Friday, October 26, 2007


Kwik-E-Mart Opens at USF -- Without Apu

You'll have to wait until next year for the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios Florida, but you can buy your souvenirs now.

Yes, Kwik-E-Mart has opened next to the still shrouded ride building in the space formerly occupied by the BTTF gift shop.

I rushed inside hoping to glimpse Apu, but he wasn't there and neither were any Squishees! There was, however, a very nice Indian lady behind the counter who assured me that it was early days yet and that eventually Squishees would be on offer. Hope she's right.

Squishee-less, I turned my attention to browsing. The must-have souvenir is a talking doll of Homer, clad only in a towel. Squeeze his hand and he goes through a small repertoire of catchphrases. Best one? His dancing rendition of "Macho Man."

It's an unbelieveably stupid -- and utterly irresistible -- toy. Yours for $30. Hurry before Apu doubles the prices!

Even if you are super-human and can resist that one, it's worth visiting the Kwik-E-Mart just for the signage.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Holy Land Lambasted

There's a blistering article in the Sentinel about the Holy Land Experience's new owners.

Decide for yourself.



Jurassic Park Kids Suites Come to Royal Pacific Resort

Loews Hotels has officially unveiled its $8.5 million renovation of the Royal Pacific Resort. The redo features such upscale touches as flat-screen TVs in all rooms and "new guest rooms and corridor designs [that] have been reinvigorated with a lush tropical color palette of pale aqua, lime, mango and melon for a distinctly charming look."

But the big news, the real news is the introduction of Jurassic Park-themed kids suites. From the press release:
The hotel is also adding eight Jurassic Park-themed kid's suites. These popular suites, currently the only accommodations of their kind in the world, offer privacy for mom and dad, while the kids stay in a separate sleeping room that features custom Jurassic Park wall murals, artwork from the making of the movies and Jurassic Park-themed beds and furniture. A stay in one of these suites is the perfect way for guests to add to the adventures they enjoy at Universal Orlando's theme parks. Parents appreciate the added safety feature that only allows access from the children's room into the adult's room, and not into the hallway.

Now all the resort hotels have kids suites and RPR's JP suites are the perfect treat for your dinosaur-obsessed little ones.

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Monday, October 22, 2007


Dottie's Comedy Theater Has Closed

I was saddened to note that Dottie's Comedy Theater on International Drive has closed, another victim to the cutthroat competition for tourist dollars in O-Town.

Too bad. A nice idea and super nice people.


Two Major Boulevard Hotels Revamp, Change Names

Two hotels on Major Boulevard, just across Kirkman Road from Universal Orlando, have undergone recent renovations and changed their branding.

The former Sleep Inn at 5605 Major is now a Holiday Inn Express. I stayed here during the renovation and can freport that the redone rooms are very nice indeed.

The old AmeriSuites at 5895 Caravan Court, just off Major, has transformed into a Hyatt Place, a new Hyatt brand. Here's what the web site says:
Hyatt Place is a new kind of hotel that puts style, innovation and The Hyatt Touch® within everyone's reach. Our guests will enjoy a spacious guestroom with a 42" flat panel high-definition television, our signature Hyatt Grand Bed™, a plush Cozy Corner oversized sofa sleeper that is separated from the sleeping area, and complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi Internet access throughout the hotel.

The innovation extends beyond the guestroom. Our Gallery is a warm and open area that features a self-registration kiosk, an intimate coffee and wine cafe, a TV den and an e-room with free access to a public computer and printer. After a long day, relax in our outdoor heated pool and sun deck.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007


Fall Concert Series at Kennedy Space Center Kicks Off November 10

But will it be out of this world? From the press release:
With the iconic Rocket Garden as the backdrop, the live, festival style outdoor concert will happen every Saturday at 4:00 p.m. for four weeks, November 10, 17, 24 and December 1 as part of NASA’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Headlining the opening weekend is Kansas, one of the leading rock bands of the 70’s and 80's. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of their classic ‘Point of Know Return’ album. Kansas has penned and performed some of rock’s most recognizable songs such as the anthem “Carry on Wayward Son” and the ballad “Dust in the Wind.” The group Kansas consists of members Steve Walsh (vocals, keyboards), Rich Williams (guitar), David Ragsdale (violin, guitar), Billy Greer (bass, vocals), and Phil Ehart (drums).

American Idol finalist and country music star Josh Gracin will take the stage on Saturday, November 17. Gracin is known for his great pipes and dynamic stage presence during the second season of American Idol. The former Marine has found huge success in the country music arena with three consecutive Top 5 singles from his Gold certified self-titled debut CD. He’s one of only three solo country artists in recent years to release a debut album with three consecutive Top 5 country hits, and his number one single “Nothin' To Lose” is certified Digital Gold.

The concert on Saturday, November 24, features one of the most distinctive and powerful voices to emerge from Rock and Top 40 radio, Lou Gramm. The lead vocalist and co-writer of the multi-platinum band Foreigner, Gramm remains one of the most recognizable performers in music today. Gramm, the vocalist on 20 Top 40 singles, exploded onto the international music scene with Foreigner on the chart topper, “Feels Like the First Time,” in 1977. Other hits include “Head Games,” “Cold as Ice,” “Hot Blooded,” “I Wanna Know What Love Is” and “Just Between You and Me.” Now, nearly three decades after the debut of Foreigner and chart-topping success as a solo artist, Lou Gramm returns with a hot new band and a dynamic live show featuring 90 minutes of his own unique brand of Rock 'n Roll.

RPM: Rock & Pop Masters will wrap up the Concert Series on Saturday, December 1. RPM is a world-class band backing up several authentic, original lead singers of huge hits from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Stars scheduled to appear at the Visitor Complex include David Pack formerly of Ambrosia with hits including “You're The Biggest Part of Me” and “How Much I Feel,” Larry Hoppen of Orleans with hits like “Still The One” and “Dance With Me,” and Jimi Jamison formerly of Survivor® known for the hit song “Eye of the Tiger.” The RPM Band includes Barry Dunaway (bass) - Yngwie Malmsteen Band; Lane Hoppen (keys) and Lance Hoppen (bass) - Orleans; Jerry Riggs (guitar) - Pat Travers Band; and Charlie Morgan (drums) - Elton John Band.

Concert Schedule:
November 10, 2007 – Kansas
November 17, 2007 – Josh Gracin
November 24, 2007 – Lou Gramm, Lead Singer of Foreigner
December 1, 2007 – RPM: Rock & Pop Masters

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Bob Mervine, 60, Dies

Bob Mervine
The Orlando tourism and restaurant scene has lost one of its preeminent figures. Bob Mervine, who wrote about wine, dining, and the tourist trade for the Orlando Business Journal, died yesterday after complications resulting from routine surgery.
Robert Francis Mervine Jr. was a longtime tourism publicist, author of the book Orlando Chow: Restaurants For the Rest of Us, and staff writer for the Orlando Business Journal, covering hospitality and tourism. He died Tuesday at Florida Hospital-Altamonte, after complications from surgery. He was 60.

With his iconic look featuring a ponytail and Hawaiian shirts, a friendly, chatty personality and a penchant for "capturing the moment," as one colleague observed, Mervine was a well-known and easily-recognizable figure throughout Central Florida's tourism and hospitality business community.

And it wasn't just his work. Mervine's love of food, wine, entertainment and the company of others made him a connoisseur of Orlando, leading to his 2005 book.

"Bob loved life, and life loved him back," said friend and former colleague, Rick Sylvain, media-relations manager with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

A Philadelphia native who grew up in Homestead and graduated from the University of Florida in 1969, Mervine came to Orlando to work as a reporter, weatherman and anchor at WESH-Channel 2. In 1973 he became a public-relations manager for Walt Disney World, then worked in public relations for the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, The Disney Institute and The Villages community before joining the Orlando Business Journal in 2001.

I first spoke to Bob Mervine shortly after he had taken over the tourism beat at OBJ from Alan Byrd.

"You've got big shoes to fill," I quipped.

"I've got big feet," Bob shot back.

Bob's big feet and his bigger heart will be missed.

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Friday, October 05, 2007


Halloween Horror Nights survival guide

My feature article for the Orlando Weekly on Universal's Halloween Horror Nights XVII: Carnival of Carnage is now online:

And, as a special treat for Other Orlando Blog readers, here is my guaranteed HHN touring plan (Note: Guarantee not valid in Florida or Georgia, or on days ending in a "Y")

1. Go on an off-peak night. The crowds are overwhelming on Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll have a much better time if you visit on a Wed, Thurs, or Sunday.

2. Skip the Express Pass. On an off-peak night, you should be able to see everything without them if you plan well. On a peak night, you’ll have difficulty visiting all the houses even with Express, and you’ll have spent an extra $66 to stand in (shorter) lines. However, if you’ve got the spare cash, I highly recommend the RIP Tours – they are the only way to all the houses on a peak night (and even then you might miss some shows).

3. If you are a local (especially if you have an Annual Pass) consider the Frequent Fear pass. For less than the cost of 2 discounted single-night tickets, you can visit on as many off-peak nights as you like. You’ll have more fun if you don’t feel pressured to see everything in one evening.

4. Keep your expectations modest. Don’t be disappointed if you can’t see every house and show. Keep in mind that the park has cut back on traditional Scarezones this year, so don’t expect many scares in the streets. Also, don’t expect to see Freddy, Jason, or Leatherface outside of their haunted houses (despite what the commercials imply).

5. Buy your tickets online before you arrive. You can save money with various Florida Resident discounts and take your E-Ticket directly to the gate.

6. Watch your alcohol consumption, for the sake of your liver and your wallet. The temporary bars serving domestic drafts and weak cocktails in souvenir glasses are a poor value. If you want a beer, get a pint of Guinness for $5.75 at Finnegan’s. Remember that you can’t bring food or drinks into the houses or shows.

7. Arrive as early as possible, at least 90 minutes before the event starts. If you have an Annual Pass or a “Scream Early” upgrade ($10 in advance/ $15 at the gate) you can enter through Islands of Adventure and take the back entrance into the Studios before the crowds are let in. The only way to see everything is to be in the park before the general public is let in for the night.

8. The security screening at the front gate can be very slow, so check out all the lines before queuing up for the metal detectors. Often the far right line, marked for “Annual Passholders”, will be very long, while the far left lanes are empty. Don’t bring any bags with you, and take everything out of your pockets before stepping up to the security checkpoint.

9. Once inside the park, head past Shrek to the area in front of the Soundstages. The three houses there (Nightmare on Elm Street, Psychoscareapy, and Dead Silence) will be the first to open. Ask an attendant what order the houses will open. Typically, the first (Nightmare) will open 45 minutes before the event starts, the second (Psychoscareapy) opens 15 minutes after the first, and the 3rd (Dead Silence) just before the official opening time.

10. Get in line for the 1st house that will open. As soon as you go through, head to the second house to open. You should be able to go through the 1st 2 houses several times before the official opening time. Do not get in line for the 3rd house if it has accumulated a long line before opening.

11. Once you have seen at least 2 houses and are allowed out of the Soundstage area, head past the Mummy to the entrance of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Try to be one of the first in the house when it opens. This house is much more effective after sunset, but it seems to have one of the longer lines once the crowds come in.

12. Exit TCM near Earthquake and head left towards Jaws. Visit the Friday the 13th house as long as the wait time is under 30 minutes.

13. At this point you have seen at least 4 houses, and the crowds will be starting to grow. If it is 7:00pm and you want to see the Bill & Ted show, get in line for the 1st show of the night. Later shows get very crowded, and the preshow (which starts 5 minutes before the posted show time) is the best part.

14. If you have time before the 1st Bill & Ted, or you don’t want to see the show, continue past Men In Black to Jack’s Funhouse. Since this is a 3D maze with crowd-flow issues it tends to have one of the longest lines. If the wait is over 45 minutes, skip it for now.

15. Look at the schedule in the park map and plan the next couple hours around seeing shows. I recommend the Rocky Horror Tribute, Freakshow, and Carnival of Carnage (in that order of priority). You will need to arrive 15 minutes early for Rocky Horror, the other 2 shows have large capacity.

16. You should be able to visit The Thing (near ET) and Vampyre at your leisure in between shows, as they tend to have little-to-no wait even during the peak hours of evening. Don’t miss seeing The Thing; despite its lack of crowds it’s one of the best-designed houses in HHN history.

17. Concentrate on the special Halloween attractions, and don’t waste time on the regular rides until you’ve seen everything else. The only exception in the single-rider lines for Mummy and Men In Black, which sometime have little or no wait when the houses are packed

18. By the time you’ve seen all the shows, it should be about an hour from park close. Visit (or revisit) any houses, as the wait times fall off dramatically near closing. Dead Silence and Psychoscareapy are typically walk-ons in the last half hour of the night. You can get into line right up until closing time, even if there is still a significant wait time listed.

19. Getting out of the parking garage at the same time as everyone else is a mob scene. If you're leaving at park close, consider a drink or late movie at Citywalk to allow the crowds to exit.

With this plan, you should be able to see everything (or almost everything) on a non-peak night without Express and without waiting in any lines longer than 30 minutes. If the line for any house is over 45 minutes, skip it and come back later. Meanwhile, check the wait time boards and go to a less-crowded house. Remember, it’s not worth it to wait longer in line for a house than you would spend watching the movie that house is based on!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Holy Land Drops Parking Charge

The Holy Land Experience has done away with its $5 parking fee. Word is the move is intended to boost attendance.

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