Regulars at Florida’s theme parks expect thrills, chills and adventures. To keep them coming back — and to entice newbies and keep things fresh — new attractions, restaurants and places to stay are tossed into the mix each year.
This summer, for example, theme park-goers will discover a new evening show at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom (disneyworld.disney.go.com); a new water theme park and an epic race through New York alongside Jimmy Fallon at Universal Orlando (universalorlando.com/web/en/us/index.html); a virtual reality roller coaster ride at SeaWorld (seaworld.com/orlando/); and a ride based on the TV show “Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu” at Legoland (legoland.com/florida/).
Here’s a roundup of what’s new this year.
Happily Ever After Nighttime Spectacular, a new and romantic show that illuminates the sky above Cinderella’s Castle, uses projection mapping that combines Disney storytelling, classic Disney characters and pyrotechnics. Guests are encouraged to find their own Happily Ever After. The show has an original score and hand-drawn animation of characters including Aladdin, Ursula and Tiana.
Pandora — The World of Avatar transports guests to the world of Pandora, home of the Na’vi. Inspired by James Cameron’s 2009 movie, Pandora features two attractions. Guests travel down a sacred river hidden within a bioluminescent rainforest on the Na’vi River Journey. At Avatar Flight of Passage, guests are sent soaring over Pandora on a flying Banshee.
Rivers of Light, Animal Kingdom’s first nighttime show, pays tribute to the beauty of all living things. Water, sound, dramatic lighting and special effects bring added interest to the show.
The Music of Pixar Live! A Symphony of Characters opened in late May and spotlights a live symphony orchestra playing music from Disney•Pixar films. Disney•Pixar characters (Woody, Jessie, Mike, etc.) make appearances.
Star Wars Guided Tour—The seven-hour VIP guided tour of everything Star Wars made its debut in January. Wookies and other characters greet guests along the way. Note: There’s a $129 charge for this tour in addition to park admission and reservations are necessary. Special seating for Jedi Training — Trials of the Temple (ages 4-12 may participate) and priority boarding on Star Tours — The Adventure Continues are a few of the perks on the premium tour.
Choza Tequila, an authentic outdoor tequileria serving hand-crafted margaritas and classic Mexican cuisine will open this summer outside of the Mexican Pavilion in World Showcase. On the menu: hand-crafted margaritas, tacos, empanadas, chips and fresh guacamole.
DISNEY’S WATER PARKS
Miss Adventure Falls, a new family-style raft attraction at Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, plunges visitors into the story of Captain Mary Oceaneer, a treasure hunter who searches the seven seas for undersea artifacts until a rogue storm maroons her ship and treasures at Typhoon Lagoon.
Frozen Summer Games, which began on May 26, continues through Aug. 13 at Blizzard Beach Water Park. Friendly competitions invite guests to take part in a snowball toss, ice-pail relays and other winter fun. Kristoff and Olaf are available for photo opportunities.
DISNEY SPRINGS EATERIES
The Polite Pig and Paddlefish have been added to the culinary scene. Modern barbecue cuisine, with southern sides like mac-and-cheese and smoked corn are served up at the Polite Pig. A bourbon bar offers more than 50 choices.
Paddlefish, Disney Springs’ iconic 1800’s paddleboard, has been transformed into a modern yacht and serves seafood, steaks and chops for lunch, dinner and brunch. Late-night diners will find a special menu to go with panoramic water views from the new rooftop lounge.
Volcano Bay, a water park that opened May 25, gives visitors a chance to take an aqua coaster within the landmark Krakatau volcano, drop down epic waterslides and drift along a winding river. New technology called “TapuTapu” permits visitors to wait in line virtually, rendering long line waits a thing of the past.
Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon gives visitors a front-row seat to the Tonight Show as they race through the Big Apple. They can plunge into the subway, soar among skyscrapers and visit some of the city’s most memorable characters and landmarks.
Kraken Virtual Reality Roller Coaster gives guests a chance to get up close with mythical sea creatures while diving into the new, improved, and floorless Kraken roller coaster. Using new technology, the roller coaster, which debuts this summer, provides sensory thrills during a deep dive mission.
Electric Ocean, a new after-dark show opening this summer, illuminates the magic of the sea. Bioluminescent lights, energetic music and live performances take guests to a vibrant underwater planet.
Dolphin Days, which made its first splash in April and replaces the prior Blue Horizons performance, showcases playful Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and the bond between trainers and dolphins.
The Dolphin Nursery becomes more interactive this year, with new windows for closer looks and different levels for watching dolphin calves. Guests can watch dolphins and their mamas interacting.
Flamecraft Bar Sip, opening this summer, offers 16 seasonal craft beers, food and a comfy place for a little R&R on the water.
Ninjago World, which opened in January, transports guests to a martial arts kingdom based on the Lego Ninjago line of toys and the Cartoon Network show that stars the adventures of six young ninjas. Guests ride on Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, where they can blast animated fireballs and ice at villains. Trainees can spend time in a station to work on their reflexes before the ride. They can learn Spinjitzu, using platforms to spin like tornadoes; try out a horizontal climbing wall and measure their reflexes by hitting light-up targets in order.
Summer Nights at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-tampa/) offers park-wide party zones, thrill rides in the dark, summer cuisine and a new summer ice show called “Tune It Up” at the Moroccan Palace. The event, from June 16- Aug. 6, is free with park admission.
THEME PARK HOTEL NEWS
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge’s Boulder Ridge Villas, formerly known as the Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, has expanded to add a sun deck and zero-depth-entry pool.
Copper Creek Villas & Cabins & Wilderness Lodge Resort debuts its Disney Vacation Resort, inspired by the mining and railroad history of the Pacific Northwest, on July 17. Studios, villas and waterfront cabins are designed to be rustically elegant.
Disney’s Boardwalk’s newest culinary offering is Bon Voyage Breakfast with Rapunzel, Ariel, Flynn Rider and other Disney characters. Tickets are $34 for adults and $20 for kids. For reservations, call 407-WDN-DINE or visit DisneyWorld.com/dining.
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, the fifth onsite hotel at Universal Orlando, boasts 1,000 rooms and suites with a Caribbean theme built around a tall waterfall and lagoon.
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which opened last year, added two new towers with 400 more rooms and suites.
Legoland Hotel, the second lodging in the theme park, opened in April and has 83 Lego-style duplexes with two units of family-size accommodations on a lake. The focal point is a Lego lighthouse.
The Grove Resort & Spa Orlando, two and three-bedroom residential units five minutes from Walt Disney World, opens 108 new rooms this summer.
Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate opened a new recreational area with 16 new pool cabanas, 400 more lounge chairs and an expanded pool area.
Disney Resort Hotels offer savings of up to 25 percent for stays between May 28-Aug. 31. For details, see disneyworld.disney.go.com/special-offers/summertime-room/