Welcome to THE BIG 5, a definitive top five list of various Orlando related, uh, stuff. THE BIG 5 is wide ranging, and will run the gamut from the top five roller coasters in Orlando, to the top five “lost” attractions at Universal, to the top five Disney World myths, and everything in between.
To view all of THE BIG 5 posts so far, click here.
This week’s list is the Top Five Things at the Orlando International Airport (MCO). The airport code MCO refers to Orlando International’s former name, McCoy Air Force Base. For many people going to Central Florida’s theme parks, arriving at MCO is the first step in their vacation, and it’s one of the most unique experiences you can have — especially at an airport!
#5 – Stores representing all the major theme parks
Readers of the BIG 5 know we love shopping for theme park merchandise, and right in the middle of the airport you’ll find stores dedicated to all the major Orlando area parks including Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and the Kennedy Space Center. In fact, each of the parks have TWO stores to shop in, so no matter which airline you fly you’re going to easily find one of them. Disney has the “Disney Earport” and “The Magic of Disney,” and between the two of them you’re getting a scaled down version of the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney. You’ll find stuffed animals, pins, vinylmations, shirts, Chef Mickey’s kitchen line, and even items from Goofy’s Candy Company line of products. There are even several photo ops including one with Snow White and another with Sorcerer Mickey.
Both of Universal’s stores are separated into two sections, one for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter merchandise, and another for everything else. So on one side of the store you can buy your Gryffindor robes, your chocolate frogs and even your wands, while the other side has Despicable Me dolls, Spider-Man action figures, Thing 1 & Thing 2 shirts (from Dr. Seuss), candy with insects in them, and even a magnet for the old JAWS attraction. It’s like going through all the best gift shops in Universal and grabbing a little bit of everything. Universal also has several photo ops including one with Spider-Man and others using great Potter related artwork. My favorite includes a great reproduction of Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle as they appear in Islands of Adventure.
Don’t dismiss the shops for SeaWorld/Busch Gardens and the Kennedy Space Center. Besides having various merchandise from the parks, including the novelty “astronaut food” like freeze dried ice cream, you may discover some unique items if you look around. One of the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens stores has a giant giraffe on display while one of the Kennedy Space Center stores has a reproduction of the space suit worn by Eugene Cernan, the last man to step on the surface of the moon.
#4 – The monorail
At the BIG 5 we call the MCO monorail your first attraction in Florida. There’s just something cool about getting off an airplane and being able to board an actual monorail to take you to the main terminal. A people mover in an airport!
For many it brings up memories of going to Walt Disney World and passing through the Ticket & Transportation Center. For others it’s just a fun way to get around, because how many times do you get to use a monorail as your mode of travel? Elevators, escalators, and moving walkways — been there, done that. A monorail? It will always be special.
#3 – A great hotel inside the airport
Many airports have hotels near them, but very few have an actual hotel in them. Count MCO in the latter group, because it is home to one of Orlando’s best-rated hotels: the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport.
With 445 guest rooms, two restaurants, an outdoor pool and 24-hour gym, the Hyatt Regency MCO is one of the better places you can stay at while in Orlando. But what we like are the two glass covered elevators that face the airport atrium as you travel up the 10 floors. What a view!
As of post time Hyatt Regency MCO is rated 4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor with 513 Excellent reviews.
#2 – More shopping
If your flight is delayed or you just have some time on your hands, MCO has a fantastic selection of stores to wonder through. While many airports have a book store, how many are large enough to offer a wide selection of graphic novels? Not only can you find the entire collection of The Walking Dead at Stellar Books, but there’s also a generous amount of Marvel and DC graphic novels.
All the major retailers you’ll find at your average mall are here, including Lids, Oakley, Build-A-Bear and Brookstone. From Harley Davidson to Helly Kitty, there’s not much on your shopping list that you won’t find in MCO.
Did we mention there is a store dedicated solely to hairbrushes? You read that right. AN ENTIRE STORE DEVOTED TO HAIRBRUSHES! If you are at the airport and you desperately need a hairbrush, Bayside Brush has you covered.
#1 – An official “King of Kong” arcade
Seeing this arcade was like seeing a mirage — I couldn’t believe my eyes. This couldn’t possibly exist! One of my all-time favorite movies is the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. The film followed Steve Wiebe as he attempted to break Billy Mitchell’s high score for the video game Donkey Kong. An amazing documentary, King of Kong also established Billy Mitchell as one of the greatest “villains” in movie history.
While relatively small, the King of Kong arcade has all the games you would expect to find in order to pass the time, including pinball, shoot-em-up, racing, and claw games. What makes this arcade stand out is the Donkey Kong theme throughout and the King of Kong gift shop.
Here you can buy trading cards of Billy Mitchell, Steve Wiebe, and video game referee Walter Day. There are t-shirts available with quotes Billy Mitchell used in the film such as, “Work is for people who can’t play video games.” You can even buy King of Kong branded hot sauce. For film buffs it may be worth flying to Orlando just to see this in person, as I’m still picking my jaw up off the floor.
Honorable Mention – pressed penny machine
People love pressed pennies. You can find them throughout Walt Disney World, Universal and all the major theme parks. You can find them at hotels, restaurants and even Orlando attractions such as Gatorland and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. We even did a BIG 5 on our Top Five Pressed Pennies at Universal. However, the first place you can get a pressed penny on your Florida vacation is at the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens store at MCO.
That’s it for this edition of the BIG 5! We’ll see you again real soon.
Oh, and if you’d like to learn more about Orlando International Airport, visit their official site. Wondering about transportation from MCO to your theme park destination? Visit the Shuttles, taxis & towncars: Transportation recommendations page in the OI Universal Center.
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There used to be penny press machines at the Universal Orlando and Kennedy Space Center Airport stores as well, but both of them are gone now. The Universal Orlando Airport store pennies are actually considered pretty rare. Three of the pennies had SpongeBob characters on them and the fourth penny had Jimmy Neutron on it.