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Orlando in the American state of Florida is one of the most popular destinations in the United States. Mainly because of the many theme parks in the vicinity of the city. Unfortunately most people don't, or barely, see a lot of actual Orlando. And to think the city center has developed into a cozy shopping and entertainment spot in recent years.
During the day Downtown Orlando is a shopper's paradise. Park Avenue is the domain of exclusive fashion stores, but in the city center you will also find specialty shops and clothing stores where the prices are less high. Orlando's biggest shopping mall - Florida Mall is on the corner of the South Orange Blossom Trail and Sandlake Road.
There are many bars, cafes and restaurants around Orange Avenue, but theaters and concert halls too. Not far from here lies the swan lake Eola with a beautiful fountain in the middle. The path around the lake is one and a half kilometers long and across the pond you will find the open air theater where the ballet The Nutcracker is performed every December. From mid November to the end of December, Downtown Orlando is attractively lit.
The history of the city is highlighted in the Orange County Regional History Center. Form the original population, the Paleo Indians, through the first settlers and the introduction of the citrus culture by the Europeans to the development of space aviation. Of course, Disneyland is covered too. Some employees mockingly share the history by referring to Before and After Disney (instead of Before and After Christ).
Local artists show their work in the Menello Museum of American Folk Art. Special attention should go to the work of Earl Cunningham, who has painted entire walls in bright colors.
On a rainy day, it is a good idea to visit the Orlando Science Center with children. Here are no spectacular, flashing presentations like in Disney's Epcot Center, but a solid and interactive science museum. There are presentations about the ecosystem in Florida and Space. There is also an IMAX movie theater.
For more information about events in Orlando visit the Visitor Information Center on the corner of International Drive and Austrian Row.
There are many theme parks around Orlando, the best known being Disney World. That theme park has been vastly expanded over the years, but they are now in fact four large theme parks in one. In addition to the world of Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Pluto, there are attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain and Animal Kingdom. In the MGM studios you can see how a Walt Disney animation film is created.
The movie company Universal also shows you the details of creating a movie. There are several shows with famous films as their themes. Next to the actual studios lies the theme park Islands Of Adventure. Before you visit one of the parks you have to cross through an entertainment and shopping district: Universal City Walk.
Gatorland Zoo is the oldest theme park of Florida and houses hundreds of alligators, which also future in shows, like the creepy alligator wrestling. The zoo provides a lot of information about alligators, snakes and other reptiles too. And what's on the menu in the zoo's restaurant? Crocodile meat!
SeaWorld Orlando is the largest marine animal park in the world. The complex is a combination of a theme park, dolphinarium and shelter for endangered species. Orcas and dolphins give spectacular shows here, but there are roller coaster and other things that have little to do with the animals too.
Dolphins out in the ocean can be seen near Sannibel Island on the east coast of Florida. Between November and March you can spot the great sea elephants, the Manatees, too.
About an hour's drive from Orlando (via the Interstate 4 and the SR 528) lies the Kennedy Space Center. There are exhibitions about the history of space aviation, a true size model of the International Space Station, and a Space Shuttle launch simulator. You can visit the launch facilities too, as long as there isn't a launch scheduled. Movies are shown about the American Space Aviation program on the big IMAX screen.
You can't only fly a so-called airboat in the Everglades in the south of Florida, but on the St.Johns River too, about a 45 minutes drive from Orlando. The nature is stunning there and you face crocodiles eye to eye.
All theme parks have large parking lots which charge a fee, except if you stay in a hotel on the theme park grounds. The includes a free shuttle between the various attractions, but the room rates in these hotels are on the high side.
Orlando is a busy city with the necessary traffic issues in the center. Finding a parking space can be difficult too. It is best to park your car in one of the parking garages.
Orlando Airport is situated fifteen kilometers from the city. Orlando International Airport is easily accessible with a rental car: the airport is located right next to the intersection of the State Roads 436 (Semoran Boulevard) and 528 (Bee Line/Beach Line Expressway). Both roads connect to the Interstate 4 highway. International Drive runs parallel to it. Most theme parks can be reached via that road.
Orlando's second airport is located 28 kilometers north of the city. In addition to domestic flights there are charter connections with cities in Great Britain and Ireland.