Visitors to Orlando this summer will find numerous changes in all the large theme parks. Some years the changes are minimal but this year the additions and renovations are unusually plentiful.
This is why so many visitors return to Orlando year after year. Always something new to experience.
Since opening Oct. 15, 2011, LEGOLAND Florida park attendance figures are surpassing expectations, according to LEGOLAND sources. A new water park opening in summer 2012 features a wave pool, Build-A-Raft lazy river, tube slides, body slides and an interactive water-play structure (of Legos, of course).
Opened in April, Turtle Trek follows a sea turtle’s life struggle via a 3D film in a 360 dome theater. Replacing the long-time manatee attraction, Turtle Trek also features two large habitats, one containing manatees and freshwater fish. The second houses more than 1,500 saltwater fish and a handful of sea turtles.
“Antarctica – Empire of the Penguin,” SeaWorld Orlando’s largest attraction expansion ever, will open in spring, 2013.
Freshwater Oasis adds a new swimming and wading attraction this summer that provides face-to-face encounters with otters and marmosets.
Universal Orlando Resort
Islands of Adventure
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man has new animation and special effects that require high-tech 3-D glasses. It opened in March.
Universal Studios Orlando
Harry Potter at the Islands of Adventure overshadowed Universal Studios in recent years but now the emphasis has shifted to Universal’s original Orlando theme park.
Jaws closed in January, to be replaced by a new, unannounced ride. Some speculate a Harry Potter addition but this location seems too distant and too disjointed to be part of the Wizarding World at the Islands of Adventure.
With an early May, 2012, debut, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular – 100 Years of Movie Memories multi-media show (9 p.m. nightly) celebrates the movie companies’ classic films by projecting them onto cutting-edge waterfall screens. Narration by actor Morgan Freeman.
Floats are a big part of the Universal All-Star Parade
This month, Universal also launched its first parade: The Universal All-Star Parade features such film characters as the minions from Despicable Me, E.B. from Hop, Nickelodeon’s Dora & Diego and SpongeBob SquarePants in a live, interactive parade at 5 p.m. daily.
This summer, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem replaces the Jimmy Neutron attraction with a 3-D simulator ride.
These two new attractions were ready early in 2012.
Blue Man Group: New stage, new performances, new music. Possibly even more paint!
Hollywood Drive-In Golf: Located near the park’s main entrance ramp, this mini-golf course features two 18-hole themed golf courses named “The Haunting of Ghostly Greens” and “Invaders From Planet Putt.” An adult ticket is $14.
Wet ‘N Wild
Wet ‘N Wild, voted the favorite water park of Orlando residents, this summer adds Blastaway Beach, new family interactive area with jets, waterfalls, 15 water slides and more than 100 soakers and water cannons. This will make Wet ‘N Wild Florida’s largest interactive water play attraction.
Walt Disney World
In addition, all levels of Disney hotels are being upgraded to include free Wi Fi, with mini-fridge and extra beds available (but not always for free).
In the fall, Splitsville with 30 lanes of bowling open in at site of the Virgin Megastore.
The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow ride opens sometime this fall, located in the old Chronicles of Narnia theater. Details are scarce.
This is where much of the action is. Continued expansion of New Fantasyland includes including a new Storybook Circus with two Dumbo The Flying Elephant attractions opening this summer (July). In late 2012, Under the Sea: The Voyage of The Little Mermaid attraction and the Beast’s Castle at the Be Our Guest restaurant join New Fantasyland. More new Fantasyland attractions will open in 2013.
“Captain EO,” an ancient 3-D musical production starring Michael Jackson, for some reason returned to the World Showcase last fall. Watching this video years ago when it first came out was strangely unsettling, and that was long before there was any suspicion that the talented singer had a strange fascination with young children.
Test Track is undergoing a makeover, which will result in an all new GM pavilion sponsored by Chevrolet. Details have been sketchy and contradictory, but it appears the attraction will be closed for most of 2012.
The Agent P World Showcase Adventure with new special effects and featuring Phineas and Ferb replaces the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure in June.
Walt Disney World Speedway
The Exotic Driving Experience –where you do the driving, not a professional driver– features supercars by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi and Porsche are an added part of the Richard Petty Driving Experience. The Exotic Driving Experience operates about 150 days annually on the specially configured The Exotics Course, which includes both an interior road course as well as part of the mile-long NASCAR track. Driving fee is $199.
Florida Eco Safaris @ Florida Forever
The Rattlesnake, the first zipline roller coaster in the U.S.
Technically, Florida Forever is not one of Orlando’s major theme parks. Although it covers 4700 acres, the facility is too far away from Orland0 to qualify. However, the eco-ranch is quickly becoming a major zipline center in the entire Southeast. Florida Eco Safaris @ Forever Florida just completed year-long, $1.5 million attraction upgrade that added 4 new ziplines: 1) The Rattlesnake, the first zipline roller coaster in the USA. 2) Peregrine Plunge, the longest single straightaway zipline in Florida, measuring 1300 feet in length, 3) Panther Pounce, a 68-foot high challenge tower with a safely controlled rapid descent to the ground. 4) The Swooping Crane, an extreme swing where guests release into a freefall from 55 feet, finally swooping back and forth between the trees and brush.