Tthe Insider's Guide to Mickey's Place; the Insider's Our Fantastic Offer Will Get You to Walt Disney World for Free - but What Do You Do When You Arrive? Barry Wigmore Offers a Local's Guide to Having Fun - and Beating the Queues

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Byline: BARRY WIGMORE

THEME PARKS, I love 'em. Along with getting away from New York winters, they were high on my list of reasons for moving to Florida.

Imagine having access to Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea-World and all the rest any time you want.

Living in the Sunshine State, I'm just a big kid in a candy store. The trouble is, Florida really is the playground of the world. Or perhaps I should say playgrounds.

After four years here, I still haven't sampled them all- and I've been trying. It's an important lesson to remember when planning your two weeks of sun and fun. Don't try to do too much.

That applies whether you intend to stay in Orlando and overdose on theme parks, or see a bit more of 'the other Florida'. Few people would visit Brighton and Blackpool during the same holiday, but that would be a doddle compared with the ambitious plans some Britons have for Florida.

Orlando is right in the middle of the state.

That makes driving east or west to the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico beaches relatively painless. About an hour in either direction gets you there.

Head north or south, though, and you are in for a long haul. Miami is four hours of hard driving south.

Key West, right down in the Caribbean, is anything from another four to six hours, much of it along a 'no- overtaking' road strung over miles of bridges that offer spectacular views and a driving nightmare.

Trying to catch up with an incredible population explosion, the entire state seems to be having roadworks at the moment, which cause further delays.

But don't be put off. With a little forward planning you'll have a holiday to remember.

Wonderful as the large theme parks are - and the thrills keep getting bigger and better - to stay around the top four (Disney, MGM, Universal and SeaWorld) is to waste an opportunity. There are scores of smaller parks from coast to coast. If I were starting a two-week Florida holiday tomorrow, I'd list the essential things I'd want to see and do - and I know I'd never have time for them all.

It would go something like this: theme parks - four days; boats and beaches - two days; swamps, alligators and wildlife of 'old' Florida - one day; somewhere historic (yes, there are such places) - one day; Kennedy Space Centre - one day; a sports event (baseball, football, ice-hockey, or motorracing) - one day; and, of course, I'd want to eat in some very good restaurants - most days.

That's an over-ambitious wish-list because you have to throw in travelling time and some veg-out time for resting. But, believe it or not, everything on that list is within an easy drive of Orlando.

THE THEME PARKS MOST Britons, I suspect, will not get much beyond the parks.

You get the best deals buying tickets as part of an overall package through your travel agent or tour operator.

Go for multi-day tickets like Disney's Park Hopper. A four-day adult's Hopper costs approximately [pounds sterling]110; for a child, aged three to nine, it's around [pounds sterling]90; a five-day Hopper is [pounds sterling]125 and [pounds sterling]100 respectively).

Handling the parks is an art in itself; they are exhausting. But over the years my wife and I have developed an efficient stressavoidance system. A word here to those without kids: don't worry - 70 per cent of Disney's visitors are adults without children in tow.

Be it Disney, Universal, MGM or Sea-World, once in, the biggest problem is crowds, which can mean hour-long queues for the most popular rides.

At the moment these are Disney's just-opened $100 million Mission: Space, a G-force simulator so intense that they had to suspend operations to install sick bags because so many people were losing their lunch, and Universal's Revenge Of The Mummy, which takes fun-seekers on a high-speed rollercoaster ride in the dark while shooting flames at them. …