If you’re thinking of visiting a theme park this summer, know that some of the best times are going to end in a month. That’s when the parks, which stay open during evenings in summer, start moving up their closing.
Evening hours not only let families get the maximum out of their park visits, but are also significantly cooler during Florida’s hot, humid summers. Moreover, early August is the last chance for families with kids to visit the parks before schools reopen in mid-August.
Here’s a rundown on closing hours at the major attractions. Most parks open at 9 or 9:30 a.m, and most close later than normal on weekends, during holiday periods and for special events.
Universal Orlando: Islands of Adventure closes at 9 p.m. through Aug. 17, at 8 p.m. through Sept. 1, then 7 p.m. starting Sept. 2. Universal Studios closes at 10 p.m. through Aug. 10, at 9 p.m. through Sept. 1, at 7 p.m. (excluding after-hours Halloween Horror Nights).
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Busch Gardens: Closes at 9 p.m. through Aug. 18, after which it will close at 6 p.m. most weekdays and either 7 or 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
Disney World: Until Sept. 1, Magic Kingdom closes at 11 p.m., Epcot at 9 p.m., Disney Hollywood Studios at 10 p.m. and Animal Kingdom at 7 p.m. Closing hours in September vary widely at the four parks. Details: www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/calendars. SeaWorld: Closes at 10 p.m. though Aug. 11, at 8 p.m. through Aug. 17, 7 p.m. through Aug. 30, at 10 p.m. Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, at 8 p.m. Sept. 2, and at 6 p.m. the rest of September.
Legoland: Closes at 8 p.m. through Aug. 10, at 7 p.m. through Aug. 17, at 6 p.m. through Sept. 1. In fall the park is closed most Tuesdays and Wednesdays; open til 5 p.m. other weekdays, 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Kennedy Space Center: The Visitor Complex closes at 7 p.m. through Aug. 11, at 6 p.m. through Sept. 2, and 5 p.m. thereafter.
• HOPE IT FLOATS: If you’re into wacky events, here’s one you’ll enjoy: Key Largo’s Anything That Floats Regatta. Set for Aug. 17, the race is open to teams that build floatable “boats” out of recycled items found around the house, including wood, PVC, jugs, buckets, pool noodles, plastic wrap, lawn furniture or cardboard, often bound together with duct tape. Oars, paddles and even sails made of old T-shirts are allowed, but motors, foams, floats, rafts and pool toys are a no-no. All team members must ride in their “boat” on the half-mile course. Hopefully, it won’t sink. www.keylargoanythingthatfloatsrace.com.
• LABOR DAY DEALS: Hotels all over the state are offering Labor Day weekend packages at attractive rates. We’ve seen many under $100 a night and some as low as $69. Some deals put you in suites and some may include theme park tickets and similar goodies. Many choices can be seen if you google for “Labor Day weekend deals Florida.” If you have a favorite hotel, “like” it on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for notice of deals.
Bargain rates at Florida resorts will continue through most of autumn, with possible exceptions during special events and holiday periods. Watch coupon and travel discount sites like Groupon.com, LivingSocial.com and Travelzoo.com.
• FAITH AND FUN: Rock and religion come together at two Orlando theme parks in early September. Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are staging two special evenings of Christian rock and worship music Sept. 6 and 7.
Universal will feature 17 bands during its Rock the Universe event; Disney’s Night of Joy has 19. Both events are separately priced with a number of options; single-night cost at Universal is $40, $55 at Disney. Both park events run from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Information: DisneyWorld.Disney.go.com, universalorlando.com.
• SEAFOOD AWAITS: If you missed the popular 48-hour lobster mini-season last week, worry not. The regular season starts Aug. 6 and you can harvest six lobsters per person per day. For rules about size, limits, licenses and prohibited waters in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, go to myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lobster. To celebrate the season, Key West is staging its annual Lobsterfest Aug. 8-11. Event information: www.keywestlobsterfest.com.
Lobsters aren’t the only sea creatures you can collect at this time. Florida’s annual scallop season in the Big Bend section of the Gulf coast runs to Sept. 25. Daily limit is two gallons of scallops in shell or one pint of scallop meat per person, plus a maximum catch per vessel.
Most scalloping is done from boats over grassy flats, but there are spots where one can wade out in waters three or four feet deep to gather the shellfish. Charter boats take out scallopers from a number of Gulf ports, among them Homosassa, Crystal River, Steinhatchee and Port St. Joe. For rules, harvesting areas and limits, etc., go to myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/shellfish.
To sample scallops and have some fun besides, Port St. Joe’s 17th annual Florida Scallop and Music Festival opened Saturday and runs through Aug. 3.
• DELRAY TASTINGS: Eighteen restaurants will participate in Delray Beach’s fifth annual Tastemakers of Delray Beach, a strolling food and beverage tasting event the evenings of Aug. 8 and 9. A $30 “passport” will enable guests to sample special dishes at each restaurant. www.downtowndelraybeach.com/savor-and-tastemakers.