2015: A Year in Review of Announced Attractions

           2015 has been quite the year for theme park announcements. All of the major chains in Florida are currently building large attractions which are scheduled to be open in 2016, and even more set to open in 2017 and beyond! It’s an exciting time to be here in Orlando, that’s for sure. With the year coming to an end, I figured we should take a look back at all of the upcoming attractions that were announced throughout 2015.

To begin, we’ll first talk about the most recent, and controversial, attraction coming to Orlando. It isn’t coming to any of the parks, but being built right on International Drive, one of the most touristy areas in all of Orlando. This project is called Skyplex! A quick overview of the history of this project: Skyplex was announced in 2014 to cheers from thrill seekers around the world. However, even with details given, it still had to be approved by Orange County. As time went by, more and more details were announced, including concept art and video of the roller coaster, but there was one big name trying to tear this project apart, Universal. Leading up to the Orange County Commissions meeting on December 1st, Universal did everything they could to lobby against and block the pending project. Many figured it was due to sightline concerns, being able to see the tall tower, which will be located only a couple down the street from Universal Orlando property. Others believe this was mixed with the fact that Universal has a height restriction set for their parks of 200 feet and feel it isn’t fair Skyplex will be almost three times as high. But try as they might, last week, the Orange County commission’s office unanimously approved the Skyplex project! Now, onto the details.

The Skyplex tower will be an astounding 570 feet tall, making it the tallest structure in the Orlando area! The tower will contain multiple attractions. The main attraction will be Skyscraper, which will become the world’s tallest roller coaster at over 500 feet. It will be the world’s first Polercoaster, wrapping around the Skyplex tower as it makes its way back down to the ground. Skyscraper will feature a vertical lift to help with capacity, the world’s steepest drop at 123 degrees, plus a second past vertical drop (first coaster to have two), and will have an inversion near the top of the ride, breaking the record for highest inversion. The Skyplex tower will also contain SkyFall, a 450 ft drop tower, making it the highest in the world. Do you see a pattern here?

Moving away from the thrill rides, Skyplex will also feature an observation deck at 535 feet in the air, which will be accessible through Florida’s tallest glass elevator. There will also be SkyPlaza. This will be an open-air promenade area with retail stores and restaurants, including what is to become the world’s largest Perkins Restaurant & Bakery. For families, there will be a game area with traditional and arcade games, simulators, and two go-cart tracks. Adults will also have a game room featuring party rooms, a main bar, billiards, video games and simulators. And last, but not least, there will be an Apex Sports Bar, which will host VIP seating, a Tequila bar, and large screens for sports programs. All of this will be accessible via a raised pedestrian walkway connecting to a 2,400 car parking area complete with valet. The entire project is expected to cost approximately $300 million and is set to open in 2018! It will definitely be a site to see.

           Next, we’ll move to SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment! SeaWorld has gone through a rough year, but that isn’t slowing them down with future projects. SeaWorld Orlando announced a new roller coaster, called Mako, set to open in the Summer of 2016. Mako will be SeaWorld Orlando’s 4th roller coaster and 7th ride. It will be a 200-foot-tall hyper coaster reaching speeds of 73 mph along 4,760 feet of steel track making it Orlando’s tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster. It is named after one of the ocean’s fastest known sharks, the Mako, also known as a Blue Pointer. The Mako shark is known for its speed, making extreme jumps and the ability to quickly change course as it pursues its prey. Mako’s tight turns and speed will allow Guests to experience what it’s like to be a Mako shark swimming in the ocean.

Opening with Mako will be a new land called Shark’s Realm. It will be a two-acre area themed to all things sharks. The new land will host Mako, the current Shark Encounter exhibit and Sharks Underwater Grill, new retail shops, and educational experiences, all surrounded with shark and shipwreck theming made to look as though you are underwater. At nighttime, special lighting will be used to highlight the new land, including Mako’s track and trains. The coaster will have a unique sound system to enhance the ride, but not just for the riders. The full score created will be heard as it follows the riders out of the station and up the hill. Then, custom surround effects for the musical score will fill the realm, changing as the coaster dives through the area. This will be the second highly themed area coming to SeaWorld Orlando. It looks as if SeaWorld is finally joining in on the immersion experience which is sweeping through Disney and Universal.

Moving out West, Busch Gardens Tampa is currently building their newest roller coaster, Cobra’s Curse. Located in the Egypt area of the park, Cobra’s Curse will be a family-friendly spinning coaster set to open in 2016. The ride will reach more than 70 feet in the air via a vertical lift. At the top of the tower, riders will come face-to-face with an 80-foot snake icon and trek over the park’s Serengeti Plain. Cobra’s Curse will have a top speed of 40 mph with lots of static and spinning ride time. Cobra’s Curse will take you on a thrilling experience that will last 3.5 minutes and will also have a themed queue inside the air conditioned King Tut’s Tomb where Guests will discover the mysteries of an Egyptian archaeological excavation. The coaster will have a 42″ height minimum.

On a side note, the now shuttered Gwazi wooden coaster has been confirmed to not be undergoing a major refurbishment by the Rocky Mountain Construction Company, which has been replacing and updating older wood coaster at various parks across the country with new steel track. This is a big shame since Gwazi would be perfect for this enhancement. However, Busch Gardens Tampa announced the coaster will be torn down soon and the land will be re-purposed with family friend attractions. Busch Gardens Tampa is known as the roller coaster capital of Florida and now it looks like they are beginning to focus on the family element in the park, which is a good thing.

Returning to Orlando, Universal Orlando has a lot going on! First up is the new Fast & Furious Supercharged, which isn’t set to open until 2017. Fast & Furious Supercharged is replacing the now shuttered Disaster attraction, as well as the soon to be closing Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue show. On the ride, “you’ll feel like part of the ‘Fast family’ as you embark on a thrilling new Fast & Furious adventure that will put you right in the middle of the action. This ride is going to fuse everything you love about the films with an original story line and incredible ride technology. Inside the queue, you’ll get to see some of the high-speed, supercharged cars seen on the big screen. You’ll be immersed in the underground racing world made famous in the films and explore the headquarters of Toretto and his team. Then, you’ll board specially-designed vehicles for an adrenaline-pumping ride with your favorite stars from the films. The new attraction at Universal Orlando will feature an all new ride vehicle and ride experience.”   So it sounds like it’ll be a track based ride system and most likely be heavily 3D screen based. The amount of land it will be taking up is a good indication that it’ll be more than just a Transformers type ride. Fingers crossed for something completely new and different!

Last month, Twister: Ride It Out closed and was announced to be replaced by a brand new attraction called Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. This new attraction is inspired by the “celebrity races” segments on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Race Through New York will be a 3D attraction where, according to the Universal Orlando Blog, “you will get the full Tonight Show experience as you make your way to the fabled Studio 6B for a very special taping in which Jimmy challenges his studio audience to the ultimate race through the greatest city on earth.” During this journey, Guests will rocket through the streets of the city and then take to the skies, seeing everything from the subway to the tallest skyscrapers. The attraction technology will help Guests zoom through the streets and skies of New York City. Rumors suggest the ride system will be similar to Soarin’ at Epcot mixed with new ride technology. Race Through New York will also be opening in 2017.

                Next door at Islands of Adventure, we’re getting a new attraction and a major refurbishment. A few months ago, The Incredible Hulk roller coaster was announced to be closing for a refurbishment, which would last almost a year. Universal is replacing the entire track, installing new trains and a new launch system, as well as completely redoing the station and queue. It is possible we will see a new theme/story line also. No details have been given as to what we might see, but there is much speculation for new effects, a possible sound system on the trains for the ride, or even a change to floorless trains. Hulk is set to reopen in 2016.

                Two lands over from Marvel Superhero Island, Skull Island: Reign of Kong is currently being built with its massive attraction building and is set to open in 2016. This will not be the same attraction as Universal Studios Hollywood’s King Kong 360 3D used for their Tram Tour. Skull Island will use real life visuals and large set pieces combined with 3D screens to fully immerse the Guests. Gusts can expect to see bugs and creatures, as well as dinosaurs, all leading up to the big reveal of King Kong himself. There is some rumor the ride will use an animatronic King Kong, but nothing has been confirmed. The experience begins as Guests are transported deep into a wild and mysterious world, where their mission is to discover creatures of unknown origin, but soon end up fighting for their own survival. Their journey will take them through an ancient temple inhabited by hostile natives, a perilous jungle ruled by prehistoric creatures, a foreboding underworld of caves concealing unspeakable terrors, and then come face-to-face with the colossal Kong himself. “King Kong is a Hollywood movie legend and a huge part of both our history and our future,” said Mike West, Executive Producer of Universal Creative. “He gives us the opportunity to tap into everything that makes our film history so special and everything that makes our theme park attractions so spectacular. We can’t wait to bring him to life in such an epic way.” The ride will use vehicles in a similar fashion to Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safari trucks, but with modifications to make them so much more. The area Skull Island takes up is located in the Jurassic Park land, but Universal says the land is large enough to be deemed its own mini-land on the map, making this the first location in Islands of Adventure not to have a lake side. Expect to see Skull Island: Reign of Kong open in the late Spring 2016.

                In other Universal Orlando news, it was announced they are building a new water park called Volcano Bay. It will be located directly West of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort and is set to open mid-2017. It will “re-imagine what it means to be a water park.” Rumored to have an ‘active’ volcano in the center of the park, Volcano Bay will feature unique attractions and places for relaxation amidst a theme of tropical islands. Parking for the water park will be in the garages used for the theme parks and Guests will be transported via bus to the Volcano Bay entrance. Since Universal Orlando doesn’t need two water parks, their long existing water park, Wet ‘n’ Wild, will close for future development of that land on December 31, 2016. So we still have a full year to enjoy their awesome slides. No word has been given as to what the land will be used for, but many believe Universal will build another hotel and maybe even a new shopping/dining location similar to City Walk.

  Speaking of hotels, Universal will also build two more towers for their Cabana Bay Beach Resort by 2017, just in time for the opening of their new water park, Volcano Bay opening right next door! The addition will add 400 rooms to the already very large resort which currently holds 1800 rooms for Guests.

Last, but not least, is the Mouse down the street. It’s been a busy year for Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney. Many new restaurants and shops have opened, as well as new pathways. The bridge cutting across the lake from Rainforest Café to the Lego store is fabulous! And they even managed to open one of two garages Disney Springs will have for parking. It comes complete with an off ramp attached to I-4 leading straight into the garage. I have no doubt that when the entire area is complete, driving around will be much easier for Guests. For the most part, we know everything that is coming to Disney Springs, but Disney still throws in a surprise or two every once in a while. Coming to the West Side will be a new family dining attraction called The NBA Experience. It will be replacing Disney Quest, which is set to close sometime in 2016. The NBA Experience will be a new entertainment complex that will hold a restaurant, retail store, and interactive experiences, all revolving around the world of professional basketball. Guests will be put right into the middle of NBA game action and it sounds like this will be the perfect location for the whole family to dine. No opening date has been given, however. Depending on the size of the project, it could open anywhere from 2016-2017, but since Disney Springs is said to be completely finished by mid-2016, I imagine we will get a 2016 opening date for this new dining experience.

Not much is happening at the Magic Kingdom since it received its own expansion a few years ago and its newest ride The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opening only just last Summer, but they are getting a new table-service restaurant called Skipper Canteen.    The story goes that the Jungle Navigation Co. which runs the Jungle Cruise pays the skippers so poorly, they are forced to work a side job at the Canteen to make more money.  The restaurant will feature several dining rooms, each housing a unique theme to it, much like the three separate dining rooms in the Be Our Guest restaurant at Magic Kingdom and Restaurantosaurus at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Among the rooms announced so far are a crew mess hall and a once-hidden secret meeting room of the famed Society of Explorers and Adventures.  No official opening date for Skipper Canteen has been announced by Disney; only that it was expected to open late 2015.

Epcot seems to be going through some changes as well; one could even be a major indication of the direction the park is headed in. First up is a refurbishment that has been needed for quite some time. Come January, the ever-so-popular Soarin’ will be closing for a 4-5 month refurbishment. Along with cleaning of the screens and a transfer to HD projection, Soarin’ will be getting a brand new video and ride experience and renamed Soarin’ Around the World! Soarin’ Around the World will take Guests on a new journey to far-flung lands, fly above some of the world’s most unique natural landscapes, and soar over man-made wonders like the Great wall of China. A third theater is also currently under construction to help with the long wait times and is expected to open when the refurbishment is complete. Soarin’ Around the World is set to open around May 2016.

Moving over to the World Showcase, a new attraction is coming to the Norway Pavilion! If you haven’t heard by now, the classic ride Maelstrom is no more and Elsa is moving in! This controversial new ride, named Frozen Ever After, will take place during Arandelle’s Winter festival, which takes place during Summer. It will feature the same audio animatronics used in the recent Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and will not feature any new songs, but existing songs with new lyrics added in written by the original composers. This is good news since it sounds like we won’t just be reliving the movie’s story line. The attraction building is getting a complete makeover. Everything has been gutted, minus the track layout. The queue will feature Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post with steamy windows throughout and Oaken himself will occasionally clear steam on the windows to utter a hearty “Yoo-hoo!” to Guests walking by. Construction has been going on all year and it is set to open in the Spring of 2016. Opening with Frozen Ever After will be an expansion to the pavilion itself. Guests will experience the Royal Summerhus, which will be a cabin where Guests can meet Anna and Elsa. The Royal Summerhus will be themed after an actual historic log cabin in Norway, and I expect we’ll see an extra shop or two as well.

Coming soon in the world of movies at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a new ‘themed dining event’ named Club Villain. Club Villain will be coming to the Sunset Showcase building January 16, 2016, replacing the current Club Disney (which could possibly stay during the day). It will be a ‘themed dining event,’ which means Guests will have the chance to mix & mingle with Disney Villains while dining on villain themed food and drink. It sounds as though this could be a buffet and Guests will dine while standing at cocktail tables, similar to last year’s Harambe Nights at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. A DJ will be on the stage and there will be space for Guests to dance while Guests can meet the villains on a personal level. Here is the official press release:

This spellbinding evening features decadent New Orleans delicacies like tender beef striploin rubbed with herbes de Provence, Voodoo sticky “pig wings” with citrus gremolata and spicy shrimp sautéed with Andouille sausage, tomato, okra and onions over creamy polenta. Trick or treat yourself to fiendish cocktail concoctions—specialty alcoholic drinks plus beer and wine—hilarious stage-show numbers and up-close encounters with Disney’s most dastardly doomsday divas. Mix and mingle with mysterious Maleficent, hilarious Queen of Hearts, the delirious Evil Queen and the always fur-fetched Cruella De Vil—and wicked jams from our house DJ!

Now onto two of the biggest announcements all year! Coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios sometime in the future are two new lands: Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land! In Toy Story Land, Guests will be shrunken down to the size of a toy and take an adventure into Andy’s backyard featuring two entirely new attractions: a family-friendly roller coaster themed to Slinky Dog and a spinning attraction themed to the giant claw and the green aliens from the movie where Guests will spin in their own flying saucers. Toy Story Midway Mania will also be adding a third track to help relieve the wait times. No word as to when the third track will open, only that they are behind schedule.

           Star Wars Land will be the largest expansion ever at 14-acres. “I am thrilled to announce the next chapter in the long and exciting history between Disney Parks and Star Wars,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger. “We are creating a jaw-dropping new world that represents our largest single themed land expansion ever. These new lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World will transport Guests to a whole new Star Wars planet, including an epic Star Wars adventure that puts you in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.” The land will include the Mos Eisley Cantina and two signature attractions; one being a Millennium Falcon ride, which will put Guests behind the controls of one of the most recognizable ships in the galaxy as they take on a customized secret mission. Not many more details have been announced. Construction for both lands is said to begin in 2016, but no opening date or year has been given.           And finally, after years of waiting, Disney has announced details for Animal Kingdom’s newest land, Pandora – The World of AVATAR! The land was announced way back in 2011, but it wasn’t even until last year when they broke ground on construction. Pandora’s main attraction, believed to be an E-ticket ride, is officially named Flight of Passage. The ride will be a simulator of some type, probably similar to Soarin’, except Guests will ride in a very different type of seat. On it, Guests will ride a Banshee over the world of Pandora, as seen in the movies. Flight of Passage will be one of two attractions, the other being a boat ride called Na’Vi River Journey, which will be used to introduce Guests not familiar with the movie to the world if Pandora and all it includes. The land is expected to be completed in 2017, which would tie-in with the sequel to the first film. However, reports trickle in that the land is behind schedule, and maybe even over budget a little, so don’t get too attached to that opening date.

Pandora isn’t the only new thing coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In 2016, the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction will receive a new version for nighttime. Named Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris, Guests will have the chance to venture onto the savanna after dark, seeing two new ROLR4896893-550x345species: African wild dogs and hyenas. The savanna will be illuminated in a special way designed by Imagineering to make it appear as a long African sunset! This should be an excellent addition to the park.

The Tree of Life will also be getting a major refurbishment. The leaves will be replaced with new light-up leaves, which will bring a nice glow to the Tree at night and used along with the park’s new nighttime show called Rivers of Light. It will feature live music, floating lanterns, and water screens. The nighttime show will be located on the large portion of river located between Discovery Island, Expedition Everest, and The Finding Nemo Musical building. RPLR5806802-550x311            From the Disney Parks Blog, “In Rivers of Light, a pair of mystical hosts come to the river bearing gifts of light. During the show, the hosts set out from the shore on elaborate lantern vessels for a dramatic dance of water and light to summon animal spirits. With the storytellers as your guides, the wonders build to a stunning crescendo… as the Tree of Life undergoes an amazing awakening and the animal spirits of the tree are brought to ‘light’ by magical fireflies, revealing moments of wonder and enchantment.” It sounds like quite a show and will certainly bring that nighttime entertainment fans of Disney’s Animal Kingdom have been hoping for for years.

There you have it!  2015 was a crazy year for announcements in the theme park industry.  Every time it seemed like they were done announcing upcoming projects, something new and exciting was announced.  Skyplex will be incredible when it is completed and a great addition to International Drive.  Universal is chugging along with its exciting new attractions, and Disney sure has their work cut out for them!  With all of these projects on their way, I can’t even guess what 2016 will have in store for us theme park geeks.  Which new attraction or land are you most excited to see coming to Orlando?

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About Chris DiPaula

Creator of DiPaula on Disney: entertainment website dedicated to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, other Florida parks and activities, and other adventures. Co-creator and producer of Parks, Brews, and Geek News: an entertainment website dedicated to the Florida theme parks including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, movie & geek news, and food and brews. Chris DiPaula has been an avid theme park and amusement park goer since childhood and a die hard Disney fan for as long as he can remember. He is currently an active concierge Cast Member at Walt Disney World Resort and has worked for The Walt Disney Company since 2011. Previously, he worked for Busch Gardens Tampa and SeaWorld Orlando in the entertainment technician field as well.

Posted on December 8, 2015, in Florida Adventures, Park News, Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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