Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

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

Behind the Scenes at Madame Tussaud’s Orlando

Madame Tussaud was born Marie Grosholtz in France, 1761. She was an art tutor who learned the craft of wax modeling early in life from Philippe Curtius, a Swiss doctor turned wax modeler. Marie inherited two wax museums from him when he died in 1794. During the French Revolution she made what is called a death mask, a cast of a person’s face made after their death which was often used in the creation of portraits. (Think: Ancient Egyptians.) These waxwork and paint techniques are still used today by the 20 person teams in London used to create each figure.

In addition, if you need high quality French translator for business or government departments, learn more at www.ethnolink.com.au

Madame Tussaud

Standing with a waxwork of Madame Tussaud herself, Andres from Merlin Entertainments explains, “It takes about six months to make a figure. Every department concentrates on something. We start with a sculpting team. They make a figure exactly to the measurements of the person. Then we go into casting, where we make the bodies. Then it goes into a painting stage where we do painting techniques to simulate skin, textures, pores. It takes about 17 layers of paint to process.

Tussaud’s is hardcore on the details. From their figure’s every essence, to the vignettes where they stand, sit or play, an amazing amount of care is taken to ensure quality and accuracy.

Every hair that you see on our figures, from eyelashes to eyebrows to actual hair, is inserted by hand by one of our artists,” Andres explains. “Scars, freckles that a person might have, we try to make that exactly the same because that is our motto. We give you 100 percent of what they really looked like. This is all real hair. We styled the hair like they wore it. Every costume is made exact and created by our team in London.”

It’s almost scary how accurate these waxwork pieces are up close. Stunning work, of course, but a little off-putting. During the preview, I turned a corner and saw a man with his back to me staring someone down… or so I thought. The back of the man was Steve Jobs, who shares a room with Artist Andy Warhol. Tussauds Steve Jobs

“When they’re all done, they’re sent to the attractions like Orlando and a team of artists walk (the floor) every morning to make sure the figures have been cleaned, their quality, their color, their styles… everything has to stay perfect,” he says.

Andres has a Tussaud’s ProTip for you portrait and selfie fans, “Lighting plays an important factor because you want things to look as real as possible. When you go to take a picture, always aim at their eyes because they will shine and it will seem like they are looking at you.”

Tussauds Tiger Woods

When asked who else with a local tie may be joining Dan Marino, Shaquille O’Neal, Tiger Woods and OG Florida native, Juan Ponce de Leon, Andres says, “We will be getting more figures that are current to the city, current to the state. Anybody who represents an icon or something in the city will be here.”

Who would YOU like to see inside Madame Tussaud’s Orlando? Make your vote in the comments below!

The Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds Orlando and SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium to open May 4th

May the 4th be with I-Drive 360 and with all of us!

Anticipated news dropped today from Merlin Entertainments. The Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds Orlando and SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium are all scheduled to open to the public on Monday, May 4th! But wait… it gets better. (Standby for a Selachimorphic dance off…)

Visitors can sign up for ‘exclusive, early access’ (May 1st – 3rd) to all of these attractions via OfficialOrlandoEye.com!

Tickets to each attraction start at $25 ($20 for children 12 and under), however, combination tickets are available across multiple attractions and sister attraction LEGOLAND® Florida.

  • One Attraction: $25 for adults/$20 for children (12 and under)
  • Two Attractions: $39 for adults/$34 for children (12 and under)
  • Three Attractions: $49 for adults/$44 for children (12 and under)
  • Three Attractions and LEGOLAND Florida: $99 for adults/$94 for children (12 and under)

Added bonus for LEGOLAND fans, there’s a transportation option! A shuttle will pick your party up in the morning and drop you off on the first level of I-Drive 360’s parking garage daily, and it’s only $5 per person (plus tax)! Click here for operating schedule, park hours and to book in advance.

“We’re proud to offer economical and flexible pricing for all of our attractions so that guests will be able to fit in a visit to I-Drive 360 into that overall Orlando experience,” said Merlin Entertainments’ James Paulding at this morning’s press conference.

Tussauds Neil Patrick Harris

Also revealed at this morning’s press conference was Madame Tussaud’s newest figure addition. We know How I Met Your Mother fans will ‘suit up’ to meet Neil Patrick Harris as ‘Barney Stinson!’ Stay tuned after the reveal to meet Left Shark‘s dancing nemesis, Magnus from SEA LIFE Orlando.

Fun Spot America gets a little more JAWesome

Fun Spot America and Gatorland

What happens when you pair up one of Central Florida’s oldest, most beloved local attractions with a newer, also loved attraction? Something HUUUUUUUGE *and* JAWesome, that’s what!

Tomorrow, January 20th at 10:30am, Gatorland and Fun Spot America will break ground on their new 15,000 square foot reptile oasis called Gator Spot and they want YOU to stop by to help celebrate!

The interactive attraction will include an impressive array of alligators, an extremely rare leucistic “white” alligator, numerous crocodiles, up-close encounters, photo opportunities and much more. It will also be will be the only location on International Drive to showcase alligators up to 12 feet.

Visitors who arrive at Fun Spot America before 10:20am tomorrow will receive a FREE wristband good for unlimited rides ALL DAY LONG!! Be sure to Like them on Facebook and Follow them on Twitter for a sneak peek!

For many years, Gatorland has investigated opportunities to expand our brand into Orlando’s major tourism district and give folks a taste of our unique entertainment experiences,” states Mark McHugh, Gatorland’s President & CEO.  “John Arie, Sr. and I began talking a year ago, and the more we learned about the history and culture of our two family-owned businesses, the more we realized that this is a perfect fit.

 

Kicking off the grand opening of Gator Spot will be City of Orlando Mayor, Buddy Dyer, who will share a few thoughts on the collaboration of Fun Spot America and Gatorland. We’ve seen Mayor Dyer a lot on International Drive lately.. and we like it! With all the growth happening within the I-Drive corridor in the next 1-2 years, expect to ‘spot’ him even more.

What a fantastic partnership by two of Central Florida’s largest privately owned theme parks, GATORLAND and FUN SPOT AMERICA THEME PARKS. This new partnership and attraction will give local residents and guests to the area a chance to enjoy two of the area’s most unique experiences at one great location. Partnerships like this create new jobs and that’s great news for the community.” said the Honorable City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Daily admission to the new Gator Spot at Fun Spot America – Orlando will only cost $6 per person (child/adult).

Keep an eye peeled on Gatorland Orlando’s Twitter [@Gatorland] and Facebook [facebook.com/gatorland] for more fun announcements!

SeaWorld Orlando Offers Free Pass for Preschoolers

Children five and younger can enjoy all of 2015 at SeaWorld Orlando for FREE

SeaWorld Orlando is celebrating the new year and families with young kids with a limited-time offer. Children five and younger can explore SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa for FREE throughout 2015 with the return of the Preschool Pass. Starting today, guests can register for the pass online and get their kids ready for all of the excitement, thrills and inspiring shows that only SeaWorld and Busch Gardens can provide.

Kids will love being kids at Shamu’s Happy Harbor®, a play area that features fun for all, including:Preschool Pass

  • Shamu Express® – the park’s first family-oriented roller coaster reaching speeds of 26 mph
  • Jazzy Jellies – a jellyfish-themed ride that lifts and spins families to heights of 30 feet
  • Sea Carousel – a classical marine-themed masterpiece topped by a 45-foot-wide pink octopus
  • A variety of other kid-sized attractions to keep the little ones moving and shaking

And at Busch Gardens, experience kid-sized attractions and exciting encounters, including:

  • Busch Gardens’ Sesame Street® Safari of Fun – a family-friendly African adventure filled with kid-size rides and cool water fun
  • Madagascar Live – kids can join the adventure with King Julien and his friends during this live show
  • Treetop Trails at Jungala® – older kids can explore and climb nets, bridges and tubes in this multi-level maze, while the younger set can play in the water area inside this 3-story family play area

Sign up today!
The Free SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Preschool Pass is an exclusive online offer, available at SeaWorldOrlando.com. It is exclusively for Florida residents ages five and younger and is valid for unlimited admission – with no blackout dates – through Dec. 31, 2015, at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. The Preschool Pass does not include parking or Pass Member discounts or benefits.

Another great reason to get a free Preschool Pass for the little ones is that all of SeaWorld’s 2015 events are included! The year kicks off with Wild Days, an immersive event that connects kids to the wild and wonderful world we all share; followed by the all-new Praise Wave, a series that makes the park come alive with the hottest names in Christian music. And don’t forget about family favorites Halloween Spooktacular and SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, also included with a Preschool Pass!

The best deal for the rest of the family is a SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Fun Card which allows unlimited admission to both parks throughout the year at a discounted price of $165.

From soaring on the mighty Manta rollercoaster and experiencing the power and grace of killer whales in the One Ocean show, to exploring an underwater journey of sea turtles at TurtleTrek and seeing penguins on the thrilling, chilling adventure of Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, there is something for everyone in the family at SeaWorld Orlando.

 

Gardens Ideas and Deals Offers

Landscaping is one of the most important ways to increase your property’s value quickly. In fact, a gorgeous landscape design can increase the value of your home by at least 5 to 11 percent—and maybe more. The best part about landscaping is that even though it’s one of the most valuable home improvements you can make, it’s also one of the easiest. If you’re wondering how to turn your landscape into one of your home’s most valuable assets, here are some tips to get you started.

1. Match Landscape to Your Home’s Style

The best way to get an excellent return on investment with landscaping is to make sure it fits with your home’s style. For instance, if you own a Victorian home, a Japanese garden will be sorely out of place and may even lower your home’s value rather than add to it. In this instance, you’re much better off with a country or cottage-style landscape that blends in with the old-fashioned formality of your home.

The same holds true for more modern home styles, such as the prairie or industrial style. If your home falls into one of these categories, you’ll want to stay away from square, formal gardens or a profusion of airy blooms. Instead, create a more modern landscape by relying on plenty of greenery and natural-looking beds that fit the contours of your property.

2. Design With a Strategy in Mind

You’ll need to have a good strategy. That means you shouldn’t clutter the entire yard with various high-maintenance plantings, but you also shouldn’t have plain grass with no landscaping. A study by the Virginia Tech Department of Horticulture found that a good foundation planting along with a couple of well-designed points of interest can increase your home’s value by up to 42 percent.

By that same token, you should encourage diversity among your plantings without taking it too far. The ideal landscape has a good mixture of shrubs and perennials, but it doesn’t have one of every kind of plant that you can find at the garden center. Instead, it has a uniform look with just enough diversity to make it interesting, but not so little that it becomes boring.

3. Achieve Seasonal Balance

A profusion of spring blooms won’t interest potential buyers who look at your home during other parts of the year. Think about ways to make your landscape attractive all year — blooming bulbs for spring, annual beds around the house during the summer, shrubs with brightly colored leaves in the fall, and evergreens for the winter. Even though most buyers will be looking at your home during one season, they’ll notice the balance you’ve created and they’ll think about how beautiful the home will be as the seasons change.

Related Link: 7 Exterior Home Improvements That Increase Resale Value

4. Plant Trees

A few simple trees can make an enormous difference to the sale price of your home. In one study, simply living on a tree-lined street added between 10 to 15 percent to the sale price compared to neighborhoods with fewer trees. So why are trees worth so much? Trees remove carbon dioxide and pollution from the air, so people view them as an eco-friendly option. The shade helps keep neighborhoods and homes cooler and more pleasant, which in turn cuts air conditioning costs. Also make sure to install a playground turf on the most common areas, it requires almost zero maintenance. Trees are also a stress reliever — people enjoy relaxing in their shade or gazing at the leafy view.

Wild Wonderland at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo

by Kelly Green
santa reindeer lowryMeet Santa and REAL Reindeer at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo at Wild Wonderland! Select nights in December, visitors will enjoy the Man in Red, and his famous assistants. Kids will do a little “jumping” themselves in the Reindeer Games area. Not to be outdone, the African penguins will be out to say hello, too.

Seasonal Sidebar: There are no penguins in the North Pole. Penguins are native to the lower hemisphere.

There will be a Castle Light Show at the Zoo’s main entrance (with a chance of “snow” flurries), free unlimited rides, and a Treats and Treasures Hometown Village, and the Merry Music Tree of Lights.

Dates:
Nightly from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.wildwonderland
December 6
December 12-14
December 18-23
December 26-30

Tickets:
$15 for Adults
$13 for Children (ages 3-11)
FREE for children 2 and under

Buy online: http://bit.ly/LowryXmas14

Discounts:
Annual Zoo Pass members can buy tickets at the Zoo’s Main Gate (with pass) and cannot be combined with any other discounts.
$10 for Adults with Zoo Pass
$7.50 for Children (ages 3-11) with Zoo Pass
Free for Children 2 and under

Get Social:
Twiter: @LowryParkZoo
www.LowryParkZoo.org and Wild Wonderland on Facebook

Wild Wonderland is presented by Publix Super Markets Charities

Top 5 Reasons to Play Detective at Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows

Tired of watching the BBC Sherlock? Put on your sharpest thinking cap and head out to International Drive for dinner sometime to try your detective skills at Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Shows!

The hospitable folks at Sleuths invited Central Florida Top 5 to pay a visit for dinner along with a group of lady bloggers. We visited their recently renovated I-Drive theater in September, and found great food, an enjoyable well-paced format, and family-friendly hilarity as we watched their production of Squire’s Inn.

Squires Inn Show Sleuths Mystery Dinner Theater

‘The Squires Inn’ performed at Sleuths. Photo Credit: Kelly Green.

For those of you who have never been to Sleuths, here’s five awesome reasons you should check them out.

1. There’s a show every night of the year.

So there’s no excuse not to go sometime. Seriously, though, private groups are also welcome and they have three different theaters for their 13 different shows. Performances usually start at 7:30pm, and run about 2 1/2 hours. / In fact, Sleuths even invites Central Florida residents and visitors to spend the holidays with them.

Every year on Thanksgiving, they host a special 12pm matinee in addition to the 7:30pm show. In addition to the usual appetizers and unlimited drinks, they serve up a full traditional Thanksgiving dinner: turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and herb stuffing, sweet potato casserole, vegetables, and cranberry sauce– plus a special mystery dessert.

This year, as the holiday excitement ramps up during the first three weeks of December, Sleuths will be presenting a special Central Florida tradition for the first time: “Dickens by Candlelight,” a special three-person production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol lit almost completely by candles. They’re only running six shows, so be sure to make your reservations if you are interested!

You can even ring in 2015 at Sleuths with their New Year’s Eve mystery party, enjoying an evening of comedy entertainment and dinner, and a champagne toast at midnight.

2. The food is delicious.

During your show, you’ll be served a three-course meal. The characters from the show wander among you while you settle in and start with salad, cheese and crackers, and dinner rolls.

The first half of the show is a scripted 45-minute performance, in which all the clues are presented. Then they stop for intermission, and dinner is served (your choice in advance from lasagna, cornish hen, prime rib, or a vegetarian option). In the second half, the audience asks questions of the characters before another intermission, dessert, and the final ‘whodunit’ reveal.

Also wonderful? The unlimited beer, wine, and soda available throughout the evening. The wait staff at Sleuths is attentive and generous in keeping all glasses full.

mystery dinner theaters on international drive

Photo Credit: © 2014 KH Photographics, www.khphotographics.com

3. They draw some seriously good talent to their casts.

Over 50 Central Florida actors perform in shows at Sleuths, and many of them perform in other major area productions and shows as well. They’ve even drawn some people who have become pretty big names over the last 25 years: Rus Blackwell (Monster, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Banshee),  Jon Freda (The Family, Digital Physics), Brett Rice (The Ultimate Life, Foxcatcher, Mom’s Night Out), Aasif Mandvi (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Daily Show, The Brink), and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Suburgatory), and more!

4. The shows are 50% improvised.

I’m not going to lie– the kind of humor you see in shows at Sleuths is more The Muppet Show than Family Guy– and that’s okay. It makes it a great place for whole families (including younger children) to go for an evening out.

The shows themselves are humorous, but the funniest part of the show happens in the second half, when the actors must answer audience questions in character, improvising their responses while still providing necessary details. Depending on the line of questioning, you never know what details you’re going to get!

5. You become the detective.

You and your table are responsible for working together to decide what questions to ask the characters during the Q&A time. Not only that, after everyone responds to the questions, you must individually decide who you believe is responsible for the crime. Guess right, and you could go home with a special detective’s prize!

mystery dinner shows in orlando

Photo Credit: © 2014 KH Photographics, www.khphotographics.com

 

You can also visit Sleuths every Saturday night to watch some good Central Florida stand-up comedy… or stop by for one of their special events like Dickens by Candlelight.

Have you ever been to Sleuths? What was your favorite thing about the performance you saw?

Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows is located at 8267 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819. You can visit them online on their website, Facebook, or Twitter.

LEGOLAND Florida Resort updates and more at IAAPA 2014

by: @jenvargas

© 2014 Chip Litherland Photography Inc.

© 2014 Chip Litherland Photography Inc.

Wednesday is going to be a BIG day at IAAPA (the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) expo, especially for our friends at Merlin Entertainments Group! The world’s second largest attractions operator, has expanded here in Central Florida quite a bit over the past few years. We look forward to hearing updates about SEA LIFE Orlando, Madame Tussauds Orlando and 400 ft tall The Orlando Eye (With 4D Cinema Experience) opening in the Spring of 2015.

But wait… there’s MORE! Merlin also plans on sharing new construction updates and photos of the five-story, 152 room LEGOLAND Hotel (opening Summer 2015)… and they’ve had some help!

© 2014 Chip Litherland Photography Inc.

© 2014 Chip Litherland Photography Inc.

 

 

Who’s that handsome devil up there? Only true BrickFans know for sure. There’s a little something extra included in Wednesday’s plans! Master Builder Emmet (from The Lego Movie) and Team LEGOLAND have been working very hard lately, and not just on the new Resort.  Merlin also will reveal a new nine foot across, eight foot tall LEGO model designed for LEGOLAND Florida Resort which features all three coming attractions!! I’ve hugged Buddy. My new goal is to hug Emmet! Will I see him in person? I hope so!

Make sure to follow @CentralFLTop5 on Twitter and LIKE our Facebook page for exclusive news live from the IAAPA Trade Show Floor!

FLASHBACK: Remember when we walked all NINE MILES of IAAPA’s aisles back in 2012?

Tussauds Orlando Welcomes Selena Gomez to Florida

by: @jenvargas

Wait a minute. Was that…? SELENA GOMEZ… at Lake Eola?!

Photo: Courtesy of Madame Tussauds Orlando

Photo: Courtesy of Madame Tussauds Orlando

(Don’t worry, everyone at Top 5 did a triple take too!)

Great news for all Florida Selenators and Beliebers! Selena Gomez… ‘s wax counterpart was indeed at Lake Eola last week! It’s not as hot outside, so wax-Selena decided to take a stroll around Lake Eola as well as take a walk around the Convention Center and down International Drive.

DID YOU SEE HER? C’mon, we know SOMEONE out there must have taken a selfie…

Actress and pop songstress Selena Gomez will be the first wax-lebrity to call Orlando home when Florida’s first ever Madame Tussauds attraction opens next Spring at the new I-Drive 360 entertainment complex.

Guests at Madame Tussauds Orlando will experience the essence of America with this brand new, immersive and interactive wax experience, bursting with family fun and world-class entertainment, as they move through themed areas meeting all of their favorite stars from award-winning film actors, to historical and modern world leaders, sports stars, music legends as well as figures important to Florida. Visitors can shake hands with president, get on stage with rock stars and pop princesses, or get up close and personal with a Hollywood heartthrob and take the ultimate selfie!

Which A-list personality would you like to see come to Orlando next? Of all the important and historical figures in Florida’s history, who do YOU think deserves a place in OUR wax history? Tweet us @CentralFLTop5 and let us know! Follow @TussaudsOrlando to see who the next big name coming to Orlando may be!

International Drive’s Orlando Eye to be completed by end of 2014

by: @jenvargas

We’ve had our ‘eye’ on International Drive, have you? A little over three weeks ago, The Orlando Eye looked like this…

 

  On October 26th, it looked like this!

Now, her inner circle is all closed in and her outer circle will be filled in the coming weeks! (More about this below…)

Back in January, we told you about our Top 5 Development Projects of 2014. In April, we were one of the first to reveal the name of the new I-Drive 360 complex. Since then we have watched this area evolve into a more realized home of entertainment in the heart of the International Drive corridor. If you’re eyeing a major project in your area, as well, might as well get in touch with used forklift dealers and other sellers for quality used heavy equipment.

So, what are your thoughts, Top Fivers? What are you most looking forward to experiencing when I-Drive 360 opens next Spring?

 

The Orlando Eye

The Orlando Eye Completes Inner Wheel

Work now begins on the outer wheel, bringing structure to height of 400 ft

Orlando, Fla. – Oct. 31, 2014 – The Orlando Eye celebrates a major construction milestone with the completion of the spoke installation of the inner wheel, clearing the way for work to begin on the outer wheel, eventually bringing the massive structure to a height and width of 400 feet, making it the tallest observation wheel on the East Coast of the United States.

As it stands, the Eye can be seen from miles around, and many believe the structure is nearly complete. However, the outer wheel still needs to be constructed, then workers can begin the installation process of the glass capsules, and finally, work can begin on the electrical and A/V components of the Eye.

“This is a really exciting moment for The Orlando Eye. From this point forward, construction will soon showcase the true height of the Eye at 400 feet,” said James Paulding, head of new openings for North America for Merlin Entertainments. “Work is progressing quickly, and we are on track for our grand opening next spring.”

The outer wheel of the Eye is expected to be complete by the end of the year. To follow along with news and updates, visit www.officialorlandoeye.com.

The Orlando Eye is scheduled to open in spring 2015.

 

The Orlando Eye

Located in the heart of International Drive, the 400-foot Orlando Eye is the tallest observation wheel on the U.S. eastern coast, offering a new way to experience the breathtaking views of Central Florida.

Poised to become a top visitor attraction for the tourism capital of the U.S., the Orlando Eye, part of the I-Drive 360 entertainment and dining complex, will showcase 360-degree views of Central Florida, including nearby theme parks and attractions, downtown Orlando and Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s east coast, all within the comfort of 30 air-conditioned glass capsules. Each capsule has room for up to 12 guests to enjoy a serene 20-minute journey above the scenic landscape.

Included in the Orlando Eye journey is access to the pre-flight 4D cinema experience, taking guests on a full 3D aerial journey of Florida, with the added dimension of sensory experiences, including lighting, wind, spray and scent effects.

 

Merlin Entertainments

MERLIN ENTERTAINMENTS plc is the leading name in location-based, family entertainment. Europe’s Number 1 and the world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator, Merlin now operates 105 attractions, 11 hotels/3 holiday villages in 23 countries and across 4 continents. The company aims to deliver memorable and rewarding experiences to its almost 60 million visitors worldwide, through its iconic global and local brands, and the commitment and passion of its managers and c25,000 employees.

Merlin has twenty three attractions and one hotel in North America  – including two stunning LEGOLAND Resorts – LEGOLAND Florida with its theme park, water park, and LEGOLAND California theme park with water park, SEA LIFE aquarium and themed hotel; Madame Tussauds celebrity wax attractions in New York, Washington DC, Las Vegas; Hollywood; and San Francisco LEGOLAND Discovery Centers in Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth; Kansas City Missouri; Atlanta, Georgia; Boston; Westchester, New York; Toronto, Canada; a Dungeon in San Francisco; and SEA LIFE aquariums in Phoenix, Arizona; Kansas City, Missouri; Dallas/Fort Worth; the Mall of America in Minneapolis and Charlotte – Concord – underlining the company’s position as the world’s biggest global aquarium operator.  Visit www.merlinentertainments.biz for more information.

Have a silly, spooky time at Sea World’s Halloween Spooktacular!

by @jenvargas

Over the weekend, we spent some time with our friends at Sea World Orlando to preview #SeaWorldSpooktacular!

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Having a whale of a time @SeaWorldOrlando’s #SeaWorldSpooktacular!

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The Spooktacular fun is included with daily admission and is filled with ‘fantasea’ trick or treat stations, sea snacks, a huge dance party (with pumpkin fish, sea fairies, even Pete and Penny Penguin), up-close animal encounters, cookie decorating and more. My favorite part of Sea World’s Spooktacular (aside from the candy)? Watching Jamie and the Sesame Street gang Countdown to Halloween! It’s a live show happening daily at the Seaport Theater featuring some Sesame Street favorites. Consult the nearest park map for times. After the show, there’s a special meet and greet opportunity with one or more of the cast. Maybe you’ll meet Elmo… maybe Abby Caddaby… maybe even The Count himself! Check out my #GoogleStory below to see some video and more fun!

Sea World’s Spooktacular is open on weekends in October (11-12, 18-19, 25-26) from 12pm to 8pm and includes sweets and treats from AirHeads, Black Forest, Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores, Lemonhead, Mentos, Sunrype and Tootsie Roll. (Smarties? Nerds? YES!)

 

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Eat More Candy? You don’t have to tell @CentralFLTop5 twice @SeaWorld! #SeaWorldSpooktacular

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Also available, a special Dine with Shamu Halloween Spooktacular Brunch. Familes will enjoy a delicious menu of seasonal and sustainable items and one complimentary family photo with a SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular photo frame. Also included; a cookie decorating kit for guests under 12 and a trick-or-treat bag with goodies. Get a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into the interactions that occur between our trainers and whales. Learn what you can do to help save valuable ocean resources and habitats by enjoying sustainable and natural foods.

To find out more about #SeaWorldSpooktacular, locate your nearest broom and fly on over to http://seaworldparks.com/spooktacular/!

Top 5 Things to Do at DeLeon Springs State Park!

Guest post by our friend Maegan. She enjoys learning about and touring Florida since moving here three years ago. Follow her on twitter at @MeginMCO!

One great day trip that is fun in Central Florida is DeLeon Springs State Park in DeLeon Springs, FL. The Old Spanish Sugar Mill is located in the state park and features a make your own pancakes menu. There are plenty of recreational activities to do onsite and in DeLand that will help you make the most of your two hour round trip.

Your friends come back from an outdoor vacation and cannot stop talking about how wonderful it was and how much they enjoyed all the beautiful nature scenes. Before you know it, they are discussing when and where they will do this again. You start wondering if this is something you want to try.

If they had been on a backpacking trip, they will have plenty of advice if you ask them. All their different opinions might be confusing to you, but one of the things that they will agree on is that you need a lightweight backpacking tent if you really want to enjoy hiking. They are right, this is an important part of backpacking. The lightweight back hammock is the next blog thing you need in the camping.

Backpacking can be a really inexpensive way to enjoy time outdoors, but to get set up at first with all the right equipment can get pricey. So, running to the nearest store that sells camping and hiking equipment may not be the best idea. Start by asking your friends if they have equipment they do not use any more or if they would be prepared to lend you some of their equipment.

Remember also that you can rent a tent if you are a beginner and just want to try backpacking. Look around on the internet to see if you can find a tent rental company in your area or do your research early enough to allow time for shipping if you rent from a company that will have to ship the rental to you.

Once you decide that you want to enjoy this activity regularly, you will want your own tent. When you shop for backpacking tents, make sure that you do not only take the price into consideration, but also the weight, quality and the ease with which you can pitch your tent. You do not want to struggle with setting up camp when you are tired from a hard day of hiking.

You will also want look at your needs and preferences. Are you going to need a one man tent or are you going to share and will need a 2 person backpacking tent? If you like to feel close to nature, you may prefer a Bivy Tent. If tight spaces make you feel uncomfortable, a one man tent will give you more breathing room. There is also the possibility of using a camping hammock. Many hammocks come with mosquito netting. When you use a hammock you will not have to worry about sleeping on rocky terrain or on a slope. All you need is two trees the correct distance apart.

If you are not ready to carry a backpack over rough terrain or for setting up camp every night, you may enjoy doing day hikes. You will be able to stay in one place and explore carrying only water and snacks for one day. You will also be able to pitch larger tents like a 3 person tent of a four man tent and have some extra space to store supplies.

DeLeonSpringsStatePark

  1. The best thing about DeLeon Springs is of course the springs! They stay seventy two degrees year round which is extremely refreshing in the middle of a Florida summer. The park has lifeguards to keep an eye on the lines that form to jump into the deep side of the springs. There are shallower areas for younger children also. We also see groups for scuba diving to get a closer look at the sulphur bubbles at the bottom.
  1. There is nothing better than a make your own pancake breakfast and a cup of coffee after a bracing swim in the springs. The Sugar Mill tables feature built-in skillets and the servers bring enamelware pitchers of whole grain and plain batter. There is syrup, honey or molasses to pour on top. The menu includes breakfast and lunch items to suit everyone’s palate. Be sure to put your name in as soon as you arrive at the park. Wait times can pass two hours. You can also call in advance to make a reservation if you have a party of ten or more.
  1. There is plenty to see on Spring Garden Run that leads from the springs. You can take a guided boat tour with extremely knowledgeable locals who have spotted many different types of wildlife over their many years on the river. You can also get some exercise and see the shore up close while paddleboating and canoeing. You might also see some people netting tilapia from their boats which is fun to watch.
  1. For land lubbers, there are several hiking trails that range from a short paved loop to a longer four mile hike that traverses wooded and open areas. If you plan to hike the longer Persimmon Trail, be sure to let the folks at the Ranger Station at the park entrance know. They will take your name and cell number as they like to keep track of hikers. There are signs that describe the various trees and plants that grow in the park.
  1. Be sure to check out downtown DeLand, home of Stetson University. This small college town is known for antiquing and has some great restaurants. We like to stop for ice cream on our way out of town. Check out the Art Museum and the old movie theater if you have extra time.

All in all, the easy hour long drive from Orlando is well worth the time as it is easy to fill a whole day with a unique and authentic Central Florida experience!

Bonita Springs Getaway

By Kelly Green

Lee County is a short drive from Central Florida and families looking for a quick getaway should consider the trip. Home to white-sand beaches, abundant seafood, tree-lined avenues, and glorious sunsets… the area has much to offer.

As part of our mission to #GoFurtherORL, we took a 3-day vacation to Bonita Springs and stayed at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa[1].

I grew up visiting the beaches of Fort Meyers and Sanibel, and went to the Edison Ford Winter Estate one summer when I was very young. In honor of our Ford Fiesta “Go Further” mission[2] we made a stop to the property where Mr. Ford himself vacationed.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates

2014-08-06 11.46.15bIf you ever have a notion to step back into a more genteel era, visit the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. Walking along the Banyon trees and up the rocky paths, I couldn’t help but envision a parasol in one of my lace-gloved hands and an ice cold Mojito in the other.

Each room is appointed in either authentic artifacts from the home, or era-appropriate antiques. Looking in each window I wanted to go back in time so I could stroll on in and listen to the lively conversation in one of the parlors, or raise my glass in a toast at the dinner table. What would we toast? I imagine a new invention or discovery… or perhaps a family member’s birthday or engagement. Whatever the celebration, I could see how one could become at ease in such a place—to create and dream and get refreshed to change the world. After all, two giants of invention and ingenuity spent time there. Fotor082712626

In both the museum area and garage, vintage Ford automobiles are on display. Technological marvels of their time, the behemoths of the long-gone road seem unimaginable to drive. While looking at one I found myself thinking of the Ford Fiesta we were testing out. Talk about coming a long way! What would Henry Ford think of where his company has come? Did he ever imagine how far his dream would go?

Throughout the property are artifacts, exhibits, and inventions. When visiting, I recommend savoring the “flavor” of the place instead of rushing through as if trying to get through it and onto the next queue.

In addition to moseying about on the spacious grounds, guests can also add on a scenic river tour at The Marina at Edison Ford. We were invited on board the Pure Fort Myers boat, the M/V Edison Explorer, for a trip up the Caloosahatchee River.[3] 140806_Canon (138b)

Our captain and guide had much to share about the area’s history and ecosystem. We heard stories and scientific tidbits while spying for wildlife. Along our route we saw cormorants sunning, pelicans diving, and dolphins jumping. I would definitely recommend including the trip when visiting the Edison & Ford Winter Estates.

Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa

Late afternoon we arrived at the tropical Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa where we immediately felt the island vibe! Welcomed with Champaign or mimosas, we felt relaxed as we listened to the hotel’s amenities and those of their sister property (which can be accessed by a free air-conditioned trolley).

Fun activities on tap include: looping corkscrew water slide, waterfall pool, adult pool, lazy river (at adjoining property), championship golf course, rock-climbing wall, fire pit, bicycle and kayak rentals, tennis courts, private beach, spa and more. If you are going to go rock climbing make sure you bring your best rock climbing shoes, so you don’t slip and fall. 

From our corner room on the 16th floor we had a nice view of the protected landscapes around Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. We found the room to be nice sized, even when the travel bed came out! I loved having a magnificent view from even the bathroom, though I would have put up a couple more towel racks or bars if I had designed the space. Installing a hot tub was an excellent idea. Forget something? No problem. I did not bring a curling iron nor a robe and—voila—loaner items appeared at my request (along with a couple “to keep” items I neglected to include such as slippers, and a few toiletry items). The service staff met each request promptly and with a smile.

We visited the hotel’s Big Hickory Island Beach the next morning. Walk down the boardwalk to the dock to meet the boat, and you’re off.

Insider tip: Arrive early if you want to be in the first group over as it’s the most popular time to depart.

Later this year the beachside pavilion will have concessions for sale, but for now guests need to pack in snacks, food, and drinks. We have a folding rolling cart which came in handy for our munchies, towels (provided by the hotel), shovels, scoops, cameras and sun block (which we sorely under-applied when we “thought” we were being diligent).

Insider tip: The best shells can be found on the south end of the island, and on the south-facing sides of the pilings that jut onto the shore.

The next day we enjoyed the beach again, plus the sister property’s lazy river (advance reservations required). Take the free shuttle over, and grab a tube. Not sure how many laps we did, but who’s counting. I wasn’t! I was on vacation.

Hyatt Regency Coconut Point is a beautiful resort. I look forward to heading that way again.

[1] Hyatt Regency Coconut Point kindly provided us with one complimentary night stay, but all opinions are my own. [2] Read about our time in the Fiesta here.  [3] The Edison Ford Estates and Pure Fort Myers graciously hosted our visit in exchange for an honest review.

Christmas Town Now Included With Park Admission at Busch Gardens

christmas town busch gardens smTampa Bay’s Biggest Christmas Celebration is Now Included with any Pass, Fun Card or Daily Admission.

“Since 2012, Busch Gardens has offered the ultimate Christmastime experience for families, and we’re excited to continue that tradition again in this year,” said Park President Jim Dean. “And with all of this Christmas fun included with any annual pass, Fun Card or daily admission, all guests receive an even greater value during their visit. We’ve created a season-long celebration unlike any other event our guests have ever seen – the kind of Christmas fun only Busch Gardens can provide.”

Highlights include special entertainment, live music, festive treats, holiday shopping and over a million twinkling lights and santa sacks around every turn. million lights christmas town

Christmas Town is open 23 select dates from Nov. 28 through Dec. 31. Guests can experience all of the Christmas celebrations throughout the day, and park closing times will range from 8pm to 9pm throughout the event. Visit ChristmasTown.com for dates, times and event details.

 

 

End of Summer fun at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex!

One of our favorite places to send visitors and friends to is Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and this is the perfect time to go!

Here are the “Top 5” fun learning activities/attractions at the Visitor Complex:

  • Guests experience the inspiring accomplishments of the U.S. space shuttle program at the unique $100 million, 90,000-square-foot Space Shuttle AtlantisSMattraction (see image below), where visitors get nose to nose with a real spaceflown orbiter. Space Shuttle Atlantis is displayed as if floating in space – the only space shuttle orbiter in the world exhibited this way. Guests also can train on various realistic simulators: take a simulated spacewalk, land the space shuttle on the shuttle landing facility, operate the robotic Canadarm or dock with the International Space Station. Shuttle Launch Experience, part of Space Shuttle Atlantis, is an incredible journey of vertically launching into space and orbiting Earth aboard the space shuttle.  Guests also strap in for an all-too-real simulation, which immerses visitors in the sights, sounds and feelings of a space shuttle launch, including simulated weightlessness.
You must see Space Shuttle Atlantis!

You must see Space Shuttle Atlantis!

  • The new Great Balls of Fire interactive exhibit opened this month and allows guests to discover the risks that asteroids, comets and meteorites present to our planet. The exhibit explores how we keep track of near-Earth objects while examining the effects of possible impacts. Within the Great Balls of Fire exhibit is Asteroid Encounter, where guests can climb aboard a “spaceship” and blast off to the asteroid belt and Jupiter while compiling data about asteroids and comets. Guests also can explore what would happen if one of these celestial bodies were to hit their hometown, determine Science Fact or Science Fiction of Hollywood movie clips and much more.
  • KSC Up-Close Explore Tour gives an insider’s view of the U.S. Space Program, from the launch sites of today at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to the past and future of space exploration at Kennedy Space Center. The KSC Up-Close Explore Tour includes up-close views of the massive, 525-foot-high Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) (one of the largest structures in the world) and the Shuttle Landing Facility. The tour stops in between the Kennedy Space Center launch pads for a close-up photo opportunity, in front of the VAB, and on the NASA Causeway where guests are surrounded by a panoramic view of launch pads at Cape Canaveral that are currently accommodating rocket launches by NASA, SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance.
  • The Apollo/Saturn V Center features dramatic multimedia shows and numerous hands-on displays that provide visitors with an inspirational and exhilarating look into America’s bold quest for the moon. Guests relive the historic launch of Apollo 8 at the Firing Room Theater, then marvel at a monstrous 363-foot long Saturn V moon rocket, the most powerful rocket ever built and one of only three Saturn V rockets in existence. The Apollo Treasures Gallery showcases treasures from the Apollo moon missions, including Apollo 14 Commander Alan Shepard’s spacesuit and the Apollo 14 Command Module, Kitty Hawk. July 16 marked the 45thanniversary of the lift off of Apollo 11, which landed the first humans on the moon.
  • Also new at the Visitor Complex are hands-on, science-based “Activity Adventures.” The activities, each lasting from 90 minutes to two hours, provide guests the opportunity to launch a water rocket (Rockitz), create and then land a rover on “Mars” (Rover Lander Drop) or race a jet car (Super Jet Cars).

Admission is $50 + tax for adults and $40 + tax for children ages 3-11. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers annual passes starting at $75 + tax for adults and $60 + tax for children ages 3-11. Space Shuttle Atlantis, Shuttle Launch Experience, Apollo/Saturn V Center, and Great Balls of Fire are included in daily admission.

Full details @ KennedySpaceCenter.com

 

Freshwater Oasis is Now Open at Discovery Cove in Orlando

What ? Where! Freshwater Oasis….

Across the street from SeaWorld is Discovery Cove…and Now open at Discovery Cove in Orlando is Freshwater Oasis, an all-new attraction featuring wading adventures and face-to-face encounters with playful otters and curious marmosets.

Designed with a rainforest canopy above and sparkling-clear springs below, Freshwater Oasis is a natural fit within Discovery Cove’s tropical atmosphere. Guests can relax, explore and swim in the water-filled trails. No matter where they turn, guests will find endless discoveries.

Freshwater Oasis is included with admission to Discovery Cove, an all-inclusive tropical day resort where guests can swim with dolphins, snorkel with colorful fish and rays, hand-feed exotic birds and relax on pristine beaches, plus enjoy unlimited admission for 14 days to sister parks SeaWorld and Aquatica in Orlando.

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Born at Discovery Cove

Limited to approximately 1,000 guests per day, Discovery Cove requires advance reservations which can be made at DiscoveryCove.com or by calling 1-877-434-7268. Seasonal rates for Discovery Cove’s Dolphin Swim Day Resort Package start at $229 (rates for Day Resort Package without dolphin swim experience and guests ages 3-5 start at $149).

To learn more about Freshwater Oasis, visit DiscoveryCove.com. More details via their Blog!

Related:

New Discovery Cove All-Inclusive Package Now Includes MORE

SeaWorld Orlando Welcomes Twin Sea Lion Pups

I thought this was interesting to share too:

Discovery Cove is part of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, which operates 10 parks across the U.S. including SeaWorld parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio; Busch Gardens parks in Tampa, Fla. and Williamsburg, Va.; Aquatica in Orlando; Sesame Place near Philadelphia, Pa.; and water parks Adventure Island in Tampa and Water Country USA in Williamsburg. 

The 10 parks play host to 25 million guests each year and employ 26,000 people nationwide. To learn more, visit SeaWorldParksandEntertainment.com or call toll-free 1-888-800-5447. Additionally, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment created the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, a non-profit, private charitable foundation committed to supporting wildlife and habitat conservation, research, education and animal rescue programs worldwide. Learn more at SWBG-ConservationFund.org.

 

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Parks Say Good-bye to Plastic Bags

From Gift Bags to Beverage Cups, Theme Park Visits More Planet-Friendly 

Paper or plastic? Soon there will be just one choice at the 10 theme parks of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment — paper — as the company eliminates plastic shopping bags within the next year. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment will be the largest theme park operator to make this commitment.

Park gift shops will offer paper bags made from 100 percent recycled paper or guests can choose to purchase reusable bags. They even have started to use Perth Skip Bins for all their recyclable waste disposal as the park wants to go green and what better places to start than these.

“This is a significant change for our company, one we hope will provide a model for our industry overall,” said Jim Atchison, President and Chief Executive Officer of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. “Eliminating plastic bags is an important statement about our commitment to the environment, as well as the need to help protect marine animals from debris. It also allows our guests to play a direct part in making a difference on our planet.”

This move will keep an estimated 4 million plastic bags from entering landfills and the environment each year. As mentioned in Dumposaurus blog, approximately 1.4 billion tons of trash, including plastic bags, enters the ocean annually. Wildlife such as endangered sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods.

The company began exploring the concept at SeaWorld San Diego in 2011, when the park discontinued the use of plastic gift bags to mark the opening of its new Turtle Reef attraction. SeaWorld Orlando is eliminating the bags this month in conjunction with the opening of its new attraction, TurtleTrek.

Opening April 27, TurtleTrek combines naturalistic habitats (sea turtles and manatees) with the world’s first 3-D, 360-degree dome theater film. The film immerses guests in a sea turtle’s extraordinary journey.

Another Refreshing…and Renewable Change:

Also adding to the ways park guests can consume responsibly, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and The Coca-Cola Company are introducing drinking cups for guests made with 85 percent renewable resources as part of a new 10-year partnership. Guests use more than 13 million cups each year throughout the 10 parks.

Related:SeaWorld Designs “Cup that Cares” for Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin

About SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

The 10 parks of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment inspire 23 million guests a year to celebrate and conserve the natural world. Through up-close animal encounters, educational attractions and innovative entertainment, each guest leaves with a heightened sensitivity to the world around them and an awareness of the plight of animals in the wild.