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Destination Guide

 
 
You think that after a day in the parks, thats all there is? Oh-so-wrong. Orlandos nights are just as jam-packed as its days.

You name it, its here. Comedy clubs, dueling pianos, a Texas two-steppin' rodeo bar with live bull riding. Polynesian luaus and cartoon character dinners. Fireworks and parades. Themed dining events ranging from medieval feasts?no forks'to pirates loot and high-stepping Lippizaner stallions. Rock 'n roll, disco, blues. Dixieland jazz, modern jazz, country music, alternative music. Local talent, national talent, live music, disc jockeys. Indoor entertainment, outdoor entertainment. Massive movie theaters with 20 screens going at once, avant-garde films, premieres...and plenty of cartoons.

Martini bars, cigar bars, piano bars. High-energy dance clubs, hanging-out taverns, posh supper clubs. English pubs, Irish pubs, singalong pubs. Mexican margaritas, French cognac, beer from every corner of the globe, the trendiest concoctions on the continent.

Happy hours, late hours, wee hours.

Dining with kings and stallions
No place in the world loves a theme better than Orlando, where everything from bedrooms to barrooms bears, at least, themed decor. That fixation certainly doesn't stop at night. Themed dining entertainment has risen to new heights in Orlando?creative restauranteurs have applied their pull-out-all-the-stops enthusiasm for dining-entertainment combos to come up with themed dining events that have been drawing crowds for nearly two decades.

You can keep your head while everyone around you is losing theirs at King Henrys Feast; you can toss your handkerchief to a knight in shining armor at Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. You can cheer on the "good guys" in a fast-draw Wild West show at Wild Bills Wild West Dinner Extravaganza or boo the evil pirates providing avast-ye-matey entertainment at Pirates Dinner Adventure. Carpets fly and high-stepping, aristocratic Lippizaner stallions perform "airs above the ground" at Arabian Nights. Knock twice and tell 'em Joe sent you at Capones Dinner and Show, where the days of flappers and Prohibition spats come to life.

Rootin'-tootin' and ivory ticklin'
Longtime leader of the rootin'-tootin' dancehall pack is Victorian-themed Church Street Station, spread out across several downtown blocks centered around an old railroad track no longer in use. In its five showrooms, Church Street features rock 'n roll, disco, a red-hot-mama-can-can-girls-Dixieland-jazz center, Western stompin' at the Cheyenne Saloon and plenty of dining. A host of entertainment spots have grown up around the attraction and now line Church Street and Orange Avenue. Topping the list are Ybors Martini Bar, the 70s-80s retro sounds of the Leopard Lounge and the horseshoe-shaped bar at Megs Tavern.

For an intriguing International Drive diversion try Mercado Festive World Marketplace, where Blazing Pianos, the nations only three-piano rock 'n roll bar, plays to throngs of sing-along fans who warble away the evening amid comedy, song and audience interaction as talented pianists tickle the ivories. A Cricketers Arms Pub and Eatery features 15 imported beers and four hand-drawn ales, and is tucked into the cobblestoned streetscapes there, amid 75 shops and restaurants. For fans of Irish beer: the Lucky Leprechaun Irish Pub is just down the street on International Drive.

Theres still more to be found on International Drive: Pointe Orlando, an entertainment complex featuring an IMAX 3-D theater, a 21-screen movie complex, outdoor entertainment, and 70 shops including FAO Schwartz, decked out with the unmistakable landmarks of its huge concrete teddy bear and Barbies pink shoes.

Theme parks get in on the action
It didn't take the major theme parks long to figure out that the parks were way too quiet at night. Voila!?hot-hot-hot evening entertainment diversions at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.

WDW created Pleasure Island first, uniting waterside dining and entertainment with a '70s disco, an '80s beach club, a '90s dance club, a jazz and comedy club and mainstage live bands, capped off each night of the year with a New Years Eve celebration complete with a wild street party featuring dancers on the roof, lights and fireworks.

Next came Downtown Disney, where a cluster of restaurants?one by famed chef Wolfgang Puck?and restaurant/clubs?including Bongos, owned by singer Gloria Estefan?are joined by a host of shops, including a Virgin Records megastore, a cigar shop, the boot-scootin' dance club, a games center filled with virtual reality machines aWildhorse Saloonnd video challenges, plus lots of purveyors of Disney memorabilia.

Unquestionably the entertainment crown of Downtown Disney is the massive circular theater that houses Cirque du Soleil, a splendiferous show that gives whole new meaning to the concept of circus. A study in color, lighting and special effects, Cirque du Soleil is imaginative, graceful, death-defying and awe-inspiring.

Those seeking entertaining but somewhat less frenetic fun can find it at WDWs Boardwalk Entertainment Complex. Themed around the boardwalks epitomized by 1930s entertainment centers along the U.S. coastline, this "village" overlooking a lake houses the Atlantic Dance Club and Jellyrolls, where dueling pianos tinkle.

Universal amusement
Universals response to Disneys entertainment center is CityWalk, which packs 'em in every night. Sprawling across 30 acres, CityWalk is a movin', groovin' cluster of dining, shops, cinemas and entertainment options ranging from the popular Hard Rock Cafe'the worlds largest'to Bob Marleys reggae, from Motown sounds to Latin rhythms and jazz. Famed chef Emeril Lagasses dining spot whisks up a roux to create Creole cuisine straight from the Louisiana bayous, and Pat O'Briens mixologists whip up renowned Hurricane concoctions.

Margaritas and "Cheeseburgers in Paradise" pour from the bar and kitchen at singer Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville and everybody gets into the groove at a club called, well, The Groove. Salsa and samba reign at the Latin Quarter, where dance is abetted by food and entertainment from 21 Latin American nations. Racecar fans revel in the Nascar Cafe and basketball fans flock to NBA City to immerse themselves in National Basketball Association memorabilia. Orlando truly seems to have something for everyone.