ORLANDO — On the calendar, today is simply Friday, June 21 — the last work day of the week, the start of the weekend.
But look more closely at your calendar. Today marks something else: the official start of summer.
Although Central Florida has been hot and humidity since late April, and May felt like summer was in full force, summer actually begins today, and the summer tourism season that’s been rolling along since the start of the Memorial Day Weekend continues for several more months.
That means many of the local attractions are doing their best to ensure people keep coming through their front gates, in big numbers.
In addition, cities and towns across the region want to be sure that visitors and residents alike stay well-entertained on the Fourth of July Independence Day holiday. Fireworks displays are competing with one another to be the best, brightest, and most spectacular possible.
So, what to expect as June starts to wind up and heads toward July? Here are a few upcoming events to mark on the “must do” calendar.
Starting on Saturday, June 22, and continuing through Aug. 11, Summer Nights at SeaWorld will offer a nighttime spectacular, and, as the theme park itself puts it, “the best place to be when the sun sets.”
SeaWorld is letting its visitors celebrate summer with nighttime shows that include “Shamu Rocks,” a rock ‘n roll-meets-whale performance, and the comedic talents of Clyde and Seamore in Sea Lions Tonite.
Keep in mind, also, that this week Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld celebrated 25 years of partnership in a unique way: with the unveiling of the airline’s newest specialty aircraft, one that offers a nod to SeaWorld’s newest attraction ride.
The Penguin One—a Boeing 737-700 is co-branded with images of one of SeaWorld’s newest inhabitants, penguins.
Earlier this week, Southwest and SeaWorld revealed the aircraft at a ceremony at Orlando International Airport, where real penguins mingled with Southwest and SeaWorld employees, community members, and local business executives.
This business partnership between the two companies started in 1988, when SeaWorld opened in San Antonio. Southwest and SeaWorld launched their partnership in a high-flying way that year, with the introduction of a new Boeing 737 appropriately titled Shamu One.
Penguins, of course, are the latest SeaWorld guests, courtesy of the theme park’s new Antarctica Empire of the Penguinride, which celebrates life on the South Pole. It opened on Memorial Day Weekend, and the Antarctica ride ends in a room where guests can get up close to penguins — and where temperatures are kept at a nippy 30 degrees.
The featured penguin species on the aircraft is a gentoo, one of the species found at Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin.
SeaWorld isn’t the only local theme park working overtime to attract visitors.
Walt Disney World keeps unveiling new attractions, like the newest Adentureland attraction, A Pirate’s Adventure — Treasures of the Seven Seas is now open at Magic Kingdom. The latest in interactive experiences officially opened over the Memorial Day Weekend, allowing guests to journey on a quest for treasure.
Guests use a pirate map to complete up to five different pirate raids throughout Adventureland, all part of an effort to help Captain Jack Sparrow locate different Treasures of the Seven Seas, and to fight off pirate enemies. If you’re successful at helping Captain Jack in his missions to fight off the Royal Navy, Captain Barbossa, headhunters, curses, and Calypso, the sea goddess, you will be welcome as part of his new crew.
But if you don’t, watch out: you could “face the wrath of the cruel sea — alone.”
Guests need to go to Enlistment Quarters to start their quest. It’s located between the Pirates Bazaar and Golden Oak Outpost.
Disney is also in the first week of its Sounds Like Summer concert series, which continues now through July 27. Tribute bands are rocking the stages performing classics hits by the bee Gees, the Police, U2, and many more. The concerts are in the American Gardens Theatre in Epcot’s World Showcase, with show times at 5:30, 6:45 and 8 p.m. Now through Saturday is “Hotel California – A Salute to the Eagles.”
What else is new at Disney? There is now a Wilderness Explorers experience at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. It takes its inspiration from the Disney/Pixar film, “Up.” As in the movie, young Wilderness Explorers at Animal Kingdom can complete challenges to earn badge stickers for their Wilderness Explorer Handbook, and there are 30 different challenges in all. Each hands-on activity teaches kids something new about the wild animals and wild places inside the Park.
And there’s more on the way.
The 18th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs from Sept. 27-Nov. 11 at Epcot. As usual, this festival will include the Party for the Senses grand tasting experience on select Saturday nights, plus some new treats, including the introduction of a taste of Scottish cuisine. Opportunities for culinary delights abound at this Disney extravaganza.
This year, the fun will include New Scotland, Land of Food And Drink on Sept. 28, New Spirits Confidential on Nov. 1, a New Parisian Breakfast available on Saturdays, and a New Hibachi Experience on Oct. 8, 15, 22, and 29, and Nov. 5.
There’s also a “3D” Disney’s Dessert Discovery (Oct. 4, 11 and 25), Epcot Wine Schools (Sept. 29, Oct. 27, Nov. 3), Culinary Adventures in Signature Dining (with more than 25 dinners throughout the festival); plus Food & Wine Pairings on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Additional events will include Italian and French pairings and lunches, and a Mexican tequila lunch.
The July 4 holiday is now just two weeks away, and communities across Central Florida want as large a crowd as possible to attend.
The largest celebration in Polk County has been Thunder on the Ridge, presented by Miracle Toyota and the City of Haines City. Held on Thursday, July 4 at Lake Eva Park in downtown Haines City, the opening ceremonies begin at noon and there will be music, food and fun throughout the day, including a performance by country music artist Joe Nichols that begins at 8 p.m. The evening concludes with a fireworks display at 9:30 p.m.
VIP tickets for concert seating are available in advance, at a price of $15 each. One dollar from every sale will go to a solid cause, and will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides assistance to soldiers who were wounded in the course of their combat duty.
Call the City of Haines City Leisure Services Department at 863-421-3700 for tickets or additional information.
Celebration Town Center is another place known for a big holiday event on Independence Day. This year there’s a far-out of this world theme, as Celebration Town Center is joining forces with MegaCon to bring the first ever “A Sci-Fi 4th of July” to Central Florida.
“Get ready to dance the night away in a one of a kind, family-friendly event with a fireworks show you will be talking about for years: a synchronized spectacular display set to a Sci-Fi-themed soundtrack,” the Disney-sponsored town of Celebration notes.
In addition to the fireworks, Town Center’s KidZone will feature an assortment of inflatable games for kids and teens, including a jousting area, bounce houses, and face painting. There will also be a movie-themed costume contest at 7:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend dressed as their favorite character for a chance to win prizes.
The day will also feature live music performances by Oliver’s Queen, Jordyn Kane, DJ Tami, Gina Marie Incandela, and a patriotic tribute to veterans by The Dixieland Jazz Band. The group is made up of former members of the “Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Band.”
There will be a free Park and Ride Shuttle available from 215 Celebration Place.
To learn more, call Celebration Town Center at 407-566-2200.
The city of Orlando Orlando is also pledging to keep people entertained as the night sky lights up during Fireworks at the Fountain, a show held at Lake Eola Park at 195 N. Rosalind Ave in downtown. Visitors and guests are encouraged to show up early to take in the beauty of Lake Eola, while ensuring they have a great viewing spot of the fountain and the fireworks. This event begins at 4 p.m. and offers entertainment, food, and those fireworks.
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