Orlando, Florida, home to the world’s largest McDonald’s, the world’s first Olive Garden, the world’s largest amusement park, Disney World, and various water parks of the highest calibre, presented the Reykjavík Grapevine with a profoundly difficult obstacle. We believe in recognising the value of diversity in our travel pieces: we typically try to show some different angle on lifestyles, on the things that make up the human experience, in the hope that we can express our admiration for people who aren’t like us.
But, then, we also promote local tourism, unique experiences, and diversity… so what does one promote in Orlando, where a Midwesterner reshaped swampland into his Illinois ideal so that people from throughout the world might visit and contribute money to a global entity? What of Universal Studios? A large McDonald’s? Surely there are qualities that suggest the power of the imagination?
Mercifully, the Grapevine’s marketing director managed this for us. The staff was under the assumption that Icelandair had courteously donated tickets and a stipend to allow us to travel through Orlando to conduct the four-part series on the Mississippi Delta, the heart of a music culture that has impacted the world, an area recovering from two hurricanes and severely impacted by American involvement in the Iraq War. Our marketing director left us to believe this until 45 minutes before boarding the plane to return to Iceland, when he informed the staff that our deal was only to cover Orlando.
How do you cover Orlando when all you’ve seen is two 7-11 convenience stores and the Orlando International Airport? (Other than to recommend the donut and Coke Slurpee combo for $2.29.) You apply the knowledge you have gleaned simply by consuming popular culture.
Going on my Midwestern childhood and on my own consumption of TV and magazine culture, I can recommend the following sites to people who want to visit the cultural hotbed that brought the world *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, Marilyn Manson and Matchbox Twenty. As I have not actually attended most of the attractions below, I can site no vices for them.
Disney World. When Dubai Land, in Dubai UAE opens in 2007, Disney World will no longer be the largest entertainment complex in the world. Until that time, this is the best place to go to see… 47 square miles of entertainment. And, to be fair, it is also the creation of a man of remarkable imagination. True, it was a man who treated his employees badly, including turning one animator over to the House Un-American Activities Council, but the man also gave the world Bambi—or at least his underpaid, striking employees did. Visit now, and you can enjoy the “Happiest Celebration on Earth,” which began May 5, 2005.
Universal Orlando Resort. Arrive hungry, because this location boasts a NASCAR Café, a Hard Rock Café AND a Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Beyond sell-out dining culture, there’s plenty of stomach-churning good times. With Jaws, ET and Shrek rides, Universal competes for the short attention span traveller. And, with an island dedicated to Marvel Superheros, including an Incredible Hulk Coaster, one of the best-rated roller coasters in the world, as you would expect.
World of Orchids. A greenhouse containing more than 1,000 orchids, this enormous conservatory is free, and presents itself as an intellectually stimulating alternative to Disney World. It also has an appealing website: www.aworldoforchids.com.
Jack Kerouac’s last house, 5169 10th Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida. Actually, just a ranch house he spent the last year of his life before dying from complications of alcoholism at the age of 47.
Gatorland. The oldest attraction in Orlando, Gatorland is a bit more economically priced than the other attractions, and it also uses flesh-eating living dinosaurs as the source of entertainment—it’s a win-win situation.
World’s Largest McDonald’s. (On corner of Sand Lake Road and International Drive) Is McDonald’s an attraction? When built as a giant French fry box it is. The building is so large, it could, conceivably, contain a cardiac care unit to manage the damage done by its own products.
Icelandair flies direct to Orlando from Keflavík. They provided the Grapevine with three round-trip flights to Orlando, and a stipend, to help us with the article above, and with our five-part Mississippi series. For more information, log on to www.icelandair.is.