|Orlando Travel Guide|
Once the outta-town attractions are pared away, Orlando's main distractions
comprise the Harry P Leu Gardens, an estate with over 2000 varieties of
camellia and an 18th-century mansion; the Orlando Science Center, which
has a gator hole and the physics-phriendly Tunnel of Discovery; and the
Orlando Museum of Art, which showcases Mayan archeological finds. Given
these heart-pounding highlights, most visitors use Orlando as a base from
which to make excursions to nearby theme parks.
Not quite as crass as it sounds, SeaWorld puts its money where its mouth
is, sending out a SeaWorld Animal Rescue Team to rescue endangered manatees
and restore them to health. It has one of the best animal rescue outfits
in the country, and the team is partially funded by park admissions.
Walt Disney World
In its first year, Disney World saw over 10 million visitors, and it remains one of the world's top tourist destinations, now attracting more than 20 million visitors a year. It's also the world's biggest amusement resort, covering an area twice the size of New York's Manhattan. It would have made Walt very, very happy.
This park is the best place in the state to see manatees in their natural habitat, especially between November and March, when the St John's River to the north gets cold enough to drive the manatees to Blue Spring's warmer waters. There are campsites and cabins within the park, but book ahead as things get crowded and you can't see a manatee through somebody else's tent.
Blue Spring State Park is about 40 miles (65km) north of Orlando off I-4, near a town called Cassadaga. You'll need private transportation to get there.
The centre draws 2 million people a year to its Gallery of Spaceflight, packed with real spacecraft and scale models. It was established in 1958, when the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) started Project Mercury to compete with the Soviets' successful launch of Sputnik. The US started launching its spaceships from Cape Canaveral, a stone's throw from the Kennedy Space Center, because of its weather, its proximity to the ocean (for splash landings) and the huge, unpopulated tracts of land available to the government for testing. Mercury was succeeded by Project Gemini, then Project Apollo, which landed a man on the moon. The Space Coast still maintains facilities for unmanned and space shuttle launches.
Titusville, the main gateway to the Kennedy Space Center and the wildlife refuge, hosts the Astronaut Hall of Fame, dedicated to exhibiting every detail of the astronauts' lives and boasting a shuttle-landing simulator ride and G-force trainer. Titusville also has excellent vantage points from which to watch shuttle launches.
The Kennedy Space Center is on Merritt Island, on the eastern side of
the Intracoastal Waterway (called Indian River here). The NASA Causeway
is the main east-west thoroughfare and begins at the junction of Highway
405 and Highway 1. The Banana River separates the main Kennedy Space Center
complex from Cape Canaveral, the site of the first launches of the US
space program. You'll need a car to get to the Space Coast. Greyhound
buses only get as close as Titusville, 7 miles (11km) west of the Space
Center, off Highway 405.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Ocala National Forest
Juniper Springs are incredibly clear and beautiful and offer great canoeing. Salt Springs and Alexander Springs have trails through cypress forests. The Lake Eaton Sinkhole is 80ft (24m) deep and 450ft (135m) in diameter, and a staircase leads down into the hole. Nearby Lake Eaton is a good spot for swimming and sunning.
The Ocala National Forest is 10 miles (16km) east of Ocala, which is about 60 miles (96km) northwest of Orlando and is the best base for exploring the forest. Highway 19 runs north-south through the park and Highway 40 east-west. You'll need private transportation to get there.
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