By ATD’s Florida experts Susan & Simon Veness
We can practically taste the excitement in the air at the moment here in Orlando. There are various new developments taking place all around Theme Park Central, and two of them – the I-Drive 360 complex and Orlando City Soccer Club – took big steps forward this week.
It was certainly a fun opportunity, and we were fortunate to be able to take in both events within a few hours of each other on the opposite sides of town, so we needed to put in some speedy legwork. Happily, it all worked out perfectly, and we were given a great advance look at how things are taking shape with these two contrasting opportunities to experience something new in The City Beautiful in 2015.
First up, I-Drive 360 staged a special presentation to reveal the opening date and pricing for their three main attractions – the Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds Orlando and SEALIFE Orlando Aquarium – that are now at the heart of this hugely eye-catching development on International Drive.
There is no mistaking the huge 400ft observation wheel that promises to be an Orlando icon in its own right, and the first news of the day was that all three headline elements will have their grand opening on May 4, with a special three-day ‘soft’ opening period from May 1-3.
The three-attraction ticket seems like extremely good value to us as you could easily spend half a day here, while those with children aged 2-12 will definitely want to consider the LEGOLAND add-on for this ultra-family-friendly theme park as well (and be sure to check out this link for all ATD’s offers on LEGOLAND Florida).
I-Drive 360’s big announcement was then followed by a dramatic ‘reveal’ of the latest waxwork figure to arrive for the Madame Tussauds attraction – American actor Neil Patrick Harris – and we were then offered an informal ‘sneak peak’ tour of Madame Tussauds itself.
This came as a bit of a surprise as we weren’t expecting this part of the complex to be open yet (the rooms were still under construction when we last visited just a couple of months ago), so it was definitely an eye-opener to be able to come face-to-face with the likes of David Beckham, President Obama, Madonna, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Okay, so it was only their likenesses, but we have to say some of these figures are just about as lifelike as it’s possible to be, and we half expected some of them to get up and move about!
The whole attraction is arranged in different rooms and scenes, from an opening tableau of Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon and his discovery of Florida in the 16th century to the White House, an audience with Abe Lincoln (visitors can sit in a chair next to him for a wonderful photo opportunity) and other set pieces with great historical figures like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Andy Warhol.
The attraction then dives off into the world of sports, movies and modern celebrities, with the chance to stand next to Beckham, pose with Mohammad Ali, meet Katy Perry, show off your best Kung-Fu pose with Jackie Chan and chill out in the ‘Glamour Room’ with a host of Hollywood stars, notably Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Samuel L Jackson and Ann Hathaway.
It all has a wonderfully modern and interactive style and we think this is going to be a real hit with visitors both local and international in future.
After our Madame Tussauds tour, there was also a chance to have a look at the big theatre pre-show area for the Orlando Eye, which will include a seven-minute 4-D film showing parts of the surrounding area and what else there is to see in Central Florida, while TV screens outside will show the Eye’s construction process.
We hope to see more of I-Drive 360 as things continue to take shape in the next few months, so stay tuned for further updates from this exciting new attraction in the weeks to come.
Dashing back to our car, we just had enough time to make it up to Altamonte (the main suburb just north of Orlando) for the chance to sample the latest part of Orlando City’s journey into the sporting big-time.
As regular readers will know, we have been following this story carefully over the past year or so as our local soccer team takes the step up from the minor leagues to the full top-tier professional ranks of Major League Soccer (the first MLS club in the south-east USA).
Led by British head coach Adrian Heath, British founder Phil Rawlins and with Brazilian ace Kaka as the star player, the Lions are now less than three weeks away from the big kick-off at home to New York City on March 8 and they are staging a huge opening-game campaign to #FillTheBowl for that first fixture.
Playing in the 65,000-seat Citrus Bowl in downtown Orlando while their own purpose-built stadium is under construction nearby, City have been staging regular fan events throughout the area to spread the message and allow followers to meet the players. Today’s event was at the swish Hilton hotel in Altamonte and was billed as The Kickoff Tailgate Party, albeit that the pre-game activity of tailgating is usually done outside!
With buffet food and drinks, a ‘march-in’ by one of the supporters’ groups and a stage introduction of the whole 28-man squad – the biggest cheers were reserved for Kaka, naturally – the whole event had a real showbiz style and was highlighted by club president Rawlins revealing they have now sold more than 43,000 tickets for the opening game and are still selling at a rate of roughly 1,500 per day, which means they are firmly on course for a massive 65,000 sellout.
That would give them one of the highest attendances in the 20-year history of MLS and would be a heck of a way to announce their arrival on the big stage.
The whole town feels like it is 100 per cent behind Heath and Co, and there are purple billboards, stickers and T-shirts almost everywhere you go (purple is Orlando’s official colour, by the way, in case you thought we had got purple-mania).
Once again, we were hugely impressed by the community-spirited nature of Orlando City’s development, and Simon in particular can’t wait for the season to start!
If you're headed to Orlando, be sure to look out for the Orlando Eye tickets coming to Attraction Tickets Direct and remember, to purchase before you travel!