When temps drop, attendance picks up at indoor attractions

Indoor attractions were hot tickets during Orlando’s recent cold snap.

Sinking temperatures plus rainy, gusty conditions created a Florida-style wintry mix, and tourists sought refuge.

“We were slam-packed” on three of the nastiest-weather days, said Paul Hoffine, general manager of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum on International Drive. Visitors liked the warmth and leisurely pace, he said.

“The guests enjoy it. … They don’t have to worry about what’s next,” he said. “They’re just waiting the weather out.”

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Otronicon: High-tech trek is back at Orlando Science Center

Otronicon, the annual technology smorgasbord, returns to Orlando Science Center this weekend, showcasing the latest in reality – virtual, augmented, mixed – with the help of local companies with interests ranging from health care to entertainment to defense.

“It’s nice because all these partners come in, and it gives the guests access to things you wouldn’t get normally,” says Jeff Stanford, a vice president at the science center. “Normally you can’t just show up at these places and ask to hop on their technology.”

After looking over some hands-on options, I huddled with science-center officials to chat about five eye-catching elements.

Three words: Mars escape room. This area represents a Red Planet habitat hit by a cyber-security attack. It’s a problem-solving/critical thinking thing. “At the very least, they’re going to stretch some brain muscles,” Stanford says.

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Epcot arts fest: 5 things to know before you go

The second-ever Epcot International Festival of the Arts kicks off Friday. Disney has expanded many aspects of last year’s event, from food options to those walk-in masterpieces sprinkled around the theme park. A chat with Dave Kesting, general manager of Epcot festivals, gave us hints about what to expect. We’ll be checking out the fest on Day 1 and reporting back. In the meantime, here are five things to know before you go.

1. Framed. A real talker from last year were those way-bigger-than-life reproductions of paintings that visitors could literally insert themselves into. They were simple, but creative and fun and major photo ops. So, of course, there are more this year. In the Italy pavilion, look for one inspired by Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” plus an homage to Frida Kahlo over in Mexico (“where the old margarita bar was,” am told). UPDATE: Thr Kahlo display will not be in place until next week

2. The art of eating. There will be more eating options, including a total of 13 Food Studios. Friendly reminder: These kiosks are a little less assembly line — more, ahem, deliberate — than at other Epcot fests. But the final look is, well, fancier. “We want them to see the art created in front of them – the culinary arts,” Kesting says. “It’s a little bit different than some of our other festivals, but it’s pretty fun to watch some of the techniques that they do out there in the Food Studios.” More choices should spread out the demand, he says. “We still want people to see the great food created, but we didn’t want it to be a 10-minute experience.”

3. On stage. The fest’s Broadway concert series begins with Kara Lindsay and Kevin Massey. It’s Epcot’s usual three-a-day format, but this year there are dining packages available with each performance (last year it was one per night). “We’ve already doubled the amount of bookings that we did all last year already,” Kesting says. (UPDATE: Lindsay is unable to attend this weekend but will be at Epcot next weekend. Massey will perform this weekend with Jenn Gambatese, who also appeared in “Tarzan.”)

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Is Disney Springs one of the places you must go in 2018? New York Times says so

As part of annual write-up, the New York Times named the must-see places to travel in 2018.

There is Prague, celebrating 100 years of Czech independence.

Enjoy the remote luxury of Iceland.

Taste the culinary delights of Tasmania.

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Universal passes: Buy 1 year, get 3 months free

Universal Orlando is now offering free three-month extensions on sales of some of its annual passes. The deal is set to expire on April 24.

Customers can purchase passes that work solely for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks or choose passes that also include the Volcano Bay water park, which opened last year.

As with all special offers, there’s fine print to consider: The offer is valid on new purchases only. The passes must be activated by April 24. There’s a limit of six passes per purchase. Depending on the pass selected, there may be block-out dates.

Pricing also varies according to plan purchased. One version — using the parks’ FlexPay system — is as low as $16 per month, Universal says. On the opposite end of the cost spectrum is the three-park, premier pass for Florida residents, which has benefits such as Universal Express after 4 p.m., dates for early admission to the parks and valet parking. It sells for $638.99 and includes the bonus three months.

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Universal: New Harry Potter projection show to feature houses of Hogwarts

A new projection show at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park will salute the houses of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft — Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws and Slytherins — on the walls of the castle.

“The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle” show makes its Orlando debut on Jan. 31 at the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. But there will a preview tied to the A Celebration of Harry Potter event on Jan. 26 and to other park-goers on Jan. 27 and 28.

The show will begin running at dusk and then be repeated throughout the evening, Universal Orlando says. It will be shown on select evenings during the year. Announced dates so far are Jan. 31 through Feb. 5 and Feb. 7 through Feb. 12, but nights will be added in the future, Universal says.

This marks the second round of projection shows for IOA. The theme park presented “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle” as part of its holiday celebrations. The new production will include visual elements of each house along with music based on the original scores from the “Harry Potter” movies.

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Ripley: Marilyn Monroe multimillion-dollar dress has moved on

Marilyn Monroe’s dress has left the building. The famed frock, worn by the actress when she sang “Happy Birthday to You” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962, is no longer seen at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not on International Drive, as scheduled.

The sheer, beaded gown was bought at auction last year by Orlando-based Ripley Entertainment for about $5 million. It was displayed with other bits of memorabilia from the event, which was a political fund-raiser at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Monroe paid about $1,500 for the dress, back in the day.

The shimmering garment’s next stop will be the Ripley attraction in St. Augustine. It will arrive sometime in February, officials say. In the meantime, the dress is kept in a secure location. The company has taken measures to protect its investment, including GPS-empowered packaging that alerts when it has moved. (Its case is also bulletproof, Ripley says.)

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Five new cruise ships slated for Florida debuts in 2018

Florida is going to need some extra red carpet to welcome the lineup of cruise ships coming to the state in 2018.

Five ships debuting this year will call the Sunshine State home including the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas. Also on tap are new vessels from Norwegian, Carnival, Holland America and Celebrity.

“This is a unique crop of ships that is coming in that will really have some exciting stuff,” said Stewart Chiron, who runs industry website CruiseGuy.com.

First to arrive will be Carnival Horizon to PortMiami in September. The sister ship to Carnival Vista, Horizon will also have the signature SkyRide suspended bicycle attraction that wraps around much of the ship’s top deck. Also on board will be an IMAX theater, a Dr. Seuss-themed water park as well as a new dining and brewery concept that marries the Guy Fieri barbecue concept Pig and Anchor with four new beers brewed right on board. The 3,934-passenger ship begins Miami service on Sept. 20.

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Animal advocacy group sues federal government over SeaWorld necropsy

A Washington D.C.-based animal advocacy group sued two federal agencies this week, accusing them of ignoring public record requests as they push for Tilikum’s full necropsy to get released.

Tilikum, the whale at the center of the anti-captivity documentary “Blackfish” for killing a trainer, died Jan. 6, 2017 at SeaWorld Orlando.

The Animal Welfare Institute, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, has asked SeaWorld to release the full autopsy in hopes it would reveal information on the whale’s issues and animals living in captivity.

But SeaWorld officials have argued they released the animal’s cause of death — as legally required — and are allowing the animal’s tissues to be examined for more than a dozen scientific studies.Tilikum died from bacterial pneumonia.

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Carnival Horizon to mix beer and barbecue in a big way

Carnival Cruise Line likes cooking up beer on board its new ships.

Carnival Vista boasted the first on-board microbrewery for North America and the soon-to-arrive sister ship Carnival Horizon will serve up the brews too, but this time with barbecue.

The line recently debuted the four planned microbrews that will be served in a new barbecue dining venue from Food Network star Guy Fieri coming to the ship that is debuting in April and arriving to PortMiami this September.

While Fieri’s Pig and Anchor has a shoehorned (yet tasty) presence on four other Carnival ships, Carnival Horizon will give it its biggest stage yet in the form of Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse | Brewhouse.

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