Monday, July 30, 2007

 

Armageddeon Comes to Kennedy Space Center

No, not the final dust-up between the forces of Good and Evil. It's the movie starring Bruce Willis and Netflix is offering up a free screening in KSC's Rocket Garden as part of its "On Location" PR juggernaut.

The event takes place on Thursday, August 2nd and will be preceded with a 60-minute concert by none other than Bruce himself and the Bruce Willis Blues Band.

One other thing: To attend the "free" event, you will have to pay for entry to KSC.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

 

Street Breakz Is (Are?) Back

Not listed in the Universal Studios Florida Studio Guide, but Street Breakz was performing in front of the construction fence at the new Simspons ride this afternoon.

 

Simpsons Opens Huge

The executive suites at Universal Orlando must be overflowing with champagne.
What a shocker! I'm told 20th Century Fox's official Friday estimate shows The Simpsons Movie made $30 million Friday -- or what the studio hoped its toon would make all weekend -- and could have an $80 million weekend. That's more than Transformers made on its opening day and best single day this summer, and good enough for The Simpsons to slot into the Hollywood's Top 17 opening days of all time (right behind the $30.1 mil of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones). But the well reviewed (a score of 88% positive critiques on Rotten Tomatoes) and wide release (playing in 3,922 North American theaters) pic managed an outstanding per screen average of 7,649 Friday. It's also playing huge overseas.

Friday, July 27, 2007

 

Kissimmee Going Upscale? Maybe

When I first started covering the Orlando scene, Kissimmee, especially the US 192 strip, was a guady temple to the tacky. There were the cheapo motels that made Arthur Frommer wax rhapsodic and there were the downscale alternatives to Disney World with admission prices that the non-rich could actually afford.

And cheap it certainly was. I remember staying on 192 for $19 a night! The attractions were equally downscale and forgettable, with a few exception like Wild Bill's dinner show and Water Mania. But most of them are gone now, including Wild Bill's and Water Mania. The Haunted Mansion. Jungleland. Xanadu. Gone. And does anyone remember Maze World?

Kissimmee may still be Orlando's bargain basement when it comes to cheap sleeps, but the winds of change are blowing and coming smack up against the area's downscale image, as a fascinating article in the Sentinel documents.
"The current image of Osceola County must be overcome. . . . Is the Kissimmee area locked in to the 'cheap and cheerful' side of tourism? The county must convince developers otherwise," the study says. "Developers/owners avoid the 'Kissimmee' address because of the stigma attached."

Changing Kissimmee's image will likely take more than a new name. International travelers can't fly directly to Kissimmee because the city's airport lacks a U.S. Customs agent. Limited public transportation and congested roads make it difficult for visitors to get around.

The county also lacks upscale shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Condos have replaced the tacky attractions, but discount T-shirt and souvenir shops still far outnumber boutiques in Osceola.

"You can market all you want, but if you get to the community, and it looks like a place for bargain travelers, you'll feel like it's bait-and-switch," said Otis White, president of Civic Strategies, an Atlanta-based public-policy consulting firm. "If you want to sell a Cadillac, it better look like a Cadillac."

 

Thanks, Tom!

The Tom I mentioned in my last post is Tom Williams, chairman and CEO of Universal Parks and Resorts.

I had the good fortune to bump into him at IOA yesterday and was able to shake his hand and (not withstanding my concerns alluded to in the previous post) tell him "Thanks!" for all the great work he does at the parks.

I think it made his day. It certainly made mine.

 

Green Eggs & Ham Update

I have noticed, with dismay, that the wonderful Green Eggs and Ham food stand in Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure has been closed on every one of my recent visits.

It turns out it has only been open extremely infrequently during the past year and now there is talk of "doing something else with it."

Say it ain't so, Tom! GE&H is one of the best things in Seuss Landing. It's an inspired bit of fantasy architecture, for starters, and the eponymous sandwich was pretty darn tasty.

There has been a disturbing trend at Universal of late to trim budgets and cut corners. It's time to draw a line in the green eggs and ham!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

 

Hoofing It At Portofino Bay

One of the unavoidable consequences of the ingenious design of the Portofino Bay Hotel is the long, long corridors that lead from the lobby to the rooms. From time to time, I have heard people complain about it.

But if you think the guests have to hike, spare a thought for the bellmen. I was chatting with a bellman today who told me that someone brought a pedometer to work one day and they figured out that the average bellman at Portofino covers ten miles every day.

Tip well!

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Simpsons Movie Premieres at Universal Orlando

It was a smashing yellow carpet premiere for "The Simpsons Movie" tonight at Universal Orlando's Cineplex. Cartoon-colored confetti was shot into the air over the Cineplex entrance as America's true First Family arrived by limo and strolled down the yellow carpet (get it?) past adoring fans.

I was fortunate enough to join the VIP audience for the screening that followed, donuts, popcorn and soda on the house, of course.

The good news is that the movie is terrific. The plot revolves around Homer's infatuation with a pet pig, his disastrous method for handling said pig's waste, the resulting environmental devastation of Springfield, the over response of a government helmed by Arnold Schwarzenegger ("I was elected to lead not to read"), Homer's resulting banishment, and his heroic redemption.

I'd bet the proverbial farm that it will be a roaring success. I suppose that the criticism could be leveled that it's just another Simpsons episode, if a little longer. But it's also bigger and naughtier (Bart has a nude scene!) and the writers have wisely (and hilariously) anticipated the criticism. Early on, during an Itchy and Scrathy cartoon, Homer stands up in the movie theater within the movie theater and complains, "We're paying to see something we could see on TV free!"

More important, for the somewhat narrow purposes of this blog, the movie is very shrewdly sprinkled with references that seem to anticipate the fact that the Simpsons are about to become a more or less permanent fixture at a certain Florida theme park.

There are references to Spider Man (in the absolutely hysterical and annoyingly impossible to forget "Spider Pig" song), and to boy wizard Harry Potter. There's also a vicious dig at the "the mascot of an evil corporation" that will be instantly recognizable. One fall down funny sequence, in which Homer and Marge prepare for a night of connubial bliss, twits that evil corporation's trademark use of cute little forest animals in its fabled animated films. This could be the cultural event that once and for all establishes Universal as the hip alternative to that "other place" down the Interstate.

In the movie's closing moments, Maggie says her first word. I won't reveal it here. Suffice it to say, it will bring gladness to the hearts of Universal theme park executives everywhere.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

 

Starliner Update

Seth Kubersky reviewed Cypress Garden's new Starliner coaster for Orlando Weekly.

Well, he tried to review it..
Florida’s theme parks feature roller coasters filled with zero G-force inversions, magnetic launches and flailing yetis, yet none of those steel machines can match the organic thrill of a classic wooden coaster. Many of the legendary woodies have been mulched, but thanks to Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, one has received a welcome, if belated, resurrection.

In 1963, famed designer John Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. built the Starliner for the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. Panama City Beach’s original scream machine thrilled for 40 years with 2,640 feet of track, a 65-foot first drop and a top speed of 70 mph. Florida’s first e-ticket nearly vanished when the park was shuttered in 2004, but it found a champion in Kent Buescher, owner of Winter Haven’s revived Cypress Gardens. Three years and $4 million later, the coaster’s out-and-back layout has been exactingly reconstructed, with a bonus in the tighter turn-around.

At the July 6 opening ceremony, Buescher credited God with leading him to rescue Cypress Gardens and the Starliner. Unfortunately, the Lord wasn’t able to keep the contractor from having to be replaced mid-relocation, or to get the new computer that replaces the original manual brakes working in time for a scuttled June 30 opening. Nor could he get the ride’s state safety paperwork on schedule for the follow-up July 6 event that I drove down to attend. Thanks to still missing “accelerometer tests,” we grand-opening attendees were denied an actual ride. Instead, a handful of coaster club members were “hired” for the day as temporary employees, allowing them to ride, and they reported “lots of medium floaty air and some slammers”: sounds like a thumbs-up.

By last weekend, though, the Starliner was legal and functioning. Coaster fanatics and Winter Haven locals have cause to celebrate; the rest of us can only wish the whole thing was 20 miles closer to I-4.

 

UPDATE: NASCAR Sports Grille

Well it now looks like NASCAR Sports Grille now has 7% of the vote in WESH TV's "Best Sports Bar" competition, putting it squarely in last place.

The really bad news is that I strongly suspect that 7% represents my single vote! Sheesh! They're not even trying. If I'm right, they could win this thing just by getting every employee to vote.

 

Latest Universal Orlando Pricing

Here's the latest info on ticket prices for Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk. The first price is for adults, the second for children 3 to 9. (All prices include tax, except as noted.)

1 day / 1 park.....$71.36 / $59.64
1 day / 2 park.....$82.01 / $71.36
2 day / 2 park.....$122.43 / $111.78 (expires in 7 days)
2 day / 2 park.....$133.08 / $122.43 (does not expire)

2 park preferred annual pass.....$202.30
2 park power pass.....$138.40

CityWalk Party Pass.....$11.99 (plus tax)

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Friday, July 20, 2007

 

NASCAR Sports Grille Stalls in Best Bar Race

NASCAR Sports Grille at Universal Orlando's Citywalk is one of nine contestants in WESH TV's "Best Sports Bar" competition.

But, as of this writing, it doesn't seem to have garnered a single vote.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

 

Free Shipping on the Orlando 3-Pak

For a limited time (till August 1, in fact), The Intrepid Traveler publishing company is offering free Media Mail shipping to readers of this blog when you order the Orlando 3-Pak.

This combines three of our most poplular Orlando Guides, The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation, Universal Orlando 2007 and The Other Orlando: What To Do When You've Done Disney and Universal. Together, they comprise the most complete reference to the million and one things (okay, the somewhere over 200 things) to see and do in Orlando and Central Florida.

Order here.

 

Orlando Outlet Shop Headed For Festival Bay

The Sentinel is reporting that a Universal Orlando owned and operated outlet store is slated for Festival Bay, near the movie theaters. Festival Bay is on the north end of International Drive, near the Prime Outlets.

The store will be new construction and will feature close-outs, end of season items, and leftovers from various special events.

Of course, Orlando has lots of other outlet shopping as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

 

Dotty Dames Duke It Out At Disney

Whew, things can get rough at the Happiest Place on Earth®!

WESH News is reporting that Victoria Walker, 51, was arrested in Alabama after attacking another woman in line at (appropriately enough) the "Mad Tea Party" a few weeks ago. Walker accused Aimee Krause of cutting in line and "punched Krause in the head repeatedly before the two could be separated."

Incredibly, Walker almost got away with it.
Investigators initially allowed Walker to go home but arrested Walker in Alabama weeks later after Krause complained of seizures, memory loss and blurred vision since the attack.

One great way to avoid the crowds at Disney is to book into one of the luxury hotels at Universal Orlando and get express access that lets you jump the queue at every ride in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

Monday, July 16, 2007

 

Orlando Gas Flirts with $3

Gas prices in the Orlando area are still lower than the national average of $3.05 a gallon. But according to WESH News, they're catching up.
Gas prices in Florida have jumped by more than eight cents a gallon from a week ago to just under $3.
The latest survey by AAA shows that the price for a gallon of regular, unleaded fuel is now $2.99.

 

The Simpsons Are At Universal Orlando

Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Bart Simpson (or at least costumed perfomers playing them) have started showing up at Universal Studios Florida to entertain guests and build anticipation for the new Simpsons ride scheduled to open next Spring.

Simpsons imagery has also started appearing on the walls blocking off the old Back To The Future ride during the installation of the new ride. Until recently, Universal wasn't even saying openly that the new attraction would, indeed, be based on the Simpsons!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

 

Better Late Than Never

Looks like the paperwork went through and, according to the Sentinel, Cypress Garden's new/old Starliner was worth the wait.
Its feel is distinct from the start, as the cars are noisily pulled up to the apex in a stuttering climb that is anything but smooth. After that, it's a surprisingly fast series of dips, ramps and turns, with the ratchety inertia compensating for the lack of loops.

"Great ride for the kids," said Pam Gervase of Auburndale after exiting. "Something steeper might be nice for adults, though."

The gleaming white, lattice-heavy thrill ride is visible from outside the park's gates, and the clack-clack-clack of the track alerts guests that a plunge -- 67 feet at 70 mph -- is imminent.

Be sure to check out the rest of Cypress Gardens.

Friday, July 13, 2007

 

Starliner Grand Nopening...

Driving from Orlando to Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven at the ass-crack of dawn: $15 worth of gas and coffee

Standing in the sun for an hour waiting for the opening ceremonies: $12.95 worth of sunburn cream

Hearing the CEO of a multi-million dollar company say you can't ride his new roller coaster because they forgot to file their "accelerometer test" paperwork with the state saftey inspectors: PRICELESS!!!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

 

Web Store Goes Live

If you read the last post and listened to Allen Huffman's podcast, you're probably ready to get your own copy of Steve Barrett's two Hidden Mickeys books -- Hidden Mickeys and Disneyland's Hidden Mickeys.

Well wait no more. The publisher of the books, The Intrepid Traveler, has a new web store that is live, online and ready for browsing.

 

A Hidden Mickeys Convert

Allen Huffman used to diss the whole idea of Steve Barrett's Hidden Mickeys books. Then he read them. Now he's eating crow.

You can listen to Another Crappy Podcast (hey, that's what they call it!), in which he waxes rhapsodic about how great they are!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

 

'Early Show' Takes To CityWalk and Orlando

CBS's The Early Show came to Orlando, using Universal Orlando's CityWalk as a back drop and loved it.
The show's main attraction was American Idol alumna Katharine McPhee, who performed three songs. She, too, liked what she saw on her first visit to Orlando and Universal Orlando.

"Way better than the one in L.A.," she said. "It's really nice here."

I especially liked this line from Harry Smith:
Early Show anchor Harry Smith worked the CityWalk crowd during breaks. "No one said a discouraging word to me," Smith said. "I don't suppose you're going to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning and come over and watch for two hours if you really hate it."

Monday, July 09, 2007

 

Gay Bashing, Nazi-Style

But seriously, folks.

Orlando isn't all fun and games, as a deadly serious exhibit about the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis at the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, in Maitland proves.
The exhibit, featuring more than 250 photographs and documents, aims to show the impact of the regime that devastated countless lives.

“This is one of the aspects of World War II that many people are not aware of,” says Eva Ritt, an administrator at the Holocaust Memorial Center. She says the center’s goal is to highlight groups and people that have been persecuted – Jewish or not.

Ritt notes that the Nazis were meticulous record keepers, easing the burden of determining who was confined because they were believed to be homosexual. Many of the photographs comprise a trio of mug shots, including the profile picture, which was standard at the time of arrest or booking into concentration camps. Treatment was often worse for those viewed as homosexual; at Auschwitz, for example, many of the gays died only months after imprisonment because of the harsh conditions.

There are satellite events as well, including lectures, a recital by the Orlando Gay Chorus and a production of Martin Sherman's play Bent, produced by the Empty Spaces Theatre Co., under the guidance of our own Seth Kubersky. The play will be presented at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center from August 3 through 12. More info at Empty Spaces web site.

See my review of the Holocaust Center and, for more information, about the exhibit :

NAZI PERSECUTION OF HOMOSEXUALS
Through Aug. 25
Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, Maitland
(407) 628-0555
free
www.holocaustedu.org

 

New Crocs at Gatorland

Cool! There are a bunch of just-hatched baby crocs at Gatorland.
Gatorland is pleased to announce the birth of twelve Nile Crocodiles that hatched [July 4] as the theme park celebrated Independence Day. ...

Each of the young crocodiles measures approximately 10 centimeters in length and weighs about 2 oz. “Nile crocodiles are an amazing species,” states Babs Morrissiey, the park’s General Curator. “Nile Crocodiles typically mate once a year and at Gatorland we are happy to have one of the few breeding colonies within the United States.”

 

Jungle Attraction Turns Green

I've talked about the "green slime" at Jungle Adventures, but now the small attraction on the fringes of Orlando has really gone green.
Jungle Adventures, Inc. educates visitors on Florida's history, ecology and biology. In doing so, the organization hopes to sustain a clean environment for everyone to enjoy. Among other initiatives, Jungle Adventures, Inc. refrains from using pesticides, does not landscape and uses an electric motor for their guided boat tours. (407) 568-1354. www.jungleadventures.com.

Friday, July 06, 2007

 

Dessert Lady July Events

One of my favorite places is The Dessert Lady, hidden away in a mall just north of Universal Orlando.

Just in case you ever need an excuse to drop by for one of Patti Schmidt's sinfully delicious desserts, you can now point to their regular schedule of literary and art events. Here is the July line up:
July 9th, Monday, 7:00-9:00PM
Meet the…DREAM INTERPRETER & Author
Do you have a reoccurring dream? Are you curious to know what your dream means? Come meet and speak with Jean Benedict Raffa, Ed. D. Jean, a student of Jungian psychology and writer on psychological and spiritual issues. Jean will answer any of your “Dream” questions during this special event. Jean will also be autographing her books Dream Theatres of the Soul, if you’d like to interpret all of your dreams! So, write those dreams down and bring them with you on the 9th!
Please call us with your RSVP!

July 18, Wednesday, 7:00-9:00PM
Meet the…ARTIST
Our frequent The Dessert Lady Café patrons have already enjoyed some of the very unique paintings displayed on our walls. During this week’s special event meet Elizabeth Nelson the painter of “Desserts”! Come mingle with Elizabeth and ask our guest artist about her creative process. If you like to own one of Elizabeth’s paintings…you better hurray…they very seem to hang on our walls for very long! Please call us with your RSVP!

July 24th, Tuesday, 7:00-9:00PM
Meet the…Jewelry Artist
Something a little different tonight! Our Germany born guest artist, Gisa Kusserow-Hanson, will create one of a kind jewelry during this evening’s special event. Mingle with our artist, watch her create and enjoy her array of accessories. Your creative juices will flow with an exhilarating feeling of “I could do that”…well, almost! Please call us with your RSVP!

July 30, Monday, 7:00-9:00PM
Meet the …Author
Need to put a little romance back into your life? Come meet and chat with the Author of Great Dates Orlando: 52 ways to experience Orlando’s romantic side, Kristen Manieri. Join Kristen as she sips some wine and enjoys her favorite dessert, at one of her preferred romantic spots, The Dessert Lady Café. Ask Kristen to help you figure out the best romantic spot for that special occasion you have in mind. Books will be on hand, just in case you’d like to know all 52 spots. Please call us with your RSVP!

The RSVP number is 407-822-8881.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

 

Universal 360 returns

Universal 360, the nighttime finale show staged in the Universal Studios lagoon, returned on Saturday night and will run through August 18th (nightly at 9:45pm).

The show is essentially unchanged from last year, here is my original review of the show:
http://orlandoweekly.com/artsculture/story.asp?id=10827

It's no Illuminations, and fireworks fanatics will be a bit underwhelmed, but if you're already in the park it's worth sticking around until closing for. Last year the best views were from the waterside smoking section behind Richter's Burgers. This year the projection globes seem to have been angled differently, so better views may be found behind Lombards, or in the "Central Park" area near Animal Actors.

 

More on American Adventure

You've already read Seth Kubersky's take on the new American Adventure show at Epcot. Now the Sentinel has its say. It's less a review than a backgrounder.
As always with sensitive material, the update was tricky, particularly dealing tactfully with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Historians are included in the process, said Rick Rothschild, the executive show director. Rothschild, who's also a senior vice president with Walt Disney Imagineering, helped develop the original show and the first update. In dealing with 9-11, he and planners focused on how Americans came together afterward to cope and recover, he said.

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Fourth of July in Orlando

The Sentinel has a helpful round-up of 4th of July celebrations at Orlando area theme parks.

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