There is one time in our lives that we would dream about meeting Mickey and Minnie Mouse. The TV commercials about Walt Disney World would always get you excited about the possibility of visiting the “happiest place on earth” where the most famous mouse lives. Even though the first Disney Park (Disneyland) was built in California, there is no doubt that Disney World in Orlando has become the number one destination for visitors. There are so many things to do, you could go for days without doing the same thing twice.
In 2011 Orlando welcomed 55.1 million visitors, up 7.2% from last year’s record setting 51.4 million and 1.5% over the previous forecast of 54.3 million visitors. Total domestic visitation (business & leisure) accounted for 51.3 million visitors, a 7.5% increase over 2010 and a record for any U.S. destination; international travel totaled 3.8 million, an increase of 3.5% from 2010. Orlando is the first destination in the country to welcome more than 55 million visitors and remains the most visited destination in the U.S.
“This is tremendously positive news for the destination. We have seen a strong rebound in our visitation numbers over the past two years led by increases in domestic and international travel and we continue to be optimistic about the future of the destination,” said Paul Tang, Chairman of Visit Orlando. “We are known worldwide as the top family destination and we continue to be a top choice for inspiring meetings. Breaking the 55 million total visitation mark shows the strength of the Orlando brand.”
Canada continues to be Orlando’s number one international market breaking the 1 million visitor mark for the first time, an increase of 5.7%, followed by the United Kingdom (767,000).
“Our travel and tourism industry has led the way in creating new jobs over the past two years and from these numbers you can see why,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. “I commend the industry and the companies that continue to invest their time and resources to keep Orlando top of mind with potential travelers. They continue to be the backbone of our community and we are happy to support their efforts.”
GREAT PLACES TO VISIT IN ORLANDO (besides Walt Disney World)
Central Florida is home to America’s favorite theme parks, however there are other places where you can have son fun.
- Festival Bay Mall: This is a really cool mall to take kids under 5. They have a giant open area in front of the food court where my daughter likes to play and on weekends there is usually some type of children’s event going on. In the back of the mall is a very phycadellic train ride that costs $2 to ride and next to that is an interactive dance floor that blows bubbles and does other neat stuff.
- Leu Gardens: This place is really neat if you like nature. It has a butterfly garden and some history behind it as well. It’s a great place to go and relax, escape the busy lines and crowded parks. Children under six or seven may get bored because it’s just a nature trails and gardens but the older kids could definitely appreciate it. Children under 5 are free, K-12 are $2 and adults are $7
- Dinosaur World: The coolest place for young children with a fascination with dinosaurs. The park has a fossil dig, caves, skeleton garden, bone yard and museum. There is over 150 life size dinosaurs and it’s also educational. Kids 3 and under are free, 3-12 are $9.75, adults $12.75 and seniors 60+ are $10.75
- Gatorland: If you’re not a native to Florida and you want to see some serious gator action this is the place visit. The park was recently renovated and has a pretty sweet splash park for the kids, live gator shows, a train tour of the facility, an aviary an much more. Kids 3 and under are free, 3-12 $14.99, adults $22.99 they also have stroller and wheelchair rentals.
- The Central Florida Zoo: I hesitated whether to mention this or not because it’s not the fanciest of zoos however, they recently built a new splash park and it’s pretty nice. As far as the zoo goes it has all of your usually zoo animals. Monkeys, elephants, bears etc and the little ones are sure to like it but I recommend this to you because it not has the splash park, the price is inexpensive and it justifies the trip. Kids 2 and under are free, 3-12 are $6.95, Adults are$10.95 and seniors are $8.95
- Dr. Phillips Park: This park is so centrally located to all the action but yet so hidden in the midst of a residential area right off Apopka Vineland Rd. The park is totally futuristic and is not your typical slide and merry go round type park. This is by far one of the best, free places to check out in Orlando. Bring a lunch because they do not have a snack bar. Definitely bring the kids here and let them run wild.
- Magical Midway: Recently opened back up again for business this amusement style park, similar to The Fun Spot, is located off I-drive right near the Chilis. It has go-carts, extreme style rides, games and bumper boats. It’s a cool little spot to check out if you’re walking the I-drive strip. The kids will like it and it also appeals the the kid is us as well. Armbands start at 22.95 or you can buy individual tickets for what you want to do.
By: Astrid Rivera