• What's New and what's in store for Orlando's Theme Parks in 2018

    By: Shelley Caran


    Orlando, Fla. - 2018 is shaping up to be a busy year of expansion in the theme parks and attractions of Central Florida, and I have the skinny on what will be opening this year and announcements that we’ll be watching for later in the year.

    From theme parks to water parks to cruise lines, there is a new addition coming that is sure to be exciting for every member of your family.

    Walt Disney World Resort

    The Walt Disney World Resort is buzzing with activity and construction as the park ramps up to open a new land, several attractions, more restaurants, a new multi-use venue, and even opening an expansion at a popular resort while still looking forward towards to projects that have been officially (and unofficially) announced.

    Starting with Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the race is on to the opening of the 11-acre Toy Story Land this summer. 

    You will be shrunk down to the size of a toy to explore and play in Andy’s backyard alongside of favorite friends for the Pixar blockbuster films including: 

    • The Slinky Dog Dash Family Coaster that is inspired by the playful dachshund that will send riders dipping, dodging and dashing around turns and drops that Andy has created to stretch Slinky and his coils to the max.
    • Alien Swirling Saucers, that is an attraction that is going to be bathed in music, lighting and sound effects and designed as a play set that Andy got from Pizza Planet, inspired by the first “Toy Story” film where the famous little green aliens from the movie fly around in their toy flying saucers trying to capture your rocket toy vehicle with “The Claw.” If you’ve had the chance to visit Disney’s California Adventure on the west coast, this ride will utilize the same system as Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. I can’t wait!!!
    • Then when it’s time for refreshment, Woody’s Lunch Box will be a new quick service window serving tasty meals and old-fashioned soda floats. Walt Disney World Resort will collaborate with Mini Babybel to bring Woody’s Lunch Box to life.

    In 2018 Disney Springs will continue their expansion, and will open nine new dining locations this year. 

    • The Edison is a lavish “Industrial Gothic” restaurant themed around a 1920’s era electric company is a bar and nighttime destination that will feature s scratch made menu, innovative craft cocktails, and live entertainment including cabaret and aerialists. 
    • Maria & Enzo’s is an open and airy Italian trattoria set in a 1930’s abandoned airline terminals that features dishes inspired by Sicily and a wine selection beyond compare.
    • Enzo’s Hideaway Tunnel Bar is tucked under Disney Springs in the actual tunnels of the dining and shopping venue that is serving up Roman dishes and prohibition-era cocktails inspired by the true Florida history of rum-running.
    • Pizza Ponte is a new quick-service dining location that is the perfect place to pick up a quick bite or slice of pizza, Italian pastries, sandwiches, and espresso as you explore.
    • Terralina Crafted Italian with James Beard award winner and “Top Chef Master” Chef Tony Mantuano will feature dishes inspired by Mantuano’s adventures in Italy as well as a plussing of favorite dishes from Portobello’s (the dining location Terralina is replacing).
    • In spring 2018, Master Sommelier George Miliotes will bring his expertise to Disney Springs with Wine Bar George. With more than 100 wine selections by the bottle and glass, Miliotes will serve up wine education along with shareable plates, cheese and charcuterie.
    • While not too much is known about The Basket, that will be located under Wine Bar George, I can share that it will be a grab and go location offering a selection of upscale bites, cheeses, and meats. 
    • Jaleo, a concept by world-renowned Chef José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, will feature an extensive tapas menu reflecting the rich regional diversity of traditional and contemporary Spanish cuisine.
    • Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill will once again open at Disney Springs, this time in the new Town Center area, with an all-new look and a menu that captures the essence of laid-back Californian dining.

    On April 22nd Disney’s Animal Kingdom will celebrate it’s 20th Anniversary, and I expect that there will be some sort of small celebration to celebrate Disney’s largest park that is still reeling from the opening of last year’s Pandora - The World of Avatar expansion where you can explore a glowing landscape, encounter a larger-than-life Na’vi shaman and soar on the back of a fearsome banshee.

    And debuting just in time for the park’s 20th anniversary is a new show featuring Russell and Dug from Disney•Pixar’s film “UP” This new experience will offer guests the chance to see Senior Wilderness Explorer Russell and his furry friend Dug as they discover species of birds from around the world in their newest adventure at the Caravan Theater in Anandapur Village. There will be “UP” close encounters each day with amazing winged creatures.

    Then over at the ESPN Wide World of Sports a new multi-use sports and entertainment venue will open in 2018. It will seat more than 8,000 guests and have the ability to host six regulation basketball courts, six regulation volleyball courts, dance and cheer competitions, as well as having concert configurations.

    And finally Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, the largest of the six convention hotels at Walt Disney World Resort, is expanding in 2018 with a new 15-story tower of 500 additional rooms, meeting spaces, and a new rooftop restaurant and lounge with panoramic views of nighttime fireworks.

    Now for what we will be watching for at the Walt Disney World Resort…

    • More information around Star Wars - Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios! While the area won’t open for another year we expect that we will be hearing more about the attractions, atmosphere, dining, shopping, and even resort accommodations that will fill this much anticipated land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
    • At Disney’s Hollywood Studios work is also well under way on Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway attraction, opening in the former Great Movie Ride attraction space. With a new original story and lovable attraction theme song, this new state-of-the-art ride-through attraction will take guests on a journey inside the wacky and unpredictable world of Disney Channel’s Emmy Award-winning “Mickey Mouse” cartoon shorts using new technologies that transform the flat cartoon world into an incredible dimensional experience.
    • The Disney Skyliner should begin to start to go vertical! The Disney Skyline is a new gondola transportation system that will connect Disney’s Art of Animation, Pop Century and Caribbean Beach resorts, as well as the proposed new Disney Riviera Resort (more on that in a minute), with Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot.
    • Disney Quest has been fully demolished on the West Side of Disney Springs to make way for the construction of the NBA Experience that will be a state-of-the-art space will include interactive games and competitions, immersive experiences, a retail store, and an adjacent restaurant that will open in the Summer of 2019.
    • Epcot’s transformation to go back to the park’s roots of innovation while adding new attractions in both Future World and World Showcase to make the park more relevant than ever. We’ll look for the E-ticket Ratatouille attraction in the France Pavilion, the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction (rumored to be a roller coaster experience with a lot of humor and a kickin’ soundtrack) in Future World, and the new Space restaurant opening near the recently re-imagined Mission: Space that will take guests to the stars in an innovative and immersive environment. 
    • The 15th Disney Vacation Resort called Disney Riviera Resort will be coming to Walt Disney World near Epcot with a rooftop restaurant and lounge that will provide stunning views of several of the Resort’s nighttime spectaculars. 
    • At the Magic Kingdom, I am really excited about the Tron Coaster (the highest rated attraction at Shanghai Disneyland) coming to Tomorrowland and a new live entertainment theater coming to Main Street, U.S.A. based on the 1920’s Kansas City iconic Willis Theater. 
    • Now the Epcot transformation and attractions as well as the Magic Kingdom attraction are planned to open with the celebration of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021 which I expect to hear even more about this year. 

    Universal Orlando Resort

    Over at the Universal Orlando Resort they will be opening a new attraction and hotel opening this year.

    This Spring Fast & Furious - Supercharged will open at Universal Studios Florida, and the attraction promises to be a full-throttle, high-octane experience for the whole family.  You'll be immersed in heart-pounding action alongside Dom, Letty, Hobbs and the rest of the crew, but things don’t stay calm for long as an enemy infiltrates your location and a wild chase ensues. You'll have to keep up with this unbreakable family as they help you escape from danger on this thrilling new ride

    In the queue and ride you will get to see 15 authentic Fast & Furious as well as revisit memorable locations from the films. 

    When Fast & Furious - Supercharged opens, the ride will feature a Virtual Line allowing you to select a return time, party size, and spend less time in line.

    Universal’s Aventura Hotel will be opening in August with 600 rooms on 17 stories  offering panoramic views of all three parks from the resort’s first rooftop bar. The Aventura’s design is modern and sleek with a budget friendly price tag. 

    While we’ve all been excited for Fast & Furious - Supercharged to open, you can’t help but really be excited about what is on the horizon for the Universal Orlando Resort.

    I am hoping that 2018 will bring more news and announcements on the following sort-of announcements and rumors swirling around including:

    • Nintendo-land! With work well under way at Universal Studios Japan and rumored plans for the land here in Orlando, the Universal Orlando Resort has to share more official information…right??
    • A glimpse into the future expansion of Wizarding World of Harry Potter! A Celebration of Harry Potter is at the end of the month which typically yields some information about what is on the horizon for the boy who lived at the Universal Orlando Resort. Rumor is that the area that was formerly Dragon Challenge is completely leveled for new construction with new footers being poured for the new family attraction that could be similar to ARTHUR at Europa Park in Germany. The ARTHUR attraction at the park is part dark ride part suspended coaster with mild launches.
    • After the success of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle this year, it is rumored that ‘additional’ projection mapping experiences will be coming 
    • Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular will be replaced with an all-new show featuring  animated characters, a new storyline, lighting and special effects.
    • With the closure of Element at Universal CityWalk, there is a lot of speculation that VooDoo Doughnuts will be coming this way from the west coast. This is something that I absolutely have my fingers crossed for this year.
    • The announcement of new hotels (possibly on the old Wet n’ Wild site off of International Drive).
    • What will take the place of Terminator 2: 3D at Universal Studios Florida. Will it be an attraction in the round? Star Trek? Tell us!

    SeaWorld Orlando

    SeaWorld Orlando has been opening new and enhanced attractions at their park for consecutive years, and this year is no exception with the opening of Infinity Falls this Summer. 

    Infinity Falls is an 8-passenger raft ride that will take riders on an adventure through a lush rainforest environment inspired by some of the world’s most incredible freshwater ecosystems. The new attraction will feature the world’s tallest drop on a river raft ride and allow visitors to experience the feel of exhilarating rapids. The ride will also feature an innovative elevator lift designed to transport the rafts to the top of the ride’s 40-foot drop.

    The new attraction will be the centerpiece of a newly themed area designed to resemble the basecamp of explorers & scientists and the first attraction at SeaWorld to tell a story beyond the ocean and share a message of water conservation through the adventure of a white-water river expedition. After riding Infinity Falls, the entire family can explore the village and take part in interactive experiences that combine play with education to create a positive impact on freshwater ecosystems, reinforcing “Park to Planet” in real time with interactions with some of SeaWorld’s Animal Ambassadors native to South America. 

    Still on the horizon for SeaWorld Orlando is the new Sesame Street themed land that will open in Fall 2022. The new five-acre land will include an overhaul of Shamu’s Happy Harbor, the children’s play area behind Shamu Stadium.

    Other theme parks around Central Florida

    There are a few other new attractions coming to the Theme Parks of Central Florida that I definitely can’t leave out from my ‘What’s New in 2018’ excitement. 

    At Aquatica Orlando, a brand new family raft slide called Ray Rush will open this spring that will combine three unique slide elements, never before seen at Aquatica, into one action-packed attraction the entire family can enjoy together.

    At nearly 60 feet tall, Ray Rush is where family and friends can take on three exciting thrills as they slide, splash and soar like never before. First, riders will be launched at 33 feet per second with water jets designed to propel rafts into the first of several enclosed tube sections. Next, riders will swirl into a colossal translucent sphere which spins the raft around the slide walls before entering another enclosed tube section. Finally, riders will drop into an open-air halfpipe that resembles the shape of a manta ray. Rafts will soar back and forth on the wings of the manta before entering the final enclosed tube section that ends with a splash. 

    Then at the LEGOLAND Florida Resort they will debut the first virtual reality (VR) roller coaster designed for kids that is also the first time the LEGO brand and minifigure characters have been integrated with VR technology in a theme park attraction this spring.

    With animated action taking place on the ground and in the air, the wild and wacky race pits guests against LEGO minifigures including a pirate, wizard, surfer and pharaoh as they steer LEGO-built vehicles like a rocket-powered windsurfing rig, a stylish scooter fueled by espresso and an ornately canopied bed (called a “litter”) carried by mummy servants. Wearing optional VR headsets, riders will experience the action from every direction while riding the roller coaster — up, down, forward, backward and all points in between – in a dazzling environment where everything is made of LEGO bricks.

    Also at LEGOLAND Florida during the first LEGO NINJAGO Days, a new short film combining 3D computer animation with 4D real-world effects will debut on January 20th. During the 12 minute ’LEGO NINJAGO – Master of the 4th Dimension’, you will join ninjas Lloyd, Kai, Jay, Cole, Zane and Nya on an epic adventure.

    And I couldn't’t end the look at 2018 without an honorable mention to an experience outside of the theme parks!

    Disney Cruise Line

    While it isn’t on land, the Disney Cruise Line is launching some new enhanced experiences and spaces that you won’t want to miss if you are planning a vacation.

    This year’s Star Wars Day at Sea is returning on select cruises from January to April with even epic encounter with characters from the saga, out of this world entertainment, and galactic fun. New in 2018, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique aboard the Disney Fantasy will offer out-of-this-galaxy makeovers that add to the adventures of Star Wars Day at Sea. Complete with a galactic costume, makeup and hairstyle, kids ages 3-12 can transform into their favorite Star Wars characters.

    Then on select sailing from Miami you can experience Marvel Day at Sea from January to April with even heroic encounters, thrilling adventures, and action-packed activities as you take a stand with some of Marvel’s mightiest heroes and villains for an epic day.

    In March the Disney Magic will debut new experiences and spaces for the entire family including:

    • Rapunzel’s Royal Table, an all-new dining experience inspired by the beloved story of Disney’s “Tangled”, will be the first table service restaurant themed to “Tangled” that features characters and live entertainment that will transport Disney Magic guests to the kingdom of Corona for an evening of music and interactive fun featuring Rapunzel and the mischievous Snuggly Duckling Thugs.
    • Vibe, the space space on the ship reserved for teens ages 14-17 and facilitated by trained Disney counselors, is being transformed into a trendy urban loft environment with a new coffee and smoothie bar, play video and virtual reality games, and check out other cool activities like a DJ spin-off and movie making. 
    • Younger passengers will be able to enjoy the addition of Club Disney Junior in Disney’s Oceaneer Club.
    • Adults can relax in new adult-only areas that include the Cove Café that is the perfect place to sip a specialty coffee or tea throughout the day, or indulge in wine or a cocktail and light bites during the evening hours or enjoy the Quiet Cove Pool and transformed Signals Bar.
    • If you enjoy the Senses Spa, the Rainforest Room has been redesigned with new steam and hydrotherapy experiences.

    I’ll also be watching to hear more about the three new ships that will hit the high seas beginning in  2021 and continuing until 2023 when the size of the Disney Cruise Line fleet size will double. All three ships will be powered by one of the cleanest-burning fuels available, liquefied natural gas.

    That’s it for this week’s Theme Park Thursday! I hope that you’ve enjoyed a look at what is shaping up to be one of the most exciting years for the Theme Parks of Central Florida.

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