With its gleeful bombast, over-the-top showmanship, and extravagant deployment of dreams as quotidien entertainment, Orlando may be the most "American" city in the nation. It's also the most popular family destination on earth; some 50 million visitors a year flood its theme parks and hotels in ceaseless pursuit of childhood fantasy (or regression). While the vast majority of the crowds orbit the big-ticket amusements furnished by Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida, and SeaWorld, more determined travelers will uncover a surprisingly sophisticated, albeit lesser-known city rooted in Old Florida values if they take the time to seek it out.
Taking a theme-park backstage tour—whether a Segway ride through Epcot’s World Showcase (before it opens), a wildlife encounter on the Animal Kingdom’s Backstage Safari, or a chance to interact with sharks at SeaWorld.
Catching a space-shuttle liftoff at close range at the Kennedy Space Center, just an hour’s drive away.
Riding at least one hair-raising, scream-until-you’re-hoarse ride: perhaps the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror free-fall at Disney’s Hollywood Studios?