Friday, June 29, 2007

 

Gatorland To Take a Bigger Bite of Your Wallet

Gatorland will be raising its prices July 1, 2007. The new rates will be $22.95 for adults and $14.95 for kids 3 to 12.

Of course, you can easily find coupons that will give you $2.50 off these prices and Florida residents can pay for one day's admission and get in free for a year!

Also coming in July is a new live show called "Vera's Critter Corner."

More info here.

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SeaWorld, Busch Gardens Slate Summer Fun

Those long summer nights are always a good excuse for a little extra fun.

At SeaWorld:
This July 4th, SeaWorld Orlando will celebrate the stars and stripes with patriotic daytime fountains shows, the impressive firework spectacular Let Freedom Ring, an array of exhilarating nighttime animal shows including the all-new Shamu Rocks. Guests will have two opportunities to view Let Freedom Ring at 9:15 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.

SeaWorld’s celebration kicks off throughout the day with a patriotic fountain show – a moving musical tribute to our nation’s military servicemen featuring music from all five military branches.

As the sun sets, SeaWorld celebrates our country’s heritage with the Let Freedom Ring fireworks spectacular featuring three giant projection screens illuminating some of the America’s greatest historical moments and symbols, all timed to stirring music and a patriotic narration.

And at Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa:
In celebration of America’s birthday, Busch Gardens Africa will present live concerts and dazzling fireworks in Gwazi Park on July 3 and 4. The Guess Who present popular hits like “American Woman" and "These Eyes" on July 3. Then, Grand Funk Railroad rocks Independence Day with "We're an American Band," "Loco-motion" and more. Both concerts begin at 8:15 p.m., and following the show, Busch Gardens lights up the night with a spectacular fireworks display.

Now through August 19, the adventure park also presents nightly special entertainment, festive food and drink, and the opportunity to challenge thrilling coasters in the dark.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

 

Starliner? Starlater...

Just got a note from the public relations department at Cypress Gardens. The classic wooden roller-coaster "Starliner" was set to reopen on Saturday morning, but it seems delays with the ride's new computer control system have pushed back the debut. We'll let you know when a new opening date is announced.

http://www.cypressgardens.com/whats_new/2007/04/starliner_rebuilt.php

 

HHN Gets Freddy Kreuger and Friends

Universal is ratcheting up the fear factor in this year's Halloween Horror Nights.
Universal Orlando announced Wednesday that it has reached a deal with New Line Cinema to use the three iconic horror-movie characters in its annual nighttime scare-fest event, which runs weekends around Halloween.

It's the first time New Line Cinema has given any theme park the rights to use the characters from the popular Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre series of movies.

Leonard Pickel, who edits Haunted Attractions Magazine, had this to say:

"I can see it as being a strong play," Pickel said. "What that's going to do is provide, on the one hand, the ability to take characters that are already like the modern-day Frankenstein, Dracula and Werewolf, and put them in context. It's an interesting move."

Huh?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

 

Will Titanic Weigh Anchor?

The Sentinel is reporting that The Mercado "has a date with a wrecking ball in September," which would suggest that Titanic - the Experience will have to find new digs.

David Christensen, Titanic spokesman, issued a somewhat cryptic statement today:
WLM, Inc., parent company of the Orlando based and family owned Titanic-The Experience, is finalizing agreements with developer Unicorp to ensure the attractions continued growth and success for many years to come on International Drive; the location the world renowned attraction has been proud to call home since 1998.

“We are excited and inspired by Unicorp’s bold and dynamic visions for International Drive” stated G. Michael Harris, a noted Titanic expert and expedition leader as well as WLM, Inc. President. “I look forward to our continued relationship with Unicorp and bringing Orlando a new and improved Titanic-The Experience”.

This doesn't really say that the attraction will stay put, merely that it will remain on International Drive. But where exactly?

Let me put on my Matt Drudge hat and breathlessly type . . . Developing . . .

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What's in a Name? Shakespeare Gets a New Look

The Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival is changing its name to "The Orlando Shakespeare Theater, in partnership with UCF."

That "in partnership with" bit seems a bit of an afterthought the way it's presented on the web site, so I suspect that it reflects some attempt to make nice with the UCF crowd and will be ignored in practice.

And speaking of web sites, they have a new one of those as well -- orlandoshakes.org -- which leads me to believe they hope people will start calling them "Orlando Shakes."

Check out their 2007 - 2008 season. which includes Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, and The Scottish Play by the Bard, as well as Shylock, which "explores The Merchant of Venice through the eyes of its controversial character, Shylock."

 

Tips for Universal

Wow! The Orlando Weekly's Seth Kubersky, who blogs here, has some great suggestions about how Universal can "jump start the potential they've spent this decade dissipating."
Explain express

Tourists grumble that Universal’s Express Plus pass costs cash, as opposed to Disney’s free Fastpass. If only they understood that Universal’s “skip the line” program is a much bigger time-saver that doesn’t destroy the experience for regular guests the way Fastpass has.

Plunder the peacock

What good is having NBC in the corporate family if you don’t exploit it? Meet-and-greets with Hiro and Sylar and Dunder-Mifflin “training seminars” would be a great start.

Go “boutique”

Discovery Cove–style intimate experiences are the future. Universal already has the best VIP tours in town — but what if you could be a Jaws skipper, a stunt actor or a Blue Man for a day?

And that's just a sample. Read the whole thing.

 

IOA's Soundtrack Is History

No, I don't mean the actual music in the park, which is still there and still magical.

But the CD of the park soundtrack is no longer for sale at the gift shops. I spotted two "suits" in Islands of Adventure Trading Company during a recent visit and accosted them. (Actually, suits at Universal don't wear suits, but you can spot them anyway -- they're over 35!)

They told me that the CD just wasn't selling well. Smart merchandising practice maybe, but dumb move.

I can't see any way Universal was losing money on this deal. After all, they'd already paid for the music and printing CDs is dirt cheap. They probabaly just weren't making millions.

So what they decided to do was to squander a wonderful opportunity to build a stronger relationship with their most ardent fans, the ones who would have bought the CD to listen to at home and relive their IOA experience.

Maybe that's why SeaWorld edged out IOA in attendance last year.

Universal Orlando needs more people in management who love theme parks as much as we do.

 

Poseidon's Fury Farewell?

It had been assumed that Poseidon's Fury and Mythos would be the only elements of IOA's Lost Continent to survive through the upcoming Harry Potter project. But I just got word that a notice has been posted backstage for Poseidon's cast and crew indicating that the show will be closing in January. No word yet on exactly what this means, but I'm told it's more that just regular maintenance downtime. More details as they become available...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

 

Midway Airboat Rides Get a New Look

Wow! The new owners of Midway Airboats have been busy.

In my original review I talked about how desolate the place looked. And the "before" picture to the left will give you an idea of what I was talking about.

It was really kind of cool in a Mad Max sort of way.

The setting is still wonderfully "untouched by human hands," but the buildings themselves have been touched a lot. They're now covered by some pretty nifty murals as the "after" photo at the right illustrates.

Prices have gone up too, but that should come as no surprise to anyone who's filled up their gas tank recently. Fuel is the single largest expense for an airboat operator.

For more information, visit their web site.

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Orange Crate Art at OCRHC

The Orange County Regional History Center (OCRHC) is mounting an exhibition of Florida Citrus Labels. You know, the pretty brand-name labels on the ends of orange crates?

Before you laugh, take a look. These bits of American vernacular art have become much sought after collectors' items and as you travel around the state, you see them featured on posters amnd postcards.

The Center's at 65 East Central Boulevard in downtown Orlando and if you haven't visited, you really should. The exhibit runs from August 5 to September 7. For more information, call 407-836-8500 or visit www.thehistorycenter.org. Read my review of the Center.

Monday, June 25, 2007

 

Ride a Little History

The Starliner Coaster, which is being billed as "Florida's Original Scream Machine," opens at Cypress Gardens on June 30th and there's a contest to see who gets to ride it first.

You have to be over 48-inches tall and if you're under 18 you need your parents' permission.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

 

Shuttle Launch Experience at KSC

Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Launch Experience has opened. So what's it like?
Everything is synchronized to a T, with speakers blaring sound effects and Mission Control updates in time with the cabin's rumbles. For a capsule that actually remains relatively stationary after the initial tilt, the simulator does a decent job of conveying the sensation of G-forces, using a combination of subtle seat-cushion mechanics and good old-fashioned gravity. Still, my fears about training are largely unfounded: Far from a threat to my lunch, the vibrations might make for a good massage if I weren't being told that I was in danger of being crushed like a tin can by air resistance.

 

Fun Spot Expands in Kissimmee

Multi-story go-karting has arrived on US 192. The Vortex is part of Fun Spot USA's expansion next door to Old Town.

Read more.

And check out the review of the original Fun Spot in Orlando on International Drive.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

 

American Adventure v2.5

Just got back from Epcot where the newly-updated American Adventure debuted this morning. Here are my impressions based on one viewing. The bulk of the show is unchanged, except for some needed maintenance to the animatronics and effects (did ya know Jefferson's candle smokes?).

The Golden Dreams segment however has been heavily revised. While the visual motif is unchanged, the entire sequence looks to have been digitally recomposited, so the original images that remain are edited differently, and everything is much cleaner and sharper (especially compared to the film segments in the rest of the show). The song is a slightly remixed version of what we're familiar with -- fewer drums in some places, more choir in others -- but with the same vocalists and basic arrangement.

The first half of the segment, from WWII to JFK, has been shortened, and a few faces like MacArthur are missing (Thankfully Walt and Tink are still there). The speeches from JFK, MLK, and Armstrong are largely unchanged, and the images leading up to the Vietnam memorial are mostly the same.

The post-Vietnam part of the song is almost entirely new, and begins with a young George Lucas with C3pO, who get more screentime than Reagan, Gorbachev, and the fall of the Berlin Wall combined. The Challenger crew is still glimpsed, as is "Stop AIDS Now", but Princess Di has replaced Ryan White and Magic Johnson.

The inevitable 9/11 tribute is plane crash-free, starting with a shot of the ruined towers, followed by the famous picture of firefighters raising the flag at Ground Zero. Next, heroic shots of our military and "support the troops" signs. Then, bizarrely, it cuts to a montage of sports stars, with Tony Hawk flying across the screen, Muhammad Ali hoisting the Olympic torch, and Lance Armstrong pedaling. The final image before the Statue of Liberty appears is a non-sequiter of little kids holding sparklers.

All in all, not a travesty, and an update was overdue. But somehow the show that always made me -- one of the least jingoistic people you'll meet -- a little misty-eyed, failed to elicit any emotion for the first time in years.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

 

Currency Exchange at Universal Orlando

Seems that not all foreign currency is created equal as far as Universal Orlando is concerned.

Yes, you can stop by Guest Services at either park and exchange up to $500 worth of foreign currency for a flat fee of $5 IF you have the right currency. Pounds sterling, euros, and yen are okay, but surprisingly Canadian dollars are not.

Also, Guest Services can't guarantee it will have $500 on hand when you make your request.

It makes sense I suppose. Guest Serv ices can't be expected to track exchange rates for every curfrency on earth. Still, you think our neighbors to the North would get a little more respect.

Obviously, the more you exchange the better the deal on the fee. $5 is just1% of $500, but 2.5% of $200.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

 

Mythos Is Still Yummy

I'm pleased to report that Mythos, at Islands of Adventure is maintaining its high standards. And its moderate price points!

The stand out on several recent visits was (as is so often the case) the Risotto of the Day, this time a generous mound of grilled sea scallops over a mound of perfectly done risotto, garnished with asparagus stalks and grilled cherry tomatoes.

I was less taken with the Blueberry and Pistachio Crusted Grilled Pork with a blue cheese and port wine sauce. Interesting, but I don't think I'd order it again. Still, you don't go to Mythos to have the "same old thing."

The corvina is back! That will be good news for long time Mythos fans. Seems they've banished salmon from the menu because of the chef's concerns over farmed salmon. A lot of finer restaurants are heading in this direction.

As for appetizers, the shrimp sushi is still first-rate and botton mushrooms in a cream sauce, served in a brioche bowl is also quite tasty.

They're still doing those silly mini desserts (boo, hiss), but the warm chocolate banana gooey cake is available to remind you of the way it used to be.

I've posted the Mythos menu.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

 

Holy Land Still Struggles

Despite the recently announced rescue by Trinity Broadcasting, it looks like the Holy Land Experience still faces challenges.
Money has been a perennial problem for Holy Land. Although it operates as a not-for-profit business, the 6-year-old attraction has suffered declining attendance and has been unable to attract sufficient donations to cope with rising costs.

Thomas E. Powell, Holy Land's president, blames a poorly funded marketing campaign and rising operational costs for the attraction's monetary woes.

"We cannot support ourselves through ticket sales," Powell said. "We haven't been able to promote ourselves except through word of mouth. What we have done now is entered in a marriage that provides an opportunity for growth."

 

NASCAR Sports Grille

I had a chance to check out the completely renovated, under-new-management NASCAR Sports Grille last night. The news is both good and bad.

The place is now more restaurant than NASCAR theme park. The arcade and gift shop are still there but they are now afterthoughts rather than main attractions. The funky bar with the oil barrels and lights in helmets is gone, too, replaced by sleek modern affairs. There is now dining on both floors and next time I go I'm going to try upstairs on the balcony.

Come to think of it, "sleek" is a pretty good adjective for the new sports bar look of the place. The once-gaudy exterior has been toned down , although the new entrance is between two-story-tall starting flags. The interior is sedate brown on brown with comfy booths and high-top tables. Most booths have a TV screen built in and larger plasma screens dot the walls. A menu of sports programming and Fox News is constantly on tap. You can control the channel and sound on your in-booth set, but I found the controls tricky to master.

The NASCAR memorabilia is still there, much of it outdoors in the form of the cars of the famous. Inside, it's easy to overlook the cars hanging overhead. On the walls, old photos in discreet black and white set the tone.

The menu is heavy on steaks, chops and ribs. On first encounter, the food is just so-so I'm afraid. My $23 rib-eye wasn't worth the freight, the accompanying broccoli was bland and the "Texas toast" was soggy. On the other hand, the onion rings with a tangy dipping sauce were tasty. But I will reserve judgment until I have sampled more of the menu.

Given the price points ($40+ a head if you want anything more elaborate than fish and chips or a burger), it seems they are going for a more upscale clientele, one that doesn't want to hear the start of a race at full throttle every 15 minutes. I suspect they are pricing a big chunk of the NASCAR fan base, especially those with families, out of the market.

The service is warm and friendly, but the current crop lacks the NASCAR-savvy that made the old place so much fun. I asked one young lady if the poles on the stairacse were meant to represent shocks. "What are shocks?" she replied.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

 

It's a miracle!

Well, sorta.

The debt-plagued Holy Land Experience has found another savior, this time an earthly one.

Trinity Broadcasting Network, which recently acquired Orlando's WGTL television franchise and which, to comply with FCC regulations, needs to start producing some local shows, has essentially "bought" the ailing theme park.

Since both Holy Land and Trinity are non-profits, it's not precisely a "sale," but by agreeing to take on Holy Land's debt, Trinity is now effectively in charge. As the Sentinel explains:
The arrangement was more a handover than a takeover, spokesmen for both organizations said. Holy Land needed financial support and a nationwide promotional platform to remedy sagging attendance. Trinity needed land to build television-production studios for the license it recently acquired for WTGL-TV Channel 52, as well as a back lot for some of its movie production and music videos.

"Universal Studios does the same thing," said Paul Crouch Jr., son of Trinity's founder who now serves as vice president of the California-based network. "We want Holy Land to be a smaller, faith-based version of that."

In all, four members of the Crouch family, who founded and control Trinity, will join Holy Land's board of directors. They replace seven of the eight previous members. Michael Powell, the current president and chief executive officer of Holy Land, will remain on the new board.

Because Holy Land is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, there is no stock ownership. Thus, the park passes to the Crouches by virtue of their control of the board. Trinity also is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.

Let the faithful rejoice! And let's hope the Crouch's maintain the park's high design standards (improving the shows would be nice, too).

 

Twilight Discovery is back

Discovery Cove's summer program, Twilight Discovery, is back!

Billed as "an all-inclusive evening package that brings Discovery Cove’s intimacy to an extraordinary level for 150 people a night," the program features sunset animal interactions, sumptuous island feasts and live Caribbean-style entertainment in a tropical setting.

On the downside, the dolphin interaction only takes place in shallow water (they call it a "wade"). Cost is about the same as the daytime program, $259 (plus tax) with the dolphin wade and $159 without.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

 

Where's Harry?

Well, it's official! Harry Potter is coming to Islands of Adventure. This is a great coup for Universal (Disney was also bidding for the rights) and is sure to make Universal fans very, very happy. It also could make Universal much, much more competitive against the Mouse in a few years.

You can get the official poop, or you can read press accounts here, here, and here.

By the way, I doubt the talk of a 2009 opening. Soft openings for a few attractions, shops, and restaurants, maybe. But I think Spring of 2010 is a more realistic date.

But what I want to know is where, exactly, is the "Wizarding World" going to be?

There is mention in the press reports that an employee parking lot and other support areas just outside the fence will be used. If you check out the satellite map courtesy of Google Maps, you will see that the most obvious access to this area is through the present Sinbad amphitheater.

My guess is that the designers will cut Lost Continent in two, leaving Mythos and Poseidon's Fury as is. The rest would be turned over to Harry. Sinbad's Village could easily be rethemed. Indeed, some of the stuff there now is already kinda Pottery.

Enchanted Oak Tavern is also in the wizard vein (Merlin), Flying Unicorn lends it self to Potter rethemeing (perhaps as that flying Ford Anglia?), and it seems to me that Dueling Dragons could be easily revamped as a quidditch game with the queue standing in for Hogwarts School.

I had originally speculated that the Sinbad Show would be reworked as a Harry Potter show (Harry, Ron and Hermione vs. Voldemort?), but now I'm starting to think that the amphitheater might be demolished to create an avenue into the new areas behind the fence. After all, so I tell myself, the amphitheater represents less of a capital investment than the DD roller coaster or Poseidons Fury.

As to what totally new attractions might be added, I haven't a clue. The Harry Potter fan site, Muggle Guide, has some fun speculation as to what the new attractions might be.

Whether I am right (doubtful) or wrong (highly likely), playing this kind of guessing game will keep us all cheerfully occupied while we wait for the real Wizarding World of Harry Potter to take shape.

Anyone else want to hazard a guess?

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