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Local 6 Theme World: Skeletons -- some assembly required

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April 8, 2015

Skeletons - Some assembly required

[WEB EXTRA: Slideshow of Skeletons ]

Last week, anchor Ginger Gadsden and I had the pleasure of going behind the scenes as I-Drive 360 gets ready for its grand opening May 4.

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Even as we drove down Universal Blvd, the Orlando Eye observation wheel is already looming large as a new icon for the area.
After parking in the free garage, I took a moment to observe the  observation wheel

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While the Eye looks finished to the outsider, there is still plenty of work going on.

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Those workers are installing the elaborate LED lighting scheme that will make the Eye a dazzling display at night.

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The main marquee is up for I-Drive 360's three headliner attractions: The Eye, Madame Tussaud's, and the Sea Life aquarium from Merlin Entertainment (owners of LEGOLAND Florida).

But just to the right of the Eye's lobby there is another attraction in the works that promises to be something you just can't see anywhere else in Central Florida.

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Skeletons: Animals Unveiled is the brainchild of Owner Jay Villemarette. Like Fun Spot America & Gatorland, this attraction is very much a family affair.Villemarette, his sons and nephew are all extremely hands on as they prepare for the April 25th opening day.  

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Everywhere there are boxes in their temporary  warehouse next door. Each containing a preserved skeleton like that tortoise.
It will sit near  this guy:

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 That's a rare and endangered Galapagos tortoise. "Skeletons" plans to feature all kind of creatures -- from a tiny hummingbird... to whales.

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That's Ginger next to the skull of one of the largest species of whale. The attraction will also feature a killer whale. Right now, Villemarette calls the warehouse organized chaos.

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So we spotted the killer whale's skull many feet away from its body.

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Eventually, the Orca will help form the entryway.
But Ginger seemed to enjoy her time in the warehouse...

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We watched as the team unpacked a gorilla.


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  All exhibits were packed up in boxes and crates with biodegradable bubble wrap and packing peanuts from the family's home in Oklahoma. There they have a museum that draws tens of thousands each year. The Villemarette's think this attraction could be much bigger.

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Here is Director of Education  Reginald Finley posing next to a warthog he has just unwrapped.

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 The emphasis is on animals that are alive today, not extinct animals like dinosaurs.

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This 2-headed calf is one of a very few bizarre specimens. This isn't Ripley. Though "Skeletons" will show how elephant skulls helped lead to the myth of the Cyclops.

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Behind Ginger is one of the specialists who put these elaborate 3-d jigsaw puzzles back together properly so each animal will be accurately displayed.

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On the floor in that photo are more tusks for a different kind of elephant.
Villemarette is stressing education along with fun.

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Here he is showing Ginger a Florida Manatee. It will be displayed to show off the damage boats do to these gentle creatures.

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When we were visiting last week, the display closest to being finished was a farm scene.

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The idea here is to show people animals they are familiar with before going into some of the more exotic creatures.

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  This room will be dedicated to creatures unique to Florida, including an armadillo.
But the African area may end up being the most impressive.

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Those are all creatures for that exhibit almost ready for guests.

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Ginger is asking how tall the African Elephant will be.

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Then she got a closer look.  As of when we left, the Skeleton Crew was planning to spend a full 8 hours finishing up the elephant  -- which has to be suspended for support.
"Skeletons: Animals Unveiled" plans to open with 450 species, plus an exhibit showing the flesh-eating carrion beetles that help clean the skeletons after an animal dies. Each skeleton takes a minimum of six months to prepare. The family plans to keep adding to the exhibit so there is something new to see.  On Villemarette's wish list?  A wombat and a Giant Panda.  

We will check back with "Skeletons" and the rest of the I-Drive 360 attractions as they get ready for the complex's May 4 grand opening.