What is that upside down building? Wonder Works rides out a tough economy with new exhibits and a popular dinner show.

ORLANDO – If you’ve driven past Pointe Orlando, you’ve probably seen it plenty of times and know it as the “upside down” building. But outside of wondering if the property got ripped into the sky by a hurricane before it crashed back onto International Drive, have you ever stepped inside Wonder Works to check out what’s in there?

If you haven’t but are planning to, said Michelle Davis, you’re in for a treat. 

“We’ve got over 100 different attractions here,’ said Davis, a sales representative for the attraction at 9067 International Drive. 

That’s a lot of exhibits to check out under one roof, although as Davis is quick to note, if you’ve been to Wonder Works before but haven’t returned in a while, consider going back. The Wonder Works team is still adding on new attractions, including a new collision course that allows guests to walk high above the ground, guided only by ropes. 

It’s a challenging – and fun – obstacle course that only Wonder Works could come up with, she said. 

Wonder Works employee Matthew Ventura show how the Laser tag Arena works.

“We have recently opened the ropes challenge course, and it’s been going great,” Davis said. “We’re the only indoor ropes course in Central Florida.” 

Wonder Works has enough exhibits to offer – old and new – that the property impressed the president of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association when the trade group recently held its monthly meeting there. 

“A lot of us are going to be amazed at what goes on in this building,” said David Leather, president of CFVRMA, which represents many of the short term vacation rental homes in Central Florida.  

 

David Leather, president of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, says his members should encourage their guests to visit Wonder Works.

“Hopefully, this will be on your list of places to tell your guests about,” Leather added. 

That kind of support could prove enormously beneficial to an attraction like Wonder Works. Vacation homes are one of the fastest growing aspects of the hospitality industry in this region, an appealing alternative for tourists who come here for extended stays with their family. Vacation homes appeal to these families because they offer more space – multiple bedrooms, a fully furnished kitchen, a game room and private pool – than a hotel or motel room does. 

Initially popular with British and other European tourists who came to the local theme parks for stays of a month or longer, the popularity of the vacation home has been growing with American tourists as well. 

And if vacation home managers let their guests know what Wonder Works has to offer, that could mean more business at a time when the sluggish U.S. economy hasn’t spared the tourism industry. A high unemployment rate nationally and in Florida has meant less disposable income for people going on vacation – assuming they can afford a vacation at all. 

Kelcey Nolan, Wonder Works’ sales manager, said the attraction has thrived, despite the recession. 

“We are actually doing very well,” Nolan said. “We have managed to balance out and run even.” 

Why? The diversity of what they offer, combined with competitive pricing, Nolan said. 

“We’re an affordable attraction,” Nolan said.  

You never know what to expect at Wonder Works.

It doesn’t hurt that Wonder Works is close to the popular Pointe Orlando plaza, and the nearby Orange County Convention Center, which attract both tourists and national and international business travelers. 

“We’re within walking distance of the Convention Central and the row of hotels,” Nolan said. 

Wonder Works’ attractions include The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show, which is performed nightly at 6 and 8 p.m. Billed as “Orlando’s funniest dinner show,” it combines comedy, magic, audience participation, and a meal that includes pizza, salad, popcorn, cake, and unlimited glasses of soda.  

Love both comedy and magic? Wonder Works has a dinner show for you.

“We’re extremely proud of our dinner show,” Nolan said.  “It’s kind of like a stand up improv. We can accommodate up to 25 guests at one time.” 

Wonder Works is also home to more than 100 science-based interactive exhibits, and as Nolan pointed out, they appeal to people regardless of their age. 

“It’s fantastic for families,” Nolan said. “It’s geared toward guests of all ages.” 

New to Wonder Works this year is the rope collision course. 

“It’s three stories of obstacles and challenges,” Nolan said, and it’s also right across from another new exhibit, the 4D Theatre. 

“We give you 3D glasses before you go in,” Nolan said. “You go through as if you’re on your own roller coaster.” 

Wonder Works also has a Laser Tag Arena, where games are played for seven and a half minutes, and there are tournament and team plays. 

To learn more about Wonder Works, call 407-351-8800 or log on to www.wonderworksonline.com.

Peruvian dancer comes to Orlando and finds her dream: Zumba!

Noelia says Zumba dancing was the perfect exercise routine after her pregnancy.

ORLANDO – Noelia Heelam grew up in a neighborhood in Lima, Peru that struggled with a high poverty rate, and like many other immigrants, she dreamed often of life in the United States, a nation that provided opportunity for anyone willing to work hard while pursuing their dreams.

“I come from a very poor area in Peru,” Heelam said. “I came to the United States looking for a better opportunity.” 

Noelia Heelam came to the U.S. from a poor area in Lima, Peru.

That was in 1998, when Heelam arrived in Virginia to take a job working at a local restaurant. She did well enough that Heelam was eventually offered a management position at a sister restaurant in Miami.

“That was in 2000,” she said. “I eventually moved to Orlando because I didn’t have any family in Miami.”

Along the way, Heelam worked hard to carve out a career in Florida. “I did everything you can imagine, from restaurants to working at a gas station,” she said.

Today, Heelam is still in Orlando, and her childhood vision of the United States as a land of great opportunity has proven to be the correct one. Heelam has found a career, and it’s one she loves, and one she hopes to become very successful at.  And, in a reminder of just how many opportunities await those who fight for their dreams, Heelam’s career can be summed up in one word: Zumba.

“It’s a very dynamic fitness party,” she said. “It’s a Latin-inspired fitness program.”

Created by dancer and choreographer Beto in Colombia in the 1990s, Zumba – a mix of Latin and International music – really took off after businessman Alberto Perlman marketed it. Today, there are believed to be more than 90,000 Zumba fitness center locations in 110 countries.

Heelam hopes to add to the mix by opening her own Zumba studio in Orlando. A physical fitness buff, Heelam recognized early on that Zumba was certain to develop a local following as well.

“It’s 70 percent Latin music and 30 percent international,” she said.

Heelam got introduced to Zumba about two and a half years ago, when like many new moms, she wanted a way to get rid of her pregnancy fat, and went in search of the right exercise class. She found it when someone recommended she try Zumba. 

“After giving birth to my baby, I needed something I could stick with,” she said. “I went to a dance class and I loved it.”

She stuck with it, and then went a step further. 

Noelia Heelam teaches a Zumba Master Class at Barber Park.

“I became an instructor after doing it for two years,” she said. “I decided I have what it takes to be an instructor, so I went to a training program.”

Today, Heelam teaches Zumba classes at a Baldwin Park studio at 4625 Halder Lane, Suite C, on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. Prices are $10 for one hour and $32 for four classes.

But she’s also branching out on her own, and looking for a place to rent that will become her first dance studio.

“In a studio, it’s more private and people can feel more relaxed,” she said. “I’m basically looking for a good location.”

And what makes Zumba so appealing to the people who attend these classes? As a workout program that’s both fun and effective, Heelam said, Zumba is tough to beat.

“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s a no-thinking program. You get involved in the music. You don’t need to be a dancer to do a Zumba class.”

She envisions an hour long class with people ready to work up a big sweat. 

Noelia helps teach a class at Bally Total Fitness.

“You would do your proper warm ups and your stretch, and that’s it,” she said. “Then we play 16 songs. It’s a nice way to lose weight. You don’t feel like you’re exercising. The hour passes quickly. It’s a great workout.”

At the same time, she said, Zumba classes are a terrific way to meet new people and socialize – particularly women who have just given birth and now want to trim down again.

“I’m a mom with two kids, so I don’t go out much,” she said. “This class, it’s to socialize, and relax, and exercise, and reduce your stress. It’s an excellent workout.”

Heelam hopes to expand the studio next year to include other forms of exercising, including belly dancing and kick boxing. 

Noelia hopes to expand her studio next year to include kick boxing and belly dancing lessons as well.

To learn more about Heelam’s classes, call 407-970-8384.

Unlike President Obama, Alan Grayson stands firm, ridiculing tax cuts for the rich

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson says the rich can use their tax break to buy 800 cigars and light them with $100 bills.

ORLANDO – The deal that President Obama is finalizing to extend the Bush-era tax cuts is likely to pick up solid Republican support, but it could be a tougher sell for members of the president’s own party.

That’s almost certain to include U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, who has spent the past month ridiculing the notion that the richest Americans need a tax break, or that giving them more money will help boost a sagging economy.

“What will the rich do with it?” Grayson said. “They’ll keep it in their pockets. If they could make money by hiring people, they would have already. The top 10 percent already has 90 percent of the assets in the United States.” 

Grayson was among the Democrats defeated in last month’s congressional elections, a huge Republican sweep that brought the GOP 63 seats in Congress.

In the week following the election, Grayson said he was still hopeful that President Obama would remain faithful to his early pledge to allow tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire this year.

“I think the Democrats are waiting to see what Obama decides to do,” Grayson said. “What he’s done so far is ask the Republicans to sit down with him, and they haven’t done that yet. It’s just a question of Democrats waiting for their leader to lead.”

The best way to lead, Grayson said, would be to attack Republicans for supporting tax cuts for Americans who don’t need the money and are unlikely to spend it in ways that boost the economy. Last month, Grayson took to the House floor to denounce the Republican plan for tax cuts, citing studies by the group Citizens for Tax Justice which showed that tax breaks for the top 1 percent of wage earners amount to $83,347 a year per person. What is the average multimillionaire likely to do with that money, Grayson asked?

“They can buy an $83,000 Mercedes Benz E-Class,” he said. “They can buy this gorgeous Hermies handbag, a Birkin, for $61,800. They can buy this bottle of Chateua d’Yauem wine from 1787 for $56,588. They can buy a bottle of wine from 1787 every year for the next 20 years.”

And, having shown photographs of these products, Grayson then added, ”Thank you, Republicans.”

He didn’t stop there, however. The Orlando congressman had planned a much lengthier list of possible sales for the top 1 percent.

“They can buy 800 cigars,” he said. “Think about that – it’s one for the morning and one for the evening. Then they can light their cigars with $100 bills.”

The tax break would enable the rich to buy three tickets to the most expensive suite at the Super Bowl, Grayson added – and he wasn’t finished.

“They can go to the top of Mount Everest,” he said. “That costs only $65,000. A luxury trip with someone holding your bag all the way up. There’s just one thing – don’t fall down.”

If they happen to be fans of the West Coast, he added, “They can enjoy two nights at the Hugh Hefner Sky Villa in Las Vegas for $80,000. I’m not sure that’s the best use of $100 billion a year in tax money.”

A better use of the money, Grayson said, would be to create jobs to help bring down the nation’s 9.8 percent unemployment rate. He said the money being spent on tax cuts for the top 1 percent could instead be used to create millions of public works jobs paying $30,000 each.

“Let’s give 300 million Americans a job,” he said. “I favor jobs, not tax cuts for the rich.”

After giving the speech, Grayson said a broadcast version on YouTube attracted 7,000 comments in one night.

“The calls are coming,” he said. “I don’t know if that will continue after I leave office, but obviously it’s resonating with people.”

Grayson said he thinks the speech scored big with fellow progressives who wanted President Obama to stick by his pledge to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the richest Americans.

“What it tells me,” Grayson said, “is people on our side very much want someone to speak out and tell the truth.  I haven’t changed. The fact that we ended up with 7,000 comments suggests there’s an audience for a Democrat with guts.”

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