Florida: The Micro-Cran Guide
- Submitted by: Steve Topley
- Submission Date: 14th Feb 2005
Lets first have a quick look why Florida as a whole has become such a popular holiday destination for the Brits. First off the weather. Florida bakes in year round sunshine something that cannot be said about any of the short haul holidays available in the UK. Add to that the beautiful beaches, the attractions of Orlando, friendly English speaking (mostly!) locals and you perhaps have one of the worlds ideal holiday locations. Its not just touristy though. Its easy to get off the beaten track to natural springs and pretty rivers. This guide however deals mainly with Orlando rather than Florida as a whole so lets have a quick glimpse at what Orlando has to offer....
Its probably true that for most people Orlando is Walt Disney World or more precisely Mickey Mouse and his Magic Kingdom. But theres a lot more to it than that - not just Orlando but Disney World as well. The Magic Kingdom, the EPCOT center, MGM studios, Typhoon Lagoon, River Country..... and then Orlando. Wet N Wild, Universal Studios, Sea World... in fact an attraction for every day of the year (and don't forget the nights!). So read on and enjoy!
As you will soon find we do not speak quite the same language!
with reference to people...
limey English (as we would use yank)
redneck ignorant yocal
yankee someone from the Northern states
Cash point auto teller
restaurant bill check
ten cent coin dime
five cent coin nickel
one cent coin penny
twenty five cent coin quarter
dollar note buck / greenback
reverse charges call collect
phone box telephone booth
dual carriageway divided highway
car bonnet hood
car boot trunk
chips french fries
prawn shrimp (should see the 'prawns'!)
steak with seafood surf 'n' turf
This should just about keep you going!
Max Min Rain
JAN 71 50 2.3
FEB 72 51 3
MAR 76 56 3.5
APR 82 61 2.7
MAY 87 66 2.9
JUN 89 71 7.1
JUL 90 73 8.3
AUG 90 74 6.7
SEP 88 72 7.7
OCT 83 66 4.1
NOV 76 57 1.6
DEC 72 52 1.9
When to go
Anytime. Florida should be sunny all year round despite the odd frost that wipes out the Orange crops. Peak season is Christmas until April for Americans then an off peak and then the Brits come... Possibly the best months are the off peak months May and June and September until December. The weather is great at these times of year (not humid like the summer months) and the cue cutting at the parks is incredible compared with the peak months. It is easy to do twice as much in the theme parks at this time of year. The only drawbacks are the earlier closing hours of the parks. In the summer months you will get rain nearly every day normally at the same time in the shape of short fast burst. An hour later you wont remember that it rained.
When getting your holiday spending money make sure you get some US cash in small denominations for tipping on arrival. Tipping really is a way of life in the States. On arrival you will find yourself tipping the baggage porter at the airport ($1 per bag) and continue doing the same for the rest of your holiday. Taxi drivers and waiters will expect 15% of the total and you should leave $1 per day to hotel maids
You should make sure you take US dollar traveller cheques with you on holiday with some useful denominations of cash as well. Unlike other destinations you will not need to cash your cheques as they are accepted as notes with change given from them. Nearly all shops etc. take credit cards and you will find it hard to do without one when picking up a hire car.
If you are a British citizen you generally no longer need a full visa to enter the United States. You merely fill in a 'visa' on the plane, known as the Visa waiver scheme. A full passport is required. Make sure you havent a stamp in it from a previous holiday in Cuba...
If you are worried about driving in Florida then quite simply don't be. Recently there has been a lot of sad stories in the press about the killing of tourists in cars and the various dangers in your hire car. Don't forget though that Florida is the size of England and we are hardly a crime free country ourselves. It boils down to using your common sense. Orlando cannot be described as the most crime ridden city in Florida and you will as a tourist be hard pressed to find it. One sensible rule is to make sure you are not tired when you pick up your hire car from the plane. Try get a sleep on the plane, don't drink on the plane and if you are still tired pick up your hire car the next day. This should not be to hard to organise. Most of the major hire car companies are located an easy trip to the main hotels. On receiving your car (don't forget to be 21 or over, have a driving licence and credit card) you will be given a quick guide to using your automatic (you will wonder how you do without it after a couple of days) and a map guiding you to your hotel. Driving in generally relaxing, 55 mph on roads we would class as motorways, sometimes going to 65 mph. On International drive itself you wont be going faster than 30. Petrol is dirt cheap and seems to go a long way. On the same note hire cars do not carry there plates showing thats what they are anymore.
*Where to stay
As long as you have a hire car it shouldn't really be to much of a problem where you stay in the Orlando area but if you are without a car then some areas are rather inappropriate. International drive is the main Motel strip in Orlando as is quite good if you are without a car as you can walk to shops and food spots from your Motel which should also be able organise shuttles buses to the theme parks. For this reason other areas of Orlando cannot really be recommended if you haven't a car. Down the road from Orlando is Kissimmee which is nearer to Walt Disney World and tends to be slightly cheaper than International Drive. Finally you could always stay at one of the Disney resorts in which case you might not even have to visit Orlando as there would properly be enough to keep anyone going for at least a week in just the Disney complex.
The Disney resort hotels
Staying in any of these hotels it has to be said is not by any means your cheapest option. However if you want to be in fantasyland for the whole of your holiday and make it that bit more magic then he are your options...
If you take the monorail while visiting Disney World you should find yourself going through the lobby of the hotel. The resort has 1052 rooms and houses shops and restaurants.
Grand Floridian Beach Resort
Has Victorian verandas, gabled roofs. Inside you will find 900 rooms and crystal chandeliers.
This is the most remote of the hotels but if you are a golfer it should be paradise as it is located between courses (both PGA championship 18 hole). Also has tennis, two pools and fitness centre. Plenty of free transportation to the park.
Suitably located on Seven Seas Drive this hotel has a South Pacific feel to it. There is even a 'tropical beach' here located on the lake. There are even volcanoes! 855 rooms.
The Caribbean Beach Resort
Located as different 'islands' such as Barbados etc. each having its own pool. There is a beach and marina here as well as a market selling Caribbean food. 768 rooms.
When on a fly-drive....
For those on a fly-drive you will no doubt want to be visiting at least 4 locations. In the UK you can buy tokens for various hotel chains to be used in Florida at various locations. For example Days Inn (Tel. 0483 40470) sell four different tokens for accommodation starting at Red (UK33 per room, per night) to Gold (UK63). The current directory had 100 places to stay in Florida. Guest International (081 7702123) offer a similar scheme with rooms from Best Westerns, Choice Hotels, Days Inn, Hampton Inns, Holiday Inns, Howard Johnsons, La Quinta Inns, Ramadas and Travelodges. They have three different tokens, budget pass (UK31), good night pass (UK41) and select pass (UK75).
Food & Drink
You should never be at a loss for something to eat or drink be it a fast food burger with a coke or fine Italian cooking over a bottle of wine. To start the day you cant do better than have a breakfast which is normally so large in portions that it should certainly keep you going until the afternoon (unless you are walking around EPCOT in which case you will be peckish again at 10AM!). All the fast food joints do breakfasts but the Denny's chain seems to have mastered it. Expect to pay for food in the US in $ what you would normally pay in pound's. For dinner and tea you have a choice of a world of fast food chains such as McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys etc. However just looking at International Drive the quality eating establishments are just as varied with Chinese, Indian, Italian, Seafood, American and steak houses standing side by side. Drinking is also a pleasure with some decent US beers about but make sure you are 21 or over or you will find it hard to be served especially in bars. Supermarkets (such as 7-11) are your best chance of booze if you are under this age.
Heres a quick selection of the possibilities open to you in Orlando.... (and this is only part of it!)
Butcher Shop SteakHouse
Damons - The Place for Ribs
Western Steer SteakHouse
Asian Adventure (includes unlimied Beer etc. and entertainment)
Charlies Lobster House
The Crab House
Review of any restaurants or eateries are required for this guide ASAP be they good or bad!
Walt Disney World
There is no doubt that WDW is the major pulling power in the Orlando area. Some people may describe WDW as tacky Americanism but if they do don't listen - they haven't been. Theres a lot more to WDW than the Magic Kingdom - The E.P.C.O.T. center, M.G.M. studios, Typhoon Lagoon and the Disney marketplace to name a few. First of all though we will look at the Magic Kingdom the first part in the WDW jigsaw.
Opened in 1971 the Magic Kingdom covers some 100 acres and is made up of seven 'lands'. The first of these lands that you will discover is Main Street USA. To get to this area however you must take either the monorail or a ferry from the main gates. Main street is unmistakable with Cinderella's castle overlooking the street. The first place you should visit is the City Hall where you can a get of the handy guide book and what's on booklet free. Next stop could be the Disney World Railroad that stops off at Frontierland which could be a good place to start your voyage before the crowds get there. If you decide to take a full loop of the park its a good way of getting your bearing of where everything is. Almost next to the station is The Walt Disney Story where you can follow the upbringing of Walt from his younger days to the creation of this resort. Further down the street is the Main Street Cinema where classic films of the silent screen era are shown. The final attraction here is the Penny Arcade which pretty much speaks for itself and also includes Main Street Vehicles where you can board a horse drawn 'trolley' or cart. The attractions are pretty tame and the Main Street is designed more for eating and shopping. For eating you can feed on anything from hot dogs from the Main Street Wagons to a succulent steak at Tony's Town Square Restaurant decorated in the style of Disney's Lady and the Tramp. You certainly shouldn't be lost for souvenirs either but don't leave it until the end of the day when it seems like everyone in the park is shopping. Shops in Main Street are many and varied. If you have forgotten your camera then head for the Kodak Camera Centre where you can buy and hire cameras and camcorders as well as have film developed. For just about everything there is Disneyana Collectibles and if you need a quick trim the Harmony Barbour Shop. At the end of the Main Street at the foot of Cinderella's Castle is a roundabout that leads to all the lands. Following the lands in a clockwise direction the next stop is Adventureland. One of the attractions you possibly cant fail seeing entering Adventureland is the Swiss Family Tree house that you may be suprised to learn is made fully out of concrete. You climb stairways to see the ship wrecked family's home. If you are a budding tarzan then you will probably enjoy the Jungle Cruise as you visit some of the tropical rivers of the world. On your way you will encounter elephants, lions, hippos and headhunters ! The only attraction I have ever seen anyone walk out of is the Enchanted Tiki Birds tropical Serenade in this musical revue. The final attraction is the brilliant Pirates Of The Caribbean where your boat takes you through a town being pillaged by pirates as well as a confrontation with a pirate ship. If you are hungry Adventureland has an abundance of snack stalls selling the likes of burgers, hot dogs and ice cream. As with the Main Street there are plenty of shopping opportunities such as the Traders Of Timbuktu for African Imports. The next lands are Frontierland and Liberty Square. First off in Frontierland is the station for the railroad if you want to make the trip to the Main Street. The first ride you will want to head for and possibly one of the best known in the park is the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Here you can catch a runaway mine train through mining tunnels. Although not exactly an awesome roller coaster ride it certainly is fun. It is worth taking this ride at night as well as day as some effects cannot be seen through the day. If you want to relax from the queuing for the rides now is a good time to take a slow raft journey to Tom Sawyer Island (which closes at dusk) which includes Fort Sam Clemens. Showing throughout the day is the Country Bear Jamboree where a cast of wilderness bears perform in a hoe-down. If you want you can test your shooting skills at the Frontierland Shootin' Arcade which is different in the fact that you have to pay to use it (basically to get people off it so everyone can have a go). One show that you must make a reservation for (and early at that) is The Diamond Horseshoe Jamboree where you can sandwiches, snacks and drinks. There are plenty of other eateries though such as the Mile Long Bar for Tex-Mex food and Pecos Bill Cafe for burgers. Your spoilt for choice for shopping here too, that is if you want Mexican gifts, Western hats, woodcarvings, bears or Davy Crockett coonskin caps. Moving onto Liberty Square you may want to visit The Hall Of Presidents where ex US presidents come to life on stage. For a relaxing trip you cant beat a trip on the Liberty Square Riverboat or Mike Fink Keelboats. The highlight of Liberty Square though has to be The Haunted Mansion which although you could never call it scary the special effects are brilliant especially the ghost that joins you in your car! Like Frontierland there are plenty of eating and shopping opportunities. Our next land is Fantasyland which has the tamest rides in the park. If you've just had your dinner and want to make yourself feel sick then try the Mad Tea Party where you twirl away in giant tea cups. Next you can join Captain Nemo on a trip 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and explore lost undersea worlds. For a ride through Old London you must join Mr Toads Wild Ride or for a confrontation with a wicked witch try Snow Whites Adventures. A film in the EPCOT Captain EO mould called Magic Journeys can be watched here too as well as flying on Dumbo The Flying Elephant or jump on one of 90 horses on Cinderella's Golden Carrousel. One of the most famous Disney rides is Its A Small World where you join singing and dancing dolls from around the world. By the way you may end up humming the tune from this ride for the rest of your holiday. Another trip involving London this time over it is Peter Pan's Flight as you make a visit to Never-Land and a pirate ship. If your fed up with walking at this point you can take the Skyway to Tomorrowland which gives a good view over the park. Finally there is the Fantasy Faire and Castle Forecourt Stage where you can find various performances throughout the day. Restaurants and snack bars abound such as King Stefan's Banquet Hall in Cinderella's Castle which has table service featuring prime rib and fish. Theres no shortage for shopping either. If you want to solve all your Christmas shopping in one swoop try Mickeys Christmas Carol. For fun in the future we now head for Tomorowland and firstly take a Mission To Mars firstly visiting mission control before blasting off to the red planet. If you want to see the States coast to coast then you wont do much better than heading for American Journeys a circle vision film (i.e. all around you) that discovers Americas people, heritage aboard a plane, helicopter, boat and train. Next you may want to take the Dreamflight to explore the history and future of aviation or take the modern WEDway people mover as transportation around Tomorrowland. You can pilot your own spacecraft at the StarJets or have a close look at the importance of electricity at the Carousel Of Progress. For a trip to Fantasyland you can take a journey on the Skyway or you may want to head for the best ride in Tomorowland and possibly the park, Space Mountain. Space Mountain is a brilliant roller coaster ride that is made even more awesome by the fact that you are in the dark. This one ride to head for early in the morning as the queues can get incredibly long. Finally you can take the wheel of race car at the Grand Prix Raceway or watch a lively song and dance show at the Tomorowland Theatre. Not suprisingly the shops and food areas here are on a space theme such as the Lunching Pad and Space Bar or the Space Place for souvenirs. The final land is Mickey's Starland where you will find Mickey's House, Grandma Duck's Farm and have the chance to to Meet Mickey Mouse. Finally one new ride opened this year called Splash Mountain which I haven't had the fortune to ride on yet. Described as the wettest ride in the Kingdom!
You cant miss the Main Street Electrical Display which is held twice a day as all the Disney characters come past on there floats. Although good in daytime (held around mid afternoon) it cannot be missed on a night when the lit up floats come into there own. Finally on a night one of the most magical shows at the park is the Spectromagic show. After all you cant come to Florida and miss the fireworks over Cinderella's castle.
Open - Time varies throughout the year. May this year was varying between 9-8 to 9-12. Summer months are open 9- 12.
Cost - $35.
The 4 day super pass - Allows 4 days admission (visiting as many parks as you want in one day) to the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT & MGM. Cost is $125 plus state tax or $98 plus tax for children (3-9).
The 4 day super duper pass - As above but allows admission to Typhoon Lagoon, Pleasure Island, River Country and Discovery Island for 7 days after first day of use. Cost is $154 plus tax or $122 plus tax for children (3-9).
The 5 day super duper pass - As above but 5 days admission. Cost is $170 plus tax or $135 plus tax for children.
As with other attraction tickets (usually not the 1 day tickets) you can get good discounts buying tickets from ticket companies often located in hotel reception areas. The tickets available from tour reps dont tend to be as cheap.
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The E.P.C.O.T. (Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow or Every Person Comes Out Tired - the park is twice the size of the Magic Kingdom) center is actually two theme parks in one. First off is Future World based on the realms of communications, health, energy, lifestyles of the future, transportation, the land, the sea and imagination. The other 'park' is the World Showcase, situated on the lagoon, where you can visit pavilions of 11 countries. When entering the park make sure you pick up an entertainment program from Earth Station that gives information on any activities happening in the park and what times as well as telling you the time of the brilliant Illuminations night show.
The first thing that you will notice entering Future World is the 180 foot high symbol of E.P.C.O.T. Spaceship Earth. One quick tip here about Future World - leave it until the afternoon. Most people work there way through Future World in the morning and then make there way to the World Showcase in the afternoon so its wise to 'do' the World Showcase in the morning and Future World in the afternoon. Inside Spaceship Earth is a 5 minute ride from the early man to the future based around human communications. Next to Spaceship Earth is Communicore that features hands-on exhibits of future technology. One of the best shows in Future World is the Universe Of Energy in which you sit on travelling theater cars that are actually solar powered. Based on fuel and how it was formed and the shape it will take in the future you travel through three films and animatronic forest that includes dinosaurs and a volcano. The show lasts 45 minutes. Wonders Of Life pretty much speaks for itself and includes a good ride in the shape of Body Wars, a simulator that takes you on a trip through the human body. Recommended - unless you've just had your dinner as its a bumpy trip! Also here is Cranium Command where you climb inside the head of a 12 year old boy and The Making Of Me which the Disney guide says 'explores the sensitive subjects of human reproduction and birth'. You travel through the lifestyles of the 21st century in the Horizons exhibit. In your vehicle you pass through a robot staffed farm and a space city. World Of Motion takes you through the history of transport from the invention of the wheel to the latest in transportational innovations. Also here is the transcenter where you can sit in state of the art cars (and of coarse take a photo and tell the folks back home it was your hire car!). Journey Into Imagination is the host of two shows one of them being the brilliant Captain EO. The Journey Into Imagination ride is hosted by Dreamfinder and his sidekick Figment on a trip through the creative process. Captain EO is a 3D musical starring Michael Jackson and is one of the highlights of E.P.C.O.T. The Land is the next exhibition and includes and interesting ride in the shape of Listen To The Land. You cruise along a canal through a exhibit showing new technologies of food production such as vegetables that grow without soil. Also here is the Harvest Theater that looks at mans relationship with the land and the Kitchen Kabaret that stars Bonnie Appetit in a song and dance show that shows good nutrition. The final attraction in Future World, and one of the best, is The Living Seas. It includes the largest man-made salt-water hold in the world that contains more than 80 species of fish and mammals. The mammals include manatees. In the Living Seas you travel to Sea Base Alpha where you can play on interactive video games and see plenty of exhibits.
Eating and drinking in Future World
Not having the time or budget to visit all the establishments in E.P.C.O.T. here is a quick list of some of the eateries. For burgers, pizzas etc. visit the Stargate restaurant in Communicore East. Possibly the most spectacular is the Coral Reef Restaurant at the Living Seas where you dine with a corel reef around you. This restaurant serves mainly seafood and pasta. At the Land exhibition is the Farmers Market where also sorts of foodstuffs are available at a counter service.
Shopping in Future World
For a large selection of Disney momentos there is Gateway Gifts in the Spaceship Earth. If you have forgotten your camera then the Camera Center here is a must for a rental. In the Wonders Of Life pavilion you will find Pure & Simple where you will find everything required for healthy living while at Broccoli & Co in The Land you can buy items such as seeds to grow square tomatoes. Plastic fish and plenty more other knick knacks relating to the sea can be found at the Living Seas.
As you walk towards the lagoon you will notice some of the sights of the World Showcase such as a replica of the Eiffel Tower shimmering in the Florida heat. Walking round the lagoon clockwise (you don't have to walk - buses go around the lagoon and boats go across it) you will firstly come to the Mexico pavilion. The unmissable centre of this pavilion is the Mayan Temple which when you enter you feel as though you are looking out from a Mexican Town at sunset. This is one of the best effects in the World Showcase. The ride in the Mexican pavilion is the El Rio Del Tiepo which literally means The River Of Time. You set sail on your now familiar Disney 'Boat' through the Mexico of yesterday and today. Next we come across the Norway attraction that includes the a pretty good ride in the shape of the maelstrom where you board a viking boat through fjords past trolls until you reach an oil rig in a North Sea storm. There are some excellent buildings and exhibits at the next pavilion, China. There is a Circle-Vision 360 presentation (a round theatre with screens all around as if you were looking) here that is aptly described The Wonders Of China. You will now pass through Germany and Italy which although they have no rides or shows have some nice buildings and shops. Possibly the best show (not surprisingly) is the American Adventure which is presented in impressive Audioanimatronics starring the likes of Ben Franklin and Mark Twain. You will particularly enjoy the beating of the red coats. A very good show! As with Germany and Italy Japan and Morocco have no rides and the next show you will come across is the Impressions De France at the France pavilion. The Impressions is another very good 360 show travelling through the French countryside with the accompaniment of classical music. The UK is next but sadly there is no ride or show here for some reason and you will have to ponder along to the Canadian pavilion to watch the O Canada! 360 show. One point here. Although the 360 shows are very good but I would not recommend watching them all in a row as you can get a bit fed up of them.
Eating and drinking in the World Showcase
This is actually quite an enjoyable experience where you can eat and drink specialities (even if they aren't quite genuine) from around the world. From Mexican food with bottled beer (including Lime) in Mayan Temple to Fish n chips and real beer in a pint glass in an English pub. Salmon buffers in Norway, Sweet and sour in China, Oktoberfest in Germany, pasta in guess where, hot dogs and apple pie in the good old USA, sake in Japan, Moroccan fare in Marrakesh, lunch under the Eiffel tower and finally pork pies in Canada. You couldn't really ask for any more!
Shopping in the World Showcase
As with the eating your spoilt for choice. You could quite easily trick people into thinking you have been on a round the world trip sporting your sombrero from Mexico, jewellery from Japan and I love Paris T-shirts.
Each of the World showcase countries has entertainment of some sort or another at various times throughout the day. For details of when these happenings occur make sure you pick up an Entertainment Program. Finally the big one - Illuminations, one of the most amazing firework and laser shows you are ever likely to see. Held just before closing time (and so varies throughout the year) on the World Showcase Lagoon this is a symphony of lights, fountains, fireworks and laser effects working its way around the world. NOT to be missed!