Thursday, July 31, 2008


Airboat Rentals U-Drive

Airboat Rentals U-Drive on Irlo Bronson in Kissimmee has closed for good.

To see what you missed, click here.


Jacksonville Zoo

Well, it's not exactly a day trip from Orlando, but if you're driving to O-Town from up north, the Jacksonville Zoo is well worth a visit coming or going.

I stopped by to present the zoo with two awards on behalf of my publishing company, which recently brought out America's Best Zoos by Allen Nyhuis and Jon Wassner. They chose Jacksonville Zoo as not only one of the best in the country, but number one in the nation for South American animals and exhibits.

The zoo's spectacular Range of the Jaguar exhibit is one reason for the award. The area, which is designed with theme park-like pizazz and attention to detail, evokes a small Central American village where an ancient Mayan ruin is being excavated. In addition to the jaguars (including a magnificent black jaguar), there are capybaras, anteaters, and an array of reptiles and amphibians. Most entertaining are the two giant river otters, called lobos del rio (river wolves) in Latin America.

A cafeteria-style eatery, with cathedral windows that look into the jaguar habitat, and a Village Gift Shop round out the themeing. The spacious central plaza is popular with zoo visitors and is frequently used for weddings. (The award ceremony was scheduled to be held there until an untimely downpour inspired a change of venue.)

The zoo has many other beautiful habitats and exhibits, including a terrific giraffe enclosure. Under the supervision of Executive Director Dennis Pate, the zoo is making a concerted effort to blend the concept of zoo and botanical garden. In fact, the zoo's official name is the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

The result is that this is one of the most beautiful zoos you are likely to visit this or any other year. Rather than a zoo with some interesting landscaping, this is a lush tropical environment with a zoo thrown in.

It's also a zoo that takes very seriously its educational mission and that realizes that its younger visitors are its most important clients. In a brilliant move, Director Pate has expanded the zoo's educational mission into the restrooms. In the children's play area, the restrooms contain exhibits of animal poop, complete with signage that explains the many and wondrous things scientists can learn about animals by examining it. The kids love it.

The Jacksonville Zoo is conveniently located just off I-95 in northern of Jacksonville. Check it out.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Great Indian Near Busch Gardens Africa

Since man cannot live by theme park food alone, I am always on the lookout for good places to eat nearby and I hit the jackpot just a short drive from Tampa's Busch Gardens Africa.

I consider myself quite the Indian food aficionado, and Cilantro is a superb Indian restaurant. Every dish I've sampled here has been a cut above the run of the mill Indian fare we tend to get used to in this country.

I have yet to come across a me-too recipe and the flavors are intense and complex. They will vary the spiciness to your taste and I find the "medium" setting to be just fine. Especially good are the chicken sag, navratan korma, and lamb rogan josh. The garlic nan is terrific as well.

Cilantro doesn't automatically serve rice, so expect to order it separately, although if you are used to rice with your Indian food, I'd suggest trying it without for a change of pace. I found I didn't miss it. When I did order lemon rice or vegetable biryani, I found them to be excellent.

There are some great Indian beers, including the Hayward 5000 in a 21-ounce bottle. There's also a wine list, which I haven't sampled.

They also have a lunch buffet for around $12. It's not as good as the evening meals, but then these things never are.

Cilantro is located at 11009 N 56th St, Tampa 33617 (813) 983-8220. The number for delivery is (813) 914-4000.

There is also a branch in Jacksonville (which I plan on sampling as I head north) at 9825 San Jose Blvd, Jacksonville 32257 (904) 262-9577.

They say the web site is, but it didn't work when I tried it, hence no link.

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Monday, July 28, 2008


Suite Life at Royal Pacific

Here are two views of the hospitality suite, Room 3718, on the Club Level at Royal Pacific Resort. As the name suggests, it's designed to be used for entertaining such as a corporation might do. There is a small kitchenette (not visible here) that has a full size refrigerator, microwave, and sink.

The windows look out over the pool and across to IOA. You can see the construction for Harry Potter in the distance. The Club lounge is literally steps away.

There are two adjoining bedrooms that can be opened up or closed off, so there are three configurations: hospitality suite, one-bedroom suite, or two-bedroom suite. In the one-bedroom set up, you wind up with three front doors -- from the bedroom and one at each end of the large living area. Sweet.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008



Another reason I love SeaWorld.
SeaWorld animal care specialist Devi Wise bottle-feeds a days-old orphan manatee today at the parks' Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. The female calf -- just two-feet long and barely tipping the scale at 21 pounds -- was rescued from Ormond Beach Wednesday July 23. She is the third orphan manatee in two months to come under the watchful care of SeaWorld "moms” and "dads.”

So far in 2008, SeaWorld has rescued 16 manatees and released 6 back into the wild.

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Friday, July 25, 2008


Royal Pacific Return

I'm back once again at Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, which has undergone a major redecoration. The "dark" wood accented rooms that some people complained about (but which I rather liked) are no more. In the place of the more subdued palette are light pastels that still evoke the South Seas. Very nice and soothing.

Other new items: flat screen TVs and iPod docks in place of the old CD players. Gotta keep up with technology!

We're booked into the Club level and were upgraded to a gi-normous suite -- 1,600 square feet. Sweet!

Here's the food service schedule in the Club Lounge:

Continental Breakfast 7 to 10:30
Afternoon Snacks noon to 4:30
Evening Relaxation 5 to 7
Something Sweet 8 to 9:30

The breakfast buffet is lavish, with hot oatmeal and gooey cinnamon buns. Yum.
Although we didn't indulge, many people seemed to be making a meal of the hors d'oeuvres served from 5 to 7.

Gracious, friendly staff, as always.

Of the three Club lounges, I like RPR best for some reason. Can't quite put my finger on it, but the curved space overlooking I-4 and I-Drive just seems to "work."

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Thursday, July 24, 2008


Shiraz Grill - A Restaurant Find

If you are staying at one of the moderate hotels near SeaWorld that I recommend, you should know about Shiraz Grill.

It's a nice little Persian restaurant located in a largely deserted commercial building between the Sleep Inn and Hawthorn Suites. A large hedge makes the sign virtually impossible to see when you're driving by, which explains why I just discovered it.

Most of the time, it's pretty deserted, but on the weekends they feature belly dancing and flamenco and bill themselves as "the hottest hookah bar in town," so maybe it fills up then. (I ate there during the week.)

The prices are reasonable, the lamb shanks melt in your mouth, there's a reasonably priced wine list, and the service is attentive and friendly.

6427 Westwood Blvd. (407) 226-0666

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Aquatica Copes With Success

I swung by Aquatica yesterday at 11 and the gates were already closed, the park filled to capacity. The young guy providing info to disappointed new arrivals told me this happens every day.

A recent report in the Tampa Tribune (no link) said that Aquatica has added 1,000 lounge chairs to the park with 500 more on order.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Is Shamu Packing Heat?

Some years back the Orlando Sentinel declared war on the region's largest employer, the engine of the area's economic success, the tourism industry. The Sentinel ranked tourism right up there with citrus blight and category 5 hurricanes as a threat to Orlando's well being.

This editorial stance so outraged local tourism officials that hotelier Harris Rosen for a while banned the Sentinel from being sold in his hotels.

Times (and editors) changed and today the Sentinel's tourism coverage, by Scott Powers, Dewayne Bevil, and others is first rate. Yes, the paper still goes ga-ga when one of the gazillions of visitors WDW sees each year has a heart attack. (I wonder why we never see a headline that reads "Man Reads Sentinel in Morning, Drops Dead At Noon"?)

Still, the Sentinel does an excellent job of covering the tourism scene.

Then you see a headline like this -- SeaWorld worker arrested in connection with shooting -- and you begin to wonder.

The incident in question happened miles away from SeaWorld, in Polk County fer cryin' out loud. It apparently involved a purely domestic dispute with unruly teenagers. It had zero to do with the shooter's... excuse me alleged shooter's employment.

So why is SeaWorld in the headline? The article doesn't even tell us what he does at SeaWorld. Is he a major executive? (My guess is no.) Does he have any contact with the public? Does he work with children? Did he shout "This one's for Shamu" when he pulled the trigger? Is the Sentinel telling us that SeaWorld employees are violent? Are we supposed to think that if we go to SeaWorld we will be in danger of getting shot by some wacko on the payroll? Is Shamu packing heat?

I just don't get it.

A cursory search of the Sentinel for reports of other shooting incidents showed that they usually use terms like "Gunman" or "Lake County man" to identify shooters in the headline. But apparently when the alleged perpetrator works for a theme park it's worthy of being enshrined in the boldface type.

Like I say, I just don't get the journalistic line of reasoning that makes a non-fatal incident involving a (presumably minor) theme park employee, one that happened miles away from the theme park, worthy of this kind of "guilt by association" treatment.

Can someone out there enlighten me?

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Monday, July 14, 2008


What Next for Worlds of Discovery?

Worlds of Discovery is the overall brand name Busch had given its ten theme parks well before InBev came a-courting. Now that the sale's a done deal, of course, it remains to be seen if these worlds will be spun off (to use a scary galactic metaphor).

Theme parks are well down the list of concerns for the financial media that have been covering this story, so InBev hasn't been grilled much on the topic. There are occasional hints, however. This from a Philly paper concerned about the fate of nearby Sesame Place.
Anheuser-Busch and Sesame Place officials would not speculate on the ultimate ownership of the amusement parks, whether InBev would keep them, or sell all or part to another operator. Last week, before the deal was struck, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted an InBev spokeswoman, Marianne Amssoms, as saying it was "too early in this process" for InBev to have decided.

The newspaper paraphrased Amssoms as saying InBev understood the theme parks' contributions to the areas where they operate and would try to help preserve that role.

What to make of those tea leaves? Sounds like a non-commitment commitment to me.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


SOLD! Bye Bye Busch

It's a done deal. InBev is buying Anheuser-Busch.

Lotsa questions now. Whither the theme parks? What about A-B's corporate philanthropy on behalf of conservation and animal rescue? My guess: Since in Europe the government does the lion's share of philanthropy and looking after the social welfare, Busch's commitment to the environment will seem quaint and expendable to the new owners.

And what about A-B's patriotic efforts to salute and support our troops? Will InBev see this as fat just waiting to be cut out of the budget? God, I hope not.

UPDATE: The new company will be called Anheuser Busch InBev, so the Busch name will survive.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008


Harry Potter Makes Attractions Disappear

From the Universal Orlando web site:
A portion of Lost Continent at Islands of Adventure has been closed as work progresses on Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Guests will use a newly created bridge to walk between Lost Continent and Jurassic Park. Specific attractions and venues affected include The Flying Unicorn attraction, the Enchanted Oak restaurant and The Dragon’s Keep store. Dueling Dragons will remain open.

Some people are upset by the loss of the Enchanted Oak menu. My guess: It will be pretty much the same after the restaurant has been Potterized. Ditto for Flying Unicorn: same ride, different themeing.

Of course I may be wrong, but then I'm no wizard.

BTW, word on Dueling Dragons is that there will be a new entrance while the existing queue line is being rethemed.

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Blue Angels at KSC November 8-9

Kennedy Space Center has slated the second annual Space & Air Show for November 8 and 9. In addition to the Blue Angels, there will be other hot aerial acts. Fropm the press release:
Newly announced aerobatic acts scheduled to perform include Mike Goulian, sponsored by Castrol Oil and the Air Force Reserve Biplane Show. Also performing are the U.S. Navy Super Hornet Demo Team, the 920th Rescue Wing, U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet, the F-16 Viper East Demonstration and the A-10 Warthog.

Mike Goulian, sponsored by Castrol Oil, will perform in the EXTRA300SHP, the world’s newest custom-built premiere aerobatic aircraft. The Air Force Reserve Biplane Show will feature Ed Hamill telling his story, Living the Dream, in a performance taking viewers back in time through the last century of aerobatics. The 920th Rescue Wing will demonstrate a daring water rescue of a downed astronaut from a Space Shuttle bailout with pararescueman hoisted from helicopters. Other military performances include the F/A-18 Hornet, the nation’s first true strike-fighter capable aircraft, and the A-10 Warthog, the first U.S. Air Force aircraft designed exclusively for close air support. Other flight demonstrations and performances are being added to the schedule and will be announced at a later date.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Busch Has A Plan

Here's some good news for those who fear a sale of the Busch theme parks.
Anheuser-Busch (nyse: BUD - news - people ) laid out a plan to cut $1.0 billion in costs and improve earnings in an attempt to resist a hostile takeover embrace by InBev (other-otc: INBVF - news - people ) which made an unsolicited, $65.00-per-share, all-cash takeover bid for the American brewer on June 11. Anheuser officially rejected InBev's bid, worth $46.4 billion, late Thursday as financially inadequate. (See "InBev Is Not Anheuser's Bud.")

Shares of the American beer maker rose 1.5%, or 91 cents, to close at $62.26 in trading Friday on news of the cost-cutting plan laid out by Chief Financial Officer W. Randolph Baker.

The plan includes cutting 10.0% of its salaried workforce through early retirement and attrition, speeding up price hikes to cope with rising commodity costs, and setting earnings forecasts that exceed Wall Street's expectations.

Anheuser also said it would repurchase $7.0 billion in shares this year and next, up from its previous target of $3.8 billion.

Contrary to many analysts' speculations, the plan did not include divesting Anheuser's packaging unit nor its theme parks.

Of course, there's still uncertainty about what InBev will do if it succeeds in taking over A-B and informed speculation is that InBev, notorious for its stingy ways, would sell off the parks.

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