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Orlando theme parks mobbed with tourists

If you’re looking for signs of a still-sputtering economy, stay away from Orlando and Vegas.

Sin City will be dealing a full house on New Year’s Eve, with sold-out hotels and what officials expect to be a record 314,000 out-of-town celebrants.

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And in Orlando, Disney World and other top theme parks were mobbed this week, forcing them to temporarily shut the gates.

Some visitors to two-month-old Legoland, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and three Disney destinations found parking lots and entryways shut for short periods Wednesday and Thursday, AFP reports.

Three of Disney’s four Orlando parks, the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, all had to freeze entry for around 90 minutes on Wednesday to “ensure guests had a memorable experience,” a Disney official told AFP.

The Orlando area has at least 10 major theme parks and scores of other holiday attractions, and all are full, according to industry officials. Also helping drive attendance: Two major college football games are scheduled in Orlando this week.

None of the parks would give attendance numbers, but Visit Orlando’s Brian Martin estimated occupancy for the region’s 115,000 hotel rooms at 95 percent, better than a year ago.

Orlando expects about 53.5 million visitors for 2011, according to Martin, up more than two million from last year. Hotel rates are moving up as well, though still not to the pre-crash levels of 2008.

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