Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 12, 2017
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Walking on sunshine

Florida's newest attractions will keep your brood busy this winter

The past few years have been challenging for Florida. First the global economic downturn cast a cloud over the Sunshine State; then the BP oil spill jeopardized its fabled beaches. The good news is that the coast is now clear (truth be told, only a handful of areas in the far northwest were ever affected) and tourism operators have been busily upping their game in an effort to lure families down. These new attractions — all opened in 2010 or on the horizon for 2011 — are proof.

Potter Around

Even in a state famous for over-the-top attractions, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (universalorlando.com; adults $82; kids 3 to 9 $74) stands out. This eight-hectare land (which premiered last June inside Universal’s Islands of Adventure) features themed coasters, including the vertigo-inducing Dragon Challenge and the tamer Flight of the Hippogriff. Plus it recreates key locales that are usually off-limits to mere Muggles. Hogwarts Castle, for instance, appears complete with bewitching classrooms and talking portraits. Hogsmeade shops and eateries are conjured up too, giving J.K Rowling fans a chance to blow their allowance. If you’re in need of a wand or jonesing for butterbeer, this is the place to be.

Go Wild

Disney is lying relatively low right now, its main focus being a Fantasyland facelift slated for completion in 2013. But elsewhere, parks small and large are raising the ante to offset the “Potter Effect.” Gatorland (gatorland.com; $60) and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (buschgardens.com; adults $74.95; kids 3 to 9 $64.95) will both respond this spring by combining animal encounters with adrenaline rushes. The former will unveil a 365-metre zipline above the Alligator Capital of the World; while the latter counters with a cheetah-themed ride and matching big cat habitat. Busch Gardens has already debuted a kiddy land devoted to cartoonish critters: the Sesame Street Safari of Fun. Highlights are a junior coaster and water-play zone for cooling off.

New Kid on the Block

Patience is a virtue for Lego lovers. Next October the ribbon will be cut at the world’s largest Legoland (legoland.com; adults $65; kids 3 to 12 $55) in Winterhaven, 45 minutes southwest of Orlando. Like its sister parks in California and Europe, the 61-hectare property (once home to Cypress Gardens) will be a veritable block party with over 50 Lego-inspired rides, games, workshops, shows, 4D films and more aimed at the two-to-twelve set. There will also be lots of elaborate models, many of them concentrated in Miniland USA. In honour of the host state, this one will boast Floridian fixtures such as a tiny Kennedy Space Center and a diminutive Daytona Speedway where kids can race Lego cars.

Join the Club

If parking yourself at a resort sounds better than park hopping, Club Med has a news flash for you. It’s invested $25-million in America’s only family all-inclusive, Sandpiper Bay (sandpiperbay.clubmed.ca; from $159 per person per night). Located above West Palm Beach on the Atlantic Coast, the 87-hectare facility reopens this month after an extreme makeover. In keeping with Club Med’s mantra, sporty opportunities from championship tennis and golf to sailing and tightrope walking abound. As you’d expect from a chain that pioneered the concept of kids clubs, there are organized activities for your four- to 17-year-old offspring as well. (Childcare for those as young as four months is available at extra cost.)

Learn Something

Since 2008, the Sunshine State has gained a slew of new kid-oriented museums including the Charles and Linda Williams Children’s Museum in Daytona Beach and the Kenan-Flagler Family Discovery Gallery in Miami. The latest entry is the Glazer Children's Museum (glazermuseum.org; adults $15; kids 1 to 12 $9.50) in Tampa, which put out the welcome mat last September. Housing 170 hands-on exhibits in a dozen distinct areas, it appeals to aspiring pilots, mini media stars, budding builders and (thanks to a faux health clinic) wannabe physicians. Further south, the curtain is supposed to rise on yet another family-friendly venue — C’MON, short for the Children’s Museum of Naples (cmon.org) — this fall.

Surreal Appeal

Florida’s most talked-about piece of surreal estate is the Dalí Museum (salvadordalimuseum.org; adults $17; students $12; kids 5 to 9 $4)*, opening in St. Petersburg this January. Admittedly, fidgety kids and fine art might not seem to be a natural pairing. But this place is different. For starters the bulbous building is a stunner and, inside, Salvador Dalí’s works are idiosyncratic enough to grab young imaginations. Furthermore, the museum works overtime to make art accessible, scheduling multi-generational programs like “Breakfast with Dalí” and “Family Fun Saturdays.” It also provides a complimentary Family Guide for visitors who prefer exploring independently.

See Stars

Although the US shuttle program shuts down after a final launch in February, the Kennedy Space Center (kennedyspacecenter.com; adults $38; kids 3 to 11 $28) still has loads of ways to keep guests engaged. Its Visitor Complex, for example, introduced four “must sees” in 2010: among them a sprawling multimedia exhibit on the future of space exploration, an IMAX 3D film about the Hubble Space Telescope, and a supersized globe that offers out-of-this-world views via animated images. New too is Star Trek Live, an interactive stage show based upon the enduring sci-fi franchise. It’s ideal for kids eager to assume the role of a Starfleet cadet… or adults obsessed with Vulcan mind melds.

Splash Out

There are already more than 1330 kilometres of beach here, but making a big splash — even in landlocked Central Florida — keeps getting easier. Orlando’s fun affordable new CoCo Key Water Resort (cocokeywaterresort.com; day passes $19.95; rooms with park access from $118) is one of the reasons why. It has its own canopy-covered water park with a play island, 14 waterslides, plus three pools (including dedicated ones for toddlers and teens).

Elsewhere in town, Aquatica (aquaticabyseaworld.com; adults $47.95; kids 3 to 9 $41.95) has added Omaka Rocka, an intense slide that sends you rafting through a combination of tunnels and funnels. Rather take a half-hour surfing lesson? FantasyWorld Resort (ultimateindoorwave.com; adults $25; kids under 9 $20) in Kissimmee has installed a patented FlowRider system that lets you hang 10 indoors.

To stay up to date with everything new in the state, consult Visit Florida (tel: 877-817- 8789; visitflorida.com).

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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