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Keeping the Magic in the Magic Kingdom
Orlando is one of the most popular vacation destinations in America, for families as well as Super Bowl winners. Sooner or later, you probably will find yourself headed to the land of the Magic Kingdom. The more you know before you go, the better your vacation is likely to be.
Settle on an itinerary. No Orlando trip would be complete without a visit to Mickey's place or the other major attractions, including the Universal theme parks, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.
But there are some lesser-known places in and around Orlando that might be worth a look, especially if you are making a return trip. You can swim with dolphins at Dolphins Plus, where admission is by reservation only, which helps control the crowds. Get up close and personal with manatees on The Florida Adventure Tour, which also offers an airboat tour of the Crystal River. There are several other wildlife tours that explore the Everglades and Florida's rivers and lakes, including Silver Springs, Florida Water Safari and Boggy Creek Airboats.
The Kennedy Space Center is about an hour away from Orlando, and it includes IMAX films on space exploration, exhibits on the space program and a view of the shuttle launch pad. For the traditionalists, there is always Gatorland, a family favorite since 1949.
Most of the attractions have Web sites, and there are many excellent guide books, both to the Orlando area and to the major theme parks. They can help you decide where you want to go and how to make the most of your visit.
Lodging can run the gamut from luxury hotels to camping. Most of the major theme parks have accommodations attached, and usually if you stay there you get a break on cost or time at the park or both. You also can rent a condo or apartment, which lets you cook instead of eating out. Check Web sites and tour books for the best deal.
Finally, once you get there, follow some simple guidelines:
Don't overdo. You may see more if you push hard every day from dawn until way past dark, but you probably won't enjoy it. Wear comfortable shoes and pace yourself. Consider a nap in the middle of the day, or take a day off from the parks and drive to the beach.
Do some logistical planning. When you enter the big theme parks, have a map and a plan. Map out the most efficient route for seeing what you want to see. Know where the transportation stops are and when the buses or trains run. Understand the passes that let you hop to the front of lines at the more popular rides.
Keep track of everyone. If you are traveling with adults or older children, designate specific meeting times and places, and make sure every group has a watch and a cell phone. If you are traveling with small children, stay alert – they can dart off in search of Cinderella and get lost in the crowd. Impress upon them the importance of staying close to you, and tell them what you want them to do if you get separated.
Drink plenty of water. It is Florida, and it can get very hot. You need to stay hydrated, and water is the best choice.
Bring snacks. Eating in the parks is very expensive, so bring along some simple snacks, like granola bars or peanut butter sandwiches. That way you will have something when hunger results in crabbiness – for you or the kids.
Keep to your budget. It is easy to spend a great deal of money in Orlando. Know before you go how much you can afford to spend on items like food and souvenirs, and try to stick with it. It will keep you from suffering from credit card bill shock after you get home.
Relax. If you have planned well, there is nothing else you can do, so don’t sweat the details. After all, you are there to have fun, so have fun. And don't worry – if you don’t see everything you want, you can always go back.