- Associated Press - Thursday, November 26, 2015

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Amid millions of holiday lights, parades of oversized balloons and a sea of sparkling trees, Orlando’s tourist attractions vie for a slice of the year-end tourism pie with distinctive offerings.

Orlando Eye, the observation wheel that debuted this year, will attempt to lure visitors and Central Florida residents with quality time with Santa Claus - 400 feet above International Drive.

The Eye will feature themed capsules - a gingerbread house, a winter wonderland, a candy cane capsule - starting Dec. 1, and one module will be devoted to Santa. For $35 per person, St. Nick will take one revolution with folks, read “The Night Before Christmas” and pose for photos.

“It’s one of those things where you can have a captive audience and do something that’s sweet and nice and a family gesture,” said Todd Andrus, head of marketing.

In addition to a variety of lighting effects on the wheel - including a Hanukkah look on Dec. 14 - the attraction will participate in I-Drive 360 holiday activities such as an ice-skating rink erected in its courtyard, Andrus said.

“We wanted to do it right,” he said. “Get in the festive holiday spirit. Give families - specifically in Orlando - a great opportunity to come down and celebrate the holidays, (and) start to make this a tradition.”

Although Fun Spot doesn’t reach “all hands on deck” status until mid-December, it’s trying a Cyber Monday sale on single-day passes this year, said David Hummer, director of marketing.

Not being a gargantuan player in this market serves them well at the holidays, he said, particularly with locals and their guests.

“A lot of them, instead of hitting the big three (theme-park companies) . they’ll bring them over to us because we’re not as congested and the lines aren’t as long,” Hummer said.

Fun Spot, which has locations in Orlando and Kissimmee, also has a commercial highlighting that grandparents “can come in and watch without paying $105,” he said.

The year-end holiday season is second only to Halloween for promotional events, said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services.

“It’s very important, and it’s something that small operators can actually do,” he said. “It doesn’t take quite the capital that Halloween does. You don’t have to bring in huge labor pools to dress up” for the Christmas season, he said.

“You’ve got a month to take advantage of it and capitalize on it,” Speigel said. “To me, if they’re not, they’re missing something that’s very important to their bottom line.”

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex started Holidays in Space programming four years ago. It added a show that uses 3-D mapping projections on the side of a 223-foot Saturn B1 rocket in 2014.

“No one else in the world is doing that,” said Andrea Farmer, spokeswoman for the Brevard County attraction. The presentation recaps NASA history and looks to the future, such as the exploration of Mars.

“Other attractions may have their night show or their fireworks so this is the natural call for Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex,” Farmer said.

The complex has been expanding its global marketing. About 50 percent of its guests are international, hailing primarily from Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Germany and France, Farmer said.

“If you look at the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s . it’s a huge international (crowd) for us,” she said.

Legoland Florida taps into its building-block heritage for the holidays, with yuletide figures and a 30-foot tree made of green Lego bricks.

The Winter Haven theme park also will show its specialized fireworks seven nights a week this season instead of only on weekends, said Brittany Williams, Legoland spokeswoman. With special glasses, Lego bricks appear to explode from the pyrotechnics.

“We hope that’s a big draw,” she said. “A lot of our annual passholders, they really love that. The holidays are a great chance for us to keep our local residents coming back.”


Information from: Orlando Sentinel, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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