Orlando's 48 million annual visitors form a captive audience for green education.

Although the main draws are still theme-park thrills, shows and shopping, eco-friendly aspects are becoming more prominent in local parks, restaurants, hotels and resorts.

Efforts such as those join with Green Works Orlando, the central Florida city's initiative to make it one of America's most environmentally conscious cities, according to the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Folks in town for vacation or attending a convention can view efforts to pay more attention to the environment in the home of the Happiest Place on Earth.

Stay green

About 75 of the city's 450 hotels and resorts, with more than 112,000 guest rooms, have met the qualifications of the Florida Green Lodging Program. Those include all the Walt Disney World properties and chains such as Marriott, Lowes, Ritz-Carlton and Embassy Suites.

Large-scale communities such as Reunion Resort, a few miles west of Walt Disney World, also have been recognized by the program for eco-friendly efforts. The luxurious condos boast low-flow toilets and showerheads, and like other properties, guests can choose to reuse their towels. Instead of being greeted with a blast of frigid air, it's obvious the thermostats are programmed to save energy when the condos are vacant. Recycled materials were used to build the food and beverage area and in the decking, chairs, tables and awnings at the resort's water park.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club of Orlando in the Grande Lakes resort also has been designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for its wildlife habitat protection and other efforts.

Play green

The Hulk isn't the only thing that's green in Orlando's theme parks. Some of the parks' transportation and rides have an eco-focus as part of the destinations' environmental stewardship efforts.

Most of the initiatives aren't as visible as basing a roller coaster on that pumped-up comic-book character. At Universal Orlando Resort, which includes Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, alternative or green fuels are used in all the mobile equipment and service vehicles, saving of 260 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

Universal Studios' newest attraction, The Simpsons Ride, with its photo-worthy entrance featuring characters and key phrases, conserves energy by using an "on demand" hydraulic power system and energy-efficient lighting, according to the park.

Recycling bins are placed near trash cans at both Universal and Walt Disney World. The efforts also are seen in transportation in and out of the parks, from hydrogen-fueled shuttles at SeaWorld Orlando to the 100 percent biodiesel fuel used to operate the iconic trains that circle Disney's Magic Kingdom.

One of the most relaxing — and longest, at 14 minutes — rides at Disney's Epcot Center is named simply The Land. Visitors travel by boat through a greenhouse, seeing some of the more than 30 tons of fruits and vegetables grown there each year and served at Disney restaurants. Riders get a peek at fruit trees, flowering plants and vegetable gardens, and our trip even coincided with workers gathering lettuce to be distributed to eateries. The cars built to resemble coral reefs that transport visitors in Epcot's Finding Nemo ride (above) are painted with recycled glass-and-epoxy spray.

Shop green

Orlando hosts a Sunday farmers market at downtown's Lake Eola Park, with vendors selling items including organic produce and natural soaps. Lake Eola often is the site of green exhibits and efforts.

 

There are green wares in the theme parks, too. Disney sells reusable grocery bags at shops in the parks and Downtown Disney, with the phrase "Every Tree Has Character" (one tree is planted in Brazil for each bag purchased, through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and the Nature Conservancy). Window displays in the main gift shop at Universal Studios highlight its Green is Universal initiative.

Eat green

With more than 5,300 restaurants in Orlando, there's the opportunity to dine on organic and locally grown items and find eco-friendly facilities. Some restaurants, such as those at Rosen Shingle Creek and Trevi's Mediterranean Restaurant at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate use ingredients grown onsite. SeaWorld Orlando is among the parks using recyclable dinnerware, and it also serves sustainable seafood.

You can dine in an eco-friendly establishment on a budget, too. Subway's first Eco-Store, which earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, is in a Kissimmee strip shopping center.

The smell of fresh bread permeates the eatery, which has flip books detailing its environmentally friendly elements such as high-efficiency HVAC and lighting systems, sustainable building and decor materials, low-flow water fixtures, and recycled products and furnishings.

Photos: Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau

(MNN homepage photo: Américo Nunes/Flickr)