Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dave and Busted: Surviving Orlando's Faux Casino

Pictures courtesy of Dave & Buster's Official Website.
Arcades are dead.  As home video game systems and personal computers increased in power, the popularity of the neighborhood arcade quickly diminished.  Sure, you'll still see game rooms as part of larger entertainment complexes, or in malls and hotels to occupy bored kids.  However, the time of the independent, self-sustaining arcade has long passed.

There is one slight exception to the trend.  At some point in the last decade or so, entrepreneurs realized that redemption games, arcade machines that give tickets and prizes, still filled a niche that couldn't be replicated at home.  In fact, these devices fulfilled the same bad impulses that fuel the gambling desire.  Mix in some alcohol and the right atmosphere, and all of a sudden those adults that were raised on Chuck E. Cheese's are throwing away cash for a chance at a giant plush gorilla.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Quick Review: SeaWorld Orlando's Quick Queue

The same day I tried out SeaWorld's All-Day Dining Deal, I was also able to try out their Quick Queue front of line pass.  This is another quick review of the important details and what you need to know before you buy this extra option.

1.  Like Universal's Express Pass, and unlike Disney's current FASTPASS system, Quick Queue is an up-charge offering.  The standard Quick Queue costs $14.99 to $24.99, and only provides a single ride on each attraction.  The unlimited Quick Queue costs $19.99 to $34.99, and provides unlimited usage as long as it's not "abused."  Annual pass holders receive a discount when backed through the pass member website, otherwise prices vary based on season and holidays.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Creatures of Central Florida: Caribbean Flamingo

 Caribbean Flamingo

Friday, August 17, 2012

Quick Review: Sea World's All-Day Dining Deal

Thanks to SeaWorld's August discount for annual pass holders, I was finally able to experience their All-Day Dining Deal.  Eventually, I'll do a detailed breakdown of its benefits versus Disney Dining Plans.  Until then, here's a quick review of my experience with All-Day Dining.

1. Dining discounts are available in park, but you can only purchase them at Guest Relations locations.  If you attempt to buy the Dining Deal at a dining location, you will be charged full price.

2. You're given a wristband that you must display every time you receive food.  The wristband is made from semi-water resistant paper, but is still somewhat flimsy.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Busch Gardens Tampa Announces the 13th Annual Howl-0-Scream

Images courtesy of the Howl-O-Scream official site.
Busch Gardens Tampa has released details and launched the website for their 2012 Howl-O-Scream event.  Like Universal, this event includes mazes, "scare zones" with roaming monsters, and shows all packaged to terrify guests.  This year's collection of horrors is themed "The Trickster's Garden," with the tagline "Unlock the Fears Inside."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Free Phineas and Ferb Experience Coming to Downtown Disney

Starting September 1st, guests to Downtown Disney's West Side can take part in an augmented reality experience based on Disney's Phineas and Ferb.  DisneyParks Blog announced that "Phineas and Ferb & You" will be available until December 1st from 2-9:30 p.m. daily, located next to Bongo's Cuban Cafe.  Participants will interact with the show's cast in one of twenty possible events, "from dancing 'The Platypus Walk' to getting caught in Dr. Doof’s Freeze-inator."  The temporary attraction is completely free and will even offer complimentary digital photos of guests' experience.

While not a permanent addition, this could help breathe some life into Downtown Disney if executed well.  More attractions like this could create a niche for the shopping and entertainment district that separates it from being a hodgepodge of restaurants and stores.  As well, I'm glad to see more support for Phineas and Ferb, one of the best shows Disney has created in a while.  Agent P's World Showcase Adventure was a very clever addition, and I'm excited to see what they come up with for this.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Souvenir Finds: Old Junk or New Magic?

Disney produces a mind boggling array of products for their amusement parks.  These souvenirs are so numerous that it's impossible to keep track of everything available at any one time.  Marketplace Fun Finds, located at Downtown Disney, is one of the few places on property accessible to guests where you can find clearance merchandise.  Visiting the other day, I discovered "Pieces of Magic," a small collectible I've never seen before.

Pieces of Magic are small, coin size pieces of metal engraved with Disney graphics and positive words like "luck" and "magic."  Pieces vary in size and shape, with some resembling Mickey Ears, stamped with holes in the middle, or a variety of other shapes.  These are not designed to be placed on jewelry as a charm or any other obvious purpose.  This is definitely a great souvenir to buy for a child's classroom or friends back home that's inexpensive but clearly Disney.

They retail for $1.95 each or 6 for $10.00, and are one of those impulse items, like buttons, that are placed next to the register.  So far, I've only found them at Fun Finds, which most likely means it's an old item being cleared out of inventory, but there's still a chance I'm wrong.  It could be a new item that hasn't been widely introduced.  Unfortunately, I've yet to find any real information online about these Pieces.  Still, whether new or discontinued, it's still interesting to find another product that seems to have appeared from nowhere.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Grand Changes Coming to France Pavilion's Cuisine

DisneyParks Blog today announced big changes to almost all restaurants in the France Pavilion at Epcot.  The full interview with Jerome Bocuse, president of the company that runs all eateries in the pavilion, revealed many changes and some additions as well.  These new projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of December.

Bistro de Paris- This restaurant, relatively unmodified in 25 years, is now gone in spirit.  Everything is being changed, including the decor, server outfits, the menu, and even the name, which is yet to be announced.  The overall goal is to reduce the stuffiness of the restaurant and attract more families.  Bocuse also announced that they are bringing in a new chef who previously worked at a Michelin 3-Star restaurant.  Les Chefs de France downstairs will not be receiving changes, however.

Boulangerie Patisserie- The popular bakery is being moved from it's current tiny location to a new building currently being built behind the pavilion.  The expanded spot will feature a show bakery, expanded menu with more sandwiches and salads, and best of all, about 90 seats.  The current location is extremely popular, but its packed design and lack of seating can lead to definite frustration during busy times.

Glacier Ice Cream Parlor- Finally, the former location of Boulangerie Patisserie will be transformed into a new ice cream parlor.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Disney World Update: Week of August 5-11

This week was a chaotic one for Walt Disney World, with almost daily severe storms, technical difficulties, and castles on fire!  Alright, not really, that's just smoke from the Dream-Along with Mickey show refusing to dissipate.  One of the many nasty effects of the stifling weather.

On Saturday, the Magic Kingdom's entrance turnstiles experienced a network crash, leaving cast members begging for the "black bags," which hold all the emergency entry supplies.  Once everything was distributed, the slow process of scanning tickets, stamping them, clicking the counter, and finally letting guests through began.  The cast member next to us started the mantra, "scan, stamp, click, go," trying to remember something he admitted he only experienced in training months ago.  He also kept claiming the system was "hacked," but that was most likely just playing to the crowd.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tourist Parenting 101: Relieving the Call of Nature with The Lion King

Our beginner’s class on complete failures in basic vacation parenting continues.  Today, we address a fluid topic.

Lesson 2- Always Make Sure Your Children Use the Bathroom Before Shows

Among Animal Kingdom’s attractions, Festival of the Lion King beats even the coasters for most likely to take your breath away.  A hybrid of Cirque du Soleil and The Lion King Broadway Musical, this half hour show nears perfection.  It’s biggest flaw is the location in the middle of Camp Minnie Mickey.  This results in an infestation by the most savage beasts in all of Animal Kingdom, badly parented children.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo Celebrates Mantee Birth

First SeaWorld Orlando announced a new baby manatee, one that's already been released with its mother.  Now one of the manatees rescued by Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo has given birth.  The mother, named "Joannie," was rescued in January with cold stress.  Once it was discovered she was pregnant, caretakers made the decision to hold the manatee until after the baby's birth in order to prevent stress from release.  Last month, Joannie gave birth to "Lad," only the fourth manatee born at Lowry Park Zoo's manatee hospital.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Creatures of Central Florida: Capybara

  • Non-Native: Natural Habitat in South America, Some Domesticated as Pets in the United States
  • Spotted at SeaWorld Orlando
The reaction most people have upon seeing this 140 lb. rodent for the first time is that it looks like a giant guinea pig.  In fact, they're almost pretty much right.  Capybara's closest relatives in the animal kingdom are guinea pigs.  These creatures, about the size of a large dog when fully grown, are the world's largest rodent.  Their coats are relatively coarse and remain a light brownish color.  Docile and with few natural defenses, capybaras live in social packs of 6 or more to provide some protection in numbers.  Even in large groups, these creatures have a surprising amount of predators and a much shorter average lifespan than in captivity.

SeaWorld Orlando Gives Pass Holders All Day Dining Deal Discount in August

During the month of August, SeaWorld Orlando is letting annual pass holders try out the All-Day Dining Deal at greatly reduced prices.  Available for purchase through the Passport Member website, this offer lets pass holders purchase the Adult dining deal at the Children's price of $17.99, a discount of $15.  The All-Day Dining Deal is an all you can eat wristband with unlimited trips to most counter service restaurants and snack stands, essential SeaWorld Parks answer to the Disney Dining Plan.  Normally it's only a good deal if you plan to spend most of the day at the park or want to eat a lot in a short span of time, but at $17.99, one meal, a few beverages, and a snack will quickly ad up to some savings.

This discount has been quietly rolled out and isn't particularly easy to find.  Once logged in to the Passport website, you must scroll down to "Passport Member Savings" and click the link for "Special Savings on Dining Experiences."  At this time, there is no indication whether this discounted deal is purchasable at the park, so it's best to pay for it online ahead of time just in case.  As well, this special is not currently available for Busch Gardens Tampa's All-Day Dining Deal.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

D-Tech Unleashes Princess Horrors Upon the Earth

Photos courtesy of DisneyParks Blog
Starting August 26th at Downtown Disney's World of Disney store, you can ruin your child's dreams by subjecting them to the newest D-Tech experience.  Last seen in the smash success Carbon-Freeze Me experience at Star Wars Weekends, this time the D-Tech technology is placing your child's face on a Disney Princess figurine.  Unfortunately, the results make being frozen in carbonite seem not so bad.  Maybe they'll improve the figures for final release, but as it stands, the combination of distorted child's face and princess body is quite disturbing and unsettling.  I can definitely see some distraught children when these arrive in the mail after getting home from vacation.

If you wish to unleash these abominations upon your household, the cost is $99.95 plus shipping and includes a princess charm bracelet.  Only children age 3 to 12 will be subjected to the mental torture.  The experience is supposed to be available for a limited time only, which means it will last until the horde of angry parents show up with their pissed off little princesses to tear it down.  Reservations are recommended.

New Fantasyland Grand Opening Announced for December 6th, Soft Openings Starting November 19th

Photo courtesy of DisneyParks Blog
Disney has announced that December 5th is the Grand Opening of New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom.  Previews of the attractions will begin November 19th, including "Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid, Be Our Guest Restaurant, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Ariel’s Grotto, Gaston’s Tavern and Bonjour! Village Gifts."   No mention is made of the remaining sections of Storybook Circus, including the just previewed Pete's Silly Sideshow.  This may indicate that these areas will open before the November 19th preview date, though that is only speculation at this point.

Tourist Parenting 101: The Carousel of Progress’s New Car

This is a squirrel stealing from strollers.   It's almost on topic.
Although I do not have children yet, I feel that I am receiving a great education in parenting every time I visit Central Florida’s many attractions.  By observing the complete incompetence some parents are displaying, I can learn from their mistakes and avoid the same pitfalls.  For your enjoyment, lessons derived from some of the most egregious failures in parenting, starting with Lesson 1.

Lesson 1- Supervise Your Children During Attractions

During one of the first truly hot summer days this year, my wife Nicole and I were melting into puddles of lifeless goo.  Magic Kingdom was proving a maddening combination of relentless heat and shoving crowds.  Deciding that we had to do something inside to recover and hide, I suggested we go to Carousel of Progress, as Nicole had never experienced the classic, slightly dated attraction.  Air conditioning and a quiet, laid back show seemed like the perfect cure to our worsening condition.

Pete's Silly Sideshow Concept Art Revealed

Images courtesy of DisneyParks Blog
DisneyParks Blog has just posted concept art of Pet's Silly Sideshow, the new meet and greet area for Storybook Circus in New Fantasyland.  Taking residence in one of the three tents featured in the area, this new character area looks to be as well themed and visually exciting as the rest of Storybook Circus.  

Especially exciting are the unique character costumes featured, with Donald and Daisy's being standouts.  I'm not quite sold on the Evel Knievel style outfit for Goofy, however, as it seems too modern compared to the rest of the cast.  Also, it appears Mickey Mouse will continue to only appear in the Town Square Theater, and will not have a presence in the big top.  Unfortunately, this does put an end to the rumors that this meet and greet might feature rarely seen Disney park characters.

Pirates of the Caribbean Closed for Refurbishment October 9th

Piratey guests visiting the Magic Kingdom on October 9th are likely to mutiny, as Disney has added a one day refurbishment for Pirates of the Caribbean on that date.  Speculation will run rampant if this has to do with Fastpass being added to the attraction, interactive games being added, or a dozen more Johnny Depps appearing.  Whatever the reason, I just know it's one less day to spend with this gang of buccaneers, and that's always disappointing.  Arrrrr.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dealing with Beastly Weather: Busch Gardens vs. Animal Kingdom

Summer weather in Florida is infamous for 2 reasons: extremely hot, humid days, and entirely unpredictable afternoon storms.  In the height of summer, it's not unknown for the forecast to look identical for weeks, with every day being about 95 degrees with a 50% chance of precipitation.  Flip a coin on an average day, and you'll know as well as the weatherman whether it's going to rain that day.  This makes rain and storm response critical in theme parks in Central Florida.  In one week I witnessed two very different reactions to bad weather from two very similar parks.

On Monday, July 30th, I visited Busch Gardens Tampa for the first time.  Not long into my time at the park, heavy clouds began to dot the sky.  Before any rain began to fall, thunder was audible, or lightning visible, the park began closing all attractions.  They even closed the train ride, kicking off all passengers who had just waited over half an hour to board.  The stated reason was that lightning was close enough to the park to be a risk, but it seems the storms never came close to approaching the park. At worst, a moderate rain fell for a few minutes, and the skies almost immediately began clearing afterward.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

SeaWorld Releases Newborn Manatee and Mother Back to the Wild

Images courtesy of SeaWorld's Inside Conservation Blog
On July 18th, SeaWorld Orlando ushered a new manatee calf into the world, born from an injured mother recently rescued.   Thankfully both mother and baby proved healthy and strong, and last Thursday were released back into their natural habitat.  Manatees are especially endangered in the wild and special care is taken to release all rescues as soon as they are healthy enough to survive and thrive.

New Disney Dream Portraits with Behind the Scenes Shenanigans

In 2007, Disney launched the Disney Dream Portraits series.  These unique advertisements combine the photography of Annie Leibovitz, celebrities dressed as Disney characters, and stunning artistic backgrounds.  Altogether, it creates a stunning effect that manages to evoke the magic of Disney in a very surreal way.

This week Disney released two new advertisements in the series which star some of today's best comedic actors.  One features Will Ferrel, Jack Black, and Jason Segel as the three hitchhiking ghosts from the finale of the Haunted Mansion.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Food Finds: Seafire Inn at SeaWorld Orlando

Parks in the SeaWorld Parks chain, including SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa, feature an All-Day Dining Deal for a little over $30.  It's all you "care" to eat for an entire day at one price, a great bargain if you plan to have multiple meals and snacks in the parks.  Unfortunately, this also stretches the already limited number of restaurants to their limit.

With such crowded counter service dining locations, finding decent seating can be an impossible task.  At SeaWorld Orlando, there's one restaurant that has more than enough tables available, and proves one of the most efficient uses of space I've seen in a theme park.  That restaurant is the Seafire Inn.

Universal Orlando Bringing Penn & Teller to Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Orlando Resort announced today that infamous Las Vegas magicians Penn & Teller are helping design a new maze for this year's Halloween Horror Nights.  Dubbed "Penn & Teller New(kd) Las Vegas," the attraction will take guests through a stereotypical Las Vegas accidentally doused in toxic slime by the titular magicians.  Guests must brave the nuclear fallout and "the best of Vegas – showgirls, slot machines, little white wedding chapel, all-you-can-eat buffet, and more."

While the post-nuclear theme is not new to Halloween attractions, the Vegas theme does add an interesting twist.  Since it's Penn & Teller involved, it also seems that this is the 2012 Horror Nights' comedy maze, horror with an extra helping of dark humor.  Thankfully it looks like this is one unique addition not mirrored at the sister event in Hollywood, but it's still the fourth licensed maze announced this year.  Unless the pattern changes, Halloween Horror Nights Orlando is going to feature no completely original attractions.  I'm sure they'll still create a great event, but it's disheartening to see the end of the truly ambitious, unique ideas the event has attempted in previous years.

DisneyPark's New Video Previw of the Art of Animation's Lion King Wing

DisneyParks' Youtube account has posted a new video preview of the completed Lion King wing of the Art of Animation Resort .  This new addition continues the resort's rather stunning theming, probably the best effort at a value level resort yet.  The overall vibe is like a lower cost version of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, trading live animals and luxury accommodations for animated characters and family style suites.

Busch Gardens Tampa Has a Summer Baby Boom

Photos courtesy of SeaWorld Parks
Summer has signaled the arrival of a load of new babies at Busch Gardens Tampa.  Many of these new additions are still behind the scenes being cared for by their parents and keepers.  As the year continues, more and more babies will be added into public areas, so keep an eye out for some surprises.

This little ball of armor is a three banded armadillo.  Born June 21, 2012, this baby and its parents can be found in Jambo Junction, where Busch Gardens animal ambassadors live when not meeting celebrities and appearing on television.

Don't Run Away, Universal's Hard Rock Hotel Presents A Flock of Seagulls

Apparently trying to re-define the definition of "hard rock," the Hard Rock Hotel is bringing 80s band and notorious hairdressing disaster A Flock of Seagulls to their Velvet Sessions concert series.  On August 30th, the one hit wonder group known for their hit "I Ran (So Far Away)" will be appearing in a 21 and older cocktail party in the hotel lobby.

The ticketed Velvet Sessions events feature free alcohol and food from 6:30 PM to the start of show, then a cash bar during and afterwards when a DJ keeps the party going until 1:00 AM.  If there's free flowing booze before the concert, it seems the quality of the band won't matter much after all.  Tickets are $29 online or $35 at the door, so get your tickets now before a load of nostalgic 80s music fans get them first.  The quick details are below.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

SeaWorld Update August 2nd: Sea Lion Pups, Construction, and a Capybara

SeaWorld Orlando is growing multiple ways this summer, with both the animals and the park bringing new additions into the world.  With the Florida theme park wars raging, it seems everyone is pitching in at expanding this great marine park.

Construction continues on Anatarctica: Empire of the Penguin, the next new attraction after this year's Turtle Trek.

2012 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Menu Posted

Out of all the annual events at Disney World, the Epcot Food and Wine Festival has to be the best for anyone 21 or older.  Featuring cooking demonstrations, celebrity chef appearances, and free concerts, the heart and soul of the event is the multitude of booths all featuring different foods and drinks from across the planet. Even as a child, I have great memories of exploring the fest with my father, getting to try small portions of food that helped introduce me to a new world of flavors.

The 2012 Food and Wine Festival starts next month on September 28th, and Disney has posted the full menu for all the booths.  New this year are booths devoted to all vegan cuisine, called "Terra," as well as one devoted to local Florida food.  As usual, it's a spectacular variety of options, and the wide array of cheese alone makes me excited.  By the time the festival ends on November 12th, I'll probably need to take out a bank loan and join a gym after twelve too many visits.  The full menu can be viewed below.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Creatures of Central Florida: Giant Anteater

Giant Anteater

These large, furry creatures are a great example of specialization in nature.  When not sleeping up to 15 hours a day, the largest of the anteaters uses its amazing sense of smell to find colonies of insects.  It then uses its extremely sticky, long tongue to eat thousands of termites, ants, and other similar bugs a day.   Unlike some of their tree dwelling cousins, the Giant Anteater lives entirely on the ground.  They raise a single baby at a time, with it riding on its mother's back for a year, blending in with her fur pattern to hide from potential predators.