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Right: the Orlando Philharmonic at The Bob Carr Performing Arts Center
Right: lake Eola
Long before Mickey, Shamu and Indiana Jones hit the theme park circuit, Orlando lived up to its name as The City Beautiful.
By Kay Harwell Fernandez

Since hundreds of lakes dot the landscape, it's not surprising that some of the city's cultural activities are adjacent to the water. Downtown boasts famed Lake Eola Park with its swan paddleboats and fountain that spurts ever-changing colors. The Walt Disney Amphitheater is on the park's west side. Visitors and residents alike enjoy band shell concerts, Funnyeola (family comedy nights) and outstanding performances from the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival.

From fall to the spring at
The Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, patrons enjoy six shows as part of the Broadway Series, bringing top names such as Faye Dunaway in Master Class, Marilu Henner in Annie Get Your Gun and Larry Gatlin in The Civil War. Throughout the year, performances range from the Orlando Philharmonic, visiting symphony orchestras (e.g. Vienna, Montreal) to the Southern Ballet to the Orlando Opera Company with guest artists like Denyce Graves.

Next door is the
TD Waterhouse Centre, previously known as Orlando Arena. In addition to sport events like the Orlando Magic and the Solar Bears, the O-rena's seating for thousande Centre, previously known as Orlando Arena. In addition to sport events like the Orlando Magic and the Solar Bears, the O-rena's seating for thousands make it ideal for big name concerts like Tina Turner, Neal Diamond and home grown Backstreet Boys.

A few blocks away is the new, but old, home to the
Orange County Regional History Center. Housed in the old county courthouse circa 1927, the museum features snippets of Central Florida history from Native American days to when tourism became king over the citrus industry. Now encompassing 67,000 square feet on five floors, the recently opened interactive history center moved from its mere 19,000 square feet at Loch Haven Park. About 10 minutes from downtown, Loch Haven remains home to Orlando Museum of Art, The Civic Theatre, Mennello Museum of American Folk Art and sleek hands-on Science Center. Lakes, of course, surround the park area. The decades-old Civic Theatre will soon enjoy a renaissance with a new affiliation with the University of Central Florida.

Museum of Art features collections of 18th century, 19th century and 20th century American and African art. Each year brings special exhibits and treasures from all over the world.

The contemporary
Orlando Science Center offers interactive activities for youngsters and seniors, and everyone in between. Visitors can peer into a sinkhole or trek to far away planets at the eight-story CineDome Screen, reportedly the world's largest domed theater and planetarium. And the Mennello is one of the few museums nationwide that devotes itself to American folk art, including an extensive array of Earl Cunningham paintings and Paul Marco sculptures.

Not far from Loch Haven,
Harry P. Leu Gardens incorporates 50 acres, including the largest camellia collection and formal rose garden found in the South. Take a guided tour of the Leu House Museum, which also happens to be on the National Register of Historic Places. Throughout the year, the Gardens host outdoor concerts and other special events.

A short distance north,
Winter Park still stands as a charming, tree-lined community. Don't miss the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour. It's been around for more than 60 years. Narrated by a seasoned tour guide, the one-hour tour highlights some spectacular mansions, Rollins College, Kraft Azalea Gardens and other landmarks while meandering through the canals that connect Winter Park's lakes. If you're lucky, you might spot one of the majestic peacocks along the way. You could easily spend more than one day in Winter Park.

A must-do is a visit to
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. On Park Avenue, this museum houses the world's most comprehensive collection of Louis Tiffany glass, including the magnificent 1893 Tiffany Chapel. The Chapel opened to the public in 1999 after more than two years of painstaking restoration. It was originally constructed for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Morse Museum is also home to art of the late 19th century and early 20th century, which includes pottery, paintings, graphics and decorative arts.

Overlooking Lake Osceola, the
Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens remains a tribute to the works of the Czech-American sculptor. Comprised of a studio, two galleries, a chapel and three acres of gardens, the museum showcases more than 200 of Polasek's works from 1920s bronzes to concrete in the 1960s. The lakeside garden is also an excellent place to sit and chill.

Also in Winter Park, you will find the oldest art collection in Florida at the
Cornell Fine Arts Museum located on the Rollins College campus. With more than 6,000 objects, the European and American collection contains paintings, decorative arts and sculpture. Periods range from the Renaissance and Baroque to the 20th century.

Rollins College spearheaded the Bach Festival, which has presented the best of classical music each spring for more than 60 years. Originally founded as an art colony in the 1930s by Jules Andre Smith, the Maitland Art Center (north of Winter Park) provides gallery exhibits, lectures on art and architecture, and continues its resident artists program. On the National Register of Historic Places, the main building is a study in itself of 1930s architecture. It's flanked by all-enveloping trees and lush vegetation that lend themselves well to springtime concerts and even weddings.

While in Maitland, visit the
Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center with its museum exhibits that trace the history of Jewish communities in Europe before World War II and into Hitler's reign of terror.

Throughout the year, the main exhibit hall either presents a documentary or artwork. Maitland is home to the
Enzian Theater, which screens some of the best in independent film. Every June, the Florida Film Festival hosted by the Enzian brings celebrities to town to introduce their latest motion picture. The Enzian also produces the Asian Film Festival and the Jewish Film Festival.

Just south of Maitland lies the nation's oldest African-American municipality at
Eatonville with its historic churches and buildings. Author Zora Neale Hurston claimed Eatonville as her home, so there's a Zora Neale Hurston Museum of Fine Arts that rotates exhibits of African-American artists. For more than 10 years, the Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts in January draws people from all over. The event presents a celebrity lecture series with such well-knowns as Danny Glover and Maya Angelou.

Orlando maintains a plethora of theater groups. A few to note are the
Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, Orlando Theatre Project, Osceola Center for the Performing Arts (in nearby Kissimmee), SAK Theatre Comedy Lab, Studio Theatre and theaters at Valencia Community College, University of Central Florida and Seminole Community College.

For outstanding entertainment, along with good food, take in the
Mark Two Dinner Theatre in the College Park neighborhood. After you?ve done the theme parks, consider the surprises that await your senses in exploring The City Beautiful.
Above: Southern Ballet Theatre at The Bob Carr Performing Arts Center
Above: Inside the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of Am
erican Art
Above: The Tiffiny Chapel at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
Above: The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens.
Above: The Orlando Opera at The Bob Carr Performing Arts Center
Above: The Harry P. Leu Gardens
Above: The Orlando Science Center
Right: Tapestry from the Menollo Museum of American Folk Art

All photos copyright The Orlando Convention and Visitor Bureau