Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

Sneak Peek: Universal Orlando’s Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show like us, Central Florida! They REALLY like us!! So much so that Universal Studios Florida gave Jimmy and the guys a permanent summer home in the park, where Twister used to Ride It Out! (Rest in Peace, Bill Paxton.)

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon may officially open on April 6 but we have a sneak peek for you NOW! This new attraction (and virtual queue – more on that later!) will give guests the ultimate “Tonight Show” experience as they get up close and personal with the show’s most hilarious segments before taking off on a wild and action-packed race through New York City against Jimmy Fallon! See what Jimmy thinks of this below…

To celebrate Race Through New York’s Grand Opening, “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” will be returning to Universal Orlando Resort to tape new shows on April 3rd – 6th! Details on celebrity guests will be released very soon so keep an eye peeled Jimmy’s website. Unfortunately tickets for these shows and their monologue tapings are already sold out. But! You may possibly see Jimmy around Orlando. Remember, WrestleMania 33 is right around the corner!

Upon entering, guests will make their way through an meticulously themed 30 Rockefeller Plaza lobby – brass fixtures, signage, NBC Pages, red rope, and all!

TGS with Tracy Jordan is on the 60th floor, not the 6th. Say hi to Liz for us!

Once inside, you will see windows set with a slew of NBC and The Tonight Show memorabilia including tributes to past Tonight Show hosts; Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and present host, Jimmy Fallon.

A note: Thank You, Jimmy Fallon, for loving Beefy King as much as we do!

It’s easy to get distracted in the lobby but don’t forget to stop by the lobby desk and pick up your NBC feather, brought to you in living color! This laminated feather is very important (and no you don’t get to keep it), but the color is even more so. Remember that state-of-art queue stuff I mentioned earlier? Here’s where it comes into play…

Ever wonder why NBC uses a peacock as its logo? In 1956, the National Broadcasting Company’s programming went full color and the logo stuck!

Now that you have your feather, look up! See the lights? Hear the chimes? When the first floor lobby lights change to whatever your feather’s color is, that’s when you’ll move up stairs to the second floor holding area, much like being an audience member at an actual show taping. Keep an eye and ear peeled. You will see/hear these things again.

 

The second floor is MAGIC. Why? You will be so entertained and distracted, you won’t feel like you’re waiting! You can take a #selfie with #HashtagThePanda! Nifty interactive desks will challenge users of all ages to cool games! Have a seat in Club Studio 6B and catch a live show from the Ragtime Gals or watch through some of the funniest moments from the last three years of The Tonight Show! You can even charge your phone while you sit comfortably in air conditioning!

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon will be the first attraction at Universal Studios Florida to feature an all-new Virtual Line experience, allowing guests to spend less time waiting in line. (Note: The Virtual Line system is accessible via the Official Universal Orlando Mobile App or at kiosks located outside the attraction entrance.)

Now to the real fun! Your color is up and it’s time for you to proceed to the studio entrance! Hand your feather card to the NBC page, and you’re in! Don’t forget your shades…

You are now at the stage door, waiting to get into Studio 6B to board the world’s first-ever flying theater, which seats up to 72 audience members, for the race of a lifetime. But of course, safety first! The Roots will help Jimmy out with this. (Only The Roots can make safety precautions sound THIS cool.)

At this point, Jimmy challenges you (the audience) to a race against him and his lightcycle-esque Tonight Rider. During this race through the streets of New York City, to the moon and back, you’ll encounter iconic landmarks from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building to everything in between. And if you’re REALLY paying attention, you will notice a few easter egg tributes to attractions past.

Check out this fun behind the scenes video of Jimmy with his tight pants (with his tight pants on), as a Ragtime Gal, and as Sara (and Gary!) from EW!

What did I think of the ride?

Universal Creative and the scenic folks always go above and beyond when it comes to aesthetic. This ride is no exception. From the 30 Rockefeller Plaza lobby downstairs, to Club Studio 6B upstairs I really kind of felt like I was inside that ginormous Comcast Building in New York City! Browsing the props, actual stage pieces, and other memorabilia from generations of NBC and Tonight Show history was very cool.

The ride itself was really fun… but basic. Were there very cool sensory elements to it? Yes! Were there clever tributes to King Kong, Jaws, Back to the Future, Twister, and more built in? YES, although it may take a few of rides to catch them all. But the glasses and the ride experience? I don’t know what I was expecting in terms of a new ride but, I guess I expected more… technological envelope pushing.

I will say, the concept behind what is essentially a simulator ride was remarkable. Well thought out theming and queue experience, a great gift shop; you should absolutely experience this attraction when it opens. How can one NOT have fun when it cones to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon?

I’ll close with a ProTip I got when I first experienced this ride a few weeks ago: Be sure to stay and watch all the Ragtime Gals’ sets! They’re super funny and actually, really good! The Fallon clip shows in between are also great. You may have to hang around until your color is up again, depending on your timing, but it will SO be worth it!

 

Armed Forces History Museum in Largo Closing January 29

As a nation, we recently marked the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Those interested in history and those who are touched by the solemnity of this recent anniversary will get a lot out of a visit to the Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, not far from Tampa, FL.

Inside the WWII room featuring models from the movie Tora, Tora, Tora

Inside the WWII room featuring models from the movie Tora, Tora, Tora

Closing sadly later this month, the museum has memorabilia from just about every military action from the last 100+ years. In fact, this collection is the largest of its kind in the Southeast!

Of special note is a room depicting America’s entrance into World War II. Film buffs will remember the movie Tora Tora Tora. The museum has the models that were used in the film and the large room features a projection screen with snippets from the film in addition to a central area where the models reside. Overhead Japanese zeros can be seen in addition to a giant mock ship representing the fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor.

The French city scene realistically depicts the scars left because of war

The French city scene realistically depicts the scars left because of war

What impressed me the most was the incredible attention to detail about each historical era’s vignette. For example, the building that shows a bombed Parisian block has an almost a Disney-esque quality to it. The creators of this museum intended to transport visitors to the locations, not just to slap historical items in cases, though there are many well-preserved artifacts to be seen.

Visitors can browse at their leisure, taking in the pride of American service with opportunities for reflective contemplation, too, at the all-too-real effects of war.

The museum’s founder, John J. Piazza, passed away October 3, 2016, and the expense of continuing the museum has proved too cumbersome for the family. As such, the collection will be returned to those who have provided items on loan, with the remaining collection to be sold off.

FACT: A dedicated Marine Veteran, Mr. Piazza started the Injured Warriors Fund of Florida, and was Chairman of the Department of Florida Marine Corps League Scholarship Fund.

The Armed Forces History Museum opened on August 16, 2008 and has faithfully recognized and honored generations of Americans who sacrificed so much more than their share, including their very own lives.

Hands-on fun inside a M-60 Patton training turret, a US Army tank from the 1960s-70s.

Hands-on fun inside a M-60 Patton training turret, a US Army tank from the 1960s-70s.

Guests can enjoy dioramas representing different eras of military conflicts complete with authentic vehicles such as jeeps, tanks, and even an ambulance. In addition, visitors can scrutinize glass cases filled with weapons, reconnaissance equipment, letters, vintage magazines and more.

You won’t want to miss this gem of a museum. Plan your trip now before their doors close at 4 p.m. January 29, 2017.

There are a variety of ticket options:

Adults: $17.95
Seniors: $14.95
Kids (4-12 years): $9.95
Teens (13-17 years):  $12.95
College Students w/ID:  $12.95
Veterans: $14.95
AAA Members: $15.25
Retired military (20 years+): Free
Active military: Free
3 Years & under: Free

An add-on adventure is a ride in the M8 Armored Car from 1943. For an additional fee, you can get up in this WWII and Korean War-era vehicle that was used for high-speed mobility. On the first lap of the track you’ll see why speed is one of its most noted assets!

The Armed Forces History Museum is located at: 2050 34th Way North, Largo, FL 33771 or call (727) 539-8371 for additional information. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. (They’re closed Mondays and major holidays.)

Visit them online at: http://armedforcesmuseum.com/.

Enter to win Discovery Cove’s Splashy Sweet 16

Coral, the first dolphin born at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove to mother Jenny, turns Sweet 16 this year, as does Discovery Cove itself!

Coral sweet 16 Discovery CoveBorn October 4, 2000, Coral is having a party that’s going to last all year long, with one lucky person (and 15 of their friends!) receiving the gifts. To celebrate the momentous occasion, SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove is holding a contest where someone will win entry for 16 to Discovery Cove, including:

• 16 All-Inclusive Dolphin Swim Packages

• 2 Private Cabanas

• 2 Nights at an Official SeaWorld HotelCoral sweet 16 2

• Transportation to and from Orlando, Florida

• Tickets to SeaWorld and Aquatica

 

Enter here daily through August 14. A winner will be announced on August 15, 2016 via email.

 

Discovery Cove is what I like to call a Cruise Ship excursion, without the cruise ship! There guests can visit The Grand Reef®, which contains more than 10,000 tropical fish, and the Freshwater Oasis®, featuring playful Asian otters and curious marmoset monkeys. Our family has been just about every year for the past few years and we can’t say enough good things about it. Everything is included: delicious food, drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), treats, wet suit, animal-friendly sunblock… you name it!

Insider tip: Don’t let your kid have unlimited frozen fruit bars. Just one or maybe two. (Do NOT ask for the details on how we learned that, LOL!)

For three consecutive years, Discovery Cove has ranked as one of the top amusement parks and water parks in the world in the TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Awards. For more information on SeaWorld’s gorgeous sister park, visit DiscoveryCove.com.

Did you know?
Coral is an eight-foot, 450-pound dolphin. Her female calf is named, appropriately, Reef!

OmarfromtheO visits Detroit, Michigan Part 4

In this final Detroit centric episode of #OmarfromtheO, Omar and the gang spend their last few hours enjoying the cool, 68 degree weather doing what? Roaming around and getting 100% all natural Angus Beef burgers from Brome Burger in Dearborn, of course!

What’s cool about Dearborn? Lots of things! It’s the birthplace of Henry Ford, The DHM (Dearborn Historical Museum) hosts regular adult Ghost Walks in Southeast Michigan, and their tourism guide turns into a really cool walk-or-ride tour of the city!

RoadTip: At some point you may have heard of Michigan referred to as “The Mitten State.” Here is a great story about how this came to be: http://michiganradio.org/post/when-did-we-start-calling-michigan-mitten-state#stream/0

Among all their cool projects, the Dearborn Community Fund hosts two donation-funded projects that caught our eye;

1) Pockets of Perception (POP) student design team works with local business people, instructors, and artists to design AND install a permanent public art project!

2) The Fund is partnering with the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority (EDDDA) to repurpose Dearborn’s historic City Hall building into an ArtSpace, an affordable work/live space for artists and their families!

Among the many things Omar’s Great/Good list for Detroit:

  • Great first trip to Detroit, Michigan!
  • Different, educational and fun!
  • See old faces (Hi Rose!)
  • Met new ones
  • Cool, cool hoodie worthy weather!
  • Going off the cuss cusp
  • Great group of friends

Where did Omar find a little Magic in the Motor City? Watch Episode 4 to find out…

OmarfromtheO visits Detroit, Michigan Part 3

Still in Michigan, Omar looks for a coney with ‘character’ and decides to visit Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island. The gang waves hi to Canada and takes a casual stroll around Downtown Detroit. He wonders how his Floridian friends will stand wearing shorts in the not-so-hot Detroit weather.

The gang wraps up their last full day in Detroit by checking out Greek Independence Day parade, and doing laps around the old Detroit Tigers’ Stadium in Corktown. Really old. And (formerly) wooden?! People started playing baseball in this place in 1896! The stadium went all steel and fancy in 1912 and played its last game on “The Corner” on September 27th, 1999.

After several attempts to save Tiger Stadium, only its playing field remains, but the City of Detroit plans on repurposing this historic site for a youth sports complex and headquarters for the Detroit Police Athletic League. Atta boy, Detroit!

RoadTip: Keep your head up while being aware of killer potholes.

How exactly does one balance two forks and two toothpicks on top of a salt shaker? Be amazed and watch Episode 3 to see for yourself!

Get Social with Omar!

http://bit.ly/OM_Twitter

http://bit.ly/OM_Insta

OmarfromtheO visits Detroit, Michigan Part 2

In Part 2, Omar explores the Detroit Marriott and shows us more of Detroit including; the Henry Ford Museum, Motown’s first headquarters, Hitsville, U.S.A., and some really cool time lapsed post-wedding, karaoke shenanigans.

RoadTip: TSA Pre® is a MUST for the avid traveler.

Cool thing about the Detroit Marriott in Troy, Michigan? It has Mobile Key technology! The Marriott Mobile App claims to be “The Perfect Travel Companion,” inviting you to Swipe, Tap, and Relax. Get an alert on your phone when your room is ready, and walk right past the front desk and into your room with your Mobile Key!

Marriott Mobile Key

Other Marriott properties with Mobile Key:

Can you swim in Michigan… in April? (A: Indoors you can!) Did Omar and the gang stick decide to stick with the Uber way of transport?

Watch Episode 2 here:

Get Social with Omar!

http://bit.ly/OM_Twitter

http://bit.ly/OM_Insta

OmarfromtheO visits Detroit, Michigan Part 1

Starting this week, we’re sharing with you the many video adventures of Omar! Omar is a local filmmaker who loves to be creative. He is also a HUGE Orlando Magic fan. [#PureMagic!]

What we love most about Omar is his positivity. He’s down for anything that will make people laugh, and leave them thinking and with a big smile on their face! This is exactly what happened to me after watching his recent engagement video to a pretty lady named Marianthy – but more on that a little later.

Central Floridians have probably seen his ‘#OmarFace’ stickers in random places around town, or around the world for that matter! You’ll see more live ‘Omar Face’ in his newest creative venture, a vlog called “OmarfromtheO!”

In his premiere episode, our man Omar and his pals are getting ready for his friends’ Rose and Mike’s wedding. His flight out of Orlando International Airport is taking off early… really early, but Omar’s used to early set calls. Bed hair or not, Omar is ready for whatever the day brings!

Should the gang Uber or just get a rent-a-car? Too bad they can’t take Detroit Metropolitan Airport’s ExpressTram around town! Kinda crazy how this tram has no internal motor and levitate on a half-inch of air created by 72 air pads on the bottom, right?

RoadTip: Safety FIRST. Always. Each butt should get its own seat. No floors.

See the DFW Delta terminal, many grimaces, The Gateway Bridge, a tied-arch bridge in Taylor, a 50 year old, eight story Uniroyal Tire, 8 Mile Road, the David K. Page Building at Children’s Hospital of Michigan – Troy, and more Detroit favorites in Omar’s first webisode, “Detroit!”

Watch Episode 1 here:

FACT: Detroit is significantly cooler, in temperature, than Florida on any given day.

Get Social with Omar!

http://bit.ly/OM_Twitter

http://bit.ly/OM_Insta

Central Florida Top 5’s David Visits Peru: Futbol or Soccer, It’s All Beautiful!

While in Peru, I was able to take in the Copa Libertadores match between Sporting Cristal (Peru) and Huracan (Argentina). The match was great! even though it was not my beloved Lions on the pitch, I still loved taking it all in. As a supporter, your passion for the game runs very deep. It’s this love for the game that allows you appreciate the simple yet complex sport that is world football, regardless of who is on the pitch.

Even when it’s not your team playing, the energy and excitement from the thousands of supporters is unmatched anywhere in the sporting world. It’s an escape from the everyday grind. For 90 plus minutes, you find yourself consumed by the game and part of something bigger than you and you just allow it to take over.

A few days after the Copa Libertadores match, I was able to attend another match for one of the biggest clubs in all of Peru, Universitario de Deportes or “La U” as the locals call it.  I attended with a couple of my wife’s uncles.  They have been La U supporters since they were born, a tradition passed on to them by their father.  I have found that this is common across Europe and South America when it comes to which football club people support.  You don’t just choose a club, you are born into it and you follow it until the day you die.

However, there are a few defectors among the ranks of my wife’s family. A handful of them support Alianza Lima, the other big club in Peru. I am not sure how this happened, but if I had to guess, a couple of the Iberico (my wife’s family surname) ladies married Alianza supporters, and their kids were raised to support Alianza Lima.  These are the two most decorated clubs in all of Peruvian football.  It’s been said that 65% of all Peruvians support one of these two clubs. In a country of over 30 million, and a league with 16 clubs, that is a lot of supporters for just two clubs!

David Peru

This is ‘relaxed’ security in Peru

One thing I noticed when entering the stadium for the match is the relaxed security.  At first I thought, this was going to be a very thorough and intimidating affair, but it wasn’t.  The cops are dressed in riot gear throughout the stadium, and you get the feeling something is about to pop off! But when all was said and done, there was no pat down, and all I had to do was show my passport. It was much different than what goes down at the Citrus Bowl on match day.  At the same time, our security is not walking around with riot shields, helmets, and batons.

There is no alcohol allowed in the stadium. I was a little shocked by this… Maybe this is how it is everywhere else in the world, but I am used to being able to have a few beers in the stadium when I watch a match. The only options I had here were Pepsi, juice, or water.  All three are served with no ice, in tiny cups. So for me, drinking warm Pepsi out of an 8 ounce paper cup was a little strange. I did however have a delicious chorizo on a roll while I was there.

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Hablas… ‘Chorizo!’

You get the feeling there is no “official” concession company running the show inside the stadium.  In all honestly it seems like a bunch of random people just selling whatever they were able to get into the stadium.  Which is cool because no two matches are the same and the variety of snacks is all over the place, depending on what made it into the stadium.

The supporters were different at both matches as well. For the Copa Libertadores match, Sporting Cristal had three different supporter sections in the stadium. One behind each goal on the north and south ends of the stadium, and one of the second level right at midfield.  It was a bit strange because all three sections did their own things during the match.  All three sections were loud and non stop for the full 90 minutes, but none of the chants were in sync.  The only thing that was done in unison, was the balloon release at the beginning of the match. A side from that, it was three separate shows from three separate locations in the stands. Before the match started, there were a couple of drummers down near the pitch playing in front of the supporters at the north end. But after the match started, the drums were silent.

David Peru

Tio Manuco, Me, Tio Henry at La U match

The match for Universitario de Deportes (La U) was similar to what I am accustomed too.  There was one section behind goal with about 5,000 supporters called La Norte, or The North.  They did not have drums, but they did chant for the full 90 minutes and it sounded amazing.  It seriously made me miss being in The Wall.  One thing they did that was a bit different was a card display tifo right before the second half.  In all there were about 35,000 in the stadium for the match, and all of them knew the chants whenever La U would score a goal.  The place would erupt into one very loud, very passionate, celebratory chant.  It was awesome! Hopefully we will have that same response when Orlando City scores a goal in the coming seasons.

I have to say my trip to Peru did not disappoint.  The food was great, the people were great, and the futbol was equally great! This past Sunday was my first Orlando City match of the season, and it was amazing!

Orlando is where reigning MLS Cup Champions come to be humbled.  Last year it was LA Galaxy getting beat up on 4-0, and this year Portland Timbers ate a big piece of humble pie, going down 4-1.  I was able to watch the first three matches when I was in Peru, but I have to admit I was a little homesick when I had to watch the lads play on TV from 3,000 miles away.

David in Peru Orlando City

Top 5’s David shows Orlando City love from 2,600 miles away!

I had a taste of what I was missing and now I can’t wait for April 17th, when the Lions take on New England here in the Citrus Bowl. Good seats are still available for this match up.  Visit orlandocitysc.com/tickets for more info!

Vamos Orlando!

 

 

A New Day for SeaWorld: Orca Breeding Program Ends

As an advocate for wildlife conservation and, yes – a passionate advocate for SeaWorld – March 17, 2016 is a big day, and I encourage everyone to truly do their due diligence in reinvestigating how they feel about SeaWorld today.

Here’s what’s happening right now at SeaWorld:

SeaWorld’s orca breeding program officially ends today.  There is one whale, Takara, who’s been pregnant since last year – so, prepare yourselves for the last orca calf birth within SeaWorld’s parks.

Theatrical shows are done. Which is making way for new natural habitat encounters that are being created (but, keep in mind, these take time and don’t happen overnight — you’ll see them first in California later this year, then San Diego, and last in Orlando – in 2019) and these will focus on orca enrichment, exercise and overall health.

SeaWorld partners with Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to further support the changes announced today.

 

Two years ago, I decided very deliberately to share my stance on SeaWorld with everyone.  I was tired of “living in fear” that someone would have a differing opinion – a lot of people on the internet do, and they let me know it every time I step into the park.  I understand why many have trouble supporting SeaWorld.  I’ve also done my own extensive research to know why I personally choose to stand with SeaWorld, and I can only ask that you respect my opinion as much as I try to respect yours.

The killer whales that are currently in their care, and have been for many years, have mostly all been BORN within the parks — there is NO WAY that any of them could survive in the wild. None. Zilch. Not up for discussion.  “Saving the whales” by “freeing” them into the ocean…is likely certain death for them.  I’m not willing to risk their lives to see if these whales born in captivity can even begin to figure out the wild.  I’m not up for debating this here or now with anyone – we’ve been there/done that.

However, it is my total and complete belief that WITHOUT SEAWORLD? We – and the very existence of these animals (from killer whale to manatee to sea turtle) – would have been entirely worse off. Likely, without SeaWorld, the Florida Manatee would’ve been wiped off the planet years ago…that’s just for starters.

And I find it extremely difficult to believe that everyone who’s been calling for their heads was or would’ve been the “activist” that they are for the killer whale without – ironically – SeaWorld themselves.

Because, let’s be real here for a second — no one gave a flying flippity thought about the killer whales (and, in fact, actually FEARED the animal) until SeaWorld stepped in and gave us Shamu. Had SeaWorld NOT put the killer whale infront of us and began educating us about the species people would likely continue to fear this “killer” and never even know what they are – let alone CARE about them. They’d care as much, if not less, about the KILLER whale as they do the blue whale or the beluga whale or the sperm whale….or sharks…or sea turtles…or manatees.

Think what you want of SeaWorld after watching one piece of propaganda that was set out with the intention of destroying every single thing this company does, both good and bad. Admittedly, I agree, many of these changes were necessary and I’m happy to see them come to fruition.  That being said, I do not believe that the total destruction of the predominant resource that helps to rescue/rehab and conserve these animals all over the world was – or is – warranted. Keep in mind, SeaWorld is not only accredited through various high level organizations globally – they’re also regulated by federal & state agencies too.  SeaWorld is not the only authority involved in these animal’s care, rehab, and conservation.

Having SeaWorld in my backyard here in Orlando, growing up supporting them, and WITNESSING THEM being the first on many calls throughout the year to help save just about any animal that needs them – has me solidly on Team SeaWorld. They are, after all, the very reason I became fascinated with these animals back in the 80s as a kid from New Jersey who never knew much more than what a garden snake or a duck in the pond at the park looked like outside of what was in books.  Now, some 30-odd years later, my friends will tell you that I’m a fierce lover of all animals, but in particular those of the marine sort.  Why?  SeaWorld.

My hope now, after today especially, is that more people begin to reconsider their stance on SeaWorld, that you at least take another hardcore look and are open to the changes that are happening — because without SeaWorld and without our support in SeaWorld and all the GOOD that they do provide? You could bet your bottom dollar that a lot of these animals cease to exist.

SeaWorld needs money and resources to make things happen – from their rescue and rehab programs, to the new changes they’re working to put in place, and the continuation in the level of care that these animals ARE in fact receiveing. Which is likely better than you & I receive any time we go to the doctor…they need us, as much as we need them.

Editor’s Note: Central Florida Top 5 encourages everyone to visit SeaWorldCares.com/Future to learn more about Sea World’s current efforts and plans for the future. 

SeaWorld announced that it is phasing out current killer whale theatrical shows and replacing with new, inspiring, natural orca encounters as part of its ongoing commitment to education, marine science research, and rescue of marine animals. These programs will focus on orca enrichment, exercise, and overall health and will start in its San Diego park next year, followed by San Antonio and then Orlando in 2019. Artist Rendering 2016 ©SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

SeaWorld announced that it is phasing out current killer whale theatrical shows and replacing with new, inspiring, natural orca encounters as part of its ongoing commitment to education, marine science research, and rescue of marine animals. These programs will focus on orca enrichment, exercise, and overall health and will start in its San Diego park next year, followed by San Antonio and then Orlando in 2019. Artist Rendering

2016 ©SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Top 5 Interaction Programs at SeaWorld Parks

Guest writer Kaylin Williams shares the Top 5 BEST Interaction Programs & Tours SeaWorld Parks have to offer

Follow Kaylin on Instagram & YouTube @BlessedByTheOrcas

So, we all love up close animal encounters right? Imagine swimming with beluga whales, shaking hands with sea lions, feeling a penguin’s feathers on your fingertips, and being immersed in a whirlwind of awe and basking in a wave of education. Interested? Well good news for you, SeaWorld is one of the few places in the world to offer such interactive experiences, for they’re rare opportunities.

I myself, have participated in various programs SeaWorld has to offer and I’m going to give you the lowdown on some of the best edu-taining programs, Top-5 style. (Note: I am only going to list programs that I have personally participated in, for I have no jurisdiction to talk about other programs such as the Grand Adventure Tour or Behind the Scenes Tour since I have not partaken in those programs myself.)

#1. The Beluga Interaction Program:

This program is offered at all three SeaWorld parks, it is my favorite interaction I’ve done so far. In this completely immersive experience you get to work side-by-side with a trainer. You get to put on a wetsuit and get in the 62℉ salt water with one of the most interesting, rare and mystical ocean dwellers. This program includes hands-on interaction and learning through trainer talks. I did mine with Imaq and Natasha the belugas!

Wanna see for yourself? Link to video: https://youtu.be/_1XJXHBJC2E

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#2. The Sea Lion Interaction Program:

This program is offered at SeaWorld San Antonio, it’s a very immersive experience for ages 7 and up! Get on your wetsuit and swim with one of the loudest, most playful and agile animals in the marine environment. You get to lay out and relax, tote around and just have fun with one of the most dog-like sea mammals our there. I did mine with Digit and Dylan the sea lions!

Wanna see one for yourself? Link to video: https://youtu.be/xkH9P7xfTzo

CaptureSeaWorld San Antonio Trip June 27,2015 086

 

#3. Dolphin Touch/Interaction Program:

So far, I’ve only participated in the Dolphin Touch Program and I’ll be doing the interaction this summer! This touch program is a 5-10 minute long program of fun facts, hands-on rubdowns, feedings and a couple behaviors with either an Atlantic Bottlenose or Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin. I did mine with Donely the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin.

 

SeaWorld Trip December 6, 2014 Kamea's 1st Birthday 103SeaWorld Trip December 6, 2014 Kamea's 1st Birthday 130

 

 

 

 

 

 

#4. Penguin Tour/Penguin Up-Close Tour:

This program sure does break the ice! Ever wanted to touch a penguin without the frozen tundra temperatures? Then this program is just right for you. Enter through the back of the polar exhibit (Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin or Penguin Encounter depending on which park you are planning to visit) and meet a penguin face to face! Touch hand to flipper with one of the most popular polar birds, from Rockhopper and Chinstrap Penguins, to Gentoo and King Penguins, every species has its own flare. You can even take a peek into the exhibit itself and feel, listen and smell. I met Jenny, the 2-year-old Rockhopper Penguin.

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#5. The Beluga Tour:

This program is on the less expensive side of the Beluga Interaction Program. This program takes you backstage where you can meet a white whale from the dry land — no wetsuits necessary! Take a look at all the different whales, get background information on each individual and learn about the anatomy, behavior and training techniques SeaWorld uses with their Beluga Whales from a trainer. I did my melon rub with Imaq!

SeaWorld Trip December 6, 2014 Kamea's 1st Birthday 072SeaWorld Trip December 6, 2014 Kamea's 1st Birthday 057

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there it is. The top 5 programs that I have personally participated in and know you’ll enjoy! I hope you have a chance to partake in these programs so you too, can learn about these beautiful animals and how to help make this world a cleaner, safer, less polluted and overall, better world for both animals and us humans.

More information available at http://seaworldparks.com.

 

 

Article and photos contributed by guest writer Kaylin Williams.

 

Top 5 Interactives I Want at The NBA Experience

It’ll be the end of an era when DisneyQuest closes in 2016 to usher in The NBA Experience. Personally, I will be saddened by the void it will leave in my nostalgic heart. I’ve been attending DisneyQuest since it opened, and visiting nearly once a year since 2009.

Sure, the technology in the place is outdated, but the fun isn’t. But I get it. Until it closes next year, we can enjoy the virtual reality and the fully immersive and interactive activities as much as we want.

That being said, I’m a big NBA fan and excited for what’s to come which, as the Orlando Sentinel reports, will include “high-tech experiences, a restaurant and a store.”

As we await more details, in the true spirit of Disney, I imagined what we could see when The NBA Experience opens in the not-so-distant future.

Virtual Game of 5-on-5

Likelihood of *potentially* happening: 80%

By offering interactive basketball experiences, your first thought would be to actually play some basketball. Since injury liability, among other factors, prevents the facility from holding pickup games, I suggest a virtual alternative.

To visualize, I point to the Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam, a long-time fixture at DisneyQuest. In this game, 11 players take the controls of a pinball in digital form, which is projected before them on a giant screen.

In my version, you’ll take the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One controller and, well, assume control of an NBA player in the latest game of either 2K Sports’ NBA 2K or EA SPORTS NBA Live series and play it on a giant screen. It’s not likely that you’ve played against nine other competitors in the same room. Call picks, shout “I’m open” and even talk trash a la Michael Jordan and it’s the next best thing to playing at the playground — and as NBA superstars to boot.

VR Pop-a-Shot

Likelihood of *potentially* happening: 25%

We’ve all played the pop-a-shot games at the arcade and they’re always a ton of fun. There’s nothing but you, a ball and a basket as you attempt to knock down as many shots as possible.

But we’re talking about The NBA Experience, a building that will assume the spot of the virtual-reality laden DisneyQuest, so we need some VR up in here!

So imagine donning a HMD (head-mounted display) and some motion capture gloves and doing the same thing but here’s the twist — now you’re trying to shoot over NBA players. Think of it as a reimagining of Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride.

Immersing yourself in a video game environment (like the aforementioned NBA 2K or NBA Live games) and having a LeBron James dare you to score on him could be the closest thing to a one-on-one contest with The King.

Of course, if you win, LeBron gives you props and suggests he might tell NBA Commissioner Adam Silver about you.

Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest

Likelihood of *potentially* happening: 50%

The night before the annual NBA All Star Game features a plethora of activities including the Skills Challenge. How cool would it be to perform the same drills course as the select group of NBA players every year? And what’s more, comparing your times to that of your favorite player, of course.

You could also do the same with the 3-Point Contest. Run the rack as you race the clock to drill as many treys as possible. Don’t forget the money ball!

Can you make it rain more than this past year’s winner, Steph Curry?

Do You Have the Inside Stuff?

Likelihood of *potentially* happening: 90%

NBA players are among the most elite athletes in the world, but nothing puts that quite into perspective like directly comparing yourself to one.

Test your vertical leap and reflexes as well as measure your height to see how you rank among the globe’s best basketball players.

Protect the Rim

Likehood of *potentially happening: 60%

Much like number two on this list, you’ll virtually go one-on-one with a NBA player except this time you’re on defense. Utilizing technology like that in the Kinect, you’d assume a defensive stance and swat away shots fired by players like Kevin Durant and James Harden.

It’s easy to score, but putting the clamps on your competitor is just as, if not more, satisfying.

I’m no attraction engineer, but I tried to create experiences that could theoretically be achieved by today’s technology. Whether any of these come to bear or not, I’m sure The NBA Experience will have a lot of game.

Review | Escapology: Locked in a room with 60 minutes left to live

Working in a highly secure US government research facility under Dr. Walter Brandt, a high-ranking chemical weapons specialist, to create a highly effective virus capable of eradicating enemy forces with swift pace and deadly accuracy, we discovered that Dr. Brandt went roage.

Orlando Escapology's Antidote Game

Dr. Brandt, like the hired guns of the west, has decided he would offer his virus to the highest bidder. With national security and the whole of humanity at stake we were tasked with discovering an antidote to the deadly virus.

While working in the laboratory one of our team members accidently knocked a vial of the deadly virus onto the floor. The vial crashes into the floor and plumes of green smoke fill the air.

The lab’s security system detected the breach and went into full lockdown. Alert sirens blare “60 minutes until total decontamination”.

A feeling of dread washed over me, I knew full decontamination meant no organic organism would survive.

The team panicked and rushed to create a suitable antidote, as we toiled away we discovered Dr. Brandt has left clues behind. Clues that could lead to an antidote?

We decided we had a better shot at following the clues than trying to create an antidote of our own.

Feverously we worked to solve one clue after the other, while time ticked away and decontamination drew nearer.

When I heard the lab’s security system announce 30 minutes to total decontamination I began to feel hopeless. How close were we to solving all of his clues? When we solved them, would we find the antidote in time to shut the decontamination down?

I did my best not to let the team see my fear as we all worked together to solve the next set of clues.

Time about to expire, we solved Dr. Brandt’s last clue and found the antidote. To my dismay it was not finished, we needed to complete the chemical reaction to cure ourselves and shut down the security system.

This is a concept that was adopted by a local company called Elitist Gaming which added a similar mini game to their website emulating this massive game.

Cutting it down to the wire our mixture worked! We narrowly escaped and now have an antidote to the deadly virus Dr. Brandt is peddling across the world.

The nation and the world would be safe because of us. If I could only shake the feeling that this was not over, perhaps I could sleep at night.

The lobby inside Escapology Orlando

Escapology’s Antidote game is the first escape room game that I have ever attempted. A lot of effort is put into the experience, and I can say I felt the pressure of having to solve the clues before time, and the rest of us, expired.

We’ve only got an hour! Can we make it out of @EscapologyOrl?! #escapeology

A video posted by Central Florida Top 5 (@centralfltop5) on

While some of the riddles were difficult, Escapology provides a game master to watch over your progress and nudge you in the right direction if you happen to find yourselves stuck along the way.

After successfully completing the escape room (with 13 minutes, 26 seconds to spare) we were greeted with some refreshments, no food or drink (or technology!) allowed in the escape rooms. I really felt this was a nice touch, offering us either coffee, soda, or water to quench our thirst.

I can’t give you any more details, if that’s what you are looking for, you are going to have to experience it for yourself.

Top 5 Animal Interactions

by Kelly Green, a.k.a. SeaWorld Mommy

Want to have a wild time in Central Florida? Get up close and personal with some of the natives (and transplants) who live here.

1) Discovery Cove, Orlando
There are so many unique interactions inside Discovery Cove by SeaWorld, we’re calling this a five within a five!

  • Snorkel with the fish & rays! Grab your best snorkeling set and dive into a reef-like oasis. For those who aren’t scuba-certified, it’s a chance to rub “elbows” with huge sting rays as they gracefully glide past you, swimming in and out of the schools of tropical fish. Little kids, too, can enjoy swimming in the Grand Reef, though squeals have been heard when a big, dark cartilaginous fish glides by. OK, adults have been known to jump a bit the first time, too!
  • Swim with a dolphin! There are only a handful of places where you can swim with dolphins, that don’t require a cruise ship first. Visitors can add on this experience which includes some interaction time, a “ride” where, to be precise, the dolphin swims, and you pretty much just hold on, and a kiss!
  • SeaVenture! Ever see those iconic underwater diving helmets? At SeaVenture they hoist those bad boys onto your head, and you descend the ladder for your walk-through underwater tour. Divers hand you a variety of cool creatures to examine (I held a sea urchin), and you “walk” up to the glass with sharks on the other side. Bring your underwater camera. Because of the angle, it looks like you’re right in there with them!
  • Bird Aviary! Speaking of photo ops, the birds perched atop a loved-ones arm (or head!), is a must-see/do. Three separate chambers are home to birds of every color and description. Tip: Go when you first arrive when you’re in your street clothes. The birds are ready for breakfast, and you’ll be able to take photos of the family before you’re all in matching dive suits. Spoonbill selfie, anyone?
  • River Otters! You can’t actually swim alongside the river otters (and if you take a close look at their sharp little claws as they speed through the water, you’ll realize this is a good thing!), but you can swim next to them with a glass wall between you that sure makes it LOOK like they’re right next to you!

Discovery Cove is SeaWorld’s boutique water park. Listed are the five within a five, but trust me… There are loads more!

2) Safari Wilderness, Lakeland
Since Safari Wilderness is right here in Central Florida you might not think it’s possible to have a little piece of Africa or Asia in our midst, but off the beaten I-4 path is a bumpy jeep ride where you’ll see zedonks, kudu, AND water buffalo that will eat right out of your hand! Note: Don’t freak out watching your small child’s hand so close to that enormous mouth! The tour lasts about 90 minutes, and if you’re so inclined, you can add on the lemur experience and take a stroll inside their habitat, too. You’ll also have the option of a camel ride! Seriously! Right here in Central Florida!

3) Wild Florida, Kenansville
Wild Florida hopes visitors see Florida the way it used to be 1,000 years ago… in its natural un-developed condition. Being “out in the middle of nowhere” sure makes that easy, yet surprisingly they’re only 45 minutes from Orlando’s theme park central. Guests can take an airboat ride to view Florida’s natural ecosystem , then explore the park where you’ll find a petting zoo (we saw a goat about 2-minutes old on our visit) as well as both Florida native and world-famous animal species. Some animals even wander around (like the peacock that seemed overly-interested in our afternoon ice cream).

Through the end of this summer you can add on an interaction with baby bobcats that will be the highlight of your visit, I guarantee! Duke and Duchess are two of the cutest kittens I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Just like their domesticated cousins they like to tousle with their friends, pounce on bystanders in their way, and pat their paws hesitantly into pools of water (then saunter RIGHT over you with their wet paws!). For $20 per person you can add on this experience, that’s not to be missed.

bobcat kittens

Other exciting animal encounters include visiting with the Two-Toed Sloths, Porcupines, or the Silver Fox. How often do you get to say you’ve pet a porcupine?!

Want more? Sign up for Keeper For A Day where you get to actively participate in preparing food for the animals, plus enjoy private interactions, or maybe the Half-Day Adventure Package that includes an airboat ride, tours, lunch, hands-on alligator demonstrations.

4) Busch Gardens, Tampa
Though giraffes have the same number of neck vertebrates as humans, their surprisingly large ones allow them to tower above guests on the Seringetti Safari at Busch Gardens, even over the guests riding on the open- air jeep-type vehicle. We recently took the tour and couldn’t get over how friendly they were. I have fed them before, so I DID remember how loooong their purple tongues are! Bring your appetite for adventure. The giraffes will bring their appetites for lettuce. Note: Have gobs of space on your camera to take pics, or just buy the ones their skilled photographers take. You’re going to want lots!

5) Gatorland
Want to hold the state’s iconic reptile? You know, without the threat of being nibbled on, I mean? Gatorland is home to over 1550 gators and crocodiles, and guests have the option of holding one or, as part of the “Adventure Hour” experience even feed them while standing a few scant feet from their enormous jaws. Beware: You might be surprised HOW close your child was to them when inspecting your photos later!

Want to combine gator holding with go cart/amusement fun? Visit FunSpot on International Drive, where Gatorland has opened a mini-version of their attraction right inside called Gator Spot (admission is just $6 per person). They showcase alligators up to 12 feet including the extremely rare leucistic (white) alligator. Critter holding ops are available. Last time I was there I had a snake around my neck and a gator in my arms while my son held both a baby gator and a lizard!

Would you like to interact with the gators from afar without leaving your hotel? That can be done, too. Gaylord Palms Resort features the “Best of Florida” exhibit, home to 15 juvenile alligators and 30 native species of turtles as part of a 10-year partnership with Gatorland. We’ve been there when the handlers were out so we got to hold a baby alligator before hoping off to Cypress Springs Water Park. Insider tip: All summer long (2015) Kids eat free at Villa de Flora, MOOR, Wreckers, Sora and Old Hickory.

 

Nintendo Attractions Coming to Universal Orlando Resort!

In what is probably the most exciting news this year, Nintendo announced last week that it would be partnering with Universal Parks to bring its popular characters and worlds to life.  WOW!

As a longtime Nintendo fan I’m still trying to put into coherent words just how excited I am for this and based on the way my Facebook and Twitter blew up after this, I’m not alone.  No specific details have ben announced and the press release simply stated that “the immersive experiences will include major attractions at Universal’s theme parks and will feature Nintendo’s most famous characters and games.” 

Even though this is easily a few years off, fans can’t help but speculate about what’s to come.  Will it be a full land in the park or will it just be a couple of rides?  Will they build everything from the ground up or will they repurpose existing rides? What franchises will they use and how deep into their catalog will they go?  Will it be at Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure? Will different Universal parks around the world get exclusive attractions? If so, I will absolutely be traveling to as many as possible.

zelda1

Link from The Legend of Zelda is heading to Orlando now!

Their press release also states Nintendo has created remarkable and imaginative worlds filled with captivating stories and beloved characters. Now, for the first time, those stories and characters will be brought to life in entirely new ways – only at Universal theme parks.” To me that sounds like it’s going to be it’s own land. If so, take a second to think about the amazing job they did creating the world of Harry Potter or Springfield from The Simpsons.  Now take that and apply it to Nintendo properties. In a few years we could be walking around Mushroom Kingdom or Hyrule!

Cyberbullying towards Aspiring SeaWorld Trainers from Anticaps?

Cyberbullying towards Aspiring SeaWorld Trainers from Anticaps?

By: Kaylin Williams

Hard to believe? Think again. Kids from ages of 10 all the way to 18 and older kids who are aspiring to become SeaWorld trainers are receiving death threats from Anti-Caps on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc…

I’m an avid Instagram user and I’ve personally gotten multiple death threats like, “You want to work for PoolWorld? Well, you deserve to get dragged under and killed like Dawn Brancheau did.” I’ve also gotten attacked just for simply talking about SeaWorld at my own school. I also remember seeing a post to the Blackfish Film Facebook page of my article (Link to “The Truth About SeaWorld Parks:The Blackfish Backlash”) where an anti-cap said “The Kaylin Williams scribbling is quite insipid, it’s honestly depressing that kids and teens get sucked into the SeaWorld brainwashing epidemic”.

SeaWorldStoryCentralFloridatop5

People go to crazy extents just to tear a kid’s dreams apart. The idea that you have to be in your 20’s to know the truth about SeaWorld needs to be debunked. I’m here spreading the truth, and i’m only 16 years old! There are kids and teens who have done their own research and spread awareness about SeaWorld and the Blackfish backlash going around. People are misinformed, that is becoming more and more apparent. The other day I was talking about Blackfish with a kid that had seen it and wanted my input on the film, and from across the room this girl shouts “SeaWorld is awful! They beat the whales with buckets and they only use those whistles hurt their ears!” Where are these horrendous accusations coming from? These claims aren’t even made in Blackfish itself.

There was even an account I was following on instagram of this aspiring trainer, a young girl who had a HATE account made about her. The account was based around screenshots of pictures on the girl’s account and hating on her, including a long list of followers. This girl had to report that account, delete her own, start a new account and put her account on private! This is uncalled for.

Another incident happened over halloween. A woman dressed up like a zombie Dawn Brancheau, and her baby boy as a killer whale. How disrespectful is that? To glorify the death of someone like that? Unacceptable. Can you imagine how Dawn’s family would’ve felt seeing that? Disrespectful.

Kids, teens and adults should not be scrutinized, torn down or given death threats and wishes. Let kids be kids, teens be teens, and adults live their lives. These keyboard activists need to learn when they’ve gone too far. People shouldn’t be trashed like this, when chatting up SeaWorld with a pro-cap, anti-caps need to be respectful, don’t trash talk or use foul language. Be thoughtful, and courteous to others please. Make this world a friendly place.

Business inquiries: If there is anything you want me to be involved with, rather it be a class, workshop, internship, article or interview or anything please contact me through Instagram: @Blessedbytheorcas
Article I wrote for former SeaWorld trainer, Kyle Kittleson: http://marinemammaltrainer.com/seaworlds-history/
Articles I wrote for Central Florida Top5 can be found through this link to the first one I wrote: http://centralfloridatop5.com/2014/05/17/the-truth-about-seaworld-parks/
Thank you for your time and consideration! It means a lot!
And have a Whale of a day!

 

 

 

Skeletons Museum Family Gives You A Sneak Peek of Animals Unveiled

Skeletons Logo

Central Florida Top 5 was invited by President Jay Villemarette, Sr. and his family to give you a special sneak preview of the new Skeletons: Animals Unveiled located at iDrive 360, right under The Orlando Eye! The great thing about their massive collection of osteological specimens is they want you to not only see, and in some cases touch their exhibits, parent company Skulls Unlimited International wants everyone to LEARN about an animal’s lifecycle. The also hope to educate its visitors on how to appreciate and preserve the natural world. To quote Jay Sr. himself, “We couldn’t take the educational value out of this museum if we tried!

Owner and President Jay Villemarette, Sr. says, “I started collecting skulls when I found (one) in the woods at the age of seven. My father encouraged me to collect skeletons. Over the years I became a lifelong collector of skulls.” This discovery would eventually lead Jay on an unexpected career path that, really, made perfect sense. “In 1986 I found myself unemployed as an auto body technician, so I started selling skulls as a hobby and finally turned that into a business. As my business grew, so did my collection. By 2000, I was interested in opening up a museum.” And he did just that, and more.

The Museum of Osteology, the only one of its kind in the United States, focuses on the function and form of the skeletal system. They opened in 2010 and display hundreds of specimens they’ve collected from around the world. TripAdvisor even awarded them two Certificates of Excellence in 2013 and 2014. “(The museum) took off in a way we were barely prepared for,” says oldest son, Jay Villemarette, Jr. “It really started to give us a lot of ideas. We realized this collection was very valuable to people and they wanted to come out to see what we have.”

On the heels of success in Oklahoma City, Jay Sr. approached his sons to help expand the business. “We’re a family oriented attraction and museum,” he says. “We wanted to do something with the public and so many people come to Orlando, we wanted to be part of that.” FYI, there’s a really cool Barnyard Scene set up which shows skeletons from all walks of farm life, including a farmer. “We have a horse, a goat, a potbelly pig, a cow, a sheep… there’s a barn owl and even some rats. It’s a lot of fun and I think people will enjoy themselves.

Family being the operative word. Jay Jr. says the business is indeed a family one, and they’re literally building it all together. “We’re all here. My brothers and my cousin… We’ve been working 12-14 hour days putting the museum together. My dad’s here, and the rest of the family will be flying in a couple of days to help put the finishing touches on everything.”

To give you an idea of how large a feat putting together a museum is, and a museum based around skeletons at that, a human skeleton is comprised of 206 bones. A snake can have double or more of this amount. A blue whale up to 15,000 bones. This is just the skeletons, that’s not including the build out, electrical wiring or the dioramas themselves.

Jay Jr explains, “We’ve put together about 400 skeletons in almost fourteen months. These skeletons don’t go together very quickly. Not only are these skeletons brought to us as a carcass, we have to clean and whiten them before we even begin the articulation. The articulation process can take anywhere from twelve hours to 240 hours depending on the specimen just in drilling and wiring, then the articulation process.” There’s no instruction manual on any of this, folks.

Good news for parents and educators! As with the Museum of Osteology, Orlando’s Skeletons: Animals Unveiled experience is also appropriate for all ages. “My heart is in education,” Jay Sr. explains. “It’s enjoyable to me to watch a child walk up to (an) exhibit and see the ‘wow’ on their faces when they approach and see what’s here.

Our first question we asked while touring, “Are these skeletons real?” Jay Sr.’s answer? YES. “Everything came to us as a carcass. Every skeleton in this museum is REAL. We hand remove as much tissue from the bones as possible and feed them to our (Dermestid) beetles.” Beetles?! Seriously? “Yes, we have insects that actually eat the meat off the bones. It can take up to six month to clean one single skeleton.” 

He’s not kidding. Near the front of the exhibit are two colonies of beetles, encased for all to see, and a time lapse video of them cleaning a tiger skull. In two minutes time you see them devour the flesh like it was a buffet – and to these insects, with a particular set of skills, it is. Because these insects are used so often, Jay and his family even breed them.

Of the many dioramas included in this new attraction, is one dedicated to Florida’s wildlife. “The Florida exhibit offers a wonderful opportunity for teachers as well as parents to bring their children to our museum and see animals native to Florida (unveiled). They’re looking at skeletons of a twelve foot alligator, a black bear and multiple other species as well,” says Jay Sr.

Skeletons: Animals Unveiled Details

  • Hours: 9am to Midnight (last entry at 11pm) beginning May 1st. Open 365 days.
  • Prices: $19.99 for adults, $12.99 for children 3-11, with 3 years old and under being free. Early bird specials, group rates, buyouts and educational lock-in pricing also available.
  • Address: 8441 International Drive, Suite 250, Orlando, FL 32819
  • Phone number: 407-203-6999
  • Email: info@skeletonmuseum.com

ProTip: Groupon Orlando is currently offering Admission for Two or Admission for Four at a discounted rate. Click here for details.

Leonardo da Vinci Exhibit Producer Takes You Behind the Scenes

Christoph Rahofer, Producer of Orlando’s new Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, “Man – Inventor – Genius” on International Drive took some time out of his busy Grand Opening schedule to talk with us about all things da Vinci!

About the inspiration of the daVinci exhibition itself Christoph says, “It had a lot to do with the daVinci Code. I purchased the book back in 2003 on my summer vacation, which happened to be in Italy. I ran into this very nice family who (had) already been building machines based on da Vinci’s codex for two generations. I thought that was a cool idea so we got together and figured out how to make an exhibition based on da Vinci’s inventions.

Where did it start? “We started off in my hometown in Vienna, Austria with this exhibit,” says Christoph. “That was way back in 2004, and it’s been traveling for ten years to some of the major cities in the world – three continents in fact!”

da vinci logo

So far, the exhibition is scheduled to stay here in Orlando through Summer 2015, after which EMS Entertainment will make a decision to extend its stay or continue on to another state or country. “I hope we can keep it longer here in Orlando. I think it’s also a very interesting, controversial fit to CSI: The Experience, which is right next door. That should be an interesting combination of the two,” he says tongue-in-cheek.

Because of the breadth of inventions and innovations in da Vinci’s repertoire, Christoph and his team came up with four unique classifications to break up the exhibition. “War Machines, Hydraulics, Mechanics and Flight is how we have clustered the different machines that we have on display. Here in the Orlando exhibit, there is about forty two to forty five different machines that you can see,” he says.

They’re built out in three dimensional ways so you can actually see how he meant them to be. We added, at a later stage actually as the original exhibition was just inventions, the other component of da Vinci to really show his genius on the artistic side. We added twenty three of his paintings in original size, re-created.

A large scale reproduction of da Vinci’s The Last Supper, measuring 9 x 5 meters (approximately 29 x 16 feet), is one of the largest art pieces in this exhibition. Here’s where Christoph lets us in on another secret – but you can’t tell anyone, okay? “What you can’t see – I’ll tell you this secret, don’t tell anyone – is you have to have a certain viewpoint,” he confides. “What we detected in doing all the research behind this is that da Vinci, in some kind of hidden formula, suggests a certain distance to the painting that you would have to assume in order to have the right point of view as well as a certain height. What we did here (in Orlando), we lowered the painting and put it on the ground floor in order to not elevate visitors (us!) to watch it from the right perspective.

Christoph went on to teach me something fascinating I had no idea of about Leonardo da Vinci. “We also added the music of da Vinci (to the exhibit). In his time, he was best known as a musician, interestingly. That’s what nobody knows, he was a folk musician! There are no translated scores to be found of his music so we had the University of Vienna Music Department re-create the Renaissance music based on what we know he must have been playing.

da vinci 2

Another cool thing Christoph taught us? da Vinci was a pacifist. ‘So, why did he design all those scary War Machines?’ Just like any other starving artist, they’ve got to eat too! Long before the days of intellectual property and copyright, the only payday Leonardo would see was from that which he successfully created. What his patrons of said machines may not have been aware of was… “da Vinci actually put in some failures into the war machines because, by nature, he was a pacifist. He didn’t like people to get into war but he took the orders, he wanted the money, so he invented some stuff for them but put in failures so they wouldn’t work.” Clever, right? But, again, don’t tell anyone. We’re sworn to secrecy… right Christoph?

Leonardo da Vinci: Man-Inventor-Artist-Genius debuts on International Drive in April

da vinci logo

High renaissance artist Leonardo di see Piero da Vinci is probably best known for his artwork. Tableau pieces like The Last Supper, portraiture such as Mona Lisa, even drawings like Vitruvian Man and The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist have been spotted on anything from cell phone cases to inspired replica murals made from laundry lint. Even a fairly popular movie series staring Tom Hanks mentions his (last) name! Did you know he was also an inventor? A scientist?!

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A new exhibit from EMS Entertainment called Leonardo da Vinci: Man-Inventor-Artist-Genius, hopes to share all this and more with you (and your family) when it opens on International Drive in April. This internationally traveled exhibition allows visitors a peek into da Vinci’s greatest inventions and features forty models of his most innovative creations. These interactive models, constructed with attention to authenticity and superior craftsmanship, to scale and divided into four themes; Flight, Hydraulics, Mechanics and War Machines.

Also included in this exhibition is a showcase of twenty three replicas of his most famous artwork, so if you’re looking to do a #MonaLisaSelfie, you may be in luck!

da vinci 2

April 15th is Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday, and you’re invited to join in on the celebration! A special Grand Opening event scheduled on Saturday, April 18th (4p – 9p) will include a slew of special guests including; Mark Brisson from Skeletons: Animals Unveiled (also opening soon at I-Drive 360), painting classes from Wine & Canvas, food from our friends at Tin Roof Orlando and a few surprises we can’t tell you about!

Admission for this special event is $20 (which includes admission to CSI: The Experience and Consumed by Art) and a separate meal ticket is only $5.

In addition to all of this, the folks at da Vinci will start a month long food drive on opening weekend, which will benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. Non-perishable food donations are welcomed and appreciated on Opening Night and all month!

Leonardo da Vinci Orlando Exhibition Details:

  • Hours: 10am – 9pm, Monday through Saturday and 10am – 8pm on Sundays.
  • Prices: $16.99 (Adults), $9.99 (Kids 6-12), 5 years old and under are free
  • Address: 7220 International Drive, Orlando, Florida 32819
  • Educators: Educational programs are coming!

On the Twitters: @LDaVinciOrlando

On the Facebooks: Leonardo da Vinci Orlando Exhibit

 

About EMS Entertainment

EMS Entertainment, a division of Event Marketing Service GmbH, in Vienna, Austria is the official international booking agent & promoter of CSI: The Experience. Since its founding in 1993 by Christoph Rahofer, EMS Entertainment has led successful promotional and marketing campaigns for such world-class exhibits as National Geographic’s Tutankhamun and the World of the Pharaohs, as well as produced shows such as EMS’s own Leonardo Da Vinci: Man – Inventor – Genius, The Barbie Story and World of Games.  http://www.ems-entertainment.com/

I-Drive’s CSI, Titanic, Ripleys and Wonderworks offering new combo ticket

Locals and visitors alike can now visit four of International Drive’s popular attractions on one ticket and for a new, lower price!

Four of Orlando’s popular I-Drive attractions – CSI: The ExperienceTitanic: The Artifact ExhibitionRipley’s Orlando Odditorium and WonderWorks – are now offering a new I-Drive Four Pass ticket that allows guests to visit all four attractions for one low price.

An adult I-Drive Four Pass ticket costs just $74.99 (plus tax); which will save you more than $12 compared to purchasing an adult ticket to each attraction individually. Tickets for children ages 12 and under cost $54.99, a savings of $6+. Children under 3 are free.

ProTip: if you purchase online, there are no service fees!

I-Drive Four Pass tickets are now available and can be purchased at each of the four attractions or online at idrivefourpass.com or by calling the Box Office at (407) 248-1166. Tickets are good for one year from date of purchase and cannot be combined with any other offer or discount.

Have always wanted to go but have never been? Here’s a handy guide to each attraction:

  • WonderWorks: an indoor amusement park for the mind, featuring more than 100 interactive exhibits for all ages to experience, including a ropes course and 4D motion theater ride.
  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium: the only place in Orlando where visitors will find shrunken heads, an authentic vampire killing kit, a shooting gallery and a spinning vortex tunnel among the hundreds of oddities, exhibits and artifacts.
  • Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition: tells the dramatic story of the most legendary ocean liner ever built. The 25,000 square foot exhibit features artifacts recovered from Titanic’s wreck site 2.5 miles beneath the ocean’s surface. Guest can walk her decks, peer into her cabins and meet some of the passengers and crew.
  • CSI: The Experience: puts visitors in the role of crime scene investigator, collecting clues and analyzing evidence in lab rooms. After reviewing all the evidence, they submit their report to Gil Grissom to see if they have successfully solved the crime and put the killer behind bars.

Blue Spring State Park

Let’s face it; Floridians aren’t really built for this kind of weather. The last thing any of us want to do, on a cold morning, is leave the comfort of our beds and go outside, but on a day like today it’s worth it.

In Volusia County, a tributary off the St. Johns River is home to a 72-degree spring. It is the largest spring of the 310-mile river, and the clear waters of Blue Spring State Park have become a retreat for Floridians.

The 2600-acre park boosts: hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, swimming, and scenic boat rides.

And cold days, like today, bring capacity crowds to Blue Spring.

Blue Spring manatee

A group of people watching the manatees Photo by: Kate Ramsey

The colder the temperature the more likely park visitors are to see manatees in the spring’s warm waters.

Photo Credit: Kate Ramsey

Manatees at the spring Photo by:Kate Ramsey

On Friday the count reached 300.

More Mantees Photo by: Kate Ramsey

 

Although it is tranquil to watch these gentle giants navigate through the spring it’s also heartbreaking to see that so many are scarred by boat propellers.

If you, understandably, don’t want to leave your warm bed you can always watch via the ‘save the manatees’ webcam.

-Kate