By ATD’s Florida experts Susan & Simon Veness
Walt Disney said it best in the lyrics to his timeless Carousel of Progress attraction in the Magic Kingdom – there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow. And that is certainly the case when you’re looking ahead to a whole new year in Orlando.
With the fact that nowhere changes, updates or reinvents itself like Orlando, there is always something new to see and enjoy, no matter how often you visit, and that is certainly true as we look ahead to everything that’s in store here in 2015.
First of all, the vast resort that is Walt Disney World is undergoing some major changes as it looks to add a wealth of new attractions in the next three years, many of which are underway and which we will be able to watch take shape this year.
Just to start with, this week sees the start of the de-construction of the giant Mickey Mouse Sorcerer’s Hat icon at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This marks the beginning of what we believe will be a two-year makeover for the park that is due to bring a LOT of exciting new attractions, including, dare we say it, a major Star Wars expansion.
Most of it is only likely to start opening in 2016, and beyond, hence we have to look elsewhere in Walt’s World for the real gems of this year. And you don’t have to look far – like Downtown Disney.
This huge area of shops, restaurants and entertainment is currently undergoing its biggest ever redevelopment, and this year will see it transition to the new-look Disney Springs. The first part of this process will open in the summer, as The Landing takes the place of the former Pleasure Island.
Here you will find some novel dining concepts that will be unique to Disney. These include Morimoto Asia, a glass-fronted, two-storey Asian fusion restaurant from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, and The Boathouse, which will offer great steak and seafood in a nautically-themed waterfront setting, as well as classic watercraft from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Other parts of Disney Springs will come online later in 2015 and into 2016, including a dramatic pedestrian bridge at The Marketplace end, the upmarket STK Steakhouse and the second of two multi-storey, 4,000-vehicle car parks, which will link the new hub of the Towne Center into the other three sections.
In addition to those forthcoming elements, the Food Truck Park is now open, featuring several extra counter-service dining options as well as live evening entertainment, and new shopping exists at The Co-Op Marketplace and United World of Soccer.
Foodies should also make a beeline for the new Trattoria al Forno restaurant at Disney’s Boardwalk resort, which features classic tastes of Italy, rich décor and an extensive wine list, while Disney’s Polynesian Resort will have its own makeover in 2015, reverting to its original Polynesian Village Resort name, and boasting a complete rebuild of the lobby area, the main pool and its counter-service dining. Also being unveiled this year are a series of waterfront tiki-hut style accommodations on Seven Seas Lagoon, facing the Magic Kingdom, and Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, a version of the hugely popular bar at the original Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California.
Outside Disney, arguably the biggest and most eye-catching opening of the year will be at I-Drive 360, the massive entertainment complex taking shape in the heart of the International Drive area.
Following nearly two years of construction, I-Drive 360 will open in the Spring (possibly as early as March) and be a great all-day attraction alternative, with the 400ft Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds and the Orlando SeaLife Aquarium, as well as a growing array of dining and other entertainment options (which we will also be reporting on in due course!).
This gives I-Drive a really world-class attraction option and could easily be Orlando’s headline development in 2015.
Over at SeaWorld, our favourite marine mammal park will debut its Sea Lion and Otter show in the next couple of months. Clyde & Seamore’s Sea Lion High will be this spring’s other main highlight, with the mischievous pinnipeds taking their act to school in pursuit of their diplomas, which should be the cue for a lot of watery fun. However, the A’Lure show, in the Nautilus Theater, has just closed and there is no word yet on what will take its place.
Universal Orlando are still packing them in with 2014’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, but eagle-eyed visitors will notice some significant construction going on next to the Jurassic Park River Adventure in their Islands of Adventure park.
This has yet to be confirmed, but most local ‘knowledgeable sources’ insist this will be a version of the simulator experience Kong 360 from their Hollywood park. It is not known exactly when this will be ready, but it is possible it may open in late 2015 if all goes well, although spring 2016 seems most likely.
At the same time, Universal are putting the finishing touches to their big CityWalk makeover. Last year saw some fabulous additions and replacements for this extensive dining and nightlife area, notably Vivo Italian Kitchen, Antojito’s Mexican restaurant and the unique Cowfish restaurant (combining burgers and sushi!), while more construction is under way.
The former NASCAR Grille is being demolished to make way for a completely new concept, while other rumours insist that the NBA City basketball-themed diner will close in 2015, with the Cheesecake Factory hotly fancied to replace it.
Finally, for those who’d like to sample a little of the Miami South Beach vibe without travelling the 210 miles to south Florida, this summer will see the opening of Mango’s Tropical Cafe on I-Drive. Part nightclub, part restaurant and part show, Mango’s hails directly from Miami and will feature the same Latin flair and samba style that keeps Ocean Drive buzzing, and the shows include a Michael Jackson tribute, a Samba show, reggae and mariachi bands, a belly dancer and more.
It’s huge 55,000ft venue is due to debut in June, and it will be the first of two major future developments here, with Mango’s owners being the developers of the amazing SkyPlex shopping and dining centre – including the 400ft PolerCoaster! This will only start construction in 2015, but it is proof positive that Orlando never stands still and is ALWAYS ready to offer something new!
PS: For sports fans, don’t forget March 2015 will see the debut of Orlando City Soccer Club in the Major League Soccer ranks. Led by British head coach Adrian Heath and featuring Brazilian World Cup star Kaka, The Lions will be an exciting addition to Central Florida’s sporting scene, playing their first season in the 65,000-seat Citrus Bowl stadium in downtown Orlando while their own purpose-built ground is under construction.
If you haven't already started planning your 2015 theme park holiday, take a look at the Attraction Tickets Direct amazing offers on Orlando attraction tickets for 2015.
Keep checking back in at the ATD Blog for more news from our Orlando experts, Simon and Susan Veness!