Walt Disney World news

What's new at the Orlando theme parks

Leah Zanolla | Posted: Apr 2, 2007 | Updated: Oct 19, 2014 - 9:25:27 AM
Florida Sun Sentinel - Orlando's theme parks are counting on an invasion of red and green monsters and Blue Men to help draw visitors this spring and summer.

None of the parks will be opening any major new rides, though some are in the works. But SeaWorld Orlando is ready to take the wraps off several new children's rides and a new show based on Sesame Street characters, Walt Disney World will finally open its Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club and Universal Orlando is making room for a permanently installed Blue Man Group show.

Here's what's in store at the Big Three:

SeaWorld

With an eye toward attracting younger children and teens, SeaWorld recently previewed five new kid-friendly attractions.

"SeaWorld is all about the kids and families," spokeswoman Becca Bides said.

Besides the new Elmo and the Bookaneers show opening today, featuring the furry little red creature and other Sesame Street characters, SeaWorld is adding three new children's rides, including a sea life-themed carousel. It's also bringing on Shamu Rocks, a new rock 'n' roll version of the killer-whale show geared more toward teens.

The children's rides effectively double the size of Shamu's Happy Harbor, and Bides said they elevate it from being a children's playground area to a children's destination.

Bides said her park is looking for a strong season.

"We've had especially strong attendance at our Viva la Musica series, and we've seen a great response from parents writing in about our new kids' and family attractions, especially Sesame Street," she said.

Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando announced it is closing a signature ride at Universal Studios, Back to the Future: The Ride, but has not yet announced what will take its place. Whatever will go into that building likely won't be ready for the spring, though a summer opening might not be out of the question.

Instead of new rides, Universal has focused on new entertainment. In December it added a live TV audience show, iVillage Live, to an amphitheater in Islands of Adventure. The show has entrances inside and outside the park; this will be the show's first big season.

And in June, Universal is planning to open the Blue Man Group show, hosting an act that has been a long-running hit in Las Vegas, New York City and other places. The show, a high-energy mixture of mime, special effects and music, is going into a sound stage that Universal has been overhauling into what officials have promised will become a state-of-the-art theater. The performance space will be accessible from Universal CityWalk and Universal Studios

Just as when they visited last year, Universal will be the main draw when Roger Santavicca, his wife, Christine, and three children head to Orlando in May.

"The kids really loved Universal Studios," said Santavicca, 53, of Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

The Santaviccas plan to stay at a hotel at Universal and take advantage of free access to the express area for rides. It's a hotel benefit they used last year.

"We waited in a line for about five minutes .. . where there were lines of people waiting for 40 minutes," Santavicca said.

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World opened two new attractions this winter, the Finding Nemo: The Musical show at Disney's Animal Kingdom and The Living Seas With Nemo and Friends ride at Epcot.

The debut of the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club, originally set for January, was delayed because of technical problems. But Disney has been promising that the Magic Kingdom attraction will be yet another major advancement in theme-park technology.

The show features Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed hero of the 2001 Monsters Inc., who has opened a comedy club to collect laughs that will generate power for the future.

Disney also has reworked an informational ride at the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot, working three Disney characters and a new story line into the ride. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros replaces El Rio Del Tiempo and will feature Donald Duck, Jose Carioca (a parrot) and Panchito (a Mexican charro rooster) from the 1944 Disney film, The Three Caballeros.

But Disney World spokesman Rick Sylvain said this season's biggest draw is likely to be the continuing Year of a Million Dreams campaign, which features thousands of daily random giveaways in and around the theme parks.

"Year of a Million Dreams has really hit its stride," Sylvain said. "There's the chance that guests will possibly be selected for a dream anywhere from getting the front of the Fast Pass line to the spectacular, like a trip around the world, to that night in Cinderella Castle."

For Betsy and Mike Horn of Woodbury, Minn., a trip to Disney in June is looking like a dream vacation.

Their boys, ages 5 and 9, have talked about the park "constantly" since they visited two years ago. This time, the trip will be a surprise.

And if they get picked for something special as part of the Dreams campaign?

"I think they would be very excited," their mom said.

Betsy Horn, 38, said one of the big draws is how Disney treats visitors with disabilities. One of the Horns' children has autism.

"They bend over backwards," she said. "We get on every ride first [with a disability pass]."