Playing Around in Orlando

Take some time out of your busy conference schedule to experience all there is to see and do in the Orlando-area.

We have investigated and outlined some of the top attractions, restaurants and highlights of the Orlando area. Here is a brief overview of a few of the many activities you can enjoy during your break from AIHCE.

Theme Parks and Attractions

Disney. Disney's best-known themepark, The Magic Kingdom, is especially appealing to families with children. Beloved characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck come alive along Main Street U.S.A., Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Fronteirland, Liberty Square, Adventureland and Mickey's Toontown Fair. These areas are loaded with rides, gift shops, arcades, cafes and live performances.

The movie's come alive at Disney-MGM Studios. Visitors can walk down Sunset Boulevard, a district lined with shops, experience a 13-story free fall at the Twighlight Zone Tower of Terror, or take a backstage tour of the studios to learn close up how costuming, set design, lighting and special effects contribute to movie magic.

After you visit the novelty and nostalgia of The Magic Kingdom and MGM Studios, experience the future-oriented Epcot Center. The complex at Epcot (short for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) is divided into two parts: Future World and World Showcase. Future World offers educational and interactive displays and audiovisual experiences including the Spaceship Earth exhibit, the Living Seas, and the Universe of Energy. World Showcase celebrates cultures and people from around the world. Pavilions of 11 different nations display architectural structures, exhibits and entertainment unique to each culture.

Other Disney attractions include Animal Kingdom, Discovery Island, Pleasure Island, House of Blues and The Disney Institute. For more information on any of the Disney attractions go to www.disney.go.com/ Disneyworld.

Universal Studios Florida. Universal Studios Florida (USF) theme park is both a full-fledged production studio and a thrill-packed theme park. Kids can ride through a thrilling cartoon at the Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera, while those looking for more scary thrills can head for JAWS, a three-ton killer shark who has been terrorizing tourists since 1993. Other notables include the Back to the Future Ride, the Wild, Wild, Wild West Stunt Show and Earthquake. For information go to www.usescape.com.

Sea World of Florida. Much more than an aquarium, Sea World features performing aquatic creatures, as well as other exhibits and performances that combine entertainment, education, research and conservation. Journey to Atlantis is a water-coaster thrill ride through the mysterious and lost city of Atlantis. For those less daring, Shark Encounter, includes a moving sidewalk that takes you through a tunnel in a large shark tank. For more information go to www.seaworld.com.

Kennedy Space Center. Outer space first became a reality at the Kennedy Space Center, an hour's drive east of Orlando. Highlights of a visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex include a two-hour bus tour that offers camera stops near Space Shuttle Launch Pads, the Vehicle Assembly Building, and a trio of IMAX movies. For more information visit www.ksc.nasa.gov .

Other Places to Visit. Orlando has many attractions that are lesser known yet quite appealing. You can find quiet gardens and peaceful museums, like the Orlando Museum of Art, Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of Art and the Mennello Museum of American Folk Art.

Food for Thought

Tourist strips such as Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway in Kissimmee and International Drive in Orlando are fast-food heaven. If you are looking for a quick burger and frys you are sure to find it here.

If fast food isn't your style, there are plenty of restaurants offering a variety of cuisine to choose from, such as French, Italian and Asian.

Although good seafood is Florida's specialty, some Orlando restaurants serve more intriguing dishes, such as 'gator tail, 'gator nuggets and swamp cabbage.

Gone are the days when the most exciting dining an amusement park had to offer was a hot dog for dinner and cotton candy for desert. With heavy competition between Disney and Universal, both companies have recently added restaurants themed and operated by world-famous chefs. Emeril's at Universal Escape's CityWalk is considered to be one of the best restaurants in town. The talk is about such triumphs as Louisiana oyster stew, a Grand Marnier souffle and farm-raised quail.

Not to be outdone, Disney added class to its neon-lit Downtown Disney, with celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's Cafe at Mickeyland. Patrons brag about the salmon and the fresh-fruit cobbler.

For an unusual dining experience, try one of Orlando's dinner theater establishments. A sampling includes Medieval Times, where you can tear through a four-course feast while you watch a joust. Arabian Nights offers a three-course prime rib dinner while you watch a 25-act production and Hoop-De-Doo Musical is Disney's own dinner show held at Fort Wilderness.

Getting Around

Now that you know where to go, how are you going to get there?

If you are staying at a Walt Disney World hotel or if you buy a multiday pass, your transportation within Walt Disney World is free.

Outside of the Walt Disney World area, just about every hotel and even many motels are linked to one of several private transportation systems that shuttle travelers back and forth to most of the area attractions for only a few dollars.

However, if you want to visit the major theme parks outside Walt Disney World, venture off the beaten track, or eat where most tourists don't, a rental car may be necessary.

Taxis cabs and public transportation are also readily accessible from most hotels in the Orlando area.

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