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Cities in the States

Three days in Orlando, Fla.

Epcot Center.

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Epcot Center.

Seventh in a series highlighting cities to which you can fly nonstop from Boston.

There’s no place like it. It’s the world’s most popular family destination and the number one tourist mecca in the country, drawing some 55 million travelers a year. It has more than 175 golf courses, 12 large shopping malls and outlet centers, more than 5,000 restaurants, and about 450 hotels. Offerings include opera, ballet and theater, museums and gardens. And the city is home to more than 100 attractions, including the world’s best-known theme parks. It’s said that it would take about 67 days to visit all of the entertainment options in Orlando. Here’s a start.

If you have young children, you’ll want to add Magic Kingdom, home to Mickey Mouse and Cinderella, to this itinerary. This year, the park will complete New Fan-
tasyland, the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history, featuring Princess Fairytale Hall, an expanded Dumbo the Flying Elephant attraction, Under the Sea—Journey of the Little Mermaid, Enchanted Tales With Belle and Ariel’s Grotto, and more.

Continue reading below

Take a deep breath, bring your sense of humor and adventure, and have fun!

DAY 1

9 a.m.  Morning, when the animals are most active and visible, is the best time to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park (551 Rain Forest Road, 407-939-5277, www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/animal-kingdom, adults $90, children ages 3-9 $84, or one-day park hopper pass $137.39). The 500-acre park, one of the largest animal theme parks in the world, is home to more than 1,700 animals in natural enclosures. Walk directly to Kilimanjaro Safaris before the crowds arrive to take the 18-minute, narrated drive through a make-believe African savannah. Keep your eyes peeled (and cameras ready) for roaming giraffes, zebras, rhinos, elephants, cheetahs, lions, and more. Next, explore the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, an easy walk through a lush rain forest to see exotic birds, hippos, and gorillas. Thrill seekers should head to the Kali River Rapids (especially good when the weather’s hot) and the towering Expedition Everest roller coaster ride. If the timing is right, grab seats for the Festival of the Lion King, a colorful, Broadway-style show. Have a buffet lunch at the Tusker House in Africa (2901 Osceola Parkway, 407-939-3463, $30-
$59.99), featuring a wide array of African and American-style dishes, including seafood stew, curried rice and couscous salads, and spit-roasted meats. Before leaving Animal Kingdom, stop by the 14-story Tree of Life, with carvings of nearly 400 animals. Go inside the tree to watch the It’s Tough To Be a Bug show, with hilarious (and surprising) special effects.

2 p.m.  Leave the park in the heat of the day to relax in a private cabana at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort (14100 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, 407-597-3600, www.hiltonbonnetcreek.com, cabanas $100 half day). The cabanas, featuring cold drinks, fruit, and flat-screen TVs, overlook a three-acre pool, with a lazy river and waterslide.

5 p.m.  Refreshed and reenergized, you’re ready to spend the evening at Epcot (200 Epcot Center Drive, 407-824-4321, www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/epcot, adults $90, ages 3-9 $84). The park has two distinct areas: Future World and World Showcase. In Future World visit SeaBase for a peek into a 5.7-million-gallon coral reef aquarium and to ride The Seas With Nemo & Friends attraction, a cute romp beneath the seas. If you’re up for it, wait in line to ride the simulated, high-speed Test Track ride. Now, walk around the World Showcase, pop in to watch theater-in-the-round films in Canada, China, and France and the audio-animatronic show in the States; ride a Viking ship in Norway; listen to street musicians; and browse shops. Reserve a table for dinner at La Hacienda de San Angel (2101 Epcot Resorts Blvd., Mexico Pavilion, 407-939-3463, www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/epcot/hacienda-de-san-angel, $23.95-
$26.50). The lantern-lighted restaurant features decent Mexican cuisine, but the added bonus is that from here you’ll have great views of IllumiNations, the nightly laser and fireworks display over Epcot’s lagoon.

DAY 2

9 a.m.  Put on your walking shoes and get to Universal Studios Orlando when it opens (6000 Universal Blvd., 407-363-8000, www.universalorlando.com, one-day Park to Park Pass includes Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, adults $128, ages 3-9 $122). We recommend splurging for the Park to Park Pass with unlimited access, allowing you to skip the lines at most rides and attractions (adults $179.99, 3-9 $168.99). That will save a lot of time waiting in line, especially for top attractions like the recently-opened Transformers, a thrilling 3-D ride that puts you in the middle of an intergalactic war, and Despicable Me Minion, a 3-D romp that’s fun for most ages. Check out the Simpsons Ride, a simulated roller coaster adventure, and all-time faves like the sweet E. T. Adventure, the wind-blowing Twister show, and the high-tech, action-packed Terminator 2.

Noon  There are plenty of restaurants at the 30-acre Universal CityWalk entertainment complex (see above, www.universalorlando.com/Nightlife/Citywalk-Nightlife.aspx), including the largest Hard Rock Cafe in the world, Emeril’s, NASCAR Sports Grill, and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, all within walking distance of Universal Studios. But we love Bubba Gump Fish Co. (at the entrance to CityWalk, 407-903-0044, www.bubbagump.com/locations/orlando, entrees $14.79-$22.49), where shrimp is king. Try the shrimp po’ boy or split the Shrimper’s Heaven, with coconut, fried, steamed, and tempura shrimp, or the spicy jambalaya, jam-packed with seasoned chicken, shrimp, sausage, rice, and veggies.

1 p.m.  Walk to Islands of Adventure (see above), home to the widely-popular Wizardry World of Harry Potter, where you can shop for wands in Hogsmeade, sample Butterbeer, and ride a Hippogriff. As you wait in line for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction, you’ll weave through Hogwarts Castle corridors and classrooms, and then board a stunning, simulated ride that takes you airborne above the castle. (Note: Universal recently announced that this year it will open an entirely new themed area called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter—Diagon Alley at Universal Studios.)

Spend the rest of the afternoon sampling other attractions in the park, like Poseidon’s Fury: Escape From the Lost Continent, a dark, special effects tour; the Jurassic River Adventure, featuring a wet, 85-foot drop; and the Adventures of Spider-Man. The 4-D thrill ride through the streets of New York is one of our favorites. Roller coaster lovers shouldn’t miss the Incredible Hulk.

7:30 p.m.  Have dinner at
T-Rex
(Downtown Disney, 1676 East Buena Vista Drive, 407-828-8739, www.trexcafe.com, entrees $15-$29.99), a bustling, themed restaurant loaded with squawking birds, animated dinosaurs, life-size primordial creatures, meteor showers, and fiery explosions. After a look around, order from an extensive menu of burgers, pasta, steaks, and chicken dishes.

End the evening at Cirque du Soleil La Nouba (Downtown Disney, 407-939-7328, www.cirquedusoleil.com, adults $63-$150, ages 3-9 $52-$125), combining theater, acrobatic stunts, comedy, and dance with exotic music. Even young kids are captivated by this show.

DAY 3

You have a choice. Movie buffs can visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios (351 South Studio Drive, 407-939-5277, www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/hollywood-studios, adults $90, ages 3-9 $84) to take the Studio Backlot Tour, ride the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, cast a vote at the American Idol Experience, and visit the spooky and stomach-lurching Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. If the day’s a scorcher, head to Typhoon Lagoon (1145 Buena Vista Drive, 407-560-4120, www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/typhoon-lagoon, adults $53, ages 3-9 $45) with pools, slides, rivers, and falls, and where you can also learn to surf in a wave pool and snorkel with tropical fish.

Before heading home, visit Orlando’s restaurant row, a stretch of Sand Lake Road with more than two dozen eateries, from casual to upscale. We like Big Fin (8046 West Sand Lake Road, 407-615-8888, www.bigfinseafood.com, most entrees $23-$65) for its ultra-fresh seafood dishes.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com.
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