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Theme park news: Busch Gardens holds a Pokémon event, Kong ride opens at Universal

As we enter the height of vacation season, Florida's theme parks continue to roll out new attractions, including the official opening of the King Kong ride at Universal Orlando and a new lush Caribbean-themed hotel and some lures for Pokémon Go players.

Meanwhile, Busch Gardens is having a casting call for scare actors for Howl-O-Scream, and Disney is already looking ahead to the fall and spicing up its International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot with its Eat to the Beat concert series.

Pokémon Go players warned to look out

As kids and nostalgic adults collectively lose their minds over the new Pokémon Go app, Florida's theme parks are finding the parks swarming with guests with their heads down, concentrating on their phones.

And why would people who have paid close to $100 just to get in the door of the Happiest Place on Earth be so absorbed in their phones instead of the multi-million dollar attractions? Because Cinderella's Castle is a Pokémon gym! So is Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom and the Universal Studios opening archway.

With the app, players use their smart phones to go on a virtual scavenger hunt for the fictional creatures. The app was released less than a week ago and already ranks among the most-downloaded and top-grossing smart phone apps.

The game is "certainly creating a buzz" at Busch Gardens, spokeswoman Karen Varga-Sinka said. "While we want our guests to have fun and catch them all, we ask that they continue to follow all posted safety guidelines and procedures, including not entering restricted areas."

Busch Gardens is getting in on the action with a Pokémon Go Lure-a-Thon for parkgoers from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

More than 50 lure modules will be activated throughout the park including in Pantopia, Egypt, Jungala, Edge of Africa and Stanleyville, the park says, and Passholders will get an early start in the Egypt area from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. when they can also ride the new Cobra's Curse before the park opens.

Legoland sent out a series of "guidelines" for its guests Tuesday saying, "Even a Pokémon Master must stay within guest areas. Please don't climb any fences or follow any Pokémon into employee-only areas."

The park continued:

"No catch is worth sacrificing your safety. All play must pause throughout the duration of your ride until you exit the ride."

Reign of Kong begins at Universal Orlando

Universal's Islands of Adventure surprised visitors this week by officially opening its newest mega attraction, Skull Island: Reign of Kong.

The Orlando theme park had been tight-lipped about when the enormous ride would open, even though it has let riders on intermittently for "technical rehearsals" for weeks.

The attraction, which looms over the park between the Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park islands, has a complex ride queue loaded with props and even actors as scary islanders. The ride itself is aboard a 72-seat jungle bus using huge curved 3D screens and a loud animatronic Kong nearly three stories tall to make riders feel like they are in the movie.

Also opened this week: Universal Orlando's fifth on-site hotel, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. The 1,000-room Caribbean-themed hotel with Universal's largest resort pool, a water slide, fire pit, two sand beaches, waterfall and lush lagoon, is positioning itself as a convention hotel that connects via covered walkway with Royal Pacific Resort's conference area.

Busch Gardens looking for scare actors

If you're the type of person who enthusiastically dresses up as a chainsaw-wielding clown to scare the neighborhood kids on Halloween, perhaps this year you'll be able to get paid for it.

Howl-O-Scream, Busch Gardens' annual, after-hours Halloween season event, returns Sept. 23 to Oct. 30, and the park is beginning the search for this year's crop of "scare actors." The park will hire hundreds of zombies, voodoo queens, demented inmates and other miscellaneous monsters to make visitors jump out of their skin.

Those interested in trying out can attend an audition at the park at 5 p.m. on July 22, 23, 29 or 30. Prospective scare actors must first apply online for the Howl-O-Scream Entertainer II position at careers.seaworldparks.com.

Scare actors must be at least 18 and be able to work from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. on event nights. They should be prepared to stand, walk or perform in other ways for up to two hours at a time. The listed pay rate for startling people into the wee hours is $9.75.

Epcot concert series announced

There are still classic pop acts like Air Supply and Starship featuring Mickey Thomas among the acts Epcot announced for the International Food and Wine Festival concert series, but this is the first time Wang Chung (Everybody Have Fun Tonight) or the White T's (Hey There Delilah) have played.

Also new this year for the widely popular food festival that runs from Sept. 14 to Nov. 14 is Just Once crooner Jeffrey Osborne (Oct. 12-13), Toad the Wet Sprocket (Oct. 22-23) and Living Colour bringing Cult of Personality (Oct. 28-29).

Returning favorites include Boyz II Men (Nov. 7-9), Hanson (Oct. 30-Nov. 1 ) and Wilson Phillips (Oct. 3-4), and the series ends with Florida favorites Sister Hazel (Nov. 10-11) and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (Nov. 12-14 )

The nightly concerts are included with admission, which starts at $97. Find the full lineup and ticket packages at epcot.com. Concerts are held in the World Showcase at Epcot America Gardens Theatre at 5:30, 6:45 and 8 p.m.

Times staff writer Chris Spata contributed to this report. Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

Theme park news: Busch Gardens holds a Pokémon event, Kong ride opens at Universal 07/15/16 [Last modified: Friday, July 15, 2016 11:41am]
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