Orlando: A playground in central Florida

The Incredible Hulk Coaster is located in Islands of Adventure in Orlando.

In the early ’60s, a theme park developer from Southern California purchased swamp land in central Florida. The dream: an East Coast vacation destination, a playground in a warm area that can provide amusement for the masses year-round.
That developer was Walt Disney. He put Orlando, Fla. on the map. Prior to the amusement park boom, the city was a hub for Florida citrus growers and cattle ranchers.
And vacation destination it is. There are a multitude of attractions to keep a family busy for multiple return visits.
Less than an hour’s drive is Kennedy Space Port, known as Cape Canaveral. This launch complex has been the spearhead of our space program.
In the 1960s, I remember watching the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs lifting our astronauts into orbit and to the moon. For the last three decades we have witnessed more than 120 shuttle launches – not to mention Delta rockets hurling robotic space probes deep into the solar system and beyond.
The Kennedy Space Center visitor complex is an expansive museum where you can study the history of space exploration and experience the training astronauts endure. A simulated shuttle launch experience is offered, plus the ATX (Astronaut Training Experience) which is an intense half-day, hands-on training for the rigors of space flight. Reservations must be made for the ATX.
Tours are offered with a fleet of 44 buses that take visitors to such places as the 500-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building and various historical launch pads of the 140,000 acre complex.
Just 45 minutes north of Cape Canaveral is spring break getaway Daytona Beach. The hard pack sand along this wide beach was the birth of auto racing in 1902. NASCAR is headquartered here, as is the Daytona International Speedway. More than 8 million people flock to this coastal destination each year.
In Orlando, a huge attraction is SeaWorld, which has sister locations in San Diego and San Antonio. This marine mammal park feature killer whale, sea lion and dolphin shows that never cease to amaze spectators.
These intelligent mammals have brains larger than humans. They are clever, calculating and figured out they have a pretty good job entertaining, being well-fed, getting medical attention when needed and not having to worry about nuisances in the wild.
The park has four roller coasters, and in the Shark Encounter, guests walk through an acrylic tube into a shark tank and can observe creatures that have been around for 400 million years.
For kids, the park offers SeaWorld Camp and the marine Mammal Keeper Experience where young people can learn what is involved in caring for the parks’ entertainers.
Coming full circle, 21 miles from Orlando is Disney World Resort, a vacation destination in its own right. This is the world’s most visited entertainment resort, encompassing an area in equivalent in size to the city of San Francisco (47 square miles).
There are four theme parks, two water parks, five golf courses, 23 themed hotels and for the budget-minded, a campground.
Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, followed by EPCOT in 1982, Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 1989 and Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998.
EPCOT is the acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a theme park of the future with the original idea of a being model utopian city for 20,000 residents. That never came to fruition and instead Disney executives invested in science and technology attractions.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom focuses on the philosophy of animal conservation with themed areas including, desert oasis, Africa, Asia, dinosaurs and more.
Hollywood Studios competes with Universal Studios located in Orlando proper. Both theme parks offer the ins and outs of Hollywood film production with rides, stunt shows, performances and plenty of entertainment.
These amusement parks surrounding Orlando are spread out and renting a car for your visit is recommended.
So pack up the kids and head to Orlando for a week of fun!

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