Don’t expect to avoid Cypress Gardens’ crowds by sneaking in an early weekday visit in September — the park won’t be open.

The Winter Haven theme park plans to limit its September park schedule to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, park officials said.

“We’re just trying this September to focus on our weekends,” said Haley Kish, a spokeswoman for Cypress Gardens Adventure Park.

Kish said it is typical for smaller parks to reduce their operating hours in September to reduce costs and improve revenue.

“This is just feeling it out,” Kish said. “A lot of theme parks go dark in September.”

For now, the reduction in operations will be contained to September, although it could be extended, depending on park attendance.

Kish didn’t know what, if any, accommodations would be made during September for the 450 to 500 employees who work at the park.

But to make up for the shorter schedule, the Gardens will have bigger events and concerts, she said. And while officials said haven’t officially announced the definitive plans are, expect to see events involving extreme sports and another with members of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“We have a jam-packed event schedule,” Kish said.

Last year, former owner Kent Buescher developed “Garden Days,” which was not successful. It allowed visitors to purchase a reduced priced ticked for a tour of the botanical gardens, along with various shows and animal exhibits on a limited basis.

During that month, the park’s attendance was between 50 and 200 people a day.

And for a park that had an on-duty staff of 200, it didn’t make economic sense, Kish said.

The reduction is one of several moves Mulberry-based Land South Holdings has made since its partners, Brain Philpot and Robert Harper IV, purchased the park last October from Buescher.

Shortly after the purchase, ticket, parking and food prices were reduced. And in January, Land South contracted with Orlando-based Baker Leisure Group to oversee the park’s daily operations.

Philpot and Harper bought the oldest theme park in the state for $16.8 million at a bankruptcy auction in Macon, Ga.

Information courtesy of The Florida Ledger

Ripley’s Entertainment Inc. is putting its famed fertility statues back on the road. The company says the statues – which came from Africa’s Ivory Coast in 1994 – are linked to more than 2,000 pregnancies.

The phenomenon started in the mid-1990s when 13 staffers and visitors at Ripley’s headquarters conceived children within a few months of the statues’ arrival. Even the UPS delivery woman got pregnant, said Tom O’Brien, the company’s vice-president of communications.
The carvings, which depict male and female gods, made three tours of the world. They were retired to the Ripley warehouse in 2001, but were put on display at the company’s Orlando headquarters due to demand.
From Aug. 26 to Oct. 26, the statues will be in the lobby of the Times Square Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium in New York City. They will also spend a month at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums in Grand Prairie, Texas and Williamsburg, Va., and will travel to Ripley’s Museum in Branson, Mo., for the start of 2009.
Embark on an epicurean adventure at the 13th Annual Epcot® International Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World, which proudly showcases the flavors of the world. Explore marketplaces featuring regional foods, wines, and beers. Learn from renowned chefs and winemakers at special programs and demonstrations, and sample the finest cuisine from around the globe. Enjoy the Eat to the Beat concert series, presenting a steller line-up of popular musical acts. And sample the finest cuisine from around the globe!For more information, visit the hub at the Festival Welcome Center, where you’ll also find the Festival Wine Shop, the Wonders Bar for champagne and wine, and the official book-signing location for celebrity chefs and authors. Venture inside the Stockpot shop and check out its marvelous merchandise, including the marketplace cookbook and a special festival edition of the Disney Gift Cards, which provides a handy way to pay for so much fun at the Festival!

Dates: September 26, 2008 – November 9, 2008

International Marketplaces
Epcot® Park
Sample the authentic flavors of over 25 countries and regions as you take a tasty stroll through World Showcase.

Special Exhibits
Epcot® Park
Explore fascinating cultural exhibits that feature fabulous cuisine and wines. Meet chefs and artisans and see instructive culinary demonstrations from countries and regions throughout the world.

Eat to the Beat Concert Series
Epcot® Park
Chill to the sounds of your favorite musical acts live on stage at this nightly concert series.

Special Wine & Culinary Programs
Epcot® Park
Satisfy the gourmet within you at these exceptional dining experiences complete with delicious food, fine wine and great company.

Festival Dining Experiences
Epcot® Park and select Resorts
Indulge in these sumptuous premium dining events prepared by some of the finest chefs in the world.

Fun for Families
Epcot® Park
Bring epicureans of all ages to these activities and exhibits that offer fun for the entire family and the discovery of great flavors from around the world.

Information & Image courtesy of Walt Disney World

Outside the Royal Palm Theater at Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, a brightly dressed gardener and butterfly collector greets visitors and encourages them to enter the theater’s air-conditioned comfort.

Come show time, he strides inside, greets his audience again, and a curtain rises to reveal a three-figure topiary vaguely reminiscent of the ones at the theme park’s Topiary Trail. He sprinkles sparkling dust on the three topes and they magically come to life to perform a mixture of tumbling, ballet, mime, contortions and physical comedy.
In it, Alena Gergay uses rings to simulate a plant’s stalk growing upward and its leaves stretching out. A contortionist uses her body to depict the unfolding blossoms of a flower. Sergay Sergeev is the cascading growth of a series of vines as he tumbles across the stage.
Or not. Maybe Gergay’s rings or the contortions suggest the metamorphosis of a chrysalis to a butterfly or Sergeev’s movement is that of a stream with a waterfall. Only their impresario/waterer really knows.
The brightly dressed gardener Commedia Bottanica – “please don’t call him a clown; it has a scary connotation in America” – is a creation of Iouri Kreis, a Moscow-born and educated circus performer and talent agent who has lived in Winter Haven since performing in a circus acrobatics troup called The Akishins’ “Variety Internationale” show in the pavilion at Cypress Gardens, when it was operated by Busch Entertainment Corporation.
Today, he leads the four-person Cypress Cirque troupe there.
Cypress Cirque’s half-hour show at the Royal Palm continues Thursdays through Sundays through Labor Day, after which the troupe will shift to street performances around the park and mount a holiday-themed show at the Royal Palm in November.
For Kreis, who has worked for Disney parks and Universal Orlando since the Akishins’ show closed in 1994, it is a return to working at the place that drew him to emigrate from Russia and ultimately settle in Winter Haven, where he owns a home about a half mile from the park.
“I had performed here when Mr. Busch owned Cypress Gardens,” he says. “So when the park’s managers wanted me to contract a group to perform as part of New Year’s Eve, I was excited about coming back. And when what we did was well enough received that one of the managers said it would be good if what we did could be presented as a show in the theater, I quickly said, ‘I have an idea.'”
His perspective working for the larger parks had kicked in.
“Universal has its film stars. Disney has Mickey Mouse. Cypress Gardens needs someone to express who it is.”
That someone is Commedia, a cirque ringmaster who presents his performers in the context of the gardens’ signature nature themes. The troupe consists of father and daughter Sergeev and Alena Sergay; Odentuya Munkhbold, Uugantuya Otgonbayar and Khongorzul Tseyenoidov, three Mongolian contortionists who alternate performances among them.
“It is a European-style cirque set in old Florida,” Kreis says.
Information & Image courtesy of The Florida Ledger

For 25 years, the Magic Kingdom in the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, has hosted the southeast’s premier Christian music event – Night of Joy.

Over those years, more than one million attendees have experienced a weekend of uplifting music and heart-pounding thrill rides – including Mercy Me frontman Bart Milliard.

“Back in the ’90’s, I was a youth minister at a church in Lakeland (Florida),” says Milliard. “I’d bring the youth group out to Night of Joy. For us to be playing in front of the Castle is like a dream come true.”

dcTalk was one of the acts Milliard and his youth group would watch perform. Now, Milliard and MercyMe share the line-up with dcTalk member tobyMac.

But Cinderella’s Castle won’t be the backdrop for this year’s MercyMe performance. Night of Joy is moving to a new home at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

“The Studios”, as it is nicknamed, claims the most concert and show venues in the Florida Disney World empire and is home to the popular thrill rides Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and The Twilight Zone(TM) Tower of Terror. The only major new ride to open this year at Walt Disney World, Toy Story Midway Mania, should also be in operation.

Concerts will take place at three stage locations – Lights, Motors, Action Theater, Premier Theater, and an event stage erected at the Sorcerer’s Hat.

Here’s the line-up:

Sept. 5Chris Tomlin, MercyMe, Rebecca St. James, BarlowGirl, Matthew West, Rush of Fools, Brandon Heath and Britt Nicole.

Sept. 6Casting Crowns, tobyMac, Fred Hammond, Marcos Witt, Mandisa, Aaron Shust, RED and Pure NRG.

The 2008 acts represent a continuation of Night of Joy’s historic blend of musical talents — from Christian pop and rock to contemporary Gospel, Urban and hip-hop to Praise and Worship. They include the reigning Gospel Music Association‘s artist of the year (Tomlin), group of the year (Casting Crowns) and new artist of the year (Shust).

One-night tickets purchased in advance are $44.95 ($49.94 at the gate, if available). Advance two-night tickets are available for $75.95. Individual tickets can be purchased by calling 407/W-DISNEY or by visiting Youth groups of 10 or more can purchase tickets by visiting or by calling 877/648-3569. Recent years have witnessed sell-outs so guests are encouraged to buy tickets early.

Information courtesy of Rock the Cross

In a city known for its theme parks, Orlando visitors can enjoy a month-long culinary thrill ride at top Central Florida restaurants. This September, the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. (Orlando CVB) and event partner, SYSCO Central Florida, will hold the 3rd Annual “Orlando Magical Dining Month” to showcase Central Florida’s ever-expanding dining universe.

From Sept. 1 – 30, 2008, more than 50 participating restaurants will offer three-course prix-fixe dinners for $19 or $29 (excluding beverage, tax and gratuity), allowing locals and visitors alike to enjoy exceptional values at some of Orlando’s most popular restaurants.
“The dining scene has greatly evolved in Orlando and now is the #2 destination experience for Orlando visitors, just behind theme park attractions,”* said Gary C. Sain, president and CEO of the Orlando CVB. “There are a wide array of offerings at Orlando restaurants from celebrity chef-studded eateries and award-winning establishments to uniquely themed environments and a variety of international cuisine and trendy dining experiences. Orlando Magical Dining Month provides an opportunity to try all of these exceptional culinary experiences for a great value.”
Orlando Magical Dining Month restaurants offer a wide variety of environments and cuisines including:
Emeril’s Tchoup Chop – One of the world’s most celebrated chefs, Emeril Lagasse, blends flavors of Asian and Polynesian cuisine incorporated with his signature bold “kick” of spice in an exotic Pacific Seas environment.
Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Restaurant – First introduced in Honolulu by James Beard-award winner, Chef Roy Yamaguchi, Roy’s has become well-known throughout the world for its Hawaiian Fusion cuisine, featuring the freshest local ingredients, European sauces and bold Asian spices with a focus on seafood.
Graze Restaurant – Familiar American classics take on global tastes at this hot new restaurant, located in trendy Thornton Park. The modern bistro features whole and half orders of such favorites as sea scallops, elk rack, filet mignon, Maine lobster and braised buffalo short ribs.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room –This 1930s supper club-style restaurant features more than 25 types of seafood and shellfish flown in daily from around the world.
“Orlando Magical Dining Month has introduced us to some of our best and most devoted guests,” said Chef Nicholas Shust of Emeril’s Tchoup Chop. “The program gives both locals and those who dine with us while they are visiting Orlando a complete taste of our menu. It’s a remarkable tool for hospitality and turning first time diners into loyal friends.”
The wide range of participants include $29 restaurants such as: Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando, BICE Ristorante, The Boheme, Tommy Bahama Tropical Cafe, Jeffery’s Restaurant, Park Plaza Gardens and Fleming’s Steakhouse and Wine Bar and $19 restaurants such as: Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Taverna Opa, Fifi’s, NASCAR Sports Grille and B.B. King’s Blues Club & Restaurant. More information about Orlando Magical Dining Month and participating establishments is available online at
Orlando Magical Dining Month kicks off three months of special events and offers as part of Orlando’s “Endless Summer” campaign running August 15 – November 15.
Information courtesy of Orlando CVB
Image courtesy of The Oceanaire Seafood Room

The new Simpsons Ride at Universal Orlando Resort has become a popular ride in a time span of less than 3 months. In fact, the ride is so popular it broke Universal’s previous ride record and had 1 million riders in just two months. With so much hype surrounding the new attraction, from both fans and critics alike, I had to go see for myself if the ride was truly a “Cowabunga Dude!” or “Eat My Shorts” experience.

After discovering Krustyland, the base of operations for the new ride, I quickly (or as quick as one can without a Universal Express pass) got a place in line and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Yes, there was a tremendous line for The Simpsons Ride, but this is the general case with any new attraction, so I wasn’t that surprised. Plus, they had flat screen televisions displayed throughout the winding line area so a glimpse of Simpson humor was never too far from the eyes. In addition, there were also fans placed throughout the line area which made the Orlando July heat a little more bearable. By the time I got close to the simulator room, my anticipation was high and I still had nothing but a vague idea of what the ride was actually going to be. Everyone at the park was clamoring to ride it, even more said how great it was, but no one could really explain the ride. After I rode it, I realized why.

Once I reached the end of the line, or the beginning, depending on your perspective, my fellow passengers and I were taken to “simulator” rooms. After entering the room, you climb into an 8 passenger roller-coaster style cart and are safely strapped in. Then, the real fun begins! The virtual reality aspect of the ride truly hits a home run, as I was right there with Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie as they ventured through the fictional theme park of Krustyland. The effect is created by state-of-the-art digital projectors that cover an 80 ft. diameter dome surface with an image four times the standard High Definition found in most home theaters, and twice what you’d experience in a normal digital theater. The cart you are seated in moves, shakes, tilts and turns in accordance with the onscreen movements, producing an innovative and surprising thrill I have not experienced at any other attraction. The way the unique elements of the ride combine is the magic, if you will, that makes The Simpsons Ride popular, and undoubtedly, why it will remain popular.