Author Archive | Carla Sinclair

Complete Guide to Universal Studios Mardi Gras

The Universal Studios Mardi Gras event creates a great atmosphere to visit this Orlando theme park from February through mid-April. Add to it the theme park ticket offer of “buy a two-day ticket, get a third day for free” and you have a real good atmosphere! Plus, the free concerts help make higher attendance weekends more bearable. A two-day, two-park pass is $194.99, so make the most of your visit. Here’s how…

Discounted Theme Park Tickets

First, let’s clarify the ticket deal. The third day free is valid for residents of the U.S. and Canada. The park-to-park tickets let you go to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on the same day. The ticket deal is on sale through April 12, however, April 16 is the last concert of Mardi Gras. All 3 days of your ticket purchase must be used by May 31. Good news is there are no black out dates. If you are a Florida resident only wanting to get in on the Mardi Gras event, there is an “after 5pm” ticket for $69.99 plus tax. Call 407-224-7840 to get the deal, or pay $10 more at the gate.

Best Days to Attend Universal Studios Mardi Gras

If you have the luxury of choosing the days to visit this theme park, check out the concert schedule and find the artist performing that you enjoy the most. Remember, if they are your favorite, chances are they are a favorite of many others. Use one of your 3 days on this Saturday (or Sunday). Spend the other 2 days that are included with your ticket on a day that is less busy so you can ride the popular attractions without the long lines. Once the parade starts, the attractions and rides close. ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: The least busy days of all during Mardi Gras are the first two weeks of February during week days. Crowds become heavier leading up to Spring Break the last few weeks of March and do not slow down until after mid-April.

The concert line-up for 2016 is:

  • Saturday, February 6: Hunter Hayes
  • Saturday, February 13: Diana Ross
  • Sunday, February 14: Barenaked Ladies
  • Saturday, February 20: Nate Ruess
  • Saturday, February 27: Fall Out Boy
  • Saturday, March 5: Kool & The Gang
  • Saturday, March 12: The Fray
  • Sunday, March 13: Adam Lambert
  • Saturday, March 19: Shawn Mendes
  • Sunday, March 20: 3 Doors Down
  • Saturday, March 26: REO Speedwagon
  • Saturday, April 2: T-Pain
  • Saturday, April 9: Jessie J
  • Saturday, April 16: Yandel

Universal Studios Mardi Gras Parade

Mardi Gras Parades

The Universal Studios Mardi Gras parades are held on event nights only. They usually begin at 7:45 p.m. (or earlier depending upon concert schedule) and last approximately 25 minutes. Unfortunately, if you want to see the concert, you may need to skip the parade. It isn’t uncommon for people to start lining up for the best concert viewing several hours before the concert starts. Expect the concerts to be packed. If viewing the parade is more important than the concert, the parade route allows good viewing and bead catching just about anywhere. Hollywood Blvd. and New York are great places for viewing and getting some nice photos. ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: If you have children, stay close to the Little Jester’s Parade viewing area in front of the Brown Derby Hat Shop (near the Terminator 2: 3-D attraction). In the past, this has been a parade stop with special entertainment. The area near the Music Plaza (adjacent to Despicable Me Minion Mayhem) is not as kid-friendly. Regardless of where you view the parade, an early stake-out is required to get front row viewing (at least 45 minutes prior to the parade start).

French Quarter Cuisine

Zydeco Music and Great Food

Be sure to visit the French Quarter Courtyard located in the New York area of Universal Studios Florida near Battery Park. Other performers provide music before the headliner concert and can really get you into the Mardi Gras spirit. While these artists are less-known, many come straight from The Big Easy and offer authentic zydeco music. Enjoy some New Orleans cuisine as you listen. Cajun favorites are available such as beignets, jambalaya or gumbo for about $8 to $10. ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: The Courtyard opens at 4:00 p.m.

Additional Party for Adults

If you are 21 or older and want to continue partying after the Mardi Gras concert, be sure to use your theme park ticket at CityWalk. Your admission ticket to Universal will also get you into clubs that stay open until 2:00 a.m. Stop in at Pat O’Brien’s which is CityWalk’s Mardi Gras headquarters.

Hopefully these pointers will help you get the most out of your days visiting Universal Studios Mardi Gras. It is tagged as “Florida’s Biggest Party” and not to be missed if you are one to “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” – Let the good times roll!

New Attractions Coming to Central Florida 2016

Instead of reflecting upon the past, let’s focus on new attractions coming to Central Florida theme parks in 2016. After all, most tourists don’t research a destination after they’ve been there! If you will be visiting the Orlando area in 2016, you have a lot to look forward to.

New Attractions Coming to Disney

Epcot

Frozen Ever After is being expanded with a new boat ride within the Norway pavilion. Climb aboard and be taken away to the kingdom of Arendelle. You will sail past “Frozen” characters from many movie scenes and hear the popular songs from the soundtrack. The experience will also take guests by Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post, Sven’s Winter in Summer festival, the ever popular snowman Olaf, the giant evil snowman Marshmallow, Troll Valley and of course Elsa’s palace. ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: A meet-and-greet opportunity with Elsa and Anna is also in the works which will provide a great opportunity for autographs and photo ops.

Frozen Ever After - new attractions coming in 2016

The “Frozen Ever After” ride will debut at Epcot early 2016. (Disney)

A third theater and new 4K projection system will be added to Epcot’s “Soarin’ Around the World.” At this updated attraction guests will be able to fly above some of the world’s most unique locations and famed wonders. The Great Wall of China, the plains of Africa and Monument Valley have been included in that list.

Animal Kingdom

“Rivers of Light” will be introduced in 2016 even though the World of Avatar will not be complete next year. This new attraction will expand the park hours later into the evening as it combines live performers with floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery. Another new ride, Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris, will feature African wild dogs and hyenas for guests that brave the after-dark trek.

The Landing (Disney Springs)

STK will open in the spring. This modern steakhouse will join several other restaurants that have opened in this newly reimagined Disney property once known as Downtown Disney. This will be one of the largest STK’s in the country spanning 14,000 square feet, with two dining floors, a main level and rooftop dining. See our complete guide to Disney Springs…

New Attractions Coming to SeaWorld

Everyone is excited about the Mako Coaster coming to SeaWorld. The 200-foot-tall roller coaster will be the centerpiece of a two-acre shark exhibit with an underwater theme. For awhile it should be the tallest roller coaster, although a taller one is in the works just down the road called Skyscraper opening on I-drive in 2017 (500 feet). Mako Coaster joins Kraken and Manta and should quickly rank in the top 10 of roller coaster rides world-wide.

Mako Coaster coming to SeaWorld

New Attractions Coming to Universal Orlando Islands of Adventure

The next generation of King Kong attractions at Universal Orlando will open next year as Skull Island: Reign of Kong. This new attraction will take riders on a 1930s expedition into the jungle island home of the beast rather than bring the ape to civilization. There will be no chained captive here! ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: Also opening in 2016 is a new hotel on Universal property called Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. It is being built around a tropical lagoon and towering waterfall. Universal is already accepting reservations for the summer of 2016.

New Attractions Coming to Busch Gardens

Cobra’s Curse is a new attraction coming to Central Florida at Busch Gardens in Tampa. This family spin coaster will take guests on a ride ascending vertically then turning to face an 80-foot snake prior to being taken on a ride of your life over the Serengeti Plain. Height requirement will be a minimum of 42 inches. ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: Be sure to experience Falcon’s Fury while you’re there!

Cobra's Curse new attraction coming to Busch Gardens

Let’s Peek Ahead to 2017

When attending a theme park next year, count on having to deal with construction. We already know a few of the new attractions coming to Central Florida in 2017. A few are going to be huge additions! They will include:

  • Skyplex Surf Park
  • Skyscraper Coaster
  • Jimmy Fallon Ride at Universal
  • Toy Story & Star Wars themed lands at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (including a ride which will place guests behind the controls of the Millenium Falcon)
  • Universal Studios Volcano Bay Water Park
  • Animal Kingdom’s Pandora, based on the movie “Avatar”

Be sure to check back here at Orlando Tourist Tips as your trip to Central Florida gets nearer. We’ll be posting news to help keep you up-to-date with our ever-changing theme park world. With so many great places to visit in Orlando and around the Central Florida area, you may have to take more than one vacation!

Happy new year, and we’ll see you in 2016!

NBC Sports Grill & Brew at Universal’s CityWalk

Sport fans are rejoicing at the opening of the NBC Sports Grill & Brew. This new restaurant at Universal Orlando’s CityWalk is the perfect place to watch your favorite team and get a great meal. Although the grand opening isn’t until October 23, 2015, the doors are open and news of this new Orlando restaurant is spreading. There are several reasons why everyone is so excited about this new dining option.

NBC Sports Grill & Brew

Location: CityWalk has many dining options, and the NBC Sports Grill & Brew fills in where the NASCAR Grille left off – a great place to watch sporting events with friends. Even though it is on Universal Studios property, you do not need a theme park ticket to eat here. You may have to pay to park depending upon your arrival time. ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: Arrive after 6:00 p.m. and parking is free if you are a Florida resident (unless a special event, such as Halloween Horror Nights is taking place). After 10:00 p.m. parking is free for everyone. The parking garage is located at 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32819.

Sports Galore: From the massive high definition stadium screen to the 90+ smaller television screens, several sporting events are broadcast at one time. At the NBC Sports Grill & Brew over a dozen screens can be viewed at one time from several tables. ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: In the center of the first floor of the new restaurant hangs a jumbotron with several screens. You should be able to view your game easily if you can position yourself near this area.

NBC Sports Grill & Brew Menu

NBC Sports Grill & Brew open kitchenThe Menu: The “Playbook” consists of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers, entrees, sides, desserts and a child’s menu. There are plenty of choices and the cost ranges from a $10 salad to the $40 New York Strip Steak. Most dishes are in the $20 range, including the Grand Slam hamburger. Unless you are very hungry, you’ll be taking some of it home! Other featured items include a Cuban meatloaf sandwich, cedar planked salmon, crab scotch eggs, midwest ribs, sliders and house-made kettle chips. Everything is created in an open kitchen on fire grills.

The NBC Sports Grill & Brew features over 100 beers on draft and in bottles. Just about every shade can be selected: gold, red, brown, pale, fruit, ciders…you get the idea. Some beers are exclusive of this new Orlando restaurant, so be sure to ask your server for a recommendation if you are wanting something unique. If dining upstairs, chances are you’ll be able to see what’s on tap and pick out something to delight your taste buds. ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: An outdoor beer garden offers a great place to kick back and throw back some suds. You won’t miss the dinner show either. There are televisions outside!

Fun for Everyone

The NBC Sports Grill & Brew is a fun place to take your children, especially if they like to play table games. Foosball dining tables are located on the first floor. Eat and play at the same time! Who wouldn’t want in on this family night out?! If you are seated upstairs, be sure to check out the banners featuring NBC’s identity transition over the years. For some adults, it will be a trip down memory lane.

Reservations: This new Orlando restaurant is bound to be busy, especially during the weekends and evenings when popular sporting events are being aired. It can seat up to 500 guests, however, many guests may stretch out their meal time if their team is winning! Expect the hours to be from late morning to 11:00 p.m. or midnight. For reservation information, call 407-224-FOOD (3663).

Meal & Movie Deal: It is unlikely that the NBC Sports Grill & Brew will be a participating restaurant in Universal’s Movie and a Meal deal. At least not in the early stages of its opening. Currently only four restaurants are offered at CityWalk (Bob Marley–A Tribute to Freedom, Fusion Bistro Sushi & Sake Bar, Jimmy Buffett’s® Margaritaville®, Pat O’Brien’s®). ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: If you really like sports, why not try the Meal & Mini-golf deal? The cost is $22.48 +tax. The Hollywood Drive-in Golf is a blast from the past!

Where to See Wild Alligators in Orlando – Natural Attractions

A post earlier this year sparked many inquiries on where to see wild alligators in Orlando. Many people traveling to this area are curious about our natural attractions, and no other animal peaks the interest of tourists as does the gator. With fewer and fewer natural places in Orlando, we thought it a good topic to cover. So here are a few sight-seeing adventures you may want to consider if you want to see wild alligators in Orlando.

See Wild Alligators in Orlando – Guaranteed!

Of course the best place to see alligators in Orlando is Gatorland. It is guaranteed to see an alligator there – many, many gators. It isn’t exactly an Orlando natural attraction and neither is it free. There are several places to see alligators in Orlando which are not free. Many airboat tours lure tourists into spending money to see these ancient creatures. Unless they have a cage near the dock with an alligator in it, there is no guarantee of seeing a wild alligator just because you are on an airboat. Other paid attractions featuring alligators include Fun Spot Orlando, Wild Florida, Central Florida Zoo and Gatorama Alligator Farm (several hours south of Orlando). There are several Florida nature sight seeing tours as well. Many provide an opportunity to see wild alligators.

So where should you go to see wild alligators in Orlando? Look out the window! Well, maybe not exactly. Alligators are not everywhere, but you might be surprised to see them in some places. After all, it is believed that there are approximately 1.3 million wild alligators in Florida!

Wild alligators in Orlando

Gator Sightings

My alligator sightings include:

  • On the tram ride from the airport terminal, I’ve seen an alligator sunning on a bank of a pond.
  • Friends staying at several of the resorts have photographed alligators in the man-made water bodies they are located next to.
  • On the way to the Space Center, I’ve seen several alligators in the water-filled ditch outside the theme park’s entrance.
  • Traveling over Toll Road 417, I’ve seen gator noses dotting Lake Jesup. Speaking of this area, check out Black Hammock. While they do offer airboat tours hoping to see these creatures, I’ve seen alligators in the water within yards of dining outdoors there.

My most memorable sighting of an alligator happened at Lake Baldwin in Winter Park. Back when the Navy base there, I saw an alligator snatch some lunch while on the golf course just yards away from me. Feathers from a duck, one instance were floating on the water (intact), burst upon the water flying everywhere. A little thrashing and the event was quickly over with, and the water was still again. The memory still remains.

Vacation homes that back up to bodies of water may offer a great place to see wild gators in Orlando. If you will be staying a few days, relax in a chair outdoors and watch the water for their heads. On cooler days, alligators often sun themselves on the banks. Retention ponds and man made canals through neighborhoods are often home to alligators. Many resorts feature these types of water bodies. Watch and listen. Alligators make a very distinct sound (almost like a frog’s croaking only longer and deeper), often heard at dusk. Some resorts, such as the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Orange Lake Resort often bring in an expert from Gatorland to exhibit an alligator for their guests (there is a fee).

What Type of Water Do Alligators Live In

Alligators can live near almost any body type of water, so it goes without saying, BEWARE! These are not pets! They are to be feared and not taken lightly. ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: During mating season (summer) alligators tend to be a little more aggressive. Do not go near a body of water that is known to contain alligators, especially in the evening. Do not take your dog near these bodies of water that have gators. That is like inviting an alligator to dinner (which you are supplying). Another TIP: There is no basis to the myth that you should run in zig-zag patterns to avoid a charging alligator. If you do find yourself in the extremely unlikely position of avoiding a lunging alligator, you should run in a straight line away from the alligator and its habitat. Gator attacks in Florida are very rare. You are much more likely to be bitten by a shark in the ocean (more on that some other time).

Planning a day at the springs? These are great natural resources and fun places to visit, but keep your eyes open. Alligators do live in the springs. With all of the beauty to take in, it might be easy to miss a gator-sighting. Even the folks at Silver Springs admit, gators are unusual and not the main reason for tourist to enjoy their natural attraction. Still, there is no swimming here, only in their sectioned off water park. Hum…

Most alligators fear humans and will flee when sighted. Most. Some gators may lose their natural fear of humans, especially if fed by humans. Under no circumstance should you feed a wild alligator. It is against the law. ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: If you come across an aggressive alligator (and live to talk about it), report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by calling 1-866-FWC-GATOR. If the gator is less than 4 feet in length, don’t bother. They are not considered a threat…still, do not try to handle them!

Hunting Alligators

Locating (notice I didn’t say hunting) alligators is a natural thing to want to do in Orlando, and can be very exciting when you see them. Most alligators are smaller than tourists think. While there are some monsters out there, most gators are less than 6 feet long, but 8 – 10 foot long gators are not uncommon. Males are usually larger than females. Hunting alligators is a different matter. You must be a licensed trapper with a permit and tags. Most hunters are only allowed a few tags per season, but do offer tourists to hire them as a guide service. It is not cheap, nor does it guarantee seeing or harvesting a wild gator. It does make for an interesting story about your vacation though!

Seeing Wild Alligators in Orlando

With Orlando’s many natural attractions and manmade features appealing to alligators, your chances of seeing a wild alligator when visiting are fairly good – IF you are trying to. Entire theme parks are set up for wildlife encounters in a safe environment. These theme parks are your best bets if you really want to see an alligator during your Florida visit. Regardless, keep your eyes open near our waters and don’t become ‘gator bait.’

Great Day for a Visit to Wet ‘n Wild

This coming Saturday is a great day to attend the Wet ‘n Wild water park in Orlando. Not only is the weather looking great, the air will also be filled with music! This Saturday, May 2, 2015 is the seventh annual Waves of Glory concert event. From 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., a battle of the bands will take place and after the battle headlining artist will perform until 6:30 p.m.

The Waves of Glory concert event is for Christian music groups. Regional musical groups of all ages will compete in gospel, rock, hip-hop, praise bands and more inspirational music. The bands will be competing for a $2,000 prize, plus a matching donation to a charity of their choice. The winners will also perform at Universal Orlando’s Rock the Universe music festival which takes place in September.

Waves of Glory Christian Concert

Nationally know Christian artists Plumb and Tim Timmons will also perform live at Waves of Glory after the battle of the bands is decided. Tim Timmons will perform tracks from his album “Cast My Cares.” After Tim Timmons, Plumb will finish out the afternoon performing releases from her new album “Exhale.” You might know a few of her songs, such as “Need You Now” and “Drifting” which have helped her sell more than half a million albums and over two million singles worldwide.

Music artist PlumbThe following schedule is anticipated for Saturday:

BATTLE OF THE BANDS: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • Katie Danielle
  • Tim Serdynski
  • Daniel
  • We are Vessel
  • The Band Justus
  • Nightshift
  • My Savior Story
  • 7th Surrender

HEADLINERS: 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

  • Tim Timmons
  • Plumb

The best part about the music this weekend is you’ll feel safe letting the little ones listen to it. Plus, the concert is included in the price of general admission! ORLANDO TOURIST TIP: If you have a group of 10 or more, you can receive discounted tickets. Bring your youth group or group of friends and enjoy a day on the water rides singing along to some awesome music. Contact Group Sales at 407-354-2084 or e-mail wavesofglory@wetnwildorlando.com.

For more information about this great day for a visit to Wet ‘n Wild, visit visit wetnwildorlando.com. It is sure to be a fun-filled spiritual day. Enjoy the fun, faith and fellowship!