Best Thing Since Sliced Bread? Aquarium Creates ‘Peanut Butter and Jellyfish’

2D11447234-pbj-4x3_blocks_desktop_largeJanuary 29, 2014–
American kids have long-respected the PB&J as the best thing between sliced bread. Inspired by the lunchbox staple, staff at the Children’s Aquarium in Dallas have raised a brood of moon jellyfish on a daily diet of Walgreens peanut butter, diluted with salt water and squirted into their tank. The success of the impromptu experiment took the duo by surprise — sandwiches in the break room was the backup plan — but nearly three months in, the “peanut butter and jellies” are thriving, they tell NBC News.

Back in November, Zelda Montoya, the aquarium’s jellyfish breeder, found herself with a bumper crop of moon jelly babies on her hands. The aquarium supervisor, Barrett Christie, had read about shrimps being fed peanut-based protein supplement … so decided to give the peanut butter diet a try.

“It just occurred to me that maybe this would work — of course we never expected it to,” Christie told NBC News. “I thought it was an interesting kind of a joke.”

The duo raised 250 moon jellyfish in a plastic tank on a diet of baby sea monkeys that had been fed peanut butter. (Sea monkeys are a kind of crustacean that makes up the regular jellyfish diet.) After a couple of days, the jellyfishes’ meals were switched to diluted peanut butter, straight up.

Two weeks later, the jellies were still alive, and growing. “That’s when it dawned on us that this was really working,” Christie said. And that’s when he thought, “I guess we’re gonna have peanut butter and jellyfish.”

Owing to their “high degree of peanutbutterocity,” the staffers report in the “Drum and Croaker,” a circular for aquarists, the jellies have developed a slight brown tinge. Other than that and a slightly slower growth rate, Montoya said it’s been business as usual. “I’ve upped the amount of peanut butter that I’ve put in the water just as I would the regular diet,” she said.

Some grown-up jellies have since joined other adults in the main aquarium exhibit, but several still remain in a Dallas Aquarium back room sucking down the delicious nutty dinner every day.

The team doesn’t yet have a PB&J exhibit planned, and no, the jellies won’t show up on a menu any time in the near future. But Montoya and Christie hope to have “second generation peanut butter and jellyfish” soon.

By Deborah Fitts

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All in the Details: Sculpting a Seven Dwarfs Mine in New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom

ALT227651-613x407January 29, 2014–
In the months leading up to the unveiling of New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park, we regularly shared bits and pieces of this new land and its amazing detail in our “All in the Details” series here on the Disney Parks Blog. Today, we’re thrilled to share more of these images with you of the final attraction that’s set to debut in this area – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. ALT227652-613x407

In case you aren’t familiar, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a family coaster that will open in 2014 to tell the story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” from the perspective of the dwarfs. Guests will enter through an interactive queue, take a seat in a mine train car and coast through the mine “where a million diamonds shine” – where plenty of surprises await.
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Our friends at Walt Disney Imagineering just shared these new images with us, which showcase some of the smaller elements inside the attraction’s interactive queue area and mine scene. According to them, a lot of the detail you see here was hand-carved by Imagineers – sturdy logs, crumbling bark, rough wood planks, thick beams, smooth rocks and rusty hinges – that all appear to serve as “support structures” for the mine. After each item was carved, they were then painted to look aged and weathered through application of various colors of paint. Some parts have been aged to look older than others. Look closely and you may also notice how the composure of the walls change as the photos push you through the mine – from crumbly rocks on the exterior to more sturdily packed walls inside.

By Deborah Fitts

Cold Weather Hasn’t Stopped the Building of ‘Goliath’, The New Six Flags Roller Coaster

Six+Flags4January 29, 2014–
Gurnee: Recent sub-zero temperatures haven’t stopped construction of what a suburban Chicago amusement park says will be the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world.
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Six Flags Great America says that construction crews are still working on the new roller coaster, Goliath. It’s expected to open this spring.

Six Flags Great America President, Hank Salemi says Goliath will be “unmatched” because it is expected to set three world records.

The ride will break the record of 72 miles per hour for a wooden roller coaster. It also will send riders plunging down a 180-foot high, 85 degree drop.

By Deborah Fitts

Silverwood to Double Family Area

New+Family+RidesJanuary 29, 2014–
In 2014 Silverwood will almost double the size of its family entertainment area. “Over the years children and young adults have grown up in the park riding roller coasters and splashing in our wave pools. Now, these same individuals are bringing their children to the park to experience all the same memories their parents created with them.

Silverwood is happy to announce that our family entertainment area will be expanding to an additional 3/4 acre. New rides, that mom, dad, grandma and grandpa can enjoy along with the kids, will be added along with beautiful gardens and places to relax,” said Nancy DiGiammarco the park’s director of marketing and communications.

Fly on a kite glider as you lay side-by-side with your child; take a giant puppy on a magical ride as it barks on your command; and ride the amazing spinning family coaster to the gleeful giggles of all young and old.

All of these rides will open prior to the first day of summer in 2014, while space for an additional ride will be prepared for a 2015 opening of the fly away hot air balloons. The popular kiddie Ferris wheel will also be re-themed and relocated to the new expansion area.

Silverwood will be investing more than 1.2 million dollars in the new expansion. The new area will be located north of Garfield’s Summer Camp and east of the Butterflyer and Frog Hopper. Fences will be removed and relocated, new pathways will be designed along with seating areas, trees and gardens. “The new family area will enhance the child, parent, grandparent experience and yes even the teens will find these rides to be a lot of fun,” said DiGiammarco.
Design elements are currently being finalized and construction is expected to begin in February. Follow the construction progress on Silverwood’s website http://www.silverwoodthemepark.com or on Silverwood’s Facebook to enter contests to win admission tickets for opening day. Silverwood’s family fun just got bigger!

Silverwood Theme Park is the largest Theme and Water Park in the Northwest with 216 acres of fun and over 70 rides, slides, shows and attractions. The park boasts 4 massive roller coasters, 1 drop tower and a myriad of other family friendly rides and attractions as well as the Boulder Beach Water Park with 2 expansive wave pools, numerous water slides, play areas for the kids and VIP cabanas. Opening in 1988, Silverwood has grown from a local attraction into a fixture in the Northwest tourism industry as the most attended attraction in the state of Idaho. For more information log onto http://www.silverwoodthemepark

By Deborah Fitts

Thanks to Potter and Prime, Attendance And Spending Are Still Climbing at Universal Orlando

assets0430960767_10648928_8colJanuary 29, 2014–Powered by Harry Potter and Optimus Prime, Universal Orlando and the rest of NBCUniversal’s theme parks threw off more than $1 billion in cash for their owners in 2013, the first time they have ever eclipsed the mark.

Executives at parent company Comcast Corp., which reported fourth-quarter earnings Tuesday, called it a “very exciting milestone” for their theme-park business and predicted results will swell even further this year on the strength of a second Potter-themed land in Orlando: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, which will open by this summer in Universal Studios Florida.

“We remain excited and optimistic about the next phase of Harry Potter and expect this to generate strong returns by increasing profitability and attendance and continuing the transformation of our parks into must-visit destinations,” Comcast Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis said on a conference call with analysts.

The confident forecast followed a fourth quarter in which Universal Parks & Resorts’ operating cash flow — a measure of profitability — rose 4.6 percent, climbing to $257 million from $245 million a year ago. Total revenue jumped 8.8 percent to $566 million.

Though it did not disclose precise figures, Comcast said attendance and visitor spending rose during the quarter at both of its domestic resorts: the two-park Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood in Southern California. Executives credited the continued strength of the original — and now nearly four-year-old — Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, as well as Transformers-themed thrill rides that have been built on both coasts.

For the full year, operating cash flow at the theme parks rose 5.3 percent to $1 billion on sales that leapt 7.2 percent to $2.2 billion. The division also earns licensing fees from overseas theme parks.

Comcast said cash flow at the theme parks has more than doubled from $400 million in 2009, the year it struck a deal to acquire NBCUniversal from General Electric Co. Combined attendance in Florida and California has soared more than 40 percent over the same period.

The Philadelphia-based cable giant is now aggressively expanding those parks. NBCUniversal’s total capital spending increased by nearly $400 million in 2013 — to $1.2 billion total — amid construction of everything from a Transformers ride and a Simpsons-themed retail area, both of which opened in Universal Studios Florida last year, to Diagon Alley and Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which will become the company’s fourth-on-site hotel in Orlando when it opens in the coming weeks.

Comcast said NBCUniversal’s capital spending will remain at around $1.2 billion this year, primarily because of Diagon Alley and a copy of the original Wizarding World being built in California.

“We think that cash flow in the theme parks can increase significantly with investments like Harry Potter 2, hotels and other investments in the future,” NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke told analysts.

By Deborah Fitts

SeaWorld’s Bands, Brews & BBQ vs. Universal’s Mardi Gras

seaworld-shamu-550_304January 29, 2014–
Universal Studios’ Mardi Gras concert series likely won’t try to capitalize on the Blackfish documentary controversy to outdo SeaWorld Orlando’s Bands, Brews & BBQ, which runs Feb. 1-March 9, according to a local expert.

SeaWorld’s 2013 revenue was $1.46 billion, setting a record for its 50-year history. That suggests attendance may be just fine for its upcoming concert series, although the official website still does not list a lineup of bands. Many artists originally slated to perform cancelled in the wake of the Blackfish controversy.

Meanwhile, Universal will feature 20 groups at its Mardi Gras celebration, which runs Feb. 8-May 31, including Daughtry, Barenaked Ladies, Robin Thicke, Foreigner, Gavin DeGraw, Nelly and more.

Here, John Gerner, managing director of Leisure Business Advisors LLC, offered insight on theme park concert series:

Is there any way Universal Studios’ Mardi Gras could capitalize on the situation regarding Bands, Brews & BBQ?

“It’s almost like there’s an informal code in the industry that says to be careful of taking advantage of your competitor’s controversy, because you never know when you could be in a situation, too. There should always be a sense of fairness.”

Was there anything SeaWorld could have done to keeps the original acts?
“No. Since the bands committed far in advance, management had limited choices to how they could respond. With social media now, there’s always going to be controversy at some level because of how easy it is to put it out there.”

How do events like concert series help theme parks?
“This isn’t the most profitable event because it’s like you’re buying attendance since you have to pay for the bands. But, they are definitely an advantage because they do generate some additional revenue. The strategy has been to look at the slow times of the year and use this as a way to bring in more people. Concerts are a strategy that’s been used for decades.”

Should SeaWorld take on another marketing campaign to avoid losing attendance?
“Keep in mind: The industry has regarded SeaWorld as being well-managed. They’ve been considered as high quality, with a reputation of rarely making very obvious mistakes. Another marketing campaign would take some serious thought and consideration because it’s not an easy situation.”

By Deborah Fitts

Hershey Park- More Than a Theme Park: A Well Rounded Family Vacation

861064_10151509334414357_579170205_oJanuary 29, 2014–
What comes to mind when you think of Hershey, Pennsylvania? Most people think first of chocolate. Then they picture water parks, roller coasters, friendly, walk-around characters and rolling green hills. They may even imagine themselves visiting one of Hershey’s official resorts–either the Hotel Hershey or Hershey Lodge. Hershey resorts are built on the legacy of Milton S. Hershey, who founded Hershey Entertainment and Resorts in 1927. Regardless of where you end up at Hershey, everyone at Hershey makes good on the Hershey tagline—the sweetest place on earth.
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Hershey Park Hershey Park, with its 65 rides, water parks, live entertainment, walk-through zoo, and walk-around Hersey characters still retains all of its mid 20th century charm, while offering visitors a carousel, a variety of rides, and fun attractions, including ice skating during the winter and water play during the summer. During Hershey’s winter season (January through March) and during part of the Holiday season (September through December), some of the rides close and the water parks are closed, but the park is lit up and open at night from 5pm to 10pm, making it an especially festive time to visit.
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Good Times at the Hershey Lodge
Our family’s visit to the Hershey Lodge, which is very family friendly, over the winter holiday during Christmas week, occurred during a time when there are fewer visitors than usual. Because of this prices were discounted. Despite the fact that it has over 660 rooms, two on-site restaurants, a café, a gift shop, a pool and hot tub, and several large, well-appointed activity rooms, Hershey lodge feels both cozy and elegant at the same time.
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The suites are comfortable, spacious and well-designed with coffee makers, mini-fridges, high-quality oak furniture, flat-screen TVs, wifi, Hershey emblems on the pillows and wallpaper and chocolate-infused bathroom amenities. Hershey hospitality starts immediately upon arrival, when guests are checked in and given Hershey bars. There is also a separate kids’ check-in, which includes name tags, coloring sheets, Hershey kisses, and fun keepsakes.

Hershey ParkThe lodge is as organized as it is hospitable. There is a daily schedule available to guests, replete with daily craft activities, kid check-ins, and character appearances. Roughly every three hours a large Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Peppermint Patty, or Hershey Bar character appears in the lobby, as excited kids and parents gather around to snap photos on their smart phones. And though the lobby is generally buzzing with activity, with children milling around, families sitting around the fireplaces and shoppers heading to the gift shop or the Coffee Beanery, there is still a sense of calm and order.
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Learn Hershey’s Chocolate-Factory Secrets and Get Energized for the Park
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Though there are less expensive places to stay in Hershey, Pennsylvania than the Hershey Lodge or Hotel Hershey, staying at one of the Hershey resorts provides an insider experience that is full of perks, discounts and freebies. Hershey Lodge guests get discounted tickets to Hershey Park and free tickets to the Hershey Story Museum and Hershey Gardens.

The Hershey Story, in town, is an exploration of early 20th century entrepreneurial vision and persistence. It provides an opportunity for visitors to learn basic principles related to factories, planned communities, advertising and promotion, philanthropy and the history of American business practices. Staying at the resort allows a family to explore the incredible history of Milton Hershey’s chocolate empire and the town that grew up around it. Even as you vacation, your children are learning and growing intellectually.

Though a trip to Hershey Park may evoke a sense of nostalgia, it is truly a 21st century world-class destination, with a great deal of subtle sophistication and a well-honed thematic homage to chocolate that never grows old.

By Deborah Fitts