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An opinionated guide to Orlando’s parks

<p>At a place known for training a feared predator like the killer whale to blow kisses at fanny-packed tourists, it’s hard to believe that Sea World Orlando would offer visitors something as cool as shark dives — but indeed it does.</p>

Shark dives at Sea World are an unexpected treat





courtesy sea world orlando


Adventurous visitors go shark diving at Sea World Orlando.





At a place known for training a feared predator like the killer whale to blow kisses at fanny-packed tourists, it’s hard to believe that Sea World Orlando would offer visitors something as cool as shark dives — but indeed it does.


Not only that, but these close encounters of the absurd kind take place in the very same tank at which the aforementioned tourists alight with their disposable cams. So as far as onlookers are concerned, you’re nothing more than an on-staff, uh, fish-doctor type guy. And that was reason enough for this Jacques Cousteau Junior to pay a visit.


I nodded dismissively as I spat in my mask and climbed through the cage. As I dipped into a tank filled with over 50 sharks, I’d focus on one dorsal finned dude only to be startled by another as it came at me from the opposite side.


Overall, the dive was 10 times better than the Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island show, but not nearly as cool as the free beer over at the Anhueser-Busch Hospitality Tent. And that’s not the only big kid thing to do in Orlando, Fla.





Drag racing


With a course that takes runners through all four parks, the Walt Disney World Marathon has plenty of distractions for even the most shin-splinted of adventure travelers.


High-five a lemur-holding Goofy at Wilderness Adventures! Haggle with sombrero sellers at Epcot’s World Showcase! Giggle at the Abbot and Costello impersonators at MGM Studios! Hate them all by the fourth excruciating hour! I know I did during the last legs of the 2005 edition.


I had the bright idea where, every five miles or so, I’d change into a different female Disney character in an attempt to turn the 26-mile jaunt into a “drag” race, as it were.


To wit: I entered the starter’s line as the Dalmatian damning Cruella de Vil. At mile four I threw on Snow White’s Technicolor dream coat. From there I changed into — nay became — Cinderella, perfectly timed as the route veered through her Magic Kingdom castle.


By mile 14, I adorned Tinkerbell’s wardrobe (including a plastic bag full of pixie dust that I threw at the crowd) and, during the last hours, I was Minnie Mouse, where I gladly accepted a “finisher” medal made in her boyfriend’s likeness.


For those of you who actually enjoy long distance running, looking as sweet as a spoonful of sugar is a great way to get the crowd whistling zipadeedooda.





Universal appeal


Thanks to the addition of Universal Studios’ thrill-heavy Islands Of Adventure park in 1999, one needn’t dive into the waters of the Jaws ride or challenge a Jurassic Park raptor to a 10K in order to get your adrenaline going. Sure, some of the movie tie-ins to Islands’ attractions are a bit more suspect than its big brother across the lagoon (Storm Force Acceleration? Poseidon’s Fury? Dueling Dragons?) but they are sure to give your stomach a one way ticket to Dropsville. Pay a little extra for Express passes (they’re free if you’re staying at a Universal resort) and you can bypass the lines and cover both parks in a day.


While Universal boasts more genuine spills and thrills than the houses that Walt and Shamu built, many of the attractions appear a lot cooler from the back of the line than they do after you’ve exited the car in an orderly fashion — so I’ve taken the liberty of extracting the blockbusters (the Revenge Of The Mummy put the “curse” of adventure on me!) from the two-thumbs-downers (I own sock puppets scarier than the rubber monstrosities on the Jurassic Park ride).





  • Oscar Contenders: The Incredible Hulk Coaster; Shrek 4D; Doctor Doom’s Fearfall; The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man.




  • Straight-To-Video: Back To The Future: The Ride; Twister; Men In Black: Alien Attack; ET The Ride.



















gatorland returns


associated press file photo


On Nov. 4, a fire charred part of Gatorland, including the iconic front entrance.





• Gatorland, a 57-year-old Orlando theme park dubbed the Alligator Capital Of The World, has re-opened after suffering damage during a Nov. 4 fire, which destroyed a gift shop, offices and the giant gator jaws that formed the front entrance. The 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve features thousands of alligators and crocodiles along with birds and even a petting zoo; all exhibits and show areas are now open and functioning. See www.gatorland.com.



 
 
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