In such a competitive market, Orlando’s theme parks are rarely able to stand still. However, the spectacular success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure has led to a rush of new attraction announcements, as Walt Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando look to try and claw back the limelight from the young wizard and his friends. Here’s a look at 5 of the most exciting new rides and lands that will open in Orlando over the next few years.
1. Avatar land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (2016)
Rumors that Disney would attempt something big in order to respond to the Wizarding World had been circulating for months, but almost everybody was taken aback when the company announced that it had signed an exclusive deal to produce theme park attractions based on James Cameron’s Avatar. Unsurprisingly, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is first on the list of the company’s parks to receive an Avatar land, boosting the profile of Walt Disney World’s most recently-opened property.
Details of the area are still thin on the ground, with Disney’s Imagineers still working on the plans with a 2016 opening date in mind. However, it is known that it will be based around a real-life version of Avatar’s forested planet Pandora. Cameron himself will be involved in the land’s creation, having previously worked with rival Universal on Terminator 2: 3D. The director has hinted that an attraction based around flying could be on the cards, potentially featuring creatures that will first appear in the two planned sequels to the original movie.
2. Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin at SeaWorld Orlando (2013)
SeaWorld Orlando has had a tough couple of years since the opening of its impressive Manta roller coaster in 2009, dominated by the controversy surrounding the death of one of its killer whale trainers the following year. With attendance at the park beginning to suffer, it will come out swinging in 2012 and 2013 with a raft of new additions. The most significant will see it overhaul the existing Penguin Encounter area to become Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin.
Described as SeaWorld Orlando’s “biggest ever attraction expansion”, the updated land will be dominated by a unique new dark ride. This will enable guests to experience life in the world’s most barren continent through the eyes of a penguin, before they have the chance to view the real thing in an all-new habitat. Technical details of the attraction are still under wraps, but SeaWorld has promised that it will be the “coldest theme park ride in the world”.
3. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Disney’s Magic Kingdom (2013)
Construction work on an expansion to the Fantasyland area at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is already well underway, with new and updated attractions set to open in phases between early 2012 and late 2013. The last major addition will be the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which was added to a revised version of the plans after Disney faced criticism that Fantasyland would become too girl-centric.
The roller coaster will take guests on a ride deep into the diamond mine featured in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, accompanied by music from the movie. Combining features of a classic Disney dark ride with traditional coaster elements, it will also make use of a first-of-its-kind ride system. This will allow the vehicles to swing back-and-forth as they move along the track, accentuating the corners of the circuit. The experience won’t be too intense, though: Disney has promised that it will sit somewhere in-between Barnstormer and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in terms of thrills.
4. Despicable Me at Universal Studios Florida (2012)
Universal Studios Florida has taken a backseat over the last couple of years, as sister park Islands of Adventure stole the limelight with the Wizarding World. Universal isn’t completely neglecting it, however, with an attraction based on the animated movie Despicable Me set to make its debut in 2012. It won’t strictly be a new addition, but is instead a revamp of the shuttered Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast (which closed in August 2011).
Reusing the simulator-style ride system of the Jimmy Neutron attraction, the ride will utilize a new Infitec 3-D projection system to place guests into familiar locations from the $540-million grossing Universal Pictures feature. All-new scenes will be produced for the ride, which will be the first in any of the company’s parks to be based on a Universal-produced animated movie. The plot will see super-villain Gru’s entire family accidentally transformed into diminutive “minions”, with much of the action taking place in Gru’s secret laboratory.
To see pictures of the construction work on Despicable Me, click here.
5. Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid at Disney’s Magic Kingdom (2012)
Among the most expensive additions to the expanded Fantasyland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom will be Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid. Though it is basically a clone of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (which opened at Disney California Adventure in 2011), the dark ride is still expected to become a major draw for families with younger children.
Featuring an OmniMover ride system similar to that used in the Haunted Mansion, the ride will retell the story of Disney’s classic animated movie, The Little Mermaid. It will host advanced audio-animatronic recreations of key characters from the film, including the villainous Ursula and Ariel herself. In traditional Disney fashion, musical numbers will be a major part of the experience, and guests will be able to hum and dance along to recognisable tunes such as Under the Sea.
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