Orlando Theme Parks–What’s New for 2013

Fanstasyland at Disney’s Magic Kingdom is doubling in size. 

Three Major Attractions Open This Year

You can always count on Orlando theme parks having something new and exciting. That’s what keeps drawing the same people back year after year and luring millions of new visitors every year.

Last year, Orlando theme parks  had an unusually large number of new openings and travelers took notice.  Orlando had a record number of visitors: about 56.4 million,  making it once again the world’s No. 1 travel destination, well ahead of  No. 2 destination New York City with 52 million visitors. 

Here are the new attractions expected to help keep Orlando stay at the top.  (For info on all area attractions, see Orlando Essential Travel Guide ios and Orlando Essential Travel Guide android)

Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is undergoing a 10-year, multi-million dollar expansion. The just completed first phase of improvements includes a $16 million entry with a grand plaza featuring a 70-foot long, 5,000-gallon granite fountain and a globe shaped NASA logo, new ticket stations, souvenir shop and restaurant. Opening in July is an estimated $100 million exhibit containing the space shuttle Atlantis and interactive exhibits, all housed in a new building near the just-opened visitor center entrance.  America’s efforts at manned space flight may be dead but the dream stays well and thriving at Kennedy Space Center. A visit here always is a good reminder of what America can do when the country is united behind a definite goal.  The souvenir selection remains impressive.

SeaWorld Orlando
Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin opens this spring and follows the adventures of a young penguin. Riders board what’s advertised as a new type of simulator offering one of two levels of adventure, with each level having multiple variations of intensity. The largest expansion in SeaWorld’s history, the Antarctica attraction includes not only the ride but the chance to visit a real penguin colony—as well as a gift shop and restaurant. 

 Universal Orlando Resort
 TRANSFORMERS: The Ride – 3D opens in summer 2013, where passengers in a ride simulator face larger-than-life TRANSFORMERS characters and a storyline using life-like HD CGI media, state-of-the-art 3-D technology and special effects depicting an epic battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons.  Located in Universal Studios.

Universal Orlando Hollywood Drive-In Golf
Most golfers would find this more than a sand trap.

Hollywood Drive-In Golf, located beside CityWalk and under the concourse leading from the parking lots, offers 36 holes of golf on a course based on themes from really bad horror and sci-fi movies of the 1950’s. Whether you’re playing The Haunting of Ghostly Greens or Invaders From Planet Putt, you can play day and night thanks to the LED lighting. Extra admission charge: $14 for adults, $12 for children

Two new dining experiences are available at Universal Studios Park. The Superstar Character Breakfast features characters from the Universal Superstar Parade such as the Despicable Me Minions, SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer. Diners also have access to a special viewing area for the characters’ afternoon parade. The Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience starts with dinner at Lombard’s Seafood Grille, ending with dessert served in a private viewing area for Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular nighttime lagoon show.

Walt Disney World
Magic Kingdom
Undergoing its largest expansion ever at Disney World, all the action is centered in Fantasyland, which is doubling in size. First phase attractions, most of which opened in December, include Enchanted Tales with Belle where Belle and friends share “the tale as old as time;” Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, a musical show featuring Ariel and friends; Be Our Guest Restaurant;, a re-themed Barnstormer Featuring the Great Goofini, Gaston’s Tavern a dining experience in the ballroom, gallery, and mysterious West Wing of the Beast’s castle; Pete’s Silly Sideshow and a new family play area. The two carousels at Dumbo, the Flying Elephant, opened last spring.

Scheduled to open later this year is Princess Fairytale Hall where Cinderella, Tiana and Rapunzel will meet and greet their fans in a castle-like setting. Coming in the spring of 2014 is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a coaster ride with vehicles that swing back and forth, a coaster ride first.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios
The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow takes visitors through a lost grotto where first they’re tested to discover if they have what it takes to be part of Captain Jack’s crew. Of course they do, proceeding to relive some popular moments from the films and be immersed in a ship-to-ship battle.

Late last year the re-imagined Test Track presented by Chevrolet re-opened with a much more lively and interactive experience. First, you design your own concept car, then test it out in a “SimCar” ride that puts your vehicle through a series of performance tests.

Not your normal test track.

In March at Epcot, the 40-piece Kinsey Collection of African-American art and history, with some works dating to the 17th century, opens at the American Heritage Gallery. Exhibit entrance is included in ticket admission.

Walt Disney World Speedway:
The Richard Petty Driving Experience is offering “Junior Ride-Alongs” where kids can ride shotgun with a professional driving instructor for three laps, in a specially equipped two-seat NASCAR race car. Cost is $59. Riders must be at least 48 inches tall.

Downtown Disney:
Splitsville Luxury Lanes bowling alley/eatery now fills the West End site once occupied by the huge Virgin Mega Store. The 30 bowling lanes are scattered around the two-story building in clusters of four and six lanes. Surrounding the lanes are dining tables, billiard tables, bars, gift shop and sushi bar. It’s a place to play and dine but tables are also available for non-bowlers. For sports fans, giant TV screens are tuned to ESPN. Expect wait times of 1-3 hours during busy periods.

Disney World Restaurants:
California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort closes from Feb. 1 until this summer for a major makeover. A new tweaked menu will still emphasize fresh, seasonal dishes.

In Epcot’s France pavilion, the upstairs Bistro de Paris has reopened as Monsieur Paul with a refurbished dining room and new menu, which is best described as casual haute French. The Boulangerie Patisserie bakery at the back of the France pavilion, opened in January.

At the most upscale level, Citricos at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa now offers a private, $155 per person dining experience in The Chef’s Domain for up to 10 guests. Offered Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, the meal includes six courses; 407/WDW-DINE for reservations.

But it’s early in the year, and there still could be some more new theme park  news. 

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