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New attractions at Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando has announced a new 3-D ride based on the movie “Despicable Me”.  The new Despicable Me ride will be an original story stet in a whole new story, and the whole audience gets transformed into ‘minions’, those little yellow helpers from the movie.  Guests will ride in an eight-passenger vehicle through the main character, Gru’s home, laboratory, and enter the training process to become ‘minions’.  The ride will replace the current Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast attraction at the Universal Studios Park.

Also planned for next year is an update to the popular Amazing Adventures of Spider Man attraction.  The storyline will remain the same, but the ride will undergo some technical updates, and will be re-animated in high definition.  So, basically, it will be the Spider Man ride that we all love, just better!

Gay days are here again

Gay days are here again, and I don’t mean gay as in ‘happy’, although the tourism industry will be very happy to have over 100,000 gay and lesbian guests from around the world.  This event started 20 years ago as a 1-day trip to Walt Disney World in 1991.  Since then, it has evolved into a week-long party throughout Orlando.  This year, it runs now thru June 6th.

Some of our gay-friendly destinations around town include Mr. Sisters, the Parliament House, Banana’s Modern American Diner, Revolution Nightclub and Hamburger Mary’s.  And, of course, the unofficial destination that started the whole event, Walt Disney World.   I have to say ‘unofficial’ because Disney does not officially sponsor the event, or have any special shows.  It is just one of those things that are known:  Saturday (June 4th) is THE day to visit the Magic Kingdom.  The other parks have designated days also, according to Animal Kingdom on Thursday the 2nd; Hollywood Studios on Friday the 3rd, and Epcot on Sunday, the 5th.

The Parliament House claims to be the world’s largest all gay resort complex, and features a hotel, pool, restaurant, theater events, and several themed bars on the property.  They have events going on all week, which include a laser light show, live entertainment, a foam party, and much more.

Hamburger Mary’s is the first national chain that has marketed specifically to the gay community.  Their motto is “Eat, drink, and be Mary”.  They’re a beer and burger joint, located on Church Street near the Amway Center, and will have special events planned for this week.

Mr. Sisters restaurant and nightclub has a late-night menu and a 6,000 square-foot patio deck with a great view of Lake Barton.  For gay days, they’re expanding into the parking lot with food vendors and a large stage for live entertainment.

Revolution Nightclub features a dance club with outside patio, multiple bars and lounge space.  They will be having specials for this week including drag shows and a “Men at Play” party.

In the past, Gay Days has met some protests and resistance, however, most straight people are tolerant, or simply avoid the theme parks on scheduled Gay Days.

Cheetah Hunt now open!

Cheetahs are the fastest land animal, accelerating up to 70 to 75 mph in short bursts, and now Busch Garden’s Cheetah Hunt is the longest roller coaster in the state!  (Disney’s Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom comes in a close 2nd.)  At 4,429 feet long, this new ‘cheetah simulator’ ride will launch riders at speeds up to 60 mph, and up to a height of 102 feet!  This new coaster doesn’t use the traditional chain lift to pull the cars up to the top, but rather a “LSM” system, which means it will use ‘linear synchronous motors’, a series of electric magnetic motors, to propel the coaster cards at different bursts of speed.  The 3 minute, 30 second ride carries 16 riders per train, and can take up to 1,370 riders per hour.  Another thing that makes this ride different is the smaller height requirement, only 48 inches, rather than the coaster standard of 54 inches, so younger kids will be able to ride also.

Opening day was Friday, May 27th, in time for the Memorial Day weekend, but there were some glitches Friday so it was not opened until the afternoon.  But those riders who finally got on were not disappointed.

Along with the new ride is the Cheetah Run, a new animal experience where guests can watch real cheetahs in motion.  The opening day bugs seemed to have been worked out and I’m looking forward to testing the new ride in person, happy hunting!

Record Attendance Continues at Universal

Well, despite the terrible economic conditions in the U.S. and Florida, one Central Florida company is raking it in.  Ever since the opening last June of the popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando has been seeing record attendance numbers.  Just the first quarter of this year (January thru March) Universal Orlando saw an increase of 1.1 million visitors (combined total of Universal Studios and Universal’s Island of Adventures).  And, those visitors are buying plenty of souvenirs as well – merchandise sales skyrocketed to 156%!  Food and beverage sales are up 104% and ticket sales up 85%.  Universal’s total revenue nearly doubled for the quarter….to $309 million.

This is great news for the Central Florida tourist industry, but I do wonder if there is also an increase in International tourism, or if it’s mostly U.S. tourists…most people I know are reeling from the bad economy, and not spending unnecessarily.  But, I also know the Harry Potter fans are a die-hard group, so they may have been saving for this.  What do you think?

Memorial Day Weekend in Orlando

beachMemorial Day is here and many local folks have a holiday off of work on Monday to commemorate the occasion.  This weekend typically brings large crowds to the area beaches and theme parks, and our weather forecasters are promising mostly sunny skies and HOT.  With temperatures hovering around 90 degrees, be sure to drink plenty of water and use a good sunscreen. Water activities are a great option to help keep you cool this weekend, and if you are planning any water activities, check out our water safety tips.   While enjoying yourself this weekend, remember the true meaning of the day – this is the day set aside to remember and pay respect to our brave American soldiers that have lost their lives to provide us with the rights and liberties that we have today.

The American Adventure at Disney’s Epcot is a 30-minute theatrical journey through American History.  Some of the extraordinarily historic figures you will see include Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Teddy Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday, about an hour from the theme parks, in historic downtown Sanford is an annual event that honors our military, the Sanford Memorial Day Parade and Remembrance Ceremony.  They will feature a World War II PV-1 airplane, a Wells Fargo horse drawn stage coach, parade, and more.

Disney will also be presenting their Memorial Day Soccer Shootout.  Located at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, the shootout is the larges 3-day soccer tournament in the area.

Bok Tower Gardens National Historic Landmark will feature a musical salute Memorial Day Carillon concerts on Monday at 1pm and 3pm.  The concert is included with general admission, which will be free to all branches of the military (with a valid ID). 

Also going on this weekend are the continuing Star Wars weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Orlando Fringe Festival.