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Creed Talks Orlando
Never too old for Orlando
Eager to fulfill her childhood dream, Karen Creed was not disappointed when she finally arrived in the home of Disney.
I was older than most Disney fans when I fulfilled my lifelong dream of visiting Orlando.  Twenty two years old and I was as giddy as a child on Christmas morning as I raced through the golden gates of Magic Kingdom. It did not disappoint. Bigger, brighter and with more rides than I had anticipated, I vowed this was just the beginning of theme park entertainment that I craved in my childhood. True to my word I have returned several times since, each time developing a stronger affinity with this enchanting wonderland. Not only that I have discovered other attractions in the greater Orlando area which guarantee a new adventure each time.
With Disney World as its centerpiece, it is easy to see why a family, group of friends or a fun loving couple would relish a holiday in Orlando. Whether you are planning your first trip or your umpteenth visit, there are attractions well worth discovering both inside and outside Mickey Mouse territory. Universal Studios is always top of my list, especially with the new Simpsons ride, while Aquatica Water Park at SeaWorld is proving to be a family favourite. The big theme park happening for this year will be at Universal Studios, where the wizard world of Harry Potter will launch as part of Islands of Adventure. There will be three major attractions, including a Forbidden Journey ride set in the iconic Hogwart&rsquos Castle. As well as relishing the future, Disney World also cherishes the past. A recent feature to Downtown Disney is Diana &ndash The People's Princess which showcases the life and story of the Princess of Wales. The exhibition features one of the largest collections of stunning royal dresses and rare artifacts and offers a fascinating perspective of her life.
Just a short distance from Orlando, there are many other awe-inspiring attractions which might entice you away from the theme parks, for a day or two at least. In Florida&rsquos Space Coast, just a 45-minute drive east of Orlando, I swapped Toytown for some of the most advanced technology in the world. Kennedy Space Centre is a must-visit in most Florida travel guides and while it is educational, in essence it has similar ideas on presentation from Disney. Driving up the long, straight road towards the NASA headquarters is spectacular in itself. Inside the park the simulator station allows visitors to walk on the moon, or you can pay for the privilege of eating lunch with an astronaut or experience what a shuttle launch would feel like. I skipped the freeze-dried space food and opted instead for delicious Florida flounder on nearby Cocoa Beach.
This region is not just for astronaut-crazed tourists. Flanked by seventy six miles of Atlantic coastline there are glorious stretches of beach which beg visitors to kick back and relax in the sun for a few hours before returning to Orlando. Cocoa is also famous for surfing with icon Kelly Slater originating from here. On any given day in Cocoa Beach you are sure to find surfers showing off their stunts on the huge waves or preparing for the next big surfing festival or competition. Cocoa Beach Pier is a famous landmark, endearingly quirky with trendy bars and restaurants. It also has a brilliant vantage point for NASA launches as hundreds of America&rsquos astronauts have rocketed into space from here.
Visitors to Orlando can delight in the fact that food is excellent and cheap, with a family of four dining well for less than $50. Seafood is a speciality as is fried gator and key lime pie. Of course burgers, steak, pizzas and pasta are also readily available and usually accompanied by impressive portions of American sides. The atmosphere in restaurants is almost always casual and for young families Florida&rsquos reputation for early bird specials is of particular interest as they offer reduced rates for early seating.
For my next visit to Orlando I intend to combine a holiday in the theme parks with a Disney cruise from nearby Port Canaveral. It is the second biggest port in the world bustling with marinas, parks, a fishing pier and inviting waterside restaurants and bars. There are mega-sized cruise ships that leave this port several times a week with Disney and Royal Caribbean being two of the most popular. Once I have ticked the Disney cruise off my wish list, I will return to Orlando to experience the latest Disney World hotspots, embark on a discount shopping spree before kicking back and watching the sun go down in glittering Downtown Disney.
Karen&rsquos Tips for Orlando
Economic Eating: For a wide choice of moderately-priced, non-fast-food meals, you could opt for chain family restaurants like Perkins in the tourist zones. But the best bang for your dining buck comes from the &ldquoall-you-can-eat&rdquo buffets. Some also offer family discounts, early bird specials, or discounts of 10 percent from coupon booklets available in local tourist offices and hotels.
Discount Cards: Before your trip it is worth purchasing the free "Orlando Magicard," which grants discounts (in some cases up to 50 percent) to parties of up to six people when presented at 83 businesses as far afield as Daytona Beach and Cape Canaveral, including attractions, restaurants, car rentals, and shopping malls. Log onto www.go2orlando.com.
Extra Entertainment: Most families have the watery wonders of Wet &lsquon Wild high on the list. You can cool off year-round at this well-known water park with more than a dozen really splashy rides for $10 off its admission after 3pm. It is open until 11pm in the summer time. For evening entertainment, Universal Studios' 30-acre CityWalk and Downtown Disney/Pleasure Island are promenades with free night time parking and lots of restaurants, bars, shops, and nightspots. You can wander City Walk and Downtown Disney for free, dining on a variety of low-cost food at walk-up windows.
Go Public: One way to save on petrol and parking costs is to make sure your hotel has a shuttle service to one or more of the theme parks or to other areas like International Drive. With a little effort and a combination of a hired car and public transportation, you can cover a fair amount of territory.