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Orlando Theme Park TheatreOrlando, Florida is one of the hottest vacation spots in the country. Having just gotten back from a week-and-a-half-long trip there, I am happy to have been able to see and do so much in the major theme parks that attract so many visitors there each year. But now that I am home, I find myself reflecting and looking back at experiences that have become memories.

As a theatre fan, I was excited to see what live shows I could take in while making my way through the parks, especially since many of them feature characters and stories from some of my favorite films. I think my short walk down memory lane, with stops at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, and Sea World, should be highly illuminating for all you future and hopeful vacationers out there.

Disney World

The self-proclaimed "most magical place on earth" doesn't disappoint in any arena really, but it certainly sets the bar high for live entertainment. Disney continues to give the people what they want (and capitalize on its most enduring brands) by offering shortened versions of some of its hit films. Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage is a 25-minute version of the movie's story (which also spawned a highly successful, full-length Broadway musical version) that features favorite songs like "Belle," "Something There," and "Be Our Guest," with talented look-alike actors and fully costumed performers channeling the spirits of Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and more favorite enchanted objects. Also playing at the Hollywood Studios park is Voyage of the Little Mermaid, a 17-minute extravaganza including glow-in-the-dark, highly choreographed puppetry, lively performances of "Under the Sea" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls," and, of course, the beautiful Ariel singing "Part of Your World," a Disney fan's dream.

Over in the Animal Kingdom park, guests can marvel at Festival of the Lion King. This show isn't a re-telling of the film, but rather a celebration of the themes and aesthetics that make the film so special. Of course, all the best songs are presented, including "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," "Be Prepared," "I Just Can't Wait to be King," and "The Circle of Life." But audiences are in for a treat with the visuals of this show. Much like the record-breaking Broadway show, the costumes and sets are marvelous, and there are even some impressive acrobatics involved. Since I have seen the film and the musical, this show was a refreshing remix for me. Once guests have travelled to the sweltering African savannah, they can take a cool trip under the sea across the park at Finding Nemo - The Musical. The beloved characters from the film are presented as intricate puppets, and the story is told in a 40-minute spectacular featuring an all-new score. This show will leave you humming its catchy tunes for hours after the curtain has dropped. With some fine tuning, I think it has the potential to open on Broadway or on tour.

Of course, Disney World's theatre experiences aren't limited to Broadway-style musicals. There are several attractions, like MuppetVision 3-D, that put you in a theatre and treat you to a virtual party with some delightfully odd and funny characters and special effects. And over in the Downtown Disney area lives the exclusive Cirque du Soleil show La Nouba. As with any Cirque du Soleil show, audiences are in for a mesmerizing series of stunts, feats, and performances in a surreal world straight out of a dream.

Orlando Amusement Park shows

Universal Studios Florida

Over in the Universal Studios theme parks, there is more entertainment featuring characters from some other great movies. I was excited to see Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue because Beetlejuice is one of my all-time favorite films, but this show wasn't exactly what I expected. I was hoping for a show that played into the irreverent and macabre nature of the film, but it was more of a Rock of Ages-style revue of classic rock songs sung by famous Universal monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man, tied together with a very loose plot. It was entertaining, and definitely a good time for rock fans.

Elsewhere in the parks, I enjoyed the Shrek 4-D attraction, which I thoroughly found highly satisfying as a fan of the films. Like MuppetVision 3-D, it is set in a theatre and is screened like a movie, but with special effects and a new plot. Over in the Islands of Adventure park, the Poseidon's Fury attraction was very theatrical. Crowds roam through several rooms while live performers present a story along with projections and some very cool aquatic and pyrotechnic effects. And don't forget about Blue Man Group--this compelling celebration of art, music, and technology plays at Universal daily.

Sea World Orlando

Sea WorldSea World is all about showcasing the wonders of the sea, and its live shows are real treats. It is really amazing to see how well the trainers have taught the animals; I constantly found myself wondering how they trained the killer whales, dolphins, seals, and other animals (even cats, dogs, and a pig!) so many tricks and with such precision. The One Ocean show, the most famous due to its star, Shamu, is definitely a must-see. It is visually stunning and, as do all shows at Sea World, it incorporates an important message about conservation and environmentalism.

Those looking for something a little different can head over to the Nautilus Theater for A'Lure, The Call of the Ocean, a smaller-scale and shorter Cirque du Soleil-style show with an aquatic theme. It showcases some neat acrobatics, tricks, and elaborate costumes, and even a bit of a plot performed by some expressive characters.

Over the course of my vacation, I was glad that these parks offered so many theatrical experiences as a reprieve from the break-your-neck, spin-your-head, and toss-your-cookies rides, as well as, in most cases, a nice, air-conditioned break from the June heat. So if you're heading to Orlando, keep your cool--and your lunch--and see a show!

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