Welcome to the December Newsletter
Hi Subscriber, welcome to the December 2009 newsletter of the Florida Review & Travel Guide.
Plenty of Florida news this month including Florida mentions in the THEA awards and Condé Nast, a new simulator ride at Epcot, special deals at Gatorland and Universal Studios for Florida residents and a new breed of mobile phone applications to beat the queues at Walt Disney World.
Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Awards
TEA have announced their latest series of "Thea Awards" and amongst them are two Florida theme parks.
One of the attractions awarded for "outstanding achievement" was Toy Story Mania at both Disney's California Adventure and Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. The Thea committee rated Toy Story Mania for its innovation, broad audience appeal and ease of learning as well as accessibility.
Disaster! at Universal Studios, Orlando also won an award for "attraction rehab". The old Earthquake ride has been transformed through innovative technology and creative surprises and features a holographic projection of the actor Christopher Walken.
Space Mountain Rehab
Talking of rehabs, the indoor roller coaster, Space Mountain, at Disney's Magic Kingdom has re-opened after a seven month rehab.
Unlike the two year rebuild of it's sister ride at Disney's California Adventure, the make-over at Magic Kingdom is less radical. The wait area has been updated with 87 video games, the tracks have been re-calibrated to make the ride quieter and smoother and the interior has been darkened to make the ride less predictable.
In California the ride was transformed with a new track and next-generation ride vehicles with on-board audio.
Gatorland Florida Residents Discounts
Gatorland have re-introduced their Florida Residents discounts between November 20 and December 13. Instead of $22.99, an adult ticket will cost $14.99 plus tax and a child ticket $9.99 plus tax instead of $14.99. Seniors can also gain admission for $9.99 plus tax.
At the same time Gatorland have also relaunched their Gator Jumparoo show.
Universal Florida Residents Discounts
Over at Universal Studios, Florida residents can purchase online a Holiday Pass for $89.99 plus tax or $79.99 plus tax with special discount coupons from Coca-Cola, Sprite or Firehouse Subs.
The Holiday Pass is valid between December 5 and January 31, 2010 and allows you unlimited access to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure with no blackout dates. Tickets must be purchased by January 3, 2010.
During this time you can see Grinchmas at Universal's Islands of Adventure, the Macy's Holiday Parade and the various concerts.
Record Breaking Cruise Ships
Some of the world's largest cruise ships have started operating out of Florida in recent months.
The Royal Caribbean "Oasis of the Seas" is the world's biggest cruise ship at 225,000 tons. She will be based at Port Everglades, Fort Launderdale. The Oasis is 1,200 feet long, with 2,700 cabins accommodating 5,400 passengers.
Spread over 16 decks, it boasts four swimming pools, an ice-rink, two rock walls, both an indoor and outdoor theatre, a park called Central Park with over 12,000 trees and shrubs and no less than 24 restaurants.
Another recent arrival is the Carnival "Dream", home to 3,800 passengers and based out of Port Canaveral. At just over 1,000 feet long and weighing in a 130,000 tons, she is the largest of the Carnival fleet.
The Dream features three swimming pools, a miniature golf course and a water park including a two-lane water slide.
Theme Park Revenues
All the Florida theme parks have continued to suffer in the current economic climate but there are signs of a slow recovery.
Busch Entertainment Corporation, owners of SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Aquatica and Discovery Cove in Florida reported a 3.8 percent drop on earnings in the third quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008.
In comparison, during the same period, revenues at Universal Orlando dropped by about 14 percent.
Though revenue climbed by 4 percent and profits at the Walt Disney Company overall increased by 18 percent, revenue at the Disney parks fell by 4 percent in the same period. Disney have reported that guest spending has decreased and the take up at the Disney Vacation Club has slowed. Disney has also been discounting their inclusive resort packages with offers of free nights and free dining in a bid to increase visitor numbers.
Look out for deals as all the parks struggle to boost visitor numbers.
Latest Hotel Deals
This month we have found over 100 Florida deals at BookingWiz.
This month's top deals include round trip airfares to Orlando from the North East USA from $139, a budget hotel in Miami from less than $40 a night including free wifi and a 3 night package including flights deal to the Florida Keys for just over $500.
- Air - $162+ Cheap fares to Fort Lauderdale (round-trip) (expires 12/31/2009) .... Major Airlines
- Hotel - $105+ Florida Keys hotel w/tennis & watersports (expires 12/31/2009) .... Banana Bay Resort & Marina
- Hotel - $109+ Elegant Orlando family resort across from SeaWorld (expires 12/31/2009) .... Marriott Hotels
- Hotel - $124+ Daytona Beach weekend escape w/brkfst & pool (expires 12/31/2009) .... Marriott Hotels
- Hotel - $169/nt+ Private island getaway w/upgrade & brkfst in Miami (expires 12/31/2009) .... Perfect Escapes
[UPDATE - Please note these deals have now expired]
This is just a small sample. To see the rest of the great deals and more on our late deals page, click here
During November, petrol prices have fallen slightly and average pump prices in Orlando are down 5 cents on last month at around $2.68 a gallon for regular.
You can always find the latest pump prices at GasPriceWatch.com
TravelZoo Weekly Newsletter
Have you heard of the TravelZoo weekly top 20 deals newsletter? By signing up to their free newsletter, you receive their top 20 holiday deals each and every week with cheap flights, cruises and ferries, rail tickets, car hire, hotels and villas, tours and packages and last minute deals.
Each week, TravelZoo sift through 1000s of internet offers to bring you the best deals, no matter where you live.
$299 -- Weeklong Stay at Orlando Resort Near Disney-- As seen on Travelzoo's Top 20
Condé Nast Traveler 2009 Readers' Choice Awards
The annual Readers' Choice Awards from Condé Nast features some favourite Florida destinations and resorts.
When it comes to United States islands, Kiawah Island in South Carolina took the top spot with Amelia Island near Jacksonville ranked fourth and Sanibel Island in South West Florida ranked ninth in the top ten.
The top US hotel was the 21C Museum hotel in Louisville. Six of Florida's hotels made it into the top 100, all but one in the Miami area with The Setai, Miami Beach at 30, Sagamore, Miami Beach at 41, Four Seasons Hotel, Miami at 59, Mandarin Oriental, Miami at 62, Casa Monica Hotel, St. Augustine at 83 and Ritz-Carlton South Beach, Miami Beach at 89.
In the large US Resorts category, Kiawah Island featured again with the Santuary at Kiawah Island polling the most votes. The highest placed Florida resort was The Breakers, Palm Beach at 16.
In total, Florida took a commendable 13 of the top 100 positions with the Ritz-Carlton group grabbing six of those slots. Three of Disney's Walt Disney World resorts were placed with Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge at 43, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at 44 and Disney's Boardwalk Inn Resort at 70.
The Disney Cruise Line came second behind Celebrity in the Mega-Cruise line category with Cunard in third place, Princess fourth and Royal Caribbean fifth.
With the surge in popularity of smart phone applications (apps) and web enabled phones, it is natural that companies should start producing apps and web sites that will give you information on the theme parks and in particular real time queue lengths for all your favourite attractions.
If you are visiting Walt Disney World then there are several ways that you can get real time updates on wait times and Fast Pass availability without having to physically go to the attractions or in-park information boards.
To start with these applications relied purely on other guests using the same app to provide the latest information but now some of the major players have thrown their weight behind the whole idea.
Disney Mobile Magic App
Disney themselves have announced their own "Mobile Magic App" which can be purchased for $9.99 for a 180 day subscription. However, it only works on Verizon Wireless mid-range phones and excludes some of the latest generation smart phones like the Apple iPhone.
Mobile Magic gives details on many topics including attractions, characters, dining, transportation, shopping, guest services and today's events for each park.
On the attractions menu it displays a miniature map with a range of topics including lists of which rides have Fast Passes available, attractions where the wait time is less than 30 minutes as well as details of the times of parades, shows and fireworks, character experiences and suggestions for different types of rides based on your specific requirements.
Non Verizon Wireless customers can access some very basic information through the new mobile Disney web site at m.disneyworld.com using any browser-enabled phone but there is no detail of estimated wait times or Fast Passes.
A rival to Disney is TouringPlans.com (publishers of the Unofficial Guides) and they have released an app called "Lines" which will give you estimated wait times, single rider wait times if applicable and Fast Pass availability for the four main parks as well as opening/closing times and Extra Magic Hours.
At the moment, the app is free to all members of TouringPlans (basic free subscription or paid premium subscription) and it will work on any browser-enabled phone.
Using their vast historical database and statistical models, Lines is said to predict more accurate wait times (both at the current time and later in the day) and it will also predict when all the Fast Passes will be gone.
So far all of these applications only work for Walt Disney World but it is likely other similar apps will appear in the future for the other major theme parks including Universal Orlando and SeaWorld.
For more information on both these Mobile Theme Park applications and others, click here
PassPorter Walt Disney World 2010 Deluxe Book Review
The PassPorter Walt Disney World 2010 Deluxe: The Unique Travel Guide, Planner, Organizer, Journal, and Keepsake!
book is not like other books. It combines a planner where you can plan out your itinerary, an organiser to keep everything together when you visit Walt Disney World, a journal to record your activities and impressions and a keepsake to show your family on your return.
It comes in two versions, the deluxe loose leaf edition and the cheaper but slightly less versatile standard spiral bound edition. Now in its 12th edition, both are published on December 1, 2009. They are written by husband and wife team Jennifer Marx and Dave Marx and their daughter Allison Cerel Marx.
The Deluxe edition
of the PassPorter Walt Disney World is much like a Filofax in that it comes in a padded 6-ring embossed, brown leather-look vinyl binder which means you can add, rearrange and remove pages at will.
You can also download additional content and updates from the PassPorter website and add extra PassPockets. The binder itself also has 10 interior slots for storing maps, ID cards, tickets etc, a pen (included) and a place to personalise the binder.
The Standard edition
costs just over half the price of the Deluxe edition and folds flat with an elastic band to keep the whole thing securely closed. It is not quite as flexible but like the deluxe edition, it has a number of organiser PassPockets into which you can insert various things such as tickets, maps, receipts, to do lists etc. It also has a place to record character autographs to save buying a separate autograph book.
You can also buy the PassPorter Walt Disney World as a Deluxe Refill Kit
(pre-drilled looseleaf text) to insert into your existing Deluxe ring binder. This means if you are a keen Disney fan who visits Walt Disney World on a regular basis, then you can just buy new inserts each year rather than buying the book and the binder.
To read a complete review of PassPorter Walt Disney World 2010, click here
Disney have unveiled a new ride at Epcot called the "Sum Of All Thrills". Powered by a KUKA RoboSim 4-D Simulator robotic arm, guests get to design their own ride before actually riding in the simulator. The ride can be found at Innoventions East.
Using mathematical tools, an innovative touch-screen and a robotic simulator, guests can design the ride to simulate a number of different genres including roller coasters, bobsleds and jet airplanes. You can include features such as corkscrews, inversions and steep climbs.
Sponsored by Raytheon, these kind of 6-axis KUKA robotic arms are more usually found in car factories but in the Disney ride, the end of the arm encloses a two person pod with a high definition video and stereo sound system.
There are eight design stations where you can put together your dream ride. Once you have completed your design, it can be stored on a card which you can then use for up to six months to ride one of the four robotic simulator arms.
Though it is the first such kind of ride in Orlando, it is rumoured that Universal Orlando may be planning similar technology for their showcase The Forbidden Journey of Harry Potter ride at the upcoming Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park due to open in 2010. However, in the Universal ride, it is likely there will be multiple simulators attached to a moving track rather than be fixed as in the Sum Of All Thrills.
For more information on Disney's Epcot, click here
Free Monthly Desktop Wallpaper
December 2009 and January 2010 desktop wallpaper calendars
The free Florida desktop wallpaper calendars are now available in widescreen format as well as standard format so if you have a widescreen monitor you can now download a new widescreen calendar.
Free desktop calendars for December 2009 (Pinewood Estate at Bok Tower) and January 2010 (Bird at Discovery Cove) are ready to download now.
Note that some of the larger files can be up to 600k in size so if you are on a modem dialup line it will take a few minutes to download.
To view and then download the Florida free desktop wallpaper for December or January now, click here
Also don't forget if you are looking for inspiration on what to do on your Florida vacation, why not take advantage of our collection of free brochures where you will find information on many activities including golfing vacations, eco-tours, scuba diving and Caribbean cruises.Read more...
If you get the opportunity to visit Florida during the Christmas (Holiday) season, then you are in for a treat. Most of the theme parks kick off their Christmas festivities immediately after Thanksgiving in late November and most continue until the first week in January.
A lot of the celebrations are included in the normal theme park ticket price so you can enjoy the extra entertainment at no extra charge. The only exception is the night time Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom which is by separate ticket admission.
Even if you are not visiting the theme parks, there is still plenty to enjoy with Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, float parades, carollers, music concerts and lighted boat parades in many towns throughout Florida.
Though it is rare for much snow to fall in Florida, there is plenty of opportunity to see snow at a number of special events including Disney's town Celebration. There is also the amazing ICE! at Gaylord Palms attraction in Orlando where nearly two million pounds of ice are carved into spectacular scenes.
Of course if you are able to stay until January, then you also have all the exciting New Year's Eve parties and celebrations to look forward to as well.
The theme parks will be quiet in the first couple of weeks of December but then they will get very busy around Christmas and New Year.
Temperatures in December look like being normal for the time of year except in the Western part of the Panhandle where temperatures could be below normal. Across the whole of Florida you can expect above average rainfall.
In the north around Pensacola and Jacksonville, the month will start with some occasional rain with daytime temperatures in the low 50s to mid 70s. Overnight temperatures could drop as low as the high 30s.
Across the Central region, the weather outlook is similar but warmer. Temperatures will be in the high 60s/low 80s during the day, dropping to high 40s/mid 60s over night.
Down in Miami and the Keys, there will be more sunshine but also some humidity. Temperatures will be in the mid 70s/mid 80s during the day and low 60s/low 70s overnight.
To check out the rest of the weather for all of Florida including a live weather map, monthly temperature and rainfall charts across the State and the latest hurricane news, click here
This month, the latest editions of PassPorter's Walt Disney World 2010 hit the book shelves (see review above) plus the annual Mobil Florida guide.
Florida December Book list
- PassPorter's Walt Disney World 2010 Deluxe: The Unique Travel Guide, Planner, Organizer, Journal, and Keepsake! by Jennifer Marx, Dave Marx and Allison Cerel Marx
- PassPorter's Walt Disney World 2010: The Unique Travel Guide, Planner, Organizer, Journal, and Keepsake! by Jennifer Marx, Dave Marx and Allison Cerel Marx
- Mobil Florida Regional Guide 2010
- The Imagineering Field Guide to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World--Updated! by Alex Wright
- City Streets: Orlando All Entertainment Map Laminated by American Map
- Family Values in the Old South
- Rand Mcnally Pensacola
- Florida (Traveller Guides)
- Four Florida Moderns: The Architecture of Albert E. Alfonso, René González, Chad Oppenheim, and Guy Peterson by Saxon Henry
- Camping Florida: A Comprehensive Guide to Hundreds of Campgrounds by Rick Sapp
- Day Trips from Orlando, 3rd edition: Getaway Ideas for the Local Traveler by John Kumiski
- Open Road's Best of Walt Disney World & Orlando by Lisa Addison
We plan to bring you a newsletter on the first day of each month with details of upcoming events and news from across Florida.
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