Friday, October 30, 2009


Universal Orlando 2010 Now Available

The 2010 edition of Universal Orlando: The Ultimate Guide To The Ultimate Theme Park Adventure is now available. It's slowly making it's way to bookstores, but you can order it online.

The new edition introduces Seth Kubersky as my new co-author and I couldn't be happier to have him on board. You may know Seth from his work at Orlando Weekly or in the regular Rocky Horror Picture Show extravaganzas at Universal Cineplex. He's a theme park pro, having worked at Universal in a variety of capacities on a number of attractions and special events.

The new edition contains the first guidebook review of Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and (thanks to Seth) an insider's preview of the new Harry Potter area in Islands of Adventure.

To celebrate the publication, The Intrepid Traveler is offering special pricing on the Universal book as well as on SeaWorld, Discovery Cove & Aquatica: Orlando's Salute to the Seas, also by yours truly.

And if you get them both, there's a very, very special deal that I think will be hard to resist. Get the skinny by clicking here.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009


For Sale! Not For Sale! For Sale!

There was an amusing flurry of speculation about whether SeaWorld would announce its sale to ... whoever at an employee briefing this morning.

SeaWorld execs' disavowals couldn't stop excited headlines like "Report: SeaWorld to tell employees it has been sold" even when the story said the official word was "No comment."

Well the employee briefing that fueled the rumors has come and gone. And the real story?
SeaWorld Orlando would not say if it has a new owner at an employee meeting Wednesday.

Employees at a company communications briefing asked SeaWorld officials about a possible sale to the BlackStone Group which owns a 50 percent stake of Universal Orlando Resort.

Park officials, however, said they did not have informationon a final sale and refused to discuss the situation any further.

Calm down, everyone, and just enjoy Shamu.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009


"SeaWorld, Discovery Cove & Aquatica" On Kindle

My book, SeaWorld, Discovery Cove & Aquatica: Orlando's Salute to the Seas is now available in a Kindle version for the bargain price of $7.99.

It's sales rank is around 46,000 (out of 270,000+) so I guess it's getting some takers. Next time you're at SeaWorld, look for people reading their Kindle while they waiting for Shamu.

You can find it at the Kindle Store.

Oh, and the paperback version got some nice 5-star reviews. Thanks!

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Friday, February 20, 2009


Theme Parks Lobby, Too

So Universal shuts down two attractions until Spring, SeaWorld cuts out free beer, and then we learn this.
New state records show that Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and the parent company of SeaWorld Orlando spent at least $390,000 — and as much as $750,000 — lobbying the Florida Legislature last year.

That was up from a range of $290,000 to $630,000 that the three businesses spent in 2007.

All I can say is that would pay for a lot of beer.

BTW, Jason Garcia has replaced the estimable Scott Powers on the tourism beat for the Orlando Sentinel.

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Friday, February 06, 2009


Memorial Manta Day at SeaWorld

SeaWorld is now announcing Manta for Memorial Day. Actually, a few days early on May 22.

The video above (aptly described by SeaWorld as a "teaser") is long on fish and short on coaster, but it's pretty cool nonetheless.

If I'm reading the iconography of the video correctly, the ride will have an effect similar to the one at SheiKra over at Busch Gardens Africa, where a part of the ride vehicle chassis dips into the ocean, sending up a plume of water to soak bystanders.

While you're at it, pick up the best freakin' guide to all the Busch parks. At a discount.

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Monday, January 05, 2009


Bye Bye Free Beer

Have those Belgians no heart?

Busch/InBev has announced that there will be no more free beer at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Africa, the St. Louis Business Journal is reporting.

The beer dispensing area at the SeaWorld Hospitality Center will be closed as of February 1 and converted into a restaurant; the Tampa equivalent will close as of the end of January and reopen with a "new menu".

Busch spokesman Fred Jacobs tried to make it sound like a logical move.
"The hospitality centers had pretty limited appeal because it was for patrons who were of legal drinking age who wanted beer," he said. "We were looking for something that had a broader age appeal."

Nice try, Fred. I guess the lack of broad appeal explains the long lines at the Hospitality Centers.

Bud boycott, anyone?

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Friday, January 02, 2009


SeaWorld Saved by the Bad Economy?

There is now speculation that any potential sale of the Busch theme parks has been back-burnered by the stalled economy.
“Clearly InBev is not a theme park operator,” Winston said. “So there will probably be some kind of play on their part for disposing of the theme park division, but it’s just a timing issue, and I think financing is the boogeyman right now.”

Frankly, I don't think anyone knows.

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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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Monday, December 15, 2008


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


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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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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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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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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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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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.


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