Other Orlando

  • With so much happening in and Orlando the area you owe to yourself to discover what is out there beyond the big 3!

    If you have ever missed your plane, chances are one of three things happened:

    (1) You overslept and could not get to the airport on time, or (2) The TSA line was several hours long, making you miss your flight, or (3) You had a layover or long delay for various reasons.

    Sorry, we can’t do anything about 1 and 2…leaving too late or security issues…other than recommend you get a better alarm clock and leave earlier for the airport.

    But when it comes to number 3…those earthbound delays…we can definitely help you.

    This is a timely issue if you are aware of the recent record of the TSA (Transportation Security Administration).

    Airline passengers across the country have been missing flights as TSA attempts to process record passenger numbers. Various explanations are given.

    But some delays have involved several hours. Some delayed travelers have spent overnights at airports.

    That’s bad enough anytime of the year…even during lighter travel periods…but there are always layovers and long delays.

    Any and all seasons of the year.

    But this can be OK. For you, anyway.

    Let’s say you have exhausted your Disney World Orlando tickets…or Universal Studios Orlando tickets…or LEGOLAND tickets…or Busch Gardens Tampa tickets…and have already been to the theme parks.

    You have had enough.

    You are ready to go home.

    You are ready but airlines are not

    Say you have a half day or more delay. Several hours.

    No question of going back to the parks, where you want at least a one-day time period to experience even the most basic things.

    So you’re at the airport.

    What can you do for those hours of waiting?

    We suggest two areas.

    First, if you still have money left over, there is a category for you.

    That is to stay at the airport itself.

    Which does not sound great but if you know more about it, you might change your mind.

    Secondly, there’s an entertaining option just about 13 miles from the airport that is not a theme park. But it has a lot of entertainment options.

    And though only a few are free, they are mainly low cost. They can be viewed in just a few hours if you choose just a couple options. And they don’t require an entire day or more (though you can choose to spend more time there if you have it).

    Since you presumably have been to the theme parks already…and have little or no money left over in your budget… what can you do?

    Waiting at the airport can be fun

    You can wait at the Orlando International Airport (which is the most likely arrival-departure for most airline visitors here).

    OK. That hardly sounds like the best part of your trip. But hold on.

    Orlando’s airport attracts 40 million visitors now, making it one of the biggest in the US.

    MCO or Orlando International is the second busiest airport in Florida and 14th busiest in the U.S.

    It has long been praised for is practical design in getting passengers around with a minimum of fuss.

    But it also is almost like a city itself…with a lot of options.

    Besides just waiting…with a book or phone or I-pad.

    Just to give you an idea of its size. It has

    ---Over 120 places to eat and or shop.

    ---Financial services include a full service bank, and a currency exchange.

    ---There’s spas, shoe shine places, USPS and Express Shipping drop-off boxes.

    ---Free airport wide Wi-Fi.

    ---And a 445-room AAA Four Diamond Hyatt Regency inside the main terminal.

    About that Wi-Fi (which you can’t find everywhere):

    It’s available in all public areas of the airport. Free.

    Free Wi-Fi is among amenities

    Access Points provided by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority use the SSID “MCO Internet.”

    If you have any problems with networks, airport officials suggest simply moving to another location.

    Cellular/PCS wireless is also available from AT&T, Cingular, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

    There are also several kiosks which offer travelers internet connections, in addition to the standard dial service offered by the phone company via the RJ-11 jacks in the pay phones.

    You’re non-technical or simply don’t want to connect right now?

    The airport has a long reputation for supporting art. And its collection includes huge paintings and striking sculptures.

    They’re found everywhere (including a life-like sleeping passenger figure who is so realistic-looking that some passengers have tried to wake him up).

    Well-known national figures are among artists represented here.

    It’s hardly as large as the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art but you should be able to easily pass a few hours walking around to view it all.

    No cost or TSA issues here.

    Dining and art viewing are other options

    Of course, there’s also a major standby for airport waits: eating.

    Some of the latest offerings at the Food Hall includes Villa Italian Kitchen, Green Leaf’s & Bananas, The Market by Villa, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Asian Chao Oriental Eatery and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

    That varied bunch alone should satisfy most tastes and budget.

    The Food Hall is on the Airside Terminal 2 for gates 100-129.

    Most restaurants close at 10 pm or earlier. But if want a McDonald’s, guess what? Twenty four hours a day.

    For quieter moments, Orlando International Airport has a chapel inside the terminal, located just beyond the west security checkpoint (Gates 1-59), which can be accessed by any passenger holding a boarding pass

    It’s not unheard of as a place for a quiet through short nap.

    If you do demand a nap, seating is not really designed for that much comfort but there are sofas scattered around.

    The Orlando facility, in common with most, was hardly designed to give you a better sleep. But there are some couches available if you look around.

    The Food Court also has some padded benches (warning: hard to score because they are so often already occupied).

    TSA stations close after the last flight of the day but you can spend the night here.

    Another alternative is one day memberships in one of the various airport lounges. But expect to pay at least $50.

    A nap is nice but bring earplugs

    Wherever you might find to crash, do bring earplugs. The televisions go on all night.

    Other quiet places include a “city park” atmosphere in the hotel atrium between the A-Side and the B-Side of the Main Terminal.

    Take the elevator there to the top of the parking garage, even if you have no car parked there, to get a view from one of the highest points around of the Orlando area. It’s a good place as well for nightly Disney fireworks (though you should bring your own chairs if you want to avoid standing).

    You’re probably too old for this…but maybe not.

    It requires some effort but if you are willing to complete some paperwork, you can visit Level 9 of the Terminal Top Parking Garage to shoot panoramic photos of the area. (It’s also a good place for watching airplanes take off and land).

    Security regulations require you to fill out a “Use of Facilities” form. You have to do it in person. From 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday at the Public Affairs office. It’s located on the 3rd level of the Main Terminal at the Aviation Authority Executive Offices near the East Security Checkpoint for Gates 70-129.

    Why it’s called MCO

    For the sake of trivia (and perhaps to impress others about your local knowledge), the MCO designation for Orlando obviously had nothing to do with the name of the city…or does it?

    MCO comes from the former McCoy Air Force Base, named after Colonel Michael Norman Wright McCoy (1905–1957). A much-decorated pilot, he was killed during a crash of his B-47 Stratojet. An often-told story is that he guided his crippled airplane away from a local grade school to crash it at the site of what is now near the Orlando airport.

    Booking a room at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Hotel is getting as close to the airport itself as you can get.

    Rated 4-Diamonds by AAA.

    A check of rates for mid-June found the $150-a-night range, but a more exhaustive search might do better. They offer Day Rooms between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

    Rooms start at the 4th floor of the terminal. The terminal lobby is on the 3rd floor (as convenient as any airport anywhere).

    Not all airport hotels are quiet.

    But this one has positive reviews for that as well as for its other amenities.

    Said one blogger:

    “We stayed at Disney world and our last night we checked out to stay at the airport Hyatt so we could catch an early flight. Best thing we did. Not only cheaper but so convenient. We went from the room to the security line in minutes. It also gave me the ability to return the rent a car and save a day on the car.”


    Staying a night at an airport after a hard days week of theme park experiences is always a good way to decompress -- whether or not you have an early flight the next day.

    There are other less expensive hotels for well under $100 a night scattered within five miles of the airport itself that also offer free shuttles there.

    The airport hotel itself is designed to appeal to exercise fans.

    The hotel’s “StayFit™ gym features the latest in Life Fitness® Cardio equipment. The complimentary gym has treadmills, cross trainers, weights, exercise bicycles or just about everything you might expect in a well-equipped gymnasium.

    There’s a fitness concierge on hand for advice and to provide any exercise gear desired. 

    There’s also a jogging / walking track. It’s open from dawn to dusk.

    For those who choose to work out in the privacy of their rooms, there’s YogaAway. A variety of programs let you do your workout right there.

    For less strenuous exercise, the outdoor, Roman-style splash pool has a shaded lounge area to view planes soaring across the runway.

    Getting away from the airport

    Now, if you have your own transportation, it’s easy enough to drive to nearby destinations.

    Buses can also get you there for just a few dollars. But factor in waiting time, etc.

    As for taxis, they are easy to get here. But rates are among the highest you’ll find anywhere (blame it partly on a long-standing monopoly of providers).

    If you want to just go from the Orlando International Airport to International Drive, we found a taxi rate of $40-45 for the approximate 13-mile drive.

    An estimated Uber rate was far less: $14.34 (thank local government for approving this far better and less expensive alternative).

    What can you do at International Drive?

    The better question is what you can’t do,

    Shopping, dining attractions, entertainment options and hotels.

    All found here

    I-Drive offers over 42,000 hotel rooms, 22 attractions, 3 entertainment complexes, 200+ restaurants, 550 shops, the Orange County Convention Center and the I-Ride Trolley Service.  

    Take a ride on the I-Drive trolley (no more than $2) to see:

    The Orlando Eye, ala city of London, offers a 400-foot tower view of Central Florida in glass capsules.

    Or the really out-of-the-ordinary at “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” at the Orlando Odditorium.

    Or lie on a bed of nails at “WonderWorks” or simply see how people lived and died at the time of the Titanic.

    Bars like the “Blue Martini” (42 different kinds of martinis if that is your choice or shopping at Pointe Orlando).

    Guess what at “Gator Spot,” an extension of Gatorland with baby examples as well as giant ones (and a white Gator)?

    Glow in the dark miniature golf (Putting Edge), and eat, drink and play at Dave & Buster’s.

    Artistic or Bohemian culture served as a side order at highly rated Café Tu Tu Tango or learn belly dancing at Taverna Opa.

    Flying (really) on your own at Air Raid.

    Belly dancing or bars

    Chill out at the ICEBAR Orlando, named as the largest permanent ice bar in the world (70 tons of the unusual stuff…for Florida, at least).

    Care for a swim outside your hotel pool? You can buy a daily pass at the YMCA Aquatic Center I-Drive (a pool large enough to get lost in).

    McDonald’s offers its largest Play Place here.

    Even a glass blowing shop and studio at Artegon Marketplace Orlando.

    And world class roller coasters? Even that is “Coming Soon.

    More information on the huge variety of activities can be found at the I-Drive information site (www.iridetrolley.com/).

    You can check out “Hot deals” at www. InternationalDriveOrlando.com.

    Not literally a free way to spend spare time. But at least some things to do at fairly reasonable prices while waiting for your flight. ###

    You have heard of the latest and fastest roller coaster in Orlando. Maybe you have by now even ridden it.

    But do you want to go faster?

    Break that 73 mile an hour barrier set by Mako at SeaWorld of Orlando?

    To get into an even faster ride than driving along Orlando’s main highway of I-4?

    Speed limit: 70.

    Ferrari, known for fast cars with stunning designs, may be coming to Orlando.

    No guarantees and no “for sures.”

    But there are strong indications Ferrari World may be next in line for buyers of Disney World tickets. Or Universal Studios Orlando tickets. Or even younger theme park-goers who prefer their LEGOLAND tickets to visit another park less than an hour’s drive away from the theme park city of Orlando…if you obey the speed limits.

    Ferrari already has some theme parks. So why not Orlando?

    “Orlando, and maybe Los Angeles, are the preferred (new) sites,” one report says of Ferrari driving a new park here

    We’ll get into more detail on this later. Which, as we say, is still speculation. But there’s a lot of credibility to Orlando at least being considered as a site.

    Particularly when you consider some unique elements of the area. Such as the convention market (unlikely as they may sound unless you know more about it).

    All this comes at a time when there’s some unusual talk about Orlando:

    Theme park world: getting more?

    More theme parks on the way…more choices of where to visit for theme park-goers?

    It sounds unlikely. And analysts who make a living at evaluating trends like this one say the rule in Orlando is this:

    There shall be no more major theme parks.

    But what are known as smaller or boutique parks are not included in that rule.

    And yet the existing parks are expanding all the time.

    As seen by the many summer openings and expansions in addition to SeaWorld’s shark encounter Mako.

    Which does not even include the fact obvious to anyone standing in line for a ride on Disney’s aging “Space Mountain” roller coaster.

    Theme parks are attracting so many visitors that lines are longer than ever.

    Tourism observer trends say it’s about time for Disney’s rival, Universal, to get another theme park.

    It’s only been 15 years since the last major new theme park opened in Orlando. That was Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

    Prior to that, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom opened in 1971.

    Doing the math…that’s almost half a century ago…or really 45 years ago.

    Orlando is ready for a new theme park

    “High time” for a new park, writes The Orlando Sentinel. They quote “industry experts.”

    Since Disney is presumably involved in opening up its Shanghai, China version, the likely candidate comes down to Universal.

    The speculation has been over Universal’s purchase of 475 acres in the tourist corridor.

    Since then, planning discussions have been ongoing with area officials. In this case, Orange County (which includes parts of Orlando).

    Universal has suggested another theme park. They want what is called a “development zone” for the property.

    Now this won’t happen tomorrow. Or within the next few months.

    It would take years. But it appears to be going forward.

    Another theme park would be Universal’s third.

    The impact might be very positive for visitors like us: more choices.

    But even better: shorter lines.

    There’s no question Universal has long struggled to keep up with its major rival, Disney.

    No better example is this:

    Universal’s Volcano Bay waterpark is due to open next year. New hotels also.

    Where in the world did they learn about the demand for more water parks and hotels to sleep after long swims?

    Everyone follows Disney

    Disney, of course.

    Which is not to say that Universal is slavishly following Disney.

    "(But) They're really moving into a destination which is close to what Disney is," Scott Smith, assistant hospitality professor at the University of South Carolina, told the local newspaper.

    If you have followed attendance reports, which are only briefly published, Universal has been adding to its visitor shares. Disney has lost. But still, Disney attracts more than two thirds of those of you (theme park visitors).

    Universal gets only about two in ten, while SeaWorld is far below that (at 6 percent).

    Do these numbers make it likely SeaWorld or Disney would add a new park?

    SeaWorld, no. They are still entangled with animal rights advocates over their main product: fish.

    That partially explains why new roller coasters are designed to broaden their appeal, but also to emphasize their educational efforts on behalf of sea animals.

    That leaves Disney.

    Walt himself, who was dismayed at both the profit potential and the tacky nature of development around his original California property, made sure that would not happen in Orlando.

    The property here has no shortage of acres for expansion.

    And Disney recently added another several hundred acres to future development. That property alone would make a theme park in itself.

    But right now, Disney’s attention may be more inclined to Shanghai, China, where a new park is opening this month.

    The $5.5-billion Shanghai Disney resort will feature a Magic-Kingdom-style theme park, two hotels and a Downtown Disney shopping center.

    A 10-minute boat ride around Fantasyland will depart from inside the park's Storybook Castle, the largest and tallest of all of Disney's turreted icons.

    Disney’s challenge is not only cultural here (Pluto the dog is outfitted as a character in the Chinese zodiac). But also practical.

    And talk about crowds…

    “The primary concern for Shanghai Disneyland is preventing crowds from getting unwieldy,” suggests The Wall Street Journal.

    A total of 330 million people live within three hours of the Shanghai park.

    “Outside crowds are already flocking here by car and subway to new restaurants and a lakeside promenade in a tourist zone surrounding the park,” the newspaper said.

    This was more than a week before the park was scheduled to open…when on a single day 90,000 people went through the park.

    But Disney’s international concerns are hardly limited to Shanghai. There’s also the parks in Hong Kong and Paris.

    And expansion is already in the works there. The Hong Kong government, 52% partner in the Hong Kong Disneyland property, is planning to work with Disney to develop a "phase 2" of the park.

    That is described as an addition as large as the current park size. 

    Hong Kong itself recorded a record number of visitors in 2014 at over 60 million, up 12% year over year, according to the government's statistics.

    Because Hong Kong Disneyland has become an integral part of the tourist attractions offered, the Hong Kong officials want to ensure the park keeps up with a growing number of visitors.

    This phase two -- which the government hopes will bring even more tourism income and economic growth to the region -- will include additional attractions, new retail areas, and more hotels.

    The current park is already Disney's largest international park, at about 150 acres total (compared to about 115 for Tokyo Disney and 140 for Disneyland Paris).

    Even at 300 acres, the new, doubled Hong Kong Disney will still pale in comparison to Disney's Orlando properties.

    While the doubling of Hong Kong Disneyland would be impressive, its 300 acres would still be less than a third of the nearly 1,000 acres planned for Disney's new park coming to Shanghai.

    This new park is going to be a massive new push for Disney's international theme park segment.

    Closer to home

    Already, Disney plans to open Avatar Land at Animal Kingdom next year. There’s also the revamp of Hollywood Studios and Star Wars, which is expected to be a huge attraction (with even greater lines).

    Disney say it is involved in “unprecedented growth and expansion.”

    Universal has been long rumored to be interested in opening a third park in Orlando on land they own directly across Universal Boulevard from the Orange County Convention Center.

    Rumors have ranged from “Lord of the Rings” to “Nintendo.”

    Unlike Disney, Universal does not have a large section of land that is connected.

    Their latest new acquisition of 475 acres section is not connected with the two major parks.

    Which brought up the question in the local newspaper story”

    How would Universal’s property be connected?

    For visitors such as yourself, this might in the future be even easier and more comfortable than ever.

    The reason is SunRail.

    The main purpose of the train is for local commuters. But plans are underway for it to connect with the Orlando International Airport.

    This would involve an air-railway system similar to many major cities such as London and Paris, where you take trains instead of autos to complete your destination.

    Right now, Orlando air visitors can take shuttle services to Disney and other theme parks. Or buses.

    But rail would be a highly attractive and presumably economical option.

    Several rail companies are looking into the financial prospects of such a system.

    As might be expected, Universal supports the concept.

    Another potential issue: hiring enough “cast members,” ala Disney?

    Better job market

    This could be good news for you if you want to work here.

    Wages and benefits will certainly go up as parks compete even more for people.

    Disney has been a pioneer in bringing in foreign workers.

    But other parks such as Six Flags have emulated their plans as well.

    Just what kind of park Universal might do is by far the most interesting question.

    Speculation ranges from more water themes, which are always popular in sunny Florida, to imitation mountain ranges. The later would have the appeal of being somewhat unusual, though hardly unique to Florida.

    Which brings us to what is being called “another major player in the world of theme parks.” Ferrari.

    Highly respected business source “Bloomberg” suggests a new North American park is idling and getting ready to go.

    Rumors of it go all the way back to 2010.

    “With rumors gaining momentum during a 2014 IAAPA attractions expo (the world’s best known amusement park showcase),” according to newspaper accounts.

    They got into the theme park game when first opening Ferrari World in 2010 in Abu Dhabi on an island. There’s a grand racing circuit track there.

    Ferrari no stranger to theme parks

    PS: Leisure tour operator Farah here operates the world’s largest indoor theme park.

    The Abu Dhabi park is home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, the world’s tallest non-inverting loop coaster and several other rides.

    A Soarin’ style flying theater, go-karts and even a teacup style ride all call the park home, Autoblog said.

    How fast is Formula Rossa? It covers 1.3 miles in 90 seconds. 

    A second park is being built in Spain (one of the largest in Europe).

    The mainly outdoor Spanish park will have a five-star hotel.

    And the automaker has a third park planned for mainland China.

    A proposed North American location would be the fourth.

    All the current Ferrari parks include a partnership with others.

    “What makes the Orlando market stand out is the shift to higher end experiences that the market has seen in the past 14 years,” writes The Orlando Weekly. And while the overall market may be saturated with general theme parks, boutique parks remain a possibility.

    Most parks are all-day trips.

    A boutique park geared to autos (and auto heads) is considered far more likely for an Orlando location, park officials say.

    This is particularly true in Orlando. Why?

    Convention groups love smaller parks

    Because boutique parks like Ferrari cater strongly to convention groups.

    And Orlando besides theme parks is also the biggest convention market in the US. “The Los Angeles and Orlando areas have developed into epicenters for theme parks in America and could attract a Ferrari location,” according to one news story. The story went on:

    “The licensing of additional Ferrari theme parks comes as the company strives to position itself as a luxury lifestyle brand as much as an automaker and racing team. The storied marque has lines of clothing and various merchandise, and a network of retail stores through which it sells its products.”

    Sounds suspiciously like Disney and Universal, no?

    But is the theme park world here already saturated?

    Could be, says one account. “However, we’re sure it would find room for a Ferrari World if it had to,” added Autoblog.

    What would a Ferrari theme park have?

    Roller coasters, of course, and perhaps vertical acceleration towers. And probably virtual test tracks.

    Don’t expect anything immediately.

    Like tomorrow.

    But if you want a Ferrari fix, for now at least, you can get it at Ferrari of Central Florida.

    The dealer has 458 models that can cost more than $400,000.

    Or you can get a used one.

    Right now, the best deal may be a 2012 model. It’s a 458 Italia model. Available used for $279,995.

    Not a bad price. For multi-millionaires, anyway. ###

    You’ve certainly heard the song…even though it’s doubtful if it really applies to you: “Summertime.” Heard most often from a version by legendary singer Ella Fitzgerald.

    “Summertime, and the livin' is easy Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high”

    Oops, maybe you’re not a fishermen.

    And so what if those fish really do jump?

    And that high cotton reference does not mean much to our high-tech lives, does it? But think about summer. It’s time…

    …For the most anticipated time of the year.

    And for many of us, it’s a time for a different kind of theme park.

    Water-related. As all visitors to Central Florida know…or quickly and sometimes painfully find out…it’s hot in the summer.

    So let’s take a look at what’s new (or should we say hot?) as summer heat encourages us to the water.

    There’s lots of news at swim-oriented theme parks. But other choices of what to do might also tempt you to put your toes in the water.

    Orlando’s pioneer water park was Wet 'n Wild on International Drive.

    Many people also argued it was the best.

    At least, during its time.

    It opened in ancient times: 1977.

    To give you an idea of time passing quickly: Disney Orlando ticket buyers that year only had been visiting the park for the past seven years when Wet ‘n Wild became the first area water park….

    If you can imagine that…

    Wet ‘n Wild no more

    So for its last year, the park is offering a Florida resident deal.

    Buy a ticket for $39.99 before May 31 and you can come back as many times as you like through the end of the year.

    But not after that.

    No more park after this year.

    In the future, Universal will open a new water park called “Volcano Bay” near the Wet site. If we’re lucky, that should be open in time for next summer.

    But since Orlando’s first, other area water parks have come in waves.

    Disney’s own Blizzard Beach in late May through almost the end of August announced it will have its throwing “Frozen Games.”

    The Olympics-inspired activities let you choose either Team Kristoff or Team Olaf to play watery games. These include the “Ice Pail Relays or “Snowball Toss” (snowball themed water balloons).

    There’s no extra cost in addition to admission.

    Water parks also offer fast passes

    Aquatica, SeaWorld's water park, is offering its version of a Fast Pass now for six of its thrill rides.

    Please note:

    These are only on select weekends in May and early June. The quick queue is an extra $20 or $25 depending on the day on top of normal park admission.

    They let you skip to the front of the line on “Whanau Way, Omaka Rocka, Taumata Racer, Walhalla Wave,” and other rides.

    Some other parks have little news this summer.

    Which is understandable.

    How many new water slide variations can you devise?


    But here’s a look at why you may choose one park or the other.

    ---SeaWorld Orlando’s Aquatica offers it all: thrill rides, animal encounters, etc.

    One of the best slides anywhere is “Breakaway Falls, “while adults who also want action can dig “Roa’s Rapids.”

    Kids can splash around safely and securely in “Walkabout Waters.”

    ---Disney’s Blizzard Beach at Lake Buena Vista might make you think you’re in a ski resort. Huh?

    Summer ski lifts and toboggans

    The waterslides look like mountain toboggan runs. The “ski lift” takes you to the top of Mount Gushmore.

    But there’s a lot of thrilling rides here and a huge wave pool. So it’s geared for the whole family.

    ---Water slides are the stars at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon.

    It’s one of the world’s largest surfing lagoons. And it has the biggest waves.

    You can snorkel among fish and coral and plant life.

    And there are also enough waterslides to keep all swimmers wet and content.

    ---You’re not likely to get any discount tickets (unlike Universal Studios discount tickets or LEGOLAND tickets or others) at Discovery Bay. But this is the best place to swim with bottlenose dolphins.

    PS: If you want education about them, you will get that as well.

    The park is particularly cozy, you might say, since it limits swimmers to 1000 people a day.

    Also limiting is the price, several hundred dollars…depending on tickets.

    But what you are paying for is the only water park to also have large aviary beaches, as well as a lazy river through waterfalls and lagoons.

    You get breakfast and lunch (drinks as well), parking, towels and snorkeling and other equipment and 30 minutes of instruction.

    Tickets also give you free access to SeaWorld Orlando or Busch Gardens Tampa Bay or Aquatica Water Park for two weeks after your visit. Upgrades are also possible.

    The expense may shock some but packages that offer you a chance to be a “trainer for a day” go for upwards of $400 a day.

    ---If you’re with children, don’t forget LEGOLAND Water Park in nearby Winter Harden. The DUPLO Splash safari is for kids under five years of age. And there are various rides for kids to build boats. Out of LEGOS, of course.

    Watery issues outside Orlando

    If you’re looking to get away from Orlando, to say Palm Beach County, you might want to take in “Rapids Water Park.”

    That park about a four-hour drive from Orlando is South Florida’s only large-scale water park (poor area residents and tourists: only one choice).

    The park maintains a daily opening schedule every day this summer.

    It’s newest and biggest attraction: “Brain Drain.”

    It’s two single-rider slides have what they are calling “Bombs Away.” Since the slides drop riders through bomb-bay style doors (kind of like those old World War II movies where B-52s drop bombs on Japan through double doors, bomb-bay style).

    Riders start at a height of 72 feet in the air. They travel through enclosed tubes at respectable speeds (up to 35 mph).

    There are twists and turns.

    The best part

    But here’s the best part (or most thrilling):

    Each slide offers a different experience. One tube called “Baby Blue” and “Burnt Orange” takes riders for a 395-foot-long drop.

    Not enough for you?

    Two other tubes (we’ll skip the names because what does that matter, anyway?) go on for eternity…or really for 420 feet. The park has 40 slide and ride options.

    In nearby Daytona Beach (about 50 minutes via I-4), there’s a formerly somewhat run-down water park that is being revitalized.

    Daytona Lagoon is right next door to Daytona Beach's Ocean Center.

    That park opened in 1998,

    The park is completing a $2 million renovation to its water park features, which also include go-karts and other entertainment such as miniature golf, a rock wall and an arcade.

    New water slides. A new one where the floor drops out under riders.

    There are several local hotels who have joined the tidal wave of water parks.

    We confess that it would be impossible to test them all.

    But we do have some positive (and negative) reports on them.

    Hotels have their own water parks

    One that has stood out in popularity is CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort.

    With its 391 rooms, the hotel on International Drive has a canopy covered outdoor water park. Water slides and swimming pools.

    Its emphasis is on families but it has draws couples.

    The hotel on International Drive bills itself luxurious but it is not known primarily for that, though if not four stars, it at least would rank three stars.

    It does have a convenient location to area attractions, both water related and others (there’s a shuttle to Walt Disney World Resort, for example). But the Water Resort is even more convenient. Built within the hotel itself.

    Unlike some hotels, no extra fees are needed for parking and Wi-Fi.

    A $24 resort fee per day includes water activities. Day passes are available for non-hotel guests.

    There are activities and rides geared for all ages. The names of rides give you an idea of what to expect.

    There’s “Cyclone Slide,” “Over the Falls” and “Surfer Splash,” among others.

    There’s alcoholic bars for adults. And plenty of soft and other drinks for kids.

    An attraction of the park is its food prices. They start at just $4, but more typically are $10 and above.

    PS: Unlike some theme parks, you can’t bring in your food and beverages.

    Warning: the park does sell out, particularly on very hot days.

    Hot days can mean sellouts

    Another popular park in Kissimmee is Flamingo Waterpark Resort. Also family-friendly.

    Three water slides. Six kiddie play zones. Two pools.

    An onside snack bar and grill.

    The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is among the area’s most luxurious hotels (some of the highest rates as well). But it has compensations for water lovers.

    It underwent a $54 million renovation.

    For adults, that included a lakefront pool bar that they will love. It overlooks a huge 800,000 gallon lagoon pool.

    But that’s not all.

    There are four huge, 60-inch-screen TVs, shaded seating with misting fans, more than a dozen bar seats, and more.

    For kids, the resort added water slides and specific areas for children such as a splash zone.

    Some Disney hotels also offer waterparks.

    Disney’s Beach Club Villas, for example, has a waterpark area with a super-fast slide and a pool that is a virtual waterpark.

    $400 a night rooms

    The only disadvantage: the cost is upwards of $400 a night.

    Cheaper alternatives are to do what many residents do:

    Go to the springs.

    Florida has more than 700 springs.

    Temperatures are cool here: always 70 degrees F.

    Almost all are north of Interstate 4 because they bubble up through the Florida Aquifer, an underground limestone formation.

    Bad news?

    Maybe. But maybe not.

    There was already enough bad news when you heard or read this one: “Disney World’s Attendance Slips.” But if your reaction was similar to ours, you thought:

    Ho hum.

    So what?

    So attendance was down.

    And the very next day you may have read that Disney profits were up.

    It’s obvious that Disney Orlando ticket buyers (and Universal Studios Orlando ticket buyers and other theme park attendees) are paying more these days for your favorite theme parks.

    But that is boring news.

    The only reason you might care about lower attendance is that it might mean shorter waiting lines…and wouldn’t that be nice?

    And the second news part of all this…if Disney and Universal are making more money, who is surprised?

    And who cares, anyway?

    Please Disney: continue to make money and add more thrilling rides to astonish us and at the same time, do something more about those long lines.

    The real news, at least for most of us, is what is happening this summer. No, it’s not just warm weather.

    Plenty of daylight and sunshine at

    Disney World Orlando Resort and other parks.

    You’ve certainly heard about it.

    They are opening a record wave of rides and attractions.

    And some of what might be called “daring” food offerings as well.

    Coasters getting ready to roll

    It’s a real roller coaster ride. And by that, we mean real roller coasters.

    And Star Wars, too. And king-size new attractions.

    Etc. Etc. Etc.

    You may have heard about some of them but here we’ll try to mention the most significant ones.

    But also some more details have come out.

    So we’ll show you some previews and insider looks…

    We’ll get into what you can expect this summer when you get your Disney World tickets (or visit other area theme parks).

    The Orlando area’s promotional agency is known as Visit Florida. And they had a lot to brag about.

    Or reasons for you to come here as summer approaches.

    Here’s what they said:

    “From the colossal return of King Kong to a ‘Galaxy Far, Far Away’ coming closer than ever, to the launch of the tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster----Orlando’s newest attractions are bigger, bolder and better than ever.”

    Yes, some bragging there, sure.

    Let’s start with coasters.

    You remember the Hulk

    But let’s look first at an old favorite re-opening.

    We’re thinking here of the “Incredible Hulk Coaster” at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

    Here’s a behind-the-scenes fact to you to digest and perhaps pass on to others:

    Modern military aircraft was an inspiration for the design.

    Or so revealed Neil Engel, a show producer for Universal Creative.

    And when can we try the Hulk out?

    All we know is you should be able to board it in late summer.

    But we also know it’s a completely new version of waiting lines and the ride itself.

    New immersive effects and high-tech components will help us experience what it’s like to be Dr. Bruce Banner.

    You certainly know it has twists and turns.

    Previews and some released information show that you will immediately see the major changes in this beloved coaster.

    Entering the line, you will see the towering figure of…who else…the Hulk. That should get you in the proper mood, anyway, though it’s only an image of him holding up pieces of the track (these are said to have come from the original track).

    The queue or line area will give you a hint of what’s to come.

    New story line too

    The story line here calls for General Thaddeus Ross to ask for volunteers. They’re needed for a new experiment.

    The general is doing bio-radiological experiments. You will pass by the high-tech equipment in his laboratories.

    Getting curious?

    Your only clue is that you will get a high level of radiation through “Hulk-a-fication.”

    This is dangerous because the life-altering process was first introduced by Dr. Bruce Banner.

    You already know what it does?

    Massive strength.

    More than just muscles

    But you can’t trust it as being just a new positive power, can you?

    You will see the Gamma core that basically supplies the massive energy (don’t be afraid of it…you are protected by a think pane of glass).

    You will see others transformed into Hulks themselves.

    Then rushed to the Gamma accelerator that will give you superhuman strength…

    You’re prepared now for a real ride --   very unlike the old one.

    This new one is sleeker. More dynamic.

    On board, a new in-seat audio system has an original score created by Patrick Stump, known for his work with the rock band “Fall Out Boy.”

    Then, you’re speeding…call it rocketing along…a new launch tunnel with wow-creating special effects.

    But in another world…

    At the park where Pottermania first began, another old friend is returning.

    Kong's new home will be in Islands of Adventure's Jurassic Park area.

    If the attraction will be similar to Universal Studio Hollywood's King Kong 360 3-D…which most people suspect…the ape will have more than dinosaurs to beat up.

    As yet, no previews to get a better idea of what is coming.

    But a wild ride is expected with enormous…by enormous we mean bigger than ever….animatronic creatures at “Reign of Kong.”

    Seeking Kong off-road

    We do know you will board huge off-road vehicles to explore ancient temple structures. You will be fighting off oversize terrors of the time.

    In other words, king or super-size monsters to match Kong himself.

    In another coaster ride elsewhere…

    SeaWorld Orlando showed off its Mako hypercoaster during a media event. It gave a much better idea of what it will be like.

    Here’s what we learned:

    One of the best things about the ride is that when you’re getting slowly…or so it seems…to the very top, you keep waiting for the track to stop curling when…suddenly…you’re going straight down.

    Or so it seems.

    No wonder.

    When you recall that Mako has a 200-foot drop.

    Yes, that’s just a number. But 200 feet is a long, long ways.

    It also has speeds of 73 miles an hour. Or faster than you are supposed to go driving on your local interstates.

    Mako is first since Kraken

    On the new ride, you can’t help but notice the nearby Kraken (and perhaps want to try it after this glimpse).

    An interesting sidelight about Mako is why you might want to try it.

    It’s the first time in seven years that SeaWorld Orlando had a thrill ride (the Manta coaster).

    So it fills a void for teens and older coaster riders who want that experience.

    As you may recall, its attraction is also that it will be the tallest and fastest in the entire Orlando area.

    And officials say it will appeal to all members of your family, no matter their ages…though the very young and the very frail might want to skip it.

    They might want to concentrate on the redesigned areas around “Shark Encounter.”

    The two-acre Shark Realm will have a “Shipwreck Reef” with interactive and educational areas for non-thrill seekers

    The queue or waiting line will have an under-the-pier look. Its wooden composition will provide that.

    For non-riders, there’s also education

    You’ll also see a shipwreck motif in the loading station.

    Of course, stops with information about sharks should satisfy the more educational-minded riders.

    The coaster train itself will have seven rows with four passengers seated across.

    A blue-colored panel above will show below the surface food figures for sharks.

    No, not people for eating or for food, as SeaWorld makes clear.

    Instead, fish.

    Sound and visual effects will get you in the proper mood.

    Mako is classified as a hypercoaster, meaning fast, with "relentless" air time and no inversions.

    The design of the thrill ride calls for nine moments of "air time," the weightlessness that riders experience when topping a hill or heading into a curve.

    Mako will have no inversions, or upside-down stretches, and, thus, no over-the-shoulder harnesses.

    You should be able to ride it after June 10.

    Busch also part of coaster boom

    As for buyers of Busch Gardens Tampa tickets…you will also soon be getting its largest coaster -- 2100 feet of track. A lot, in other words.

    If a human being measures say five feet…for an easy to figure comparison…that is the length of 40 humans stretched out.

    It’s called “Cobra’s Curse.”

    It could be broken down into three stages.

    In the first, you go up a 90-degree vertical lift. Surprise!

    Or maybe not.

    You get there.

    You are now facing King Venymuss.

    He’s not a real king.

    Because he or she is not human.

    But an 80-foot snake.

    Gold, in color.

    The second phase gives you something you might not have expected…but perhaps should when encountering an 80-foot snake…you have the good sense to go backwards.


    Backwards…didn’t you expect that?

    You want to get away. From the huge snake.

    The final phase is a free-for-all.

    Not entirely free. It spins you in a pattern randomly based on weight distribution.

    For more new thrill rides

    For other thrills while in the area, there’s something new and very different to try.

    It’s a free event June 11 called “Fly into Summer” at Aerospace Discovery.

    Where’s that?

    The Florida Air Museum, which you may not have heard that much about (no promotional budget such as Disney or Universal).

    It’s in nearby Lakeland.

    This family-friendly event includes free admission to Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum.

    This is known as the Official Aviation Museum of the state of Florida. Attractions here do not…we repeat, do not…include roller coasters.

    But they do offer STEM.

    STEM is a term short for (science, technology, engineering and math).

    It usually refers to jobs but in this case, it is exhibits and attractions based on scientific arts and crafts.

    Educational, in other words (for families, or kids, or the kid in you, as we said).

    But there are other G-rated events here such as a scavenger hunt, etc. Also, movies.

    For G-rated families

    Check their web site (www.sun-n-fun.org) for other events.

    In other non-major park news, the Calypso Cay Resort in Kissimmee this summer should be opening its so-called “High Action Adventure” products.

    These include a “FlyWrite Zipline, Extreme Air Jumper, Rope Quest and Balloon Battles.”

    The Zipline alone is a 300 foot journey.

    Or the Jumper will take you up to 25 feet high.

    Water battles are another choice on a custom rope course.

    And also at Disney, some new food that in many cases can be easily dubbed adventurous.

    The new dining options just about everyone is looking forward to at Disney Springs are opening or have by now.

    There are several new options.

    These include “D-Luxe Burger,” where you definitely want to dare another part of your body, your taste buds, to the El Diablo.

    It’s a classic cheeseburger with a bite: That comes from chorizo, and other ingredients.

    Also worth trying: gelato. But not in a cup or bowl. But as a milk shake.

    Cakes and pastries, always in demand here, will be a high point of Amorette’s Pattisserie. You can watch chefs preparing classic macaroons or chocolate-chocolate chip cookies.

    Dare to try it

    Canada is hardly known for adventurous food. But the Daily Poutine will show you why residents of that country like their unusual French fry toppings. These include beef poutine gravy (yes, why the restaurant got its name), fried yucca or black beans and other toppings only the adventurous would associate with French fires.

    And how about sake?

    Yes, a drink. But “YeSake” at their new kiosk offers a bourbon version. Or a freeze (good timing in the hot summer).

    And Sprinkles, which we have reported on before. Dubbed part of a long line from the first cupcake bakery (so says the Food Network).

    With ATM sold cookies. Also vegan and gluten cakes.

    And we should not forget nearby LEGOLAND.

    There’s a variety of new attractions and movies.

    For the younger crowd, the kids here for the first time can build and race their own boats at the attraction’s water park this summer.

    It’s also a good way to cool off after sampling all of the season’s hot new attractions. ###


    dollar store

    Buying All You Need at The Dollar Store

    Here’s a thoughtful touch for you: Get yourself some soft drinks or water bottles and even sunscreen once you get inside the theme park.


    Free? Did you say?


    But you have to go to Indiana to a park called “Holiday World.”

    Like all theme parks, they have a captive audience. And they do give those items away free.

    But don’t expect to find a lot for free at Orlando’s theme parks.

    Which brings us to serious financial matters.

    Such as the cost.

    Buying so-called “necessities” at theme parks is similar to buying admission tickets.

    You can buy regular Disney Orlando tickets. At Disney.

    But you can also buy Disney World discount tickets or Universal Studios discount tickets.

    Similarly, you can buy sunscreen, sodas, whatever else you need…at any of the Orlando theme parks.

    Or buy it beforehand.

    Buying it beforehand saves money.

    Call it Discount Necessity Ticketing.

    Buy before, save your money

    So you can buy most if not all you need at a dollar store or similar discount place…

    And save your money for other must-have items at the parks.

    Now this is a subject that should be dear to your hearts.

    It is hacks to save money.

    No matter how much money you have.

    Because no matter how wealthy you are, the costs of theme parks keep going up.

    Sure, you can take the attitude that the “happiest Place on Earth” and others somewhat similar are priceless experiences.

    But even the least cost-conscious park-goers among us has to face this fact:

    Costs keep going up.

    Far faster than you can even keep up with them.

    Disney is just one example.

    Though as Disney raises prices, you can make a sure bet:

    Others will follow.

    Disney’s latest pricing increases just the other day…

    Latest price increases for longer hours

    The park will charge you $39 if you want to have someone pick up your runner’s package the day before the new Star Wars villain themed half marathon.

    So you’re not a runner. You prefer to walk the park.

    How about a shorter walk?

    Available for another $15 extra. The cost of parking closer to the park.

    Or about long lines…Bothering you?

    Pay $69 in the morning or $149 at night to avoid those long lines.

    These all come shortly after Disney surveyed guests about possible resort fees and introduced a new seasonal pricing structure that sent the cost of a Magic Kingdom one-day ticket to $124 during busy periods.

    This is not just any Indiana theme park but Disney?

    Disgusting, bloggers complain.

    Or what would Walt think of this all these new prices?

    The company in a statement says:

    It has “long offered options such as backstage tours, ticketed events and other unique selections for guests who are looking for ways to further customize their visit based on their interests.”

    So like it or not, face it.

    It will cost you more to visit not only Disney but all the other parks…as they follow the Disney lead.

    Disney has long been known for being different from other parks.

    One example is Universal Orlando, which has been a leader in add-on charges such as preferred parking.

    Disney used to resist price add-ons

    Disney also allows visitors to bring their own picnic lunches, unlike Universal and SeaWorld

    “Disney says there is guest demand for its new add-on services, but fans fear the all-inclusive philosophy is starting to erode,” notes The Orlando Sentinel.

    Those lunches that you bring to Disney…to eat healthier perhaps, but certainly to save money…could they be the next add-ons?


    Believable, at least.

    Which leads us to saving money.

    How much money can you save by buying many necessary items beforehand or before having to purchase them at the theme parks?

    There is no real number here, but can anyone doubt the money saved?

    You save a lot by buying beforehand

    You must know this but it is always less cost to buy just about anything (maybe some sale items are the exception, so we say almost) off-site than in a theme park.

    That helps explain why there are dollar and discount stores near wherever you are staying within virtual walking distance of the theme parks.

    Of course, not everything is really at a cost of $1 dollar at the dollar stores.

    It used to be.

    But even at more than that single dollar, these stores sell much of what you might buy at a theme park…though you won’t find the autographed character toothbrushes, among other items.

    You don’t really have to buy everything at dollar stores, either.

    You can shop at Wal-Mart, Target or other discount places as well.

    Up to you.

    So here are some hacks for what to buy before you get your Disney World discount tickets or Universal Studios discount tickets…or any other theme park admission prices.

    The key is to have what you need before you get to the theme park.

    Where this gets more complicated is deciding what you really need.

    You can compile a long laundry list of needed items.

    Similar to a vacationing family whose single suitcase soon balloons into a dozen large trunks as you prepare for all events: rain or shine, cold or hot, sickness or good health…or whatever.

    As an important side issue here, the hacks we are suggesting does not mean you have to go totally frugal. Or don’t spend any money.

    But think about your spending.

    Thinking outside the box or park

    Something else to consider is that items you buy before the park can often be used again later…in different settings.

    So your savings are even more.

    So before looking at just what you absolutely, positively must have…consider how to get it there.

    What we mean:

    What type of bag do you need?

    Not just any suitcase

    We’re not going to tell you specifically what kind of bag to get…any more than we suggest you do all your shopping at any one or even several dollar stores…but a few words or hacks on what to look for:

    Our first consideration of a bag is not its well-known name, or even necessarily its price.

    But its weight.

    Light. As light as possible.

    Why is that?

    Because a heavy bag at the end of a long day at a theme park will feel like you are carrying a horse on your back.

    Something else to think about: One bag is best.

    Per person.

    And before going, you might want to put labels on your property with names, phones, etc. Just in case it gets misplaced, forgotten somewhere or otherwise lost.

    A half dozen other things to think about when it comes to bags:

    1. Backpacks are usually the best choice when it comes to type.

    2. Several compartments, easily separated.

    3. Large, strong zippers that work well. Beware the bag that has zippers that are hard to close or those drawstring type of things.

    4. Padded, adjustable straps.

    5. Compression straps to tighten when the bag is not nearly full (does make a difference).

    6. Rain-repellant (nice to have but not a necessity or not always).

    There are a lot of things you will need but many you will not.

    So if you think about it, a fat or thick wallet is not something you want to carry around.

    On the do-not-need list

    Choose a smaller container for some essentials like a driver’s license and a couple of credit cards and a hotel charge card if you have one (those family pictures, delightful as they are to show others, are not really needed here).

    Now for what to bring.

    Check the weather before leaving.

    If you are going in the winter, it doesn’t take a lot of sense to remember to bring a sweater or light jacket.

    The rainy season is also a good time to consider an extra shirt or pair of shorts in case you get wet.

    What is definitely needed in your bag

    Water bottles, of course. Or not? Country Time or Kool-Aid and other powdered drinks are easier to pack and carry.

    Water at the drinking fountains is always there. Or a glass of ice water at restaurants.

    So just one empty bottle should be enough to carry.

    Sun tan lotion, of course. Even in the winter, when the sun is at its weakest, fair-haired people can get too much of the rays.

    Sunglasses. Cheap ones are best in case they break (they often do). The ones with a strap are best because they are least likely to get lost (and they do).

    Snacks to include: granola bars, raisins and snack crackers. And balanced with more healthy items like fruit. For health reasons. Individual portions are best.

    Hand sanitizer, hand wipes and hand lotion. This is for the really fastidious who worries about these things. Mini hotel sizes if you’re staying at a local place do the job fine.

    Many people tell you to bring umbrellas…particularly during rainy summer days. But a better idea: ponchos have hoods. Less to carry around, too.

    Those little misty fans. They do the job. And a lot cheaper at discount stores where you don’t need Mickey or a character design on them.

    Ziplock bags. Not only for trash but also to keep electronics dry (say you go on a water ride).

    Batteries. For just about everything. Not just for kids, of course.

    Fans/water misters. Battery operated (don’t forget those extra batteries). Look for the ones with straps to make them more easily wearable.

    Charging chords, of course. Don’t leave home without them.

    Only in case of emergencies

    A small First aid kit. You would be surprised how often you might need it. Put in it bandages for bruises and cuts, aspirin for headaches and minor irritations, motion sickness or nausea tablets, and eye drops.

    Hats are more than handy. Wide brimmed ones are best. Visors are good, too.

    Insect repellant. Especially essential during the summer. Smaller sizes are preferable.

    Your phone is fine for taking pictures, but if you are a serious photographer, you might want to bring a real camera.

    Any feminine hygiene products you might need. Nail polish, nail clippers, etc.

    Anything else your particular situation requires.

    Other items that you might want but not necessarily have to have”

    Guide books and a pen or pencil. You never know when you might want to make a note or leave someone a note.

    A comb or brush. For men and women.

    Lip balm. Lips can get dry in hot climates.

    A small flashlight or penlight. Useful for reading in dark places. You never know.

    Quarters and other chance for pressed machines, other miscellaneous uses.

    Some items you may not have thought about:

    Gum. The number one and two item.

    If you are a gum-chewer at some parks, and you know the one, gum is not sold. So if you have to chew it, bring it along.

    And water proof bags for cameras, cell phones, and many other uses.

    Thinking about the kids

    If you have children, your list has to be more thoughtful but might include these items:

    Autograph books. Buying them at theme parks: expensive. But buying at discount stores: reasonably prices. Personalize them yourself with family photos and other homemade touches.

    Entertainment items. Cards, games, small books, even a deck of cards…whatever you can think of. All invaluable tools when you have to wait in lines or elsewhere.

    Disposable cups with lids. For sharing kid drinks.

    A handful of toys bought before going to the park. Movie related items are usually the best.

    Ditto with costumes. Simple ones. Much cheaper anywhere but the parks.

    For smaller ones, you won’t forget the diapers or hand wipes. Never, not you, but this is just a reminder.

    Their very own snacks: personalized to fit your own children.

    And there are many more useful items that we didn’t include for anyone to consider

    Portable dental floss ticks.


    Duct tape.

    Did we mention a change of clothing? Perhaps just shorts and shirt, if you want to be minimal. But these come in handy not only when it rains but for any type of water related rides.

    And a pair of underwear, perhaps?