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What to do in Orlando
by Dawn Mills - WARPIG.com
Photography by Dawn Mills
You've bought your tickets, you've fueled up the car, packed your gun, compressed air tank, hopper, goggles and pods. The Paintball World Cup is on the horizon, just a few weeks away, but what else will you do between games in the city where entertainment reigns?
First things first. With an abundance of theme parks, there is the question - what should you bring? You want to keep your possessions to the bare minimum. Most parks have rules about what can be carried onto the rides, since so many people are either screaming too much to notice or have cowered in their bucket seats to realize that their sunglasses, purse and fancy camera have hurtled out of the speeding car to pummel some unsuspecting tourist in the head at high velocity. The parks have lockers set up all over the place, some of which are free and work on thumbprint scans, but what a waste of time to have to wait in line to put stuff in a locker, just to have to wait in line again to get it out before you head to another side of the park.
My advice - load up on the sunblock before you leave the car park area. You can't take drinks or food into the parks, so don't try. Leave any kind of knife, weapon, or sharp-pokey device at home, they often search for them at the gates, especially after dark. Take ID, credit card, cash and park tickets. Sunglasses are a good bet, provided you can stuff them in a pocket during the fast rides. Hats are a must, as Orlando's sun will eat your face. Take it from someone who has been there, wearing goggles on a sunburned face is not fun! When getting onto a ride, tuck the bill of your hat into the back of your shorts and lean back on it during the fast rides. You'll get the wind in your hair sensation and you won't lose your hat to the staff who clean up around the tracks. I always pack a zipper-lock plastic bag in my shorts pocket for my cell phone and car keys, because while some of the water rides look harmless, having your phone destroyed by Popeye's cronies will put a damper on your week of fun.
That's really all you need to have with you at a park; money, id, phone, keys, hat, sunglasses. Save the shopping adventures to the end of the day so you aren't lugging bags of souvenir t shirts, Thing One and Thing Two stuffed toys and the caramel apples your Mom requested.
Park hopper passes give you the convenience of hitting multiple affiliated theme parks in a single day, but make sure to read the fine print and plan accordingly. Some allow you to go to a new park, but not come back to the same park the same day.
Of course, being on Disney property for the event held at the Wide World of Sports complex, it's easy enough to get a park hopper pass to hit not only the Magic Kingdom, but MGM, the water park Wet N'Wild, Animal Kingdom or even EPCOT, if you're over the age of 60. For those who are over 60 or at least over 18, Pleasure Island is another Disney hot spot.
What's to do at each of these places? Magic Kingdom is rather like Disneyland, only laid out on a bigger piece of land and missing the Matterhorn roller coaster and submarines. MGM is a motion picture theme park with active television studios on site. It has two signature rides, the Tower of Terror and the Rockin' Roller coaster. If you did just two things at MGM, they would be worth the trip for anyone who has an adrenaline fixation. Keeping in mind that October in Florida means heat, a water park is not a bad idea if you want to cool off, though the hotel pool may provide as much entertainment. The Animal Kingdom would be an excellent time for anyone bringing a family who wants to escape the paintball games, it's very interactive and even educational in a fun way. Anyone who enjoys a zoo will love the Animal Kingdom. EPCOT, well, ok, you don't have to be over 60 to enjoy it. It has some fantastic restaurants and the seasonal displays can be extraordinary, but it's a far cry from the zip and crash of a roller coaster park. Pleasure Island is just that, a place to have a big time at night. With a lot of clubs to hop, the location is packed with bodies, music, bright strobes and plenty of beverages.
Don't want to do Disney parks? It's ok – Orlando is stuffed to the brim with other entertainment options.
Universal Orlando is just up I-4 from the Disney complex and has two parks for fun as well as a middle ground called City Walk which features many clubs, restaurants, movie theaters and tons of shopping. Universal Studios features a back lot environment to the movie and television production industry. It's geared to younger kids while it's sinister twin, the Islands of Adventure, just on the other side of City Walk has some of the best roller coasters this writer has had the pleasure to experience. Keep your personal belongings to a minimum, you can't ride the coasters if you have a backpack of any sort, they'll make you stuff your goodies in a locker and that just takes up good riding time.
After riding in literally every row of every coaster at IofA, I've decided to share the best kept secrets. For the Hulk, the front row isn't necessary, take the third row and smile for the cameras at the slow-down. Don't be fooled by the lack of line at the Dr. Doom Freefall ride, tucked away behind the buildings after you get off the Hulk. It's a nice jolt of surprise the first go-around - just make sure to keep your head back against the headrest. SpiderMan is a fun ride, more tame and easy for the kids to enjoy. It has nice special effects for those wanting a bit more. For the Dueling Dragons, a suspended coaster with two trains running simultaneously, grab your first taste with a longer wait on the Ice Dragon for the first row, trust me, it's worth it. After exiting the coaster, find the re-entry line, it'll save you a walk, and get on Fire. Row 3-6 for Fire is the best bet, though even the back seat is a good ride. Front row here is worth the wait if you have the time. Exiting the Dueling Dragons, you'll find yourself in the vicinity of Mythos, a restaurant of surprising quality, especially in the middle of a theme park! Have lunch there if you can. The Unicorn roller coaster on the other side of the Dragons is great for a little kid, or if they'd only let me, I'd ride it on roller blades, but for the serious connoisseur of the coaster, it's just too tame to be worth the line. Islands of Adventure has several water rides, remember the plastic zipper bag just in case, these rides can be tons of fun. After you get off of Popeye, head up to the observation area to take part in a little target practice of your own with the water cannons. Chalk it up to practice for the next game.
At City Walk, the Pat O'Brien's pub is a replica of the famous bar in New Orleans' French Quarter – but without the vague sense of being oggled and you don't have to worry you're standing in someone's waste as you step in from the alley. This is one of those rare occasions where the replica is better than the real thing. Having been to both locations, I can say the music is often better here in Orlando too. Pat O'Briens is a good time for those who like to sing along. It's a dueling piano bar where talented pianists play favorites or requests and the whole bar sings along. It's like kareoke without the microphone and spotlight. A must hit is Margaritaville, the staff is fast and friendly, the wings are great, and it wouldn't be a trip to Florida without being exposed to Parrotheads and a Jimmy Buffet song or two... or twelve.
Without a doubt, the extraordinary bonus of being in Orlando in October is Halloween Horror Nights. Every year Universal Studios decks out their sound stages with haunted houses, scare zones and some really creative actors for a blow out, month long fright-fest. This year, along with the most sinister character they've ever created, Jack, the evil clown, the theme features the biggest names in horror. Three words will bring to mind the scary movies of the 80's and 90's with Leatherface, Jason and Freddy. Halloween Horror Nights has won many awards for being the best Halloween entertainment, so it's worth a look. This year, there will be 8 new haunted houses, a full Freak Show, the must not miss Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure pop-cultre parody show and lots of spooky, fog filled alleys to walk down while being hunted by the undead, the recently dead and the ones who want you dead. My favorite activity is to park myself on a comfy spot to watch others get scared, as it takes a lot to frighten me. I do have a defect in that the fright of others is a huge kick, I love laughing at people running from the chainsaws or the 15 foot scarecrows, who will, if provoked, chase the visitors. The actors love the attention and seem to love what they do. If I didn't have to attend World Cup, I'd get a job there, simply to scare people too! This is an event for the mature though, don't bring the kids. The other mature part is that alcohol is served throughout the park, so make sure you've got someone to drive. And if Mom is offended easily by slayings, massacres or needless violence, she might want to give this a miss. Some, if not all of the City Walk clubs, will let you in without a cover charge if you have an HHN ticket stub, so the party can continue til 2 a.m. or so.
Old Town, the area just east of the event in Kissimmee, is right in the heart of where the old paintball World Cup was held, back in the 90's, though you'd never know it today, as development has encroached on the old wooded fields. The location has stuck as a meeting and greeting spot for paintballers, despite the tournament's move to a nearby pasture, and more recently Disney's Wide World of Sports. The fun at Old Town is maybe more like a county fair, but worth the walk over from the Days Inn Suites, if that's where you're staying. The giant swing, the Skycoaster, is worth a ride, but costs more than it should. You'll get a nice sense of freefall, not unlike what you get when you leap out of a plane. Be careful of your 'fun' at Old Town. Many is the time I've seen a paintball player throw up the night's 'fun' during morning play at the Cup. Just a word to the wise, chucking up through your mask will ruin your entire day. Sun on the Beach bar is an open air establishment and has become the standard place to congregate, whether you're drinking or not.
Over next to Universal off of I-4 is the indoor skydiving facility, SkyVentures. Hit the website listed above and print out the coupon if you think you might go. The fun of this place is not only the ability to fly longer than you would if you were hurtling towards the ground after a leap from a plane, but that your friends can mock you through the plexiglass windows while you do it. It's really very easy to get the right body shape to fly and as long as you don't laugh when you realize that the fan above is rather like the Fizzy Lifting Drink room from the original Willy Wonka movie, you won't come crashing down to the trampoline floor below.
Keep in mind that Florida is a state that has the occasional hurricane and World Cup is held during the middle of the hurricane season. Inclement weather can cause a delay of games. If there's lightning, just follow the Disney employees warnings about where to go. Don't swim during a lightning storm and don't walk around with a long metal pole held up in the air, unless your name is Benjamin Franklin.
The other bonus of Florida is that three-quarters of the state is surrounded by water. You cannot go wrong with Florida waters, whether it's to surf, to look at wildlife, be it manatee or alligator, or to snorkel or to SCUBA dive. Cocoa Beach is home to not only a couple of fine surf companies - not posers like Hollister - Cocoa Beach actually has a beach that is home to world class surfers. If you've ever been to Hollister you'll know it consists of some hard working people who pick crops...and that's about it, the beach is more than an hour's drive away. Cocoa is also snuggled up next to Cape Canaveral, where the Space Shuttle makes its launch. NASA has announced the intention to try to launch the next shuttle mission on October 23rd, so if you're early for the Cup and the mission isn't delayed, you might get to see the Shuttle Discovery take off. Both Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral within an hour or two of the event in Kissimmee.
Speaking of Kissimmee, it is pronounced “Kiss-Emmy”not “Kiss-a-me” - just to help you out. If you say “Kiss-a-me” to a local, they automatically know you're a tourist and just might charge you extra for whatever you're buying. Both Ron-Jon and Cocoa Beach Surf will have boogie boards and surf boards to rent, if you want to play in the water.
On the other side of the state, north of
Tampa, lies the Crystal River where the water is spring fed, with fantastic
visibility and a constant year round temperature of 72 degrees, which the
manatees simply adore. Each year in the spring, a group of high school
and college friends of ours descend on the state to take part in a week
of hilarity and fun with us. This past spring we did SCUBA, of course,
this is a yearly must, but we also hit the Crystal River tours of the areas
where manatees gather. Within seconds of the boat arriving, the manatees
swarmed around, and as soon as a snorkeler was in the water, they began
demanding to have their bellies scratched. Florida
law demands that a manatee be treated with respect. No attempts to
hold them will be tolerated, but they will love to have you scatch their
bellies, even rolling over to allow you more access. Going with a guided
group not only increases your chances of seeing several manatees, but also
will make sure you are instucted in how to interact with them safely and
legally, so you don't end up leaving in the back of a Fish and Wildlife
Further north up the coast from Cocoa, is the Daytona Beach area with its world famous Speedway. There is a large museum as well as a hands on challenge to do the 16 second Pit Stop where you get to change tires with the same tools the pros use. While I personally do not understand the allure of watching men you probably won't get to meet go round and round on a piece of pavement, the south is definitely defined by its love of NASCAR. One thing I've learned over the years of being southern - if you find yourself surrounded by hostile locals, just put three fingers in the air and say reverently, “Dale Earnhardt was a great man.” and they'll forget their gripe with you and start reminiscing about the good-ole-days, allowing you to escape without bloodshed.
For those of you who bring female family members or who are harboring a secret love of fashion shopping, the outlet shopping, I've heard, is bar none in Orlando. While I would be safe with a Nordstrom, Macy's, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales charge card, my only guilty pleasure for shopping is at the Home Depot. However, I do know that most of the female persuasion are much more inclined to wile away time in an air conditioned shopping mecca like the Mall at Millennia in Orlando or at one of the seemingly hundred options of Outlet Shopping scattered all around Orlando and Kissimmee.
All in all, there really is a lot to see and do in Orlando and the surrounding areas while you're here for World Cup. Bring the family, and your paintball obsession, and suddenly it's a vacation with "quality time." Make a big event of it and stay over for a few days after the Cup. Whatever you do, make the most of the trip, don't just bum around in the hotel rooms watching pay-per-view. Hang out, swim, scream and play hard at the tournament. Travel safe and we'll see you in October in Orlando!
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