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Disney opens new Shanghai Disneyland, debuts tallest castle yet

Shanghai Disneyland is officially open for business as the House of Mouse tries to take advantage of the huge Chinese market.

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It's one of Disney's biggest projects to date, with grounds that span nearly a thousand acres. And the castle at the center of it all is its tallest yet at about 197 feet.

There's no iconic Main Street as you walk into Shanghai Disney, like there is in other Disney parks, but Shanghai Disney does have its own set of unique attractions, like the Tron: Lightcycle Power Run roller coaster.

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But the staples are there too like a state-the-art step into Pirates of the Caribbean where the likes of Jack Sparrow, sorry, CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones go from a skeletal crew to "living" swashbucklers.

And thanks to a nearly month-long park soft opening, the rides can be experienced from the comfort of your home computer on YouTube.

Disney chief executive Bob Iger said this project is 17 years in the making for him as he lobbied with Chinese officials to make the park happen.

Disney wound up with only a 43 percent stake in the park, with a Chinese state-owned company holding the rest.

They company also has operating agreements for its parks in other parts of the world.

Tokyo Disneyland, which was the first Disney park built outside the U.S., opened in 1983. In 2001, DisneySea opened. Both are owned by Japan's Oriental Land Company, The Associated Press reported.

Disneyland Paris, originally called EuroDisney, opened in 1992. It is still operated under a publicly traded company called Euro Disney.

Hong Kong Disney opened in 2005. Hong Kong's government owns 53 percent of that park. It didn't turn a profit until 2012 and has since gone back into debt. An Iron Man expansion is set to open this year, The AP reported.

But there's still a lot to be had from Disney's investment there. The Guardian reports 330 million people live within a three-hour drive of the park, and an estimated 10 million people will visit each year. But some analysts say that number could be as high as 50 million.

The opening of the new park has been in a trial run since May, and Shanghai city officials issued a guide book for locals after they saw what officials called "uncivilized behaviors" inside the park, CNN reported.

Among the behavior that is frowned upon: littering, cutting line, damaging the landscape and vandalism.

When a nearby metro station opened in April, visitors went to the property and reportedly caused damage to the area outside of the park's gates, CNN reported.

And there's the added benefit of the park increasing interest for Disney's already monster-sized movie franchises.

Highlights at the park include a teahouse and what's called "Garden of the Twelve Friends" that includes characters like Remy from "Ratatouille" and Tigger as the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.

Another highlight of the new park is the premier of a new "Soarin' Around the World" film. The film is having its world-wide debut during Shanghai's grand opening, but will appear in Disney's California Adventure park in California and Epcot at Walt Disney World in Florida starting Friday, which just happens to be exactly one month before the 61st anniversary of Walt Disney's original theme park, Disneyland.

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Also opening next week, the long-awaited ride that features Elsa, Ana and Olaf. Frozen Ever After is scheduled to open its doors on June 21 in the Norway section of the park, replacing the Maelstrom ride.

And while it is a time of celebration for some aspects of the company, Disney has taken a public relations hit stateside.

A 2-year-old toddler was attacked and killed by an alligator this week at the Orlando resort's flagship hotel, The Grand Floridian.

The body of Lane Graves was found Wednesday. He had been playing in shallow water at the hotel Tuesday night. There are "no swimming" signs at the hotel's beach, but no warnings of alligators.

This video includes clips from Disney and Walt Disney Studios / "Finding Dory" and images from Getty Images.

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In wake of mass shooting, theme park workers say they 'heart' Orlando

Social media has exploded since a gunman entered Orlando's Pulse nightclub and opened fire, killing 50 and wounding an additional 53.

Posts express grief, anger, outrage, sorrow and so much more.

>> Read more about the Orlando nightclub shooting

But the vast majority of them offer solace, hope and support – sometimes through words, sometimes through a very different medium.

Facebook user Kevin O'Brien has compiled a number of pictures on his page showing employees from Disney, Universal, Sea World and numerous other theme parks in Central Florida, holding up their hands in the shape of a heart in support of Orlando.

>> RELATED STORY: Orlando nightclub shooting: What we know now

For O'Brien, the show of support from so many people for Orlando, the victims and their families, is proof "that there is love out there."

"This is family. We are one, strong band of people," he wrote on his Facebook page. "From entertainment, costuming, techs, attractions, merchandise, custodial and all other (departments)."

>> RELATED STORY: Victims of mass Orlando nightclub shooting identified

Support came from all over the world, and O'Brien pulled together dozens of photos showing hundreds, if not thousands, of people telling Orlando they "heart" the city.

The last post on his page was made just before midnight, and in it, O'Brien said how "overwhelmed" he was by the number of people who made photos and sent them to him.

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"I love you for doing this and showing love conquers hate," he wrote.

>> Click here or scroll down to see some of the photos O'Brien posted on his Facebook page.

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Disney World honors 22-year-old day-pass ticket

Chelsea Herline, 26, was 4 years old when she visited Disney World on a family trip.

"My parents own a timeshare in Orlando, so we used to go to Disney when we were younger all the time," Herline said. "We had lots of memories there, lots of pictures."

During one particular trip, Herline only visited the park three days, despite having a four-day pass.

"It was a four-day pass, and I used to get sick all the time on vacation when I was little. We went for the first three days, and I got sick on the last day."

The trip and the ticket became distant memories as more than two decades passed, Herline and her siblings grew up and family trips became less frequent.

"My sisters and I are older now, so we don't really go anymore," she said.

But after unearthing the discarded ticket in her family's basement, Herline decided to visit the most magical place on Earth again, Upworthy reported.

She took the aged ticket to the admissions area to try her luck and see if she could take advantage of the unused day on her pass.

"I just went up to the window. I wasn't expecting to spend the day there; I didn't bring anything (or anyone) with me," she said.

To her surprise, staffers honored the pass.

"They were pretty surprised. The girl working there was younger than me and said, 'Wow, I've never seen one this old before!' She called her manager over and they were super nice about it," Herlin said.

Herlin spent the day riding rides and even met Chip and Dale.

You can now have a fairy tale wedding by Cinderella's Castle at Disney's Magic Kingdom

Dreaming of a fairy tale wedding? 

A new offering at Disney World's Magic Kingdom can give you just that.

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Disney recently announced that happy couples can become newlyweds in a magical wedding at Disney's Fantasyland at the park's East Plaza Garden.

Brides can ride in Cinderella's horse-drawn carriage accompanied by royal coachmen as trumpeters announce her arrival at the wedding site, right in front of Cinderella's Castle. The park will remain open to regular guests during ceremonies. 

For their receptions, couples can choose among a variety of locations on the resort's property.

"Brides will be able to live out a fairy tale dream like no other," said Korri McFann, marketing and sales strategy for weddings and honeymoons at Disney. 

Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings package collections start at $2,500, and custom experiences begin at $12,000. A completely customized ceremony and reception for up to 100 guests at the Magic Kingdom starts at $75,000. 

See more here.

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This Ohio polar bear is the cutest thing you'll see all day

Need a reason to go to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium?

Look at the cutesy tootsy baby polar bear above. 

Nora is her name, and she's a buckeye. 

She was born Nov. 6 in the zoo's Polar Frontier region.  Nora will make her first public appearance  9:30 a.m. Friday, April 15. 

Want to live at Disney World? Here's your chance

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Homes located just four miles from Disney World's Magic Kingdom are now available for purchase.

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Disney's Golden Oak community is the first-ever area and resort that is so close to the Florida theme parks. 

Single-family, custom-built homes range from 3,800- to-12,000-sqaure-feet and start at $2 million.

Golden Oak will feature nearly 1,000 acres of residential and commercial areas. Once completed, the gated community will have four neighborhoods made up of close to 300 homes, all with different themes. 

Most of the homes will feature old-world Mediterranean and Caribbean architecture. Parks and green areas feature "enchanting sculptures of the classic Disney movie characters," including Snow White and the seven dwarfs. Golfing areas and serene and water views are also on-site.

What's more, homeowners can also enjoy the amenities of a luxe hotel, including access to the services at the neighboring Four Seasons Resort, Disney Parks tickets, Extra Magic Hours benefit, park transportation, private, group activities and events and access to a private 17,000-square-foot clubhouse that features a dining room, bar, gaming area and pool. 

Read more here.

SeaWorld ending orca breeding at its theme parks

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SeaWorld will immediately stop all orca breeding programs at its theme parks. >> Click here to watch the video from SeaWorld

From SeaWorld:

We’re making historic announcements at SeaWorld, including ending orca breeding, introducing new, inspiring and natural orca encounters, and launching new partnerships to protect oceans and marine animals. We’re creating a new vision for SeaWorld that will help us deliver on our mission that every guest who walks through our doors will be inspired to take action to help protect wild animals and wild places. When SeaWorld opened its doors more than 50 years ago, killer whales were feared and even hunted. Now, they are among the most beloved marine mammals on the planet thanks, in part, to the inspirational encounters we’ve provided to more than 400 million guests. The new vision for SeaWorld reflects changes in society and SeaWorld’s evolution with those changes, including ending killer whale breeding, new inspiring natural orca encounters, and new partnerships to protect oceans and marine animals. While these decisions represent a shift in our business, they do not change our core values and purpose: to protect animals in the wild and inspire our guests to join us in this critical mission.

The transformation will start in the San Diego theme park, which had previously announced that it would stop the breeding program there to accommodate California laws and pressure from animal-rights activists. 

After San Diego, the San Antonio park will be the next to change direction, followed by Orlando's SeaWorld in 2019. 

As SeaWorld announced this morning, the parks will make major changes to the theatrical shows, transitioning them to "encounters." 

SeaWorld’s new orca encounter will take our killer whale shows in a new direction. We will introduce new, inspiring, natural orca encounters rather than theatrical shows, as part of our ongoing commitment to education, marine science research and the rescue of marine animals.  Everything will reflect the natural world and will focus on the research, education, care and respect that align with our mission to advance the well-being and conservation of these beautiful creatures.  No longer a theatrical show, these programs will focus on orca enrichment, exercise and overall health. Our existing show pools and viewing areas will be redesigned into a more naturalistic setting and we will continue to present the whales at scheduled times before a guest audience. 

SeaWorld has suffered from lagging attendance and profits following CNN's release of the documentary "Blackfish."

>> Read more trending stories

The Humane Society of the United States issued the following statement:

SeaWorld has weathered strong currents of public criticism since the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” and today’s announcement comes in the wake of increasing pressure and calls on the company to end captive orca performance at its parks.  “This is a first, massive step forward toward a more humane future for SeaWorld,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute and formerly with The HSUS. “I welcome these commitments from Joel Manby. He has given SeaWorld a new lease on life.” “This is a defining moment. The fact that SeaWorld is doing away with orca breeding marks truly meaningful change,” said Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of “Blackfish.”

Massive chocolate factory to open at Universal’s Orlando CityWalk

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If you’ve ever dreamed of walking into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, a new dining attraction at Universal Studios Orlando could be what you’re waiting for.

The steampunk-inspired Toothsome Chocolate Factory & Savory Feast Emporium will open later this year, according to a Universal Studios news release. A specific opening date has not yet been released.

>> Read more trending stories

Located in CityWalk near Islands of Adventure, Universal says the new chocolate factory will feature “towering smoke stacks and tanks, piping and other equipment for chocolate production,” and visitors will be able to spot it from around the CityWalk lagoon.

In addition to “unique takes” on the usual restaurant fare — burgers, seafood, pasta — Universal says the Toothsome Chocolate Factory menu will be packed with tons of delicious-sounding goodies, including a few milkshakes that sound like something Augustus Gloop would be happy to get his hands on:

  • Chocolate x5
  • Espresso Buzzzz
  • Red Velvet
  • Bacon Brittle
  • Key Lime Pie 

Read more about the Toothsome Chocolate Factory & Savory Feast Emporium.

SeaWorld's 'Blackfish' orca, Tilikum, dying

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A 34-year-old killer whale connected to three deaths and the focus of the “Blackfish” documentary on SeaWorld’s orcas is seriously ill, the company said on its Facebook page Tuesday.

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Tilikum is suffering from a bacterial infection in his lungs, SeaWorld Orlando said.

He has undergone treatment, but the whale's condition continues to deteriorate.

Tilikum was captured in Iceland in 1983 at age 2 and was later taken to Sealand in British Columbia, Canada.

A trainer fell into a pool with three orcas in February 1991, and it was reported that Tilikum pulled the 20-year-old student to the bottom, where she drowned.

After Sealand closed its doors, Tilikum was put up for sale, but he could not be legally transferred to SeaWorld unless it was a medical emergency.

Another killer whale at Sealand was pregnant, and SeaWorld Orlando requested a permit to take Tilikum “due to the disruptive and potentially harmful impact this male may have on the success of the mother (and) calf nursing and bonding.”

In the permit, SeaWorld also essentially blamed the Canadian trainer’s death on the killer whale’s lack of training and made the case for why another death wouldn’t happen in Orlando.

“SeaWorld’s animals are all highly trained and are accustomed to interacting with trainers,” the permit application said. “Sealand’s animals are essentially untrained.”

Tilikum was brought to SeaWorld in 1991, a few months after the death of the trainer.

The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service reviewed and approved the application, which SeaWorld pointed out after the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

“SeaWorld could not have imported Tilikum without the permission of either the U.S. or Canadian governments after their respective careful review of all the facts and the record,” the company said in a statement.

Tilikum was also connected to the 1999 death of a 27-year-old man who entered the orca tank after hours.

"Blackfish"

The documentary film “Blackfish" was released in 2013, criticizing SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas and the involvement of killer whales in Brancheau's death.

On the movie’s website, the documentary is described as the story of Tilikum, “a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity.”

Director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite “compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore (Tilikum’s) extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the multibillion-dollar sea-park industry,” the site says.

In the wake of the film, SeaWorld's revenues and attendance declined and its stock value tumbled.

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. CEO Jim Atchison stepped down in 2014 and the company announced layoffs aimed at saving $50 million annually.

"The film conveys falsehoods, manipulates viewers emotionally and relies on questionable filmmaking techniques to create 'facts' that support its point of view," said Seaworld.

The company fought back vehemently against the film, calling it “propaganda, not a documentary.”

SeaWorld launched an entire section of its www.seaworldcares.com site to debunk “Blackfish.”

“We object to ‘Blackfish’ because its two central premises are wrong: that life at SeaWorld is harmful for killer whales and for trainers working with these animals, and that SeaWorld has attempted to cover up the facts surrounding the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, as well as the history of Tilikum, the killer whale involved in that accident,” the site says. “Nothing could be further from the truth."

“To make these ultimately false and misleading points, the film conveys falsehoods, manipulates viewers emotionally and relies on questionable filmmaking techniques to create ‘facts’ that support its point of view,” the site says.

SeaWorld gave a link to its www.seaworldcares.com blog for more information on Tilikum’s illness, condition and treatment.

We are saddened to report that over the past few weeks, Tilikum's health has been deteriorating. Our teams are treating...Posted by SeaWorld on Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Captive for more than 30 years, Tilikum—the SeaWorld orca known for killing a trainer in 2010—probably couldn't survive...Posted by National Geographic Magazine on Monday, May 11, 2015

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