Publicity, Angelo Dal Bó, Anna Carolina Negri, Marcus Steinmeyer
How to avoid lines? What are the best attractions? Which pass to buy? A guide offering tricks and secrets to five of Florida’s amusement complexes
The colorful fireworks in the sky on the 4th of July set the tone: Independence Day in the United States right in the thick of the American summer. It’s one of the busiest times of year in the city of Orlando, which is occupied by hordes of tourists from all over the world, people from other parts of the country and abroad united by a single wish: to enjoy the more than 15 amusement parks in Orlando and its surroundings. Entertainment guaranteed, of course, but also synonymous with lines, hustle and bustle, and competition for the best experience. With so much to see, you’ll need to know some tricks to help make good time, save money, and even discover some Easter eggs (hidden details that only the most attentive fans recognize) in the parks.
Disney World’s magical secrets
Getting to explore Andy’s backyard from Toy Story was no doubt something lots of kids dreamed about. In June 2018, it became a reality with the opening of Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is part of a series of recent additions that include Pandora — The World of Avatar in 2017 and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which should open in 2019. There are can’t-miss new arrivals in a complex already filled with attractions, divided into four parks: in addition to Hollywood Studios, there’s the super-modern Epcot, whose pavilions represent various countries; the classic Magic Kingdom, straight out of fairy tales; and the wild Animal Kingdom, perfect for nature lovers. A magical place, as they say, but also one filled with secrets.
Have fun: The parades and fireworks displays usually take place more than once. Try to make it to the repeat performances, which are less crowded.
Mickey Mouse and the princesses are easy to find, but only at the Animal Kingdom is it possible to see DiVine, a performer who teaches about the importance of nature.
There are Mickey Mouses tucked away all over Disney World – over 1,000 of them, including a silhouette on the wall or even a pile of rocks. They’re known as Hidden Mickeys and there are even guides for finding them.
Save time: Admission to Disney World includes a FastPass+, a service that lets you reserve access to three select attractions. After, you can reserve other fast entrances via the My Disney Experience app.
Main Street inside the Magic Kingdom is always packed, so if you want to get across quickly, you can make your way through the shops, which are all connected.
Tasty tips: Like gum? You’ll have to bring your own. You can’t buy chewing gum anywhere inside the complex. Walt Disney himself made this decision, not wanting the rubbery sweet to get stuck on the ground or visitors’ shoes.
Cut the line: Two adults and lots of kids? Buy the Rider Switch. With it, an adult can accompany part of the little ones on one ride while the other waits to go with the rest on the next one – but with no line.
Behind the scenes at Universal Florida
Imagine a planet that brings together all your favorite characters from movies and TV: Harry Potter, Beetlejuice, Bart Simpson, Indiana Jones… This is Universal Orlando. The complex is comprised of three theme parks (Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay), in addition to hotels and a center with shops and restaurants. Among the thematic areas, which include the worlds of Marvel and Jurassic Park, the most popular is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, entirely dedicated to the child wizard. And there’s no shortage of new features here: 2018 saw the arrival of Fast & Furious – Supercharged, which simulates an exciting chase from the action franchise. Coinciding with the Halloween season, a temporary event inspired by the Netflix series Stranger Things will be held from September to November.
Save time: Though the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is divided between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, it is possible to explore the two areas thanks to the Hogwarts Express train.
Get connected: The advantages of the free Universal Orlando app include a free wifi connection, available at the two theme parks and Universal CityWalk.
Have fun: At the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster, you can choose the songs on a secret playlist. Press the logo on the car’s screen for 10 seconds and select tracks from artists such as Kanye West and No Doubt.
Economize: There are a number of different tickets to the complex. A few deals are sold exclusively on the internet: the Explorer Ticket (which gets you 14 days of unlimited access), for instance, can only be purchased online.
Cut the line: Another extremely handy app is Wait Times: Universal Orlando. It lets you know the estimated time you’ll spend waiting in line for each ride, making it easier to plan the best time to visit each one.
Tasty tips: Those staying in the complex’s hotels can plan their meals in advance. In addition to providing customized options at over 100 establishments, the Universal Dining Plan has special prices!
Planet bargain: Legoland Florida
Getting in on the fun takes on an almost literal meaning at this park, the second biggest LEGO complex in the world, only smaller than the one in Windsor, England. It has approximately 58 million LEGO bricks used in over 50 attractions, including the Dragon Coaster (a medieval roller coaster) and Miniland USA, home to models of cities like New York. The space is appropriate for kids ages 2 to 12. From April to October, the complex also features the LEGOLAND Water Park, with a beach resort, wave pools, and even rafting with floating LEGO bricks.
Have fun: Roller coaster and virtual reality are combined at the Great LEGO Race, inaugurated in 2018. Put on a digital helmet and experience a simulated race.
Trade MiniFigures: employees have badges with little LEGO figures. Bring one and trade with them in order to get an exclusive model.
Economize: Some attractions have a minimum height requirement, like the Flying School (an adventure on rails for anyone over 3’6” / 1.12 m).
Adrenaline rush: Busch Gardens
Tampa is located around 93 miles [150 km] from Orlando in western Florida, but it’s worth the trip. The city’s home to Busch Gardens, an African fantasy where everything is related to life in the jungle: from the names of the sections (Congo, Pantopia, Jungala…) to the inspiration behind the rides – like the Cheetah Hunt, a roller coaster that reaches the same velocity as the fierce feline, or the Falcon’s Fury, an elevator that drops 330 feet [100 m], simulating the bird’s steep dive. It even has options for safaris with real animals. All this adrenaline has earned it a reputation of being for adults. Still, there are some activities for kids, like the Sesame Street Safari of Fun, which features characters from the children’s show.
Cut the line: The Quick Queue pass allows you to cut the lines on all available attractions. One catch: you can’t use it to go on the same ride a second time.
Tasty tips: It’s open beer time! Busch Gardens was founded in 1959 by a beer company and, during the summer, an action is held to commemorate its history, offering free samples.
To infinity and beyond at the Kennedy Space Center
Though it isn’t exactly a park, the NASA complex, located on Florida’s central coast, is guaranteed fun. Just over a 40-minute drive from Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is a witness to the history of mankind in space. There, you can see replicas and parts of original spacecraft, like the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Saturn V, which operated the mission to the moon. Incidentally, the actual moon is (literally!) within reach there, being that there’s a lunar rock which visitors can touch.
Get connected: The Astronaut Training Experience simulates an actual astronaut training session. When it’s over, diplomas are given to those who pass.
Tasty tips: There are a number of ways to find astronauts inside the complex: one includes visitors getting to meet a space veteran during a lunch.
Get connected: The KSC website has a calendar of rocket launches. With special passes, it’s possible to watch one live.
Which Florida theme park are you?
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