Review of “Turn it Up: the Hottest Show on Ice” at Busch Gardens Tampa

Stunning. Absolutely incredible. That pretty much sums up the experience at the new ice show in the Moroccan Palace Theatre at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Since the late 1980s, the Moroccan Palace has been home to some great daily and seasonal shows. From Hollywood to ecology to Christmas, it’s covered it all. Although the shows have been great, one of the most noticeable elements that dates the venue is the set design. Not anymore. The stage has been completely remodeled and LED walls, map projection, and intelligent lighting are now included. In addition to the vast improvements in the production design, the costumes have turned the sexy factor way up! That music, though. The selection of songs is both strategic and emotional. Even the arrangement of the songs is on point. There is a little of everything for the audience. Whether you appreciate a 50s rock style or the music of Lady Gaga, you will find songs to dance to in your seat. Personally, I was moving to the beat of every single song during the show. When you see the show, be sure to arrive early because the house was completely packed!

Busch Gardens is unique in that it is among very few theme parks around the world that offers a daily operating ice-skating show in a theme park setting. In fact, it is the only major theme park in the United States to offer an ice show as part of its daily operations. And with good reason, running an ice show is an incredibly expensive endeavor, especially on a daily basis. Like with any show, the ice shows in the Moroccan Palace Theatre get reworked every 4-5yrs. When it was announced that Iceploration was ending, I was saddened because I typically caught that show every time I visited the park. But as much as I enjoyed Iceploration, Turn it Up blew my mind and instantly left me with wanting to see it again. At the end of the show, the entire house erupted in applause and even received a standing ovation from myself and others. I couldn’t be more pleased with the new show. Each set piece was brilliantly designed to complement the music, costumes, and respective performers.

Typically, I can be a little harsh on shows that rely upon map projections as a chief component to the show. The long and short of that point of view is that I feel that far too often, the map projection becomes the focus of the show instead of the projections complementing or enhancing the experience. Turn it Up struck the perfect balance between the mapped projections, LED walls, and the ice stage performance. The focus of the show IS the excellently choreographed ice-skating performance by the talented skaters; but, the respective performances are accompanied by popular music and advanced show systems technologies. The talent on stage is the focus. Not that the engineers, editors, and technicians that created the video projection content aren’t important. Both are important parts and contribute to the success of the show. Instead of showing off what technology can do to, this show incorporates the advanced show technology with incredible live performances, creating an immersive experience for the eyes, ears, and mind.

Although it is not entirely fair to compare this show to other more conventional theme park shows, because this one is on ice whereas most others are not, the experience of Turn it Up was unparalleled to any other daily operating show that I have had the opportunity to watch. Honestly, it’s the opinion of this critic that this is the BEST theme park show, bar none. I cannot wait to see how the Christmas shows are going to change in the future as a result of the remodel and re-imagination of the ice show and venue. If you have plans to visit central Florida for the theme parks this summer, you do not want to miss Turn it Up: the Hottest Show on Ice at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

A Perfect Pairing of Food and Art at the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Food & Wine Festival

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay launched its third annual Food and Wine Festival this past weekend. And it’s better than ever with expanded entertainment offerings and of course delicious food and spirits! With expansions to the comprehensive food fare and concert lineup, the festival has something for everyone. During my unofficial guided tour by one of the individuals who helped build many of the sets, I learned just how much time, care, and attention went into each and every element right down to the lightbulbs. Best part about the festival is just how much like a festival it feels. While Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival is by far larger, more comprehensive, and boasts a larger variety of food and alcohol, the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival includes the quaintness that non-theme park food and wine festivals have–or at least the very idea of food and wine festivals as it appears in our mind. Virtually the entire area from the front of the park to the flamingos is filled with artisan kiosks, food and wine vendors, and performing artists.

Coca-Cola makes a huge splash at the food and wine festival this year with its beautifully decorated sponsor area on the far side of the main festival thoroughfare adjacent to the flamingos. Debuting this year is this new expansion featuring Coca-cola products and more food! Some guests from Howl-O-Scream may remember this as a scare zone last year. I absolutely adore the brilliance of the nighttime display in the Coke area. It’s incredibly stunning and just goes to show the increase in quality at this young festival. A great deal of attention was put into the design of the decorative light and luminary fixtures. Lots of glass Coca-Cole bottles with light inside along with exposed string lights help to create a warm, inviting atmosphere. Be sure to checkout the Coke-flavored chocolate dessert in the Coca-Cola area; I’ve heard it’s delicious! And, I am definitely going to try it when I return to the festival throughout the event.

Before taking a stroll down the main festival walkway to procure some delectable goodness, I desired to check out the topiaries and performing arts. The two entertainment offerings that impressed me the most were the ice carving and Living Fountain. The Living Fountain is located near the main festival grounds in the gorgeously landscaped garden area between the festival grounds and the Australian animal encounters. Busch Gardens takes the concept of living statues to the next level. Living statues are a little all-too-common around Central Florida, so Busch needed to find what others were doing and perfect it–they did just that! More than living art (which is beautiful in and of itself), the Living Fountain turns a breathtaking living statue and transforms it into a show including water effects. Watch as the statue comes to life and dips her fingers into the enchanted fountain of crystal clear refreshing water and sprinkles it around on the earth allowing life to grow abundantly.

Just down the walkway, past the main entrance into Gwazi Field is the ice sculpture exhibit and show. Twice a day (once, during the day and again in the evening), watch as one or more ice sculpture artists turn a block of solid ice into a work of art. As I understand it, the artist never repeats a design (at least in the same day). The experience between the day and night differs only slightly. During the day, the ice sculpture artist takes his time in creating the sculpture and you can casually enjoy the evolution from an expressionless block of ice to a beautiful creation. The process of turning the ice into a sculpture takes about 1.5hrs from start to finish. If you choose to walk by the ice carving area at night, then you’ll witness a slightly more invigorating experience because you’ll watch as two ice carvers dual one another. You’ll be amazed at how drills, chainsaws, and jigsaws are used to create incredibly works of art. Enhancing the experience at night are added lights that illuminate the ice.

But what about the food?!? Whatever kind of food you are in the mood for, you will likely find something to satisfy even the most discerning of palettes. Many of the food and drink offerings can be found along the main walkway, with a handful of kiosks sprinkled around the outside of Gwazi Field. Lobster, venison, shrimp, chicken, and more can be found at the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival this year. From new twists on good old-fashioned comfort food to trendy foodie delights, there is no shortage of variety for the park guests this year. The food prices are on par with pricing at similar events including Epcot Food and Wine. With the city of Tampa becoming increasingly known for its foodie and craft beer scene (presently ranked as a top foodie and craft beer locale according to several travel blogs and magazines), it was important for one of the most visited places in Tampa to uphold that growing reputation. Busch Gardens does precisely that with the sheer variety of food, wine, cider, and beer at this year’s event. Since I frequent the event several times over the course of its run, I typically have one or two food items and a glade of wine or two as to not break the bank (haha). This past weekend, I had the highly recommended grilled cheesecake sandwich and key limmen wine. As I am not a food critic nor sommelier, I can only tell you that the dessert was just sweet enough without being too rich, and the wine is mostly dry with a hint of sweetness that paired perfectly with my dessert. I appreciated how the combination wasn’t too sweet, thus allowing me to enjoy the full body of favors. While you are enjoying your food and beverages, be sure to catch the Busch Garden’s jazz cover band at the Peacock Stage.

A big draw to the Busch Gardens Food and Wine festival is the concert lineup each evening! Such a wide variety of music that should pair nicely with anyone’s taste. I did not stay for the concert, but I’ve heard the concerts are packed, and the park guests are thoroughly enjoying their time. On the topic of concerts though, there are three different concert packages that are available for purchase. Two out of the three include food and drink punch cards that give you a fixed number of complementary selections of the food and wine at the festival. The third package does not include food but does include a reserved seating section. Depending on which package you purchase will correspond to the reserved seating section. Sitting closest to the stage is the Tier 1 package and it goes back from there. The concerts are FREE; however, to ensure that you have a seat at the event, you may want to purchase one of the packages. For those who just cannot justify that additional expense in their respective budgets, there is an open seating section as well as plenty of standing room. You can even sit on the ground should you choose.

Food and Wine at Busch Gardens is going on now through April 30th. Don’t miss it!

“On Cinema and Theme Parks” (part 8)

My Book

For the movie studio (or media conglomerate), the theme park provides a seemingly limitless opportunity to cross-promote imagery and narratives from the screen into the park. This accomplishes the desire to advertise new movies and television programs and to sell merchandise pertaining to the various movies and themes that the park showcases. Either way, this two-fold process generates income to sustain the endeavors of the company (Davis, 1996)

Unlike SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment and Cedar Fair (parent company to Cedar Point), Disney and Universal use their parks for more than cross-promotion and merchandising opportunities. Until the late 1990s/early 2000s, they also used their parks as production studios and offices that acted as a counterpart to the Hollywood divisions (StudioCentral.com). The television channel Nickelodeon also operated two sound stages plus production offices at Universal Studios Florida (Riley, 1998). So, in addition to using the intellectual property provided by the movie and television studios, the two media giants used their parks as production facilities to create new media and entertainment content and create production jobs in Central Florida (Milman, 2001). Beyond MGM’s timeless logo featuring the Latin inscription ars gratia artis (art for art’s sake) surrounding Leo the Lion, the cinematic works and television programs can be converted from visual art to commodities because they now have a material place to exist in the real world accessible by millions.

DisneyMGMIn essence, the entertainment elements and advertising materials are so thoroughly fused that it is nearly impossible for the average park guest to tell them apart. Beyond the surface level of movies and theme parks, there is evidence that, when planning a blockbuster movie, the studio has it in its mind whether of not this movie would be good to ride or be used as a theme in a park for shows and other attractions. Susan Davis (1996) explains that the media conglomerates, that primarily run the theme park industry, can pull from other media resources by way of acquisitions, partnerships, and licensing in order to grow and widen audiences and park guests. A classic example of this is the (no longer active) partnership Disney had with MGM Studios. Disney’s licensing deal with MGM allowed the company to use the iconic MGM logo and pull from its film library.

2006_psychotramIt’s well established that theme parks are an outlet for the parent companies that own them, and the movie studios they also own, to act as conduits for one another: the end result being cash flow. But, there are different ways of utilizing the cinema to benefit the theme park experience (Riley, 1998). Whereas Disney uses the characters in its movies to bolster the parks’ influence, Universal Studios (Hollywood and Florida) took a different approach (although, Universal is trending toward the Disney model in recent years). Universal Studios uses its studio tour(s) to blend labor with spectacle (Murdy, 2002). This offers the park guests a glimpse into how films are made. In recent years, this has provided less of a pull since it is common knowledge that a large portion of filmmaking exists within a computer. Universal Studios presents cinema and television history, production techniques, and special effects to impress the audiences and guests. So, one could assess that Universal Studios parks are self-reflexive in their choice of entertainment. At least this was true until park guests demanded more thrill rides and less education and appreciation for film and television art and history (Murdy, 2002).

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