January 2012: In 2012, Disney’s upgrades can be found mainly in the Magic Kingdom as part of the Fantasyland expansion, which is a huge undertaking. But Universal is upgrading some rides in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, while SeaWorld also has attractions debuting. Expect a lot of small upgrades – Orlando constantly changes – but the big ones are listed below:
1. Fantasyland Expansion, Disney’s Magic Kingdom. While Fantasyland is a single “land” within Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the expanded version essentially has “mini-lands” within it. One of those mini-lands debuts this summer: Storybook Circus. Located in the same area as the former Mickey’s Toontown Fair (and the no-longer-here Minnie and Mickey’s house), a relocated Dumbo ride anchors the circus theme, with a second identical Dumbo ride added. Storybook Circus also hosts a kid’s roller coaster – a re-do that operated as The Barnstormer in Toontown now transformed into the Great Goofini.
2. Fantasyland part 2, Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Later in the year – probably after the summer crowds go home – additional areas located behind Cinderella’s Castle are slated to open, though rides sometimes get postponed as glitches surface close to opening day. Disney plans to roll out some major ones, however: Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid and a restaurant, Be Our Guest, themed to Beauty and the Beast.
3. NextGen (Next Generation Experience), Walt Disney World. Disney’s great experiment and big expense ($1 billion or so) rolls out slowly. The company ultimately wants to put guests in the driver’s seat, allowing them to enter rides without turnstiles, reserve Fast Passes (or a version of Fast Pass) from home before they depart, and more. NextGen is both a hands-on experience for guests and a crowd control tool for Disney.
4. Despicable Me, Universal Studios. Universal periodically updates a cartoon ride near the entrance, and Despicable Me – based on the movie of the same name – replaces Jimmy Neutron. Guests will sit theater style but individual sections rise, dip, and tilt in time to a movie playing in front. One big upgrade since Jimmy Neutron, however: The movie is now 3-D.
5. Spiderman, Universal Studios. Ten years ago, Spiderman impressed guests with its innovative use of 3-D filming that accompanied a moving car. A special effect toward the end – falling off a skyscraper – still ranks as one of the best tricks in Orlando. While Universal won’t tinker with the ride’s bones, it’s revamping the 3-D and bringing the still-great ride into the 21st Century.
6. TurtleTrek, SeaWorld. SeaWorld is revamping older attractions, and a sea turtle exhibit replaces the manatees. True to Orlando theme parks, however, the new exhibit, called “first of its kind,” will project 3-D turtles and surround guests under a circular overhead movie screen.
7. Freshwater Oasis, Discovery Cove. This upscale SeaWorld park expanded its salt-water environments already; this year it adds a freshwater area with freshwater fish and manatees. (Probably moved from the now-gone manatee exhibit at SeaWorld that the turtles took over.) Guests continue to interact directly with sea creatures, a perk found only in limited quantities in SeaWorld itself.
Coming in 2013
- Fantasyland part 3, Disney’s Magic Kingdom. An indoor coaster based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs debuts, along with other attractions.
- Penguins, SeaWorld. The ride does not yet have a name, but a major expansion of SeaWorld’s penguin exhibit should open next year.
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, part 2, Universal Orlando. No date has been set, no timelines announce, no location specified – but Universal has confirmed a second theme park area for the boy wizard. Current rumors focus on an area within Universal Studios where the now-gone Jaws ride once offered ominous sailing.