10 SEP 2019: With recent news out of Orlando focussing on hurricanes, Harry Potter and Hollywood Studios, it’s easy to miss all that’s been happening in Orlando this summer/fall.

Indeed, when Visit Orlando and partners roll through three Canadian cities for Canada Mission 2019 in early October (see details at end of story), there will be considerably more on the agenda than Hurricane Dorian (minimal effect on Orlando), new Harry Potter-themed attractions at Universal Orlando Resort (latest: the all-new light projection experience, “Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle,” running Sept.14-Nov. 15); and the opening of the long-awaited Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios on Aug. 29.

“I think the thing about Orlando is it’s always different,” observed US Travel president Roger Dow recently at the IPW trade show in Anaheim. “Every time you go back there, there are new restaurants, new theme parks and experiences, the airport is getting bigger, it’s just fantastic!”

Visit Orlando president and CEO George Aguel is inclined to agree, noting that the central Florida city welcomed a record 75 million visitors in 2018, a feat only possible because “we have tourism infrastructure like no other place in the country.”

And the fact that the city is the most visited destination in the US, he adds, “is the ultimate validation that Orlando is different than other destinations. It’s like the People’s Choice Awards!”

Nevertheless, Visit Orlando isn’t content to “take its success for granted,” says Aguel, especially since “there will never be a shortage of theme park experiences (to promote)” and new hotel rooms to fill (3,400 this year, 6,000 more in 2020 – the largest boom in 20 years – giving the city 132,000 hotel rooms in total).

“We’re always building these to ensure that visitors are coming back. We don’t want them to come in and visit and then not come back for a long time,” Aguel adds.

Foremost amongst Orlando’s plans to keep up with itself is development of Orlando International Airport, which is building a new terminal that will add 19 new gates when it opens in 2021, increasing the capacity of the facility to welcome 70,000 more flights carrying 12 million passengers per year.

Visit Orlando has also opened a “unique” new visitor centre on International Drive that includes team members capable of helping guest curate “the best experience they can have,” in the destination, along with area maps and discount attraction tickets.

ORLANDO TRAVEL ACADEMY

Travel counsellors have equally been considered with Visitor Orlando also introducing new tools for the trade.

The re-designed Orlando Travel Academy (orlandotravelacademy.com) offers agents quick access to sales planning resources, including itineraries, a new media gallery and an all-new educational course. This latter enhancement is designed to educate travel advisors on how to sell the destination, keep clients updated on the latest news and help provide increased value for their customers’ vacation experiences. It is available in several languages and also has a mobile-friendly version.

Upon completion of the program, Orlando Travel Academy graduates receive the designation of “Certified Orlando Expert.” They can also take advantage of more than 50 “Orlando Travel Expert” offers, ranging from 50 percent off theme parks tickets and complimentary attraction tickets to discounts up to 35 percent off hotel rates, allowing them to take advantage of savings while planning their own trip to Orlando.

Aguel notes that in-person training options are also increasing, including expanding the Orlando Ambassador Program, in which top sellers are brought into the destination for in-depth training with Visit Orlando staff and partners.

A new web site is also the most “visual, experiential web site we think anywhere in the world,” says the Visit Orlando boss, adding that visitors will be able to virtually visit theme parks, attractions and “even ride our roller coasters.” It is, he adds, a “fantastic” tool for agents (and their clients) to visit the city from their own home.

“We realize,” he says, “how essential updated travel trade tools are in helping travel advisers across the globe increase their sales. Our team is committed to doing everything we can to support our key stakeholders as they continue selling vacation packages to (Orlando).”

CALENDAR

Wickedly fun parties, dazzling holiday events and fantastic foodie feasts are set to entertain visitors this fall, with several new holiday firework shows, exclusive events and themed parties. A full schedule of the festivities, plus insider attraction tips and vacation planning guides, can be found at VisitOrlando.ca. In the meantime, here are some highlights:

Food

• Guests can dine on haute cuisine without burning through their budget during Visit Orlando's Magical Dining Month (continuing through Sept. 30), when more than 100 of Central Florida's top restaurants feature three-course, prix fixe dinner menus for $35.

• At the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (continuing until Nov. 23), guests can savour flavours from around the globe as they circle the iconic World Showcase. This year’s new additions include make-your-own candy sushi workshops, wine and cheese pairing classes, international specialty dining experiences and more.

• Food and Wine Weekends at Waldorf Astoria Orlando and Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek (Sept. 30 – Nov. 24) are a celebration of fine wine and the culinary arts. Throughout the event weekends, guests can enjoy complimentary cocktail creation classes as well as a gourmet popsicle bar, traditional Royal Tea and the Bar du Chocolat with champagne.

• The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic (Nov. 8 – 9) treats guests to a street party festival with unlimited food tastings at dozens of stations, featuring culinary selections from the hotel’s award-winning restaurants and wine from around the world amidst a festive backdrop of live entertainment.

Halloween

• At Universal Orlando Resort’s Halloween Horror Nights (under way, select nights through Nov. 2) ‘80s and ‘80s-themed cult classics return in the 10 haunted houses, five scare zones and live entertainment.

• During Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (under way, through Nov. 1), Magic Kingdom Park comes alive with jack-o-lanterns, not-so-scary characters and family friendly entertainment. Visitors can trick-or-treat, masquerade with costumed characters and discover new ghostly surprises throughout the park.

SeaWorld Orlando’s Halloween Spooktacular (weekends Sept. 21 – Oct. 27) returns for family friendly trick-or-treating, not-so-spooky live shows, whimsical sea creatures, playtime fun with favourite Sesame Street friends and more.

LEGOLAND Florida Resort’s Brick or Treat (select nights Oct. 5-27) frightens things up with larger-than-life LEGO Halloween character models, a scavenger hunt, trick-or treating, pirate-themed fireworks show and more.

Holidays

• Holidays at Walt Disney World Resort offers fun for guests of all ages (starting Nov. 8), including a new firework show and the transformation of Cinderella Castle into a glistening ice palace at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. New at Animal Kingdom will be the Tree of Like Awakenings spectacular, arctic Discovery Island Entertainment, the Holiday Hoopla Dance Party with Chip ‘n Dale and Christmas at Pongu Pongu in Pandora – The World of Avatar. Other returning holiday favourites include Epcot’s Candlelight Processional, a holiday wonderland at Disney Springs and more.

Universal Orlando Resort invites guests, wizards and the people of Whoville (Nov. 16 – Jan. 5) to the Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios. Families will light up with Christmas cheer as the Grinch comes to life in the Who-liday Spectacular.

• Waves of holiday spirit splash during SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration (Nov. 23 – Dec. 31), where guests of all ages can enjoy elaborate live shows, meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and marvel at the glimmering Christmas tree forest in the sea.

LEGOLAND (select dates Nov. 29 – Dec. 31), features LEGO building activities, Christmas-themed photo-ops, an adventure show into Santa’s workshop and other holiday surprises.

CANADA MISSION

Visit Orlando, Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, and other suppliers will reveal all the latest news about Orlando, including theme parks, new attractions, accommodations, shopping, and dining. Attendees will also have a chance to meet an astronaut.

Dates and locations include Toronto (Oct. 1, Paramount Event Space), Ottawa (Oct. 2, Sheraton Ottawa) and Montreal (Oct. 3, Chateau Royal, Laval). Registration and trade show will begin at 5 p.m. and the evening will end at 8:30 p.m.

Space is limited; RSVP HERE by Sept. 24.




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Michael Baginski

Editor, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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