SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular

Student TravelWow, summer seemed to fly by this year and now that we are past the official end of summer it is time to start looking towards the spookiest time of the year, Halloween!  SeaWorld has a a great family-friendly Halloween celebration every year with trick-or-treating, dancing with sea creatures, and silly/spooky shows.  The kids can also create sea themed arts and crafts!

One of the crowd’s favorite shows is the Sesame Street’s Countdown to Halloween Live Musical Stage Show. Phew, long title. Count Von Count even has his own Spooktacular Breakfast! Penelope also gets in on the action with her own Party Zone that includes interactive ice DJ, games, and activities. Bring your kids to trick-or-treat and interact with fun-loving and fanciful sea creatures that will play and mingle with you along the way.The SeaWorld staff goes all out with great costumes and everyone has a great time!

The Halloween Spooktacular has been called a “must-do for little kids” and one of the “best Halloween events in Orlando”.

Music Makes Kids Smarter

Some still believe that listening to classical music will make your children smarter, which is true, sort of. Turns out that just listening to classical music only stimulates your brain for a short period of time and the effects can only be seen for around 20 minutes.  So if you need to study for a test or get a quick burst of brain power listen to classical music, but if you want there to be a long lasting effect you have to go a little further.

To get long term benefits kids must learn and acquire the skills that are needed to play music and not just listen to it. The same can be said for a variety of things from sports to public speaking, but for now we will concentrate on playing an instrument. A child who learns to read music and play an instrument, or two, benefits a lot more than a child who just goes to watch the concert. Students who learn music and play in school perform better on standardized tests than their fellow classmates and have fewer disciplinary actions against them and fewer absences from school later in life, even if students stop playing after a few years.

A German study, out of the University of Munster, showed that music lessons during childhood enlarge the brain, since musicians are able to access more neurons that are needed to process sounds.  The earlier a child starts taking lessons the more dramatic the effects on the brain. There is also a social impact to taking music, choir, or drama lessons since the students can make life long friends in all of these activities. While the social interaction isn’t unique to just artistic learning, the learning capabilities can be.  A study conducted at the University of Wisconsin divided a group of three year olds into separate groups and either taught them to use the piano or another skill.  When the kids were tested again the ones who had been taught keyboard skills and reading music scored higher on spatial-temporal reasoning than the other children, who had been taught different skills.

Sure, there are a variety of studies that indicate learning music at any age can make you smarter but it also adds a lot more to our lives and helps us enjoy a wide range of things we might not have before. Your child doesn’t need to be a musical prodigy to benefit from learning how to read music and play an instrument.

Halloween Horror Nights Lineup Released!

Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Studios has announced three more haunted houses to complete the Halloween Horror Nights lineup. They have also unveiled a huge change to Horror Nights’ scare-zone concept.

The new scare zones rule is there are no rules. Universal says there will be no boundaries and actors, dressed up like a variety of different characters, “will find you and invade your personal space like never before,” a Universal news release says. The old Horror Nights’ rules won’t apply anymore and it should make for an extra scary experience!

New characters that will be roaming the streets of Universal include vampires, ghosts and goblins with a twist, a variety of beasts, “patrons of death” and a group of all female deceased convicts who have come back to reak havoc with chainsaws.

The latest haunted houses that were recently announced and complete the Universal Halloween Horror Nights are: Gothic, Dead End and House of Horrors, featuring Universal’s classic monsters of fear. Universal had already announced four additional scare houses this summer, which included mazes based on the television series The Walking Dead, which we covered in a previous blog post, and the Silent Hill videogames and films. There will also be two celebrity houses, Penn & Teller New(kd) Las Vegas and Alice Cooper — Welcome to My Nightmare.

The hilarious and fun Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure will be returning and a new magic show for people with questionable tastes will be debuting.

Halloween Horror Nights starts Sept. 21 and goes for 25 select dates. Halloween Horror Nights requires a seperate ticket from Universal Studios Theme Park.  For more info and tickets visit

Holidays Around The World At Disney’s Epcot Theme Park

Disney and Epcot's Holidays Around The World Celebration

Each year during the holidays Epcot Theme Park is turned into a worldwide celebration of winter holiday traditions.  There is a variety of live entertainment and the whole park is decorated top to bottom with holiday themed decorations. The live entertainment and events include the traditional Candlelight Processional and a production of Holidays Around The World.

The Candlelight Processional is the main special event during the Holidays Around The World celebration. It is a nightly event held at the America Gardens Theater in Epcot. This event tells the story of Christmas with celebrity narrators and is accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra and a mass choir. Some of the celebrity narrators scheduled to appear are: Neil Patrick Harris, Geena Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, Andy Garcia, and Gary Sinise.

The Disney Epcot Theme Park Candlelight Processional is a great way to get yourself, your family, and your friends in the Christmas spirit. For many visitors this has become a family tradition and must go to event. Once you experience the grandeur and excitement of the Candlelight Procession and Holidays Around The World you will want to go back each year.

Make sure to purchase your Candlelight Dinner Packages soon because due to how popular it is the event fills up quickly. These packages give you a “guaranteed seating section and pre-arranged fireworks viewing”. 

The Walking Dead is Taking Over Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights

The scary zombie drama, The Walking Dead, is going to be the first TV series to be featured at Universal Studios and in Halloween Horror Nights at the Orlando, Florida theme park.

Visitors will experience The Walking Dead themed mazes, which will feature elaborately designed sets that include locations and scenes from the show. Of course there will have to be “walkers” as well. The goal will be to have people experience what it would be like to be a character in the show.

AMC has collaborated with Universal’s talented creative teams to bring the world of The Walking Dead to life. Universal’s creative teams have brought Halloween Horror Nights to life for more than 20 years and have featured stage shows, mazes, and other interactive attractions.

Make sure to visit Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios this Fall and check out the premier of The Walking Dead October 14th on AMC.

Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem Set To Open July 2 At Universal Studios Orlando

Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem Universal Orlando

The all new Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride at Universal Studios Orlando is set to open July 2nd.

The new attraction replaces the old Jimmy Neutron ride at Universal and will feature characters from the Despicable Me film. The ride starts off in Gru, Margo, Edith, and Agnes’ home and learn that they will become Minions. The ride is in 3-D and guests will pick up their 3-d “Minion goggles” while they are in the living room of the home. Then they enter the Minionization Prep Room where they will be scanned for any “human germs”. Once they have been cleared guests, or the new Minions, will board Minion Transformation Pods and begin their training. As can be expected things don’t go as planned and the new Minions find themselves “on an unforgettable adventure through Gru’s lab that’s filled with laughter, chaos and tons of Minions!”

Sounds a like a great ride! Some guests have already had the opportunity to ride Minion Mayhem because Universal has random days where guests can get sneak peeks at the ride. Should be a lot of fun!

Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios – American Tours and Travel

Summer has just started but that isn’t a reason to not be thinking about the Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios for your band.  Spaces in the parade are already filling up for every date so now is the time to reserve a spot for your band.

Your band will be immersed in all the color, music, and pageantry of a great holiday tradition.  The band will get to feel like they are actually in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since it features floats and balloons direct from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Participating schools also receive discounts to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.  The Macy’s Holiday Parade will perform daily from December 1 – December 31, 2012.

For more information or to book a spot in the parade and set up a trip for your band please click here to fill out or inquiry form.  We look forward to seeing you at Universal Studios, Orlando, FL!

Rock The Universe at Universal Studios Orlando with American Tours and Travel

Rock The Universe, Florida’s biggest Christian music festival, is back and better than ever!  Universal Studios presents 2 nights of music, 16 bands, and unlimited fun.  This is the music that moves you.

This amazing weekend will feature awesome concerts from Christian rock’s best known and most exciting performers including: Skillet, Switchfoot, Newsboy, Relient K, Jeremy Camp, tobyMac, and more! These powerful Christian rockers will perform hit after hit and make you feel it in your soul.

This year’s Rock The Universe will also feature a larger FanZone where you will be able to sing along with your favorite Christian rock songs at Coca-Cola Karaoke.  On saturday night there will be a Candlelighting Ceremony with music provided by Tenth Avenue North.  There will also be a variety of inspirational Christian speakers appearing throughout the weekend, plus much more.

There will be a celebration of music, fellowship, and ministry at a non-denominational Sunday Morning Worship Service.  The service will be located at the Fear Factor Live stage inside Universal Studios and will include worship music led by Canopy Red, a popular up and coming Christian band.  Jeff Pratt will lead the service and feature an inspirational message for all.  Admission to the service is FREE with any Rock The Universe ticket but reservations are required because of the high popularity of the event.

Join us at Universal Studios Orlando for Rock The Universe on September 7th & 8th and be part of a special Christian music experience.

Student Group Travel Tip #5: Pick The Right Destination

When planning a trip for 100 or more rambunctious, instrument-toting students, it’s easy to overlook small details. Of these seemingly minor details, one that warrants some attention is picking the right destination. Finding a destination that works for your group, meets your expectations, and makes sense financially and logistically is not always as easy as it sounds.

So, what do we mean by by the right destination? Well, you can make sure that your destination is the ‘right‘ one by considering a few factors:

1. Easy To Get To

We recommend selecting a destination that has multiple incoming flights per day. This ensures that if your whole student group, or even just a handful of students, misses the scheduled flight you won’t get stuck sleeping in the airport or trying to come up with last minute accommodations. Although changing plans last minute is never ideal, the option to board another flight is a nice one to have.

2. Easy To Navigate

Once you arrive at your destination, how easy will it be to get around? Will you spend a lot of time waiting in traffic, trying to get from Point A to Point B? You must consider the proximity of your hotel to transportation, attractions, dining and your performance venue. Then, you have to consider how easy your destination city will be to navigate on foot. In tourist-dense areas, it may be challenging to walk through throngs of people with 75 choir students in robes. Add to these considerations a lack of local knowledge and the responsibility on your shoulders becomes overwhelming.

3. Easy to Enjoy

You’ve reached your destination, you’ve figured out how to get where you’re going–now what? Another consideration when planning a large student group trip is picking a destination with plenty to do and see. Although a remote town in Iowa may be hosting an inexpensive student band competition, if there is nothing exciting to occupy your students in their downtime, that trip probably won’t go down in the record books as a class favorite. Selecting destinations like Orlando, New York City, and Chicago guarantees that your group will never be short on entertainment. Class trips as well as student band and choir trips don’t happen everyday, and should be both memorable and rewarding for students and Directors.

Considering all of the elements detailed above while simultaneously coordinating performance rehearsals, selecting chaperons, and planning fundraising opportunities will guarantee that you won’t be able to think straight by the time your competition date rolls around! Save yourself the headache, focus on your students, and let American Tours & Travel do what we do best–planning student group travel.

Click here to start planning your next student group adventure today!

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News About Universal STARS Program From American Tours & Travel

The Universal STARS Program has undergone some important changes!

A Brand New Changing Facility

The facility, which is maintained and used only by the STARS Performance Program, was completed at the end of 2011 and we couldn’t be more excited. The facility is air-conditioned, has separate male and female changing areas with bathrooms and water fountains, and will afford students the ability to change in and out of uniforms and costumes before and after performances.

Digital Photo of Your Performance

At no additional cost, each STARS Performance group will now receive a digital photo of their performance with the STARS logo on it. It is just STARS’ way of saying “Thank You” for participating in Universal Orlando’s STARS Performance Program.

 More Attention, and Ultimately, Larger Audiences

The STARS Program and its associated Performances will now be advertised through the park using digital board technology. Participating marching bands will be highlighted on the boards, letting park-goers know when and where to catch the next STARS performance.

Click here to learn more about participating in the Universal STARS program!