Say "Orlando," and what comes to mind? Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney World, MGM Studios, Universal Studios, Sea World, restaurants, shopping, golf, tennis, professional sports.
Now, Orlando is reaching out to those who find "magic" in music and art, as well as at theme parks. A public-private partnership formed to promote Orlando's arts to visitors includes the Civic Theatres, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Enzian Theatre, LYNX Jazz Festival, Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando Philharmonic, Charles Hosmer Museum of American Art, Maitland Art Center, Crealde School of Art, Orlando Opera Company, Orlando Science Center, Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival, and Southern Ballet Theatre. A new CultureQuest shuttle service has 26-passenger buses that stop (with hop-on, hop-off privileges) at more than 15 of the area's top art, science, and historical attractions.
The new Orlando Science Center, with 42,000 square feet for permanent interactive exhibits, has a 310-seat CineDome for large-format films and Cosmic Concerts (laser light shows) and is the largest Digistar II Planetarium in the world.
The Orlando Museum of Art (Newsweek called it "one of the best museums in the South") is hosting an exhibition of TransAfrican Art until February 15. It will show the major private collection of contemporary art and painting owned by Edward R. Broida of Palm Beach, including the world's most comprehensive collection of works by Philip Guston, from March 11 to June 21, 1998.
The year 2000 will mark the opening of a new Orlando Performing Arts Center, a 350,000-square-foot project with a theater; a recital hall; three film and video theaters; and a hall for music, ballet, and opera.
Universal Studios is expanding to become Universal City Florida, a complete destination resort with more than 300,000 square feet of convention and meeting space. Additions will include a new theme park, Universal's Islands of Adventure, opening in 1999; and the E-Zone, a 12-acre entertainment complex, opening in early 1998. There will be four world-class hotels, including two Loews hotels: the Portofino Bay Resort, opening in 1999, and the Royal Bali Hotel, opening in 2000. Other additions: a Tom Fazio designed, 18-hole championship golf course; a championship tennis center; state-of-the-art convention and meeting centers; and expanded film and television production facilities.
A new entertainment center, Pointe Orlando, opened last summer with many specialty retailers and a growing list of nightclubs and theme restaurants where companies can hold dine-arounds and theme parties. Groups can use Muvico Theaters' 20 auditoriums, an IMAX theater, and a WonderWorks entertainment center with a private room that holds up to 200 for a cocktail reception or 150 for a sit-down dinner.
For meetings, there are many options to choose from, including a 733,000-square-foot convention center that will expand to 1.1 million square feet of exhibition space in 1998; the 23,600-square-foot Tupperware Convention Center; and an 110,690-square-foot Expo Center.
Hotel News Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, a moderately priced convention hotel with 1,900 rooms and suites and a 95,000-square-foot convention center, opened this past summer around a 15-acre golden lagoon with a five-story Mayan pyramid (see box on page 118).
* The new Wyndham Safari Resort in Lake Buena Vista opened in the fall with 490 themed guest rooms, including 96 suites and six executive suites. The resort evokes the feeling of a "civilized" wildlife safari. It has 4,100 square feet of newly renovated meeting and function space.
* The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin will complete a $15 million improvement program in early 1998. Soft good are being replaced in more than 2,000 guest rooms, and 72 meeting rooms are being renovated.
* At the 1,500-acre Grand Cypress Resort, The Villas of Grand Cypress recently completed a $1.3 million renovation. The resort features 45 holes of Jack Nicklausdesigned golf (recently proclaimed "spikeless") and the world-acclaimed Grand Cypress Academy of Golf, with private clinics for groups as large as 70 persons or as small as ten. The Mediterranean-style complex has 146 club suites and one- to four-bedroom villas, as well as its own plush, 14,000-square-foot Executive Meeting Center.
* The 750-room Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress has completed a $7.5 million renovation of guest rooms. The hotel has a half-acre swimming pool with 12 waterfalls and access to the Grand Cypress Resort's golf, racquet club, health club, and sailing and canoeing on 21-acre Lake Windsong.
* The mezzanine-level meeting space at the 814-room Hilton at Walt Disney World Village has been renovated. The Pavilion, popular for theme parties, breakfasts, and meetings, gained 4,000 square feet for a total area of 14,000 square feet.
* The 891-room Peabody Orlando is offering special room rates for the performance seasons of Southern Ballet Theatre and Orlando Opera Company.
* The 216-room Castle Hotel, with its towering spires and rooftop gardens and 7,600 square feet of meeting space, became a Doubletree-franchised property in December 1996, under the same management. With its sister property, The Universal Tower & Inn, it can accommodate groups in up to 150 guest rooms. Its parent company, Enterprise Hotels, has opened a central sales office for group bookings at (888) US-GRAND.
* At the Buena Vista Palace Resort & Spa, refurbishment of all of the 1,014 rooms and suites is complete. A new dialing system lets guests receive faxes and e-mail in their rooms without going through the hotel's operator.
* Recent expansion of meeting space at the Caribe Royale to 60,000 square feet now provides facilities for 20 to 1,000 attendees. The all-suite hotel has three towers, each with 406 suites.
* Marriott's Orlando World Center completed a $13 million renovation of all 1,503 sleeping rooms in September.
* The 298-room Renaissance Orlando Hotel-Airport, with 22,000 square feet of function space including two ballrooms, has a new 65-person amphitheater conference center.
* The Hotel Royal Plaza has invested $20 million to enlarge and renovate all of the 394 guest rooms, 22 suites, and eight banquet rooms.
* In Howey-in-the-Hills, 35 minutes northwest of Orlando, the Mission Inn Golf and Tennis Resort has undergone a million-dollar renovation and expansion. The resort now has 30,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as an additional 3,100 square feet overlooking the golf course at the clubhouse complex, with a new terrace of the same size for outdoor functions. In addition, the 40 rooms in the San Angel Wing have been extensively remodeled and redecorated.
* Grenelefe West Golf Course at Grenelefe Golf & Tennis Resort had tee markers rebuilt, bunkers redefined, and other general maintenance work done last summer in preparation for the PGA Tour Qualifying School Finals there this fall. Next up are renovations of many of the resort's 850 guest rooms, part of a multimillion dollar renovation program that started in 1995.
Venue Menu Walt Disney World continues its 25th Anniversary celebration through the end of the year. Cinderella Castle has been transformed into a cake with pink icing, giant lollipops, gum drops, and towering candles. "Remember the Magic" parade salutes returning guests. Mickey's Toontown Fair welcomes fans to meet Disney favorites in an old-fashioned, country fairthemed playground.
New at Epcot: Test Track, a GM automotive proving ground with a track of hills, switchbacks, and highways that throws a dizzying array of maneuvers at passengers. ABC has a new Sound Studio at Disney-MGM Studios where guests can create sound effects and see clips of upcoming ABC children's programs.
Downtown Disney (formerly Disney Village Marketplace) includes Pleasure Island and the forthcoming Disney's West Side, with new shopping, eating, and nighttime fun.
This year the multimillion dollar Walt Disney World International Sports Complex opened, with professional caliber training, competition,, and festival-events facilities; a 7,500-seat baseball stadium; and a 5,000-seat field house.
Next year also marks the opening of Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom, the largest of all Disney parks in the world, with thrill rides, exotic landscapes, and close encounters with wild animals.
Also in 1998, Walt Disney World will launch two cruise ships, Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, offering Walt Disney World visits and cruises in three-day/four-day combinations. Disney has also added a grand new luxury yacht that sails the Seven Seas Lagoon from the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. The 44-foot Sea Ray yacht, the Grand 1, will make morning and afternoon excursions, as well as elegant evening voyages for up to 12 persons. (For your qualifiers, arrange a trip with Beluga caviar, rich chocolates, French pastries, fine wines, and a private-service butler.)
Just opened at MGM: Goosebumps, a stage show starring frightful R.L. Stine characters. In 1998, Disney opens Copperfield Magic Underground, David Copperfield's 30,000-square-foot theatrical restaurant, at MGM Studios.
Sea World has added a dolphin-interaction program. Also new: Rockin' Nights Sensations, an every-night-is-Fourth-of-July party with fireworks and lasers. In 1998, Sea World opens Journey to Atlantis, a water-coaster thrill ride, in the largest expansion in the Anheuser Busch parks' history. Up to 1,800 people per hour will be plunged, eight at a time, into the middle of a fierce battle for the lost city of Atlantis.
In Kissimmee, 12 miles southwest of Orlando, the Splendid China theme park features its versions of more than 60 of China's most notable attractions, including the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Leshan Buddha, and Stone Forest. Live entertainment includes Chinese acrobats and dancers, and there are fine Chinese restaurants. Groups of up to 800 persons can be accommodated in several venues throughout park. New at Splendid China: the Magical Snow Tiger Adventure.
Seminole County, five miles from downtown Orlando, has pine woods, lush cypress swamps, marshlands, and hidden paths. Groups can take canoe rides on the Wekiva River, scenic pontoon rides down St. John's River, or airboat rides through alligator country on Lake Jessup.
Florida's Space Coast, 45 minutes from Orlando, is the site of NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center and Canaveral Air Force Station's museums and exhibits. Groups can attend United States Space Camp Florida, or meet in the Astronaut Hall of Fame or Valiant Air Command Museum.
Getting There Orlando International Airport is served by more than 30 scheduled airlines and 50 charters. The airport is 15 miles from major attractions and downtown Orlando. Shuttle vans and buses, taxis, limousines, and rental cars are all available. Taxi fare from the airport to International Drive or to downtown Orlando averages $23; to the Disney hotels, $35.
Tax and Money Matters There is a five percent resort tax and six percent sales tax, for a total of 11 percent.
How's the Weather? Temperatures from October to May range from the 50s to the mid 80s. Summer temperatures run from the upper 60s to the mid 90s. The busiest season, of course, is during the school holidays.