Experience the Orlando less traveled, from racecar driving to horseback riding
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Orlando -- yes, yes, you have ridden / seen everything in this World of Worlds. Or have you? Ever had an airboat take you close enough to an alligator that it hissed? Driven a $295,000 Ferrari at more than 120 mph on a racetrack?
If you answered "No," we have the details on these and other lesser-known attractions around The Big Orange.
Put your foot in the stirrup
Let's start slowly, using just one horsepower. A quiet side of the Walt Disney World Resort is Fort Wilderness Resort, which has rental cabins, campsites, restaurants, a musical revue and a riding stable of about 100 horses.
The Tri-Circle-D offers nose-to-tail rides past pines and magnolias dripping Spanish moss. Stable hands at the front and rear of the line of up to 12 riders are watchful for younger riders.
The ride takes 45 to 60 minutes to cover 2 miles. You hear nothing but the forest sounds much of the time.
Riders leave the corral five times a day, starting at 8:30 a.m. The price is $46 for all ages. Minimum age is 9, minimum height is 48 inches, maximum weight is 250 pounds.
Reservations recommended: call 407-939-7529. More info at disneyworld.disney.go.com.
Don't bother with the clutch
If you're weary of the stop-and-go traffic of the LIE, you can satisfy your need for speed at the Richard Petty Driving Experience.
Drivers choose from NASCAR-style stock cars or "exotics," including Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, Nissan and Porsche racers.
A driving instructor -- all have raced professionally -- narrates a through-the-window video of the track, pointing out and explaining the traffic cones placed to cue drivers into accelerating or slowing down.
The stock cars, which can generate 600 horsepower, and exotics are never on the track at the same time, nor do more than two cars roar around the track at once.
If a driver is uncomfortable with manual shifting, the instructor puts the car in fourth gear -- its racing gear -- and a truck pushes the car to 40 mph, when the driver takes over.
An instructor in the passenger seat communicates with the driver via intercoms in their helmets. The instructor also holds a device he can use to reduce gas flow and slow the car.
But with each lap, the driver gains confidence to go faster. Track walls and traffic cones whiz by, turns are navigated, the gas pedal and driver become one.
The Richard Petty Driving Experience is at the edge of Disney World. Drivers must have a license and be at least 18; children 14 and younger can do a two-lap "ride-along."
That ride-along is $59. Adults can ride shotgun in a NASCAR vehicle for three laps for $99. The price for the NASCAR driving depends on how many laps are bought -- eight, 18, 30 or 50 laps. Prices range from $449 to $2,599.
Drivers can purchase five or six laps in the exotics, which range from $169 to $419, depending on the car. Call 855-822-0149 for the exotics, 800-237-3889 for the Richard Petty Experience. More at drivepetty.com.
Face to snout
For something between those two speeds, head out of Orlando, far from the castles of Cinderella and Harry Potter.
As you cross the St. Johns River, watch for the dock and tin-roofed restaurant of the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp. Anglers tie up for such down-home food as alligator tail and turtle. But you're here for the live gators.
The aluminum airboats hold from six to 16 passengers on padded benches. When the captain torques up that airplane engine mounted on the back, the boat skims over river and lake marshes. Passengers wear headphones against the engine's roar.
In addition to pausing for wading birds and eagles, the boats will drift to within a few feet of alligators sunning themselves on the banks.
Lone Cabbage Fish Camp is about 40 miles southeast of downtown Orlando.
The basic ride is 30 minutes and costs $22 for adults, $15 for children 12 and younger. A minimum of four passengers and a maximum of six can charter a smaller boat for one-hour rides: $45 per adult, $25 for the kids. Call 321-632-4199 or email email@example.com. More info at twisterairboatrides.com.
The real Tiffany windows
The Orlando suburb of Winter Park is site of the Morse Museum of American Art. It displays what is considered the world's largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany's works.
That Manhattan artist was a leading American designer at the turn of the 20th century, pioneering the commercial creation of stained glass for decorative pieces. This museum displays hundreds of pieces, from exquisite necklaces to religious-themed stained-glass windows. Of special interest: Six rooms re-created to represent Tiffany's 37,000-square-foot mansion in Cold Spring Harbor.
Laurelton Hall fell on hard times, suffered a fire in the 1950s and was to be razed when the president of Winter Park's Rollins College bought a trove of items. Jay Gatsby would have felt at home in these re-created rooms.
The museum is about 14 miles from downtown Orlando and is open Tuesdays-Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $1 for students; children 11 and younger free. Call 407-645-5311 or go to morsemuseum.org.
Peeking behind the curtain
The people who turn dreams into the entertaining realities for the Walt Disney Co. are called Imagineers. For a price, guests can share lunch or dinner with an Imagineer, who will discuss how -- and how long -- they work to achieve the tangible versions of other people's flights of fantasy.
Up to 10 guests join an Imagineer for a four-course lunch in the Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney's Hollywood Studios, or dinner at Flying Fish Café at Disney's Boardwalk Resort.
The Imagineer offers anecdotes -- one began his Disney career selling ice cream from a pushcart at Epcot -- and insider stories that focus on the creative process.
The lunch is $68.15 a person for ages 10 and older, $37.27 ages 3-9, tax included. The dinner is $105.83 for 10 and older, $74.70 for ages 3-9. Dates are limited, and reservations are a must.
Call 407-939-3463 -- and be flexible. More info at disneyworld.disney.go.com.