CENTRAL FLORIDA:
´╗┐Something FOR EVERYONE

´╗┐BY BARB AND RON KROLL

Central Florida Visitors Guide - Free Magazine Subscriptions & Download

What's your favorite vacation activity? Dining out? Shopping? Golfing? Fishing? Visiting theme parks? Exploring parks and nature reserves? Discovering museums and galleries? You'll find them all in Central Florida, "the vacation capital of the world."

Greater Orlando alone, an area encompassing Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake Counties, boasts more than 100 ticketed attractions, 200 lakes and 440 hotels. Kissimmee, Polk County and the city of Ocala offer more fun things to see and do.

CITY LIGHTS

Besides theme parks, Greater Orlando has more than 5,000 restaurants, including dinner theaters with themes ranging from buccaneers at Pirate's Dinner Adventure to horses at Arabian Nights, comedy at WonderWorks, mystery at Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows, jousting tournaments at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament and gangsters at Capone's Dinner & Show. Additional entertainment is found in lounges, martini bars, dance clubs, sports bars, comedy clubs, wine bars and even an icebar with an ice-carved interior.

Besides shops, bars and restaurants, Kissimmee's Old Town features amusement park rides and a Saturday Nite Cruise parade of more than 300 classic cars.

Kissimmee's Latin Trail of restaurants satisfies appetites for South American, Cuban, Puerto Rican and Spanish cuisines. Nighttime entertainment ranges from Auggie's Jammin' Piano Bar at the Gaylord Palms Resort to Vintage Vino, a downtown wine, beer and cheese bar.

MUST SEE, MUST DO

No Central Florida visit is complete without experiencing one or more of Orlando's major theme parks: Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando. Orlando's Official Visitor Center on International Drive provides free brochures, maps and travel advice. Free Orlando Magicards offer discounts on accommodation, attractions, dining, nightlife, shopping, golf courses and transportation. Discount tickets for attractions, dinner shows and activities can be ordered online.

HERITAGE & CULTURE

Orlando Museum of Art and Orange County Regional History Center highlight Orlando's eight-mile cultural corridor. Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre features Broadway shows. International orchestras perform at the Festival of Orchestras in Longwood. Orlando Repertory Theatre specializes in children's performances. Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and Orlando Ballet also have programs for young audiences. In Lakeland, Polk Theatre, a restored 1928 vaudeville/movie palace, hosts films and performing arts in a Venetian piazza setting.

At Kissimmee's Pioneer Village & Museum, visitors explore late-1800s American homestead life. Exhibits include an authentic homestead and citrus packinghouse, a general store, schoolhouse and blacksmith shop. In Lakeland, Polk Museum of Art features a sculpture garden and a substantial collection of contemporary, African, American, Asian, European and pre-Columbian art. Ocala Civic Theatre, the second-largest theater in Florida, hosts musicals and dramas, while the city's Appleton Museum of Art is one of the premier fine art repositories in the southern states.

FUN FOR FAMILIES

Central Florida attractions cover a variety of interests: zip line safaris at Florida Eco Safaris, miniature golf at Hawaiian Rumble Adventure Golf, swimming with dolphins and snorkeling with manatees at Florida Dolphin Tours. At Orlando Science Center, youngsters can observe stars and examine fossilized dinosaur eggs. In Orlando's WonderWorks, hands-on simulators allow children to ride a virtual submarine and experience many other interactive activities.

Families can play cowboy on trail rides near Ocala at Double K Stables and Makin' Tracks Trail Rides. Western fun and adventure also await at the Westgate River Ranch Resort near Lake Wales.

Hot-air ballooning is a popular aerial adventure at Orlando Balloon Rides and Magic Sunrise Ballooning. In Polk County, Fantasy of Flight offers aerial displays, hang-glider simulators, biplane rides and tours of the world's largest private collection of aircraft.

CALLING ALL SHOPAHOLICS

Shop 'til you drop at The Florida Mall, Central Florida's largest shopping mall in Orlando, which houses more than 260 shops and restaurants. The Mall at Millenia is the place for high-end brands such as Cartier, Gucci and Chanel, as well as upmarket goods at Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus. The city also has several outlet centers offering discounted designer clothing, shoes and luggage.

SPA ESCAPES

Orlando's destination spas include The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Orlando, The Spa at Buena Vista Palace Hotel and The Waldorf Astoria Spa by Guerlain. The Spa at Orlando World Center Marriott Resort has couples packages, while L'Esprit Day Spa at DoubleTree Resort Orlando features chocolate body scrubs.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY RESORTS

Orlando's 115,000 guest rooms range from budget lodgings to condos and luxury resorts. Many family resorts offer shuttles to theme parks, including Holiday Inn Resort Lake Buena Vista where youngsters under 12 eat free at Applebee's and stay in family-friendly kid suites.

Nickelodeon Suites Resort has two water parks, live Nickelodeon performances, character breakfasts and a 4-D theater show.

In Kissimmee, Holiday Inn Main Gate East has kids' suites, free scheduled shuttles to shopping and Disney theme parks, as well as a children's theater, pool and playground.

SPORTS SCENE

Families can cycle West Orange Trail, Orlando's longest paved trail. Vans Skatepark draws amateur and advanced skateboarders, while tennis buffs can choose from 800 city courts.

Central Florida has golf galore. Orlando alone has nearly 200 golf courses, including world-class venues such as Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Grand Cypress Golf Club. Great golf is also available in Kissimmee, Polk County and Ocala.

Sports lovers can see NBA basketball in Orlando from October to April, Detroit Tigers spring training in Lakeland and Houston Astros spring training in February and March at Osceola County Stadium.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Polk County, the Bass Capital of the World, has 554 lakes with numerous fish camps and fishing guides. Besides fishing, Polk County's Lake Kissimmee State Park offers hiking, equestrian trails, canoeing and camping.

In Seminole County, you can paddle down the Wekiva River, one of only two national wild and scenic rivers in Florida.

Several companies offer guided airboat, swamp-buggy and pontoon boat tours to view alligators, birds and wildlife in Central Florida's wetlands and the Kissimmee River and Dead River swamps. Participants may spot ospreys, egrets, roseate spoonbills and endangered whooping cranes. The largest population of nesting bald eagles in the continental USA is in Kissimmee/Osceola County.

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, which includes a bird show, insect zoo and aerial adventure course, is a full-day outing. Beautiful gardens, a nature preserve and a 60-bell carillon draw visitors to Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales.

WHAT'S NEW

In Winter Haven, the world's largest LEGOLAND has rides, shows and attractions for the entire family.

Visitors can spot birds, butterflies and alligators as they cycle through the treetops at the new Cypress Canopy Cycle attraction in Forever Florida Wildlife Conservation Area.

In Kissimmee, the new Fantasy Surf center at FantasyWorld Resort offers surfing on indoor waves and lessons.

Visit Orlando's new website features a trip ideas generator and a drag-and-drop trip itinerary builder in eight languages. A new mobile site offers similar research and planning tools.

The Amway Center, a new concert and special events venue in downtown Orlando, is home to NBA's Orlando Magic basketball team, the Orlando Predators football team and Orlando Titans lacrosse matches.

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