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Sun Shines on Florida Tourism

November 28, 2005|Jerry W. Jackson and Beth Kassab | Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — With gas prices continuing to tumble and the hurricane season drawing to a close Wednesday, the outlook for Florida's tourism industry seems bright.

Nearly 22 million visitors came to Florida from July through September, up 9.3% from the same period last year, putting the state on track for a new annual record of more than 80 million tourists, according to new figures released by Visit Florida Inc., the state's tourism marketing agency.

On Friday -- the midway point of one of the busiest travel weekends of the year -- unseasonably mild temperatures kept a stream of people pouring into the gates of central Florida's major theme parks.

The crowds, however, weren't as frenzied as some had expected.

At Universal Orlando's CityWalk, Brenda and Ruben Aguilera enjoyed a slice a pizza with their two children in a crowd that was thinner than they had anticipated.

"I told my husband it was going to be really bad and we should plan on being in the car for a while," said Brenda Aguilera of their drive Friday morning from a resort in Kissimmee, south of Orlando. But they didn't encounter any major traffic problems.

Disney World spokeswoman Lissette Campos said the Disney parks were crowded but did not reach capacity.

"It's been very, very busy," Campos said.

Many of the visitors at SeaWorld, where the parking lot appeared to be at least 90% full by early afternoon, said gasoline prices and hurricanes had played only a minor role -- if any -- in their vacation decisions this year.

"We stay away during the summer" because of the heat and crowds, said Casey Bearden, 37, snapping pictures with his wife and two young children near the Sea Lion & Otter Stadium.

"I think we're going to add Thanksgiving to that," said Bearden, who is from Nashville. "There's just too many people here."

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