City Profile: Orlando/Kissimmee-St. Cloud


Theme parks rule in the Orlando/Kissimmee-St. Cloud area, but be sure to check out the shopping and dining, too.

What most visitors think of as Orlando actually includes Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista as well. Walt Disney World's theme parks are mandatory magic for central Florida visitors.

The spires of Cinderella's castle are familiar around the world as the symbol of The Magic Kingdom, Disney's original park in Lake Buena Vista. The castle is a fantastic backdrop for playful rides and roaming characters such as international celebrity, Mickey Mouse. Disney's Animal Kingdom is filled with the natural drama of life in the wild. Visitors have thrilling encounters with animals from real life, the distant past, and imagination.

Epcot is a two-part educational and cultural attraction designed to challenge the mind and satisfy the senses. Here, you can sample a warm croissant at a bakery in France, tap your foot to an authentic oom-pah band in Germany and learn about the age of dinosaurs all in one day. Disney's Hollywood Studios allows visitors to see Disney animators creating wonderful characters and explains movie-making on an entertaining backlot tour.

Universal Studios Florida shares the movie-making theme of Disney's Hollywood Studios, but attractions are presented quite differently here. At Universal, promoters say you can "ride the movies." Jaws and Terminator 2: 3-D Battle Across Time are among the park's other movie attractions. Twister, a technological marvel, invites guests to experience the awesome live spectacle and destructive nature of an actual tornado, a mere 20 feet away.

Universal Studios also has its sister park, Islands of Adventure. Five islands, each with a distinct personality, offer something for everyone. Experience the bustling marketplace of Port of Entry, battles between good and evil on Marvel Super Hero Island, slapstick ruckuses at Toon Lagoon, prehistoric megalosaurs in Jurassic Park, mythical sorcerers on the Lost Continent, and fanciful revelry at Seuss Landing.

Visitors to central Florida will want to explore natural attractions as well as fantastical ones, and SeaWorld is a wonderful place to start. Guests can be Trainer for a Day, working alongside real SeaWorld animal trainers to learn training techniques, feeding, and show preparation. Attractions include the "Pacific Point Preserve," a sea lion and seal habitat which mimics the rocky, northern Pacific coastline; and "Manatees: The Last Generation?" an up-close look at the endangered sea cow. The highlight of a visit to SeaWorld is the "Shamu: New Visions" show during which killer whales interact with trainers, defy gravity in breathtaking leaps; and make a big splash (and a wet audience!) with a flick of the tail and 52-degree water.

Dinner attractions are very popular in the Orlando area and also center around themes, whether of an era or an ethnicity. Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament in Kissimmee allows you to cheer a knight to victory. Universal Studios CityWalk is a colossal 30-acre entertainment mecca, where themed restaurants, nightclubs, cinemas, live entertainment, and shopping abound.

Shopping areas in Orlando have as much variety as the local attractions. Souvenirs of your adventures, for both yourself and your friends back home are easy to find. Outlet centers and factory stores abound here and offer some of the best bargains in town. Shopping areas in Orlando and Kissimmee are also popular for their fun environments, such as at Pointe*Orlando, Disney Village Marketplace or Old Town in Kissimmee.

Water fun is everywhere in central Florida, though it's not a beach destination. Wet 'n Wild, Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are water parks where visitors can beat the Florida heat and have a slipping, sliding, good time of it.

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