What’s New? Lots in Orlando

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SeaWorld Orlando’s Mako ride opens June 10.
SeaWorld Orlando’s Mako ride opens June 10.

Did you hear that? No? Listen, it’s getting closer. I think we need to make a run for it…King Kong is on our heels….

Yes, you’ve got it…this summer, Universal Orlando Resort will debut the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride, and it’s going to be massive (yes, of course, pun’s intended). For this 3D experience, located at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and said to be one of the longest Universal ride experiences ever created, guests will board a 40-ft.-long, 17-ton expedition vehicle that “will do what no other Universal ride vehicle can do and take them where no other vehicle can go,” press statements reveal. “It will be,” the statement continues, “one of the most immersive and realistic ride experiences on Earth—all within one of the most immersive and realistic theme park experiences ever created.”

But it’s not just King Kong that’s coming a-knockin’. Hello Kitty has now found a home at Universal Studios with the Hello Kitty Shop, featuring a Hello Kitty Town, a Hello Kitty Sweet Yummy Shop, a Hello Kitty Lounge, and Hello Kitty at the Movies, the latter showcasing the character with a classic movie theater backdrop.

Later this year, CityWalk will debut the Toothsome Chocolate Factory & Savory Feast Emporium, a full-service restaurant with an array of gourmet-level chocolates and desserts. It’s styled after a 19th century, Steampunk-era chocolate factory, complete with towering smokestacks, tanks, piping and other equipment for chocolate production.

For hotel stays, clients can opt for Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando’s Amplified package, available through Dec. 31. The package includes a behind-the-scenes look at the music memorabilia via a personalized, VIP tour; a pre-reserved Fender guitar for in-room jam sessions; free access to select live entertainment venues at CityWalk for the length of the stay; and more. Rates start at $192 per night.

And although Halloween might seem like it’s way off in the distance, the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort Halloween Horror Nights package is already available for booking. This 3-night package includes accommodations at this, the newest of Universal Orlando’s hotels, 2-day Park-to-Park ticket; early park admission one hour before the theme park opens; 1-night admission to Halloween Horror Nights (Sunday to Friday); access to select live entertainment venues at CityWalk; and more. Bookings are available through May 31, for travel Sept. 16 to Oct. 31; rates start at $209 per night.

Star Wars, Toy Story & More
There’s also a plethora of new happenings at Walt Disney World, from new distinctive character areas at various parks—think “Avatar,” “Frozen,” “Toy Story” and “Star Wars,” too—to adult fun, including the revamped Cirque du Soleil show, “La Nouba.” A visit to the Awaken Summer media event in April, “awakened” me to all of Disney’s new products set to launch in 2016 and in the coming years.

For example, Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney, is made up of four neighborhoods, including Town Center, set to open this month, that traverse over 150 years of Florida history. This entertainment district has added new eateries such as The Hangar, where the decoration, including airplane artifacts, will keep your clients and their little ones in awe, as well as new shops such as Vera Bradley, UNIQLO, and World of Disney, the largest Disney character store in the U.S. with 12 rooms.

For parents with little gamers, recommend adding DisneyQuest to their itinerary. This interactive venue, also located in Disney Springs, is made up of five floors filled with virtual worlds, 3D encounters, and over 200 classic arcade games. Also keep in mind that admission to DisneyQuest is included with some ticket types; and children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is all about the new Star Wars-themed attractions, including the Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away stage show and a First Order Stormtroopers march led by Captain Phasma—both do-not-miss experiences. There’s also a new nightly fireworks show, Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular, that incorporates music and scenes from the “Star Wars” saga, and visitors have the opportunity to meet Chewbacca and Kylo Ren from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

The highly successful “Toy Story” storyline will be getting its own 11-acre land. Guests will be transported to Andy’s backyard filled with oversized toys such as building blocks, plastic buckets and shovels, and game board pieces. Toy Story Land will feature two new attractions including a family-friendly
Slinky Dog roller coaster and an aliens’ saucer attraction.

Over at Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s Castle will serve as the backdrop for Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire this June, and speaking of princesses, this August guests will be able to meet the newest Disney Princess, Princess Elena of Avalor. But that’s not all that’s in store for Disney’s princesses. Epcot’s Norway Pavilion is getting a revamp to represent Arendelle, home to Princess Anna and Elsa, based on the real-life town of Arendal in Norway. This new area will include a new ride, Frozen Ever After, and a Royal Summerhus where guests will be able to meet Princesses Anna and Elsa.

Animal Kingdom is transitioning to an all-day park this summer, offering nighttime Kilimanjaro Safaris rides, as well as the Expedition Everest roller coaster ride that gives a new meaning to thrills and chills when ridden at night. And Joe Rohde, the Imagineer behind Animal Kingdom, agrees, saying that, “Expedition Everest is, of course, completely crazy in the dark.”

Animal Kingdom will also welcome the Rivers of Light nighttime experience featuring floating lanterns and swirling animal imagery, as well as the Tree of Life, which will come alive at night. And starting this Memorial Day Weekend, the new show, The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, will debut on the Discovery River.

Mako Rising
Over at SeaWorld Orlando, Orlando’s tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster will open on June 10. Mako, which will be the centerpiece of the new 2-acre shark-themed realm that will also include Shark Encounter, Sharks Underwater Grill, gift shops, and shark- and shipwreck-themed educational experiences, will have riders soaring up 200 ft. and reaching speeds up to 73 mph, taking them on tight turns and steep drops.

Contact Information
SeaWorld Orlando: seaworldparks.com/travelagents
Universal Orlando Resort: universaltravelagents.com
Walt Disney World: disneytravelagents.com