indoor attractions

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Jamaican Plant :: Dieffenbachia is a genus of tropical flowering plants in the family Araceae. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental / houseplant. It’s a perennial herbaceous plant with straight stem, simple and alternate leaves containing white spots and flecks, making it attractive as indoor foliage. Its common name, “dumb cane,” refers to the poisoning effect of raphides, which can cause temporary inability to speak; for this reason it is aka the mother-in-law’s tongue.

For decades rumors have swirled of an alarming trend taking place at Disney theme parks – that some people were dumping the cremated ashes of their dead relatives during some of the darker, indoor attractions. While there’s no official confirmation that this phenomenon is actually taking place, plenty of former employees allege that it’s a relatively common occurrence. And some of them have even pleaded online for the perpetrators to cut it out, since they’re basically dooming their departed loved ones to a final destination of getting sucked up into a shop vac and unceremoniously tossed in a dumpster.

In 2007, a brief ruckus ensued when a woman was reported to be sprinkling an unidentified substance over the side of the Pirates Of The Caribbean boat she was riding in. Though panicked staff immediately shut the ride down, neither the substance (described as a powder that dissipated quickly in the water) nor the culprit were ever found. Disney disputed any possibility that whatever it was that got dispersed could be human remains, because of course they did. This was relatively easy to do, seeing as how the police declined to even investigate the incident due to lack of evidence. In fact, The House Of Mouse’s official stance is that nobody has ever scattered ashes at the park, despite the fact that they get requests for it on a regular basis and allegedly have a specific protocol in place to deal with the aftermath.

Spreading Ashes Next To Goofy: The Worst People At Disney

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The nation’s capital is sweaty and sweltering right now, but Washington locals and visitors can find a seaside getaway in the most unlikely of places. In the middle of downtown D.C., the National Building Museum has installed a 10,000-square-foot indoor “beach” that has attracted kids, tourists and workers looking for an out-of-the-ordinary lunch break.

“What we’ve got here is a big, white box 200 feet by 50 feet,” explains Cathy Frankel, vice president for exhibitions. “We have it carpeted with our sand, which is more like white AstroTurf. You can walk around here on the beach. It’s always 75 degrees and sunny here.”

The beach — situated in the museum’s Great Hall amid massive Corinthian columns — consists of a snack bar, white lounge chairs with umbrellas and a pool of 700,000 white plastic balls, up to 3 feet deep in some places.

“It took a full day for the entire staff to unload all the boxes of balls into the ocean,” says Chase Rynd, the museum’s executive director. “We thought it was going to be really simple. … No, it was work.”

Take A Trip To D.C.’s Indoor Beach, Where It’s Always 75 And Sunny

Photo credits: Noah Kalina/National Building Museum

Bigger Dinosaur, Bigger Thrills

As we saw in Monday’s Jurassic World trailer, the company was always seeking out a new way to draw in more guests. What’s more appealing than the introduction of a new dinosaur? 

It’s quite obvious (and even mentioned) that the T.Rex was to be the star attraction, and it’s even more fitting that Rexy was the main attraction for guests for the beginning years of Jurassic World.

You can see that the T.Rex feeding show is still very popular. Who doesn’t want to watch a goat get devoured?

But as you can see, the up close viewing space appears quite small (although I’m sure there’s other places to watch) and repeat guests probably demanded for more experiences similar to this one. 

That’s where the next big thing comes in: the Mosasaur. I’m assuming that the discovery of genetic material in aquatic “dinosaur” bones was a huge leap in the Jurassic World universe. Watching such a creature feed underwater would sound very exciting–and very pleasant for the ears of corporate.

You can see that an even larger viewing area was created–a stadium, along with an underwater one. More people can watch the Mosasaur feed from above and below. This was definitely an expensive addition to the park, and to maintain such a structure with dropping guest attendance was not a good thing. This was also probably the last thing added before the introduction of Indominus–considering that the Aviary and the Kayak Tour were probably opened around the origin of the park. 

I can see that advancements were probably not being made in extracting DNA from dinosaurs (or animals from the “Ice Age”, which probably tempted an indoor, cold climate attraction) so corporate probably commissioned a completely new dinosaur because that capability is there. 

The Indominus Rex feeding paddock is a huge stadium–and appears much larger than the Mosasaur one. Unfortunately, hints from the trailers indicate that this new show does not go over well.


Which brings me to a final point–over the course of about 10 years, the exhibits have gotten larger to warrant the excitement of new guests. The dinosaurs get bigger, along with the feeding shows and the thrills. This begs the question, does bigger really mean better? We’ll see soon from the film that it may not be so easily answered.

Turning Out the Lights on Disease-Carrying Insects

Night falls, and the lights on streets and in homes go on. For more than 130 years, artificial light has been a key contributor to human development, allowing people to extend their work hours beyond when the sun goes down, school children to study their lessons, and communities to feel more secure on roads and in shared public spaces. 

In many parts of the world, though, the simple act of turning on a light after dark comes with dangerous risks. Lightbulbs attract insects. Some of these bugs are infected with microbes, which get transferred to people and cause chronic or deadly diseases. Certain mosquitoes bring malaria, Dengue fever or rash- and fever-inducing Chikungunya virus. Sandfly bites can pass on the ulcer-causing Leishmaniasis parasite. A kissing bug kiss can impart Chagas disease.

The impact is substantial, with insect-borne illnesses representing 17 percent of all infectious diseases and 1 million deaths annually around the world. But now researchers say there is a new disease prevention tool that could help lower infections by insects that find their way indoors using light as their guide. Scientists have found that LED bulbs tuned to emit certain wavelengths of light attract significantly fewer insects.

Keep reading

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Arabia Steamboat Museum, Kansas City, MO

During the 19th century, steamboats navigating the Missouri River needed an incredible amount of wood to fuel their engines and propel them along the water. Trees lining the banks of the river were chopped down to feed the engines, and as the canopy of leaves overhanging the bank disappeared, the riverbank eroded and caused the dead tree stumps to wash into the river itself. These ‘snags’ drifted downstream with the current, and in doing so, they created sharp-pointed projectile missiles aimed at the wooden hulls of any boat steaming upstream. The problem was compounded over decades; particularly as the Missouri was not by any means a tame river, and its path shifted over the years, claiming more of the abandoned tree branches and stumps left by loggers.

On September 5th, 1856, one of those snags punctured the hull of the side-wheeler steamboat Arabia, as it traveled up the Missouri River with supplies bound for brand-new general stores in Kansas and Nebraska. The Arabia sank with all of its cargo onboard, and the boat was buried in the riverbed overnight. Silt in the river made the Arabia’s resting place dark and cool; excellent preservation conditions for a fresh-water wreck. The steamboat would remain there for 132 years.

In 1987, a family who had heard the stories of sunken steamboats passed down among local residents  – particularly stories of the Arabia – decided to turn treasure-hunters, and attempt to recover the lost steamboat. In particular, they were looking for one item among her 200 tons of recorded cargo: untapped barrels of Kentucky bourbon, now aged for more than a century. The family brought some of their friends on board, pooled their finances, and began to research. They originally planned to sell whatever they found at auction, but when they did find the Arabia, they recovered more than anyone had imagined…a wealth of preserved artifacts that shed light on the American Midwest for historians, in such huge quantities that to split up any of the collection seemed a tragedy. Instead of selling, they founded a museum to house their find: The Arabia Steamboat Museum, a perfect time capsule of American life on and around the Missouri River in 1856.

So much was recovered from the Arabia that restoration efforts still continue, 36 years after its excavation. Inside the museum, you can visit the lab, where artifacts in the process of restoration are on display, and visitors can compare preserved items with those that didn’t survive the process, and are corroded or withered beyond repair.

A visit to the museum begins with a guide telling the story of the Arabia, followed by a short video documenting the steamboat’s loss and recovery, and a guided tour through the first ‘treasure room’, where artifacts on display give viewers an idea of the quality and historical value of what was recovered. Following that, museum visitors step onto a life-sized recreation of the Arabia’s hold, where they can see everything – from beads to china, toys to shoes, and even parts of the original steamboat itself – that was carried on board when the Arabia sank in 1856.

Stepping into the museum really feels just like stepping into a general store on the frontier. What’s amazing – even beyond seeing firsthand the details of tiny buttons that show how fabric was patterned, or the rich colour of a surviving bolt of Chinese silk that was sent overseas more than 150 years ago – is the sheer volume of the collection. Antiques valued individually at tens of thousands of dollars sit on shelves with dozens of their identical fellows, and rows upon rows of boots prove just how early right-and-left pairs of shoes were introduced to the market. Sets of delicately-patterned china, ornate doorknobs, and carpentry tools to make elaborate molding show how evolved décor in early Midwestern settlements really was, and the number of each proves that storekeepers believed they could sell high-priced items even in brand-new settlements across the river.

It’s a moment out of time, from the bones of the sole Arabia casualty – a mule tied to the rail – to the snag that sunk the boat. As our tour guide said: The Arabia collection tells its story as well as any museum in the world.

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American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore is based around one surprisingly simple principle: anyone can create art. The exhibits on display are the work of people who found a passion and a talent, followed their intuition, and taught themselves to be artists. There are works by a man captivated by the flash of mirrors; a woman who knits sculpted objects; a tactile artist who has lost his vision and can only feel what he creates; a man driven by the desire to understand humanity’s passion for war and destruction; a sand painter; a matchstick sculptor; an embroiderer; a mannequin painter; a whittler.

Among the many artists represented in the permanent collection are Dr. Temple Grandin, professor, author, and autism activist; and Frank Warren, who began the ‘PostSecret’ project of writing secrets onto postcards. The stories of how the museum’s visionaries were inspired to create are often just as fascinating as the works themselves. There are schizophrenics, zealots, Holocaust survivors, abuse survivors, former soldiers, artists with Down syndrome, and other ordinary people who were inspired to pick up a paintbrush, a needle, a bottle cap, or a toothpick, and bring a vision to fruition.

I confess I am not a great fan of modern art, but at AVAM I don’t feel like a poor uncultured plebian, staring at a blank white canvas that someone was paid millions of dollars for in the name of ‘great art’. I feel like a human being, connecting with other human beings through our shared experiences and appreciation of art in all forms. AVAM has several interactive exhibits that include you as a visionary in your own right, and such a wide breadth of pieces that you can spend an afternoon there and still not see it all, but you’ll almost definitely see something that touches you personally. It’s not as intimidating as a silent, sterile white room, or a long hallway filled with velvet ropes. It’s a museum that makes you feel like you belong.

If you end up planning a trip to AVAM and really want to get involved, check their website for upcoming events. They sponsor a wealth of local arts projects, such as a workshop in how to make blinged-out, sparkling dangly art decorations; a bring-your-own-materials mosaics seminar; a hands-on theatrical workshop and performance; and the long-running kinetic sculpture race.

Works, top-bottom, left-right: Pencil tip art by Dalton Ghetti; Rolling Through the Bay, toothpick sculpture by Scott Weaver; Shelter for Opening, mixed-media with acrylic by Autumn Skye Morrison; The Community Mosaic Wall exterior of AVAM, designed and executed by at-risk children; detail of The Community Mosaic Wall; unknown painting by Frank Bruno; Black Icarus & Cosmic Galaxy Egg, mixed-media mosaics by Andrew Logan.

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The Biodôme de Montréal, Montreal, QC

The Biodôme de Montréal in Quebec was converted from one of the structures formerly built for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. It is now home to four distinct ecosystems, created to exhibit plant and animal habitats found naturally in the Americas. Inside the building, you can wander through the Tropical Forest, which mirrors a South American rain forest; the Laurentian Maple Forest, a North American wilderness; the Saint Lawrence Marine Ecosystem, an estuary based on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence; and finally, a subpolar habitat divided into the Arctic Labrador Coast and Sub-Antarctic Islands.

It is a zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden combined into one, which surrounds you completely as you move through it. There are few darkened halls and glass tanks; instead you can look over the side of a bridge to watch turtles move ponderously through the stream below, or point out monkeys perched in tree branches overhead, so close you wonder if you might be able to touch them.

The Biodôme is operated by the Montreal Nature Museum, along with the Montreal Insectarium, Montreal Botanical Garden, and Montreal Planetarium. As a result, there are package deals available for those who want to see multiple attractions in the city. Those with Accès Montréal cards are also eligible for a discount. Entirely indoors – although you won’t feel like it when you’re moving through replicated forests and climbing alongside trees beneath enormous skylights – the Biodôme is open year-round, in any weather. The habitats are entirely contained within the Biodôme–a name which means ‘house of life’.

The Biodôme’s mission is conservation, education, and research, and it provides a solid foundation for all of those to any visitor. Endangered species are protected there as part of the American Species Survival Plan, so visitors are given the opportunity to observe living species they might otherwise never be able to see. Scientists are able to study those in residence, particularly endangered species from both South and North American continents. Information for visitors about each of the ecosystems, as well as about specific plants and animals, is easily accessible via written materials, touch-screens, and audio tours. Information is not limited to the plants and animals: the terrain, landscape, and climate are detailed for each ecosystem, in addition to vegetation and wildlife.

The Biodôme claims you should spend approximately 1 ½ hours on a typical visit. I stayed much longer, and could have stayed longer still, just to observe the animals and explore the ecosystems in greater depth. I and my girlfriend at the time, who was there with me, spent at least twenty minutes just watching the penguins and alcids. With more freedom than they would find in a smaller zoo cage, the animals can be seen flying, swimming, diving, and playing at every turn. Nearly all of my pictures from our visit are blurred, because the ecosystems were constantly in motion.

One of the best things about the Biodôme is that a visit there is almost entirely what you make of it. The structure is set up for self-guided tours, with panels printed in multiple languages posted throughout to guide and inform you. Employees can be found all around, happy to answer questions about the exhibits and point out some of the interesting sights you might otherwise miss.

It would be easy to say that a collection of wildlife native to the Americas might be limited, but you’ll find as you explore that it’s no such thing. Tropical birds, ocean dwellers, primates, fossils…the Biodôme is home to approximately 250 species of animals, and 500 species of plants. It would be difficult to find such a vast array a disappointment. All in all, it’s a wonderful place to experience, for adults and children alike.

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Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL

If I were to make a ‘must-see’ list for Chicago, Shedd Aquarium would definitely be on it. The largest indoor aquarium in the world when it opened in 1930, Shedd has topped lists like ‘most visited aquarium in the U.S.’ and ‘most popular cultural attraction in Chicago.’ With 5,000,000 gallons of water, it’s home to more than 25,000 fish, and 1,500 aquatic and amphibious species. It was the first inland aquarium in the world to house a saltwater fish collection, and has hosted some of the most fantastic aquatic exhibits in the world.

Shedd Aquarium is located on the Museum Campus in Chicago, along with the Field Museum of Natural History and Adler Planetarium. The building is now on the Register of Historic Places.

When you enter the aquarium, the first exhibit you might see is the Caribbean Reef. In 1971, the reef made its debut on the site of the aquarium’s first original exhibit, and has become one of its most popular attractions. A diver in the tank is responsible for feeding, observing, and otherwise maintaining the enormous reef habitat, and visitors to the aquarium can ask the diver questions from the other side of the glass, interacting with the animals via an intermediary.

Amazon Rising is home to the exotic plants and animals of the Amazon River and rain forest. Piranhas, anacondas, tarantulas, monkeys, and caimans guide you through the South American waterscape, where the exhibit focuses on how the dramatic flood cycle affects life in the Amazon. The 30-foot difference in the water level between the dry season and the flood season means massive changes for people, plants, and animals in the areas affected by the rising and falling water.

The oldest exhibit in the aquarium is Waters of the World, which expands on the South American habitat to explore the waters of Asia and Africa. Diverse habitats such as oceans, wetlands, lakes, and rivers are all explored in this comprehensive tour of the world’s waters. I remember especially being interested in At Home on the Great Lakes, the area of this exhibit devoted to the local waters around Chicago. Both native and introduced species are studied to show their effects on the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Wild Reef focuses on another specific ecosystem: that of a Philippine Coral Reef, based on the Apo Island Marine Reserve. Living coral, tropical fish, rays, and sharks all dwell in this exhibit, which has a focus on education and conservation. The exhibit is designed so that visitors feel as though they are seeing the reef as a diver would, moving among the plants and animals that surround them.

The Abbott Oceanarium is my favourite place in Shedd, and the one that I remember most. The Oceanarium houses marine mammals such as sea lions, sea otters (several of them survivors of the ExxonValdez oil spill), white-sided dolphins, and the happiest beluga whales I have ever seen in my life. I think it was the size of the tanks that made such an impact on me; often as aquarium visitors we see marine mammals swimming in circles in a shallow pool, their movements limited by available space. In the Shedd Oceanarium, I was fortunate enough to witness whales playing, leaping, and frolicking in general merriment, diving and surfacing to the delight of everyone around them. The Oceanarium is the largest indoor marine mammal facility in the world, and it shows in the attitudes of its inhabitants.

While you’re at the Oceanarium, check out the marine mammal Aquatic Show; and if you really want to get into the spirit, look into Shedd’s ‘Extraordinary Experiences’ tickets, which offer up-close-and-personal encounters with beluga whales, penguins, sharks, and more. Elsewhere in the aquarium, you should also say hello to Granddad, the Australian Lungfish who has lived at Shedd since 1933, and who might be the oldest fish living in an aquarium anywhere in the world; and to Nickel, a green sea turtle who will definitely make an impression. Injured by a speedboat, Nickel has buoyancy issues which render her incapable of surviving in the wild and have affected her ability to swim; she does just fine in a reef tank, however, and can be seen capably paddling her way around near the entrance to the aquarium.

This may be the first and last time I champion a gift shop: Shedd has a great one, with a wide variety of gifts and keepsakes. All proceeds go to support the aquarium, as a non-profit organization, which means the money helps with marine conservation, education, and research. If you spend the day at Shedd – which is easy to do – there are a few (vegetarian-friendly) café and restaurant choices inside the aquarium. You should also investigate ticket deals—Shedd does discount days for Illinois residents as well as the general public, and is included in several package deals with other Chicago tourist attractions.

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Roadside America, Shartlesville, PA

I grew up taking family trips to Roadside America, and it’s something I still love to take friends to see today. ‘The World’s Greatest Indoor Miniature Village’ is an enormous of model-enthusiast’s delight and United States Americana, and there is nothing else I know of quite like it.

The statistics are dazzling as an introduction: 4,000 miniature people going about their miniature lives, outside 300 miniature structures and among 10,000 hand-made miniature trees, over 8,000 square feet of landscaped terrain and lit by 600 light bulbs, all in perfect 3/8 scale. And winding all around and through the clusters of buildings, people, and animals, through mountain tunnels and across bridges and real liquid waterways, run the railroads that helped to build America. It’s difficult to imagine until you step into the room and see it all stretching out ahead of you, or walk up the ramp into the snow-covered ‘mountains’ to look down on the cable cars and trollies running along their own rails as the trains rush by.

There are as many as 18 trains running at any given time, with freight cars carrying natural resources such as timber and coal, coaches showing the silhouettes of their passengers riding cross-country, and even circus trains with curious giraffes whose heads poke out of the tops of the cars. As you move around the display, you can spot the saw mills producing the lumber to be loaded onto the freight cars, or see a worker unloading great jugs of milk from a boxcar onto a waiting dock. You will not see any cities or urban centers, but instead the vast, sprawling American countryside.

As you move through the space, you will also find yourself moving through time. In one area, you might see pioneers loading up the trains heading out west or settling on farmsteads; in the next, the automobiles and clubs of the roaring twenties; in yet another, the ice cream parlors and billiard halls of the 1950s. Visitors are not set apart outside of the bustling miniature communities, either; buttons placed along the outside of the layout allow viewers to take part in the action, lighting up a church and setting the choir inside to singing, or bringing a children’s playground into swinging, spinning motion. There is so much to see that you might miss some of it, and enough minute detail that scavenger hunts can be made for younger visitors who want to take on the challenge of exploring the massive display and finding the hidden treasures within.

Roadside America is an experience to bring the childlike wonder out in everyone, from the first awe-inspiring sight of the layout, to the moment when the overhead lighting goes dark and the entire display itself lights up to show the landscape after nightfall, with nearly every building coming to glowing life. What might be even more incredible than the view of this creation is the knowledge that the entire layout is the life’s work of a single man, Laurence Gieringer—60 years spent building, painting, wiring, and molding to create the astonishing spectacle on show today.

Some general information: Plan on spending at least an hour at Roadside America, and possibly more depending on your level of interest and group size. Shartlesville is by no means a tourist hotspot, but it’s an easy day-trip (less than an hour’s drive) to attractions in Hershey, Harrisburg, and Ephrata. There’s a Pennsylvania Dutch gift shop right next door, so add in some time to go shopping if you want to look through local crafts. If you’re curious about the famous hand-painted hex signs found on barns and houses throughout the Central Pennsylvania region, this is a great place to visit, and possibly leave with one of your own.