For its next big attraction, “Manta,” SeaWorld Orlando intends to mix 184,000 gallons of water, 3,000 sea animals and a roller coaster that lies people down horizontally then takes them through four inversions, up as high as 140 feet and as fast as 56 mph.

“You say, ‘Hey, you’re putting as much emphasis on the animals as on the ride, absolutely. That’s who we are. This is uniquely SeaWorld. We don’t want to just put in a ride,” said Joseph Couceiro, chief marketing officer for SeaWorld’s parent company, Busch Entertainment Corporation.

SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Entertainment officials today announced details today for the new Manta roller coaster, which they said will seamlessly take guests from the awe of encountering rays in underwater flight into the sensation of actually being one.

Swooping over water and sky, Manta will show riders underwater animal habitats, then soar them face-down aboard a manta-inspired flying coaster, donned in hues of dark purple, ultramarine blue, and cobalt.

SeaWorld also refined its word on the anticipated opening. It is to open in the summer 2009.

This morning’s announcement provided the first details for the ride, SeaWorld Orlando’s second major roller coaster, since officials first confirmed the ride in April. The ride has been conspicuously under construction in the northeast area of SeaWorld, near the park’s main entrance, since January.

Manta is covering four acres and will reach a height of 140 feet. It was designed by the Swiss coaster company, Bollinger & Mabillard. SeaWorld has declined to discuss the ride’s pricetag.

Whether visitors choose to ride the coaster or not, SeaWorld pledges that Manta still will offer an attraction. Floor-to-ceiling windows will provide encounters with 300 rays, as well as thousands of fish and other creatures native to oceans all over the world. Shark rays, spotted eagles rays, leopard rays, cownose rays, and oscillate river rays float past guests with fluidity and grace in a view new to SeaWorld. Elaborate lighting, sound and rushing waterfalls further will submerge guests into the experience. The exhibit will feature an exterior lagoon and 10 aquariums.

The coaster vehicles were designed to give riders the sensation of gliding, swooping and diving up to 56 mph, through four inversions on 3,359 feet of track, moving from sky to water — so close at times that the Manta’s wings skim the waves. The tip of the ride vehicle actually will splash into the water.

Ride designer and manufacturer, Bolliger & Mabillard, of Switzerland, is the same company that designed and built Kraken at SeaWorld and SheiKra at Busch Gardens. Manta will share the smoothness those coasters are known for, Couceiro said.

“It will be extremely smooth,” he said. But then he added, “It’s meant to appeal to a lot of folks, but it is not a tame ride.”

Information & Image courtesy of Orlando Sentinel

SeaWorld Orlando is preparing to build a new roller coaster attraction billed as the most ambitious and largest single investment for any SeaWorld attraction.

The ride will be part thrill ride and part animal attraction — combining those elements for the pre-show queue line, the ride itself and the-post-show, said Joseph Couceiro, vice president of sales and marketing for SeaWorld’s parent company, Busch Entertainment Corp. He and other company executives revealed their plan tonight to a gathering of travel industry and community VIPs dining at SeaWorld for Busch’s kick-off gala for two other big new attractions — Aquatica in Orlando and Jungala in Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
Few other details of the new coaster have been disclosed — not even a name.
The coaster is set to open some time in 2009.

“What it’s going to be is the next generation SeaWorld attraction,” Couceiro said. “What we do well is connect the world with the sea, presenting marine life in totally different perspectives. Also what we do well is put the guest in the midst of that. This is the next generation of that.”

He and other officials were reluctant to call the ride a roller coaster, though they said it would have roller coaster components. They said the attraction will combine entertainment with education about marine life.
“It’s going to have animal components, marine life components. It will have a very unique, state-of-the-art ride, a roller coaster if you will, that will provide a sensation of gliding,” Couceiro said. “And the combination of the animals and the ride is what makes it special.”
SeaWorld began clearing land for construction this winter. The ride will go into the area formerly occupied by a flamingo habitat exhibit, a backyard habitat exhibit, other small exhibits and a gift shop.
Information courtesy of Orlando Sentinel
Image courtesy of Tampa Tribune

Central Florida theme parks’ new attractions — unveiled each year to welcome summer visitors — are like a red carpet rolled out for fun. For 2008, highlights include a whole new water park, a new wildlife area at another park, and a prize giveaway and a new interactive attraction at yet another.

SeaWorld Orlando’s new water park, Aquatica, is on International Drive, across the street from SeaWorld. The 59-acre playground is themed to the South Seas islands with crystal rivers, grottoes, waterfalls, rich greenery, flowers and exotic fauna, including macaws and kookaburras. Aquatica offers animal encounters, serene and extreme water experiences, high-speed thrills and a white sand beach. Water — 3.3 million gallons of it — flows freely in lagoons, rivers and racing rides.

Attractions include two wave pools lined by wide sandy beaches, Adventure River with rapids, Lazy River with a grotto filled with thousands of fish and an underwater view of the Commerson’s dolphins’ habitat, a double raft ride, and an eight-lane racer with a 300-foot slide and tunnels. The park’s signature ride has 300 feet of clear tubes that send visitors speeding through a lagoon filled with black and white Commerson’s dolphins. Other park amenities include a children’s area, family play area, and personal cabanas.

Walt Disney World Resort has extended its Year of a Million Dreams through 2008, with new Disney Dreams Giveaway prizes awarded at random. These include New Year’s Eve in the Cinderella Castle Suite; Disney’s Bahamas private island for a day; a hot-air balloon ride over Epcot; a behind-the-scenes peek at Disney Imagineering; and the chance to serve as grand marshal leading the parks’ parades in France, California, Hong Kong and Florida. Another prize is multiple yearly Disney vacations, including a Bahamian voyage on Disney Cruise Line, a tour to China or Australia or other destinations from Adventures By Disney, and trips to Disneyland and Disney World. The winner of this prize — he or she can take up to three guests — will take one trip a year through Sept. 30, 2012.

Also new at Disney World, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, formerly Disney-MGM, has a whole set of attractions this year. Arguably the most exciting of these is the interactive competition of Toy Story Mania! opening May 31. Inspired by Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story films, visitors to the attraction begin by donning 3-D glasses, boarding the ride and zipping into a series of midway-style games hosted by many Toy Story characters including Woody, Hamm and Rex. Inside Andy’s Toy Box, visitors try to rack up the most points by using spring-action shooters to launch darts at balloons, eggs at barnyard targets and rings at aliens.

Other new attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios include Block Party Bash, an interactive parade debuting in spring with Disney-Pixar film characters including The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2. Playhouse Disney Live on Stage! reopened in February with a new cast of characters including favorite stars from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Little Einsteins and Handy Manny. High School Musical 2: School’s Out! comes to life in the park’s streets on a traveling stage, and the Meet and Greet character setting in the park’s Animation Courtyard welcomes Handy Manny, in addition to regulars Jo Jo and Goliath, and the Little Einsteins.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has a new wildlife area: Jungala. The new observation area allows visitors multiple ways to see such animals as orangutans and white tigers in a jungle setting. Located in the park’s Congo area, Jungala has waterways, a waterfall, and village and jungle environments. Jungala also includes a family fun section with rides and exploration areas, some of the latter being three stories high and overlooking the wildlife. In addition to close-up viewing of wildlife, Jungala offers interaction with animals and features street entertainment.

While theme park fans all over the country await the debut in 2009 of the Harry Potter environment within Universal’s Islands of Adventure Park, Universal Studios unveils Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride… Starring You. This attraction, which replaces Earthquake, combines the drama of Earthquake with new celebrity talent, new ride elements, interactive components and a new storyline.

Also at Universal Orlando is a new simulator ride based on The Simpsons. It replaces the park’s Back To The Future ride.

Cypress Gardens Adventure Park has announced a series of concerts and special events for spring and summer. Among the special family-friendly happenings is Kidzpalooza now through June 22, with dozens of interactive activities, shows, concerts and parties. Kids can get messy in the park’s super-sloppy game show Gunk’d. Other special events include Celebrate America, June 27-Aug. 3, with daytime entertainment, exhibits and shows and evening live music, street performers and a nightly laser show. Wild Encounters (Aug. 8-10, 12-17, and 22-24) features close-up opportunities with animals and educational events such as keeper talks, animal experts and celebrities from Animal Planet, as well as backstage tours not regularly offered.

Information courtesy of South Florida Sun-Sentinel

High above International Drive, Wet ‘n Wild patrons prepare to slide down the water park’s newly revamped Black Hole attraction. Along its 500-foot plummet, they might encounter strobes, lasers, a shimmering water wall and sudden changes in temperature before splashing down.

But even if those riders immediately return to the top, they’re not likely to have the same experience. That’s because the ride’s special effects now occur in random sequences, one of the newest techniques used by theme parks and attractions to lure customers back for a second — or third — round.

“Theme parks have figured out that the real money is in the repeat visitors — getting people to come back and do the ride again and again,” said Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider, a Web site devoted to theme parks. “The way to do that is either create something that’s just so incredible and amazing that people can’t ever get enough of it — or change it around so that it’s different next time,” he said.

The forerunner of the ever-changing rides is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Built in 1994, it entered multiple-personality mode five years ago when random sequencing was introduced to its 13-story plunges.Variable factors include ride time, drop length and air time. Since then, advances in technology have encouraged theme-park companies to create more attractions with user options and fluid features.

At the Wet ‘n Wild ride — now called The Black Hole: The Next Generation — riders select one of two slides, each with different effects and sequences. Technology developed since Black Hole debuted 10 years ago can help keep it fresh, said David Wright, director of marketing for the park. “We have the ability to continually program the lights and the effects,” he said. “We could change the sequencing [again].”

Toy Story Mania, a computerized shooting-gallery-style attraction now in previews at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, was designed with repeat business in mind, said Imagineer Chrissie Allen, a producer for the ride.In the new 3-D ride, players launch virtual objects (darts, baseballs, cream pies) toward targets that appear on screens. It makes guests feel as though they’ve been shrunk to toy size to play five pint-sized arcade games.

The scoring system appears, but a video-game staple known as Easter eggs — hidden or secret bonus targets — can catapult a player’s score. “You’ll discover things each time you play,” Allen said. “It gives you a higher level of challenge each time you come back and play. We have team members who haven’t found all of them yet, and they’ve been riding hundreds of times,” she said. “We think that’s going to be a really big selling point for the ride.”

“The way we amuse ourselves is in flux”, said Niles of Theme Park Insider. “The consumer-entertainment model has changed over the past generation from passive entertainment such as movies and TV to more active entertainment like video games and the Web,” he said. “So it makes sense that the theme-park industry would react to that and start introducing rides that incorporate a little bit more active technology.”

Universal Studios will tap into the trend of personalized entertainment with a roller coaster set to open next spring. Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit will feature traditional hills and spills but also permit riders to pick their own soundtracks and create music videos of the experience. They’ll be able to download those videos for use on their personal Web sites.

“It really came from the trend in youth culture of being able to customize their world — whether it’s music selections to what they watch on television to what they carry around with them for entertainment,” said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative for Universal Parks & Resorts. “It’s important, in our thinking, to be able to transform the ride experience to that next generation, really the YouTube generation,” he said.

“Technology will improve. There’s a reason why

Grand Theft Auto IV looks, feels, acts and behaves much differently from Pong or Breakout or early-generation video games,” Niles said. “You’re going to see the same type of development within the theme-park industry,” he said. “I don’t know if it will happen quite as impressively, quite as quickly as it did with video games. But you’re definitely going to see growth and change.”

Information courtesy of Orlando Sentinel

The Simpsons Ride,” based on the long-running animated television series, officially opened Thursday at the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.

The attraction features original animation starring cast members Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and guest star Kelsey Grammer. Universal said riders are swept into Krustyland, Krusty the clown’s new theme park, just as maniacal Sideshow Bob escapes from prison and takes control of the park to exact his revenge on Krusty and the Simpson family.

“Hand-picked by Krusty to be the first to ride his newest attraction, you are thrust into the middle of the action,” the theme park said.

“I take with all due sense of mission and humility the opportunity to spray water and spritz baby powder at Universal patrons,” “Simpsons” executive producer James L. Brooks said in a statement.

“For 20 years I’ve been dreaming about this, and here it is — a wild, thrilling Simpsons Ride put together by a huge number of talented artists and amusement-park maniacs,” added “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening. “We have created the ultimate Simpsons experience,” said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative.

Information courtesy of United Press International

Cypress Gardens has opened the attraction’s Splash Island water park, launched a new Web site and prepared for a series of concerts as its new owners and management dig in for their first summer season together.

The five Splash Island attractions, which are included with a park admission, opened last Thursday at the Winter Haven theme park.

Live entertainment begins today with the launch of Latin Fest 2008, featuring headliners Carlos Oliva, Ismael Miranda and Tito Nieves this weekend. Later this month, the park is bringing in Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Standard park admission is $39.95 for adults and $34.95 for children ages 3-9 or seniors age 60 or older. However, discount Cypress Garden Tickets are available.

Founded in 1936, the park has struggled against competition from the giant theme parks in recent decades. It was purchased last September for $17 million through a bankruptcy auction by South Adventures LLC of Mulberry. Baker Leisure Group, an Orlando-based theme-park planning and operations firm, took over management in January.

Information courtesy of Orlando Sentinel

Wheel spinner Vanna White was in Orlando yesterday, mostly at SeaWorld Orlando, as Wheel of Fortune prepares to bring its show to SeaWorld in December.

An advance promotional team for Wheel of Fortune is in town shooting teasers and background segments, starring White, at locations around SeaWorld, Aquatica and Central Florida in general over the next few days.

White and Pat Sajac will host 20 shows to be taped in front of live audiences at SeaWorld in December, to be aired in 2009. Wheel of Fortune is one of the most popular and long-running syndicated game shows in TV history. White and Sajac have starred together on the show since 1983.

The show also plans to promote other Orlando locations to illustrate a broad range of Central Florida experiences, and, with help from the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, will be filming spots at Winter Park shops, cafes and galleries, the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes resort and Harry P. Leu Gardens, according to a Wheel of Fortune press release. (There are no plans for the crew to visit Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando.)

At SeaWorld, White will be featured swimming with beluga whales, interacting with sea lions and coming face-to-face with Shamu the killer whale.

Information courtesy of Orlando Sentinel

As the school year draws to a close, parents everywhere are gearing up for the family summer vacation. If your family is among the many visitors headed to Disneyworld this summer, even adults may need a few pointers from a class like “Kid Tourism 101” before tackling Kissimmee and Orlando, Florida, the areas best known as home to Walt Disney World.

1) Always have a small backpack for each day’s adventure. Pack band-aids, sun block, bug spray, camera, wet wipes, and some light snacks. Always have some water bottles or juice. The hot summer sun in Kissimmee, Florida makes for thirsty tourists of all ages.

2) If traveling with children still in diapers, pack more diapers than a usual day’s supply.

3)When entering the Orlando theme parks, make sure the children have a note tucked in a pocket with the child’s name, adult’s cell phone, Orlando lodging information, license plate with make and color of car, and any medical information. Lost children happen and this info will speed up unification!

4) Kids 3 to 5 years old might balk at the thought of riding in a stroller, but by 2:00 pm wherever you are in Kissimmee or Orlando, a stroller will be welcome!

5) If you have traveled from another time zone, remember a child takes longer to adjust to the time difference. Be patient. Also, remember the need for naps never takes a vacation. Allow down time for children each afternoon.

6) Theme parks are not all there is to do in Kissimmee and Orlando, Florida! Most non-Florida children would love to see an alligator or two. Take them to Scenic Eco Tours for an hour long boat tour of Lake Tohopekaliga. On the northern end of the lake is Mackinson Island which is great hiking territory. The island is only accessible by boat.

7) If your kids are orange juice lovers, let them see and taste the real thing by visiting Ivey Groves Fresh Citrus off Boggy Creek Road just off the Florida Turnpike. A tram ride through the groves is followed by samples of Florida’s best known export: orange juice!

8) Kids of all ages love Downtown Disney. From seeing the Lego creations in the lake to getting misted at the Rainforest Cafe, the kids will enjoy the sights and sounds. There is no fee to walk around, but some of the restaurants have long wait times. Early dinners are advised. The parking is free.

9) Don’t forget about spending time at the pool. Look for Orlando vacation homes and Kissimmee villas for rent with private pools or large resort pool areas.Sometimes two hours in the pool with mom or dad are really the vacation moments that children will remember long after they leave the land of theme parks.

10) If the resort community where you are staying is quite large, take the kids for a walking tour. The best Florida vacation memories are often closer than you think!

The perfect family vacation to Disneyworld starts with deciding whether to stay in Orlando or Kissimmee, Florida. For the best value, choose a Disneyworld condo rental or vacation villa in Kissimmee, FL, which is actually home to many vacation resort communities. Multiple rooms in one unit are more affordable than paying for multiple hotel rooms at the Disney World Resort, especially when traveling with Grandparents or another family.

After tiring of tired children, Mom and Dad will also thank themselves for the separate sleeping quarters, additional space to spread out, and also enjoy added savings by cooking family meals. As an added bonus, many Orlando Florida Resorts have a private pool and hot tub, or enjoy the shared recreation facilities at many of the Disney vacation resort communities.

Information courtesy of TransWorldNews