The only way to get into Gatorland is to walk straight into an alligator's toothy maw. The giant mouth provides entrance to 110 acres of marshy wildlife preserve––home to a vast ecosystem populated by thousands of alligators, crocodiles, and birds, including rare wading birds and four rare white alligators. Among these, more than 130 gators splash and lounge in the park’s breeding marsh, which visitors can view safely from a three-story observation tower or while sitting on the shoulders of Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Yet one of the biggest thrills of Gatorland is the reptile's raw power. Visitors can see this on full display during the Gator Jumparoo show, where alligators leap four to five feet out of the water to snag food directly from a trainer’s hands, or during the Gator Wrestlin' Show, where a handler demonstrates survival skills. True thrill-seekers can even dangle over the breeding marsh while riding the 65-foot-tall Screamin’ Gator Zip Line. And to experience the unsettling sensation of stumbling upon a swamp filled with alligators at night, the Night Shine takes participants deep into gator territory armed with only a flashlight and a few hot dogs.
When Amy, a little girl with leukemia, was unable to fulfill her wish to visit Orlando’s theme parks before she passed away, hotelier Henri Landwirth vowed that he’d never let a child in need’s wish go unfilled again. So he enlisted his colleagues in the hospitality and theme-park industries to help him make his vow a reality. His idea, Give Kids The World, expanded to a 70-acre resort village with more than 140 villa accommodations for wish children and their families, plus entertainment attractions and fun activities specially designed for children with special needs. The organization works with wish-granting organizations, such as Make-A-Wish Foundation, to fulfill any wishes to visit Orlando-area theme parks. In 2011, more than 7,000 wish children and their families from all 50 states and 25 countries visited the resort for a cost-free vacation.
A staple of the nation’s standup scene since the first location opened in 1963, Improv comedy clubs have been popping up all over for nearly 40 years. The venues have played an instrumental role in the early careers of famous jokesters such as Bette Midler and Jerry Seinfeld. Now firmly established in locales from Florida to California, Improv comedy clubs draw big-name acts and ambitious up-and-comers.
Andrei and Irina Roublev spent nearly 20 years in the circus industry, including a stint in the colorful antics of Cirque du Soleil. As the founders of Orlando Circus School, they pass on their knowledge to children and adults via a range of circus-skill-building programs. Their instructors—many of whom are current or former members of Cirque du Soleil themselves—helm classes in preschool circus acrobatics, all-ages trampoline skills, and Hula-Hoops. The school also hosts all-ages tutorials on the most vital of circus skills, including unicycling, juggling, wirewalking, and unicycling bear-avoidance. During training for the static and swinging trapeze, students learn how to hurt gravity's feelings as they flip through the air using the trapeze, silks, and hoops.
Orlando Circus School’s classes and open-gym sessions are held inside a training and production studio equipped with moveable, colored lights that allow artists to stage full performances and see if they look best with blue or orange skin.
As one out of six children from a family of modest income, a 13-year-old Alfred Mann entered the cooking and hospitality industry out of necessity. Luck finally struck him when, throughout the 1990s, he met face-to-face with John Smoltz, Tyra Banks, and the Orlando Magic basketball team, all in his capacity as a chef. Since then, he's continued to hone his art while cooking for a range of celebrity actors, athletes, and visiting dignitaries as the head of Elite Catering & Events. Chef Mann and his team draw on experience working with culinarians including Emeril Lagasse to perform catering and personal-chef services, letting customers revel in at-home feasts or flaunt the strength of papier-mâché banquet tables. In addition to crafting gourmet fare for large and small events, staff members pass on their culinary legacy through cooking classes and assuage clients' tension with home spa services such as chef nights, massages, and aromatherapy.