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Visiting the happiest city on Earth - Curt Yeomans

I'm going to cheat a little bit this week.

For the past several months, I've been writing about places I've gone on vacation. This time, I'm going to write about a vacation spot that I actually lived close to. I'm writing about Orlando, Fla.

While Orlando is chock-full of theme parks, that is not all the city is about. It has a lot to offer people that gets them away from the long lines at the theme parks, even though they may have come down, initially, for the Disney vacation.

And, the good thing is that the non-theme-park spots won't break your monetary back, considering that admission to any theme park in the Orlando area easily tops $60-$70 a head.

What I'm saying is, it is possible to do an affordable Orlando vacation.

But first things first. You have to deal with getting there. Now, plane tickets are not necessarily cheap, but driving down there can be. It does not take as long as you think. I lived in the Orlando suburb of Leesburg, Fla., for half a year, a few years back. It took me six hours to get from Marietta to Wildwood, Fla., where I had to get off Interstate 75 to go to Leesburg.

If you're on metro Atlanta's south side, you're not driving from Marietta, so knock an hour off that distance to Wildwood. Then, it's only a half hour drive from Wildwood to Orlando on the turnpike.

Wildwood is important for your trip to Orlando, because it's the city where you will get off the interstate, and onto the Florida Turnpike, which is a toll road.

But don't worry about that too much. You only pay a $1 fee when you get on the turnpike. If you need to get gas, there is a spot between Wildwood and Orlando where the median widens and there is a travel stop, where you can get gas, and a bite to eat.

Now, here is how you enjoy Orlando itself, on the cheap. Go to the tourist stops that don't cost as much as the amusement parks. There are lots of them. I'll give you three cheap options.

Admission for Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum, which is located at 8201 International Drive in Orlando, costs $18.95 for adults, and $11.95 for children ages 4-12. It doesn't have a guy in a mouse suit, but it's full of all kinds of weird stuff that your kids will love.

Another option is Gatorland, which is located at 14501 South Orange Blossom Trail, in Orlando. This place, as the name suggests, focuses on alligators, but it also has a swamp walk, a petting zoo, an aviary, reptile shows, and a breeding march with a boardwalk. It's a little more expensive than Ripley's, but not too much. Adults can get in for $22.99, and children, ages 3-12, get in for $14.99.

The third option, which is a little bit outside of Orlando, and a little more expensive than the other places, is the Kennedy Space Center, which is on Fla. Route 405, in Orsino, Fla. That's on the Atlantic Coast (or the Space Coast, as it's called down there). It's probably an hour maximum east of Orlando.

This place is for all of the space fans out there. It is, of course, a museum and tourism center for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Admission is $38 for adults, and $28 for children, ages 3-11. As I said before, it's more expensive than the other two places I've listed, but it's still about half the price of admission to a theme park.

As you can see, It is possible to visit the Orlando area, and have an enjoyable vacation without taking out a loan to do so. Hopefully, this information will come in handy if you ever decide to head down that way.

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247, or via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.