Game On In Orlando
Incredible theme parks, one-of-a-kind attractions, lots of sunshine, good competition and amazing people await the 2018 NVWG participants in Orlando.
Orlando, Fla., is well-recognized as the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” but this month it’s going to be known as the home of the 38th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG). Roughly 600 athletes from across the nation and even other countries will descend on Orlando July 30–Aug. 4 to take part in 19 sports. Most events will take place at the Orange County Convention Center located southwest of downtown Orlando, but some sports such as bowling, shooting and track and field will be held at other venues around the area. Co-sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the NVWG provides lots of exciting competition. However, the Games are about far more than just sports. The NVWG are also about fun, friendship, heart, participation and better health. When it comes to fun, the good times aren’t just limited to this year’s NVWG either. Orlando is full of activities and attractions to enjoy when you’re not practicing or competing. These are just a few of the area’s highlights.
Remember, Orlando is the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” so it’s impossible to write about visiting the area without mentioning all of the area’s great theme parks. Only minutes away from the Games at the Orange County Convention Center are some of the most famous theme parks in the world. You can see and learn about amazing marine life at SeaWorld just five minutes to the south, or get a taste of Hollywood at Universal Orlando Resort about 10-15 minutes to the north. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and all their friends can be found roughly 20 minutes away at the Walt Disney World Resort, including the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
All the parks offer a variety of attractions for young and old, different operating hours and some, such as Walt Disney World, have special programs to help people with disabilities get around lines to more easily enjoy the attractions. Check the parks’ respective websites to see what works for you. If you’d like to get a little taste of the action and fun of a major theme park without paying the potentially high admission price, then check out Universal Orlando Resort’s Universal CityWalk located right next to the theme park. There’s no admission fee for the 30-acre shopping and entertainment complex that features more than 20 places to eat and drink, a 20-screen movie theater, nightclubs and entertainment, including shows from the Blue Man Group (there’s a fee for that). CityWalk also offers free parking after 6 p.m. EST.
The numerous theme parks in the area are awesome, but there’s also plenty to see and do right outside of the convention center’s doors. International Drive (also called I-Drive) is Orlando’s main tourist strip and runs by the Orange County Convention Center. The roughly 11-mile corridor is home to numerous hotels, various attractions, a wide range of restaurants and vibrant nightlife. You’ll find much of the above all rolled into one at Pointe Orlando (pointeorlando.com). Located less than a mile north of the convention center, the 17-acre outdoor shopping and entertainment complex features more than a dozen shops and about 20 different places to eat and drink. Farther up I-Drive, you’ll find another large shopping, dining and entertainment complex that also offers a bird’s-eye view of the area. I-Drive 360 (iconorlando.com) features Madame Tussauds Orlando and the Sea Life Orlando Aquarium among its plethora of attractions.
However, what sets this place apart from others is hard to miss because it’s a giant Ferris wheel. At 400 feet tall, Icon Orlando is the tallest observation wheel on the United States’ East Coast. Each of its 30 wheelchair-accessible and air-conditioned capsules offers sweeping 360-degree views of central Florida. It’s also pretty easy to get to these places via the I-Ride Trolley (iridetrolley.com). The fleet of 18 accessible trolleys travels up and down International Drive from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. EST daily. Each trolley is equipped with two wheelchair positions and an Americans with Disabilities Act-specified hydraulic lift system. Fares are $2 per ride for adults, and exact change is required.
For more information on the I-Drive area, visit International Drive Orlando.
Greet Some Gators
What’s going to Florida without seeing some of the state’s most famous residents: gators?
Gatorland is one of the best-known places in the country to get up close and personal with these apex predators, and the park is less than 10 miles south of the convention center. Billed as the “Alligator Capital of the World,” the wildlife preserve covers 110 acres and features thousands of gators and crocodiles. The park also includes a breeding marsh with a boardwalk, aviary, petting zoo, swamp walk and educational programs. Reptile exhibitions occur throughout the day, including the Gator Jumparoo Show, where gators jump 4 to 5 feet out of the water to retrieve food. Gatorland is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Florida is famous for its weather, beaches and theme parks. But an attraction known throughout the world and maybe even beyond is less than an hour east of Orlando. It’s the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The 70-acre facility allows visitors to touch a moon rock, be under the largest rocket ever flown and meet an astronaut. It features historic spacecraft, two IMAX theaters, bus tours of the spaceport and a wheelchair-accessible Shuttle Launch Experience. You can also see a real, full-sized space shuttle at the new 90,000-square-foot Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction, which opened in 2013. The Atlantis exhibit has more than 60 interactive elements and high-tech simulators. Hours of operation vary by season.
Hit The Beach
It’s Florida, so hitting the beach is a must and if you’re already at the Kennedy Space Center, then you’re just a stone’s throw from great accessible surf and sand. Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral is only about 30 minutes south of the space center. The park offers more than 4 acres of soft, pristine, sandy beach that is protected by lifeguards all year round. Best of all, it has free beach wheelchairs available at the campground office as you drive into the park. They’re available on a first-come, first-served basis. The park also has a 1,200-foot fully accessible fishing pier that extends out to the Atlantic Ocean. The pier is a great place to view the waves or catch one of the massive cruise ships that go by as they pull into port. And you don’t need a license to fish off the pier, although fishing rules and regulations still apply.
For more information, call 321-783-7111.
Discover Even More
There’s so much more to do and see in Orlando and the surrounding area, but some things should be left to discover on your own.
Game On In Orlando
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