Category Archives: Only at a Theme Park

Draco Malfoy Visits the Wizarding World

Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) visited with the Beauxbatons at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter during his recent visit to Universal Orlando Resort.

First Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and now Tom Felton (the actor better know as Draco Malfoy) has made his way to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. He’s one of our favorite “bad boys” and what fun to see him here in Orlando. He was present at the Grand Opening, but it’s nice that he’s come back again.

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Filed under Only at a Theme Park, Universal

Mousevent: A Fun Twist on the Old Advent

When I heard about this, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect… an audio advent calendar?  Say what?  But, the MouseVent idea has proven to be quite a fun thing.

I must say it really is ingenious fun!  Brought to us by a group of Disney-oriented podcasts, who have created a special audio message for each day of the advent calendar. They bring a bit of Disney trivia and insider knowledge which creates some very interesting listening material.

Just click on the day and listen to fun stories by some of the best theme park and Disney-focused podcasters.  For example, did you know we can thank Santa Claus for the idea of being able to dine with characters at Disney World? Other times the podcast is just silly fun to listen to! (Day 3 provides fun sing-a-longs children will especially love!)

So, if you are fan of Advent Calendars, give this one a try! It’s free and right on your computer. Gotta love that!

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Filed under disney, Only at a Theme Park, Seasonal

Sea World’s Christmas Celebration: It’s a Sure Thing!

The Top 5 was invited to a tweet up at Sea World to preview the newest things at their Christmas Celebration, and I was quite impressed.  I had never attended their seasonal offerings before, and I found myself rediscovering Sea World at night, where it is a seemingly different park!

Since hubby and son were unavailable, I grabbed my mother and we headed out for a VIP greeting by Sea World’s PR staff.  Swag bag and credentials in hand, we were escorted to a reception area complete with yummy cookies and two special guests: Pete and Penny Penguin!

 

Top 5 editor Bess Auer chatting with Pete and Penny Penguin.

 

The reception overlooked the beautiful lake where you could see a watery, majestic forest of brightly lit trees. Gorgeous!

 

Beautiful backdrop for our gathering!

 

We were then officially greeted by the Sea World marketing and PR department, where Michael Fletcher took time to explain the different “zones” and new highlights of the Christmas Celebration:

Clyde & Seamore’s Holiday Show – Sea World took one of my favorite shows and added a holiday twist. These funny sea lions must tidy up and complete some chores to make Santa’s “good list.”  Hilarious!

Shamu Christmas… Miracles – a fabulous new show with really cool multi-media effects. Again, seeing it at night creates such a different ambience than a daytime show. I liked it! (See video at bottom of post.)

The Sea of Trees – a beautiful forest of brightly lit trees whose lights flash and change color according to the music. There are 75 trees, several tons of light bulbs, and over 8 miles of cables of lights! Yeah, it is pretty darn spectacular!

The Christmas Market – my personal favorite space, due to the unusual lighting and atmosphere.  There are gorgeous white crystal ice trees surrounded by penguins and polar bears. Here you can shop for special gifts or get toasty hot chocolate. Sea World has come out with lots of new gifts and products just for the season.

 

Ice tree

Brightly lit polar bear family

Lit up penguin family

Top 5 editor Bess Auer with a new friend

 

 

Winter Wonderland on Ice – a super-cute ice skating show that features some fabulous athletes and actors! (See more in the video at the bottom of the post.)

 

Photo from Sea World.

Photo from Sea World

 

Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street – this lovable Sesame Street creature takes time to welcome little ones to Sea World’s Christmas, just like she did for Halloween. I love this pairing of Sesame Street and Sea World!

All of Sea World’s normal attractions are open during this time, including the Manta and other rides, and you can even visit the Polar Express where you will be serenaded and the transported to meet Santa Claus! (See video at bottom of post.)

And, it wouldn’t be a theme park Christmas without S-N-O-W!  And, Sea World doesn’t disappoint, as it snows several times throughout the night!

 

Look closely for snow flurries

 

And, I must admit, I like the thought Sea World put into their planning and decorations. Who else would have created a snowflake design featuring whales!

 

Can you see the whales in the snowflake?

 

I did have a charming time strolling the boardwalk among the magical trees. I highly recommend going on one of the nights… it is the perfect setting for seasonal romance! (Too bad I my hubby wasn’t there!)  However, it is a moving setting for anyone, young or old, to venture through the spectacularly dramatic park as trees light up and music softly plays. Truly majestic!

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I was excited to see friends and fellow bloggers Jennifer Leet from The Dirty Shirt as well as Rori Paul from RoriTravel’s Florida.

 

Bess Auer with Laura and Rori Paul

 

I also got to hang with Gabe Travers from WESH.com as well as Kevin Cantor who is one of my favorite tweeps as @FLallday. (See the Top 5 Facebook page for photos of Kevin and others.)

Final thoughts – I definitely recommend adding Sea World’s Christmas Celebration to your must-do holiday list. Unlike the other theme parks, where red and green holiday decorations abound, the colorful and iridescent variations of the watery atmosphere seem to transport you to another place. Purples, pinks, deep blues and greens, as well as penguins, polar bears, sea lions, and walruses beckon you to stay and play in the winter wonderland.  The wide sidewalks provide plenty of wheelchair and stroller space and somehow seem less hectic and chaotic than other theme park celebrations.

And, yes, the Sea of Trees is mesmerizing in the most wonderful way!  here’s a video overview with footage provided by Sea World:

To see all the photos from the Top 5’s trip to Sea World’s Christmas Celebration 2010, visit our Facebook Fan Page.

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Filed under Blogger Extraordinaire, Fun, General Info, Only at a Theme Park, Sea World, Seasonal

Hollywood Glamour Meets O-Town!

How fun!  Celebrity sighting in Orlando: Academy award-winning actors Michael Douglas and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones along with their children flew over The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and past Hogwarts Castle while riding Flight of the Hippogriff at Universal Orlando Resort.

 

Photo credit: Matt Stroshane, Universal Orlando Resort

Fans of the Harry Potter books and films, the family also sampled Butterbeer, got fitted for wands at Ollivanders and toured Hogwarts Castle while on vacation at Universal Orlando over the Thanksgiving holiday. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the most spectacularly-themed entertainment experience ever created that was inspired by J.K. Rowling’s compelling stories and characters.

We hope the celebrity family enjoyed their time as much as the Top 5 did when we got our sneak peek back in June before the Wizarding World officially opened.  At any rate, it’s nice to see a bit of Hollywood glamour here in O-Town!

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Filed under Celebrity, Fun, Only at a Theme Park, Universal

Top 5 Central Florida Videos Weekly Round Up

We are thinking about doing a new weekly feature, where we show the Top 5 youtube videos of events from around Central Florida, all uploaded within the past week.

It should give a great snapshot of all the different things happening. (And you can give us a shout out if you post a great video. Who knows, it might be featured on our Weekly Round Up!)

So, let’s get started with this week’s videos:

Car races:

From Attractions Magazine:

Light Up UCF:

From Disney Parks – Mickey becomes a Magic Player:

Building of Legoland:

Bonus videos–yeah, we couldn’t decide on just 5 this week!

From NBCActionNews, because this was just so darn crazy!

Singing, because we loved Spring Awakening when it was in Orlando:

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Filed under Amway Arena, Bob Carr, Broadway at Bob Carr, Charity, disney, Non-profit, Only at a Theme Park, Orlando Magic, Top 5 Video Round Up, UCF

NASCAR’s Tony Stewart: You can meet him for free!

Okay race fans, here’s your chance to get up close and personal with NASCAR superstar Tony Stewart!  The NASCAR Sports Grille at the Universal Studios Orlando is opening its doors to the living legend and welcoming his fans for a casual meet and greet and autograph session from 6pm – 8pm on Thursday, October 28.

Beware: tickets are limited to 525 attendees and you can get in line for tickets starting at 10 am the morning of the event, Thursday, October 28.

Hmmm… maybe Tony can explain why the Daytona International Speedway is closing the doors to the Daytona 500 Experience! (Boo! Hiss!)

So, if you are a NASCAR hound, be sure to check it out! For more info, email webmail@nascarsportsgrille.com.

 

 

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Filed under Fun, NASCAR, Only at a Theme Park

Sneak Peek Part 3: Ollivander’s, Butterbeer, and More!

So after the Forbidden Journey ride in Hogwarts Castle, my hubby needed to rest his stomach a bit, so he found a seat in the Owl Conservatory. Owls of all sizes roosted in the rafters of this open seating area…but since they were animatronic, there was no owl poop! Nice!

My son J was dying to go on Dueling Dragons, now appropriately part of the Wizarding World, and so he got in line for that. I wasn’t too keen on a rolling roller coaster so soon after flying about on a broom, so I found my downtime at Ollivander’s Wand Shop.

There was a line to get into Ollivander’s, which made me wonder why Universal designed such a small gift shop! But the line moved quickly, letting in groups of fifteen to twenty people at a time, and I soon found out why…Ollivander’s is actually a show! A very, intimate, quaint show that gives the place a very authentic feel. As I entered the wand shop, there was shelf upon shelf of wands, all stacked together as if they had been there for centuries! As a collector of old books, I loved the musty-dusty feeling of the place, but yes, it was a tight fit for all of us in there.

Then, a wand keeper started the show by calling forth a boy from our group. After some clever dialogue, he had the boy try a wand or two, creating some magical effects along the way. (See the video below.) After a few minutes, the show ended and we were ushered into the real wand shop/gift shop to pick out a wand. Here’s mine:

A quick gripe: This real gift shop still left me wondering why on earth Universal designed something so small! It was nearly impossible to navigate through the crowded, tiny space to find the perfect wand or anything else for that matter. You could purchase a celebrity wand (Dumbledore’s, Draco’s, He-Who-Must-Not-Be Named’s, etc.) or you could purchase one based on your birthdate. I went for my birthdate and got that kooky striped one that seemed perfect!

Another quick gripe: Yes, I willingly paid my near $30 for the plastic toy in incredibly nice wrappings (love the box!) but it would have been a much better effect if they had included a simple slip of paper that told a bit about my wand. For example, does it have a unicorn hair in it? Or a dragon heartstrings? Or a phoenix’s feather? When was my wand made, etc.? This would have added greatly to the fun of my fine wand made just for me! Oh well, maybe that touch will be forthcoming.

At any rate, all griping aside, I highly recommend Ollivander’s at it was my favorite thing about the attraction!

After that, my son and I reconvened with my hubby, who still was a bit disoriented, and we all tried a bit of butterbeer. It is extremely sweet and the froth on top is extra yummy! I do not recommend the regular, though, as it reminded me of day old sticky root beer that has sat in the Florida sun for too long, but the frozen butterbeer is infinitely better…YUM!

So we ended our big morning at Universal by heading to Hard Rock Cafe. (Where else!?)

All in all, we’ll be back after the crowds from opening day die down a bit. I highly recommend you go see it, especially all you Harry Potter fans out there. Here’s hoping the magic is real!

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Filed under family, Fun, General Info, Only at a Theme Park, Tourist, Uniquely Florida, Universal

Sneak Peek Part 2: Hogwarts Castle

So, after we made it into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we then bee-lined for the main attraction: Hogwarts Castle!

From the outside, it is fairly intimidating. It looks like a real castle and appears to have the same overwhelming dimensions as that in the movie. It sits atop a craggy mountain and its towers soar into the air impressively. There was hardly any line for most of it, thanks to our 8:00 a.m. admittance, so we snaked through the queue pretty quickly. The neat thing about the castle is that it is actually two attractions in one.

Getting ready to go in...

You find as you wind your way through very dark castle passages, that the queue itself actually is a show. Here you see all sorts of appropriate Potter memorabilia: large statues from the houses, the grand stairwell where portraits talk noisily, as well as a peek into the headmaster’s private office, where Dumbledore himself greets you. And, thanks to modern technology, he actually looks as if he is really there!

Greetings from Dumbledore.

Talking portraits.

Then you wind your way into the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom, where all sorts of telescopes, potions, and such are overshadowed by the skeleton of a dragon hanging from the ceiling.  Here, you wait while Ron, Hermione, and Ron sneak into the classroom under the cover of their invisibility cloak. Once they throw their cloak off, they look every bit as present in the room as Dumbledore did!  After some dialogue, Ron accidentally makes it snow, which is a fun touch. (Unfortunately, the ride broke down at this point, so my hubby and son and I saw this little skit twenty or so times…more than enough snow for a Central Florida summer day!)

Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

The Dragon.

Once we were moving again, we passed by the Fat Lady’s portrait as she lectured us about Harry Potter getting into trouble (or something like that) before we saw the Sorting Hat. This was a very cool and welcome effect, as you can get very close to the hat, watching it realistically drone on about safety on the ride.

The Sorting Hat.

And then, you could see into the Great Dining Hall…well, kind of. It was actually a fairly small area where you boarded the ride, but the magical effect of lights, faux candles, and mirrors made it seem passable for the Hall. Here’s video of our adventure. (I had to tinker with the lighting and exposure due to the entire video being black when I started out!)

We loaded four to a “car” where we were strapped into individual seats and then took off as a unit in the simulator. As we moved, my seat tilted backwards, forwards, and swung around mightily. I saw a combination of amazingly realistic green screen images of the outside of the castle, while flying on a broom behind Harry and Ron, and actual mock ups jumped out at me as I “rode” by.  I was chased by dragons, spiders, and dementors and got to swing through a Quidditch game… it really was fun!  And, yes, I did forget there were other riders in the “car” beside me. I felt alone on my boom!

All in all, this was well worth the wait during the delay. My son and I loved it…my hubby, however, who is sensitive to motion sickness on such rides, was done for the day! So, be warned, o ye of sensitive inner ears, this ride is definitely topsy-turvy and very capable of making you feel like you are really flying!

Be sure to check back later for Sneak Peek Part 3: Ollivander’s and Butterbeer!

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Filed under family, Fun, General Info, Only at a Theme Park, Uniquely Florida, Universal

Sneak Peek at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

So, Harry Potter goes way back in my family… ever since my son J and I devoured the first books together. When he was little, we would sit on the couch and I would read aloud to him, page after page, and we relished every word. (During the reading of the Prisoner of Azkaban, J was so scared of Sirius Black, he made my hubby sit with him while I read! *Muhahaha*)

Not only did we read the books, but my son loved all things Potter, every magical toy manufactured to having a dragon painted on his bedroom wall!  He even dressed as Harry Potter for Halloween… probably more than one year running!

Then came the movies and eventually word about the theme park, which we breathlessly awaited…until this morning!  We got a sneak peek! So how did we manage it?  Well, we heard via Twitter that guests staying on-property were being allowed in, while regular park guests were on stand-by. Well, we wanted to be sure we gained access, so we made reservations at the Royal Pacific Hotel, which had a lovely Asian aura to it.  It was recommended by the concierge that we pick our tickets up that night, as admittance to the Wizarding World was before Will Call opened. So, we took the cool transport boats to City Walk, ate at the Latin Quarter (Chilean Sea Bass…yum!) and then went to get our tickets. The tickets with our resort key were our passport to Hogwarts!

The ticket lady told us to be at the entrance to Islands of Adventure by 7:30 for an 8:00 a.m. opening for resort guests. (Virgin Atlantic had a special going where the Brits got in at 7:30 a.m.! Good marketing!)  So, we got the early wake up call and then headed out on foot to the park…too early for the transport boats to be running!  We made it there by about 7:20 and were about tenth in line. Not bad, or so we thought.  Hundreds filed in behind us and by the time the gates opened at 8, there was a mad rush for the ticket takers.

Be warned Florida Residents!  Our tickets showed up as expired (much to the lady’s despair in line behind us because we slowed her down) and so we were taken to Guest Services who explained that Florida Resident tickets must be used the same day, lest we pass them along to a non-resident. (Wish the ticket lady had told us this the night before! She cost us precious minutes in getting to the WWOHP!)

So we switched out tickets and were back on the run for the entrance…and boy! was the wait worth it!  The first view of the snow-capped rooftops as you scanned the area was breathtaking! It was just as I imagined it should look!

So, here’s a short video of the first part of our sneak peek. (I’ve got two other videos I will be posting shortly.)  Enjoy, you muggles!

Remember to check back for Parts 2 and 3.

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Filed under family, Fun, Just for Me, Only at a Theme Park, Tourist, Uniquely Florida, Universal

Merry Christmas-Florida Style

I just received an email from my good friend who lives in New York City, where it’s currently 25 degrees out (feels like 12 degrees with the wind chill).  Suddenly, I felt like I needed to take off my sweater. 69 degrees isn’t so cold is it? 

My friend’s email snarfily hinted that I must be sad that I never see a white Christmas and surely the “melting temperatures” couldn’t possibly bring on a Christmas feel.  [Note: “Hmmmm…” I think as I open my sliding glass doors to air out my house.]

With the exception of a few Christmases spent skiing in Colorado, I have never known a white Christmas, and so such is not necessary to bring sugar plums to dance in my head. All that is needed is a few seasonal mall decorations, holiday music, and Christmas lights hung with care. [Note: I could do without the blow up Santa sleighs and snowmen. I have yet to see one of those actually add to the decor.]

So, I started thinking back to my holiday memories, almost exclusive to Central Florida. We Floridians have a strange shared existence here in the Sunshine State. We proudly go fishing at night, string lights on palm trees and paint pictures of flamingos in Santa hats.  We ravage overly-decorated malls despite hearing horrid renditions of Christmas carols, we both love and despise Disney depending on our mood and reasoning, and we hide from the sun while giggling at our European tourists baking to a lobster red.  We encourage tolerance for all religions yet complain when it says “Push 1 for English.”  We hold heated discussions over monorails, Light Rails, Tim Tebow and Bobby Bowden. We Floridians are an odd bunch, no? 

But regardless of our varied beliefs, backgrounds, and collegiate affiliations, there are some wintertime happenings that fortunately unite us. Here are some of my Florida memories; perhaps you, too, have experienced some of them:

  • Tanning at New Smyrna Beach on Christmas Day [Note: This was before sun was bad for you.]
  • Driving behind Whole Foods in Winter Park to see the neighborhood filled with amazing Christmas lights
  • Drinking hot cocoa at Mickey’s Merry Christmas Party
  • Having orange wars in the front yard with nearly frozen fruit [Note: Ouch!]
  • Immediately trying out new Christmas gifts such as roller skates, bikes, etc. in the driveway dressed in shorts and a t-shirt
  • Listening to the gorgeous Bach Festival Choir while strolling among Tiffany stained glass windows
  • Freezing while sliding down an ice slide at ICE!
  • Watching the Tangerine Bowl (Citrus Bowl) Parade in its seasonal and collegiate spirit
  • Dressing in winter cap, scarf, and sweater to take a “seasonal” photo to send relatives…and then sweating!
  • Putting water into a ziplock and cleverly calling it melted snow [Note: Yeah, it was funnier when I was young.]
  • Donating to Toys-for-Tots while singing, “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay…”
  • Sticking reindeer antlers on my dogs…and then my cats
  • Laughing at rubber reindeer poop [Note: Still funny even now that I’m older.]
  • Pretending the soapy snow flakes drifting down at Celebration were real snow flakes
  • Listening to 24-7 Christmas music on 107.7
  • Sitting high up in a tree looking for a lighted nose and sleigh until my mom made me come in
  • Wondering how Santa was actually getting into my house since we had no chimney. [Note: I was very creative with my solutions, one of which included a very well-trained squirrel!]

What are some of your holiday memories? I hope you have some wonderful ones.  And, the Central Florida Top 5 wishes you and your family a fabulous holiday season. Please enjoy this video that highlights Christmas in Florida. [Note: I am sending it to my NY friend…ha!]

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Filed under family, History, Only at a Theme Park, Seasonal, Uniquely Florida