Florida-Islands of Adventure

Orlando Theme Parks

Walt Disney World Resort
Magic Kingdom features six lands radiating out from Cinderella Castle. As well as thrill rides like Space Mountain (see right), popular attractions include Mickey’s PhilharMagic (spectacular 3D animation), Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (zap aliens with a laser cannon), Pirates of the Caribbean (action-packed voyage with rowdy pirates), Space Mountain (roller coaster in the dark), Splash Mountain (log flume ride), the Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight, Swiss Family Treehouse, Tom Sawyer Island and Tomorrowland Speedway.

Animal Kingdom’s centrepiece is a huge, exquisitely carved Tree of Life, from which six themed lands spread out. The attention to detail in the African and Asian villages is remarkable. Must-see attractions include Kilimanjaro Safaris (open-air vehicle ride through an African savannah roamed by elephants, rhinos and lions), Maharajah Jungle Trek (walk-through ruined palace inhabited by tigers, tapirs and fruit bats), It’s Tough to be a Bug! (3D animation inspired by A Bug’s Life), Finding Nemo (musical puppet show), Festival of the Lion King (Broadway-style song and dance), Kali River Rapids and the Wildlife Express Train.

Epcot is probably the one park you’ll want to return to more than any other. There is simply so much to see and do. World Showcase transports you to 11 nations, each one depicted by an authentic pavilion. Future World focuses on science and discovery with big rides and interactive exhibits. Don’t miss Soarin’ – a virtual hang-gliding adventure over California’s natural wonders where you can feel the wind in your face and smell the scent of the pine trees. Other attractions include Test Track (95 km/h speedway ride), Turtle Talk with Crush (interactive digital show) and Mission: SPACE (realistic space flight to Mars).

Disney’s Hollywood Studios brings movie-making to life with special effects shows like Lights, Motors, Action! and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. You can also learn about animation and see live performances of Beauty and the Beast. Thrill rides include the Star Tours flight simulator, the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

Blizzard Beach water park boasts one of the world’s tallest, fastest, free-fall speed slides – Summit Plummet. Open year-round, other highlights include the Downhill Double Dipper (inner-tube speed slide on parallel flumes), Teamboat Springs (family raft ride) and Tike’s Peak (‘snow-covered’ play area for tots).

Typhoon Lagoon water park has roaring rapids, relaxing rivers and even a wave pool where you can hone your body-surfing skills.

Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Studios Florida takes you beyond the screen and puts you in the thick of the movie action. Brave the storm in Twister… Ride it Out; trot along with your favourite ogre and donkey in Shrek 4-D and battle the supernatural in Revenge of the Mummy. Other top attractions include The Simpsons Ride (shambolic ride through Krustyland), Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (a roller coaster where you choose the soundtrack) and Despicable Me (3D adventure).Then there are the long-established kids’ favourites like ET Adventure (take to the skies on flying bikes) and Earthquake (collapsing ceilings and exploding gasoline trucks in an authentic simulation of a ‘quake registering 8.3 on the Richter Scale). Younger children will enjoy Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast where you meet SpongeBob SquarePants and the Rugrats, and Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone which has a gentle coaster and a sing-along Barney show.

Islands of Adventure gives myths, legends and comic-book heroes a high-tech spin with attractions like The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk coaster and The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. The big highlight here, however, is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter where you can visit the shops of Hogsmeade (like Honeydukes, Zonko’s Joke Shop and Ollivanders), dine at the Three Broomsticks and get your pulse pounding on rides such as Dragon Challenge (two high-speed, intertwining roller coasters), Flight of the Hippogriff (a more gentle coaster) and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (a spectacular ride through Hogwarts, visiting iconic locations like the Gryffindor common room and Defence against the Dark Arts classroom).

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
SeaWorld Orlando is famous for its live mammal shows starring Shamu the orca. You can also see beluga whales, penguins, manatees, dolphins, sharks, turtles and rays. The Pacific Point Preserve is a clever recreation of a rocky cove, complete with Californian sea lions, harbour seals and herons. Thrill rides range from the floorless Kraken roller coaster to kiddie’s stuff at Shamu’s Happy Harbour play area. For details of Busch Gardens and Adventure Island Tampa Bay, click here.

Wet ‘n Wild
Experience a rush of adrenaline and a surge of water on rides like Brain Wash (16-m drop into a giant funnel), The Black Hole (two-person ride in dark tunnel) and Der Stuka (six-storey speed slide). There is also a surf lagoon and numerous water-play areas for younger children.

Kennedy Space Centre
Start with a tour of the LC-39 observation gantry for a bird’s eye view of the shuttle launch pads, then gawk at the huge Saturn V moon rocket and explore a mock-up of the International Space Station. You can then experience lift-off yourself with the Shuttle Launch Experience, a motion simulator that brings to life the sights, sounds and sensations of an actual launch. Equally riveting is the Space Station 3D IMAX presentation and the Astronaut Hall of Fame with its hands-on exhibits and collection of astronaut memorabilia. As for meeting a real-life astronaut, there are daily Astronaut Encounters where you can question a member of NASA’s Astronaut Corps. Alternatively, sign up for Lunch with an Astronaut. If that inspires you to greater things, you can always enrol for Family ATX – an Astronaut Training Experience where families (with children aged 8-14) spend a half-day immersed in a special programme, riding simulators, building and launching rockets and performing a shuttle mission to the International Space Station in a full-scale orbiter mock-up.

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