Many people wait with bated breath for the opening of theme park expansions that are still years away. [Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land, anyone?] But, in truth, 2017 has more than a few things to get us excited. So before we let another day of the new year go by, we thought we’d let you know our top ten list of things to debut in Orlando’s theme parks in 2017. Shall we?
10. GARDEN ROCKS DINING PACKAGES AT EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FLOWER & GARDEN FESTIVAL
If I were to say that I was too young to enjoy this concert series built around classic rock groups, I would be telling you a whopper so huge that Burger King would be asking to buy the rights to it. It’s true that some of these bands predate my birth, but year after year I still line up hours ahead of time to make sure I get a good seat for their shows. [Peter Noone, I’m looking at you!] The cool thing is that now I won’t have to because dining packages are debuting this year at Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, beginning March 1 and running through May 29.
For those that are woefully behind, dining packages have been a popular choice for years at attractions like Candlelight Processional and Fantasmic. The package (which must be purchased separately) allows guests to choose from a list of select restaurants and dates for a “dinner and a show” type of combination. The best part is that the show portion comes with reserved seating and, therefore, minimal wait. Now, these dining packages are being introduced to one of my favorite concert series at Epcot, and that means that this year I will be watching Peter with less perspiration, more satisfaction, and a much bigger smile.
9. MORE DINING AT DISNEY SPRINGS
Many of these restaurants were supposed to open in 2016, but it looks like 2017 is going to be their year instead. Planet Hollywood Observatory, Paddlefish, The Polite Pig, Wine Bar George, and The Edison are all slated to open their doors this year, making Disney Springs one of the best places in Orlando to dine in style.
8. EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS
We are back at Epcot again, and why not? We can’t help it if they pack their calendar with incredible stuff. This festival, though, is brand new this year. January 13 marks the beginning of this inaugural event that will showcase masterpieces in the areas of visual, culinary, and performing arts. With its entire line-up of performing artists announced, we can’t deny that Epcot International Festival of the Arts has the potential to create some buzz throughout its five-week run. And 2017 will mark the year that it all began.
7. LEGO NINJAGO WORLD AT LEGOLAND FLORIDA RESORT
It’s playsets. It’s a video game. It’s a television series, a film, and now it will be an entire land complete with an interactive attraction at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. LEGO NINJAGO World is about to rock this park that is #BuiltForKids when it opens on January 12. Themed after the popular brand of toys, LEGO NINJAGO World promises to be an immersive area with many hands-on, outdoor activities and a ride that combines 3D animation, “4D” special effects, and technology that is exclusive to LEGOLAND theme parks — all of it created to help you #BecomeTheNinja.
6. MISS FORTUNE FALLS AT TYPHOON LAGOON
It is not often that you hear of a new attraction being put into a Disney Water Park, which is one of the reasons that this catches attention. The other reason is that the new raft ride, destined for Typhoon Lagoon, is planned to be one of the longest water park attractions with its two-minute journey. Being given the name Miss Fortune Falls, the attraction takes guests through a series of whitewater rapids in the hopes of discovering the spoils of treasure hunter Captain Mary Oceaneer.
5. MAGICKEEPERS AND MAGICBAND 2
MagicBand 2 technically debuted at the end of 2016, but the accessories intended to accompany this new generation of bands won’t hit shelves until some time this year. The accessories, known as MagicKeepers, are intended to give guests the option of carrying the RFID portion of the band in ways other than around their wrists. Carabiners and keychain holders have been the alternatives provided in which the center of the MagicBand 2 can be attached. The few designs presented so far are simple but cute, and — more importantly — they offer convenience without discomfort.
4. KRAKEN VIRTUAL REALITY COASTER EXPERIENCE AT SEAWORLD ORLANDO
The Kraken coaster has been at SeaWorld Orlando for years, but it is getting an upgrade in 2017. That upgrade will actually turn this traditional roller coaster into Central Florida’s very first virtual-reality coaster experience. Fitted with VR headgear, guests will be treated to the incredible thrill that rollercoasters have always provided; however, now they will also be able to move through a story of secrets and sea monsters that lie deep within the ocean. While guests will still have the option to ride the coaster without the VR portion, this headgear will allow for a much fuller experience if chosen. It will simulate a visual experience that coordinates with the real-time physical movements of the track and give an actual story to what is otherwise a simple thrill ride. We like!
3. RACE THROUGH NEW YORK STARRING JIMMY FALLON AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO
When this attraction was first announced, the concept was met with mild interest at best. The idea of a “flying theater” that races around the city of New York felt a bit out of touch and Universal fans didn’t quite grab hold of it — initially. However, as the reconstruction of the old Twister…Ride it Out building began to take shape and behind-the-scenes footage was released, theme park enthusiasts began to seek out more details for Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. Now with its opening scheduled for this spring, the anticipation for this brand new attraction continues to grow and lands the #3 spot on our Top 10 list for 2017. Alright, Jimmy, we will ride with you!
2. VOLCANO BAY AT UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT
This one is a biggie, folks because it is an entirely new park. Universal Orlando Resort is opening the third gate this summer, Volcano Bay. After the closure of the well-worn Wet ‘n Wild just days ago, Volcano Bay has been called to fill in the gap. Honestly, there is no doubt that it will.
Not only will this new water park provide incredible tropical theming, exciting thrill rides, and a refreshing escape from Florida’s sweltering climate, Universal has promised it will all be done without the nightmare of long lines. Tapu Tapu Wearables, wristbands given to guests upon entry to this park, will enable “virtual waiting.” That isn’t all though, they will also trigger interactive features placed throughout the water park much like the interactive wands do for Diagon Alley. Man, we love that kind of stuff! And with the opening of this impressive park drawing ever closer, we think it will inspire even the “swimsuit shy” to don some trunks.
1. PANDORA — THE WORLD OF AVATAR AT ANIMAL KINGDOM
Come on! Did you really expect anything else to take this spot?! Breaking ground two years ago, Pandora (aka Avatar Land) has been quite a controversial choice for Disney. Just as the announcement of the Jimmy Fallon attraction initially fell short of expectations, a new land-based on an outdated movie failed to excite even the loyal fanbase of Disney Parks. This, however, has changed.
With every new reveal, whether it be the incredible concept art for the restaurants, details of the new AVATAR Flight of Passage attraction, or the first look at the captivating animatronics in place for the Na’vi River Journey, Walt Disney World has been steadily making the case for this fantasy land in its Animal Kingdom park. It is safe to say that it now has a solid base of advocates and enthusiasts that cannot wait until that bridge to Pandora is finally open to the public. I am among them.
In addition to the exquisite detail being put into the construction of this land, the “education of conservation” is a natural and seamless extension of the Animal Kingdom park’s overarching theme. But beyond what is already established, how about if we consider the revolutionary concept for a zoological park to give guests the ability (without the use of VR equipment and nausea it can induce) to walk/sail/fly among a population of creatures that exist only in our imaginations? In truth, I wish I could shake the hand of the individual who first approached Disney with this idea. And if you still aren’t convinced…well, Joe Rhode. That is all. Case closed.