Orlando is known by children and their families as the theme park capital of the world, as this interior Floridan city contains no less than fifteen parks within its metropolitan area. Being located away from the coast, these places of amusement aren’t as exposed to risks from hurricanes as their competitors are, a fact that led to Walt Disney building his massive vision for a park that would dwarf his first creation in California.
This led to an explosion of development in the orange growing region, causing the tourism industry to leapfrog agriculture as a leading economic driver here. While you will definitely have fun indulging in your inner child throughout your stay in Orlando, there are some worthwhile cultural highlights to check out for those who actively seek it.
No matter how you slice it, anyone that visits this central Floridan metropolis will find an entertaining and/or educational way to spend their time in O-Town.
While touristic attractions rule the roost in Orlando these days, it wasn’t always this way. Dropping by the Orange County Regional History Center will fill you on the story or Orlando, from the days of the Seminole Wars (American settlers versus the indigenous native tribes), to its long history as an orange growing powerhouse for the USA.
As well, a through explanation of how the modern tourism industry turned O-Town from a sleepy small city to the diverse multi-million person city it is today is given through informative displays, from Gatorland, to the game changing arrival of Walt Disney, as well as everything that followed from that development.
After getting read up on Orlando’s back history, dive into one of its most artistic attraction by visiting the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. This gallery specializes in Tiffany glass art, as well as many other fine American paintings, pottery, and antique furniture, making it a vital destination for all that appreciate the visual arts.
Those that favor the horticultural arts will enjoy spending part of their day at the Harry P. Leu Gardens, as this subtropical paradise contains an endless variety of themed exhibitions that will delight the eyes of those that love flora.
Spread out over 50 acres of land and dispersed within stands of oak trees that are more than 200 years in places, visitors will enjoy gardens that showcase azaleas, bamboo, fruit trees such as bananas and oranges, wetland plants, palms, innumerable flower beds of varying colors and so much more.
While there are certainly culturally attuned attraction in the Orlando area, chances are you didn’t come here to look at paintings all day. Orlando is considered by many to be the Theme Park Capital of the World, a distinction that has been enabled by the creation of the world’s most famous park, Walt Disney World.
Opening as the Magic Kingdom (which was largely modelled after Disneyland in California) in 1971, it was joined by five other parks since that time, as EPCOT (a park themed around science, technology, and global cultural exchange), Disney’s Hollywood Studios (movies and entertainment), Disney’s Animal Kingdom (self-explanatory), Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach (water parks).
These parks contain a variety of rides, pavilions, movie sound stages, cartoon character encounters, and many other entertaining and educational experiences that are bound to create memories that will last a lifetime.
Many other parks came in on the coattails of Disney’s success. Of these competitors, Universal Orlando is by far the highest profile of them. This park offers rides based around the television, film and musical trademarks that NBC Universal owns, including experiences based around the Mummy (e.g. Revenge of the Mummy), Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter movie franchises, among many others.
Those that love the creatures that ply the depths of the ocean have probably heard of Seaworld. This theme park is part aquarium, part marine-themed amusement park, as those that want to see Shamu and his friends up close and personal (watch out for your electronics, as you will probably get wet) can do so, while those that seeks thrills can seek them on either roller coasters and other rides within the main Seaworld park, or on the many exciting water slides that Wet N’ Wild (now a Seaworld property) has to offer.
Those that aren’t content to merely watch and view aquatic life behind the glass of an aquarium can get up close and personal with dolphins, manta rays, and many different kinds of tropical fish at Discovery Cove.
To cope with potential overcrowding issues, admissions to this park are capped, so those seeking to snorkel in the artificial reefs here should make their reservation prior to leaving for Orlando on their vacation (particularly during high season).
No discussion of theme parks in Orlando can conclude without mentioning the first theme park to set up shop in the area. Gatorland opened its doors in 1949, well before Mickey Mouse ever arrived in Central Florida.
While the surge of tourism here aided by Walt Disney World has certainly helped their fortunes, many of the charms of the post World War II era can still be found at this conservation park that rescues gators from situation where they would otherwise be put down by animal control officials.