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At first glance Orlando in Florida is all about Walt Disney World.
At second glance you might be able to appreciate that Walt Disney World alone covers four major parks and a bevy of water parks and other attractions that could easily occupy a reasonably active family for a week.
At third glance you realise there is Universal Studios, which demands a few days to get the most out of its Harry Potter attraction and other delights. But then you have to fit in SeaWorld, which also continues to expand with parks such as Aquatica and Discovery Cove and needs to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
Manta ride at SeaWorld
Then you need to think about the Kennedy Space Centre on the east coast of Florida and Busch Gardens out near Tampa to the west. At this point, you will have barely scratched the surface of what the Greater Orlando area has to offer.
The 51 million visitors every year can choose from more than 100 attractions. In the International Drive area alone you have dozens of things to do, ranging from the Congo River Golf & Exploration Co, with its 36-hole course and 25 live alligators, to iFly Orlando, a highenergy vertical wind tunnel that offers indoor skydiving on a column of air, to The Holy Land Experience, which re-creates the city of Jerusalem between the years 1450 BC and AD 66, and the water park Wet 'n Wild. Clearly, planning an Orlando holiday is complicated.
Taumata Race, Aquatica, SeaWorld
While there are several good guides – printed and online – one of the most useful sources of advice and information is Attraction Tickets Direct, which allows you to book and pay for your tickets in advance. Its website is also packed with news, information and advice (as well as special offers). Its staff are all geeky Orlando experts primed to answer questions on the relative merits of attractions and there's a forum section on its website for travellers to post queries. Here's our guide to one part of the Orlando jigsaw – the everexpanding SeaWorld parks – and the biggest Legoland in the world.
Synchronised swimming: There are plenty of opportunities to see dolphins across the SeaWorld parks
If you are inspired by the ocean, and life beneath the waves, Sea- World has the parks for you. The attractions include:
This is the water park with wave pools, two lazy rivers, beaches and water slides, including the high-speed tubeslide Omaka Rocka, and the Dolphin Plunge, which whisks guests through flumes amid a lagoon of jumping Commerson's dolphins. seaworldaquatica.com
An 'exclusive island oasis' where guests can swim with dolphins, snorkel with tropical fish and rays and hand-feed exotic birds. It is an all-inclusive, reservations-only adventure that includes a full day of activities, swim/snorkel gear, breakfast and lunch, plus a sevenday pass to SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay or Aquatica, SeaWorld's Waterpark.
The Grand Reef features variable depth swimming, white sandy beaches, and snorkelling experiences.
The park features 200 acres of up-close animal encounters, performances and attractions, including Manta, a 'flying coaster'; Kraken, Orlando's longest, tallest and fastest floorless roller coaster; and Shamu's Happy Harbor, a children's play area with rides.
The Shamu show, One Ocean, features spectacular whale activities including leaps and multiple whales performing simultaneously. Shows and animal exhibits include polar bears, beluga whales, manatees, sea lions, penguins, dolphins and more. New this year is Turtle Trek, a first-of-its-kind 3-D/360-degree film that will immerse guests in the journey of a sea turtle. seaworld.com
Due to open next spring, Antarctica promises a 'voyage to the bottom- of-the-world, to the coldest and windiest continent, to a place of ice more than 9,000ft thick. 'At this amazing new attraction, you'll be surrounded by the sights, sounds and awesome encounters found in this frozen place, embarking on a one-of-a-kind ride,' says the publicity. 'Antarctica – Empire of the Penguin combines closer-then-ever animal connections with state-ofthe- future interactive rides for adventures different each time.'
Only open since last October, this 150-acre park is in Winter Haven, 45 minutes south west of Orlando. It's designed for families with children aged between two and 12.
With more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, this is the biggest Legoland in the world. Its water park features a wave pool, build-a-raft lazy river, body slides and interactive water-play structure. florida.legoland.com
Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859, virginholidays.co.uk) offers seven nights in Orlando from £525pp. This includes return flights from London or Manchester, and accommodation at the Ramada Maingate West departing January 16.
Attraction Tickets Direct (0800 223 0324, attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk) offers the Orlando Freedom Ticket giving unlimited admission to all parks at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando plus SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens from £422 per adult and £387 per child aged three to nine.
A two-park SeaWorld and Aquatica ticket costs from £82 per adult and £77 per child.