Orlando: a best-of

12 Apr 2018

Orlando is known as the theme-park capital of the world. It all started in the early '70s with Walt Disney World, but now there are over a dozen to choose from -- helping Orlando attract almost 70 million tourists every year.

Best of the theme parks

Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort: This is the original -- the park that kick-started it all off -- and it's still one of the best. Constant re-invention and updated rides mean that while it’s all still centred around the iconic Cinderella Castle, there will always be something new to discover across its six different 'lands'.

Gatorland: For fewer rides, but all of the adrenaline rush, spend the day surrounded by living dinosaurs in south Orlando. This theme park is all about the 'gators -- it's home to over 2000 of them, including three of only a dozen or so giant white alligators alive today, plus an albino called Pearl. There are monster truck rides through the park, where you can also spot crocodiles, wild cats and plenty of other wildlife.

Universal Orlando Resort: Step into your favourite cinematic storylines at this expansive theme park, famous for its epic themed rides. There are rollercoasters dedicated to “Harry Potter”, “E.T.”, “Men in Black”, “Shrek” and more, as well as thrilling shows featuring some of TV and cinema's best-loved characters. You can also stroll down Diagon Alley and meet everyone from Spider-Man to Hello Kitty across the park.

Best of the water parks

Aquatica at SeaWorld: Located across the road from the main SeaWorld park, Aquatica is a South Seas-style water park with lagoons, waves pools, countless slides, a beach and a winding lazy river. You'll definitely want to take the nerve-jangling Ihu's Breakaway Falls, a multi-drop slide that free-fall plunges you without warning.

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon: Despite being one of the oldest water parks in Florida, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon is home to some of the most modern rides. This storm-themed park has something for everyone, with waterfall rafts, wave pools and slides of all sizes. If you're feeling especially brave though, be sure to try Humunga Kowabunga -- this breath-taking ride features a 5-storey, 60-degree drop!

Universal's Volcano Bay: Opened in May 2017, this is Orlando's newest water park. Relax on an island paradise and make the most of the park's TapuTapu™ waterproof wearable device, which lets you hold your place in a virtual line while you explore the park. Plunge down shimmering waterfalls, float along gentle river rides, go white-water rafting or head to Volcano Bay's artificial beach.  

Best of the rest

Get an Everglades experience: There are areas of Orlando that remain remote and peaceful and feel a million miles away from the hubbub of International Drive. Shingle Creek is an area of swampland that feeds into the Everglades and is perfect for a quick alligator-spotting experience. You’ll get all of the excitement, trepidation and photo opportunities out in the wild without even leaving the Orlando area.

Watch the magic: Watch some world-class basketball in the heart of Downtown, at the Amway Center. It's home to Orlando Magic, a team with a packed schedule that sees them up against the likes of the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

Pull up a stool: Orlando has been a relative latecomer to the US's obsession with craft beer, but its local speciality brews are now making waves across the country with aficionados. One of the first craft-beer bars to open in the city was Redlight Redlight in 2005, and it's still at the top of the list for a lot of people, with over two dozen taps. Orlando Brewing specialises in producing organic beers, while the Dead Lizard Brewing Company is sharing bold brew recipes that have been passed down three generations.

Image credits: SeaWorld Orlando; BK Adventure Eco-Tours; Rosen Shingle Creek

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