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Florence Snyder: Rest in peace, Bill Cooke, and thank you for your service

Pictures of the young Bill Cooke show a brooding, handsome, James Dean kind of guy who seems to belong in front of a camera. Lucky for us that he did not see himself that way.

Cooke died last week at age 70, leaving behind a sister, a heartbroken Florida journalism community, and a body of work that serves history and inspires the photojournalists who knew him well, and the ones who wish they could have known him better.

Among the latter is Colin Hackley, a highly-regarded photojournalist who has spent two and a half decades covering Real Florida, as well as UnReal Florida. Hackley had the advantage of a formal education at one of America’s elite journalism schools, and is well-equipped to explain the magic of Cooke, a self-taught newsman who was equally comfortable wielding a camera or a pen.

“You have to recognize what the story is and how to get to each of its component parts, ” said Hackley. “Photojournalists are called to record what is in front of you in a truthful, fair manner and put yourself into a position to get the picture that tells the story.”

News people like Cooke and Hackley could count on a modest but steady paycheck in the years when Old, Big Media could count on a double-digit ROI. “It always takes courage to tell a story,” said Hackley, and courage was easier to come by when news organizations sent reporters and photographers out in teams, with a license to kill, metaphorically speaking, anything between them and the news.

Hackley describes the ideal reporter-photographer dynamic as a true partnership of professionals “who can move easily between words and visuals. It’s a second set of eyes that are as interested in telling your part of the story as you are in telling theirs.”

When the ecosystem that supported those kinds of collaborations began to collapse, Cooke was forced to draw upon his personal reserve of courage. He had plenty of that. Cooke’s blog, Random Pixels, was appointment reading for people who care about Florida, and the people who tell Florida’s story.  Even as his health was failing, he never failed to inform and entertain.

Cooke was not the only source of stories headlined “Miami Herald continues to make staff cuts with no end in sight,” but he brought a ballsy outrage to the subject that was a comfort to journalists who had been tossed out with their notebooks and cameras and very little in the way of notice or severance.

Cooke served in Vietnam and died of pulmonary fibrosis in a VA hospice. In between, he was a valiant warrior for truth in a cold and cowardly world.

Florida retailers expect record breaking Mother’s Day in 2017

Florida retailers believe moms will get a lot of love this year, as consumers are set to spend record numbers for Mother’s Day in 2017.

According to the Florida Retail Federation (FRF), consumers will spend more than ever on gifts for Mother’s Day this year, reaching $23.6 billion. The state’s leading retailer trade association expect a whopping $186.39 per mom on average this year, up from last year’s $172.22 average.

“We are extremely encouraged by the record high projections for Mother’s Day shopping this year which not only shows the great appreciation we have for moms but also the overall confidence of our consumers and strength of our economy,” said Florida Retail Federation CEO and President R. Scott Shalley. “Florida’s retailers are constantly rising to meet the demands of their consumers and that will be no different this year as they are preparing for this very exciting and busy holiday.”

A review from the National Retail Federation, conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, show per-person spending in 2017 will be the highest in the survey’s 14-year history.

Estimates say shoppers will spend $5 billion on jewelry, $4.2 billion on special outings such as dinner or brunch, $2.6 billion on flowers, $2.5 billion on gift cards, $2.1 billion on clothing, $2 billion on consumer electronics, and $1.9 billion on personal services.

The most significant increases from last year are in jewelry spending, which is up 19 percent, and personal services, up 15 percent.

Shopping habits also differ based on the age of both the consumer and the recipient.

For example, the survey shows “gifts of experience,” such as concert tickets, will have a 28 percent rise — with nearly half the consumers surveyed under 35 years of age plan on giving such a gift.

Thirty-five percent of consumers will shop at department stores; 31 percent will head to specialty stores such as florists, jewelers or electronic stores; 24 percent will shop at a small local business. Thirty percent of consumers expect to buy online, up from 27 percent last year.

The survey asked 7,406 consumers about Mother’s Day plans, conducted April 4-11 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 points.

Steve Schale on the night the lights went out on Hillary Clinton in Florida

On Election Night 2016, at approximately 7:45 p.m., Steve Schale was at an Orlando brewpub.

The Democratic strategist opened his laptop to review his state’s election returns.

“It’s in real bad shape,” Schale told Hillary Clinton pollster John Anzalone and campaign consultant Jim Margolis in a phone call.

“What the f**k are you talking about,” Anzalone asked disbelieving, according to “Shattered,” a riveting look behind the scenes of the Clinton campaign.

Shattered is now the No. 1 non-fiction book on the L.A. Times best-seller listand sits at No. 2 on The New York Times best-seller list.

“Trump’s numbers weren’t just big, they were unreal,” say co-authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.

They write:

“In rural Polk County, smack-dab in the center of the state, Hillary would collect 3,000 more votes than Obama did in 2012 — but Trump would add more than 25,000 to Mitt Romney’s total. In Pasco County, a swath of suburbs north of Tampa-St. Petersburg.

“Trump outran Romney by 30,000 votes. Pasco was one of the counties Schale was paying special attention to because the Tampa area tended to attract retirees from the Rust Belt — folks whose political leanings reflected those of hometowns in the industrial Midwest.

“In particular, Schale could tell, heavily white areas were coming in hard for Trump.”

A couple of paragraphs later, Allen and Barnes note:

“You’re going to come up short,” Schale told Margolis and Anzalone.

The book also reports Schale “set off an alarm bell” — unnecessarily — in the eyes of some of Clinton’s senior aides.

“They demanded to know what data he was using to determine that the race was over so early.”

As the world would learn, of course, Schale was right.

Despite polls saying otherwise, and despite a supposed surge in Latino voters in early voting that was to be the hidden weapon to bring Clinton a victory in Florida, Donald Trump won the Sunshine State by 1.2 percentage points.

When it was clear that Trump would win Florida, other states began falling in line, setting off one of the greatest political upsets in U.S. history.

In an email Thursday, Schale told FloridaPolitics.com:

“The first returns from Pasco were horrendous, and I initially thought she was done, but very quickly, urban counties came in, and she was well ahead of all the benchmarks.

“She was also doing well in places like Seminole, and her absentee numbers in places like Sarasota and Pinellas were looking fine. Margolis and Anzalone called me at about 7:15 to ask if I was seeing the same thing they were, and I confirmed that I was, and I was cautiously optimistic.

“By about 7:45, the border counties on I-4 — those around the urban ones — started to report more complete returns, and it became pretty clear, when combined with less than robust Election Day returns from the base counties, that she would not go into 8 p.m., when the Central time zone counties report, with a big enough lead to offset what was going to happen there.

“I called those guys back, to tell them she was going to be short in Florida, and the book basically takes it from there.”

In “Shattered,” the authors report that when the Clinton camp learned they would probably lose Florida, they also heard they were losing in North Carolina. They were “keystone states for two of Hillary’s three paths to victory.”

A short time later, Bill Clinton called Craig Smith, the first person hired for Clinton’s 1992 campaign, and the co-founder of Ready for Hillary, the super-PAC formed at the beginning of 2013 to support a Clinton presidential run.

From Shattered:

“’Sorry to be the one to tell you,’ Smith said in an Arkansas drawl echoing the former president’s, ‘but we’re not going to win Florida.’ Bill hung up and called Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was eager to depart Virginia for the victory party at the Javits Center. Don’t bother coming, Bill told him.”

According to a post on his blog after the election, Schale said Clinton had a roughly four-point edge in early voting and vote-by-mail tallies going into Election Day.

Trump won by 360,000 votes — 13 points — more than enough to overtake Clinton’s early vote lead.

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.”

FloridaPolitics.com nabs three honors in Green Eyeshade Awards

FloridaPolitics.com received three honors in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Green Eyeshade Awards, highlighting the best journalism of 2016 throughout 10 states of the southeast United States.

Martin Dyckman received a second-place award for online serious commentary for his columns exploring the problems with Florida’s death penalty laws.

Jim Rosica received a third-place award for online business reporting for his stories on gambling in Florida.

Scott Powers received a third-place award for online political reporting for his stories on Central Florida politics.

The Green Eyeshade Awards, open to journalists from West Virginia through Louisiana, received more than 900 entries for awards that included breakouts for newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and online reporting, and for student journalists.

FloridaPolitics.com publisher Peter Schorsch hailed the awards as a breakthrough for his organization, in its first foray into journalism competitions.

“I would have never thought when I launched my local political blog that one day we would be competing with the major traditional news organizations, especially in categories like business reporting,” Schorsch said.

In Dyckman’s category, online serious commentary, the first place award went to Mary C. Curtis, a North Carolina journalist, for her columns published in Roll Call, The Undefeated, The Root and NPR. Andre Perry, a Louisiana journalist writing for The Hechinger Report, took third.

In Rosica’s category, online business reporting, Charles Elmore of the Palm Beach Post took the top honor, and Tom Hudson, of WLRN Public Radio and Television in South Florida, took second.

In Powers’ category, online political reporting, the WLRN staff took first place, and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting took second.

The other top online awards winners were:

The Palm Beach Post won first place in the online digital media presentation.

Treasure Coast Newspapers/TCPalm.com won first place for online deadline reporting.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press won first place awards in both online non-deadline reporting and online investigative reporting.

Memphis Magazine won first place for the best online blog.

Alabama Media Group won first place for both online sports reporting and online sports commentary.

WLRN, WUSF of Tampa and WMFE of Orlando jointly won first place for online specialty site.

The Tampa Bay Times’ PolitiFact won first place for online public service journalism.

The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting won first place in online videography.

Tournament raising funds for education and to honor Phil Galvano, father of Bill Galvano, scheduled for this week

Six months cooped up in the Florida Capitol might put a damper on Sen. Bill Galvano’s golf game, but the Bradenton Republican isn’t too worried about it.

He’s hopeful his skills will come back to him when he hits the links later this week during the 21st annual Phil Galvano Classic at the Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch. And even if they don’t, he’s confident the annual event in memory of his father — golf pro Phil Galvano — will once again raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Manatee Education Foundation.

The elder Galvano wasn’t your run-of-the-mill golf pro. Born in 1915 to Sicilian immigrants, Phil Galvano grew up in New York City and started caddying on Staten Island to make some money. He would caddy two or three rounds of golf a day, with two bags on his shoulders.

It was through caddying he became interested in golf, becoming a PGA golf pro. But when he went looking for jobs, he was turned away. No one was interested in offering him a job, they told him should be a dance teacher not a golf pro.

Galvano said his dad didn’t give up, deciding if he couldn’t “get a job at the clubs, he would create his own golf instruction studio.” He had a friend who was J.P. Morgan’s niece and told her about his idea, and she let him borrow $2,000 to secure a space on 42nd Street to create an indoor golf studio. Clients would hit balls into a canvas, and the elder Galvano would be able to offer instruction just by looking at his swing.

He became successful, and soon scored his first big-name client — well, a client with big-name connections, at least. Bob Hope’s manager started coming in for lessons, and called Galvano his secret weapon.

Galvano said his dad responded by telling him he appreciated the praise, but telling him “I can’t be kept a secret.” The man told Hope, a well-known comedian at the time, about him, and soon Galvano was teaching Hope and other celebrities his tricks.

He wrote two best-selling books, and even filmed his own golf show on television, filmed just a few studios down from where Saturday Night Live is currently filmed.

Phil and his wife, Betty, moved to Anna Maria Island in 1969. They first visited the community about a decade earlier on their honeymoon, at the suggestion of their friend Bill Mote, the benefactor of Mote Marine Laboratory.

Galvano said his father helped create an executive golf course in Manatee County. The course is now closed, and has become the Timber Creek community, according to the Bradenton Herald.

But his father’s memory lives on in other ways. Proceeds from the inaugural event — which was held in the Naples-Fort Myers area, where Phil and Betty Galvano were living at the time of his death — went to Hope Hospice. The following year, the Galvano family decided to move the event to Manatee County. A big believer in education, the golf tournament has supported the Manatee Education Foundation ever since.

“This is where his heart was,” said Galvano, who said his father often said if you “go to bed at the end of the night and can’t think of anything new (you learned), then you wasted the day.”

“We’ve raised millions in my father’s name for public education,” said Galvano.

That money, he said, goes toward enhancing education, and for the most part is used for min-grants that teachers can apply for to enhance his or her classroom. For example, he said science teachers can request a grant for a certain apparatus. The event has raised so much money over the years that Galvano said very few requests get turned down.

Last year’s tournament raised about $400,000, and he expects to surpass that this year. In addition to the Manatee Education Foundation, Galvano said a portion of funds raised will go to The Malala Fund, a nonprofit inspired by Malala Yousafzai that works to secure girls’ right to a minimum of 12 years of quality education.

Galvano, who is in line to be the next Senate President, said he gets a lot of support from his colleagues in Tallahassee and expects eight senators and several House members will be in attendance this year. The governor has attended in the past, as have other celebrities, like actor Armand Assante and golf legend Tony Jacklin.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino has attended the event for the past three years, and will be in attendance again this year. Galvano said he and Marino have become “dear friends,” and he loves the work Marino does for people with unique abilities.

Sponsors will get a chance to mix and mingle with Marino and Galvano during a private lunch and round of golf at the Longboat Key Club on Thursday, before the main event kicks off Friday at the Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch.

grapefruit

Reversal of fortune: Citrus forecast says oranges up, grapefruit down

Another bag of mixed news for Florida’s signature crops: Orange production actually increased while grapefruit production has declined.

That’s according to the latest forecast released Wednesday from the the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS.

“The May report projects the state’s orange crop to increase to 68 million boxes for the 2016-17 season,” said a press release from the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC). “The grapefruit crop dipped to 7.8 million boxes.”

The department, funded mainly through box taxes paid by the state’s citrus growers, serves as the chief marketing, regulation and promotional arm of the industry.

“It is heartbreaking to watch an industry you love work so hard to survive,” said Shannon Shepp, the department’s executive director. “Florida citrus is valued around the world for its premium taste and quality. We will not let that change.”

In comparison, the April report had projects the state’s orange crop to stay at 67 million boxes for the 2016-17 season, while the grapefruit crop was reduced by 800,000 boxes to 8.1 million.

The industry has been savaged by a citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. Florida’s famous oranges are most at risk.

Greening is caused by a jumping plant louse and the bacteria it hosts. The tiny bugs feed on citrus leaves and infect the trees with the bacteria as they go. Researchers have been looking into ways to cure the disease or to grow a strain of citrus resistant to the bacteria.

Florida’s growers and industry groups have sought approval from the federal government to use antimicrobial treatments to fight greening.

State appeals court upholds 14.5 percent workers’ comp premium increase

A state appeals court has upheld a 14.5 percent increase in workers’ compensation insurance premiums, rejecting legal arguments that it was approved in violation of Florida’s open-government laws.

“This argument ignores the plain language of the statute and the ordinary meaning of the terms within it,” a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee ruled Tuesday.

“Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s final order, and remand for reinstatement of OIR’s final order issued on Oct. 5, 2016, approving a 14.5 percent increase in the workers’ compensation insurance rates,” the court said.

The ruling followed adjournment of a Legislative Session that failed to address attorney involvement and other factors driving increases in insurance premiums.

Miami workers’ compensation attorney James Fee challenged the increase, which the court allowed to begin taking effect in December pending its ruling on the merits of the case.

A Leon County trial judge agreed with Fee that the Office of Insurance Regulation and ratings agency the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, had violated open-government laws by restricting access to internal meetings and documents behind the increase.

“NCCI is pleased with this outcome, as the court validated that our rate filing process is in full compliance with the law,” the Boca Raton company said in a written statement.

Business groups that pressed the Legislature hard to fix problems they attributed largely to Florida Supreme Court rulings striking down limits on cost-drivers including attorney involvement,were unhappy that the high premiums would continue.

“The Florida Legislature missed opportunities to fix Florida’s broken workers’ comp system, and today’s ruling only solidifies the financial impact on job creators and the realization that those higher rates have nothing to do with stronger protections for workers,” Florida Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Edie Ousley said in a written statement.

“After months of pointless litigation, Florida’s small business owners are still paying higher workers compensation rates.  Those that pursued this now discredited litigation are not and never have been the friend of the small business rate payer,” said Bill Herrle, Florida director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Trial lawyers expressed a different flavor of dismay.

“While we respect the court’s decision regarding workers’ compensation premiums, we are extremely disappointed in this result, which will have a substantial negative impact on Florida businesses and the workers they employ,” said Mark Touby, president of Florida Workers’ Advocates.”

“This decision underscores how important it is for the Legislature to stand up to the greedy insurance industry and establish a fair and transparent ratemaking process that fosters competition,” Touby said. “With the next legislative session just eight months away, we look forward to working with the Senate and House to achieve this goal, which is so important to Florida’s economic future.”

The meat of Fee’s case was that the law required open meetings by any “committee” working on a rate case. NCCI and the insurance office argued that the ratings agency no longer had a committee to do that work, relying instead on actuary Jay Rosen — although in consultation with colleagues.

The appeals court, in a unanimous ruling, rejected Fee’s argument entirely.

“The statute applies only to meetings of a rating organization committee where workers’ compensations insurance rates are discussed and determined. A ‘committee’ has been defined as a ‘subordinate group,’ not a single person,” Judge Lori Rowe wrote.

“Moreover, the use of the term ‘meets’ indicates that the statute is designed to apply to a group of people, not a single individual. The multi-person concept of the term ‘committee’ further finds support in well-established precedent construing the Sunshine Law,” she continued.

“Thus, under the plain and ordinary meaning of the terms ‘committee’ and ‘meet,’ Rosen, in his individual capacity, does not act or ‘meet’ as the statutory rate-determination committee contemplated by (the law.)”

Judges Harvey Jay and Susan Kelsey joined the opinion.

NCCI calculates rates for workers’ compensation coverage in Florida. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Geivers ruled on Nov. 23 that the organization should have opened its deliberations and documentation to the public.

“The trial court concluded that NCCI’s disbanding of its classification and rate committee in 1991 and its delegation of the responsibility for rate proposals to one person was an attempt to evade the sunshine,” Rowe said in a footnote.

“But the application of the Sunshine Law does not depend on a party’s ‘intentions, sincerity of purpose or noble motives.’ Further, it is unclear on this record how the trial court reached the conclusion that NCCI restructured its rate-proposal process in over 40 states to avoid compliance with Florida’s Sunshine Law.”

(Although NCCI operates in many states, it proposes rates for large numbers of insurers in only a few, including Florida.)

The court found no evidence that the insurance office had delegated its rate-approval authority to NCCI in a way that justified coverage by the open-government laws.

“OIR approves and disapproves rate filings; it does not make rate filings. Conversely, NCCI and individual insurers have no authority to approve or disapprove rate filings; rather, they are under a statutory mandate to file such proposals,” the court said.

The court also rejected Fee’s public-records claims.

Florida Ag commissioner: ‘No end in sight’ for wildfires

Three schools canceled classes due to smoky conditions from a nearby wildfire as Florida’s agriculture commissioner said the state is in the “midst of its worst wildfire season in years – with no end in sight.”

Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a news release that nearly 125 active wildfires were burning Monday morning.

Officials in Pasco County near Tampa, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, called off classes Monday at an elementary, a middle and a high school near fire that burned some 2,300 acres (930.8 hectares) over the weekend.

The National Weather Service said dense smoke could quickly drop visibility near the wildfires. Fire officials say the fire was 70 percent contained on Sunday night.

Some residents north of the Jacksonville area also are on fire alert due to a wildfire in south Georgia.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

A look at Disney World’s new Pandora-World of Avatar land

It’s not a movie set, but visitors to Disney World’s new Pandora-World of Avatar land are in for a cinematic experience.

The 12-acre land, inspired by the “Avatar” movie, opens in Florida in late May at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. It cost a half-billion dollars to build.

The marquee attraction is Flight of Passage, where a 3-D simulator plunges riders into a cinematic world. You feel like you’re riding on the back of a banshee, a bluish, gigantic, winged predator that resembles something out of the Jurassic era. Wearing 3-D glasses and straddling what resembles a stationary motorcycle, you’re strapped in, then the lights go out, a screen in front lights up and you’re swooped into a world of blue, gigantic aliens called Na’vi, with moon-filled skies, plunging waterfalls, jumping marine animals and towering ocean waves.

The ride provides an enchanting and intoxicating five minutes that touches all the senses. Blasts of air and spritzes of mist hit your face, and as you fly through a lush forest, a woodsy aroma wafts through your nostrils. A visitor could go on the ride 20 times and not catch half the visual details.

Disney designers are quick to say the new land is the star of the action, not the backdrop. “The character is being portrayed and played by the place itself and that’s different than a set,” said Joe Rohde, the design and production leader of Pandora -World of Avatar.

Other aspects of Pandora can’t quite compete with the excitement and immersion of Flight of Passage. Much of Pandora, at least during the daytime, is hard to distinguish from the rest of Animal Kingdom, Disney’s almost 20-year-old zoological-themed park with lush landscaping, an emphasis on conservation and a Noah’s ark range of animals.

At night, though, Pandora transforms into a sea of color with glowing lights on artificial plants and even in the pavement.

The enormous blue Na’vi aliens from the “Avatar” movie appear sparingly, really just on Flight of Passage and a second attraction called Na’vi River Journey. Before going on Flight of Passage, visitors walk through a tunnel in a faux mountain until they stumble upon a laboratory that includes a Na’vi floating in a tank.

“It’s not as simple as a guy in a costume painted blue walking around out here,” Rohde said of the aliens. “We know they are culturally present around us but we will meet them when we go on an excursion.”

The other main attraction, Na’vi River Journey, is an indoor river ride in the dark, lit up by glowing creatures and plants. The ride culminates with a Na’vi animatronic woman beating on drums as a chorus of voices reaches a crescendo. Images of the Na’vi riding horse-like creatures appear behind lush foliage, glimpsed in the distance from the river.

Disney has been building attractions themed on movies since Disneyland opened in 1955 with rides inspired by Snow White, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Often, as with Pandora, the attractions open years after the movies debut. “Avatar” came out in 2009. Director James Cameron’s sequel isn’t due out until 2020. Lands based on “Star Wars” are scheduled to open in Disney parks in California and Florida in 2019.

Pandora-World of Avatar isn’t tied to a narrative from the film but rather tells a story set in the future, after humans degraded the jungle through industrial folly and a resurgence of nature overtakes the human-built environment. That theme is a recurring architectural motif, for example with a beverage stand and cantina made to look like they were built for industry by humans but then overrun by plant life.

Throughout Pandora, real plants intermingle with artificial plants that resemble alien pods or Dale Chihuly glass sculptures. It’s difficult to distinguish what is real.

“We were trying to get as close as possible to fool the eye,” said Zsolt Hormay, a Disney creative executive.

At the entrance, visitors hear a cacophony of bird chirps and animal cries. A circle of drums connected to faux tree roots allows visitors to drum and then get a response of drumming or pulsing lights.

The focal points are a 135-foot (41-meter) mountaintop where Flight of Passage is located as well as “floating mountains” that appear to be suspended in air but are actually made of concrete. Engineers use tricks to make the park appear bigger than it is. The artificial foliage gets smaller as it goes higher on the mountain to give it the illusion of distance.

Disney also is testing out a new way to order food at Pandora. Before going to the park, visitors can pull up a menu on the My Disney Experience mobile app, order lunch and go about visiting the park. When it’s time to eat hours later, they can go to the canteen, tap on an app a button that notifies the cooks they are present. Several minutes later their food will be ready in a special line.

Jon Landau, the executive producer of the original movie, says he hopes Pandora does for visitors what the film did for movie-goers.

“I hope when people come to Pandora and their eyes will be open and they will look at the world a little differently when they go back across the bridge,” Landau said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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