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Secret of the Theme Park on Disney's Doorstep

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (MainStreet) -- By mid-January workers, parents and students are seeking warmth to cure their winter blues. Florida is a natural destination for sun, relaxation and fun, and is famous as the home of Walt Disney (DIS) World, which turned 40 last year with the distinction of being the world's most visited theme park -- nearly 17 million visitors in 2010, according to TEA/Aecom.

But for those who can't afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for their family in just one day, or who don't want deal with the crowds, there is a smaller and more affordable neighbor: Old Town, located about 15 minutes away in Kissimmee, Fla.

How does a small theme park compete when it has the world's largest tourist attraction right next door?

By not competing at all, but instead offering a different experience altogether that is complementary to Disney, says Old Town's president, Gary Conroy. The strategy brings in roughly 2 million visitors a year.

If you've never been to Old Town, the 12-acre theme park has been created to resemble small town USA during the 1950s and 1960s. There is a Main Street filled with stores and restaurants, and there's a county fair eternally visiting to provide attractions and rides.

Access to the 75 shops, 21 amusement rides and a Classic Car Cruise every Saturday is free, as is parking. Visitors pay for the various attractions and rides.

Old Town, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in December, appeals to families as much as Disney does.

"There's many different reasons why people are coming to Old Town," Conroy says. "Our niche is to provide them with an experience that is certainly different in terms of value. Less hustle and bustle, less need to be lining up in long lines [where parents] don't have to empty their pocketbooks, but have all the attributes of a theme park."

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