Avatar Theme Land Coming to Disney World


To Be An Eco or Adventure Land?

James Cameron’s Avatar film saga will become a new land added to Disney World’s Animal Kingdom theme park; construction is scheduled to start in 2013. According to the Disney press release, With its emphasis on living in harmony with nature, Animal Kingdom is a natural fit for the AVATAR stories.

Obviously, I need to endure the first Avatar movie a second time to appreciate the harmony with nature as the main message of the first Avatar film. Seemed to me the Terminator series director’s Avatar with its helicopters and warfare was simply a poorly disguised rehash of old Vietnam war movies. Never did get why this was so popular since it was so predictable and the 3-D, well, it doesn’t match Terminator 2: 3-D, which still impresses audiences at nearby Universal Orlando Studios. Saw that classic again for the first time in years this summer and it’s still just as exciting as when it opened 15 years ago, in 1996.

Suspect the Avatar theme land at Disney World certainly will equal and with latest advances technically surpass Terminator 2: 3-D. As with the Terminator films, Cameron plans a trilogy for Avatar on the planet Pandora. Of course, Cameron is the master of disaster films and Pandora isn’t exactly a name that promises tranquility or—thank all movie gods–the likelihood of Ewok teddy bears or other silly creatures appearing in Avatar 3, as in the original Star Wars 3 (now #6).

Cameron says, “I’m chomping at the bit to start work with Disney’s legendary Imagineers to bring our AVATAR universe to life. Our goal is to go beyond current boundaries of technical innovation and experiential storytelling, and give park goers the chance to see hear, and touch the world of AVATAR with an unprecedented sense of reality.”

Other Avatar’s could follow the opening of Disney World’s, depending on its success. It should be exciting and dynamic, but the idea of this theme land being based mostly on living in harmony with nature—don’t believe it.

Is that something you would want to pay to see?

No specific time yet for Avatar’s Disney World opening.

Until next Monday (or later),


This is a weekly info update to the Orlando Essential Travel Guide for buyers of the app and anyone who discovers this site.

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary-Halloween-Party

Disney World Halloween

Just the name “Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party” perfectly distinguishes it from the better known adult gross-out Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. The Disney Halloween event with nothing very threatening is perfectly suited for young children. It’s actually a giant trick-or-treat party with children encouraged to dress in a costume and accumulate as much candy as they can while wandering through the Magic Kingdom theme park, occasionally encountering Disney characters and villains in their own special Halloween costumes.

Held on select nightsfrom now until Oct. 31, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is a separate ticket event held from 7pm-midnight, which makes this unsuitable for very young kids since they are likely to fall asleep by 9pm.

The admission gradually increases on dates closer to Halloween. The most expensive tickets are $62.95 + tax for adults and $57.95 + tax for kids 3-9. Discounts are offered for most nights when tickets are purchased in advance online. (Only in theme parks do children become adults at age 10, which probably is the upper age range before kids outgrow this.)

Some of the special attractions at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party include:

  • Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade with Disney Characters and the stars of the Haunted Mansion attraction.
  • The Happy HalloWishes fireworks show where the Disney Villains go trick-or-treating in the sky.

Disney does this right. I’ve attended several times and it’s been just as much fun for adults as children. I mean, well, let’s face it–we never outgrow that Disney magic. And this celebration is loaded with it.

Disney World Halloween 2 

This is a weekly info update to the Orlando Essential Travel Guide for buyers of the app and anyone who discovers this site.

Until next Monday,


16th Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Starts Sept. 30

The 16th Epcot International Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World Resort runs from Sept. 30-Nov. 13, The 45-day festival serves up international cuisine, culture and entertainment from 6 continents using more than 25 international marketplaces –including new tasting marketplaces from Hawaii, Caribbean Islands and Portugal – all with tapas-sized portions paired with beer, wine and inventive new cocktails

More than 270 chefs including Disney chefs and culinary stars from across the country will conduct culinary demonstrations and host dinners and tasting events. Celebrity chef appearances include Jeff Henderson, Cat Cora, Alan Wong, Gale Gand, Suvir Saran, Jamie Deen, Rock Harper, Celina Tio, Robert Irvine, Andrew Zimmern, Buddy Valastro, Warren Brown, Art Smith, Keegan Gerhard and more.

It’s possible to spend a day of exploring the World Showcase Promenade. The tapas-sized portions of regional specialties run $3 to $8 each, with suggested pairings of wines, cocktails and beers. Instead of paying for each market sampling, you can buy a festival-themed mini-Disney Gift Card you wear on a wristband and load and reload at several park locations.

Live daily entertainment includes music, acrobats and improvisation performances along the promenade. Kicking off the festival from Sept. 30-Oct. 2 are former members of ELO and Gin Blossoms. Appearing for the first time on the Eat to the Beat! stage are The Pointer Sisters. Ending the festival Nov. 11-13 are fan favorites Taylor Dayne and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

Disney is advertising that The World Showcase will feature a return of “Captain EO,” a musical 3-D production starring Michael Jackson. That seems a better Halloween addition for Universal’s horror-fest and not Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival. Watching this video when it first came out was scary years ago before knowing the talented singer had a strange fascination with young children. Now that we do, to advertise it as a possible appetizer or dessert for Epcot’s world-class dining experience?

What’s Included with Epcot Admission:

Taste seminars and Authors Without Borders programs with special book signings at the Festival Center, Eat to the Beat! concerts, cultural adventures, Marketplace Discovery Passport and all attractions and park entertainment are included.

Special Programming by Reservation:

Senses grand tasting events and other special culinary and beverage programs require reservations and separate event admission. You can call now 407/WDW-FEST (939-3378) for information and to make reservations for special events and programs. For details about everything, visit www.disneyworld.com/foodandwine.

This is a weekly info update to the Orlando Essential Travel Guide for buyers of the app and anyone who discovers this site.

Universal Orlando Hotels Provide Pleasant Surprises

Part 1 explained how Universal Orlando Resort  and Royal Caribbean  offer a resort/cruise combo. In Part 2, I  detail why we decided to stay at Universal Orlando instead of commute from home, just 45-minutes away.

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We recently drove our 3 Virginia grandkids from Richmond to Orlando for a much anticipated visit to Universal Orlando Resort. Although we live just outside Orlando, our grandkids never have visited any of Orlando’s famous theme parks except SeaWorld, many years ago and just for a single day. Anytime since when in Florida, their father (who hates crowds and refuses to wait in long lines) always has vetoed another theme park visit. Well, Linda and I have the same long line phobia but know of ways to avoid them. And since the 3 grandkids are ages 15 and 11 (twins, boy and girl), it seemed they were overdue for an in-depth theme park visit.

So we kidnap them for a week (with parental permission) for a theme park excursion involving only truly “grand” people as kid or parent. The grandkids have free reign to choose which park to visit when. Their only interest is Universal Orlando Resort, something of a surprise since they watch the Disney Channel all the time. Harry Potter, not Mickey Mouse, is foremost on their minds. Although the grandkids are aware from friends that Harry Potter makes up only a small part of the Islands of Adventure, Universal is where they want to go.

As Orlando area residents, the obvious choice for us is to overnight at home and commute to the park. Universal, however, sometimes offers surprisingly good hotel discounts for Florida residents, although I don’t expect to find any deals during the peak summer period. Universal’s 3 on-site themed hotels are all AAA Four Diamond Award-winning properties: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel. Doing my advance research online in Virginia, the best offer for the 5 of us appears to be the Hard Rock Hotel. However, it’s a good thing I call to check the online rates with a Universal reservationist who tells me that because I am an annual passholder as well as a local resident, she can save me another $120 a night at Portofino Bay vs. the Hard Rock.

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            Loews Portofino Bat Hotel                                      Famed Hogwarts Castle

The room rate comes to just over $300 a night for the 5 of us, a rate that makes staying at home a poor option. Besides the convenience of staying on-site and not having daily to fight I-4 traffic to and from Universal, the hotel perks will make it cheaper to stay there. Each of us will receive a free Universal Express ride pass, which normally costs around $87 per person per day. Multiply the value of the Express ride pass by 5 and they’re worth $100 more per day than the room we stay in. The Universal Express ride passes turn out to have an extended bonus. For instance, by staying for 3 nights, the passes actually are valid for 4 days. They are valid the day we check-in, starting at whatever time we pick up them. It could be as early as 7 a.m. even though the official check-in time is 4 p.m. In the meantime, the hotel holds the luggage until a room is ready. Our check-out time will be 11 a.m., but the Universal express ride passes remains valid for us that day until the park closes. Not what Linda or I expected: that’s a lot of bonus ride time. All of us have 4 days of front-of-the-line rides for the price of a 3-day hotel stay and a 3-day park pass for the grandkids.

In addition, the hotel stay includes an hour’s early entrance to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for 4 days, which means we can ride the rides for an hour before the general public shows up; one morning 90 minutes after opening time we dine at the Three Broomsticks restaurant  for the highly coveted Harry Potter Breakfast. Hotel guests can make priority reservations anywhere. (Although Florida residents do get a price break on the rooms, every hotel guest receives the free Express ride pass and early admission bonuses.)

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            Three Broomsticks breakfast                                   City Walk celebrates

Arriving at the Islands of Adventure, we put the Universal Express ride pass to the test. Supposedly, just showing a hotel room key card would get us into a special express lane that bypasses the often long waits. Besides jumping to the front of the line, the 5 of us would be able to re-ride the same attraction immediately, over and over. No need to make ride reservations, as at Disney World (which also has many more visitors waiting for a ride).

Linda and I decide to initiate roller-coaster loving grandkids to Universal with the Incredible Hulk  roller coaster (we’re bad!). Living in Richmond and frequent visitors to Bush Gardens in Williamsburg, the grandkids all agree the Hulk is indeed incredible. Twins Emily and Andrew brave a second go-round, which includes 7 inversions and accelerates to 40 mph. Next, the 5 of us ride Spiderman 3 times in a row within about 20 minutes.

The grandkids love the no-wait express pass. They have no idea of the wait times the typical visitor endures on a theme park visit. The Universal Express ride pass spoils them by the end of our trip. Most of all, us too.

Part 3: What the grandkids think of their Universal experience. And more reasons why anyone planning a Royal Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral should seriously consider bringing their youngsters to Universal Orlando.

Dine At Orlando’s Best Restaurants In September For $30


One of the advantages of visiting Orlando off-season are the available discounts. September is the Magical Dining Month  organized by Visit Orlando,  the only officially recognized sales and marketing organization for the Orlando and Orange County area.

Featuring a wide variety of the Orlando area’s best restaurants, the Magical Dining Menu has a fixed price of $30 per person, per meal, for dinner only.

You select 1 item per course, with no substitutions. Price does not include tax or gratuity. The Magical Dining Month menu cannot be combined with additional discounts or promotions. Reservations subject to availability.

Restaurants listed alphabetically, with Location and Cuisine type

Click on a restaurant to see its 3-course dinner menu. For a reservation, click the online link or call the restaurant. However, those without reservations need only ask for a Magical Dining Month menu.


BICE RISTORANTE, Universal Orlando Resort, Italian

BIG FIN SEAFOOD KITCHEN, Sand Lake Road Area, Seafood

THE BOHEME, Downtown Area, American

CALA BELLA, International Drive Area, Italian

THE CAPITAL GRILLE, International Drive Area, American

CHARLEY’S STEAK HOUSE, Osceola County, Steak

CHARLEY’S STEAK HOUSE, International Drive Area, Steak

CHARLEY’S STEAK HOUSE, South Orlando Area, Steak

CHATHAM’S PLACE RESTAURANT, Sand Lake Road Area, Continental

CHEZ VINCENT, Winter Park, French

CITRUS RESTAURANT, Downtown Area, American

CITY FIRE AMERICAN OVEN & BAR, Sand Lake Road Area, American

CRAVE, Mall at Millenia Area, American

CUBA LIBRE RESTAURANT & RUM BAR, International Drive Area, Latin


ELEVEN, Osceola County, American

EMERIL’S RESTAURANT ORLANDO, Universal Orlando Resort, American

EMERIL’S TCHOUP CHOP, Universal Orlando Resort, Asian

EVERGLADES RESTAURANT, International Drive Area, American

FIORELLA’S CUCINA TOSCANA, International Drive Area, Italian

FISHBONES, Lake Mary, Seafood

FISHBONES, Sand Lake Road Area, Seafood




FUNKY MONKEY WINE COMPANY, International Drive Area, Fusion

HUE RESTAURANT, Downtown Area, American

IL MULINO NEW YORK TRATTORIA, Lake Buena Vista Area, Italian

ISLANDS DINING ROOM, Universal Orlando Resort, American

JOHNNIE’S HIDEAWAY, Lake Buena Vista Area, American

K RESTAURANT, College Park, American

THE KITCHEN, Universal Orlando Resort, American

LA LUCE BY DONNA SCALA, Lake Buena Vista Area, Italian

LAGO, Baldwin Park, Italian

A LAND REMEMBERED, International Drive Area, American

LATIN QUARTER, Universal Orlando Resort, Latin

LE COQ AU VIN, South Orlando Area, French


LUMA ON PARK, Winter Park, American

MAMA DELLA’S RISTORANTE, Universal Orlando Resort, Italian

McCORMICK & SCHMICK’S, Mall at Millenia Area, Seafood


MING COURT, International Drive Area, Asian

MOONFISH, Sand Lake Road Area, Seafood

MORTON’S THE STEAKHOUSE, Sand Lake Road Area, Steak

NAPA, International Drive Area, American

NICK’S ITALIAN KITCHEN, Downtown Area, Italian

NINE18, Lake Buena Vista Area, Continental

OCEAN PRIME, Sand Lake Road Area, Seafood

THE OCEANAIRE SEAFOOD ROOM, International Drive Area, Seafood

THE PALM, Universal Orlando Resort, Steak

PRICKLY PEAR, Downtown Area, American

PRIMO BY MELISSA KELLY, SeaWorld Area, Italian

RANGETSU, Maitland, Asian

RISTORANTE TUSCANY, Lake Buena Vista Area, Italian


SEASONS 52, Altamonte Springs, American

SEASONS 52, Sand Lake Road Area, American

SPENCER’S FOR STEAKS AND CHOPS, International Drive Area, Steak

TAVERNA OPA, International Drive Area, Greek


TODD ENGLISH’S BLUEZOO, Lake Buena Vista Area, Seafood

TOMMY BAHAMA, International Drive Area, Seafood

THE VENETIAN ROOM, Lake Buena Vista Area, American

VINES GRILLE & WINE BAR, Sand Lake Road Area, American

VITO’S CHOP HOUSE, International Drive Area, Italian

ZEN, Osceola County, Asian

Another weekly update specifically for the buyers of Orlando Essential Travel Guide iTunes app but also anyone else who comes to this blog.

Universal Orlando & Royal Caribbean Vacation Connection

Freedom of Seas logo-1

Tim and I are not fans of roller coasters. But after 3 days at Universal Orlando Resort, we’ve considered retesting our old fear factors. And thought about combining a stay at Universal with a Bahamas or Eastern Caribbean cruise from nearby Port Canaveral the next time the grandkids are in town.

Universal Orlando Resort and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line have a partnership that brings together two of the world’s most popular vacation providers with a variety of getaway packages. And with the world’s only Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park located at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the theme park/cruise combo is more enticing than ever.

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For the cruise portion, the choices are a 3- or 4-nights aboard Monarch of the Seas or Jewel of the Seas and a longer voyage on their much larger sister ship, Freedom of the Seas. All ships offer the complimentary Adventure Ocean  youth program for ages 3-17 with separate activities for designated age groups and their own dedicated spaces. The daily programs start at 9am for younger children, while for those 15-17 their true party time begins in their own night club at 10pm and ends well after midnight. With all of the Adventure Ocean activities supervised by the ship’s trained personnel, parents actually do have the opportunity to relax and enjoy some adult time without worrying whether their kids are bored or getting in trouble.

The Monarch and Jewel calls in Nassau, Bahamas, and at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas. CocoCay offers the usual water sports options as well as an Aqua-Park for children, beautiful beaches, shaded hammocks, a beachfront barbeque, and a straw market.

Shipboard life on the Monarch and Jewel include Broadway-style musical revues; Vegas-style gaming in Casino Royale; a rock climbing wall and the opportunity to just plain relax in the Day Spa. Don’t worry whether your kids will miss you. They have more varied on-board fun opportunities than adults.

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For a longer cruise, Freedom of the Seas has alternating week-long itineraries  in the Eastern and Western Caribbean. The Eastern Caribbean option includes 3 days at sea with stops at St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and CocoCay, RCCL’s private island. On Freedom’s Western Caribbean sojourn, passengers spend only 2 days at sea and stop at Ocho Rios, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico; and Labadee, a private resort on the north coast of Haiti. Since 1986, RCCL’s Labadee stops have provided largest proportion of tourist revenue to the impoverished island’s economy. Although often described as an island, Labadee  is not an island but a peninsula adjoining Haiti.

Because of its large size, Freedom of the Seas can offer many activities not available on Monarch of the Seas. Facilities like the FlowRider surf simulator; the H20 Zone water park; Studio B ice-skating rink; a full-size boxing ring; cantilevered whirlpools suspended 112 ft. above the ocean; Chefmakers Cooking Academy; Karaoke Superstar and more. The recently added Dreamworks Experience allows youngsters to interact with popular Dreamworks characters such as Shrek and the Penguins of Madagascar. For dining, there’s a choice of eight onboard restaurants, including Royal Caribbean’s signature specialty Chops Grille steakhouse, Portofino Italian restaurant and a Johnny Rockets 50’s-style eatery; you can be sure no one will go hungry.

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These cruises (see sample of all itineraries) are exciting by themselves but coupled with the fun of Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure plus the entertainment/dining at CityWalk , your trip really could fall into a one-of-kind vacationalooza.

In Part 2, we’ll talk about the experience with our grandkids at Universal Orlando and why Florida residents (like us) with visiting guests may be foolishly throwing money away by staying at home and not moving everyone into one of Universal’s hotels. The theme park extras you receive for staying on-property are likely to dwarf the hotel room costs.

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All photos taken aboard Freedom of the Seas.

By Linda & Tim O’Keefe