through April. The Centre is also home to the Orlando Predators, who play arena football from April through August; the Orlando Miracles, a team in the Women's National Basketball Association; and the Orlando Seals, an Atlantic Coast Hockey League team founded in 2002. Tinker Field is the site of the minor league baseball contests of the Orlando Rays, the AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Harness racing is the attraction at the Ben White Raceway and jai alai is the focus at Orlando-Seminole Jai Alai fronton.
Football fans kick off the new year with the Capital One Bowl, a college contest held on New Year's Day at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. This stadium is also home to University of Central Florida Knights football games, the Superbowl of Motorsports, and the AMA Supercross Series. The Champs Sports Bowl is an annual college event that takes place in December. Golf enthusiasts can enjoy the Bay Hill Invitational each in March and the Disney Oldsmobile Golf Classic in October.
Metro Orlando is a golf and tennis mecca with more than 80 golf courses and more than 800 tennis courts. Nearly 2,000 freshwater lakes offer a paradise for boating enthusiasts and swimmers. For lovers of the sea, Orlando has the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico within a one and one-half hour drive. More than 100 campgrounds and thousands of acres of national forest are available to hunters and campers. Orlando itself has about 3,000 acres of park land and more than 30 recreation facilities.
Orlando provides a delightful array of combination shopping/entertainment experiences. The Florida Mall, anchored by Saks, Gayfers, J.C. Penney, Dillard's, and Sears, is central Florida's largest shopping center. The Mall at Millenia, also located in Orlando, offers dozens of specialty retailers as well as Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, and Macy's. Located across from the Orange County Convention Center, Pointe Orlando is an open-air complex that features more than 60 retailers, seven restaurants, and entertainment facilities. Unique settings are offered by the Mercado (A Festive World Marketplace), which features 75 specialty shops, themed restaurants, free nightly entertainment, and Titanic—The Exhibition. The Church Street Station has more than 40 shops and restaurants in a Victorian atmosphere. Discount shoppers may find treasures among the 110 shops at Orlando Premium Outlets and the more than 160 outlet stores in the Belz Factory Outlet World/Belz Designer Outlet Centre. Across the street from the Belz shopping centers is Festival Bay at International Drive, a retail and entertainment mall.
Orlando offers a wide array of dining experiences from fast-food and family restaurants, to lavish fine-dining establishments and novelty eateries. The region's 5,043 restaurants can satisfy any palate, from sushi to steak and pasta to grits. A unique specialty is gator tail or gator "nuggets," true Florida-only fare. The pleasant weather permits many outdoor dining settings, as well as meals aboard a paddle wheel steamer. American, Indian, Italian, Chinese, Continental, Japanese, and Mediterranean cuisine–all are available in greater Orlando.
Visitor Information: Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Inc., 6700 Forum Dr., Ste. 100, Orlando, FL; 32821-8017; telephone (407)354-5586; fax (407)370-5002