Florida attractions boast new exhibits for summer

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By CONTRIBUTED BY DEWAYNE BEVIL | ORLANDO SENTINEL THE RECORD

Opened July 2, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park’s working blacksmith exhibit offers guests a glimpse into St. Augustine’s past through accurate historical interpretation.

The exhibit is located on the south side of the Menendez Settlement field.

“We are excited to bring another interesting facet of St. Augustine’s past to the park, one where our guests can actually witness history being made, right on the actual site where history was made in 1565,” said John W. Fraser, managing director of the Fountain of Youth.

With an open floor plan, the exhibit is fascinating in its layout and construction. The bellows are an oversized, horizontal double-lung design, which feeds a custom-made forge. This forced-air setup can generate blacksmithing temperatures in excess of 2,500 degrees. All the major components were made in the U.S.A. The blacksmith shop will produce Spanish Colonial-style iron goods present in the area during the First Spanish Period (1565-1763) of Florida’s history.

“St. Augustine’s colonial blacksmiths were primarily repairmen,” said Greg Sikes, park blacksmith. “New goods arrived primarily from Europe, and when the implements broke, the blacksmith stepped in.”

The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is Florida’s oldest attraction, and it commemorates the Florida landing of Ponce de Leon in 1513 and his quest for the legendary Fountain of Youth. It is archaeologically significant as the original site of the Timucuan Indian village of Seloy for over 3,000 years and as the original site of Pedro Menendez de Aviles’ St. Augustine settlement in September of 1565.

This site was established 55 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock and 42 years before the founding of Jamestown. It is also the location of the 1587 Mission Church of Nombre de Dios, the first Franciscan Mission Church in the United States, as well as the 1565 site of the First Muster of militiamen in the United States.

The park is open 364 days a year.

For information, go to fountainofyouthflorida.com.
Walt Disney World has hit the sweet spot with its new Epcot ride, Frozen Ever After. It’s a winner, naturally, with the little-princess demographic. But the ride also sports creative technical finesse that soccer moms and dads can appreciate.

The attraction — built in the park’s Norway pavilion, where the Maelstrom ride operated until 2014 — features animatronics of Anna and Elsa, the film’s royal sisters. Their faces are clean, crisp-looking and perfectly animated. Disney fans have seen this look on gem-mining workers at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride in Magic Kingdom.

Olaf, the snowman with an unhealthy attachment to summer, is more traditionally constructed. He makes repeated appearances but not so much as to cause brain freeze in grown-ups.

Where Imagineers really shine in Frozen Ever After is the coordination of sight, sound and movement. The backward drop, a Maelstrom leftover, with Queen Elsa belting out “Let It Go” made me feel like I was a part of her beloved Arendelle.

Technical delays marred opening day recently. After about two hours of steady-ish operation, a series of stoppages made long lines even longer. At one point, the queue extended out of the Norway pavilion, ran past the China pavilion and over the bridge to the Outpost area before looping back into China. Posted wait times reached 300 minutes.

On one hand, wow, that’s too much time in the Florida heat. On the other hand, I would hate to float through Ever After and not see that Elsa effect.

Inside the queue, it’s a Summer Snow Day, according to the ride’s back story. The building’s interior is quaint but stony. It’s a bit dark in there. Those in the standby line meander through a small cabin that’s a sauna. Don’t worry, standby people, you get to stay in the sauna. But there is the only real piece of entertainment in the queue: a series of video gags by Oaken through a steamed-up window.

The lead-up to boarding the boats features instrumental versions of the film’s soundtrack. That elicits impromptu sing-alongs from visitors, including dads who may have experienced the DVD repeatedly. Little princesses may have rolled their eyes.

Gone from the Maelstrom days is the hole in the wall where outsiders could see the boats in motion and the end-of-ride theater, which showed a film about Norway.

The ride now exits through a gift shop, and it’s next to a new meet-and-greet building where visitors can pose with our “Frozen” heroines. Frozen Ever After is the final major addition to Disney World parks this summer. Other newbies include a stage show at Magic Kingdom, an end-of-night “Star Wars” extravaganza at Hollywood Studios and a slew of after-dark activities at Animal Kingdom.
If haven’t been out to see the new Wrecked! exhibit at the St. Augustine Lighthouse, there’s still plenty of time to explore its hidden depths this summer.

Using artifacts, videos and interactive games, the exhibit tells a story of the nonvictors in the American Revolutionary War.

Storm Wreck, as Lighthouse archaeologists have referred to the ship, was part of a fleet that evacuated British loyalists from Charleston, South Carolina, following a number of decisive defeats including the Battle of Yorktown. The name comes from the unfortunate coincidence for refugees that it was a dark and stormy night when the time came to skip town.

The ill-fated vessel, filled with both civilians and soldiers fleeing possible retribution from the victorious rebels, attempted to enter the St. Augustine inlet on Dec. 31, 1782, when it ran aground. While passengers were able to escape on smaller boats, the ship and all its contents were lost to the sea.

But Storm Wreck was just one of at least 100 ships full of British sympathizers and their cargo that left Charleston for St. Augustine.

Shannon O’Neil, spokeswoman for the Lighthouse, said St. Augustine’s population jumped from around 13,000 to 30,000 in just a few years because it was the nearest British-controlled port at the time.

“Once it was clear that America had won out and established itself, they were no longer wanted in their communities,” she said.

Things neither improved much, nor for too long, once the refugees reached shore. After the city was ceded back to the Spanish in 1783, many chose to move on toward the Caribbean Sea and points south.

“The history is just amazing, and largely forgotten. Scholars haven’t focused on it. Very few people know about it,” Chuck Meide, director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, said in a previous Record report. “The fact that we have this well-preserved time capsule and that we have all these artifacts will help us learn what happened, and to bring the history of this ship to life.”

Excavation on Storm Wreck began in 2010. Museum conservators were charged with removing more than 200 years of sediment accumulation from the recovered artifacts.

The exhibit, encompassing nearly half of the 1876 Keepers’ House on the Light Station grounds, stays true to the shipwreck feel and the process of recovering the items.

Artifacts ranging from cannons, muskets, pistols, military uniform buttons and the ship’s bell to household items such as teapots, clothing irons, plates and spoons are encased along an undulating wooden platform built to simulate the uneven surface of the ocean floor upon which they were found. Interactive games demonstrate the use of magnetic signatures and target testing to identify shipwrecks, as well as the careful recovery and conservation of shipwreck artifacts.

The exhibit is open to the public 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For information, go to staugustinelighthouse.org.