Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) sprouted from humble roots. In the early 1920s, a small group of artists met informally to display and
critique their pieces. They couldn't have known at the time, but those initial gatherings laid the groundwork for one of the most revered art museums in the United States. Today, the OMA is one of the select few American museums with national accredited status, and it has been showcased across the country by the likes of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other esteemed publications.
Every year, the museum presents around a dozen exhibitions onsite, as well as many more offsite. OMA pursues its goal of enriching Florida's culture by collecting, preserving, and interpreting significant pieces of art, which it brings in from places both near and far. Inside its walls, the OMA houses a number of collections, such as Contemporary American Graphics and American Art before 1945, a time when the art industry was inundated with paintings of Babe Ruth in his underwear. Even kids can reap the benefits of the museum's efforts, either through enrichment programs—which reach thousands of children annually—or by exploring the various interactive attractions.
Berto Ortega can't even remember the first time he picked up a pencil or paintbrush. By age 8, he was already a portraitist's apprentice while his peers were still working in the medium of macaroni and glitter. When he got older, Ortega bolstered his natural talents with a formal education at the Swain School of Design and Philadelphia's Studio Incamminati. Today, he teaches oil-and-acrylic techniques to painters of all experience levels. Ortega's own portfolio features portraits and landscapes rendered in a variety of styles: impressionist-inspired lilies, shadowy charcoals, and realist portraits in glowing hues.
The scenes inside SEA LIFE's tanks are like a Where's Waldo? book come to life, except the protagonists within the underwater tableau aren't awkwardly dressed like candy canes. Thousands of fish swirl through the waters, and you could easily spend hours picking out specific species.
Seahorses, on the other hand, swim in open view. So does other marine life—especially once you enter the ocean tunnel, which simulates the experience of walking across the ocean floor. Blacktip reef sharks roam overhead and flash their menacing teeth at the cownose stingrays, who appear to smile back.
The aquarium's more interactive attractions explain what makes undersea life so appealing. At the touchpool, for instance, education hosts explain the lives of coastal creatures, letting visitors touch everything in the exhibit, including sea stars and hermit crabs.
Even though SEA LIFE spans 20 displays and thousands of sea creatures, only so many creatures can call the aquarium home. To help marine life outside its walls, SEA LIFE runs and participates in many different conservation campaigns and programs. SEA LIFE aquarium rescues seals, finds permanent homes for disabled sea turtles, and breeds seahorses to protect these endangered species from extinction.
Orange County Regional History Center showcases the area's past inside a building steeped in Orange County history: the 1927 Courthouse. Today, visitors can explore the grand courtroom where the murderous Ted Bundy was allegedly arraigned. Such recent events, however, barely scratch the surface of the 12,000 years worth of history encompassed within the center's permanent exhibitions. Spanning Native American and Spanish roots to the meteoric rise of Walt Disney World, the museum illustrates Orange County's vast lineage.
The building has five floors, four of which house permanent exhibitions, temporary exhibitions and materials for traveling exhibitions that highlight Florida history throughout the country. An Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum also plays host to programs for all ages, from lunchtime speaking engagements to educational programs designed to spark the imagination and satisfy curiosity. The Emporium offers one-of-a-kind gifts reflecting the cultural history of Central Florida including rare vintage photographs, quirky Florida souvenirs, and delicious Florida treats.
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 experience takes participants deep into gator territory armed with only a flashlight and a few hot dogs.
When they enter Titanic The Experience, visitors receive a replica boarding pass. From there, they relive the ship's history from a passenger's perspective, from life onboard during its 1912 maiden voyage through to the crash. The exhibit closes with updates on modern efforts to recover its wreckage, which the museum is thoroughly part of—it's myriad artifacts were found by a team that performed seven deep-sea expeditions.
Size: More than 5,500 authentic artifacts, including one of the passengers' perfume bottles, and china etched with the White Star Line's logo.
Eye-catcher: The 17-ton section of the ship's hull.
Don't miss: A glimpse at the paper documents that, against all odds, survived the shipwreck. Their story? They're from leather suitcases and briefcases; the era's tanning process made leather repel ocean microorganisms.
Pro tip: The exhibit's artifacts are conserved, not restored. They team prevents them from decaying further, but wants to show the damage done by the shipwreck, the ocean, and the passage of time.