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Orlando, Florida

Theme Park Central

In the beginning there was only Walt Disney World at Lake Buena Vista near Orlando. Synonymous with the Magic Kingdom and patterned after its West Coast partner, Disneyland, it was the dream vacation of every American kid. You no longer need a child in tow as a reason to vacation here. Orlando has become a giant and permanent world's fair. It's the number one tourist destination in the United States and keeps on growing–new theme parks, hotels and resorts, sports facilities and communities plus ongoing changes to update the older attractions.

We recently spent a weekend there (sans offspring) and were as entertained as if we had seen "the seven wonders of the South." For movie buffs there's Disney-MGM Studios and Universal Studios. Visit both for each is a treasure trove of Hollywood lore and a unique way of looking at some of the silver screen's best moments. The rides take you behind the scenes at the studios to show how things work; all the fires, hurricanes, explosions, stunts and illusions that make motion pictures thrilling.

Bates Motel, Universal Studios theme park (credit: Edwin Fancher)

New this season at Disney-MGM is the Hollywood Tower Hotel, done with the detail that is Disney's genius. It's so real that if its once grand style hadn't gone to seed you'd swear you could check in and find that Norma Desmond's Sunset Boulevard home is next door. Visitors scream with delight as they plunge 13 stories down the elevator shaft. Another recent production is a lively film about how animators, actors, musicians and technicians worked together to make "The Lion King." Take the Great Movie Ride, which begins at the Chinese Theater, and see snippets of scenes from classics such as "Casablanca" where Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman saying good-bye is simulated with Audio-Animatronics, the Disney technique of using life-sized manikins. A day should do it to visit all the shows and tours, but leave time to wander around for this is a working studio with real sets. www.disneyworld.com

We've been to EPCOT several times, but continuously enjoy returning. There's always an attraction that has just opened, we missed before or liked so much last time that it warrants a repeat. For example, Innoventions East and West are two new pavilions that showcase the latest ideas and inventions for future home, work and play and the Wonders of Life explains just about everything you ever wanted to know about the body and health. You could spend the better part of a day here exploring the many interesting exhibits.

At Universal Studios take the V.I.P. tour, which lasts four hours and zips you to the front of the lines. The major events are themed to match some of the most popular films, film makers and TV series of all times– "Jaws," "E.T.," "Back to the Future," "King Kong," "Earthquake," "Murder She Wrote," "I Love Lucy" and the world of Hanna Barbera. But the standout interactive show is the one in three parts at Hitchcock's 3-D movie house. A montage of memorable moments from his many films are seamlessly spliced together for one take your breath away experience. "The Birds" fly in your face and you learn a "Hitch trick" as you see the reenactment of the famous shower scene from "Psycho." Universal Studios has six sound stages and diverse studio sets. We liked strolling Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, New York's Gramercy Park and San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. www.universalstudios.com

Where To Stay

Radisson Inn Maingate located in Kissimee, about one mile from Disney World's main entrance and close to other central Florida attractions, offers large rooms and suites with Roman-style tubs (room for two) at reasonable rates. There are two lighted tennis courts, an outdoor heated pool, nice amenities like a fruit basket and a wonderful friendly staff. We liked the room service pizza menu and the meals at Humphey's, particularly the Friday night seafood and the breakfast buffets.

Radisson Inn Maingate, 7501 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, Kissimee FL 34747. Tel. 800-333-3333, 407-396-1400. www.radisson.com

Winter 1994-95