Monday, June 30, 2008


Busch Parks Pushing Deals for Florida Residents

The Busch parks . . . excuse me, the Worlds of Discovery are pushing special "staycation" deals for Florida residents. From the press release:
The Worlds of Discovery announced today a new ticket that offers Florida residents a great new way to experience adventures found nowhere else in the world. Available starting today, the "Pick Two” combines visits to any two of the Florida Worlds of Discovery – SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Adventure Island – for only $79.95.

For guests who want unlimited visits at a value unmatched by any other theme park, Busch Gardens and SeaWorld's "Pay for a Day” offer has been extended through Labor Day. With a Fun Card, Florida residents can enjoy unlimited admission through the end of 2008 to either SeaWorld or Busch Gardens for the price of a single-day ticket. The "Pay for a Day” offer is available online or at the parks' front gates, and will be the same price as a single-day admission.

As you may have noticed, Discovery Cove, which is very much one of "the Florida Worlds of Discovery," is not included in this deal.

I found this press release especially interesting for the way it pushes the Worlds of Discovery brand front and center. Maybe I'm reading too much in to all this, but it seems to me that SeaWorld et. al. are trying to look less and less A-B and more and more WoD in preparation for what seems like an inevitable spin off of the theme parks.

Of course, this promo also reflects the growing uneasiness of all the parks over what $4-plus gas is going to mean for attendance.

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Last Call at Pleasure Island

If you are a fan of the Pleasure Island night spots in Downtown Disney, better hurry on down for a last look. In a move that surprised many, Disney announced that it will close Pleasure Island as of September 27 in favor of "more of a family-oriented something."

This is good news for Universal's CityWalk.

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Friday, June 27, 2008


Latest UO Cineplex Prices

Adult $9.25

Matinee $7.25

Child $6.25 (Ages 2-12)

Senior $8.25 (Age 60+)

Student Day $6.25 (Every Thursday for a limited time, Ages 13+ with Valid Student ID)

Senior Day $5.00 (Every Tuesday for a limited time, Age 60+)

A.M.Cinema $5.00 All shows before noon Sat., Sun. and holiday periods

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Thursday, June 26, 2008


Forget InBev - Busch May Sell Theme Parks Itself

Yikes! I was worried about what InBev might do. Now it looks like Busch itself may spin off its theme parks (emphasis mine).
In an effort to justify rejecting InBev’s $65-a-share bid, Anheuser-Busch is expected to announce an extensive reorganization aimed at bolstering profits that will include cutting more than $500 million in costs, these people said.

The savings will come from reducing marketing expenses and possibly shedding assets like its Busch Gardens theme park business and its packaging unit.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


InBev Responds

Since there didn't seem to be anything in the news about InBev's plans for the theme parks once it acquires Anheuser-Busch, I decided to go to the source. Here is an InBev spokesperson's response to my query (emphasis added).
InBev's decision on AB's non-core business, such as the entertainment business, will be based on a diligent review of the strategic and financial consequences of any divestment, with the goal of creating the best opportunities and value for all constituents.

Doesn't sound good to me.

Also, InBev issued a press release today saying it has the financing in place to swing the deal.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


SeaWorld Let's Freedom Ring On July 4th

SeaWorld is planning a July Fourth fireworks blow out. From the press release:
This July 4 & 5, families can join SeaWorld Orlando and celebrate the red, white and blue with the exciting firework spectacular Let Freedom Ring. This impressive production features a giant projection screen illuminating some of America's greatest historical moments set to stirring music and patriotic narration. Guests will have the opportunity to experience the 12-minute extravaganza twice nightly at 9:15 p.m. and 10:45 p.m.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008


Farewell To The Fringe

Today, I caught the last performances of two shows that had been big hits at the most recent edition of the Orlando Fringe Festival. Theatre Downtown, part of Orlando's Off-Off Broadway scene, had brought them back for an encore.

Both were billed as "family friendly" and the matinee I saw was about 50% kids. A good time was had by all.

"Galapagos: The Director's Cut" is a silly bit of sketch comedy built around the unlikely premise that we are visiting the Galapagos Islands on an ultra-budget tour. So cheap is this tour that it doesn't actually go anywhere. Instead we are treated to reenactments of what we would have seen had we actually been able to visit this wildlife-filled natural wonder. Three game members of the tour company play the parts of all the animals, while the owner narrates.

The premise is, as they say, wafer thin and much of it is undeniably dumb. What makes it work surprisingly well, however, are the three animal impersonators, Tony Lopez (who also wrote and directed), Joe Wesson, and Eddie Wilder, who must be the three goofiest guys in Orlando.

More successful as a theater piece was " The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook" by Stephen Massicotte, produced and directed by Seth Kubersky. It's a wistful memory piece about two eight year old boys (and the little girl classmate they find increasingly hard to ignore) who bond over their shared obsession with the original "Star Wars" film.

Once again, the premise is thin, but under Kubersky's direction it becomes light as air and by the end we feel we've learned a few very true things about friendship, growing up, and the power of art to transform our lives.

Michael Marinaccio, Christian Kelty, and the adorable Sarah Jane Fridlich were uniformly excellent.

For those who haven't discovered it yet, Orlando has a vibrant home-grown theater scene. As they say along New York's Great White Way, "Yo! Check it out."

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Saturday, June 21, 2008


More Than India!

Here's an eye-opening statistic (emphasis added):
Now more than 112,000 hotel rooms and 450 properties are in the region, according to the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. That’s more hotel rooms than in the entirety of India.

Who'da thunk it?

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Friday, June 20, 2008


SeaWorld Might Extend Hours

I heard from the usual "reliable sources" that SeaWorld is mulling the idea of keeping the park open later longer, maybe year round.

Apparently, management is closely monitoring profitability during the 6pm to 10pm time period to see if the move might make sense.

So if you'd like to see the parks stay open late on a more regular basis, get to SeaWorld tonight and spend some money.



Buffett Backing InBev Bid?

There's a report that Warren Buffett, Anheuser-Busch's biggest shareholder, is looking kindly on the InBev offer for the company.
Warren Buffett, the world's richest man and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., plans to tell Anheuser-Busch Cos. chief August Busch IV that he supports Belgian brewer InBev's proposed $46.3 billion takeover offer of the Budweiser brewer, according to an article Belgian newspaper De Standard posted on its Web site Tuesday.

Could be just a rumor, but the "business logic" of the deal is looking more and more inevitable to me.

Of course, there's nothing to say that InBev would "sell the theme parks for parts," as a friend of mine put it, but that seems to be the pattern in this sort of deal.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008


Leu Gardens Revamps

Orlando's Leu Gardens is overhauling its landscaping to root out exotic plant species that have found their way to this oasis near downtown. The plan is to restablish native plants, which have the benefit of requiring less water and taking less maintenance.

The price of admission has gone to $7 for adults and $2 for children (K-12). There is free admission on Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon.

Check out their web site.

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The Macabre Mickey

What is it with the Orlando Sentinel's macabre fascination with death at the Happiest Place on Earth®?

I just noticed they devote a whole page on their web site to it called -- what else? -- Deaths at Walt Disney World.

And what sent these poor tourists to meet their maker? Deranged cast members run amok with pirate swords? The ghost of Walt rising zombie-like from his cryogenic resting place? Shoddy maintenance causing ride vehicles to leap off roller coasters sending riders to their doom?

Nope. In every case it was natural causes, usually a heart attack, which -- Hello! -- can happen anywhere!

And given that gazillions of people visit WDW each year, the law of averages alone will tell you that some of them will die while there.

The Sentinel apparently hasn't figured that out yet!

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Harry Potter Makes July 4th Fireworks Disappear

Seems that construction of the new Harry Potter area at IOA is putting the kibosh on the usual Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza at Universal Orlando.

The areas now under constructions were used as launch sites and other support for the fireworks show.

Wonder what magic will be wrought after The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is complete to bring the fireworks show back from the grave?

Friday, June 13, 2008


Manta at SeaWorld

First there's the rumor, then the leak, and finally the press release:
ORLANDO Fla. -- SeaWorld Orlando announced the next generation of SeaWorld thrills with Manta -- a new mega-attraction which will seamlessly transition guests from the awe of encountering rays in underwater flight… into the sensation of actually being one. Swooping over sea and sky, Manta will inspire riders with amazing underwater animal habitats, then soar them face-down, in a horizontal position, aboard a manta-inspired flying coaster. Manta opens summer 2009.

The Manta flying coaster will create a new level of immersion into the animal world -- in a way only SeaWorld can do -- enveloping riders in a sensation of oneness with the ocean's most powerful and graceful creature as they soar, dive and plummet through the air.. and at times within inches of the sea.

The journey begins the second guests enter a mythical village filled with artisan-created engravings and artwork that celebrate ray legend and lore. No ordinary queue line – the attraction starts with the first step inside. Anticipation builds as guests wind through caverns adorned with ray-inspired art in marble, jewels, and mosaics, all hand-created and left behind by artists who were moved to pay tribute to the beauty, grace and intrigue of these animals.

Whether guests choose to ride or not, the attraction is a world unto itself. Floor-to-ceiling windows create mesmerizing face-to-fin encounters with 300 rays, as well as thousands of fish and mysterious creatures native to oceans all over the world. Shark rays, spotted eagles rays, leopard rays, cownose rays, and oscillate river rays float past guests with fluidity and grace in a view new to SeaWorld. Enhancing the feeling of awe, elaborate lighting, sound and rushing waterfalls further submerge guests into this underwater universe.

The experience then evolves from seeing ... to being.

Inspired by the underwater flight of these powerful creatures, guests will fly face-down, in a horizontal position, underneath the belly of a coaster train shaped as a giant manta. With a wing span of 12 feet, the giant manta will soar over sea and sky in the most graceful flying coaster ever created.

Gliding, swooping and diving up to nearly 60 mph, through four inversions on 3,359 feet of track, riders will feel as if they are a ray, taking flight effortlessly from sky to sea -- so close at times that the Manta's wings skim the waves.

"This ride is uniquely SeaWorld,” said Dan Brown, Vice President and General Manager of SeaWorld Orlando. "SeaWorld is famous for connecting guests with the sea and its amazing creatures, and Manta does this in a way that has never been done before, creating a true sense of oneness between human and animal.

"The sensation of Manta also will be like none other in the world – guests will be inspired by the grace and power of live rays, then feel as if they, themselves, are gliding through air and water,” said Joseph Couceiro, Chief Marketing Officer for SeaWorld's parent company, Busch Entertainment Corporation. "No one but SeaWorld can unite thrills and ocean animals into such a unique experience.”

The 4-acre, 140-ft tall attraction will be located inside the main entrance to SeaWorld, and become an icon in the park with its unique design. Towering over SeaWorld's 200-acres, the manta-themed coaster – cloaked in hues of dark purple, ultramarine blue, and cobalt – will lure guests into the world of the mysterious ray.

SeaWorld is working with the renowned Swiss coaster design company, Bolliger & Mabillard for the design of Manta.


Whither the Busch Parks?

European beer company InBev has announced a $47 billion takeover bid (PDF) for Anheuser Busch, the Americn beer company that owns SeaWorld and other Central Florida theme parks.

I find this disturbing.
Anheuser's amusement parks, including popular SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks, could be sold if InBev's bid is successful. In a conference call Thursday, InBev said it may sell some of Anheuser's non-core assets.

The theme parks aren't seen as a natural fit for Anheuser. But they're profitable and possibly attractive to private-equity players or other large entertainment companies, experts say.

"The parks perform quite well," said Christian Aaen, a principal at Economics Research Associates. He said a key trend in the theme-park business is the increasing role of private-equity groups, including Blackstone Group's (BX) 2005 acquisitions of European amusement park operator Merlin Entertainments and Legoland Parks.

The same article does offer a ray of hope.
Some analysts say Anheuser's theme parks could even survive a merger given they generate healthy profits and good advertising for its products.

"If you go to any of their theme parks, there is always an Anheuser-Busch facility to go and drink their beers and learn about their brewery process," said B. Craig Hutson, an analyst at Gimme Credit. He said there is no evidence this drives incremental sales and lacks obvious synergies with its brewery operations.

"But, it helps create good will. I think they (would) be inclined to keep that business," he said.

I worry about what a sale would mean to the high quality of the parks and A-B's admirable commitment to animal conservation, to say nothing of the way it supports our troops and veterans (I'm one!) at the parks.

InBev has a reputation as a "lean, mean machine" with little taste for "frills." I'm hoping the deal doesn't go through.


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