By Lynn & Cele Seldon
Home to seven of the world’s top theme parks, Orlando—Theme Park Capital of the World®—is the top extended family vacation destination for kids and kids at heart. It’s also the most visited destination in the United States for good reason. An unparalleled mix of unique experiences creates cherished memories for visitors, including legendary theme parks from Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld, an array of world-class water parks, entertainment venues, an award-winning food scene, shopping, sports, and nightlife.*
The latest figures from last year revealed a historic milestone in the travel industry, as Orlando became the first U.S. destination to surpass 70 million annual visitors. In 2017, 72 million visitors traveled to Orlando, once again making it America’s most-visited destination. “Our record-breaking year was achieved despite international headwinds and the statewide effects of Hurricane Irma,” says Visit Orlando President and CEO George Aguel. “We also continued our focus on communicating the unique emotional connection visitors have with Orlando.”
“Orlando’s record-setting visitation affirms the city as a leader in the U.S. travel industry,” says U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “The success in Orlando is great, not just for this iconic destination, but for travel as a whole.”
Here’s what’s new when it comes to great mild to wild attractions and activities in the Orlando area:
*Universal Studios Florida puts visitors right in the middle of the action with their new Fast & Furious—Supercharged ride. It’s based on the popular film franchise, where an after-race party turns into a high-speed race to escape a criminal cartel.
*Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened Toy Story Land in June 2018, to rave reviews. It features two new attractions thus far, as well as new dining and merchandise locations. The rides Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers take visitors right into Andy’s imagination as they join beloved characters in their adventures.
*Disney Springs debuted hyper-reality attraction Ralph Breaks VR in the fall of 2018. Based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios film “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” the experience places guests inside a new multi-sensory Disney adventure where they’re immersed in the world of the internet and online gaming with Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope.
*Madame Tussauds Orlando’s “Justice League: A Call for Heroes” allows guests to jump in on the action as a loyal sidekick to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Henry Cavill’s Superman, and Ben Affleck’s Batman. Replica props and costumes related to each superhero character’s wax figure provide an added dimension of authenticity and realism to the immersive experience.
*LEGOLAND®Florida Resort put the pedal to the plastic when The Great LEGO® Race opened March 2018. The thrill ride experience is the first virtual reality roller coaster experience designed specifically for kids and features LEGO® Minifigures, a rocket-powered surfboard, and an espresso-fueled scooter.
*SeaWorld Orlando debuted Infinity Falls in the fall of 2018. The whitewater rapid adventure raft ride travels through a lost jungle, sending guests through fountains and waterfalls before dropping 40 feet—a new record for a river raft ride—into churning whitewater.
*Aquatica, SeaWorld’s water park, brought even more and bigger thrills in the summer of 2018 with Ray Rush. It features three ways to get soaked. First, water jets launch the raft in a burst of speed. Riders then spin through a water sphere before swooping across giant manta wings.
*The Orlando StarFlyer, the world’s tallest swing ride, also opened over the summer, 2018. At 450 feet tall, the ride offers open-air views of the Orlando area for up to 24 guests at once, swinging them through the air at up to 60 miles an hour at top speed.
*The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts™ Castle brings the magic of Harry Potter to life with a spectacular display of dazzling lights, special effects, and themed music based on the Harry Potter films to honor the four houses of Hogwarts. The after-dark presentation runs select nights throughout the year.
*Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration—a new nighttime lagoon show—officially debuted at Universal Studios Florida in summer, 2018. Blending panoramic water screens, pyrotechnics, projection mapping, and more than 120 dancing fountains, the show transforms the lagoon and surrounding buildings into a vivid celebration of beloved characters from Universal attractions and some of the world’s biggest films.
Know Before You Go (and once there)
Visit Orlando, The Official Source for Orlando Travel Planning is by far the best resource for planning a stay in the Orlando area: VisitOrlando.com. Once there, the area’s only official visitor center, operated by Visit Orlando, offers great deals on tickets, packages, and more, unbiased expert advice, and fun photo ops. It’s at 8102 International Drive (with plenty of space for RV parking), in the heart of Orlando’s tourism district, and is open from 8 am to 9 pm, 365 days a year.
Visit Florida’s website, www.VisitFlorida.com, is also a great Sunshine State planning tool. In addition, since 1949, millions of travelers entering Florida along the major thoroughfares have found a warm greeting at the Official Florida Welcome Centers. Along with the traditional cup of complimentary Florida citrus juice, travelers have found friendly, informative staff people and a vast assortment of brochures promoting all that the state has to offer. Today, that half-century-long tradition continues at the Official Florida Welcome Centers located on the I-10 west of Pensacola, U.S. 231 near Campbellton (also near Marianna), I-75 at Jennings (near Lake City) and I-95 north of Yulee (near Jacksonville). A fifth center is located at the west entrance of the State Capitol Building in Tallahassee.
Florida Camping Abounds
More than 40 varied Thousand Trails Campgrounds and Encore RV Resorts are spread across the Sunshine State. Whether it’s hugging the Gulf Coast to the west, cutting across Central Florida to theme parks and so much more, or heading over to the Atlantic Ocean to the east, all the way down to the Florida Keys, an Orlando area road trip is just the beginning of a Sunshine State adventure. Visit thousandtrails.com for more information on Orlando area campgrounds!