What is theme park city USA? Most travelers would say Orlando, Florida. When Walt Disney World came to town in 1971, Orlando’s population was slightly more than 500,000. Now it’s more than 2 million. According to blog.cushwake.com, the Orlando area’s people-count grew by 3.2% this year.
Ruth and I went to Orlando about a month ago. It was her 2nd time there and my first. Orlando was the only American city of more than one million people that I had never been to, and I wanted to see it for that irrational reason.
Was it worth it? Yes and no. Orlando is the kind of town best visited with children. Almost every ad and brochure about it shows grinning kids or happy couples with at least 2 children. We had no children with us this time. I found Orlando ridiculously expensive. It cost us more than $20 just to use the toll road to get there from Fort Lauderdale, and we had to pay another toll to get to our hotel. We planned to spend an entire day at Epcot until several people told us that it was not worth $94 per person. They said the international idea remained viable but that its attractions were tired and needed overhauling, at the very least. There were plenty of other theme parks to focus on, but a city of this size with massive road construction projects everywhere and poor signage made it difficult to get around and ate up both time and desire.
The best way to visit Walt Disney World, we quickly learned, was to buy multi-day tickets that included discounts. We were only there for a couple of days, which made this less-than-useful information. Again families with deep pockets would definitely benefit from this new change in ticketing options as long as they didn’t mind going back to Disney for several visits. And other big changes are coming. In 2021 a Guardians of the Galaxy rollercoaster is due at Disney. It will be one of the world’s longest enclosed rollercoasters. There will be several changes at Epcot too. By 2020, for example, the traditional fireworks display will be history and there will be a new nighttime spectacular set to Disney music. Any decent theme park is constantly changing its offerings to attract families.
I did not find Orlando an especially excellent place for adults seeking culture. Its main museum named after Charles Hosmer Morse bragged about its Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass collection, and I’m sure its fine if you haven’t seen much Tiffany stuff in other museums. But we have. In fact, I’ve seen enough Tiffany glass to last a lifetime, and we were in Orlando on a Monday, the typical day for museum closures. The Kennedy Space Center was not incredibly far away but did require some travel time. Our AAA book about Central Florida encouraged us to visit all-ages Wonder Works to “experience the wondrous world of science…and try to stand in 71 mph hurricane winds.” One AAA consultant at home spent some time trying to get Ruth and me to go to Gatorland. She said that when she lived in Orlando, this attraction that has been around for 68 years was her favorite. Universal’s Volcano Bay wanted me to “ride the Ko’okiri Body Plunge”. Its main attraction is a 70-degree fall through a drop door. The AAA calls this “white-knuckle fun”.
Brightline is coming! In the future, people heading from Miami to Orlando will be able to hop aboard a relatively high speed (up to 125 mph) train to make the 235 mile trip in 3 hours. There is no estimate of ticket cost yet, but this project will require at least $2.5 billion to complete. Eventually. I think I’ll wait until its operational to return to Orlando.