Monday, December 29, 2008

 

Prices Going Up at Busch Parks

Prices at all the Busch parks in Florida (except Discovery Cove) are going up.

Effective January 5, ticket prices at SeaWorld will rise $5 to $74.95 for adults and $64.95 for kids (plus tax).

Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa goes to $69.95 for adults and $59.95 for kiddies.

Aquatica will now be $44.95 and $38.95 for adults and kids respectively, a $3 hike.

Adventure Island, next door to Busch Gardemn Africa, will go up $2 to $39.95 and $35.95.

The "Pay One Day" policy for Florida residents is still in effect, taking some of the sting out of the price hikes and annual Passports are looking like a better deal, too, for those visiting and staying a while.

It's the second price hike in six months, so I'm not sure what it means. A Busch spokesman quoted in the St. Pete Times denied the price increase has anything to do with the recent sale to InBev, but I'm not so sure.

It could be Busch Entertainment's way of saying to their new owners "We're too profitable to sell."

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

 

A Cracker Barrel Chanukah. Oy vey!


I've heard of The Feldman Dynamic, but have never had the pleasure.

If you're in the same boat, you can remedy that situation with a visit to "Cracker Barrel Old Country Chanukah," a "site-specific" performance piece being performed at a number of Cracker Barrel restaurants around Orlando.

Jewish humor and treyf! What a combo.

From the press release:
When & Where:

Sunday, December 21 at 7:00 p.m. (First Night of Chanukah)
@ Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® #520
6699 S. Semoran Blvd. Orlando, FL 32822-3219 (north of Orlando International Airport)

Monday, December 22 at 7:00 p.m. (Second Night of Chanukah)
@ Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® #260
5859 Caravan Ct. Orlando, FL 32819-7901 (east of Universal Orlando Resort)

Tuesday, December 23 at 7:00 p.m. (Third Night of Chanukah)
@ Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® #503
285 Douglas Ave. Altamonte Springs, FL 32714-3333 (west of Altamonte Mall)

Friday, December 26 at 7:00 p.m. (Sixth Night of Chanukah)
@ Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® #190
200 Hickman Dr. Sanford, FL 32771-6915 (north of Seminole Towne Center)

Why: To find out if, as implausible as it may sound, it actually is possible to celebrate Chanukah at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store®, the top "family dining" chain in the United States (according to the Restaurants & Institutions magazine "Choice in Chains" annual consumer survey).

How Much: Free to attend. You are invited to join The Feldman Dynamic at their table and order anything off the menu, at your expense.

Disclaimer: This project is not sanctioned, endorsed or sponsored by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. or CBRL Group, Inc. Please do not contact any of the above Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations regarding this event.

Cracker Barrel® Old Country Chanukah marks the debut of Orlando Jewish Theater, whose mission is to produce innovative arts programming that exists on the periphery of the American Jewish experience, and which always raises more questions than answers. Upcoming Inaugural Season events include Kiss Me, I'm Jewish (4/20+21/09) and The Diary of Anne Frank (6/11-13/09). Follow us @ http://twitter.com/OrlandoJewish.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

 

December Teen Nights at the groove in CityWalk

Teen Nights at the groove discotheque in Universal Orlando's CityWalk give the under-aged a chance to sample the decadence that awaits when they come of age.

Here are the dates and prices:
Friday ~ December 19; 7PM – 11PM (Admission: $15)
Tuesday ~ December 23; 8PM – 12AM (Admission: $12)
Friday ~ December 26; 7PM – 11PM (Admission: $15)
Monday ~ December 29; 8PM – 12AM (Admission: $12)
Tuesday ~ December 30; 7PM – 11PM (Admission: $15)

Come listen to live DJs spin all of today’s hits, and experience state-of-the-art sound, lighting and video
Open to teens, ages 15-19 with proper student ID.

 

Busch Sale Rumors (Again)

The hits just keep on comin'!

I heard some scuttlebutt from SeaWorld employees that some parks in the portfolio, namely the SeaWorld in Texas and Busch Gardens Williamsburg, had already been sold, at least in principle.

I don't give much credence to that, if only because news that big would be hard to keep under anyone's hat, so we'd have heard about it by now.

Way back in July, Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel did a good job of sorting through the "usual suspects," prime among them Merlin Entertainments of the UK and Parques Reunidos of Spain.

I'd like to propose a dark horse candidate: Nakheel, the developer that is partnering with Busch to recreate the Florida family of theme parks on an artificial, Shamu-shaped island off the coast of Dubai.

Buying Busch's theme parks might make sense for them or other moneyed interests in the United Arab Emirates. It would, after all, prevent another buyer from backing out of the Dubai deal.

But enough wild-eyed speculation. Kassab has this to say:
Don't count out the possibility that while InBev considers the theme parks to be secondary to its core brewery business that it eventually decides to hold onto them. Last year Busch Entertainment reported $1.2 billion in sales and $262 million in profit.

After all, it was once widely thought that NBC would shed the Universal parks, but now seems settled on holding on to them.

Good point and one that's too little mentioned as we all wait to see when the first shoe will drop.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

 

"The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge"

The Orlando Shakespeare Theater is reviving their production of "The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge" for the holiday season. I saw the world premiere production back in 2004 (also at the Shakespeare Festival) and this one is even better.

For starters, the pivotal role of Solomon Rotchschild is played by the author, a "retired" actor, who proves he hasn't lost his chops. And Scrooge is played this time by an older actor, which works much better for the part.

The play is a hoot. The premise is that Scrooge, having reverted to his old ways, is now suing the spirits who haunted him that fateful Christmas Eve one year ago for, among other things, kidnapping and the infliction of pain and suffering. Scrooge represents himself, while suave Jewish lawyer Rothschild (complete with yarmulke), pleads the case for the Christmas spirits. By the way, if you're worried that this set up might prove to be offensive, relax. It's not in the least.

This is a very funny show, including a wonderful set piece in which the Spirit of Christmas Future testifies with the aid of a court-appointed translator who speaks Ghost.

The payoff is ingenious and sends the audience out suffused with the spirit of Christmas.

Now if we could only get the Shakespeare Theater to stop referring to itself as "Orlando Shakes!" Did they hire the Froghammer agency from the second season of Slings and Arrows?

The show runs through December 28. Don't miss it! Get tickets here.

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Polar Express Experience at SeaWorld

For the holiday season, SeaWorld has revamped the ride portion of Wild Arctic with a new video cut and pasted from the movie, Polar Express.

I was not a fan of the movie, especially its wooden, copied-from-life style of animation, and I'm even less of a fan of the ride. As mentioned, the video is taken straight from the movie and, if you haven't seen the film, it's rather incoherent and makes no effort to tie in with SeaWorld.

On the other hand, they've done an excellent job of re-themeing the ride vehicles and the post-ride corridors that lead to the arctic exhibit area, where Santa Claus awaits to greet the smaller visitors. A nice touch.

Otherwise the Wild Arctic exhibit is unchanged for the season.

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Christmas Miracles - Shamu's Holiday Show

SeaWorld is mounting a special edition of its trademark Shamu show for the holidays.

It's called Christmas Miracles and it runs just once a day at 5:30 p.m. in Shamu Stadium. I liked it a lot better than Believe!

Why? Because the whales get more stage time and no amount of creativity or show-biz pizazz is going to beat three killer whales performing in tandem.

The incurably politically correct should be forewarned that this is a Christmas show, with no bones made about the Christian roots of the celebration. (Yes, yes, I know all about those pagan winter festivals from which we draw our Christmas trees, but still . . . )

Not only do they showcase the Three Wise Men and sing "Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel," but at one point a team of extras in choir robes and holding candles lines the front of Shamu's watery "stage." It's actually quite nice.

There is also an emphasis on live music, which is starting to look like a growing trend at SeaWorld. A quite good saxophone player presents jazzed up versions of Christmas carols as a pre-show warm up. And an African-American diva with a killer voice closes the show with a rousing soul-inflected finale, as the SeaWorld trainers bop and jive along, proving that having rhythm is not a job requirement for killer whale trainers.

But the show, quite rightly, belongs to the whales, and a high percentage of it involves trainers either soaring aloft with their mammoth charges or riding them at breakneck speed across the stage. This what every Shamu show should be about.

If you're going to be in Orlando this Christmas season, don't miss this show.

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Another Great Stay at Portofino Bay

We'll be leaving Portofino Bay after a lovely 4-day stay in room 2509, with its smashing view over the Piazza and the soaring Christmas tree, which gets lit every night at 6.

Of the three Loews hotels at Universal Orlando, this has always been our favorite (the others are Hard Rock Hotel and Royal Pacific Resort). And the view as you drive into the hotel has never ceased to astound me.

I noticed one change: It used to be that "club level" was synonymous with location. In other words, if you were in a "villa" room (as we were), you had access to the club lounge.

This is no longer the case. Now you need to specify that you want "Club Concierge Level" when you book. On arrival, you will be given a special gold room key that grants access to the lounge.

The new policy raises a number of questions in my mind, which I have not yet gotten answers to. But until I track down the full story, remember that if you want club level privileges, you must specify "club concierge level." Just booking a room in the "Villa Wing" won't do it, apparently.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

 

Manta Swoops Closer

The latest on Manta, SeaWorld's new "flying" roller coaster, courtesy of Theme Park Ranger Dewayne Bevil.
Manta, the upcoming "flying" coaster at SeaWorld Orlando, remains on schedule for its summer debut. The rails already in place have changed the look of the park, and all of them are expected to be in place by the end of December, park officials say.

The impact should be great near the front entrance as the coaster's cars sweep down toward water for a dramatic splash. Riders -- in a facedown, headfirst position -- will glide over other guests during the 21/2-minute trip.

Passengers will be harnessed into the seats with legs dangling, and then will be shifted into a flying position in the loading station. From there, off to the biggest hill and a swoop over the Whale & Dolphin Stadium walkway before encountering an elaborate pretzel loop.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

 

Is There a Cure for the Summertime Blues?

Interesting article on the connection between when school opens in your state and Florida's tourism industry.

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Revamping the Web Site




I am in the process of updating The Other Orlando web site to include my latest book, SeaWorld, Discovery Cove & Aquatica: Orlando's Salute To The Seas and well as the new 2009 edition of Universal Orlando.

It's still something of a work in progress, but you can check it out here.

To celebrate, there's a special combination offer on the books.

 

Cypress Gardens Closing . . . For Good?

I've been traveling overseas and am just catching up on this story.
Cypress Gardens, one of Florida's oldest tourist attractions, is closing yet again in another attempt to reinvent itself.

Land South Holdings LLC, the current owner, announced Monday that this Polk County theme park, long known for its botanical gardens and hoop-skirted Southern belles, would close after this coming weekend for extensive changes that should take several months to complete.

The plan (hope?) is that the park will reopen in March without the zoo or its roller coasters and other amusement park rides.
Instead, it will focus on three areas: the water-ski shows that were the park's original draw, the botanical gardens that made it famous for generations, and the water park that opened only two years ago.

I was a fan of the "old" Cypress Gardens and not at all happy with the (IMHO) disastrous revisions made by Kent Buescher during his short and ill-fated ownership.

The only good move by the newest owners was the water park, which fills a need for people with kids who live within easy driving distance. Apparently, 80% of visitors use the water park!

If they spend the money to restore the botanical gardens to their original, over-the-top design (the newer owners cut corners and "simplified"), make the ski show something worth driving out of your way to see (it used to be fabulous), keep the sterling line up of oldies acts, and perhaps upgrade the quality of the food service, they could make a go of it.

If . . . and it's a big if in today's business culture . . . they're willing to see the park return to what it was pre-Buescher: an "old folks" park.

Now that might seem a harsh way of putting it, but there's more than a little truth to it. The "old" Cypress Gardens harkened back to a gentler era, when people took life at a slower pace and were willing to, literally, stop and smell the flowers.

Seems to me there's still a (small) market for that kind of experience and with the Baby Boomers aging into retirement, it could be a growing market.

But I'm not holding my breath. Maybe it's the cynic in me, but I think Cypress Gardens is down for the count.

Hope I'm wrong.

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