by Troy Petenbrink
Orlando, the home of Mickey Mouse and sunshine, is the No. 1 tourist destination in the US. It attracts over 50 million annual visitors — and it’s gearing up for more. As Orlando approaches its summer season, it is launching many new and exciting upgrades to its amusement park attractions.
At SeaWorld Orlando, Orca has some new friends, with the introduction of TurtleTrek, a mix of uber-technology and naturalistic habitats. On the tech side, visitors can experience a 3-D/360-degree film in a cool dome theater that uses dozens of projectors to immerse the audience in an underwater journey of a sea turtle’s life. Real rescued sea turtles, along with thousands of fish and manatees, can also be seen as are part of 2 new habitats — one saltwater and one freshwater.
Fans of roller coasters might enjoy The Rattlesnake at Forever Florida EcoSafaris’ expanded EcoPark. The roller coaster-style zipline launches from a 65-foot-high platform before whipping around a 1,000-foot course and reaching speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
by Bill Burke
Go for a swim at Walt Disney World’s new Art of Animation Resort, and you’ll hear characters from the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo talking to you — from under the water. It’s just one of the details the Imagineers at Disney have added to this newest resort to make it as immersive as possible.
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is the central Florida vacation kingdom’s newest hotel — featuring 1,120 family suites and 864 studio rooms slotted into Disney’s “value” level pricing.
Spacious Family Suites
Guests enter through Animation Hall — a lobby festooned with giant reproductions of early concept drawings of Disney/Pixar characters. Cast members (that’s Disney-speak for employees) wear paint-spattered vests, representing the artist’s creative process. Entering into the resort-proper just outside the lobby plunges visitors into a vividly colorful world of animated features. The “Finding Nemo”-themed pool — Disney’s largest outside of its water parks — is designed to make guests feel as if they’re living in the undersea world of Nemo, Dory and friends.
The family suites sleep 6 with a master bedroom, a pull-out couch in the living room area and a pull-down bed that also doubles as a small dining table. The suites also include a microwave, small refrigerator and counter space for preparing small meals. The resort, like all others on Disney property, is serviced by Disney’s motor-coach transportation system — which will ferry guests to and from theme parks — and the free Magical Express service, which brings guests to and from Orlando International Airport to their resort.
There’s no better time to visit San Francisco than in April, after the rainy season has ended and before the summer fog settles over the city. You don’t have to be religious to have a hippity hoppin’ good time this weekend at the city’s annual Spring Celebration and Easter Parade.
Now in its 21st year, the event runs from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. this Sunday, April 8. Not only will kids get to meet the Easter bunny himself (you’d think he’d be too tired after all those basket deliveries!), but they’ll also get to ride ponies, play with all kinds of adorable furry creatures at the petting zoo, bounce around in inflatable houses and test their climbing skills on the rock wall. READ MORE
We’ve loved them ever since we saw them burst onto the scene in those cheesy insurance commercials. And heard their cool underwater vocals. Now it’s your chance to get up close and personal with the whale family’s most beloved member: the humpback.
This winter, Virginia Beach has reported double the sightings of humpback whales over last year. More than 30 have been spotted since late December, as little as 2 miles off the coast. Local marine biologists have been naming the frequent visitors — Woodpecker, Batcave and Literal, among them – who are typically too young to head south to the West Indies for the calving and mating season. Instead, they’ve been arriving from the northern Bay of Fundy (between Maine and Nova Scotia) – and sticking around in larger-than-usual numbers.
OK, let’s play a game. If I say crayons, what’s the first word that comes to mind? Did you say Crayola? Of course you did. The Crayola brand is pretty much synonymous when it comes to any art supplies like crayons and markers. As a former teacher, and now mom, it’s one of my most beloved brands. As a matter of fact, my daughter and I were out drawing with Crayola sidewalk chalk just yesterday.
In case you can’t tell, I am a big Crayola fan. So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that the Crayola Factory in Easton, PA, was just a short drive from our vacation destination of Lake Harmony, PA. A trip there was definitely in order. I could go on and on about my visit, but instead, let me share with you the top 10 highlights. READ MORE
Photo: Getty Images
Actors Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz are on a whirlwind tour to promote their new movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” the fourth installment in Disney’s popular franchise.
In anticipation for the new movie, Disney theme parks in Anaheim and Orlando have already modified the “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction to incorporate elements from the new film, including an image of the infamous Blackbeard (actor Ian McShane) in the grotto scene.
Another option, if you’re not into amusement parks, is to take a trip to the Tropics to explore the history of the real pirates of the Caribbean. Almost every Caribbean island has some pirate history, including the Bahamas, Aruba, Trinidad and Jamaica. Follow the steps of Edward Teach aka Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackham and John Boysie Singh aka “The Rajah.”
Check out The Real Pirates of the Caribbean slideshow to find out where you can sail the seas to uncover the history of a few infamous pirates.
The orca responsible for his trainer’s death last year is performing at SeaWorld Orlando again. The killer whale Tilikum was back in the pool performing for crowds last week. The whale will also be part of the “One Ocean” show at SeaWorld, which debuts April 22.
You may recall that SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau drowned to death last year after Tilikum bit her ponytail and held her underwater. Now a year later and with mixed emotions, Dawn’s family says their OK with whale’s return to public performances at the theme park.
SeaWorld has plans to dedicate the Dawn Brancheau Educational Complex in honor of the trainer. Despite their goodwill, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has slapped the theme park with a $75,000 fine that is currently in dispute.
SeaWorld has taken steps to improve their trainers’ safety. The theme park no longer allows trainers in the water with orcas. Plans are also underway to build an escape hatch that trainers can activate with the press of a button. A false bottom of the pool would raise the whale and trainer above the surface of the water, ideally separating the trainers from danger.
Construction on a new Disneyland theme park is scheduled to start as early as May in Shanghai. The Disney project will include 3 parks including Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. The first phase of the theme park will cost $3.7 billion dollars.
According to a Chinese government statement earlier this month, plans indicate several water features, including a lake and 6-mile, man-made river surrounding the park, which will be located 13 miles from People’s Square. The gates of Shanghai Disney aren’t expected to open until 2015.
China will also be home to another new theme park. World of Warcraft, modeled after the online game, has been touted as the first video-game-themed attraction. There were rumors that the theme park was a hoax, but the Huffington Post claims there are plenty of construction photos and Chinese news stories about the project. The park will be built in China’s Wunjin district.
No word yet on when gamers will get their chance to explore the new theme park.
Increasing gas prices may prompt travelers to pump the breaks and put a halt on their plans for a road trip. Gas prices could take a bite out of the travel market if American families pull back on spring and summer road trips.
According to AAA, gas near Yosemite National park in California, is already running close to $4.50 per gallon for regular. The east coast isn’t any better. In Washington, DC, the average price for gas has risen 40 cents over the last month to $3.68.
Business may drop a bit as people tailor their plans to suit their budgets if fuel prices stay high and continue to rise. For some, staying closer to home may be an option. That’s what travelers did during the summer of 2008 when fuel prices reached record highs, according to AAA national spokesman Troy Green in a recent CNN.com article.