Orlando – Florida Travel Guide, Tourism, Vacation
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If there was ever a city dedicated to enjoyment, then Orlando is it. Even the most cursory drive through the city will tell you one thing: there is no disguising the fact Orlando is a city built on theme parks. Lots of them. Strange to think that until 1966, though, there was precious little here in central Florida. A few roadside attractions aside, it was one man, Walt Disney, who really changed the scenery here. No matter which way you slice it, growth has spiralled thanks to a huge influx of tourists that followed the arrival of Walt Disney World Resort.
Almost all of Florida's cities and resorts are based around its long coastline, naturally capitalising on the beaches or swampland national parks that attract so many international visitors. Orlando is the only real exception, a strange, idiosyncratic place in the middle of the Floridian wasteland, and coincidentally one of the most famous resort towns in the world.
There are conflicting legends as to how the city of Orlando came by its name, from heroic soldiers to local cattle ranchers to a nod to Shakespeare. Whatever the case may be, some 47 million tourists a year come to see the place for themselves.
From the original Magic Kingdom, which opened in 1971, the colossal Disney empire has added three more theme parks, two water parks and a host of associated developments, including hotels, shops and golf courses to make it a true 'World' resort.
With Disney setting the example, SeaWorld (three theme parks) and Universal (two) have added to Orlando's reputation as the family entertainment capital of the world. Between them, they draw nearly 50 million visitors every year, and that has meant a huge growth in associated hotels, restaurants and shops, plus a host of smaller-scale attractions.
However, this young city has also developed its own identity that stretches beyond the wearing of plastic mouse ears and thrill rides. There are a significant number of high-tech industries relocating here, and the downtown area is fast developing yuppie overtones. There are even ambitious plans to become a major cultural centre. Orlando is also the USA's number two convention location; the attraction for incentive activities for competing sales teams is no mystery.
There has been a stab at giving the city some historic context with the promotion of 'Old Orlando', which is part of Downtown, encompassing Orange Avenue and Garland Avenue. There's also a historic district around Lake Eola, with brick streets lined with old oak trees. Some of the homes here may have been originally built by the wealthy citrus traders of the late 19th century.
Having said that, the main attraction for 99% of visitors remains the theme parks, together with the likes of the nearby Kennedy Space Center. There are also some charming, retro-looking former roadside attractions such as Gatorland that have survived as lucrative sidelines to the more high-tech main attractions. And, in order to attract the all-important repeat visitors, Orlando has become adept at re-inventing itself and providing new attractions at regular intervals.
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