Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"I have a home in Orlando. That's kind of my default 'getaway' city." - Carrot Top

Orlando is a city in the U.S. state of Florida and a popular tourist destination. Located in Central Florida, it is the county seat of Orange County and the center of the Greater Orlando metropolitan area. Orlando had a population of 238,300 according to the 2010 census, making it the 77th largest city in the United States. The Greater Orlando metropolitan area has a population of 2,134,411, making it the 26th largest metro area in the United States, the sixth largest metro area in the Southeastern United States, and the third largest metro area in the state of Florida. Orlando is the fifth largest city in Florida, and the state's largest inland city. Orlando is nicknamed "The City Beautiful" and its symbol is the fountain at Lake Eola. Orlando is also known as "The Theme Park Capital of the World" and its tourist attractions draw more than 51 million tourists a year, including 3.6 million international guests. The Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the thirteenth busiest airport in the United States and the 29th busiest in the world. Buddy Dyer is Orlando's mayor. As the most visited American city in 2009, Orlando's famous attractions form the backbone of its tourism industry: Walt Disney World Resort, located approximately 21 miles southwest of Downtown Orlando in Lake Buena Vista, opened by the Walt Disney Company in 1971; the Universal Orlando Resort, which consists of the two parks of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure; City Walk; SeaWorld; Gatorland; and Wet 'n Wild Water Park. With the exception of Walt Disney World, most major attractions are located along International Drive. The city is also one of the busiest American cities for conferences and conventions.

A vital part of the Orlando area economy is tourism. The Orlando area is home to Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld Orlando. Over 48 million visitors came to the Orlando region in 2004. The convention industry is also critical to the region's economy. The Orange County Convention Center, expanded in 2004 to over two million square feet of exhibition space, is now the second-largest convention complex in terms of space in the United States, trailing only McCormick Place in Chicago. The city vies with Chicago and Las Vegas for hosting the most convention attendees in the United States. The Walt Disney World resort is the area's largest attraction with its many facets such as the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, and Downtown Disney. SeaWorld Orlando is a large park that features numerous zoological displays and marine animals alongside an amusement park with roller coasters and water park. Universal Orlando, like Walt Disney World, is a multi-faceted resort comprising Universal Studios Florida, CityWalk, and Islands of Adventure. The Wet 'n Wild water park is another famous attraction. SeaWorld Orlando also comprises more than one park, alongside Aquatica and Discovery Cove. Orlando attractions also appeal to many locals who want to enjoy themselves close to home.

1. Universal's Islands of Adventure

Universal's Islands of Adventure features some of the most innovative rides and attractions ever made on seven spectacularly themed islands: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, Seuss Landing and Port of Entry.

Universal's Islands of Adventure, commonly known as Islands of Adventure, is a theme park located in Orlando, Florida. It opened May 28, 1999, along with CityWalk as part of an expansion that converted Universal Studios Florida into the Universal Orlando Resort. The slogan for this theme park is "Live the Adventure".

The park's overall theme is that of a journey of exploration, where guests depart from a main port to visit six other distinctly themed islands, all emphasizing adventure. On June 18, 2010, the seventh island, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (themed to the popular Harry Potter franchise), officially opened at the park, its largest investment since opening. In 2011, Islands of Adventure hosted approximately 7.8 million guests, ranking it sixth among United States parks and tenth worldwide.
Like Universal Studios Florida next door, Islands of Adventure has not limited itself to Universal's own library. In fact, with the exception of The Lost Continent, Port of Entry, and Jurassic Park, the remaining park areas are based on characters licensed from rival studios, many of whom did not own theme parks of their own. Some of these include Seuss Landing (Dr. Seuss Enterprises), The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Warner Bros.), Toon Lagoon (Jay Ward Productions and Paramount Pictures), and Marvel Super Hero Island (Marvel Entertainment). The park is all high tech. I think it is the best of all themed parks in Orlando.

Before Islands of Adventure was built, the site was originally planned as a shopping mall called Galleria Orlando. Plans were first drawn up for the mall in 1985, but it was ultimately canceled in 1990. During the construction of the park, Universal opened a Preview Center (known as the Islands of Adventure Preview Center) at an adjacent Florida theme park.
Opening two years before the new theme park, the Preview Center was designed to give guests a sneak peek at some of the themes and attractions for Islands of Adventure. The attraction was located in the Paradise Theater building located in the New York section of Universal Studios Florida, next to the Kongfrontation attraction. In the attraction, guests would walk through various rooms themed to the various "Islands" in the new park. The final room stated when the Islands of Adventure park would open, and showed guests Universal's future plans for the Universal Orlando Resort. The Preview Center was closed shortly after the opening of Islands of Adventure.

Hope this Review from a visitor may give plenty of details.

"I was at Orlando during November 2013. I had one-and-half days to 'see-around' and I wanted to check out both the Universal Studios as well as the Universal Island of Adventure. I purchased a two-day ticket for about $135.00 after taxes. There was a promotional offer going on during that time that gave an extra day free for every two day passes purchased.
My two-day ticket had a rather inconvenient condition - I could visit only one park per day. Therefore to-and-fro juggling was ruled out! I tried looking up the net for advises on how to schedule my visit between the two parks. I couldn't find anything conclusive and therefore this review is aimed at helping the viewers in similar situations arrive at a conclusions on prioritizing between the two theme parks.

I stayed at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel that is located within the campus of Universal Studios. This entitled me for an "EXPRESS Pass" (complimentary for guests at hotels). I would STRONGLY recommend this for every person. This is very convenient and could save you a lot of time. I took a ferry from the hotel at 2 PM sharp towards the Citywalk dock.

Decision process: Ok, so I was standing at the Universal Citywalk on a Friday afternoon. It was a cloudy day and rains and thunder-storms were predicted for the next day. Now, all the roller-coaster rides are usually shut down when there are rains & thunder-storms. Further, the next day being a Saturday would have attracted a larger crowd.
The 'Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey' ride has been the most recent crowd puller and I knew that IOA would be swarmed by people who would eventually spill-out to other rides/attractions as the day would progress. Based on the above (as well as on a recommendation from a close friend), I decided to visit the IOA on day one. The park was to close at 7:00 PM. I had effectively 4.5 hours to visit the park.

Path Optimization for Island of Adventure: First thing I did as soon as I entered was that I picked a map! I knew 'Harry Potter' would be a crowded attraction and therefore decided to start-off from there. Also, this attraction is located at the farthest corner of the park. It made sense to cover the longest distance while I was still fresh and then walk my way back to the entrance/exit.

Feedback on Rides: The following section highlights the rides in the order that I took them.

1) Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey: A must go ride for all Harry Potter fans. The facade of Hogwarts castle is life-like. The walk down Hogsmede makes you feel that you have indeed transformed into the wizarding world. The ride itself inside is castle is awesome.
2) Flight of the Hippogriff: Avoid it if you can. The average wait time seemed higher because the capacity of the ride is short. This is a roller coaster for people with children. Adults could stay out of this.

3) Frog Choir: Very cute. Might be worth spending 5 minutes in the backdrop of the Hogwarts castle. I used this time to relax after the long walk to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter section.

4) Dragon Challenge: Recommended for people who like roller coasters. There were supposed to be two roller coasters (red & blue) who were to move 'into' each other. Somehow, there was just one (red) when I visited. I still liked it.

5) Olivander's Shop: Avoid it unless you have a cute 8 year old who is really wanting to 'experience' being Harry Potter himself. The queue is usually long. The attraction itself is good and tries to recreate the entire chain of events that took place when Harry Potter first visited the shop.
6) Poseidon's Fury: I would not recommend this. They have tried to do something different but it does not work for the most part! I found it a waste of time.

7) Cat in the Hat: Now, I was a misfit in the entire Seuss Landing section. But I just felt like trying this ride because the entire place looked very cute! The kids would love these attractions. But it gave me a headache. I was doing well without it.

8) The Incredible Hulk Coaster: Better than the Dragon Challenge (with a single dragon!). A must go for all roller-coaster enthusiasts.

9) Storm Force Accelatron: Not recommended! Strictly for kids.

10) Doctor Doom's Fearfall: This leaves a lot to be desired for! I sincerely hope that the ride was slightly longer. It gets over even before you start enjoying it. So if the queue is too long, avoid this.

11) The Amazing Adventures of Spider-man: Very nice. A must watch for all age groups and fans of Spider-man.
12) Me Ship, The Olive: Go here only if you are tired by now and have decided to call it quits. You could climb on to the top deck and watch the landscape around. Otherwise, avoid this.

13) Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges: This is one is good! But caution: you get totally wet in this ride! I was worried getting my cell-phone and camera wet throughout the ride and therefore could not enjoy it as much. Recommended for all age-groups if you dont mind the water. There are 'Human dryers' just outside of this ride that charge $5.00 per person. These work effectively.

14) Pteranodon Flyers: Ok, I went out to try this ride as it looked interesting. However, this is ONLY for kids. So I had to walk back.

15) Jurassic Park River Adventure: This is a nice ride. Begins slowly and nicely as a boat ride into a jurassic forest and really culminates well towards the end when one has to espace the jaws of a massive T-Rex.
(i) The EXPRESS Pass really helped me. I took the following rides twice (remember, I just had half a day): Harry Potter, Hulk Coaster, Spider man.

(ii) There are separate lines (for all roller-coaster type rides) for 'first row' and 'other rows'. It is highly recommended to take the 'first row' as these are the best seats (Hulk, Dragon Wars et all).

(iii) You might want to flaunt your 'EXPRESS Pass' at the entrance of each attraction. By default, the volunteers seem to assume that you have a 'regular' ticket and guide you to the 'general lines'. It is not always easy to get out from these. So, please announce yourself loud-and-clear upon arrival.

There are plenty of food options available within the park. However, one might want to remain on a relatively empty stomach as most rides involve sudden movements. Honestly, I did not try much food at the park as I didnt want to ruin my rides. A good option is to dine at the CityWalk just outside of the theme park.

Its a shoppers dream-come-true with lots of branded (marvel/Harry Potter/Toons etc) merchandise are available here. But these are slightly on the expensive side. Not really a 'value-for-money' but then, if you really want to collect nice souvenirs, and do not mind spending for it, this is the place for you!

So deciding between the IOA and Universal Studios: This one is really a tough choice to make! Both are extremely good amusement parks. However, if it really comes to it, I would recommend that you chose the Island of Adventure simply because it has more variety and a little something for everyone! There is a better mix at IOA and you do not begin to feel repetitive at the end of the day. My review for Universal Studios would follow shortly as well for those who wish to study further before making a decision. Visited November 2013"
Islands of Adventure consists of seven themed "islands," only one of which utilizes movie tie-ins with Universal Pictures. They are, in clockwise order from entry, Port of Entry; Marvel Super Hero Island; Toon Lagoon; Jurassic Park; The Wizarding World of Harry Potter; The Lost Continent; and Seuss Landing.

Port of Entry is the park's main entrance and is home to many shops and services, including Guest Services, aptly named The Open Arms Hotel. The park's iconic centerpiece, Pharos Lighthouse, is also located within Port of Entry. Each night, this real, functioning lighthouse sends out a bright beam to lead visitors to and from the park's gates. Like many theme parks using the "hub and spokes" format, this entry Island contains no rides, and is primarily noted for its restaurants and shops. Its main features are the Confisco Grille restaurant, one of two full-service restaurants in the park, and the Islands of Adventure Trading Company, the park's primary gift shop. An attraction information board, featuring live wait times, is located near the shore of the lagoon.
The area is home to a variety of dining outlets and merchandise shops. Food and beverage items can be purchased from Confisco Grille, Croissant Moon Bakery, Cinnabon, and Arctic Express. Merchandise items can be bought from a variety of themed stores including Islands of Adventure Trading Company, Ocean Trader Market, DeFoto's Expedition Photography, Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe, Island Market and Export Candy Shoppe, and Port Provisions.

Marvel Super Hero Island has rides inspired by Marvel comic books and focuses primarily on thrilling rides. The island features such Marvel characters as Wolverine, Captain America, Spider-Man, and The Incredible Hulk, along with some villains such as Doctor Doom, MODOK, Magneto, Green Goblin, and Kingpin.
Many characters are owned not just by Marvel but have visual licensing deals with other companies. Spider-Man and some of his supporting characters are owned by Marvel, but they have a visual licensing deal with Sony. The X-Men and Fantastic Four and some of their supporting characters are owned by Marvel, but they have a visual licensing deal with Fox. Also, Hulk is owned by Marvel but has a visual licensing deal with Universal.

In late 2009, The Walt Disney Company announced that it had sought to acquire Marvel Entertainment. Universal announced that Marvel's new ownership would not affect Marvel Super Hero Island, and Disney CEO Robert Iger acknowledged that Disney would continue to honor any contracts that Marvel currently has with Disney competitors. In March 2012, Iger revealed that Disney had begun preliminary concepts of incorporating Marvel's properties into their parks, although no major negotiations with Universal were announced. Hong Kong Disneyland has since announced an expansion to its park featuring characters from the Marvel Universe. Marvel Super Hero Island is notable for its unique, comic-book styled architecture.
Many of the building interiors are created in what could be considered comic book perspective, with exaggerated lines and angles. Meanwhile, many exteriors are painted in a special paint which appears to change color based on the angle from which it is viewed – sometimes purple, sometimes orange. Perhaps most notably, the buildings are all labelled generically, as one would expect the buildings in the background of a comic panel to be: "Store," "Shop," "Food," and "Comics," instead of detailed names and logos.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter area officially opened to the public on June 18, 2010. On May 31, 2007, Universal Orlando announced that it had secured the rights from Warner Bros. and from British author J. K. Rowling to bring The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to Islands of Adventure. The 20-acre island features attractions, shops and restaurants set inside such locations as the Forbidden Forest, Hogsmeade Village and the iconic Hogwarts Castle. Ground breaking began in 2007, with the official opening scheduled for June 18, 2010, as announced on March 25, 2010. As part of the promotion for the then-upcoming area, a behind-the-scenes documentary on production of the park section is included on the Blu-ray and DVD release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
The area is home to a variety of dining outlets and merchandise shops. Food and beverage items can be purchased from The Three Broomsticks Inn, a restaurant with typical British dishes, The Hog's Head Pub, where you can sip on spirits and drinks inspired by those in the Harry Potter stories, and the Butterbeer Cart, where guests can enjoy the delectable frozen or cold butterbeer.

Merchandise items can be bought from a variety of themed stores including Zonko's, Honeydukes, Owl Post (a working post office), Dervish and Banges, and Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods (at the exit of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey). In the Wizarding World, there are five main attractions. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the section's signature attraction, is located inside Hogwarts Castle and takes guests through scenes inspired by the Potter books and films.
Dragon Challenge, previously known as Dueling Dragons, is a pair of intertwined inverted roller coasters. Flight of the Hippogriff, previously known as Flying Unicorn, is a Vekoma junior roller coaster. Ollivanders is an interactive shopping experience based on the Harry Potter Ollivanders wand shop. There is also a singing Frog Choir and a Triwizard Spirit Rally held in the town center. These events feature Hogwarts, Beauxbaton, and Durmstrang students. It has now been rumored that in the near future, Jaws, Universal Studios, that shut down, will be made into Diagon Alley.

Seuss Landing is specially geared towards small children and is based on the works of author Dr. Seuss. It has several Seuss-themed attractions. There is also a Green Eggs and Ham Cafe and Circus McGurkus restaurant. As in the books, one of the unique characteristics of this area is that there is not a single straight line anywhere. Palm trees bent by the winds of Hurricane Andrew were even installed in the area to continue this theme.
The area is home to a variety of dining outlets and merchandise shops. Food and beverage items can be purchased from Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous (The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride), Green Eggs and Ham Cafe (opened seasonally), Hop on Pop Ice Cream Shop, and Moose Juice, Goose Juice. Merchandise items can be bought from a variety of themed stores including Cats, Hats & Things (The Cat in the Hat), All The Books You Can Read (The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride), Snookers & Snookers Sweet Candy Cookers, and Mulberry Street Stores Trading Co.

Seuss Landing includes six attractions inspired by Dr. Seuss' books. The Cat in the Hat is a dark ride that takes guests through the Dr. Seuss story of the same name. The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride is a twin-tracked tour above and around Seuss Landing. One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish is a spinning ride with a musical riddle that will help riders escape water-spitting fish. Caro-Seuss-el is a Seuss themed carousel. Oh, The Stories You'll Hear is a stage show based on the Dr. Seuss books and characters. If I Ran the Zoo is an interactive play zone for kids.

Stay Safe

Like most cities in America, there are certain areas of Orlando which are more dangerous than others. Some areas travelers should be cautious of are:
  1. Parramore District, area in downtown Orlando is a location where a lot of the area's homeless population congregates and crime rates are higher in this area.
  2. Orange Blossom Trail, south of Sand Lake Road is known to be a a bit of an unofficial red light district. Drug and prostitution related crime is common here. Prostitution is not legal in Orlando, so you could spend a night in jail if you decide to indulge.
  3. Pine Hills, located around Silver Star Road and Pine Hills Road west of John Young Parkway. This is a lower income area that has struggled with high crime rates. The Greyhound bus station is in Pine Hills and is a place to use caution.
While it is unlikely that any one individual would experience serious crime in these areas, tourists stand out in these areas, and can unwittingly do things that can make them targets for criminal behavior, so it is sensible to stay away. While crime in the Orlando area is not particularly high, with the annual tourists far outnumbering the regional population (~2million), a substantial amount of local crime ends up being directed at tourists. The most common crimes are theft of items from cars and hotels, so following common sense travel precautions are particularly important in an area like Orlando.
  1. Never leave valuable items in your car unattended, get any purchased items to your hotel room as soon as possible.
  2. Never leave small children unattended for any length of time, especially at a pool. Most hotel pools do not have lifeguards.
  3. Hotel room invasions do occur, especially open-air hotel and motel rooms when the victim leaves their hotel room unlocked and not dead-bolted. When you are in a hotel room, always lock your doors behind you, even if you expect someone in a minute or two.
Extreme Temperatures, Never leave children, pets, or the elderly in a parked car for any length of time! Due to high temperature for most of the year, the interior of a parked car can easily heat to lethal temperatures in a short amount of time. During the summer, the interior of a parked car can reach 130-170ºF (55-75ºC) in just 15 minutes, regardless of the color of the exterior or interior, or whether the windows are open a small amount. You not only risk death, but it is illegal and the consequences are taken VERY seriously, including thousands in fines and even imprisonment.

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