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The longer you look at the Tree of Life, the more there is to see!/Carol Timblin

The Magic is slowly returning to Florida theme parks following their complete shutdown in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Universal Studios Florida, now in its 30th year of operation, was the first theme park to welcome visitors when it had a partial reopening of City Walks shops and restaurants on May 14. The park’s Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay reopened to limited numbers of guests on June 4, with stringent requirements in place, including temperature checks, face masks, hand-washing, hand sanitizers, single-use menus, and social distancing required. (Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 F is not admitted.)

The park recommends that guests download the Official Universal Orlando Resort App before they leave home. The app can handle contact-free ticket orders and scanning, the placement of mobile food and drink orders from selected restaurants, and Virtual Line return time (universalorlando.com).

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, among the most popular attractions in the park, opened Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure in 2019. Known for its ground-breaking technology and all-new environments, the coaster, which replaced the Dragon Challenge roller coasters, takes riders beyond the grounds of Hogwarts Castle into the Forbidden Forest. It features new environments and sets, a total of seven launches (the most in the world), a free-fall vertical drop of around 17 feet, 5,053 feet of track, and a feature which catapults riders 65 feet in the air at a nearly 70-degree angle and then drops them backward. (universalorlando.com).

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Carol Timblin

Walt Disney World theme parks did a phased reopening in July, with the Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park reopening on July 11, followed by EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 15. Disney Vacation Club properties and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground reopened in June. The park has implemented strict guidelines for enhanced cleaning, physical distancing, and reduced contact. Specifically, all guests ages 3 and up are required to have a park reservation and valid admission for the same park on the same date when entering the park (available through the brand new Disney Park Pass reservation system). All guests ages 2 and up must wear masks at all times except when dining or swimming. Costume masks are not allowed, and the use of a mask is not a substitute for physical distancing. Anyone who registers a temperature of 100.4 F at the park entrance will be directed to another location for rescreening and assistance. Anyone with a temperature above 100.4 F, as well as all guests in the party, will not be allowed to enter the park. It’s best to check the temperatures of everyone in your party before leaving home.

Epcot visitors may continue to enjoy visiting different countries in the World Showcase just as they have in the past. However, most restaurants except for those in Italy and Mexico remain closed and the pavilions (except France) are manned by Americans, not international hosts. Big changes are coming in the area that Future World occupies, as three new neighborhoods take shape — World Celebration, World Nature, and World Discovery — during the major construction project that was officially announced at the D23 Conference last year.

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Carol Timblin

A new restaurant called “Space 2020” is planned for the Mission: Space pavilion in World Discovery. The area that includes Spaceship Earth and the old Innoventions buildings will become World Celebration, featuring a garden-like park, filled with plants, flowers, trees, fountains, and more.

Spaceship Earth, which opened in 1982 and slated to remain in World Celebration, is not currently under construction but will have a completely new look and feel once it is refreshed. A new three-level pavilion behind World Celebration will serve as a home base for the Epcot festivals year-round. The top level will provide great views of the new “Disney HarmonioUS” nighttime spectacle. World Nature, which currently encompasses The Seas, Living with the Land, and the Imagination pavilion, will be home to the new Journey of Water, a Moana-inspired attraction that unites families on a lush exploration to play with living magical water.

This area is also the venue for “Awesome Planet,” a film that debuted in January.

The Epcot Food and Wine Festival, usually an autumn event, began with the park opening in July. Continuing through late fall, it combines elements from Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival and Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival into something of a hybrid festival. An exciting new addition this year is World Showplace Marketplaces, a food court featuring Appleseed Orchard, Wine and Dine Festival Favorites, Desserts and Champagne, and Boursin’s Mac and Cheese.

SeaWorld Theme Park, Aquatica and Discovery Cove in Orlando reopened in June, with strict guidelines regarding temperature checks, facemasks, and physical distancing. Some rides are temporarily closed because of physical distancing. A few stores are closed and others are open weekends only.

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Carol Timblin

Many park restaurants are open, but a small number have closed or are open weekends only. All guests are required to have a reservation to visit the park and pre-paid parking is recommended.

Annual events such as the SeaWorld Halloween Spooktacular, which runs through Nov. 1, are still on the schedule (seaworld.com). Busch Gardens and Adventure Island in Tampa are also open with restrictions in place, but Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion remain closed in Virginia (buschgardens.com).

Hershey Park in Pennsylvania reopened in July, with strict restrictions in place (hersheypa.com/safety.php).

When planning to visit any theme park, check the latest information regarding COVID-19 on official websites, as well as current state guidelines.

Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at ctimblin@gmail.com.

About Americus and Sumter County

Located in west-central Georgia, convenient to I-75, three hours south of Atlanta and only two hours north of I-10, an ideal stopping point when en route to Florida, Americus, Georgia, offers a vibrant downtown area full of unique local shops. A welcome surprise to visitors who may not know about the area’s ties to the White House, surrounding Sumter County is also known for its homegrown products, specifically green beans and peanuts.

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Carol Timblin

Take a tour of and have lunch at Koinonia Farm, the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity. For coffee drinks, light breakfast, good company and coffee by the pound, head to Café Campesino, Georgia's first and only 100% fair trade, organic coffee company, also with ties to Habitat for Humanity. One of only three counties in the United States with two national historic sites, explore the area’s Andersonville National Historic Site, the largest and most famous of 150 military prisons of the Civil War. Make time to visit Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, which pays homage to the nation's 39th President. Visit the six-acre Habitat for Humanity Global Village and Discovery Center to see life-size Habitat houses from countries around the world and gain insight into the organization’s mission and impact.

Head to the Glass Blowing Studios for a factory tour and take a peek into the art and community behind it--Americus is the No. 1 place in the world for glass blowing! Relax among the gorgeous flowers and near-perfect weather in the spring or cool off during warmer months at Lake Blackshear. The community comes together every fall for festivals as well as during the winter months for outdoor ice skating. Plan to visit during year-round special events, including February’s Chili Crawl, April’s Hot Glass Craft Beer Festival, The Taste of Sumter and Plains Peanut Festival — both in September, the Andersonville Historic Fair in October or Christmas celebrations throughout November and December. Between adventures, refuel at Sweet GA Baking Co., winner of one of Georgia's Top 100 Plates for their famous Chicken Salad or savor sips at Wolf Creek Plantation, known for their Muscadine wine. At the end of the day, rest easy at the historic Victorian Windsor Hotel, celebrating 125 years in 2017, built in 1892, and located in the heart of downtown.

For more information:

VisitAmericusGA.com

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