Hands up, those who were ready to see the back of 2016! It was a year of tumult in some ways, but also a year with several highlights in the theme park world, as we summed up in our final blog of the year, and 2017 promises to be just as good, if not better.
Here are eight of the most exciting openings coming this year:
Epcot: Late last year Walt Disney World announced they would debut a new festival in the park that does festivals so well, with the upcoming Epcot International Festival of the Arts. The festival will run Friday through Monday over the course of six weeks, from 13 January through 20 February. In Disney’s own words, it will be a “trifecta of global masterpieces: combining visual, culinary and performing arts,” which is a fancy way of saying, “new art, new food and new shows.”
But what does that mean in real terms? It means guests will be able to watch the creative process as artists ply their craft, live, in conjunction with art displays by beloved Disney, artists including Mary Blair (think Small World), Herb Ryman, Joe Kaminsky and Costa Alavezos.
Add a healthy dose of Broadway actors performing well-known selections, at 5.30pm, 6.45pm, and 8pm, according to the following schedule:
13-16 January and 20-23 January: Josh Strickland and Ashley Brown perform hits from Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid and Tarzan.
27-30 January and 3-6 February: Kevin Massey and Kerry Butler sing tunes from Aladdin, Tarzan, Beauty and the Beast and Newsies.
10-13 February and 17-20 February: Alton Fitzgerald White and Kissy Simmons perform favourites from The Lion King, Aida, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.
As if that wasn’t enough, the festival takes a page out of the wildly popular Food and Wine Festival, with “Food Studios” serving up artistic creations. We’re eager to see, hear, and taste the results of this exciting new offering!
Disney Springs: Although the former Downtown Disney has developed beautifully over the last year, there is more to come here, with the opening of 5 new dining locations. Long-time visitors will remember Planet Hollywood, which has been extensively revamped and will reopen as Planet Hollywood Observatory in keeping with the theme of Disney Springs. With a menu created by celebrity chef Guy Fieri and some killer milkshakes, this should prove to be a sound choice for casual dining.
Another revamp in the form of Paddlefish takes over where the former Fulton’s left off, providing a contemporary seafood option in elegant surroundings. What’s not to love about dining on a paddleboat? Another big bonus – its top-deck bar will be open until 2am.
The Edison is new to Disney Springs, with classic American food, handcrafted cocktails and cabaret entertainment. Polite Pig is probably not a familiar concept for many visitors, but its sister restaurant, The Ravenous Pig, is a long-standing locals’ favourite in Winter Park. Ignore the odd name and enjoy some of the best barbeque you’ll ever have. Themed as a winemaker’s home, Wine Bar George is another new concept for Disney Springs, highlighting small-plate dining and wine pairings from Master Sommelier George Miliotes, formerly of California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom: But the big Disney news is the opening of the long awaited land of Pandora—The World of Avatar, and its two headliner attractions, AVATAR Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey. Ride on the back of a Banshee, meet the Shaman of Songs, and explore what will surely be one of the most visually immersive lands in all of Walt Disney World, starting in “Summer 2017.” Yes, we know…what does “Summer” mean? Stay tuned for more!
Disney hasn’t unveiled a new water ride since Crush ‘n Gusher made its debut at Typhoon Lagoon in 2005, hence Miss Fortune Falls – also at Typhoon Lagoon – is big news this year. Located right next to Crush ‘n Gusher, the new attraction will be another over-sized family ‘treasure raft’ adventure, based around the story of Captain Mary Oceaneer, treasure hunter. It all starts with a journey to the top of Fortune Falls, and then a wild, two-minute plunge down the raging rapids that make up the falls. Opening in the spring, it will be the longest water ride in Disney’s amazing water park catalogue.
Legoland: Disney isn’t the only company debuting something new, as Legoland gets in on the action this spring with Lego Ninjago World, based on the popular toys, television show and video games. Kids enter “Ninja training” in this immersive, hands-on world, before taking on the baddies in a 4-D dark ride that lets them use their ninja powers. Best of all? It’s all done with hand gestures; no “shooting” involved!
Over at Universal Orlando, there are even more ways to get wet, with a whole new water park in the shape of 30-acre Volcano Bay in June. This is Universal’s biggest development since the opening of their Islands of Adventure park in 1999, and we’ve been able to watch it taking shape right next to the I-4 motorway for the last 18 months. The iconic ‘volcano’ of Krakatau looms over the park and provides the setting for the most spectacular ride, and the first of its kind in Florida. The Krakatau Aqua Coaster will feature four-person canoes that are powered by linear induction motors (a series of metal plates and magnets) and will send riders zipping along the flume, both down and UP the mountain, through dark caves and waterfalls.
But that’s not all, by a long chalk. Volcano Bay will offer no fewer than nine different rides and flumes, plus the Kopiko Wai Winding River, the Waturi Beach wave pool and two areas specifically for children – Tot Tiki Reef for toddlers and Runamukka Reef for older children that mum and dad still need to keep an eye on! It is all set over four main themed areas and includes a tempting range of dining and shopping, as well as Universal’s latest ‘virtual queueing’ system called TapuTapu, a wearable wristband that comes with admission and tells you when it’s time for your ride on all of the main attractions. It should also look fabulous at night as the designers promise some spectacular effects from the signature volcano. Cameras at the ready, now!
Inside the Universal Studios park there will also be big-time new fun this spring, and it all goes under the title Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. The host of the long-running NBC Tonight Show greets guests in Studio 6B and then it’s off around the Big Apple on the wildest of (simulator) rides as the late-night funnyman stages his own madcap version of a city tour. Some of the jokes and characters may not mean much to British visitors, hence you may want to catch the Tonight Show before you ride, but rest assured you don’t need to know everything in advance to enjoy the thrills in this special flying theatre.’
Finally, when it comes to big-time thrills, you won’t want to miss SeaWorld this summer as they unveil their latest attraction. Kraken 2.0, which is billed as a ‘digital reality coaster’ and it involves taking their existing high-adrenalin ride Kraken and adding virtual reality headsets. The coaster will still operate along the same track, only riders will now ‘see’ a completely different experience involving a magical under-seas journey, and an encounter with the mythical ocean beats of the ride’s name. With the new visuals coordinated to the twists, turns and drops of the track, this should be completely unlike anything else in Florida today and give coaster fans a truly unique sensation.
It all adds up to an absolute stonker of a year in the Theme Park Capital of the World, probably the most elaborate and involved 12 months we’ve had since 1999. There is never a bad time to visit Orlando – but 2017 may just turn out to be the best!
If there’s anything else you want to know about Florida, be sure to go online and ask Susan and Simon personally on the fab ATD forums, on this link: https://www.attractiontickets.com/forum/forum.php.