Once upon a time, Orlando tourism officials worried about competition from Las Vegas. Both cities have a reputation for top-notch, can’t-get-it-anywhere-else entertainment, and Las Vegas had just rolled out a family-friendly marketing campaign. Orlando officials figured that vacationers would consider both spots.
That Vegas-versus-Orlando competition remains today as groups book conventions, since most industries know they attract the maximum amount of attendees by holding their convention in a city with peripheral entertainment. If attendees can take the family on a vacation at the same time, they can deduct part of the cost from their taxes. That competition is not true for visitors in general, however. Vegas’ attempt to capture the family market failed miserably, ending with its famous “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” marketing campaign.
That leaves Orlando.
But Orlando doesn’t retain the “King of Family Vacations” crown simply because Las Vegas stumbled. Orlando keeps the crown because people do not leave disappointed. Visitors may leave broke; they may leave stressed; but they don’t leave disappointed.
- Most kids and even adults have at least one event that lives on in their mind. For smaller children, it might be meeting Mickey Mouse or another favorite Disney character. For adults, it might be an amazing night out, an appreciation of new technology, a giant killer whale, or a break from the mundane.
- It’s warm. In winter months, Florida attracts visitors from the tundra north of Georgia.
- It’s pretty. Even when old man winter strips northern trees of their green foliage and turns their ugly brown branches into withered fingers that scrape the sky, hundreds of invisible landscape artists make Orlando look better and more organized than it would in real life. Trees are green, flowers bloom, and crickets sing the sounds of summer.
- You’re rich. Vacation money isn’t real money. You spend it differently. You don’t wash your own towels, or serve your own meals, or do your own dishes. You buy things you wouldn’t buy elsewhere. Overspending feels nice.
- The top reason: Something good happens to people. In Orlando theme parks, evil loses and good wins. The bad guys have no redeeming traits and garner no pity. The good guys had bad luck, but they overcome all odds. Attractions retell America’s history and stir patriotic feelings, or they remind you that people share a common bond of humanity and then celebrate our similarities. The good feelings come in small waves but happen many times during a one-week vacation.
These good feelings are no accident. In planning Disneyland and then Disney World, Walt Disney viewed the rides as mini-movies, and gave each a plot leading to a conclusion. Just as movies manipulate emotions, Orlando’s top attractions toy with your feelings.
On Main Street, U.S.A., for example, storefronts look like turn-of-the-century America down to the smallest detail. Subtle music mimics the era, even if written for a musical in 1950. A fake cookie smell gets your nose involved. It’s make-believe but well done. You know it’s not real, but when three of your five senses – sight, smell, and hearing – back up an illusion, it’s hard not to feel something.