Monday, January 29, 2007

 

A New Island for IOA?

My friend Arthur Levine, the Theme Park Guide at About.com, has an exclusive on a hot, new rumor that Universal is planning a major -- and I do mean major -- revamp for Islands of Adventure.

Word is (and it's from the usual "highly credible source") that Universal will . . .

substantially change one of the park's five islands and re-theme it to the stories and characters of one of the most popular children's franchises. And I mean hugely popular.


Okay, let's play a guessing game. First, which island? Here are some possibilities as I see them.

Lost Continent. Poseidon's Fury has never been that popular. A new show could easily be put in the Sinbad theater and Dueling Dragons could be economically rethemed (maybe not even that much depending on which "children's franchise" we're talking about).

Jurassic Park. There's only one E-ticket ride here and there's space going begging since Triceratops Encounter closed. Also, Pterandon Flyers has throughput issues and Camp Jurassic doesn't lend itself to merchandising. Also, Discovery Center never seems to draw big crowds. Of course, replacing River Adventure would cost megabucks . . . unless they could re-theme it and keep it as a water ride.

Toon Lagoon. Perhaps they could keep part of Toon Lagoon and use the land now taken up by the amphitheater and Comic Strip Lane for the new island? OTOH, the rumor seems to be that the total number of islands will stay the same.

I really can't see them touching Seuss Landing or Marvel. Of course if Universal has licensing deals with Seuss and Marvel that expire soon, then all bets are off.

The next mystery is which wildly successful children's franchise could we be talking about?

I'm going to guess Harry Potter, on the theory that they wouldn't bring in another young kiddies theme to compete with Seuss. The Potter franchise would seem to allow a revamp Lost Continent without breaking the bank.

Arthur is also reporting that a Simpsons ride will replace Back to the Future after all, once the issue of payments to the voice talent gets ironed out!

Friday, January 26, 2007

 

And the winner is . . .

The Fouch family of Michigan are the the first people to stay in Cinderella's Suite.

Lisa and Jim Fouch and their children Brad, 16, and Hannah, 8, were picked to be the first family to spend the night in the castle. They won because the Disney computer that randomly picks winners awarded the debut castle stay to whoever was sitting in seat eight in row two of simulator four in the Star Tours ride at Disney-MGM Studios at 10 a.m. Thursday.


My guess is that a lot of people will be fighting for that seat now. But I also guess that it will do them no good because Disney (clever devils that they are) will change the computer every day.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

 

Cinderella's Suite Is Open For Business

Starting today and for every day this year, the "Year of a Million Dreams," some lucky devil is going to get tapped to spend the night in Cinderella's Castle Suite.

That's right, a luxury hotel suite right inside Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom!

Starting today, visitors will arrive by slipping through a door in the castle breezeway. An elevator takes them to the third floor, opening to a richly paneled foyer decorated with stained glass, a mosaic floor, framed, original Cinderella movie concept art by renowned Disney artist Mary Blair, and a glass display case containing a single glass slipper. Nearby, a 24-hour concierge will be on hand to take care of their every need.

Like the foyer, the entire 650-square-foot, three-room suite (roughly the size of many business hotel suites) is a mix of 17th-century French luxury, 21st-century conveniences, and 1950s-era Cinderella movie motifs.

"That was the biggest challenge, blending the 17th century with 21st-century amenities, and still keeping true to our medieval castle," said the project's interior designer, Cathy Carverof Imagineering.

The two queen-size beds, tables, wardrobes, chairs and other furnishings are either antiques, with flourishes such as 24-karat gold inlays, or, as with a sofa bed, made to look like period pieces with custom-made touches. Two framed mirrors -- one in the parlor and one in the bedchamber -- transform themselves, at the touch of a remote button, into 37-inch LCD TVs. The 17th-century desk has inlaid wood and inlaid computer hookups. Bathroom sinks resemble wash basins; faucets resemble handpumps. A waterfall flows into the whirlpool spa tub.

And throughout -- in the art, the stained glass, the carvings, the knick-knacks, -- are little reminders of house mice, the pumpkin carriage, the fairy godmother, the prince and Cinderella from the 1950 movie.


Wow! Check out the photos. Double wow.

 

Another Orlando Blog

Hey, whaddya know? My colleague and fellow author Kevin Yee has his own blog!

Go on over and give him some love.

 

Airboat Rides Back At Midway

New management has taken over the closed Midway Airboat Rides and rechristened it Airboat Rides At Midway.

The new venture is still remodeling, but they are up and running offering 30 minute airboat rides for $23 per adult and $16 per child 4 to 11, with a three person minimum. One-hour rides are $35 for adults and $25 for kids. Hours are daily 9 am to sunset. Night rides are available by request.

The official address is 28501 E. Hwy 50 in Christmas, but addresses are kind of a joke out here in the middle of nowhere. Look for it on your left as you head towards the coast, just before a bridge. For more info call 407-568-6790.

We wish them great success in showing tourists this fascinating slice of the "real Florida."

For other boat ride options around the Orlando area, click here.

 

The 40th Anniversary Apollo I

On Saturday, January 27, at 10:00 a.m., The Astronauts Memorial Foundation (AMF) will conduct a ceremony at Kennedy Space Center to honor the crew of Apollo 1 on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 1 accident. The Astronauts Memorial Foundation honors and memorializes all astronauts who have sacrificed their lives for the nation and the space program. The public ceremony will be held at the Space Mirror Memorial.

Speakers will include Lowell Grissom, brother of the late Lt. Col. Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, selected as commander of the first Apollo flight at the time of his death; Faith Freeman Johnson, daughter of the late Theodore Freeman, killed in the T-38 jet training accident at Ellington Air Force Base; Capt. John Young, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle astronaut; Col. Walter Cunningham, lunar module pilot on Apollo 7; Kathy Brandon, winner of the 2006 Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award; William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations; Bill Parsons, Kennedy Space Center Director; and William Potter, AMF Chairman of the Board. The Astronauts Memorial Foundation’s President, Dr. Stephen Feldman, will lead the service.

The public is invited to attend the service. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will provide flowers for all ceremony guests and visitors throughout the day to place at the memorial. For more information, call 321-449-4444 or visit www.KennedySpaceCenter.com.

Tragedy struck the Apollo program on January 27, 1967 when a flash fire occurred in the command module during a launch pad test of the Apollo/Saturn space vehicle being prepared for the first piloted flight, the AS-204 mission. Three astronauts, Lt. Col. Virgil I. Grissom, a veteran of Mercury and Gemini missions; Lt. Col. Edward H. White, the astronaut who had performed the first United States extravehicular activity during the Gemini program; and Roger B. Chaffee, an astronaut preparing for his first space flight, died in this tragic accident. The AS-204 mission was redesignated Apollo I in honor of the crew.

The Astronauts Memorial Foundation, a private, not-for-profit organization, built and maintains the Space Mirror Memorial, which was dedicated in 1991 to honor all astronauts who lost their lives on missions or during training and has since been designated a National Memorial by Congress, and the Center for Space Education, a living memorial to the astronauts. For more information, call 321-452-2887 or visit www.AstronautsMemorialFoundation.org. And be sure to read my review of the Memorial.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

 

Harbor Nights At Portofino Bay

My favorite Orlando hotel, Portofino Bay, is putting on an evening filled with wine, chocolate, love songs and jazz on February 9th.

Called "Harbor Nights Romantico," the event features llve jazz by The Buzzcatz and a special performance by Italian popera recording sensation Vittorio, dubbed “Little Pavarotti!” More than a dozen wines and sparkling wines, gourmet food
samples, decadent chocolate and hand-rolled cigars will be served.

It all happens Friday, February 9, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. at the Portofino Bay Hotel, 5601 Universal Boulevard in Orlando.

Tickets are $35. There's free self parking and $5 valet parking.

Call 407-503-1407 to reserve.

 

Orlando Weekly Reviews My Books

Orlando Weekly run some great reviews by Seth Kubersky of Universal Orlando and The Other Orlando.

Here's a sample:

Lack of voice is not a problem in the vastly superior Universal Orlando 2007. Author Kelly Monaghan reviews the Mouse’s biggest rival with far more readable and useful results. The coverage is up-to-date, with detailed ride descriptions (sometimes too detailed; beware spoilers) and sharply insightful ratings.

The book’s real strength is Monaghan’s witty and literate writing, whether he’s waxing rhapsodic about Marvel Comics’ “profound effect on contemporary notions of the body beautiful” or describing E.T. as “rather like ‘It’s a Small World’ on acid.” Monaghan points out Universal’s absurdities — like the CityJazz club, which offers no jazz — while still making a strong case that it’s Orlando’s superior vacation destination.

 

Lear 'Hits Home'

Looks like the Orlando Shakespeare Festival has a hit on its hands with their new production of "King Lear".

It’s [Jonathon] Epstein, though, who holds this production in the palm of his hand: From the moment his body begins to fail him, his eyes blaze with light. Epstein’s Lear is an old man afraid of losing everything he has, but afraid most of all of losing his mind. Still, there’s a will of fire inside him that keeps him going, even when his wits falter. When he regain his senses – or gains them, perhaps, for the first time – he’s absolutely grounded, absolutely sane and wise.

There’s nothing kingly about Epstein’s Lear: He’s just a man, and so are all his cohorts in this plain-spoken production. No wonder an absolute quiet among the audience greets this Lear at play’s end. With a story this plain, all you can do is think – and feel.


You can watch a video clip from the show on the Festival's site.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

 

Changes At Arabian Nights

My favorite Orlando dinner attraction, Arabian Nights, is spiffing up for 2007.

“We are particularly proud of our ‘07 product,” explained owner Mark Miller. “We believe that every division has contributed to making Orlando’s Number One dinner experience better than ever.”

The show features 15 new horses trained and ridden by the finest equestrians in the world. The precision and beauty of the 65 horses and more than two dozen riders in the Arabian Nights 22-act show is the foundation of the Arabian Nights experience.

For 2007, the Princess Scheherezade is joined by both the good Prince Khalid and his archenemy, Prince Vaneer. Fortunately for Scheherezade, the Arabian Nights Genie is duplicated during the show, giving her twice the power and protection that only a Genie can give!

Perhaps the biggest change for 2007, however, is the Magic of Michael Barron. Starting with the Great Hall experience, where Michael performs on stage, and continuing into the show itself, Michael provides experiences that fill the audience with wonder.

“There is no doubt that this show has benefited greatly from the addition of Michael Barron’s particular brand of excitement,” Miller said. “It adds so much to the total experience.”

Additions are not limited to the show, either. Arabian Nights has introduced a new menu for 2007, adding New York Strip Steak to the menu that includes Grilled Chicken Breast, Chopped Steak with Gravy, Vegetable Lasagna, and Chicken Fingers.


Yum.

Monday, January 22, 2007

 

CVB Makes A Great Choice

The Orlando CVB, which recently lost long time president Bill Peeper to retirement, has announced that Gary Sain of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, an Orlando marketing and PR firm with a tourism specialty, will become their new president.

CVB Vice President of Marketing Jose Estorino, who has been acting as interim president, was widely expected to get the job, but he resigned to start a new gig in Hong Kong, where his wife Jill is taking a job at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Sain is an inspired choice. I dealt with him when he was handling publicity chores for Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. He's a real pro who has a deep and abiding love for Orlando's attractions.

Expect great things from the CVB in the years to come.

 

CityWalk Stuff

The new NASCAR Sports Grille is still under construction, but progress is being made. Looks like there'll be a spiffy new entrance on the side facade in addition to the original -- at least it looks that way from what I could tell.

I also noticed that the St. Augustine Sausage on the Promenade is now a Nathan's Famous, part of trend towards national franchise eateries that has been going on at CityWalk for a few years.

The new Nathan's joins Starbucks, Cinnabon, and TCBY in the CityWalk fast food line up. Anyone want to take bets on Big Kahuna becoming a Pizza Hut? Or Emeril's becoming an Applebee's?

I can't say I'm any too happy about this trend. Nothing against Nathan's or Cinnabon, but shouldn't you be able to arrive at CityWalk expecting something different from the food court at the mall back home?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

 

"Aquatica" Will Be New SeaWorld Water Park

The much anticipated water park that SeaWorld is building along International Drive will be called "Aquatica."

Screamsacpe has some great pics of a model of the park.

Projected opening date is some time in 2008.

More info here.

 

The British Are Coming!

No big news there. Orlando has always been popular with Brit vacationers... excuse me, holidaygoers.

But soon it might be easier for Brits to get here.

Virgin Atlantic, the only airline to offer nonstop flights between Orlando and London, is seeking to increase its flights at Orlando International Airport this summer by 24 percent.

The request comes even as international traffic, especially from the United Kingdom, waned last summer.

International passengers at Orlando International were down 2 percent in fiscal 2006 with declines as large as 14 percent in June compared with the same month in 2005.


Let's hope it helps! There are all sorts of ways to welcome British visitors to Orlando.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

 

Skull Kingdom Closes

Skull Kingdom has closed, leaving Orlando without a major "haunted house" style attraction. Aficionados of this type of entertainment will have to make do with the smallish Haunted Grimm House at Old Town in Kissimmee.

The closing of Skull Kingdom also doomed the Chamber of Magic show that was presented in the attraction's back room.

I'm considering launching a new section of this site to enshrine the many Orlando attractions that have closed over the years, but which were lovingly described in earlier editions of The Other Orlando and Universal Orlando.

 

Back To The Past Of Back To The Future

Serves me right for trying to get clever.

When I was preparing the latest edition of 'Universal Orlando: The Ultimate Guide,' the inside word was that Back to the Future: The Ride was closing, to be replaced by a ride based on the Simpsons. So I left it out of the current edition.

Then fate intervened. The buzz on the fan sites is that negotiations for the Simpsons ride bogged down and, to make a long story short, BTTF is still open, although one half of the ride is shut down. Informed speculation is that the ride will limp along until a decision is made about a replacement. But there is also some speculation that, absent a replacement, the ride will be rehabbed and ropened in all its glory.

So, in the interim and just in case, here is a full description of how Back To The Future: The Ride looked in its glory days.

 

Tragedy At Bubba Gump in CityWalk

So I stroll into Bubba Gump, hungry as a bear and looking forward to a good meal.

"I don't even need to look at the menu," I told my smiling waitress, "I know exactly what I want: the shrimp over linguine."

"Oh, we took that off the menu," she replied.

What!? What is it about me? Every time I rave about something in my guidebooks, there's a better than even chance it will be gone the next time I visit. And so it was with the shrimp and linguine. The waitress sweet talked me into trying the mahi mahi in bourbon cream sauce over mashed potatos, which was in fact pretty darn good.

But still.

Click on the link to read my review of Bubba Gump at CityWalk in Orlando and note how I single out the shrimp over pasta in a tequila lime cream sauce as a "personal fave." Bummer.

Oh, and get a special deal on the book here.

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