Terry Roen - SaintPetersBlog

Terry Roen

The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.

Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths for preschoolers

Florida ranks highest in the nation for drowning deaths of children under the age of four. A grim statistic to consider before heading out to the beach, lake or pool this Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is the official start of the summer season and the best time to remind parents of the importance of teaching children about water safety.

Florida had the highest drowning rate in the nation for the under four age group with 7.5 per 100,000 population, according to 2013 statistics from the Florida Department of Health. Enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown each year in Florida and do not live to see their fifth birthday.

Most of those incidents occur in backyard pools and studies have shown that usually an adult was nearby, but not watching the child when they fell in the pool

Children growing up in Florida are surrounded by water, whether it’s a backyard pool, canal, lake or the ocean. That’s why Kelly Whittemore, founder of Swim Life, has devoted her career to teaching children how to swim.

Whittemore said children die in Central Florida because parents don’t realize how easy it is to get distracted when watching their children around water.

“A child can drown in the seconds it takes to return a text message,” said Whittemore, who has been teaching swim lessons for 25 years. “Hollywood has done us all a big disservice. They’ve made it look like there’s lots of splashing and noise involved. In reality, a child can slip in without a splash and there’s no noise. That’s how quickly and silently it happens.”

Whittemore said she believes every parent has the best of intentions when watching their children in the water, but there are so many distractions, like cellphones, text messages, alcohol and conversations with friends that interrupt their watch.

“So many parents sign up for swim lessons after a near miss,” she said. “They say, ‘all I did was answer a text or run inside because the oven was beeping.’”

Those interruptions are the reason Whittemore suggests every parent enroll their child in a water safety program early and often. She said swim lessons should be refreshed every year because as the child grows, so does their body.

“And before you open your home and pool to guests, be a responsible homeowner, host and parent — set pool rules, have life jackets on hand for kids who can’t swim and ensure they wear them at all times,” said Whittemore, who founded Swim Life, which has swim schools in seven states and Okinawa, Japan. “When pool barriers are open, an adult, one who can swim well, should be perched on deck with no phone and no alcohol in them, so their eyes can be on the pool and the kids in and around it.”

Swim Life offers lessons at several Central Florida locations. The 15-minute, one-on-one lessons are held four days a week for five weeks for a total of 20 lessons. The cost is $80 a week plus a $60 registration fee. Scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the lessons.

The survival swim school started in 2012 with two locations in Lake Mary. Due to demand, they are expanding this summer and adding a third pool in Sanford, which will be indoor for year round lessons.

May and June are the most popular months for swim lessons and some of Swim First’s 21 instructors are already booked through July.

 Top 5 Tips for Pool Safety

— Designate a responsible adult to be a “water watcher” to ensure constant, attentive supervision of the pool — phone and alcohol-free

— Put a life jacket on anyone who can’t swim and float independently

— Use pool fences and latched gates at all times — never assume a child won’t wander into the pool unsupervised

— If a child goes missing, check the pool first. And make sure at least one adult knows CPR

— Enroll kids in lessons that teach independent swimming and floating — people don’t drown because they can’t swim; they drown because they can’t breath

Top 5 Tips for Beach Safety

— Look for a lifeguard stand, only swim on beaches with a lifeguard and swim as close to one as possible

— Put young or inexperienced swimmers in a life jacket

— Parents set up on the beach with a direct line of site to the water, and take a picture of your child in whatever he’s wearing — bright colors are easiest to spot on a busy beach

— Educate kids who can swim about rip currents by practicing with them how they should swim parallel to the shoreline

— Avoid swimming near plants and marine life

Photos courtesy of Swim Life.

Rick Scott signs bill to fight terrorism

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Thursday that creates new criminal offenses to combat terrorism and funds more agents to investigate terrorist acts.

The Governor was in Orlando to attend the Orlando Counter Terrorism Conference, where 210 agents from the law enforcement agencies from across the southeast are sharing ideas to stop terrorism.

“This bill helps our local, state and federal law enforcement community work together to keep people safe,” Scott said. “We’ve all got to open our eyes and help. If you see something, say something.”

House Bill 457, which passed unanimously in both the Senate and House, creates five new criminal offenses for people who work with terrorist groups or commit acts of terrorism. It also provides the resources to hire 47 Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers to investigate acts of terrorism.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said that local agencies are better prepared to fight terrorism because of their experience after the Pulse massacre. He added that he wants to encourage people to visit Central Florida, especially on this busy Memorial Day weekend.

“We’re glad to have two new attractions open at the parks and are prepared for the bigger crowds this holiday weekend,” Demings said. “We don’t want our citizens to live in fear. We have rapid response teams trained and ready to handle any type of emergency.”

The bill makes acts of terrorism a new first-degree felony offense under state law. Another new offense would make it a first-degree felony to use “military-type training” provided by a foreign terrorist organization to harm someone or disrupt critical infrastructures. It would also be a first-degree felony to provide resources to terrorist groups.

It would be a second-degree felony to join a foreign terrorist group.

The three-day Counter Terrorism Conference is hosted by the Florida Sheriffs Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs’ Association and Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Attendees share information on what drives acts of violence, the signs of an attack and how to prevent them. Agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation are also at the conference.

NOAA predicts active 2017 hurricane season

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be more active than normal, with five to nine hurricanes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts 11 to 17 named tropical storms will develop in the region, which includes the Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, the agency announced Thursday. NOAA predicted that five to nine could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher, including 2 to 4 major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.

Hurricane season officially begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

The upcoming season could be comparable to the 2016 seasonthe most active since 2012, with 15 named storms, including seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes. An average season produces 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

The numbers include Tropical Storm Arlene, a rare pre-season storm that formed over the eastern Atlantic in April.

“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Nino, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Strong El Ninos and wind shear typically suppress the development of Atlantic hurricanes, so the prediction for weak conditions points to more hurricane activity this year. Also, warmer sea surface temperatures tend to fuel hurricanes as they move across the ocean.

“Regardless of how many storms develop this year, it only takes one to disrupt our lives,” said Acting FEMA Administrator Robert J. Fenton, Jr. “Get ready now with these easy, low-cost steps that will leave you better prepared and will make all the difference: Know your evacuation route; tune into your local news or download the FEMA app to get alerts, and finally – listen to local authorities as a storm approaches.”

NOAA will update this outlook in early August, just before the peak of hurricane season.

Spring Hill mother uses daughter to steal stroller at Disney World

A Spring Hill mother is facing grand theft charges after being accused of stealing an $1,800 stroller at Hollywood Studios, then selling it online.

Michelle Craig turned herself into Hernando County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday after Orange County detectives issued an arrest warrant. A Disney surveillance picture showed the alleged thief placing her young daughter in the fancy Bugaboo stroller before pushing it out of the park.

Police also found multiple high-end strollers, diaper bags and designer purses for sale on Craig’s Facebook page.

The theft occurred on April 15 and ruined a visit to Walt Disney World for Lauren Collazo, who reported that her car keys, wallet and her niece’s EpiPen were missing from the stroller basket. Her husband had to fly from Miami to rescue the family.

A Texas woman contacted Collazo after buying her stroller online from Craig.

Orlando is the number one destination in the U.S.

Visit Orlando announced Thursday that a record 68 million visitors came to Orlando last year, making it the number one destination in the United States.

The number was released during Visit Orlando’s annual Travel & Tourism Luncheon at the Hilton Orlando.

“Orlando’s visitation number represents the emotional connections we make with millions all over the world,” said George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. “The love they show us never ceases to inspire us and led us to launch a yearlong campaign about two important words: thank you.”

To mark the occasion, Visit Orlando achieved a Guinness World Records title by gathering 3,144 handwritten thank you notes from local attractions and hotels to mail to visitors that supported the Orlando destination. The cards will be mailed to visitors that used Visit Orlando’s social media channels, destination websites and member programs.

“Orlando and Orange County continue to be the number one vacation destination in the nation,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. “But this wouldn’t be possible without the many millions of guests who choose to come here year after year for our world-renowned attractions and entertainment options.”

SeaWorld to add new rapid river ride ‘Infinity Falls’

SeaWorld Orlando unveiled plans Thursday to open a twisting water rapid ride that will be the centerpiece of a new themed rainforest attraction.

Infinity Falls is scheduled to debut in the summer of 2018. The ride’s 40-foot drop is the world’s tallest river rapid drop, according to SeaWorld officials.

Inspired by the South American rainforests, riders will rush through the feel of an exhilarating Class IV rapids. Guests will sit atop a family-style raft that will wind through a lush jungle setting. A vertical elevator will lift each raft to the top of the ride.

Infinity Falls is the first new attraction SeaWorld Orlando has opened since the Mako roller coaster debuted last June. The new ride will be located between the Nautilus Theater and Shamu Stadium.

“Infinity Falls continues our commitment to investing in our park, and developing new ways to entertain and inspire our guests with meaningful, fun-filled vacations,” said Jim Dean, president of SeaWorld Orlando Parks.

The new ride is just another example of how SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment is moving away from animal shows, which have been criticized by animal rights groups for keeping wild animals captive. The company stopped breeding orcas last year and has vowed to focus on education and conservation.

SeaWorld Orlando’s last new ride was the Mako roller coast, which debuted last June.

The designers were inspired by the flowing rivers found in the rainforests of South America. Infinity Falls will be the core of a newly themed rainforest canopy area, which has yet to be named.

After riding the rapids, guests can explore the village and take part in interactive experiences that combine play with education to create a positive impact on freshwater ecosystems. SeaWorld’s Animal Ambassadors will also provide up-close encounters with animals native to South America.

Disney releases dates for Halloween and Christmas parties

Walt Disney World Resort announced the dates for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, stretching nearly four months with a one-day break for Thanksgiving.

The two events expand the holidays to 53 days of special events at the Magic Kingdom.

The hard ticket events will close the park early so a new group of guests can enjoy the private parties. Ticket go on sale next month. Prices have yet to be released.

Entertainment returning this year are: The Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular stage show in front of Cinderella Castle, Mickey’s Boo-to-You Halloween Parade and the Happy HalloWishes fireworks spectacular.

The Halloween party runs for 32 dates:

– August 25, 29

– September 1, 7, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19, 22, 24, 26, 29

– October 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27, 29, 31

– November 1

Returning favorites for the Christmas holidays include Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, Holiday Wishes, A Frozen Holiday Wish and Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration.

The 21 dates for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas are:

  • November 8, 9, 12, 14, 16, 17, 26, 28
  • December 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22

Gondolas could be Disney’s next new ride

A construction notice has given more fuel to the rumor that Walt Disney World is planning to build a gondola system connecting Epcot, three Disney resorts and Hollywood Studios.

An official notice of commencement filed in Orange County for the construction of “foundation and building infrastructure” at six different locations could be the gondola’s route, according to WDW News Today.

Walt Disney World remains mum on the rumor.

The proposed gondola would connect Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation and  Pop Century resorts. It would help relieve an overloaded system of buses that transport guests around Walt Disney World Resort.

It’s believed that Disney is contracting with the Doppelmayr/Garaventa group, an Austrian-Swiss company whose chairlifts, cable cars, gondolas and urban people movers can be found in 89 countries around the world. The company’s 3S cable system consumes less energy, has a high passenger capacity and increased wind stability, important assets for Central Florida’s theme parks.

Doppelmayr is not new to Central Florida. It built the elevated train used as the Hogwarts Express between the two Harry Potter lands at Universal Orlando Resort.

ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex celebrates 20 years

Amateur and professional athletes have played more than 70 different sports at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which celebrates its 20th anniversary today.

Since it opened in 1997 the story of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort has been written through the athletes who have competed on its fields, courts and diamonds.

The grand opening of the sports complex featured the Atlanta Braves as they defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 9-7, in front of a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 at a spring training game.

Each year the complex hosts more than 100 annual athletic events. It has become a place where athletes challenge themselves, push their limits and make their sports dreams come true.

Michelle Obama spoke to hundreds of children and their parents about the importance of healthy living during the Let’s Move! health initiative February 11, 2012, at the complex. Orlando City Soccer played its full regular soccer season there in 2014. More than 500 wounded, ill and injured military personnel competed in 10 sporting events during the 2016 Invictus Games led by Prince Harry.

Disney refuses to cut ‘gay moment’ from Beauty and the Beast

Walt Disney World Company has refused to remove a scene involving a “gay moment” from its “Beauty and the Beast” release in Malaysia, a country that has laws against homosexuality.

Instead, Disney has decided to withdraw the film from the Malaysian market, rather than censor the scene.

Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board approved “Beauty and the Beast” for a “P13” rating after requesting cuts of about 4 1/2 minutes from the subplot with a “gay moment,” according to Film Board Chairman Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid, Variety reported on Monday. A “P13” rating requires those below 13 years of age to be accompanied by a guardian.

Golden Screen Cinemas, Malaysia’s largest theater chain, posted on its website that patrons who purchased advance tickets will receive refunds.

“The film has not been and will not be cut for Malaysia,” according to an email statement from Disney.

This is not the first time the gay scene has met with controversy.

The Russian government initially considered banning the film, but instead decided that no one under the age of 16 would be admitted to see it in theaters without accompanying adults. Additionally, a theater in Henagar, Ala. will not screen the film because of the gay character.

“Beauty and the Beast,” is a remake of the 1991 animated musical classic. The new movie includes a scene with character LeFou, who makes references to his affection for Gaston in the film and later dances with a man at a ball. LeFou is the first and only openly homosexual character in a Disney film.

The movie will be released in Central Florida Thursday.

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