Walt Disney World Resort’s NBA Experience’s latest update

Preview poster for The NBA Experience. Photo by: Tea Piro

As of Oct. 19, the Walt Disney World Resort has given guests an updated first look into a sports themed experience coming to their main shopping and dining destination, Disney Springs.

In June of 2015, the editorial content director for Disney Parks, Thomas Smith published an article on the Disney Parks Blog, announcing The Walt Disney Co.’s collaboration with the National Basketball Association to create The NBA Experience. The announcement came just before the 2015 NBA Finals, which brought in an American audience average of roughly 20 million.

“We’re excited to join The NBA in offering this unique form of family entertainment,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “It will be a terrific addition to the world-class lineup of shops and restaurants coming to Disney Springs.”

The Oct. 19 announcement featured concept art for what will be the facade of The NBA Experience. The statement referenced the architectural design of modern basketball arenas across the U.S. as contributing factors to the design choice.

While detailed design ideas have yet to be released for the interior of the space, the venue is set to include shopping experiences, games with competitive features, a connected dining location and other interactive aspects.

“This one-of-a-kind experience is sure to be enjoyed by basketball and Disney fans of all ages who visit Disney Springs from around the world, ” said Sal LaRocca, NBA President of Global Partnerships.

On March 14, 2013, Tom Staggs, Chief Operation Officer for The Walt Disney Company, announced the transition of the resort’s shopping center, Downtown Disney, into what is now Disney Springs. The three year expansion resulted in the shopping center almost doubling in size.

The NBA Experience will be replacing DisneyQuest, an indoor interactive theme park that opened at The Walt Disney World Resort in 1998. DisneyQuest featured an array of video games that highlighted attractions found in the Disney parks as a way for guests to enjoy key elements without directly visiting one of the four Walt Disney World Resort theme parks.

In June of 2015, it was announced that DisneyQuest would close its doors the following year to make way for The NBA Experience. However, DisneyQuest did not officially close until July of 2017.

DisneyQuest demolition site as of November 3, 2017. Photo by: Tea Piro
DisneyQuest demolition space as of November 3, 2017. Photo by: Tea Piro

DisneyQuest was known for its old-school atmosphere, featuring pinball machines and other arcade-style games. While this aspect brought feelings of nostalgia to some guests, others viewed the indoor theme park as outdated. However, Walt Disney World Resort cast members noticed an influx of guests returning to DisneyQuest prior to its closure.

“People know that it’s coming to a close,” said Steve Ruffman, the General Manager of Disney Springs’ West Side and The Landing, to the Orlando Sentinel in June of 2017. “There are Disney gamers, there are Disneyphiles and there are people who are just excited that this has been part of their annual visit to Disney World. It’s now ‘a must-do’ when it was ‘a may-have-been’ a year ago.”

The NBA Experience is coming to The Walt Disney World Resort following the closure of NBA City at Orlando’s Universal CityWalk. NBA City, the themed restaurant that included NBA memorabilia, closed in August of 2015.

“Earlier this year, we decided not to renew the lease for NBA City so we could create an exciting, new concept for that space,” said Universal spokesman Tom Schroder to the Orlando Sentinel.

The NBA Experience’s new location to Disney Springs will add a significant space increase to the basketball themed restaurant. The location of CityWalk’s former NBA City restaurant, now The Toothsome Chocolate Factory & Savory Feast Emporium, offered 17,500 square feet; however, the new location at the DisneyQuest space offers 100,000 square feet.

Although the opening date for summer 2019 has officially been announced, Walt Disney World Resort guests have been voicing differing opinions in the comment sections of the Disney Parks Blog regarding a NBA themed experience at Disney Springs.

Epcot celebrates 35 years by highlighting cast members

On Sunday, Oct. 1, Epcot invited guests to celebrate its 35th anniversary with an array of special events and exclusive merchandise, while also recognizing the hard work of the park’s cast members.

Epcot, originally known as EPCOT Center, opened on Oct. 1, 1982, as the second park within Walt Disney World, following Magic Kingdom. The theme park focuses heavily on innovations in technology and various cultures from around the world. Epcot is also known for employing representatives from each country represented in World Showcase, a major section of the park.

“Walt had it right when he said, ‘It takes people to make the dream a reality,'” said Epcot Vice President, Melissa Valiquette. “From the time you arrive at Epcot, until the time you leave, it is our invaluable cast members who deliver a rich and unique experience to each and every one of our guests. Our cast members take great pride in bringing the wonders of Epcot to life each day.”

Employees from any of the various Disney resorts around the world are referred to as cast members. In particular, Epcot’s cast members were mentioned upward of 10 times during the Fountain View stage celebration that was held at 10:01 a.m. on Sunday.

“We know that these last 35 years at Epcot would not have been possible without the amazing help of our cast members,” said Walt Disney World Resort Ambassador, Brandon Peters.

The ceremony included presentations by two Epcot performance groups, Mariachi Cobre and Voices of Liberty, a cast member processional, speeches by Valiquette, Peters and Walt Disney World Resort President, George A. Kalogridis.

“As a child, I’d been glued to the TV watching Walt Disney, with his message of a fascinating future and a belief in the goodness of people worldwide,” said Kalogridis. “Now, we stand at a park that embodies those ideals. This is a place for family, a place for fun and a place for faith in our vision as a people.”

For the 35th anniversary, guests were able to purchase exclusive “I Was There” merchandise that would only be available until park closure. Retro-inspired merchandise commemorating the anniversary was also sold during the event and will continue to be available.

A 35th anniversary guide map and pin were handed to guests upon entering the park. Specialty cupcakes themed after the Norway pavilion in World Showcase, The Land pavilion and the center attraction, Spaceship Earth, were also sold throughout various locations in Epcot.

Aside from acknowledging the role of cast members, the ceremony’s speakers continuously noted that 35 years was only the beginning for Epcot, referring to upcoming attractions and restaurants.

“It has been a great 35 years, and let me tell you, we have some wonderful additions on the horizon,” said Kalogridis.”I was thrilled that we were able to announce what amounts to nothing less than an ‘Epcot renaissance’ last July at the D23 Expo in Anaheim. As our chairman Bob Chapek said, ‘This work here will be centered around a few guiding principles: We want to keep true to the original vision of Epcot, while making it more Disney, more timeless, more relevant and more family.'”

Kalogridis continued on to mention new attractions based on the movies “Ratatouille” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” that will be added to the France pavilion in World Showcase and to Future World, respectively.

The 35th anniversary of Epcot falls on the same day as the 46th anniversary of Magic Kingdom, another park within the Walt Disney World Resort.

“Epcot has always been and will always be an optimistic celebration of the real world brought to life through the magic of Disney,” said Kalogridis. “I promise you, the exciting plans we have on the horizon, will honor Epcot’s rich legacy of creativity, innovation, while continuing to exceed the expectations of our guests for decades to come.”

Taste of Spain captivates Tampa

TAMPA – On N. Tampa St., Toma Spain offers savory Mediterranean dishes and is host to live Flamenco shows, a culture which Fred Castro and his family helped bring to the community 37 years ago.

“We are one of the older Spanish restaurants here in Downtown Tampa,” Castro said. “We like to push the independence because if you spend your money in an independent restaurant, it stays within the community.”

Among the members of Flamenco shows are dancer and choreographer Carolina Esparza, who has known the Castro family for many years.

“They have similar experiences where they’ve always traveled to Spain because of their family,” Esparza said. “The food here is amazing, the entertainment that they get is amazing and yet it’s still a night out so to speak.”

The motivation for the workers of Toma Spain is simple: provide an atmosphere reminiscent of southern traditional Spanish culture.

The Flamenco show on March 25th was met with a grandiose round of applause due in large part to the performance of Flamenco guitarist Javier Hinojosa.

“Our musician [Hinojosa] is in my opinion one of the best Flamenco guitarists around,” Castro said. “We kind of traveled Spain ourselves and seen a lot of Flamenco shows and he compares with the best.”

The customers left the restaurant following the show with smiles and cheerful conversation amongst one another.

 

Clearwater Beach Spring Break Parking

Spring break is coming up and Clearwater Beach is offering something that will make visiting the beach less of a hassle.

The beach opened Pelican Walk Parking Garage on Poinsettia Avenue at the end of January. The goal was to help with parking problems that occur on the beach.

Jason Beisel, the Public Communications Coordinator of Clearwater expects the garage to improve the flow of traffic.

“Especially this time of year with spring break… we have an influx of visitors,” said Beisel. “But what we built it for is so people have a place to park.”

The location used to be a single level parking lot, but the new garage offers 702 spaces. It also helps beach employees who had trouble finding parking for a reasonable price. Parking in the garage costs $2 an hour or $20 a day.

“Some lots around here, you can pay up to $50 a day to park,” Beisel said. “So, we have contracted with some businesses where they pay a flat fee and they’re able to park here and it helps alleviate some of the parking problems for employees.”

The garage cost over $11 million to build. Most of the money came from parking fees collected on the beach and tourism dollars. A smaller portion came from taxpayer dollars.

“It just helps the whole beach and the economy to bring people out here so they can enjoy themselves and spend money at all the different shops,” Clearwater resident Tim Lavelle said. “It’s just good for everybody.”

 

Rocking the Curtis Hixon Park

 

Since 2010, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park has held a “Rock the Park” monthly concert series that invites local bands, up-and-coming artists and vendors to come together and spend a relaxing evening with the community.

Held in the evenings on the first Thursday of every month, guests can sit in the amphitheater and enjoy the free and dog-friendly event with half a dozen decorated pop-up shops and local ska, alternative, or rock bands who hope to gain exposure.

First-time performer Shane Schuck, whose stage name is Pajamas, was thrilled to be able to play a set for his friends and new fans right in his own backyard.

“My buddy, Joe, does some of the promoting here,” the Clearwater resident said. “He just offered it to me a couple months back and it sounded like an awesome opportunity.”

One new business in particular was extremely excited to promote their brand at the concert. “Whatever Pops,” an ice pop-stand-turned-storefront, was selling organic ice pops to the audience.

“The Popsicles have natural ingredients with no added sugar,” employee Anthony Licary said. “Even the ingredients like the teas and fruit are locally grown in Tampa.”

Anyone who is interested in attending the event, booking a performance slot, or becoming a vendor can find more information on the Rock the Park Facebook page, or on their website  http://www.rocktheparktampa.com.

 

A Factory’s Support For The Children

A Factory’s support for the Children

Pam and Tom Cronin, owners of the Shell Factory, spent years renovating and redesigning the park with families in mind- especially the kids. Field trips to the park are welcomed, and the Cronin’s are willing to help teachers overcome any obstacles to make the trips possible for the students.  

“When Lee county stopped supplying school buses for the kids for field trips, Tom and Pam Cronin decided they would do it. So we pay for all the kids to come here,” Anne Sheridan, the Shell Factory general manager, said.

During these sponsored field trips, students get to experience nature up close in the Nature Park. According to the website, the Nature Park includes over 400 wild animals; aviaries filled with different types of birds, tortoises, turtles and iguanas; an Eco Lab for exotic snakes and more. Gator biscuits are also available for visitors to toss out to the alligators that live within the park.

Our Nature Park Environmental Education Foundation has raised capital sufficient to fund field trips for over four thousand school children who otherwise would have been unable to visit the attraction,” The Cronins said on their website.

The park, however, is still growing and changing every year.

“As a work in progress the Nature Park is always expanding, improving, and acquiring new inhabitants,” according to the Shell Factory’s website.

Pam and Tom also host special events outside of school functions on the property. Weddings and corporate meetings can utilized one of two special rooms in the park- the Dolphin room and the Party Room- as well as birthday parties or other celebrations.

The factory was voted best shell store by North Fort Myers in both 2014 and 2015. Years in the making, the Shell Factory has become one of the best places in South Florida for locals and tourists alike.

shell

Photo courtesy of flickr.com