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ASK JOURNEYS: Penguins, theme parks draw crowds to Orlando

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HAVING just returned from South America, where one of the highlights was seeing hundreds of penguins in their natural habitat in the Falkland Islands, I was surprised to read about the new addition to Sea World in Orlando, Fla., that is sure to be a huge hit.

Called Antarctica-Empire of the Penguins, the new feature is more than just a ride.

While it will take visitors through the cold world of Antarctica, within an interactive journey that mimics the danger and beauty of the area, it ends up in an actual colony of penguins.

While clearly nothing can compare with the more natural experience, the educational component being introduced into the experience will leave young people with a genuine impression of the highs and lows of a penguin's existence.

QUESTION: My children are of the age where I know they would really get a thrill out of the various theme parks around Orlando.

How many days do you recommend we stay to see it all?

ANSWER: Orlando has become a major theme park and entertainment destination and you would have to stay over a month to truly visit every theme park and exciting attraction completely.

Like Sea World, the other theme parks keep adding new and better attractions to try to extend the visiting days of tourists travelling to that area of Florida.

Disney World's Fantasyland is about to go through a major expansion, as is the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

There really is no right amount of time for a first visit, but I would suggest spending at least three days at the Disney parks, a day at Sea World at a minimum, and likewise two or three days at Universal Studios.

Additionally for young people of your children's age, the Kennedy Space Centre is also worth a day trip.

With charter flights scheduled on a weekly basis, that is the time/budget constraint most people tend to keep their holidays at to take advantage of the most convenient flights.

However, there is so much to do around Orlando. With some of the most pleasant weather during the coming weeks, the more time you can spend there, the better.

QUESTION: I keep reading about problems aboard aircraft and they have instilled a bit of a fear of flying in me. Is air travel less safe than it once was?

ANSWER: In point of fact, the opposite is true. The year 2012 proved to be the safest ever since statistics started being measured.

There were four major accidents last year that involved western-built airliners. While the 304 fatalities may still be considered too high, the reality is the rate of major accidents is one in seven million flights.

Few industries could even come close and, as has been stated many times, driving an automobile is much more dangerous.

It is also noteworthy that the past decade has seen the rate of accidents drop and in the last five years alone the rate has been cut by half.

In articles I recently read, it was noted the Asian Pacific airlines that have expanded so dramatically have matched that of both North American and European carriers.

QUESTION: I'm still considering a Panama Canal cruise before the end of the southern cruise season.

I am wondering if it will be too hot by then, and whether the port stops getting there are interesting and/or exciting?

ANSWER: Interestingly, the temperatures in Panama tend to remain reasonably steady throughout the year.

The average March temperature is around 29 C, and as you sail south from port of embarkation it will not vary much from that as you move from island to island.

As you likely know, there are a wide number if itineraries you can take with virtually any major cruise-ship line.

Exciting? I am not sure that most of the posts of call are particularly exciting, especially considering the fact most of the day trips are over by early evening, when the so-called excitement likely begins in the bars and entertainment venues.

But interesting! There is sameness and uniqueness to the islands you are likely to visit. I have found the uniqueness is often influenced by the cultures of the countries that first exercised colonial control over them.

Architecture often reflects the styles of the colonial power from the past, and even language takes on the past influences from Spanish to French and Dutch to English.

I recently wrote one of my columns on Panama, and while the canal experience is a most interesting one considering the scope of the first project, and the new one being initiated now, a side excursion to Panama City is well worth the time and expense.

It's a fascinating city with a UNESCO world heritage historical district that is sure to become a major attraction in the coming years. The restoration work being done is impressive, but the best is yet to come.

Contrasting that is the multitude of highrise structures with progressive architectural designs that rival and beat some of the largest cities in the world.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2013 D4

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