November 2011: There’s a danger with every list of top things to do in Orlando: One man’s treasure is another man’s junk. Got-to-see lists, by default, apply generally to everyone and specifically to no one. That’s true in U.S. News & World Report’s (a major U.S. news magazine) latest roster of 12 things to see in Orlando.
Perhaps the best example is No. 8, the Morse Museum of Art in Winter Park. If you appreciate art and love stained glass, it should be No. 1. If you’ve studied Tiffany stained glass, it’s mandatory. In fact, the Morse Museum will blow you away. It’s even worth a trip if you just think stained glass is “kinda pretty.”
But what if you don’t give a rat’s patootie about museums, and stained glass reminds you of church – and you hate church? It won’t even make your top 100.
Even if you think the Morse Museum is worthy of the top 12 Orlando attractions, what are the chances you’d list it at No. 8? Should it be 12? Should it be one? Any list is subjective, including some here on FAQOrlando.com. They tend to reflect the taste and preferences of the writer more than the attraction.
With that caveat, however, the magazine listed the following attractions, in order, that it thinks Orlando visitors should see
1. Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Until Harry Potter and his wizarding friends arrived, demand for this park was close to the bottom compared to the other major attractions, but now it’s at the top. Harry lovers must go. Others? Maybe, maybe not.
2. Walt Disney World. Universal has two parks; Disney has four; SeaWorld has one. I’m not sure why Disney’s four parks all get swept into a single category, or why it’s No. 2 – no offense intended to Harry Potter. Most people still come to Orlando to see Disney.
3. Discovery Cove. Interesting choice here. This pricy water park has few rides, but it allows guests to get close and even pet sea creatures, including dolphins. Prices run over $230 per person if you include the dolphin swim, and it might land in the No. 3 spot only for the well-to-do.
4. Pirate’s Cove Miniature Golf. No idea why this made the list, at least at No. 4. It’s a fun family activity, but certainly not unique to Orlando, and Pirate’s Cove isn’t even the only miniature golf franchise in Central Florida. Disney has two courses with unusual themes that don’t rely on volcanoes, crashed planes, and Windex-blue water. Maybe including miniature golf is U.S. News & World Report’s way of placating people who can’t afford No. 3’s Discovery Cove.
5. Universal Orlando Resort. The “resort” has two parks, an entertainment district, and three hotels – but one park is already listed as No. 1, so it’s unclear what this means. It could refer to Universal Studios, the second Universal park. But since writers lumped all the Disney parks into a single listing, they seem to be trying to do that here too, since they again talk about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Perhaps they felt Harry Potter deserves to be listed twice since it’s the current high-demand attraction.
6. SeaWorld. Orlando’s ocean-themed park makes the list at No. 6 after the magazine rolls all Disney parks into a single number. If all the major parks got their own slot, it might have been No. 7 – or lower if you prefer miniature golf.
7. Grand Cypress Golf Club. This is another must-see only for a select group – golfers. Orlando has many courses, however, including a number within Disney World. It might arguably be the best course if you can only play once, but including it at No. 7 on a list of all Orlando attractions seems a tad arbitrary.
8. Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of Art. This is the Tiffany glass museum mentioned above. It’s No. 1 for some, not in the running for others.
9. Harry P. Leu Gardens. This large park near downtown Orlando mirrors a lush subtropical Southern estate, and includes a look at life before air conditioning and lush local foliage. If you like that sort of thing, it’s wonderful. If kids want another ride on Space Mountain and you’re making them look at hydrangeas, it’s not.
10. Mall at Millenia. While this mall offers Orlando’s most upscale shopping and is certainly worth a trip, most visitors seem to prefer a bargain, such as those found in the massive outlet stores. If Mall at Millenia makes your top 12, you probably have a healthy checking account. Even then, however, many rich visitors from outside U.S. borders tend to focus on the outlets on International Drive.
11. Gatorland. If you have even a small desire to see the real Florida but want to do it all in one day with as little walking as possible, Gatorland is the place to do it. Every visit should include at least one attraction that doesn’t forget it’s in Florida. (See … even this writer slips in an occasional opinion.)
12. Wet ‘n Wild. Disney has two water parks with much better themes, and SeaWorld has one, Aquatica, where you can swim alongside fish. But Wet ‘n Wild delivers the best rides. Should it beat out the other three water parks? It’s not as pretty, but the editors of U.S. News & World Report must appreciate a good whitewater trip down a tube.