Waiting for “Star Wars Land,” you are?
You were not alone.
And you must have been almost to the moon when Disney at long last announced the new park, as well as an expansion of “Toy Story.”
A lot of people were, to say the least, thrilled.
“About time,” summed up one the many bloggers who had been hearing rumors of the new park for years.
But what you heard was only an announcement.
Disney did not release a timetable but theme park experts predicted it will take four years for Star Wars Land to become a reality.
And only then might you be able to take over as pilot of the Millennium Falcon.
In the meantime, some consolation.
There were reports that Disney would open parts of the park as they were completed.
More theme park news
You may not be happy about the four-year wait, but in the meantime, it seemed like a good time to see what else was going on in theme park world.
What are some new venues for not only the Orlando theme parks but also some new tourist ventures for you to explore that you may not have heard about…or others that are planned for the future?
We’ll for the most skip over Disney’s Star Wars Land and Toy Story Mania except for two things:
- At 14 acres or roughly 14 football fields, Star Wars Land will be the largest at Disney World. So it should be worth looking forward to. And worth the wait.
- Toy Story Mania is slightly less in size at 11 acres. Family-style roller coasters are more in style here. Not as exciting, but still…
Both new parks will create constructions issues if you are planning a visit there.
Building mania on the menu
So be prepared, please.
So what’s going on at the area’s two major parks of Disney and Universal?
Disney has not been inactive this year and here are some things you might have noticed happening.
- A new Starbucks location known as the Trolley Care Café opened at Hollywood Studios. Ho-hum. But you sometimes need a cup of coffee.
- An added FastPass viewing area for fireworks. Gives you more room to stretch out. The location is around Cinderella’s Castle.
- You may not be among visitors and, sure, you have to stay there to appreciate it. But also news this year was that Disney’s newest vacation property had some over-the-water accommodations. The Lava Pool there also got larger with more seating and a hot tub. And good news for the kids: A new children’s water play area.
- A shopping and dining destination, Harambe Market, opened earlier this year in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The outdoor market is four walk-up quick-service vendors offering street-inspired dishes, a new pathway from Africa to Asia and a lot of shaded places to sit and relax.
- Traffic congestion that might slightly resemble what you can expect from Star Wars can be found at The Landing, the first of four phases of Disney Springs, being built at Downtown Disney. When the expansion is finished, the entertainment area will be double the size of its current area. Full completion of Disney Springs is expected in 2016.
Also coming to Disney in 2016:
- In Epcot, Norway is expanding into “Frozen Ever After.” Visitors will be able to meet Anna and Elsa at the Royal Summerhaus.
- A third theatre at ‘Soarin’ at Epcot,’ a worldwide ride with such tourist-popular places like The Great Wall of China. Also with a dazzling new projection system.
- The “Rivers of Light nighttime show at Animal Kingdom. Combining live performers with animal imagery. The importance for visitors is it is among changes to make this an after-dark destination.
Another major event…
….not next year but the year after…
James Cameron’s AVATAR-based land Pandora is planned to open in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The land will be the largest expansion in Animal Kingdom history.
So it’s another event worth the wait.
For many reasons.
Riding a banshee? That’s one thrill that will be offered here. You will be looking down at an alien world.
As for rival Universal, the most anticipated event of next year should be
“Skull Island: Reign of Kong.”
It will be massive, of course. Try a Kong seven or eight stories tall.
But old-fashioned robotics will be enhanced here. They will involve a combination of large-scale 3-D projections and animatronics.
The ride is scheduled to open next year at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
Visitors will find this to be a different ride than what is usually expected.
You will enter the area through a very sense jungle. No surprise there, right?
But you’re used to smooth rides, at least at first. Nice and easy.
But the surprise will not last long. Guests will know from the start that all is not well.
And that things will get worse.
For one thing, flames will be shooting at your feet as you go through some menacing-mean and oversize wooden doors. The doors creak, too. And then…
It gets worse.
Nintendo is also partnering with Universal to bring its characters. This includes creating “spectacular, dedicated experiences” based on the famed characters, as Nintendo puts it.
Nintendo also a coming attraction
What specifically this might involve is still a secret.
“Nintendo has created remarkable and imaginative worlds filled with captivating stories and beloved characters,” the company said in a statement. “Now, for the first time, those stories and characters will be brought to life in entirely new ways — only at Universal theme parks.”
So what can you expect?
Expect to see Super Mario and Donkey Kong.
For more, we’ll all have to wait and see.
On to other news
What might be called the Orlando area’s third major theme park, SeaWorld has been bogged down by pr problems with PETCO. And some observers suggest the cash-strapped park desperately needs more rides.
Sea World has responded with a shark.
For those of you who may think SeaWorld has started to swim with the fishes, this is the first new attraction added to SeaWorld Orlando since Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin opened in 2013, and the first new roller coaster since Mantra opened in 2009.
Mako has a huge appetite
In fact, the new 200-foot-tall roller coaster will be the longest, tallest, and fastest in the city. It was announced last May and is expected to be offering rides next summer.
“Mako” is viewed as the fastest species of shark in the ocean.
What will it be like riding it?
For one thing, like falling off a 20-story building.
How fast will it go?
Seventy three miles an hour or faster than you can legally go on most interstate highways.
Mako’s tight turns and speed are inspired by reality.
Mako sharks — also called “blue pointers” — are known for their top speed. They make extreme jumps and have the ability to quickly change course as they pursue their prey.
The ride’s jumpiness will be jarring.
Sound effects are designed to scare you even more.
At night, lights will flicker and shimmer (simulating fish being scattered by a Mako who sees them as dinner).
“On Mako, you’ll experience what it’s like to be this apex predator, surging through the water at top speed and chasing prey throughout a massive reef,” said Brian Morrow, SeaWorld’s attraction creative director. “It will be a wild mix of fear, thrills and fun.”
SeaWorld’s Website promises:
“Sink your teeth into SeaWorld’s unrivaled new coaster, Mako. Arriving summer 2016, this 200-foot hypercoaster soars to the top of the food chain as Orlando’s tallest, longest and fastest coaster. Scream through the deep dives with unmatched speed and predator power. Fly through the air with the grace and agility of the ocean’s apex predator.”
Where sharks rule
Mako will be the centerpiece of the newly themed area, Sharks Realm. The two-acre plaza now will be fully shark themed area to include Mako, Shark Encounter, Sharks Underwater Grill, shops, shark and shipwreck theming and educational experiences featuring sharks.
But also educational, promises SeaWorld.
Included will be information about shark impact on people, and human impact on them (not a pretty sight).
SeaWorld also promises this will be an anchor attraction to the park.
Even sometimes afterthought LEGOLAND, left out at times because it is closer to Lakeland than Orlando and is almost an hour away from the major theme parks, had news this year.
They also opened a new land called “Heartlake City” with new rides, retail and even a hotel on-site.
With Lego-themed rooms, of course.
In other area visitor news, nearby and fast-growing International Drive continues to rival the theme parks for entertainment.
Orlando Eye sees you
You have undoubtedly head of the opening of the Orlando Eye, if for no other reason than visitors have been stuck on it high in the sky.
When operating, which is most of the time, the 40-foot observation wheel offers views of the area — on clear days, all the way to the Kennedy Space Center 50 miles away.
Other new openings this year at International included the local version of the famous wax museum, Madame Tassaud’s, and the SEALIFE Aquarium. Also, there was the opening of Skeletons: A Museum of Osteology.
Also at nearby Florida Mall, the Crayola Experience also opened this year. The mall is mainly for adults but the store has 25 hands-on experiences.
So it’s obviously a kid favorite.
And a good place to take them for free — unless the activities inspire them (read parents) to buy.
Another old favorite, Old Town USA, is also getting better as it gets older.
The 1986 attraction in Kissimmee perhaps best known for its classic car cruises, is having a $10 million refurbishment (The “about time” reference to Star Wars might also apply here).
The remodeling promises a return it to its old “glory and splendor.”
What that means is new rides and retail, restrooms and more parking lots.
Ferris wheels coming back?
Old Town’s location in Kissimmee just five miles east of the main gate of Walt Disney World has helped its popularity.
A good description of it is “nostalgic.”
And that term really applies when you consider that changes include a remodeled Ferris wheel.
It might make you think…
When’s the last time you rode on one of those?
Jimmy Buffet is extending his influence past Universal’s version.
The former site of a lesser known theme park is again active.
Splendid China (which failed in part because it was overwhelmed by the scope of Disney and Universal) is the planned site.
It will offer what is known as the relaxed coastal lifestyle of Buffet.
You can guess what it’s called:”Margarvitaville Village.”
It’s what is known as a multi-faceted development.
It will include vacation rental homes (in short supply at its location in Kissimmee). Time-share and rental units.
Changes in latitude
But also for visitors: a water park.
It should also have other tourist-popular amenities such as an arcade, a spa, and a planetarium.
It will also offer paddle boarding and kayaking.
If that does not sound as far out as Star Wars, there may be some consolation in its timetable. Parts of it should open next year.
Sure, it’s not likely to be as popular as the movie, but there’s also some consolation in the developer.
It’s a company called Colony Capital.
They have some experience in theme parks.
They made headlines in 2008 when they helped Michael Jackson refinance Neverland Ranch shortly before his death.
Also down the road, or still up in the air, is another high-flying roller coaster.
This would be located near Old Town.
It’s a 570-foot-high version.
It’s so high that the Federal Aviation Authority will have to approve it, which they have done. The reason for that is not only its height but it’s location.
Near old Town and only 8.52 nautical miles from the Orlando International Airport.
So far, it is passing inspections.
The development is called Skyplex.
It is also planned to have a zip line, a drop ride and even a surf park.
Surfing in land-locked Central Florida?
Maybe not when you consider everything else planned there? ###