From Disney's Hollywood Studios to the new Star Wars-themed Galaxy's Edge and even Legoland, Sesame Street and Busch Gardens, Orlando's theme parks offer tons of things to do for a family vacation, a girls' trip and even a couple's retreat.
By Mary Thurwachter
Six of Central Florida’s theme parks are debuting new rides or major attractions this year and others will or have added new shows. The blockbuster news comes late in August, when the Star Wars-themed Galaxy’s Edge opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It is the most anticipated theme park attraction since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened nine years ago at Universal Orlando.
Three parks added entire new lands — besides Galaxy’s Edge, Legoland opened Lego Movie World and SeaWorld opened Sesame Street world in March. Busch Gardens boasts a new roller coaster this year. Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway, another new ride, is set to open at Hollywood Studios this fall.
Related: Two Disney spots make list of top 100 restaurants in America
New attractions are in the works for both Universal Parks this year, including the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures roller coaster at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Here’s a round-up of new and not-to-be-missed things to see at Central Florida theme parks.1. STAR WARS: GALAXY'S EDGE
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Galaxy’s Edge, the 14-acre Star Wars land opening Aug. 29 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, will have two rides surrounded by a lavishly detailed and forbidding land. Disney folks call it the most ambitious, immersive and advanced attraction ever imagined. Because of the high demand, Disney is opening the land in phases to permit guests to enjoy the unique Star Wars: Galaxy Edge experience. Events for the attraction happen during the third trilogy, following “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” The setting is Black Spire Outpost, the largest settlement on Batuu, a remote planet on the Outer Rim of the Star Wars galaxy. Pretty much forgotten by the mainstream, it has become a refuge for traders, smugglers adventurers and those trying to avoid the First Order. The settlement is named for the petrified remains of its ancient trees.
GALAXY’S EDGE RIDES INCLUDE:
Smugglers Run, which puts guests in the roles of smugglers and members of the flight crew aboard the Millennium Falcon.
Rise of the Resistance, where guests are taken prisoner aboard a Star Destroyer and must fight to escape. (Opening later this year.)
Also in the land: restaurants, a bar and shops with Star Wars merchandise.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is already open at Disneyland in California. Here’s what it looks like:
Disneyland boasts the first full-size replica of Han Solo’s ship, the Millennium Falcon. The Disney World version, coming Aug. 29, will feature the second.
Disney Imagineers worked closely with Lucasfilm to be sure everything about the Millennium Falcon was correct, but this ship isn’t exactly like the one in the movies, because the ride, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, is an immersive experience. If guests’ missions don’t go well, the Falcon may take on visible damage.
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is the anchor attraction, and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will open later this year.
Guests can wander the marketplace of Black Spire Outpost in the newly introduced Batuu, which is on the galaxy’s Outer Rim.
While wandering you can eat authentic food and drink a creative array of beverages — including that Blue Milk fans saw in “A New Hope.”
You can unwind at a very authentic cantina, shop for pets and make your own lightsaber and droid.
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is a ride like nothing ever created at Disney, according to Deadline writers who took a spin at Disneyland.
Related: Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge: Here are the 10 best Easter eggs in the new
Guests enter the cockpit of the iconic Han Solo ship and go on a mission with Hondo Ohnaka. The story of Smuggler’s Run takes place after the events of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Chewbacca has brought the Falcon to Black Spire Outpost for repairs at this spaceport on the edge of the galaxy. In exchange for some much-needed replacement parts, Chewie is lending the Falcon to Hondo Ohnaka, a smuggler looking for the next big score. When guests meet Hondo, he tells them he needs extra flight crews to make some runs for him. Six at a time, guests will able to be a pilot, gunner or engineer and all have responsibilities during the ride — which is essentially the best, large-scale immersive video game you will ever ride. Each experience will be new depending on your role and if you crash the Millennium Falcon or not.2. HAGRID'S MAGICAL CREATURES MOTORBIKE ADVENTURE
The coaster for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will replace the dueling Dragon Challenge coasters that closed two years ago. The new ride highlights the looming Rubeus Hagrid, the half human wizard, half giant who serves as both groundskeeper and gamekeeper at Hogwarts. The ride, a string of motorcycles with sidecars, resembles the one Hagrid rode in one of the Harry Potter movies. To recreate the Forbidden Forest, Universal planted 1,200 live oak trees. Riders can expect to encounter magical creatures like Fluffy, the three-headed dog, Centaurs and Cornish pixies.3. MINNIE AND MICKEY'S RUNAWAY RAILWAY
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
The first Mickey Mouse-themed ride at any Disney park is set to open this fall at Disney World. The Railway will make its home in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which previously housed the Great Movie Ride. It will be a family ride, based on Disney Channel’s “Mickey Mouse” cartoon shorts. As the story goes, Mickey and Minnie hop into their little red car to go on a picnic. As they look inside, they discover that a train running next to them has Goofy as its engineer. Adventure — of the Goofy kind — ensues.4. LIGHTNING MCQUEEN'S RACING ACADEMY
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, a new show, opened on March 31 at Hollywood Studios. The boastful star of “Cars” shares racing tips with help from Mater and Cruz Ramirez. He appears on a giant wrap-around screen with new animation.5. EPCOT FOREVER
The nighttime show “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth” that has been running at Epcot since 1999, will close at the end of summer. A temporary replacement, “Epcot Forever,” will open this fall. Its still unnamed permanent replacement will open in 2020.
View this post on Instagram6. DISNEY'S RIVIERA RESORT
Part of the Disney Vacation Club
Disney’s Riviera Resort (part of the Disney Vacation Club) opens late this year with 300 units ranging from studios to villas that sleep 12. The Riviera is accepting guest reservations for stays beginning in December. The resort took its inspiration from Walt Disney’s travels to Europe and European art. It will be connected to Skyliner.7. DISNEY SKYLINER
Walt Disney World Resort
For a bird’s-eye view of Walt Disney World Resort, Disney Skyliner, a new transportation system, will open this fall. Similar to the aerial gondolas for the Magic Kingdom Skyway, Skyliner will have a hub at the Caribbean Beach Resort and will connect the hotel and several others with Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
Related: Florida History: Before Disney, there was Dick Pope and his Cypress8. TIGRIS
Busch Gardens, which has the largest collection of roller coasters at any Florida theme park, added another one, Tigris, in April. The triple-launch steel coaster sends riders forward and backward at up to 60 miles per hour. After a steep 150-foot climb to the top, the track twists like a ribbon, staying almost level as the car rolls around it sideways. The ride finishes with a large loop. The compact ride, just over 800 feet long, was designed to mimic the agility of a tiger. Tigris is in the space in Stanleyville formerly occupied by the Tanganyika Tidal Wave water ride, which closed three years ago, and is next to Jungala, where the park has Bengal and Malayan tigers.9. SURFSIDE INN AND SUITES
A new 750-room beach-themed (and budget-friendly) hotel called Surfside Inn and Suites opened in June at Universal and is the first of two hotels being constructed on the former location of Universal’s Wet ‘n Wild water park. A second hotel (with 2,050 rooms), Dockside Inn and Suites, has a planned opening in 2020.
View this post on Instagram10. THE NBA EXPERIENCE
On Aug. 12, the NBA Experience, a collaboration between the NBA and Disney, opens at Disney Springs. Guests will find hands-on activities built around professional basketball, including on court action, video and trivia games and photo opps.11. LEGO MOVIE WORLD
Lego Movie World opened in March at Legoland in space previously occupied by the World of Chima. Lego Movie World recreated the town of Bricksburg, which was the setting for “The Lego Movie.” Expect to get wet at the former Quest for Chi, rethemed as the Battle of Bricksburg, with Chi’s water cannons used to fend off invading Duplo aliens. The other two rides are new. Masters of Flight is a flying theater, similar to Soarin’ at Epcot. Suspended on Emmet’s Triple Decker Flying Couch in front of a virtual screen, guests will have an adventure with characters from “The Lego Movie” and its sequel, “The Lego Movie 2,” which opened Feb. 8. Unikitty’s Disco Drop is a child-sized drop tower, based on “The Lego Movie” character, a princess that is half kitten, half unicorn. The ride swoops guests to the top of Cloud Cuckoo Land, then drops, spins and bounces them back down to earth.12. SESAME STREET
At SeaWorld, Sesame Street, which replaces Shamu’s Happy Harbor, opened in March and is oriented toward toddlers and very young kids. The six rides are former Happy Harbor rides that have been re-themed. One example, Shamu Express, a steel-rail coaster that rose 30 feet high and moved at 28 miles an hour, is now Super Grover’s Box Car Derby. Re-themed rides, besides Super Grover’s Box Car Derby, include Abby’s Flower Tower, a swing tower; Slimey’s Slider; Cookie Drop, a drop tower; Elmo’s Choo Choo Train; and Big Bird’s Twirl ’n’ Whirl.
View this post on Instagram13. KAREKARE CURL
Aquatica’s newest waterslide, KareKare Curl, opened April 12 at SeaWorld. At the beginning of this year, Aquatica became the first water park in the world to become a Certified Autism Center. The same designation later was awarded to SeaWorld and Discovery Cove.
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