Orlando theme parks announce expansions
The theme-park capital of the world keeps getting bigger.
In the past several months, Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando have all announced projects to expand their resorts in the near future.
The additions come as competition continues to brew between the three major resorts, with each aiming to encourage a spike in tourism with their latest park renovations.
"[They] are a reflection of the importance each company places on staying competitive," said UCF senior Jonathan Reyes, an annual pass holder at all three theme parks.
At Universal Orlando, the resort has set plans for a new water park, a Nintendo partnership and the resurgence of King Kong.
Volcano Bay, the soon-to-be sixth water park in Central Florida, is slated to open in 2017 as the "resort's third incredibly immersive park," according to a Universal Orlando press release.
The park is currently being constructed on 53 acres of land just south of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
And while full details have yet to be released, a rendering does show a towering volcano with a walkway, a waterfall and slides. It will also include a lazy river and a rapids ride.
Nintendo and Universal Parks and Resorts announced that they would be partnering to create Nintendo-based attractions at its parks.
Though it's uncertain at the moment what the attractions will be, their deal did break uncharted territory in the realm of bringing video games to life.
"Every new addition or change brings a new buzz to the parks and, in turn, more people," said Serena Cohen, who works at The Three Broomsticks at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. "It's always exciting to see how these new additions will fit into the already existing Universal family."
Skull Island: Reign of King Kong is scheduled to open as one of the largest attractions at Islands of Adventure next summer and is being built in collaboration with Peter Jackson, the famed director of the 2005 blockbuster King Kong.
The attraction, which will open near Jurassic Park next year, will be part of a dramatically themed environment that will give guests a face-to-face encounter with the colossal gorilla using new enhanced technology, according to the release.
In a promotional video, the reboot of the former Kongfrontation will feature a "fully immersive experience" that takes guests into the depths of King Kong's world — from discovering ancient caves to fending off jungle creatures on a large 72-seat truck.
"King Kong is a Hollywood movie legend and a huge part of both our history and our future," said Executive Producer of Universal Creative Mike West. "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."
Mako at SeaWorld Orlando is already hyping up to be the most daring roller coaster for summer 2016. The coaster, named for the shark breed, is expected to be the fastest at 73 mph, highest with a 200-foot peak and longest, reaching one mile, in the Orlando area.
"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."
In Disney's Norway Pavilion in Epcot, Anna and Elsa will be bringing their "Frozen" magic to a meet-and-greet attraction that will be taking the place of Maelstrom in 2016.
The name of the attraction, Frozen Ever After, was released last Tuesday by Disney Parks along with a first look at what's to come. The attraction will transport guests to the kingdom of Arendelle for the Winter in Summer Celebration, as well as feature favorite moments and music from the movie and a royal greeting from the characters.
At the entertainment districts of Disney and Universal, Downtown Disney and CityWalk have both enhanced their venues.
The NBA Experience at Downtown Disney — soon to be rebranded to Downtown Springs — will be a new NBA-themed attraction that includes a restaurant, store and several interactive experiences. It's expected to open in 2016 and will be roughly triple the size of NBA City at Universal's CityWalk, which did not renew its lease past Aug. 31.
Universal media coordinator Denielle Cox said Universal decided not to renew the lease for NBA City in order to make room for an exciting new concept for that space that will be announced soon. NBA City is scheduled to close in late August.
In the meantime, NBC Sports Grill & Brew will become the new sports-driven restaurant at CityWalk, set to open this fall with more than 90 screens and 100 different beers. The new eatery will take over the former NASCAR Sports Grille that closed last November.
Cohen admits that while she's been working at Universal for three years, she still finds herself excited to see the park on her days off.
"The future for Universal looks bright, innovative and very fun," she said.
Reyes said he thinks the expansion for Disney Springs will keep more people on Disney property and that drastic changes to attractions such as Mako will get him to buy a SeaWorld ticket.
"I think the changes will encourage even more tourists to visit Orlando," he said. "The additions will raise ticket prices. [But] if history repeats itself, the increase in prices will not deter people from visiting."
Brian Goins is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @byBrianGoins or email him at BrianG@CentralFloridaFuture.com
Daniela Marin is the Entertainment Coordinator for the Central Florida Future.