25 MAY 2010: While heavy duty speed dating among USA’s leading tourism reps and industry heavy-weights was taking place during last week’s POW WOW in Orlando, I was - shall I say -getting ready to frolic around this great nation’s theme parks.

As a kid our family by-passed the theme park capital for sunny Sarasota. Mom wanted to see the home of the Ringling Brothers. Dad wanted to show us exotic animals while my brother just wanted to make sandcastles by the sea.

Me, I was happy to see anything different.

So, when I heard Pow Wow’s opening night was Disney Destinations-sponsored, I figured some fancy canapés, drinks and a quick alfresco walk. I’m a newbie to Pow Wow so I had no expectations.

Was I in for a surprise….each night!

The Magic of Disney

Disney’s Magic Kingdom Theme Park rolled out the red carpet and boy, do I mean red carpet.

Never have I heard about this great amusement park closing down for a private party but here we were with Main Street, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland all at our earthly clutches.

Passing through the iconic Cinderella Castle, a candy shop rife with mounds of Hershey’s Reese’s pieces, jujubes and bags of cotton candy with delicately dipped chocolate covered Rice-Krispied Mickey Mouse-on-a-sticks were ready for the taking. Bags hurled out as we freely scooped our hands into these candy stacks.

In between all the photo-ops with Cinderella, the evil stepmother and all the other Disney characters, food stations styled in carved ice bars teeming with shellfish and beautifully fluted crab and avocado wraps with dishes of seared scallops and the quirky black potted sirloin ribs were to die-for.

Did I mention all the drinks you could fancy? Aptly concocted blue cocktails were stationed at Tomorrowland. Didn’t have any but heard they were pretty good.

Digital signs announced “O minutes” wait time throughout the park’s rides. Saddling up to the Space Mountain, we shimmied inside this refurbished seventies throwback, shrieked like kids, and laughed the entire ride. I seriously think we all need to sample Space Mountain. It’s good for the soul.

The evening kicker: wearing Mickey Vision glasses during the Castle Fireworks.

Universal Orlando Parties it up

The following night it was off to Universal Orlando Resort.

The big talk here is the upcoming opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter on June 18th.

This theme park within a theme park comes equipped with a Harry Potter mini-world not to mention a couple of roller coasters with the piece de la resistance: the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

This coaster was closed when we ventured here but your clients will be thoroughly amazed with this new adventure coaster experience. The ride starts in the Hogwarts Castle which is big on 3-D portraits, medieval assorted accessories and plenty of other new technology.

I made it through the cavernous maze of the other rollercoaster, The Dragon Challenge, held my breath and I was busy talking myself into how thrilling a ride it would be.

Not one for roller-coasters, I smiled sheepishly, watched the gang-load of coaster-types ahead, and noticed how the floor just dropped instantly leaving their flip-flops dangling precariously in the humid night air.

“Wow, I can’t go on that. Not without a floor,” I yelped. “What are you going to do, miss the ride?” asked my forlorn ride attendant. You got it.

Glad I did. Turns out some of the riders muttered how they felt dizzy 30 minutes after the infamous spiraling coaster.

Harry Potter’s village will surely make tots, teens and adults with a penchant for the popular blockbuster series giggle and feel all Mugglesy. Pack your broomsticks and wander into themed shops and taverns surrounding the The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Back at the studio production lots which really were a line-up of costumed actors waiting in great anticipation for the Pow Wow delegates to move into the Universal Music Plaza, we snapped happy snaps of Marilyn Monroe, the Blues Brothers and caught glimpses of Back to the Future actor Michael J. Fox.

Universal’s other new roller coaster ride, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit was the backdrop to this stage extravaganza set for none other than the Blue Man Group.

The show was indeed spectacular.

SeaWorld Rocks

For the grand finale, SeaWorld opened its doors to showcase Shamu in all his magnificent girth.

But before we got to see the incredible rock’n’roll night show Shamu Rocks, it was off to nibble some goodies at the various food stations. Bowls of pasta salads, tacos, olive chicken in a cream sauce, and bar after bar waited this hungry (and thirsty) lot.

The Skytower beamed us up for a bird’s eye view of Orlando. Next we meandered into a jet helicopter simulator ride, The Wild Arctic, for a riveting look at Mother Nature’s Great White North then proceeded to tour the frigid venue home to belugas, walruses and polar bears living now in sunny Orlando.

The rumour of the night: a Black Eyed Peas concert. While the band who gave us “I Gotta Feeling,” never made it, the evening turned into a blockbuster party as we sat at the Shamu Stadium, watching audience reaction shots make their way onto the jumbo video screen accompanied all the while by classic rock tunes – American style of course.

Then it was Shamu strutting his stuff, waving and of course, splashing the folks at the wet zone.

Get ready…

For those who missed this year’s parties, get ready for next year when Pow Wow makes it to San Francisco. The big buzz for the opening night is all about The Rock. No, not our Newfoundland Rock but Alcatraz.

You heard it here first. Get ready for Alcatraz as you have never seen it before.

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

Read more from Ilona Kauremszky

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