Orlando: The Fantasy City

Universal Studios Florida

So I have totally fell behind on my travel posts. I’ve normally been pretty good at writing them but the last two months has been a complete blur. In November alone I went to four countries so there’s a decent amount to write about.

But before I start writing about the more exotic places, I need to clear out my backlog of American cities that I visited as part of work trips. The last one I wanted to write about this year was my trip to Orlando, which was around late October.

I’ve been to Orlando with my family when I was younger but as usual, it’s always a different experience when you go as an adult. You get to do things at your own pace and you get to dictate the rules in terms of what you want to do and where to go.

Lake Eola
An empty lake in the middle of the city.

When people think of stuff to do in Orlando, probably the most common thing people think about is Disney World because well, it’s Disney World.

I didn’t go to Disney World this time but while I was planning my trip, I realized that there’s like nothing to do in Orlando except visit theme parks.

It’s pretty amazing because if you go to Tripadvisor and look up things to do in Orlando, you literally only just get theme parks until 14th place, which is International Drive, a street where a lot of the theme parks are located.

Icon Park during the Day
Icon Park during the day.

Wikipedia says that Orlando contains 5 out of 10 of the most visited theme parks in world, which is impressive in and of itself. So when I was thinking of a subtitle for this post, I really wanted to use “The Theme Park City” but I already used that for Singapore of all places.

I don’t regret using that for Singapore since I really thought that Singapore felt like a giant theme park. Orlando feels different though because it doesn’t feel like a theme park, it just has so many of them. It’s like they just decided that real life sucks and they wanted to build out all of these places where you can escape from reality.

Since this was a work trip, we didn’t have a lot of time to actually do much in the city but me and my coworker decided to stay an extra two days to go check out Harry Potter World at Universal Studios.

I’ve finally made it to Hogwarts.

First, this is #CAPITALISM at its finest because Harry Potter World is split up between two of Universal’s parks so if you wanted to see the entire thing, you had to buy entrance to both of them, which naturally costs more. But that’s how they get you because of course you’re going to do that.

That said, it was actually a really nice experience. I like Harry Potter but I’m definitely not a diehard fan or anything. But when we walked into Diagon Alley and I saw the dragon and buildings, it honestly felt really magical.

As a designer and developer, I love creating things that provide memorable experiences and it really goes to show that if you have all the money and resources, you can really create something special. Like, you could make the same experience in virtual experience and already be incredibly successful but they were like nah and just turned fantasy into reality.

Diagon Alley
A dragon in Diagon Alley.

The attention to detail was incredible and the quality of the environments was amazing as well. It really felt like you were in the movies. They had everything from special currency, themed food and drinks, gimmicky wand stuff, and of course all the callbacks to the books and movies.

It was nice and definitely worth the money.

Aside from the Harry Potter stuff, they had a bunch of other themed things like Transformers, Fast and the Furious, and much more. It’s interesting because at the end of the day, everything in these parks are just fancy skins that are designed to evoke some sort of nostalgic feeling or memory.

They do a great job at it too. It’s actually really cool to just walk around the park and take it all in.

Jurassic Park x Harry Potter
There might be magic dinosaurs beyond these fences.

Another park that we ended up going to was Gatorland, which is a very different type of theme park with the theme being well, alligators. Instead of focusing on fictional or fantastic elements, Gatorland is a wildlife sanctuary where they just collect a bunch of alligators.

Those that know me know that I have this weird phobia of lizards. I can’t stand them and one of the reasons why I hate Florida is because they have so many lizards just crawling around. Oddly enough, I have zero fear of alligators so I actually really wanted to go to Gatorland.

Not only was the place incredibly scenic, they had a lot of gators and a lot of fun shows and experiences. Me and my coworkers ended up doing the feeding which meant you had a chance to throw slabs of beef at alligators before taking a picture with them.

You’re literally just like a meter away from like a hundred gators, which as you can imagine is really cool.

Gator Photos
Yes, those are real alligators.

In my opinion, a place called Gatorland can only either be incredibly disappointing or surprisingly fun. In this case, it was definitely the latter. Gatorland was awesome.

Aside from theme parks, we also checked out a few things in the city, but oddly enough, everything we checked out was themed in some aspect. For example, we went to Icon Park which isn’t a theme park, but rather some sort of outdoor hangout area with a bunch of restaurants and a Ferris wheel.

The park was pretty chill and we had a good time just eating ice cream by the Ferris wheel. It was neat because we watched a dude propose to a girl which was the first time I’ve seen that happen in real life. The girl said yes and the group asked me to take a picture of them.

I hope the picture turned out ok.

Icon Park at Night
Icon Park at night.

Another place of note that we went to was a speakeasy downtown called Hanson’s Shoe Repair. I’ve been enjoying going to speakeasies lately since they’re interesting and in this case, fits with the whole themed theme.

The place was kinda neat, you needed to find their password online to get in and the place had this old timey shoe repair theme going on.

Overall, Orlando is an interesting place. I don’t think I’d ever go back for Orlando, but rather go back for one of the many parks they have there. They’re not the cheapest things to visit but they really are special. Worth checking out a few of them if you have the time and money.

Author: Gary

Explorer, Creator, Gamer. #IDKAIST MSc and #UOITGameDev Alumni.

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