Orlando Beyond The Thrill Rides

Posted 12/13/2009

Orlando is a fantastic city that attracts millions of visitors each year with its great theme parks and wild thrill rides. Now, I am not afraid to admit to being a little bit of a wimp when it comes to the scarier thrill rides, which got me to thinking: Does the city really offer enough to do for the non-riders? We all know that the kids and teens have a blast here, but what about the grandmas who consider a wheelchair a wild enough ride for them? How about the people like me who are just plain old chicken when it comes to the bigger roller coasters? My time in Orlando proved to me that you can have a blast without ever setting one foot inside Space Mountain. Read on for my favorite picks for those who aren't "thrill riders" in Orlando.

EPCOT is one of the four Disney owned theme parks in Orlando, and it is actually twice as big as the Magic Kingdom itself. What I really like about EPCOT is that it has enough rides to keep thrill seekers satisfied over in the Future World section, but it also has plenty of exploration and low key touring to keep everybody else happy. The park is split into two parts: Future World has got a lot of exhibits, shows, and rides that gives a preview of future technology. This is the part of EPCOT where the Test Track roller coaster ride is, and while it's a super popular option there is just so many other things to do that I didn't feel like I was missing a thing. The ride in the EPCOT dome is the best thing here: Spaceship Earth is a slow ride that winds up through the the giant golf ball shaped dome. It is really well done, because it really feels like a journey through human evolution. It begins at the dawn of time and takes you straight through to today's technological wonders. My favorite section of EPCOT is the World Showcase area. This area is divided into 11 different "countries", with each having its own Pavilion where you will find authentic food, architecture, and products from each country. I was really impressed with the authenticity of each place. When I visited one of the Germany pavilion's restaurants for dinner, I got the best bratwurst and German beer I've ever had, served by a courteous German waiter. I loved the attractions in each Pavilion: It really does feel like you are transported into a different country in each Pavilion, and I got a painless lesson in world culture. I spent a whole day at EPCOT and feel like I could have easily wandered for at least another day.

Sea World has a special place in my heart. I visited several times as a kid, and some of the most enduring memories of my childhood were formed here. Feeding fish to the dolphins was a thrill beyond compare, and on this trip I learned that being an adult does not dilute that feeling at all: It is still absolutely magical to feed a pot of fish to these amazing gentle creatures. Quite a bargain too, since you can buy about 20 minutes of feeding these friendly bottlenose dolphins directly from your hand for under 10 bucks. The Shamu show is probably the best show there, but just considered yourself forewarned: Shamu is pretty good at splashing the crowd! The sea lion show is great as well but nothing can compare to Shamu. Sea World even offers a "dine with Shamu" option. This is a bit pricey, but it was really an unforgettable experience since this giant of the ocean would swim quite close to the diners upon his trainer's command. I always felt completely safe, but it really was a thrilling feeling to be literally inches away from Shamu. I plan to try the "shark dive" option next time around, although I need to build up the old courage a bit before I swim about with full sized sharks! Sea World does have a couple of roller coasters, the Manta and the Kraken, which are considered to be some of the best in Florida. However, they are very much an extra rather than the focus here.

I chose Universal Orlando Resort for my final day of Orlando fun because this was my first visit there, and I had heard great things. Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and the Citywalk shopping and dining area are all grouped together within the resort. I chose to visit Universal Studios and Citywalk, but didn't tour Islands of Adventure since it is primarily focused on thrill rides and major roller coasters. The Citywalk area is great for shopping and dining, but it really shines after dark: This is the spot for clubbing if you're so inclined, and I wish I had been able to take an extra night here. I actually really enjoyed a couple of the attractions at Universal Studios that are technically called "rides". These are nothing like the million miles an hour thrill rides, though: The Jimmy Neutron motion simulator ride was really fun, and is a big hit with kids and parents both. I loved the Shrek 4D film/ride, and any Shrek fan has to check this out because it tells the story of Shrek's life between Shrek and Shrek 2. The whole "4D" concept worked really well and did make me feel like I was actually in the film. There are plenty of fun activities, most based on slightly older movies like E.T., Men in Black, and Back To The Future.

I spent just three days touring Orlando without thrill rides, but I am pleased to report that I could have easily enjoyed a whole week in Orlando theme parks, even without riding a single roller coaster. The reason this city shines so brightly is not just its famous sun: Orlando really knows to to cater to every group and make us all feel welcome.

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