So we’ve said farewell to 2015 here on ATD, but now it is time to look ahead to what’s in store for another fabulous year of Florida holidays – and there is an amazing array of new attractions, rides and other developments to look forward to!
All of the main theme park resorts have a major attraction that will debut in 2016, but there is also more to come from the likes of the Kennedy Space Center, Orlando City soccer and Port Canaveral, as Central Florida continues to grow and diversify.
So, in no particular order (because that really would be the impossible task!), here are our 2016 highlights to watch out for in this tourist wonderland.
The construction, makeover and rebranding of the former Downtown Disney area has been ongoing for the past few years but will come to an eagerly-anticipated conclusion this summer when the boards come down and the new Disney Springs (above) is revealed for all to enjoy.
And there is a huge amount to anticipate as the final phase of this grand expansion project will effectively double the previous size of this impressive shopping, nightlife and dining district. The final section, the Towne Center, will be the crowning glory and feature most of the new retail elements, including Lilly Pulitzer, L’Occitane, Tommy Bahama, Pandora and Zara.
Rivers of Light
Disney’s parks have a good number of new (and returning) elements to anticipate this year, including the Frozen Ever After ride at Epcot, the return of Soarin’ after a major refurbishment (also in Epcot) and Season Of The Force at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but the real headline attraction will be the fabulous Rivers of Light evening show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
A combination of water parade and special effects, it will debut this spring, featuring a series of lantern-lit boats, fountains, water projection screens, special lighting effects and low-level pyrotechnics. “An explosion of animal life that rises up into the sky,” it will be the nightly finale for new extended hours at the park and will take place in front of amphitheatre-style seating around the lagoon between Asia and Dinoland. It should be Disney story-telling at its best.
Sapphire Falls Resort
While Universal Orlando will have plenty to offer at their parks this summer (see Skull Island: Reign of Kong, below), we are just as excited about the opening of the latest hotel on Universal property, which will make its debut in June.
Sapphire Falls is destined to be a beautifully upmarket resort, a ‘tropical paradise’ of waterfalls, pools, elegant landscaping and lush vegetation. It should also be lots of fun, with a 16,000sq ft main pool (the largest of any Universal hotel), a large lobby bar (Strong Water Tavern) that overlooks the main waterfall and a restaurant (Amatista Cookhouse) with gorgeous views over the resort from an elevated outdoor dining lanai. Knowing how good some of the other restaurants are at Universal, this could well be a real must-try highlight.
Seaworld continues to be one of our favourite parks for its relaxing, beautifully-landscaped vibes, animal attractions – and amazing rides. And the park will debut Orlando’s most eye-catching ride this summer when the shark-themed Mako is complete for a 4,760ft whiz over and around the Shark Encounter exhibit.
At 200ft high and 73mph, it will be the tallest and fastest coaster in town, as well as offering another contrasting ride experience to those already at SeaWorld. There will be nine distinct ‘airtime’ moments as Mako zips around the notable aquamarine track, and we think this could be THE new adrenalin king of Orlando for some time to come!
Heroes & Legends
The Kennedy Space Center is having a busy year in 2016 with the opening of Cosmic Quest this spring (a series of interactive games based around NASA’s space explorations) and then their big new expansion for November featuring the former Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Repackaged and re-presented as Heroes & Legends, this extensive exhibition will be a special-effect laden look at the men and women of space exploration, with simulations of early missions and a personal view of what it took to put NASA on the interstellar map.
Skull Island: Reign Of Kong
We have been eye-balling the elaborate construction of this new attraction at Islands of Adventure for a full year now and think it will be one of THE great themed rides in the Orlando multi-verse when it opens this summer.
The amazing level of exterior detail promises to lead into a ride of extraordinary dimensions – both inside and out – with a combination of 3-D, special effects and specially-built truck vehicles. It will take guests into the heart of mysterious Skull Island for encounters with its many kinds of exotic (and threatening!) animals, as well as a showdown with the Great Ape himself.
We love all the recent development around Orlando’s nearest cruise port, which included the opening last year of the Exploration Tower exhibit (pictured), but there is more to come in 2016 as even more ships visit Port Canaveral. As a direct consequence, The Cove area is due to expand into a ‘waterfront village’ of shops and restaurants, along with the addition of an upscale 120-room hotel. This is already a great place to visit for a day out from Orlando (it’s easy to find on the Beachline Highway) but it could well develop further as more plans emerge for this rapidly-expanding facility.
Fans of the classic motorway café – dating back to the 1930s on London’s North Circular – will be keen to know about the new Orlando version, opening this spring, which will add to the legend of vintage cars and motorbikes. The US outlet will be located in downtown Orlando, on Livingstone Street, and feature a restaurant, bar and shop specialising in vintage European brands, as well as live music, all bringing the Ace’s rock ’n roll vibe to Florida for the first time.
We already rate a visit to the cute town of Mount Dora as one of the area’s best off-the-beaten-track options, but there will be an even better reason to visit in the next month or so when celebrity chef Norman Van Aken opens his latest restaurant, Norman’s 1921.
Anyone who has already tried Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton hotel (pictured) will know the kind of gourmet quality involved, but Van Aken promises 1921 will be more casual and accessible, with a fresh take on his wonderful Florida fusion cuisine. It could well be the New Restaurant of the Year!
Orlando City Stadium
Simon remains a huge fan of our new (in 2015) home-town soccer team, and the development of ‘The Lions’ will reach a new stage in the autumn with the opening of their purpose-built 25,500-seat stadium. They are currently playing at the cavernous Citrus Bowl but their new venue will be far more personal (and raucous!), as well as being within walking distance of Church Street in downtown Orlando. The opening also promises to be one of the big stories of the year.
Do you have questions on this story or anything to do with Orlando or Florida? Be sure to join Susan and Simon on the fabulous ATD discussion forum here.
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