From the trade show IAAPA to SeaWorld Christmas and Antarctica updates, there’s a lot to talk about. Do note this post was delayed a bit due to the holiday. We’ll get back to Disney updates soon!

SeaWorld: Christmas installations, and Antarctica updates

I haven’t been to SeaWorld in a good many months, so I was excited to see what’s new. For starters, they’ve added midway games here and there in the Manta and Key West areas, and the odd temporary tent to serve as a gift store. It’s not hard to see why  – the former home for some of that stuff is now behind construction walls. Antarctica is coming, and MAN is it big. It takes over the old penguin building spot and ALSO the whole quad area that was here; there’s an entire complex of four very large buildings going up here. The ride is going to be huge.

Atlantis looks small by comparison

I was also here to see the Christmas offerings, which are now open full time. I gotta say, SeaWorld does Christmas right. Chief among the reasons: there are decorations EVERYWHERE! There’s a clump of 40 Christmas trees in this corner, animated “drip” lights from the canopy of trees overhead on that walkway, and a bevy of neon-type signs on that playground. It’s different everywhere, and it’s almost in every corner. The park becomes festive. Want a clear sign they take it seriously? Look no further than the nametags. The workers are issued a holiday version of their nametag – now that’s getting into the spirit.

The Sea of Trees is back, as are all the other shows: ice skating, holiday fireworks, Shamu miracles show, Sesame Street holiday show, sea lion Christmas show, and the spectacular O Wondrous Night, a nativity reenactment that is really a gospel/revival live music act, coupled with Nemo musical style puppets and a raft of live animals on stage together – even three camels!

The songs, and the message in general, is heavily Christian

I always leave SeaWorld at Christmas time feeling like I could easily come back and see that again soon, or take in the shows I missed (there are too many to see in one night).

Legoland: Star Wars Miniland

It opened a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t make it out until last weekend to see the new Star Wars section of Miniland. It’s bigger than you think, taking up an entire walkway out of the original Miniland area. They don’t have any “jokes” among the minifigures that I can see, like they do with the other lands, which is a good thing. They took the Star Wars property seriously.

Attack of the LEGOs
Iconic scenes from the movies are everywhere you look.
The Master Builders have outdone themselves this time.

IAAPA 2012

The annual convention for the theme parks and entertainment industry, IAAPA, was held again in 2012 in Orlando’s convention center. This is a marvelous feast of the eyes (and in some case, the stomach) for attendees, most of whom are buyers from small companies looking to buy what’s newest and what will separate them from the competition in their home markets. Others here are the exhibitors themselves, looking to line up deals to sell the latest thing they’ve designed, created, or built.

The general public is allowed to attend, though it’s expensive to buy a ticket for all three days (apparently there are two day and one-day passes as well, with the final day ticket costing only $39).


What you’ll find at this trade show is a mega-collection of devices, hardware, and equipment. Some of it is mundane to the outsider – valves for water pipes, roller-coaster wheels, and that sort of thing. There’s a very large section on inflatable bounce houses, many of them manned this year by some aggressive Chinese distributors who were singularly unimpressed by my impartial status as a member of the press and thought they could strike a deal with me. Most such bounce houses are there for looks, but a few can be visited in the “outdoor” section of the show. That area is also home to a few other attractions you can ride, including the standout Soaring Eagle (a zip line ride where you get to sit in a suspended vehicle).

Zamperla had a spinning, upside down ride inside the main floor, but mostly what you’re looking at is booths. There’s a lot of concept art, sometimes scale models, and sometimes full-sized creations (usually things like animatronics and robotics) on display. Quite simply there’s a lot to gawk at.

I can’t pass up a good scale model.

Vendors of food items often make free samples available, so you can have 1/8th of a pretzel at a time, or entire slices of pizza. Ice cream variations and ICEE type drinks are usually given in full size, so you can clean up there. We were particularly impressed with an actual robot that assembles frozen yogurt and toppings right in front of your eyes.

I’m glad it didn’t talk – that would have been creepy!

Some vendors get creative, and include full-sized playgrounds for kids to climb on, including a new one themed to Angry Birds. A couple had ropes challenge courses that you could climb on, or rock walls to scale. One of the main reasons to come to a trade show like this is to see ‘what’s next’ and one clear answer seems to be rock walls that have projections to climb shaped to look like actual themed things, rather than squiggles of rock outcroppings. Giant inflated balls and cylinders let people roll around like hamsters, including one ball that has water in it to form an eternal waterslide.

Disney as a rule doesn’t have a booth here–they don’t sell to outsiders generally–but SeaWorld did this year, showing off the trackless ride vehicle and motion base to be used in the upcoming Antarctica attraction.

It’s a trackless vehicle and a motion base.

One of my favorite things to do is play the games here, from video to pinball (making a resurgence from companies other than Midway), to a mash-up best described as “hockey-pinball” (think: table hockey using only pinball flippers). We were positively delighted to find a hockey table that had the standard puck, a giant goal on each side, and then suddenly dumped twenty more mini-pucks into the mix from the side.

If you get the chance you should check out IAAPA – it’s worth a look, or an entire three days! See more pictures on my personal blog.

Review: Lone Star Steakhouse

I was invited recently by Lone Star Steakhouse to visit their establishment and review the experience. You’ve probably seen this restaurant even if you don’t know the name; this is the steakhouse at the very busy intersection of Apopka-Vineland (SR-535) and Vineland (the street paralleling I-4 that goes to the always-crowded outlet mall). I’d not previously visited this location, partly because my wife and I are not normally big devotees of this menu category.

Where 535 meets Vineland

Or rather, that was the case before, as I think this dinner may have made us converts. To be sure, we’ve had plenty of steak in our various dining choices previously. I wouldn’t bother to compare Lone Star to Sizzler or that type of offering, but we’ve had Outback Steakhouse and Longhorn Steakhouse before. Those two chains offer comparable pricing to Lone Star, but the steaks at those establishments are best described as “good,” and become memorable only when daubed with the sauce that accompanies them. Not so Lone Star. The peppercorn rib-eye ($21) and the Cajun rib-eye ($21) we ordered were soft, chewy, and flavorful in all the right ways even without additional sauce.


When I asked the general manager Paul Rinaldi what made his restaurant different, he replied with a single word: “fresh.” They source food items locally and regionally, with many of them then prepared from scratch right in his kitchen. That applies to the piquant sauces, the zingy garlic mashed potatoes, the soft dinner rolls, and even the strawberry lemonade.

We also sampled the salmon ($17), an eight-ounce filet that was moist and flaky, as you might expect at this type of dining establishment. What you may expect less is a unique saturated flavor that hints of soy and ginger until you find out it’s none of the above–it’s actually from the homemade bourbon sauce it was marinating in for six hours that very day. The green onions it was garnished with provided just the right counterbalance and crunch; for us the entire presentation was “close your eyes and chew” levels of good.

We will definitely be back. Even the cheddar-bacon BBQ steak burger ($9) sounds mouth-watering to me now that I know what to expect here. It’s hard to tell from the road sign or the menu, but the food really is a different experience from other restaurants in its peer group. Lone Star Steakhouse is located at 8550 Vineland Ave, not far from Downtown Disney. The telephone number is 407-827-8225, and it opens daily at 11am, with closing at 11pm (or later, on busy days).

Your thoughts?

Would you make a visit to IAAPA if it were taking place during your visit to Orlando? My editor Al is always fascinated by the profusion of steak houses and their many ads in all the Orlando tourist publications – and how the overall count of these establishments appears to be lower in Anaheim. Think it’s all just a reflection of the visitor base of each resort area? Be sure to leave your comments on these questions, or any other observations you may have made about today’s column below.

More information and updates

Readers are invited to connect with Kevin online and face to face at the following locations: