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An insider's guide to Orlando's theme parks.

No more tears, fears, long lines and short tempers on those trips to Orlando. Here's everything you need to see, skip, eat and buy in every major theme park.

Okay, I'll confess. I'm a theme park junkie. There's just no better way to take an ordinary day and fill it with adventure and thrills. Especially when the theme park capital of the world, Orlando, is only two hours away!

I know what you're thinking -- the throngs of people! The lines! But with a little inside information, you can escape the maddening crowds and have the time of your life.

First of all, schedule your jaunts during the least crowded times of the year. For example, Disney's Florida Resident Salute offers discounted passes and hotel rates to encourage Floridians to take advantage of park lulls. Suggested times: May 1-June 7; Aug. 16-Sept. 30; Nov. 29-Dec. 20 and Jan. 1-Feb. 9. Believe me, that's when you can make the most of everything.

Steer clear of ticket booth lines at the entrances by buying admission tickets at local outlets such as Sears, Ticketmaster and (for members) AAA, which offers a 20 percent discount throughout the year to non-Disney parks. Disney tickets are discounted only during special promotions. But addicts can buy annual passes that offer unlimited entry.

Arrive when the parks open, as reservations to most restaurants and special shows fill up early. Then walk right into even the most popular attraction.

Later in the morning, head for the opposite end from the park entrance for crowd-free cruising. Evening is an excellent time to tour the parks; crowds thin out and there are often spectacular closing ceremonies.

LET'S DO DISNEY Highlights from Disney attractions

THE MAGIC KINGDOM It doesn't get any more magical than this.

Nobody does it quite like Disney. It takes days to experience everything within Disney World. But the original Magic Kingdom remains my favorite.

Once inside, the world gets simpler and sweeter, thanks to old-fashioned Main Street USA and the town square where Disney characters hang out for hugs and photos. My first stop is at Disneyana Collectibles to make dinner reservations at the Liberty Tree Tavern on Liberty Square (my vote for the best food in the Kingdom) and for tickets to the hard-to-get-into Diamond Horseshow Jamboree, a live, rollicking Old West vaudeville show in Frontierland. Next, hightail it over to Cinderella's Castle to reserve lunch at King Stefan's Banquet Hall, a grand experience. Dash swiftly, since seats in all three places go fast.

Then the fun begins in Adventureland, dodging the dangers of the river with a half-crazed captain on the Jungle Cruise and plundering with the rowdy buccaneers of the Pirates of the Caribbean. My opinion of the Tropical Serenade and the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse: ho-hum. Good cooldown treat: citrus swirls at the Sunshine Tree Terrace.

Next stop: Frontierland, where the adrenalin charges on the runaway train of Big Thunder Mountain. (Another thrill ride, Splash Mountain, opens fall 1992.) Frontierland is also home to one of the most popular attractions in the kingdom, the hand-clappin', foot-stompin' Country Bear Vacation Hoedown, a must-see. Just a few steps away is the Diamond Horseshow Jamboree. Best snack: the sweet, cinnamon-drenched churros.

On to Liberty Square, whose number-one draw is the Haunted Mansion. Disney went all out with special effects here; even though I've ridden it at least 50 times, I keep seeing new "ghosts." A four-star must. On the way to the mansion is the Hall of Presidents, a tribute to American democracy and our presidents, who all come alive on stage. The seats are comfy and the AC is a reprieve from summer heat. Vegetarian treat in this section of the park: baked potatoes.

Fantasyland is exactly that. Take the idyllic ride through a Small World and for the flavor of favorite childhood bedtime stories, try Peter Pan's Flight, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Snow White's Adventure. (Note: Snow White sometimes scares little ones.) I found 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea a bit disappointing. Tykes love Dumbo, the Flying Elephant; grade schoolers enjoy the twirling teacups of the Mad Tea Party; and everyone smiles riding a steed on Cinderella's Golden Carousel.

Follow the path from the Mad Tea Party to reach Mickey's Starland, the Kingdom's newest addition, for a tour of Mickey's house, which leads to a stage where characters star in a live musical comedy. Stick around as Mickey signs autographs. There's a playground with a maze of shrubs straight out of Alice in Wonderland, and Grandma Duck's Petting Zoo stars Minnie Moo.

On to Tomorrowland and Space Mountain, the biggest thrill in the park. Not sure you're up to it? Hop on the tranquil WEDway, which glides above Tomorrowland and right through Space Mountain, so you can check it out before you decide. WEDway is best at night when you can see Tomorrowland when it's all lit up. Skip: Mission to Mars.

I've seen a lot of Disney parades in the last few years, but none outshines the 20th Anniversary Celebration going on this year. At midday, there's the Surprise Celebration Parade, a jumpin' Mardi-Gras type procession of Disney characters up to 40 feet tall; and at night, the lights of the kingdom are dimmed for Spectromagic, a dreamlike succession of lighted fantasy. Neither should be missed. Best viewing: the upstairs balcony of the Train Station. Grab hot dogs and churros to munch during the hour wait that's necessary for this primo spot.

The day ends with more magic: Tinkerbell flies through the air, followed by spectacular fireworks. Unforgettable.

Special days: The Fourth of July explodes with big-bang fireworks, Christmas season glows with gorgeous decorations and the New Year's Eve celebration is a wing-dinger.

EPCOT You don't have to be any kind of scientist to enjoy this attraction.

When EPCOT originally opened with much talk about science, I wondered if I'd enjoy it. I do! And I'll bet you will, too. EPCOT is divided into the World Showcase, which highlights different countries, and FutureWorld, which has different pavilions dedicated to different areas of science and knowledge, such as transportation, the body and the seas.

When you pass through the park gates, you're in FutureWorld, by the Earth Station, under the silvery atmosphere of Spaceship Earth. Before you do anything else, make dining reservations -- done by talking to a live hostess on a TV. The World Showcase section has many truly wonderful restaurants (more about these later) but reservations go fast, as the restaurants are some of the best in Orlando.

Next, before the crowds build, I zero in on the Land of Imagination. It's one of the most entertaining pavilions. You start with a wonderful ride, Journey into Imagination, then engage in all sorts of interactive creative experiences -- Lightwriters, Magic Palettes and the Dreamfinder's School of Drama. Then on to Captain E-O (a.k.a. Michael Jackson), a sort of 3-D musical fantasy film.

As guests increase, I leave FutureWorld for a while and detour to the uncrowded World Showcase, which offers the sights, sounds and tastes of 11 countries. One of the ways to enjoy the Showcase is to eat your way around the world, stopping, of course, to browse in the shops.

Some highlights from the countries in the Showcase...

At the Port of Entry, I turn left and start my journey with a favorite, the ancient Mayan pyramid of Mexico. Inside it's a romantic night, with a superb South-of-the-Border marketplace, mariachi bands and one of the few rides in the showcase, El Rio del Tiempo, a colorful boat ride through Mexican history, which seems to be one of the best-kept secrets in EPCOT. The San Angel Inn, kin to the famous Mexico City restaurant, serves up great Mexican food and margaritas.

In Norway, hop aboard a dragon-headed longboat for adventures with trolls and a North Sea storm. Be sure to sample the Norwegian open-faced smoked salmon sandwiches and pastries at the Kringla Bakery og Kafe (no reservations needed).

China's quiet replica of Beijing's Temple of Heaven houses a fabulous Circlevision film, Wonders of China. Germany serves up German beer, traditional food and lots of oom-pah-pah at its ongoing Oktoberfest. Shopping is fantastic: great cuckoo clocks, teddy bears, German wines and Christmas cookies.

Try Italy's L'Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante, related to the famous restaurant in Rome where fettucine Alfredo was born. Bellissimo!

The American Adventure features a resoundingly patriotic Animatronic show, starring Ben Franklin and Mark Twain. It's great.

Japan is a pretty, sedate little corner, although its Teppan chefs, who carve and cook the tasty, healthy Japanese food before your eyes, lack the showmanship and humor I've experienced elsewhere.

But Morocco is so alive with music and dancing that I wanted to book passage. It was the best surprise in the showcase. Shopping was fascinating and the Restaurant Marrakesh should not be missed. The sampler of Moroccan specialties is a wonderful quick course in this luscious cuisine. Appetizer and dessert seekers welcome.

In France you'll stroll through a charming re-creation of a bit of Paris, complete with a park along the Seine. The Circlevision film is impressive, but the highlight here is the food. The cuisine of the Chefs de France and the Bistro de Paris is authentic and delicious. At Au Petit Cafe, you can sit outdoors and people watch as you sip an espresso (no reservations). Don't let the line at the Boulangerie Patisserie scare you away; it moves fast. I chose a delectable apple tart, found a secluded, shaded park bench along the "Seine" and enjoyed delicious relaxation. Beware: the wine tasting at La Maison du Vin is not free.

There's waterfront dining on the outside terrace of the United Kingdom's Rose & Crown Pub, a lovely spot for afternoon tea. Amusing Old English antics keep people laughing in the streets, and the Scottish woolens are beautiful. Across the street is Canada; the Circlevision film shows off its great outdoors. Le Cellier is cafeteria-style and you don't need reservations. Indian and Eskimo crafts make shopping here special.

As people begin to fill up the Showcase, I head back to FutureWorld. Destination: The Living Seas, with an astounding 5.7-million gallon seawater aquarium, home to 80 species of fish and mammals. The manatee tank is a must, with an intimate view of mama and baby interacting. The Coral Reef Restaurant offers an underwater vista.

The Land is a pavilion dedicated to agriculture. It starts with a ride, Listen to the Land, that's certainly worth a star or two; and the show at Kitchen Kabaret delights the kids, as animated broccoli and carrots in sunglasses dance and sing. Healthy fast food (would you believe steamed vegetables?) is a big plus in this pavilion.

The World of Motion takes a fun look at the evolution of transportation, and Horizon blasts off into the 21st century. Both pavilions were worth the time.

But Exxon's Universe of Energy was too long for me. The lifelike dinosaurs were fun, but the film that follows was boring and seemed like a pitch for drilling in the world's seas and undeveloped areas. I kept thinking about Valdez while watching it.

Late in the day, the lines for the much-publicized Body Wars in the Wonders of Life pavilion are short, but I find this the biggest disappointment in the park. But just a few feet away is the lesser-known Cranium Command, which keeps the audience in stitches from beginning to end. Toward evening, I walked right into Spaceship Earth, which is fabulous, especially the star field.

The two most spectacular Epcot experiences: "Surprise in the Skies," a midday airborne extravaganza, and the unbelievably wonderful "IllumiNations," a laser, light, firework and fountain spectacle at closing. Both take place over the lagoon in the World Showcase. If you see nothing else in Epcot, please see them!


A smash hit, from rides to restaurants.

Film buff or no, MGM is thoroughly enjoyable. Even though I was there at opening, and headed directly down Hollywood Boulevard to make lunch reservations, I could get only an 11:15 seating at my choice, the Sci-Fi Diner. This is an ultra-fun spot to dine, set as a drive-in (indoors), which shows campy vintage sci-fi shorts, with replicas of vintage '50s convertibles serving as booths. The waiter was a riot, the popcorn girl was on roller-skates, the food was good, and there are free refills on old-fashioned milk shakes. If you can't get in, try the '50s Prime Time Cafe or the clone of Hollywood's Brown Derby.

Experience The Great Movie Ride first for a look back at the Hollywood greats. It's absolutely terrific! Then head for the newest attraction, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, with marvelous special effects. I thought the Muppet 3-D Vision is the most fantastic 3-D film in any of the parks. Star Tours is a thrilling simulated Star Wars ride, and Superstar Television is great for laughs. The Back Stage Studio Tour set me on the edge of my seat. They're all four-star experiences.

Inside the Magic: Special Effects & Production Tour is interesting but too long for me. Kids (4 & up) love the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" Movie Set Adventure.


The best water park ever.

Typhon Lagoon, with its 2 1/2 acres of 2.75 million gallons of water, white sandy beaches and tropical vegetation is, in my opinion, the best of all water parks, where body surfers catch up to six-foot waves every 90 seconds in the wave pool.

The Humunga Kowabunga is a 214-foot waterslide with a 51-foot drop that sends you down at a speed of 30 mph. (Girls: Wear a one-piece suit for this one!) There's also the Jim Jammer, Rudder Buster and Stern Burner, 20-mph winding slide-rides through rock formations and waterfalls. Whitewater Rides include Mayday Falls (460-foot slide), Keelhaul Falls (400-foot spiral slide) and Gangplank Falls, where families ride and giggle together in 6 1/2-foot tubes. They're all great fun, but I was ready to lie back in a tube for a lazy float down Castaway Creek.

The Shark Reef, an artificial reef and aquarium-type tank, is the perfect place for first-time snorkelers of all ages to get their feet wet. Snorkel gear is provided, instruction makes it easy, and it's well supervised. The live tropical fish make for beautiful viewing, and you're snorkeling right over passive small nurse and bonnethead sharks who wouldn't hurt a flea.

All in all, a great place to spend the day. (One-day pass: $19.50/adults; $15.50/3-9). Info: (407) 560-4100.


Stop the music -- I want to get off!

This Disney park is dedicated to nightlife, with one club and disco after another. For some reason, I had envisioned a tropical atmosphere with reggae playing and outdoor cafes, but was disappointedly met with THE LOUDEST, MOST DEAFENING rock blasting out. And there was no escape. Don't get me wrong. I love rock concerts, but the decibel level here made me mean.

It's like one big spring break, with streetside vendors selling iced-down beer and cubes of orange gelatin laced with vodka and peach schnapps.

I ducked into the quiet Adventurers Club, a '30s explorers club, to find the whole place filled with people who looked as if they were suffering the same reaction I was. When the ringing in my ears stopped, I ventured over to the Neon Armadillo, where a great country-western band was playing at a more pleasant level. Back out in the "street" a tight-leather-panted Jim Morrison lookalike was loudly trying to impersonate the '60s idol.

Skip The Cage, a gloomy, depressing disco. I couldn't handle the noise well enough to wait in the long line for Mannequins Dance Palace. Pleasure Island's big draw is the New Year's Eve midnight countdown, confetti and fireworks celebration which goes on nightly. Admission: $11.95. Hours 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Free exploration during the day, when quiet and restaurants may be enjoyed. (407) 934-7781.

General Disney World info: Opening/closing times, show times and parade schedules vary, so check ahead. Passes vary, including a five-day pass ($152/age 10-plus; $120/3-9) for unlimited admission to the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, MGM, Typhoon Lagoon, Pleasure Island, River Country and Discovery Island and one-day tickets ($33 & $26) for one of the big three. The Florida Season Salute Pass ($90 & $80) provides unlimited admission to the big three during assigned times. Info: (407) 824-4321.


Other great Orlando attractions


Bigger and better than ever.

If you haven't been to Sea World recently, then you just haven't been, as 1991 was a year of expansion and all new shows.

Even though I knew the crowds were there, I didn't feel them, as these shows play to large audiences seated in huge outdoor stadiums. All performances are by live animals and real people, offering incredible entertainment. I followed the show schedule and just walked from one to the other with no real wait.

The most spectacular is, of course, Shamu: New Visions. I can only describe the feats of Shamu as breathtaking. Beware: Unless you want to get soaked, choose seats behind the first 14 rows.

Clyde and Seamore 10,000 B.C. is the sea lion and otter show which is also pretty special, but in a cute and funny way. Again, those down front will get wet. The best-kept secret here is the walrus exhibit behind the stadium. Penguin Encounter is utterly extraordinary, and you can re-enter as many times as you want. Terrors of the Deep is eerily awesome with 700 moray eels and man-eating sharks. The brand-new attraction, Mission: Bermuda Triangle, promises to be a winner.

Lunch at the Bimini Bay Cafe is a perfect seat for the ski show. A great way to end the day is at the Polynesian luau ($27.95/adults), nightly at 6:30. Staying overnight? The Stouffer Resort is right in the backyard. Adults: $29.95; 3-9: $25.95. Opens 9 a.m., closing varies. 7007 Sea World Drive. (407) 351-3600.


A living legend.

The Hard Rock Cafe will definitely hold a place in history and if you haven't been to one of these rock-and-roll shrine/restaurants yet, make it a point to go to the one in Orlando. It's shaped like a colossal guitar, and it displays the largest collection of rock memorabilia ever assembled, including suits worn by the Beatles and Elvis's gold records.

Schedule either an early (before noon) or late lunch (after 3) or late dinner to beat the hordes (the line moves pretty fast, though). Tip: I headed for the bar, found a seat in a jiffy and, to my delight, found I could order anything I wanted from the menu. Good choice: The famous "pig sandwich" (barbeque pork). You're expected to walk around and peek at the rock mementos hanging everywhere. Don't miss the second floor's custom Harley, which James Dean rode in Rebel Without a Cause.

Great souvenir: a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt ($13.50), sold by the hundreds, or their special limited edition T created by Stevie Nicks to benefit Special Olympics ($22).

Even though it's located at the entrance to Universal Studios, the Hard Rock has its own free parking in front of the main entrance, where the public enters free. Patrons of Universal can enter from the park. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-2 a.m. 5800 Kirkman Road. (Follow signs to Universal.) (407) 351-7625.


Thrills, chills and movie lore.

Universal Studios, like MGM/Disney, is another working movie studio/theme park, so at entry check the chances of being part of the audience for Nickelodeon filming.

To me, MGM offers more and does a better job of capturing the excitement and Hollywood glamour of the movies, but Universal Studios has some unique, fun attractions and is certainly worth a visit.

Head for the Funtastic World of HannaBarbera and Back to the Future for super-exciting simulated thrill rides.

I hear ET is great, but it was closed the day I was there and Kongfrontation broke down while I was in line.

Earthquake did make me quiver in my boots, as it all seemed a bit too real. And being a Hitchcock fan, I couldn't have been more impressed with Hitchcock's 3-D theater, but it may not be suitable for youngsters, who would be better entertained at An American Tail Theatre, which is a precious show.

I lunched at Lombard's Landing, whose ambience is better than the fish 'n' chips, but the ice cream at the replica of Schwab's Pharmacy was good. 1992 is a year for expansion. Just opening: Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue, Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and Lucy: A Tribute (this summer)

Admission: One-day pass $31/10 & older, $25/3-9 yrs.; two-day pass $49/10 & older; $39/3-9. Annual pass $85 & $67.50. 1000 Universal Studios Plaza. (407) 363-8000.

CHURCH STREET STATION Overpriced and under-exciting.

I had heard from so many people that Orlando's Church Street Station was, in their words, a big rip-off. But this was hard to believe, as back in the '70s Rosie O'Grady's (the main draw) was a wonderful place.

But unfortunately, that's changed. $14.95 gets you in to Rosie O'Grady's, the Cheyenne Saloon and some other bars offering live entertainment. The show at Rosie's was nothing but disappointing. A Dixieland band played mediocre music until a supposedly red hot momma came out dressed in black and sang three or four songs. The can-can was the slowest I've ever seen, with the dancers lacking zip, color and enthusiasm. The crowd's average age was about 70 and most came in tour buses. Groups left mid-show.

The signature drink, a Flaming Hurricane, is served in a take-home glass. Price: a shocking $9.50.

Across the street is the Cheyenne Saloon, which is impressive inside; but I've heard better country-western bands in our local places.

My advice: If you really want to see Church Street Station, save the admission price and just wander around to take in the atmosphere. Try a short horse-and-buggy ride (around $20), cruise the shops or spring for dinner at Lili Marlene's, with its unique aviator ambience. Best secret: Free and delicious homemade praline samples at the Southern Candy Store. Their homemade turtles are dynamite, too. Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. 129 W. Church St. (407) 422-2434.

Getting there: All theme parks are clearly marked along I-4, so head north on I-75 and take the Orlando exit, which puts you onto I-4.
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Title Annotation:Orlando, Florida
Author:Frawley, Janis R.
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Previous Article:Sarasota design.
Next Article:Underdogs.

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