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Friday, May 18, 2012

5 Days of Theme Park Schooling-Day 5- Universal, Sea World, and Beyond!

Welcome to the last day of our 5 Days of blogging...
For each of the other days, I focused on Theme Park Schooling in a specific park each day.  With over a decade of Disney experience, including teaching educational programs and behind the scenes tours, and with a teaching degree myself, covering the Disney parks was not a stretch for me.  But there are only 4 of them...and 5 days in my blogging challenge!  So I decided on day 5 to give you a small peek into Universal and Sea World, but also tell you HOW to find the information to bring out the educational components each has.
So let me start with the "how" first.  You're planning a trip to a theme park, and you'd like to make the most out of it and even count it as "school" maybe.  But, if you've never been there yourself, how do you know what you'll find and what lessons you could easily extract? 
Well, first start with a MAP.  You have two options.  First, every theme park in the world must have a website in this day and age, and they will all have a park map on that site.  Or, you can just "google" the park's name, followed by the word "map" and you are bound to come up with one.  The actually park website will have the most up to date map, so I'd use that.  Here's one for Universal and for Sea World.  Remember that both of these parks exist in more than one place on the globe, so for my search, I specified "Sea World Orlando".  Remember too that "Universal" can mean Universal Orlando Resort (the whole complex) or Universal Studios (one of two parks they have in Orlando).  Maps will tell you a) what lands or areas the park is divided into and b) what you can find in each of those areas.

Theme parks have a theme...amusement parks just have rides and entertainment.  Find out what the "theme" is.  For Sea World, it's aquatic animals and conservation.  For Universal Studios, it's like being on a studio backlot.  For Islands of Adventure, it's like being on a movie backlot on steroids...or actually entering the movie.  Unfortunately, theme parks want you to experience their themes, not read in depth about them, so you'll get snippets of info on the park's official site.  Luckily, for every park, there are crazy fans who spend their lives gather all the info they can about the parks.  Let Google be your friend, and bring with you a healthy amount of discernment.  Look for the sites that seem to know what they are talking about.  And try to verify by finding the same info in more than one place.  In this age of technology, that doesn't always mean much, since people cut and paste without verifying, but it's a starting place.  For example, the turrets on Cinderella castle can NOT be removed and thrown into Bay Lake in the event of a storm coming.  No matter how many people might say it.  Stick to real educational facts and you should be fine.

For every thrill ride, there will be some website, blog, or just insane amount of fan chatter devoted to it.  Do a little homework before you go and find out a little something about the rides you think you will do.  (Here's a great site that explains the Harry Potter Ride, for example.)  You are not paying almost $90 a person per day to spend all day taking the fun out of the parks by focusing solely on the "smart" stuff.  What you are doing is giving your kids a little more information to build an appreciation for the HOWs and WHYs to pique their interest and get them thinking critically.  Ride Harry Potter, and then ask them, "How do you think they DID that?"  Then explain it briefly.  Study a little roller coaster science before you go so they will appreciate it while you are there.  Then ask the "How'd they do that" question and let they explore more once you get to your hotel or get back home.

Read the signs.  Really.  Most theme parks are really good about having signs or plaques around to help you out.  They will identify everything from the type of flower in that planter to which scene in what movie the car you are looking at was used in.  They don't have to have seen the movie!  All stories have a setting.  You can keep it real simple and just say things like, "See that car over there?  Your grandmother had one of those when she was young." 

There's an app for that.  Or at least there might be.  So if you have a smart phone, check it out.  Some fans, at least for Disney, have compiled information about the parks in apps that you can buy.  I recently bought the Hidden Mickey one.  As apps go, it was the most expensive I've ever bought, but this way I don't have to bring a book with me on our trips to the parks. 

Okay, so on to Universal.
I need to put in my disclaimer now.  We had Universal Orlando passes last year, and spent a year going to these two parks. But I'm a Disney girl at heart, and much of what Universal does just doesn't sit right with me. (As an example, in the Horror make-up show, at one point while talking about latex masks, the male host rips open his shirt, and says, "this is Playtex", and is wearing a zebra striped bra.   I don't want to see a man in a bra. I don't want my kids to see a man in a bra. Call me old fashioned. I also don't want to here the word a** in the preshow of Shrek just because they could get away with it since they are talking about his donkey. And I don't want to here, "Who's down wit OPP" coming from the background music near Men in Black. My standards are higher than that.) So I'm not going to do these parks ride by ride, just highlight a few things.

Universal Studios has the feel of walking around a very tourist filled studio backlot.  It's divided into 6 parts-Production Central, New York, San Franscisco, World Expo, Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone, and Hollywood.
The New York area offers a very low key Twister-Ride it Out attraction that gives a good amount of information about tornadoes and about storm chasers.
In San Franscisco, you will find Disaster!- arguably one of the best educational things going at this park.  The first part of the show features show great effects with your live guide interacting with a projected Christopher Walken that will leave you scratching you head trying to figure out how they did it.  Then they create a number of small disaster scenes using volunteers acting out commands with green screens as their backdrop, and finally, you experience an earthquake on a subway.  As they reset the subway, you view the "movie" you and the volunteers were cast in, and you can see how all those little things can be creatively edited to make special effects in the movies.  It's a great look at how all that works.  (As a funny aside, once you've done this attraction, you will "spot" this earthquake in things you see on TV, like an episode of Bones for example.)
In Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone, Animal Actors on Location would be a good way to show your kids how they train animals to perform for TV and movies...if the show didn't feature an animal bringing a young boy volunteer a BRA on stage in front of everyone.  Not sure what their thing is about the male gender and bras...but that's one show you don't want your sons volunteering for.
In Hollywood, Universal Orlando's Horror Make-up Show would be a nice way to show your older kids how they make people "bleed" or create monsters, but they definitely play up the "scary" and as I mentioned above, there's the whole bra thing...
Finally, in Production Central, there is Hollywood Rip Ride RockIt.  It's a very impressive looking roller coaster, and you can go here to read more about it.  All the usual roller coaster based educational  topics apply ;-).
Islands of Adventure is our favorite park of the two.  In addition to the entry area, there are 6 themed areas, and they really are like walking into a movie.  If there is one thing Universal does well, its theming.   The 6 areas are Seuss Landing,

The Lost Continent, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,

Jurassic Park,

 Toon Lagoon, and Marvel Superhero Island. 

Educationally, you can talk about the theming, and how they captured the settings so well.  From a ride perspective, less is intentionally educational here, but you can always google search the big rides for more information, like the link to Harry Potter above.  I'd say the most impressive rides in terms of technology would be Harry Potter and Spiderman. Oh, and Judge Doom's Fearfall, which is similar to an open air Tower of Terror without the theming. 

And finally, Sea World.
Much like Animal Kingdom at Disney, this is a park that it would be hard NOT to learn at.  They have always been big on education about their animals and about conservation, and it shows everywhere you look in the park.  Even their website is vastly educational.  And they offer several behind the scenes tours that you can pay extra for and get up close animal interactions.  We haven't had Sea World passes for a few years now, but looking at their map makes me want to go back as they have many new things since I was last there.  In a park that's so educational, it's hard to point out specifics, but be sure to go to the Stingray Lagoon and the dolphin nursery (That's a baby on the left below).

And one of my favorite secrets is the Jewels of the Sea Aquarium in the Journey to Atlantis building.  It's not highly visited, but it's so worth it.  Animals literally swim right under your feet and over your head.

And of course, being Sea World, they will have some animals you don't find many other places, like Beluga Whales.

So there you have it!  5 Days of Theme Park Schooling, and hopefully many, many fun and educational trips to theme parks for you and your kids.  Please take my admonishment above to heart.  You want to enjoy the theme parks.  You pay WAY too much money not to.  It's okay just to go there and ride rides.  But it's also okay to redeem the moments a little bit and use the educational aspects that theme parks have to offer to teach you children a little something too.  Like anything in life, finding balance is key!  Sometimes I teach, sometimes I don't.  Always they learn something.  You can't really experience a themed environment and NOT learn something.  So a lot of times, I like to gently direct it.  Theme parks also offer wonderful teaching moments for how to navigate crowds, what to do if you get lost, how to stretch your budget, wise souvenir choices, proper apparel for long days in the sun, proper shoes for long days of walking, the importance of staying hydrated, the importance of sun screen, reading a map, and a million other life lessons with everyday application.  It doesn't have to be taught in a textbook to be important.  For our family, it has also offered chance to talk about what we believe and why...and how that impacts what attractions we choose to enjoy.  It's also spurred conversations about staying cool while staying modest.  There really is no limit to what can be learned through Theme Park Schooling.  I hope you family enjoys it as much as we do.

Please join my fellow Crew members on the 5 Days of Blogging journey too!  Click on the banner below to go to the main post about all the different topics being covered!

Before her life as homeschool mom, One Blessed Mamma spent over a decade working at Walt Disney World in many capacities including being a facilitator for Disney's Youth Education Series (Y.E.S.) and the Disney Institute/Disney University where she facilitated programs like Backstage Magic, Disney by Design, Disney's Amazing Architecture, Imagineer It, and Yuletide Fantasy. Now, after years of sharing the educational information she learned with her own children, she is sharing with you. Let it whet your child's appetite for learning...and definitely check out Y.E.S. or any of Disney's tour offerings. They offer firsthand experiences you can't get from just reading this blog.
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