Tag Archives: international drive

SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium begins installation on ocean tunnel

By: @jenvargas

If you followed us all last week, you saw and heard A LOT about parks and attractions from the hallowed floors of Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) as we visited the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). Today we bring you cool news from our own Sea Life Orlando Aquarium at I-Drive 360!

SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium_360 Degree Underwater Tunnel Installation

Photo courtesy of SEA LIFE Orlando

 

Installation began today on SEA LIFE Orlando’s 360 degree underwater ocean tunnel! This enormous tunnel weighs in at nearly 18,000 pounds (roughly five cars) and will eventually feature a 360 degree view of SEA LIFE’s 5,000 creatures. We heard it through the SEA LIFE Grapevine suspect Orlando’s might look like the one in this photo at SEA LIFE Aquarium in Grapevine, Texas. Cool, right? (Sleepover, anyone?)

Prior to its opening date, SEA LIFE partnered locally with The Turtle Hospital out of Marathon, Florida and The Coral Restoration Foundation out of Key Largo, in effort to educating visitors and local families on the importance of conservation and celebrating all creatures of the sea, big and small. Through their independent charity, The SEA LIFE Marine Conservation Trust, guests help the cause simply by visiting. Their Breed, Rescue, Protect initiatives help rescue the sick or injured, protect against pollution and breed thirteen species of endangered rays (and more!) around the world.

(PSST! We’ll link even more info and a nifty interview soon courtesy of our pals at Wearables4good.org!)

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.

Top 5 Developments Coming to Orlando-Area Malls

mall co

Living in metro Orlando, we’re fortunate to have more than a dozen fantastic shopping malls. And for those visiting from around the world, it provides a fabulous escape from the attractions.

From the luxurious Mall at Millenia to deal-minded outlets, there’s no shortage of places to spend money and go home with countless shopping bags.

But like the convention center, downtown area and airport, the mall scene continues to evolve and improve upon itself.

Central Florida Top 5 presents the top five developments coming to Orlando-area malls.

  1. Artegon Marketplace Orlando Introduces a New Shopping Concept
  2. Gods & Monsters, American Girl and The Crayola Experience Redefine the Mall Experience
  3. Orlando Fashion Square Readies Hotel and Restaurants to Accompany Recently Opened Bowling Alley
  4. From “Food Court” to “Dining Pavilion”
  5. I-Drive getting a 7-star hotel and vertical “megamall”

Artegon Marketplace Orlando Introduces a New Shopping Concept

Remember Festival Bay Mall? Forget about it because Artegon Marketplace Orlando is taking over on November 20, 2014.

Paragon Outlet Partners, LLC has redeveloped the spot into a new shopping concept in the heart of Orlando tourism’s district on International Drive. Rather than host a bevy of traditional mall retailers, Artegon Marketplace Orlando boasts itself as an artisan showcase with 165 craftspeople. They’ll offer Buying Guide provided by YourDiamondTeacher, accessories; soaps; jewelry; sculpture; mixed media artwork; custom clothing and more. That’s not to mention hand-crafted foods including popcorn, hot sauces, nuts, local honey plus other surprises.

With studies indicating that half of the American workforce will soon consist of entrepreneurs, this artisan concept doesn’t appear to be short-sighted and should enjoy a lengthier stay than its predecessor.

Gods & Monsters, American Girl and The Crayola Experience Redefine the Mall Experience

Brands want to offer more than a place to purchase goods and are creating an experience that creates a psychological connection.

Gods & Monsters is set to open at Artegon Marketplace Orlando and revolutionize the high-end comics and collectibles store with its theme park-quality decor, inspired product presentation and immersive lounge areas. It’s not just about reading your favorite comic book, but rather stepping into one.

The Florida Mall is also set to open a couple stores that introduce a new way to experience your favorite brands with American Girl and The Crayola Experience.

American Girl will open its 18th location in Orlando on November 15, 2014 and will let little girls shop for their favorite American Girl products; enjoy lunch, dinner and dessert in the Bistro; treat their doll to a new ‘do in the Doll Hair Salon; and celebrate birthdays and other special events. The days of walking into the store and pointing to your mom what doll you wanted are in the past with an experience you can see, taste and touch.

And who would’ve thought there’d be an attraction based on the popular crayon company Crayola? The Crayola Experience is set to open in summer 2015 also at The Florida Mall and features 25 hands-on experiences for families to enjoy. It will also contain a store and cafe and, like most attractions in town, require an admission fee.

Orlando Fashion Square Readies Hotel and Restaurants to Accompany Recently Opened Bowling Alley

Once upon a time, Orlando Fashion Square was the mall to be at. Increased competition stole market share and now it’s time to claim some of that back. Like Artegon Marketplace Orlando is branding itself as something different, Orlando Fashion Square is doing the same behind it’s new ownership group UP Development.

While it’s a shopping mall first and foremost, it also aims to stand for what others can’t — community. While The Mall at Millenia and The Florida Mall can boast a laundry list of brands and retailers, Orlando Fashion Square is taking the grassroots approach, luring shoppers in with community-based events and resources and surrounding them with brands they know and trust.

That’s why they’ve provided a new place for your family to hang out with StrikeOuts Bowling and Entertainment. The bowling alley is on the second floor across from the movie theater and offers 12 lanes of fun. If that wasn’t enough, get your game on in the arcade and rack up points for prizes. There’s also a sports bar area where you can enjoy the game with a brew or mix it up in a game of pool.

Oh, and the food! Enjoy a cheeseburger, fries, wings, milkshakes and sweets galore.

On the horizon, the mall is opening Element by Westin — a product of Starwood Hotels and Resorts — and breaks ground in fall 2014. The idea is that business travelers can stay at this mall’s hotel at the edge of downtown and do all their shopping all under one roof.

Orlando Fashion Square will also introduce at least two new restaurants to entice visitors.

From “Food Court” to “Dining Pavilion”

The Florida Mall continues to invest in itself and rethink how malls should operate. Saks Fifth Avenue closed in the spring and the space is being transformed into a 105,000-square-foot “Dining Pavilion.”

That means eateries in the current food court will make a move and that spot will become the home to new retailers. If you thought seating was scarce now, you’ll be happy to know the Dining Pavilion will seat twice as many and offer high-top tables and even couches.

Word is it’ll offer more options for the health-conscious.

Look for it and satisfy your hunger in 2015.

I-Drive getting a 7-star hotel and vertical “megamall”

Nothing might be more radical than the proposed “megamall” set to open on International Drive in the summer of 2017. With a name of The iSquare Mall + Hotel, it’s anything but normal.

But what exactly is a megamall?

Think Mall of America in Minnesota, which sees between 35 to 40 million people each year. That’s more visitors than Walt Disney World.

While this project isn’t on the scale of that mall (which is just plain monstrous!), iSquare Mall + Hotel’s impending impact is expected to be quite large. Combine it with the fact it will also be the first seven-star hotel in all of North America, it deserves the “mega” prefix.

It will feature 749 hotel rooms, 490,213 square feet of vertical retail space, a restaurant, a 100,000-square-foot convention center, an indoor ice-skating rink, a 500-seat live performance theater and office space. The parking garage is mega, too, at 11 stories tall and 2,780-spaces.

If that wasn’t enough for you, the building even has a heliport to park your helicopter.

mark sMark Schaub is an Orlando mall enthusiast. A self-proclaimed mallrat, he’s not there to shop, he’s not there to work, he’s just there. Mark has taken his love for malls and turned it into “Orlando Mall Guide” (www.OrlandoMallGuide.com).

Everyone always wonders what happened to the store that closed and what is being built behind that drywall. Mark tells you and goes beyond the news to explain just who are these mall-walkers and  how you can get a job at the mall. Follow on Twitter at @OMGmalls.

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.

Review | Jen’s #FloridaWish Weekend at Courtyard by Marriott I-Drive

This post has been sponsored by Marriott’s Wish You Were Here – Florida! campaign. All opinions below are strictly those of our own @JenVargasCheck out the slideshow below for more images…

#FloridaWish

Going into this, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never stayed at a Courtyard by Marriott property prior. Coming off a terrible first experience at another chain the weekend before, I welcomed ANYTHING better! Most of all, as I said in my first post having been slammed the past few months with projects, I just wanted to RELAX without having to worry about any appointments.

The hotel? Courtyard by Marriott on International Drive/Convention Center (8600 Austrian Court, Orlando, Florida 32819). At first glance I was impressed with the property; the rooms looked clean and updated, the amenities were basic but acceptable and the location was central to Interstate 4, Beeline/528 and in the heart of the International Drive corridor.

Upon entering the lobby area, I was taken aback. In remembering last weekend I had no expectations but I can honestly say, I wasn’t expecting something as… modern. While the outside may have seemed a little dated, the interior was certainly like something out of a Pottery Barn catalog. Very lovely, and very clean! I was a huge fan of the FREE WiFi and ample charging stations throughout the lobby. I LOVED the Media Pods (like a modernized, cozy breakfast nook with a flat screen tv) close to The Bistro, Courtyard’s on-site restaurant and cocktail bar!

Everyone I encountered on the front desk staff was very welcoming and informative. Check-in can be a crazy time, especially for those coming in from the airport and are anxious to start their weekend. Despite the small line, the staff made sure everyone’s questions were answered and all were informed about The Bistro hours, The Market (a small, on-site 24 hour convenience store) and basic off-site information. Since Courtyard I-Drive is an Official Walt Disney World Good Neighbor Hotel, our room key cards were appropriately (and adorably!) themed; one was a Monsters University Student ID card, the other was of The Beast and New Fantasyland.

My first impression of the guest room was that it was on the smaller side. Once opening the door (which was quite heavy!), you’re lead down a narrow corridor which forks off into a bathroom/closet area then out to the main bedroom/living space. To be fair, I’m used to staying in ‘suite’ style rooms when I travel so, comparatively, this might be average or slightly above average size. (Note: This property has suites available and connecting rooms.) Our room was a simple Guest Room with 1 King sized bed and a pretty snazzy sofa bed with a Poolside view and small balcony.

Both the bedding and towels were very clean. The bed and pillows were very comfy! Some pillows are too firm or not firm at all, these pillows were a nice middle ground. The sofa bed also comfy. It was so hip and stylized, I swear I saw it once inside a Starbucks. In fact, the furniture, photo shelf and color scheme of the room were mildly reminiscent of a coffee shop type vibe (in the most complimentary way possible). The sofa even had a small, built-in side table for drinks, a laptop or even small lunch. The modern furnitures are amazing in style, and use. If you want to see more of these, look for LA Furniture store.

The bathroom itself was large and the closet was a good size. The sink and dressing area, just off the room’s entrance, was also a decent size. I was, however, slightly disappointed with the bathroom amenities in our room. The website shows Paul Mitchell bath products are provided in all rooms; shampoo, conditioner and Lemon Sage energizing body wash. Unfortunately our room was not supplied with the body wash on either day, only generic bar soap, and of course I forgot to call and ask about it. [D’oh!]

Other hotel amenities and services include; a small laundry room, a clean pool area (with towels) and an expanded fitness center. I asked about a spa/hot tub. Sadly it was rarely used so Courtyard decided to add on to the Fitness Center with a small weight set, updated treadmills and stationery bikes that are iPhone/iPod accessible, and a mirror-walled area for yoga, stretching, meditation, etc. Filtered water and sanitizing wipes are also readily available.

In the end, I was very pleasantly surprised by this property. The staff, the food, the guest rooms and amenities were fantastic for the price. Even if I didn’t know the area, I would feel very safe and secure as a guest. For the convenience, cleanliness and comfort, I would gladly recommend this property to out of town guests and family. Courtyard is also a great staycation destination for locals too. Wish You Were Here – Florida! package deals are available at all 36 Marriott properties throughout Florida.

 

Jen’s Top 5(x2!) Courtyard I-Drive Favorites:

  • A 12pm check-out time! No rushing through breakfast to shower and pack!!
  • All-in-one lamp and charge station on both sides of the bed – SUPER handy for someone like me.
  • On-site parking is complimentary!
  • WiFi in public areas and rooms is FREE (upgraded service available)
  • Dining at The Bistro: They brew Starbucks AND the food is reasonably priced for what you get
  • Courtyard’s GoBoard is very useful, user friendly
  • Workspace/desk in room is a good size
  • Charging stations comfortably placed throughout lobby and business center
  • YMCA Aquatic Center (next door) partnership is a great bonus for gym rats
  • Courtyard is a SMOKE-FREE HOTEL!!

Room(?) for improvement:

  • Currently, there are no shuttles to/from the hotel to local theme parks (the front desk is very friendly and will assist)
  • The Bistro is only open for Breakfast and Dinner (The Market, however, is open 24 hours)
  • It was hard to find ticketing kiosk agent
  • The balcony overlooking the pool area was a teensy bit small
  • Not pet friendly

Orlando’s Café Tu Tu Tango Birthday Party this Weekend

Cafe Tu Tu Tango Turns 20 with a Birthday Celebration

CAFÉ TU TU TANGO, the iconic Orlando eatery, invites all artists, foodies and friends to come celebrate 20 years of sharing food, drink and the bohemian philosophy.

Raise a paintbrush with them as they create a community mural, cheers a free beer or whiskey with them from breweries and distillers such as Breckenridge, Big Storm and Winter Park Distilling Company.

Live music featuring local band, WAS (showing 3-6PM) will serenade the evening atmosphere as belly dancers and salsa dancers welcome you to perform in their traditions. Painters from the workers on painters in richmond va, writers and sculptors exhibit their work while the culinary team grills, braises and sautés flavors from around the world.

CafeTuTuTango

Titanic Mother’s Day

Guest Post by SeaWorld Mommy

Sure you could take Dear Old Mom out for brunch for Mother’s Day… and she’d love it. The most important part of the day is spending it with her family, right? But what if you could do something really unusual? What about getting her a “big” surprise? Better yet — a “Titanic” one?!

Titanic The Experience on International Drive is hosting a Mother’s Day brunch Sunday, May 12 at 11 a.m. Mom will be the guest of honor, as will Captain E.J. Smith, Margaret “Molly” Brown, and others notables. Your family will enjoy a buffet-style meal with eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes and other sumptuous options, although (thankfully) the menu will not be identical to that served on Titanic for breakfast, April 11, 1912. No, there will be no grilled mutton kidneys, lamb collops (whatever those are) or stewed prunes. It will be a first-class affair, however, with a decidedly Edwardian flair.

Will Mom get a meal at the “usual” spot for this special day? Or one with live entertainment from famous passengers and crew, singing, dancing, fun and interaction that will be a memory your family will hold dear for years to come?

Tickets may be purchased at the Exhibition Box Office, by calling 407-248-1166, or online at titanictheexperience.com. The cost is $45 for adults and $35 for children.

Titanic The Experience is located between Sea World and Universal Studios at 7324 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819