With so much happening in and Orlando the area you owe to yourself to discover what is out there beyond the big 3!
The “World’s Largest Entertainment” McDonald’s is opening in…where else…Orlando. It is replacing the previous one that formerly had the same distinction.
In Orlando, of course.
Mecca of the theme parks. More than any of them anywhere in the world.
Of course, the new Mickey D does not, repeat not, just have cheese burgers and milk shakes. It has Panini sandwiches and fresh, hand-tossed pasta. Also “gourmet breakfasts.”
All of which raises the question:
Could the food here be far better than that you would get at the theme parks?
Is that possible?
The answer: maybe.
Can McDonald’s be Five Stars?
This news might also make you consider: where are you eating today?
The subject of food at a theme park is a popular one.
Not always a happy one.
“Don’t eat there,” is one blogger suggestion.
“Don’t eat at a theme park unless you’re desperate,” urges another.
If you look at customer park ratings, this is a big issue. And even those who give high marks overall too many parks often complain that the food flunks out.
Even when there is praise for an eatery, it is often not quite enthusiastic.
Typical was what a blogger said about Universal’s Confisco Grille:
“Not bad for a theme park” is among the most positive comments you will find.
This is not always fair, of course.
Epcot at Disney gets some praise.
The Sunshine Seasons food court at the Land pavilion offers decent food at generally affordable prices.
Epcot’s French Pavilion is almost always highly recommended.
For even more expensive tastes, Jiko at Animal Kingdom has near $50 steaks. But if you’re willing to pay the price, make it medium-rare.
The simple answer to the food park issue is to bring your own food and drink.
Bottled water. No problem. Good anywhere. Anytime.
And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are loved by everyone. But they do get soggy in the hot sun.
If you want to leave the park for a meal, there are a lot of negative associations.
Some say don’t do it at all. The main reason is the high price you are paying to just be in the park. So in a sense, you can’t afford to leave it.
Face it: frantically scurrying for rides (with or without tugging young ones on a leash) is a tense business.
So sitting down for a meal is a real break. But if you just rush the occasion, it tends to lose its attraction. No time to relax.
So if you don’t want to bring your meals, and you still want to keep some enjoyment from eating, here’s your solution: leave the park.
So where do you go? And if you don’t live here, what ads or internet claims should make you consider?
Try something else. Locals.
We asked these amateur critics what they did for meals when they left the theme parks.
The answer was sometimes no surprise: fast food.
You want it quick to get back
But these were not necessarily the fast food places you already know like Mickey D and Burger King.
Our request also turned up some unusual dining places like bowling alleys and ice cream stands.
But first, keep in mind we asked for places near the theme parks…you do want to get back quickly.
One of the most popular chains was one you may not know about unless you live here: Tijuana Flats. Good burritos and Tostitos. Cheap.
But reasons for its popularity go beyond that.
It has a feel-food story that is well-known to locals.
It started with a bar-loving college kid at the University of Central Florida. Back in 1985, he was typical of his breed: low on money.
When he decided to start a low cost tex-mex place, he turned to his father, of course. Dad loaned him $20,000.
But the story gets even better when he became successful.
Dad left a 30-year career at a Fortune 500 company to become CFO of Tijuana Flats.
It has now grown to more than 100 restaurants.
But you might want to try it for other reasons: price, quick service, and good taste, locals say.
CiCi’s is another chain that has grown even faster.
It is even more of a case where price is king.
Two Texas men founded it in 1985. Today, it has more than 500 locations. It has been named at times the fastest growing pizza chain in the US.
It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet with more than a dozen kinds of pizza. Freshly baked pizza with a wide choice of toppings, pastas with hearty marinara or creamy Alfredo sauces. Also, an expansive salad bar with lots of fresh veggies. Gooey cinnamon rolls or other dessert items.
Warning: not all items offered here are the most healthy, but you are on vacation.
Prices: sometimes less than $5, or $5-$7. Several locations nearby.
This has led CiCi’s to win local visitors but also awards from Consumer Choice and other places.
Locals may like it but they love another place, the Golden Corral chain.
The chain says its seemingly endless buffet is “legendary.”
It has just about everything from slow-cooked pot roast and steaks to fried chicken. Many dishes such as mashed potatoes and meat loaf are made-from-scratch. Vegetables are plentiful though overcooked. Kids love the chocolate fountain and cotton candy (yes, also on the item). And desserts are plentiful, also home-made (don’t expect large portions but you can get as many as you want).
It also serves breakfast.
And the price? Desserts alone would cost far more than most places.
Under $10 for most adults.
Desserts include ice cream.
Speaking of ice cream, locals know a place you should, too. Twistee Treat. You can’t miss it because the actual stand is a house-size ice cream cone. Soft ice cream. A small chain with locations near you. Unfortunately, no sandwiches, but you did bring those peanut and butter ones, no?
You may already know about another all-you-can eat chain, Sweet Tomatoes, and Panera’s, which is basically a soup and sandwich place. Sweet Tomatoes prides itself on fresh food, and it is that. But even with several kinds of soup, with salads it’s ok for dieters but lacks the heavier choices hungry tourists need for fuel. Prices are also getting up there. As for Panera’s, it does offer fresh bread and somewhat watery soup, and it is good for a quick stop, so you might consider it.
Not so with the Ponderosa chain. Getting harder and harder to find. No wonder.
Both service and quality are poor. If you can even find one, skip it.
For something more exotic, and less expensive, try the Ararat Euro Food & Bistro on Universal Boulevard. The food is Russian and Polish, but it’s familiar to you as “borscht, pierogi, schnitzel” and “cabbage rolls.”
Another appealing place to locals is no surprise because it’s a tavern. Marlow's Tavern, which calls itself the 'Best of the Best' in bar food. Its Pointe Orlando location is both warm and modern. There’s comfortable outdoor setting. Lots of TVs. Basic bar or sandwich-oriented food. And a good and inexpensive kids’ menu.
So go to a tavern or a bowling alley.
In the latter case…locals say King’s Bowl may be the best meal you will ever get to the surrounding serenade of crashing tenpins. Usual stuff. Pizza. Milkshakes. Fries. But also glazed sea scallops and house-smoked baby back ribs.
Huge menu, small prices
A huge menu. But almost all low prices. But come early. It gets crowded.
Here’s another place you may not have heard of. Café Tu Tu Tango.
An artsy name, but why not?
All the art on the walls is for sale.
Founded in 1991 by three friends who had just returned from a trip together to Barcelona, Spain. They loved seeing poets and artists and just about everyone scribbling notes and sketches while eating small plates of tapas. They brought the idea to Orlando (along with the art). No quick food here, but expect spontaneous entertainment.
For ribs served outdoor picnic style, try Bubbalou’s Bodacious BBW. He’s a real cook, a big man you can imagine sitting down to a huge meal, and his food is popular throughout the area. Pulled pork and typical BBQ style with down-home collard greens.
If you want to spend a little more (ok, a lot more) in a quiet place where you can relax and savor a slower meal, here are three choices:
Maggiano’s Little Italy. Yes, it is also part of a chain. But a small one. Great service. Specialty pastas may be the best anywhere. Try Rigatoni D in a Marsala Cream Sauce.
Bravo! Few tourists are found here but so what? Wouldn’t you rather dine with locals? More traditional Italian recipes with excellent pasta and flat breads.
Seasons 52. Just as the Golden Corral is the all-you-can-eat champ, so it this place when it comes to expensive and gourmet dining. But it also has terrific vegetables (you may realize for the first time how good vegetables can be when perfectly cooked). Also very good for dieters, since all dishes come with calorie counts. Some of us might not like to be reminded, but because so many dishes are low in fat, you won’t regret knowing about them.
There are admittedly only a few examples of alternatives to theme park food. But if you want more choices, do what we did: ask the locals.
Or wait for McDonald’s. The new one, with that record entertainment level, is due to open next year. ###
Whether or not you are a world traveler or more inclined to make your visits only to local attractions, you might want to know what The World Travelers of America suggests when visiting a theme park.
But first: consider the source.
What is WTA (World Travelers of America) anyway?
It has been called a “tremendous resource” for anyone interested in travel offering “numerous benefits.”
The site says it has the same goals most travelers have: “safety, affordability, and hassle-free fun travel.” It also offers benefits not available unless you come up with the special $19 rate to join as a card-carrying member.
The WTA also offers discounts on theme parks and other attractions.
Sorry, no Disney discounts
But no, not for Disney or Universal.
And there is no advice here whether or not to join, but their theme park suggestions were viewed by some frequent visitors who had these comments.
For water parks, WTA says “Protect your wallet from the deluge of water rides by sealing it in a freezer bag before your ride.” And: “Bring a spare pair of shoes to leave in your car in case one pair gets wet during your day at the park.”
Comments: These are two time-tested and often cited suggestions. Good advice for both as long as you have a spare pair of shoes. You might also consider wearing comfortable shoes because you will almost certainly walk far more than you ever dreamed, but again, that is not surprising to anyone.
When the rides are closed
WTA: “Is your family looking forward to a specific ride? To avoid disappointment, call the park ahead of time to see if any of the big rides will be closed due to scheduled maintenance during your stay.” Also: “Don’t let your child be disappointed because he doesn’t meet a ride’s height restriction. Do the research ahead of time to find out about any restrictions, and to read about scary elements. Then let them know which rides they can expect to go on.”
Comments: Theme park surveys have found that guest numbers do not drop off significantly when major attractions are closed. But there are good reasons for that. Attractions are seldom closed. And all theme parks try to schedule major renovation work during the slowest time of the year. General times to avoid this type of worry: often between the Christmas holiday and spring break or in the fall, after the peak summer season. To notify guests about closures, theme parks generally post signs near their ticket booths and on their websites, listing the attractions that are under repair. But what experienced theme park visitors also realize is that such closings may lead to vastly improved rides. That is a Disney tradition called “plussing.” For example, when “It’s a Small World” was closed for about a year in 2008, it reopened with a new scene that depicted the “Spirit of America,” a relocated rain forest and 29 added Disney and Pixar characters. Likewise, Space Mountain also underwent upgrades when it was closed for more than two years, from 2003 to 2005, for a massive overhaul. Of course, the really bad time is when you arrive and a familiar ride is down. Nothing could be as bad (or as good) as the popular film “National Lampoon's Vacation.” The Griswold family, led by Chevy Chase, faced many perils while traveling cross country to Walley World. It was closed when they arrived, of course, but re-opened just for them. No re-opening is likely if that happened to you, but parks do not close suddenly like that without a lot of notice.
What to do about getting wet
Weather, including inclement conditions, as well as sunny days, are topics for WTA. “Downpours are common during sultry Central Florida afternoons. If you want to keep to your schedule and not get stuck inside, be prepared for the showers by bringing along lightweight rain gear.” Also: “Don’t ruin a vacation by getting sunburned. Cover your body with a strong sunscreen several times throughout the day, especially after water rides. “
Regular daily showers in Central Florida, at least, are usually confined to spring and summer. These don’t usually last long -- not more than minutes. You will dry quickly. Fall and winter weather is far more often cool and dry. Rain gear never hurts to have around. But don’t let that prevent you from sun protection. That is something to be considered year-round.
WTA also has some ideas for theme park parades. “Stand at the beginning of the parade route and enjoy the show. Then, while the crowd along the rest of the route is watching the parade, you’ll have seen it all and can scoot to visit rides with shorter lines. Be sure to stand on the side of the street the rides are on, since you won’t be able to cross through the parade route.
Nothing here you almost certainly already know.
So eat fast, no?
Reduce the time spent in amusement park concession stands and restaurants by planning to eat your meal either before or after standard meal times, recommends WTA. “Then when most other people are eating, you can enjoy shorter lines for the attractions.”
The use of the word “enjoy” when it comes to any line is difficult to swallow. But while it is obvious, there may be some folks who need reminding.
On a hot day in a theme park, don’t forget to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, WTA says. “The cost for a bottle may be higher than you’d normally pay, but the benefits to your body will make you glad you did.”
The cost for water or anything at the parks is high enough so that it is always a good idea to bring your own supply whenever you can,
What NOT to buy
“Theme park gift shops offer many tempting goodies,” says WTA, But, don’t get weighed down carrying around packages all day. Check to see if the park will either hold your purchases for you to pick up at the front gate as you leave, deliver the items to your hotel, or provide a locker in which you can place the packages. If not, shop at the very end of the day while most people are exiting the park.
Nothing wrong with that.
Get a National Park Pass this year, urges the group. For $80, you and your family gain free entrance into national parks, monuments, historic sites, and national wildlife refuges for a one-year period.
Little question that is a good deal, at least for frequent national park- goers. As for its theme park discounts, as we said, no breaks for Disney or Universal, and you’ll have to make up your own mind to follow their advice or whether to join the organization itself. ###
If you were visiting here from somewhere in Europe, say England, you might already know that you have to drive on the wrong side of the road. But would you be prepared for the climate?
Hot, almost all of the time. But not always.
So much so that you need a light jacket, at least at times.
But you probably are not a foreign visitor from, say, somewhere in Europe.
Still, there are still a lot of things that might surprise you -- even if you are far more familiar with the generally chilly climate of Boston, Mass than rain-dominated London, England
Let’s say you are coming here for the very first time?
What might surprise you or even…dare we say the word?...shock you?
This is not meant in any way to discourage visitors, and it probably will not and should not.
After all, almost 60 million tourists a year come here, making it the theme park-visitors capital of the world.
But on the other hand, why not consider the realities…shocking or otherwise?
Not all of these surprises are bad, however.
Some very positive things you’ll find here are the range of cuisines, the beer selection (a great craft beer scene) and the fact you only need casual clothes not just in Orlando but anywhere in Florida. T-shirts and shorts are “in,” out are “ties and tuxedos.”
Even more important perhaps...
The vast majority of people here are accustomed to visitors (not really surprising, since most residents are strangers themselves, immigrants from other states).
If you need directions, or just a friendly chat, you don’t have to visit a theme park to find it. Given cheerfully.
So you need to never be afraid of asking for any help.
And let’s also face this: some things are both bad and good.
On the roads, for example, you will find the access ramps for getting onto the area’s main street, I-4, are often too short to keep up and blend into fast-moving traffic. But on the other hand, drivers can turn right after a full stop (a definite time-saving convenience).
And the sunshine is justly much advertised. But it can be wet as well. And sun protection is as necessary as food and water.
So now let’s get to the climate now.
Hot, hot, hot
It is hot much of the year (why do you think the inventors of air conditioning are regarded as heroes in the entire so-called Sunshine State?).
In fact, it’s hot practically all of the time.
Sure, the guide books tell you it is sunshine all year round. And it is.
In nearby St. Petersburg, the local newspaper used to give away free copies when the sun failed to make a daily appearance.
But it’s also hot, almost 100 degrees in the long summers that stretch into what might be fall or even early winter months in climates such as Boston or New York.
Don’t take our word for it.
Let’s consider what British people tell other brits at a Web site just for visitors from there.
“British tourists and sun starved Europeans may be somewhat bemused to see large numbers of locals heading for the shade at the first sign of a few rays. Life without air conditioning is for many here unthinkable and breaking sweat walking around town is strictly for the birds. Make no mistake, the locals love their sunshine, but perhaps more in January and February than July and August.”
For anyone visiting in the long summer, you will simmer unless you have good sunblock applied more often than once a day. SPF 30 is recommended for those with milk-bottle-coloring.
Heat AND rain
Then, there’s the rainy season.
The best advice: Don’t forget to bring an umbrella or raincoats or just buy one of those plastic, foldable, slip-on raincoats during almost half of the year.
Do you now want the best time to visit? Not the least expensive time, but the best?
For climate, try March, which is less crowded. Or October, when there are months without any regular afternoon rains.
Then, there’s shopping.
You will fail to find more of it just about anywhere in the world outside of the 13-story Mall of America in the US or the city of Hong Kong, where its gazillion shops not long ago replaced New York City’s claim of “most expensive.”
(If you wonder how stores here compare in price with NYC or Hong Kong, no immediate formula is available but prices generally cover the gamut from inexpensive to you-know what).
All the tourist attractions are also rich with shopping options, but even when you’re away from it, there are air-conditioned malls to ease your strolls at The Mall at Millenia, Florida Mall or lower-priced Premium Outlets, Pointe Orlando or The Loop, and many others.
They are typically open for shockingly long hours, seven days a week with admittedly great buys for SOME jeans, sneakers or cameras or whatever else you don’t need but must have.
If you’re coming here from NYC or Boston, you might poo-poo the traffic on the major highways. But otherwise, you will certainly become aware of it.
Traffic is not just at rush hour in downtown, where many people commute to work, but also as you near the theme parks. Slowdowns are particularly sticky in the morning and afternoon (reflecting worker patterns, though these are from visiting tourists).
This may be a surprise, but not to residents.
One blogger says his 20-mile commute to work near Disney takes him three times what it used to. No wonder. The culprit: rapid growth.
“Whole neighborhoods were created where cows were grazing three years ago. Most of these new neighborhoods are beautiful, with gorgeous new homes, lots of green space, and easy access to major highways and roads. But that is where the ‘well planned’ part ends. What’s the benefit of having easy access to major highways when those are not built to handle all this extra traffic and are congested all the time?”
Well, maybe not all of the time but certainly some of it.
For transportation while in the theme parks, there are many attractive choices that include water taxis, buses, and easy-to-follow walking paths. But again, those regular afternoon showers can make you feel very wet.
Then, there’s the crime issue.
Yes, it does happen here, though tourist attractions don’t like to admit or acknowledge it.
Transportation not the only problem
Now just to make this clear: there is no more crime here than most areas. And much of it revolves around property theft such as stolen credit cards.
And putting this in perspective, most crimes are confined to certain areas.
Tourist areas are generally immune from anything but minor thefts and petty crimes.
The safest area of all is the theme parks like Disney. Why?
Security cameras are everywhere. And places like Disney even have their own police forces. More advanced technology also helps.
The next safest places are the malls. Valet parking is a real crime-stopper here though again there are thefts from cars and other issues.
That is mainly the west side of I-4 in downtown Orlando. Crimes here can get more serious than property, including some bodily harm, but again many people live without problems.
No shops or theme parks or other distractions to lure you. So you will almost certainly not go there.
Two other areas to avoid if you are concerned about crime: Tangelo Park just off Sand Lake Road behind International Drive and Kirkman Road. And Orange Blossom Trail south of the Florida Turnpike.
Tangelo was once adjacent to the defunct US Naval base area in Orlando and still has a lot of middle-class homes. But some nearby stores have closed and dead end neighborhoods have helped foster some criminal activity.
As for OBT or South Orange Blossom Trail…it is trying to change its identify but it remains best known for prostitution.
But so as not to end this report on any negative note, keep in mind that almost 60 million visitors come here every year. Their numbers continue to grow.
And the vast majority say they not only had a great time, but that like the “Terminator,” they will be back.
When spending somewhere in the mid-$20s for one adult ticket, you might not expect to have a full day’s entertainment. And you would be right at Madame Tussauds Orlando.
So why go there?
“You could hang around the whole day and you are welcome to do that, but most people won’t spend more than one hour or an hour and a half,” admits a wax museum employee who for obvious reasons has to be nameless.
So we repeat: why go there?
There are good reasons.
And if you read about it here, you will not only find a few…
But you will also realize or encounter some surprising facts about wax museums such as the notion that, ‘hey, these were around long before folks even heard about theme parks.’
And the history of them might surprise you.
Because the history might best be described as “macabre” or “ghoulish” or most resembling a horror film. Or even Disney’s own “Haunted Mansion” or Universal’s “Halloween Horror Nights.”
Actually, a single ticket to Madame Tussauds is $26.63 or $21.30 for children aged 3 to 12. Discounted Madame Tussauds ticketsMadame Tussauds tickets are also available. And you can also buy multiple tickets to other Merlin Entertainments attractions that reduces the per visit cost. These include the Orlando Eye and SEA LIFE Aquarium where the major attraction is a 360-degree ocean tunnel, also at International Drive.
In fact, you probably don’t even know it, but Merlin Entertainments is the second largest attraction operator in the world.
You can guess who’s first.
Which does not tell you why people go to wax museums when other competing attractions offer roller coasters and
perhaps far more compelling interactive activities.
The only thing to do at the wax museum is to walk around and see the celebrities.
But that’s enough in its own way for many people.
After all, many of these figures are really life-like.
If you simply sample visitor comments, you find many observations on how life-like it all seems. And how close you can get to celebrity.
“I half expected some of them to get up and move…Some really good likenesses…The staff was very friendly and the statues were unbelievable…Visitors will recognize every figure…Props are available at most of the stations so visitors can take some creative pictures with their favorite celebrities…
Most of us never really get to see real celebrities or the famous people we hear and read about in history.
So this is the closest you will ever get to them.
That’s your best and most obvious response to a visit here.
“Get close enough to hug your heroes and take the perfect photo with wax figures of the world’s most famous faces,” the museum suggests.
You can’t believe everything self-serving tourist attractions tell you, of course, but this is obviously true.
Even if you don’t have a camera, photographers are on hand all over the small museum to take your pictures. At a price, of course.
You can even buy photographs at the gift shop, along with the usual magnets, key rings, etc.
Get close to Honest Abe
You can get the closest you will ever get to movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe and John Travolta, historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, cultural icons like Andy Warhol and Steve Jobs, football and sports stars like Dan Marino, Serena Williams, and Tiger Woods, and even television stars such as Oprah and Jimmy Fallon.
The latest addition here is the legendary pop group “One Direction.”
That is “Niall, Harry, Liam, Louis and Zayn.” They appear together after a real-life break up.
They are also the latest example of how fans can take photos up front and personal with their own favorite figure. They are in a seated position on bleachers, so anyone can interact with the entire group.
Sit right down with a favorite.
No bars or barriers.
You might appreciate the figures more by knowing how difficult it really is to get them here. And the history of the wax museum itself.
Wax museums go back to the early 1500s at least.
Funeral effigies of royalty such as English queens and kings started the whole thing in the days when royal corpses had to be buried at times in hot and humid weather. So wax effigies were in style. They were often displayed by tombs or in churches. Naturally, they were popular with visitors of all types.
It even became a practice at times to pay for a view.
Hardly the first
Madame Tussauds is the most famous name associated with wax museums. But it is far from claiming to be the first. The worldwide chain was started in 1835 in London’s Baker Street.
The best known of these today is the Hollywood Wax Museum in California, near Knott’s Berry Farm. It is almost entirely movie actors in settings associated with their popular roles.
A footnote: if you want to see US presidents, you might have to journey to Keystone, South Dakota, for the National Presidential Wax Museum. It has the distinction of being the only wax museum in the world to have every US President. A highlight is former US President George Bush standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center. While there, you can also check out wax figures of Sitting Bull and George Custer.
Wax museums have even been popular in South America and India, among other countries.
Don’t think making these figure is easy, either.
Wax not easy to work with
The process can take up to six months.
Researchers conduct surveys first to decide on likely candidates for wax fame. If a celebrity agrees and is alive, of course, he or she may meet with stylists. They take hundreds of measurements and photos. The idea for the artists is to match hair and eye share and skin tone.
Perfectly. As in life-like.
Incidentally, though they are called wax figures, the people who put these figures together use steel and clay as well.
Attendance has not waxed and waned over the years, either.
Visitors have been increasing at most of the various wax museums according to recent published revenue reports.
The secret to survival…if there is one?
Insiders say it is this: after taking down the ropes that once separated wax figures from their admirers in the 1990s, the houses have become an interactive celebrity experience.
Celebrity is widely celebrated not only in our own US culture, but worldwide.
“There is an identification with famous people as a substitute for the obscurity of one’s own existence, so knowing somebody famous somehow can lead one to share in that fame, if not the money,” observed Dr. Mathieu Deflem, a sociologist at the University of South Carolina.
In other words, even seeing replicas in a museum “establishes a connection or sorts.”
One major advantage for wax figures is that unlike most museums, there are not those big signs that say “don’t touch.”
And so at a mid-$20s price tag, this is an attraction where you can’t spend all day…
But you can see the famous figures of today and yesterday, take their photograph and even give them a hug -- something you could never be able to do in real life.
If you go
Madame Tussauds Orlando
8387 International Drive
Orlando, FL 32819
If you are like me, you may have read about the possibility of a “Fast and Furious” ride coming to Universal Orlando Resort. Only a long-standing rumor, sure, but the possibility brought up the question in your mind as well as mine: what else can theme park goers expect in the future?
Now, this is no immediate gratification because we will have to wait.
But really not for long.
That’s because SeaWorld Orlando is set to make its biggest splash yet.
For those who can’t or don’t want to wait, there’s also Mako -- due to open any time. It is said to give SeaWorld Orlando its biggest splash yet. Why?
It is the tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster here. Named for a fast-moving shark, Mako almost flies with speeds up to 73 miles per hour, the attraction says. And it is a fast-moving experience like a predator swimming speedily through the water at top speed chasing dinner.
"It will be a wild mix of fear, thrills and fun," predicts Brian Morrow, SeaWorld’s attraction creative director.
But what’s next? And when?
This is a subject that theme parks prefer to tell you themselves. But speculation, often based on part performances, is normal.
The biggest possible future attractions are associated with “Nintendo, Star Wars and Avatar.”
A quick look back at 2014 shows that it was an extremely active one.
Consider what opened: “Diagon Alley,” the second Harry Potter land at Universal Orlando, a slew of roller coasters, including the “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom,” and others. They made it a vintage year for roller coasters and new rides. This year has not seen that type of activity or record-breaking rides generating huge lines.
Theme park experts attribute the success of attractions like Harry Potter’s at Universal as spurs to push parks trying to up the ante and compete with Disney. Meanwhile, competition everywhere for theme park-goers should continue to draw a lot of speculation, but also obviously add up to many new attractions
There are a lot of minor but possibly significant new rides and activities planned soon.
Another Starbucks, for example, is coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom (apparently proving that visitors to that particular park like their coffee). And while this may be good news for the caffeine-starved, it has limited appeal to many other visitors.
So for purposes of what you read here, we will try to confine this report to major areas.
Kong will be back
One of these you probably already know.
We already know, for example, that more than a decade after "Kongfrontation" closed, the big ape is coming back. "Skull Island: Reign of Kong" is scheduled to open in the summer of next year at Islands of Adventure.
It’s inevitable that will be a “multi-sensory, multi-dimensional experience.”
It will also take ride-goers back to the 1930s, when the film first came out. Universal consulted with Peter Jackson, director of the 2005 remake of the 1933 movie, for suggestions on the new ride.
It will be a major attraction, of course.
This will be the second King Kong attraction at Universal Orlando. The first, “Kongfrontation,” one of the original rides at Universal Studios, was closed in 2002 to make room for “Revenge of the Mummy.” There have also been two “King Kong” attractions at Universal Studios in Hollywood. All have been different.
The Skull Island ride “is not a story line from any movie or attraction. It’s next generation,” a spokesman said.
The ape breaks out of The Big Apple
This time, the ape won’t be wreaking havoc on New York.
“The fact you’re there in his home instead of him coming to your home is what sets this attraction apart,” said the spokesman.
Ride-goers will walk through the jungle and the ruins of a temple, then board an expedition truck for Skull Island. Here, they will encounter a lot of hazards, hostile natives, and some so-far unnamed terrors. The final one of these is Kong himself.
Nintendo. Yes, it’s coming to Universal.
The companies had this to say in a joint statement:
"Universal theme parks offer incredibly popular, innovative themed family entertainment experiences based on compelling stories and characters – using powerful storytelling and innovative technology, Nintendo has created remarkable and imaginative worlds filled with captivating stories and beloved characters. Now, for the first time, those stories and characters will be brought to life in entirely new ways – only at Universal theme parks."
When and exactly what are still speculation. More details are expected later, of course.
New territory for theme parks
But at least one newspaper account termed this “entering new territory” for theme parks. The idea conjures up life-size Mario Karts and Splatoon water parks.
Universal Orlando has created haunted houses based on video games "Resident Evil" and "Silent Hill" for its Halloween Horror Nights events. But in general, theme parks are "very, very new to the concept of gaming," said Susan Arendt, managing editor of GamesRadar+.
Not entirely new, however.
Rosen College of Hospitality Management associate professor Duncan Dickson pointed to the success of Disney's "Wreck It Ralph," an animated comedy that revolves around a video-game character, in 2012.
Star Wars: the reality
Another attraction with few details that seems inevitable in part because it is heard about so often: Star Wars. The trade publication ”Variety” called the Star Wars franchise a continuing “big tease.” No wonder.
When Disney announced a strong financial results earlier this year, head Bob Iger told Wall Street analysts that the presence of the film characters were becoming a force. He said the company Imagineers were looking at many locations around the world.
Specific plans would be announced later this year, he said.
“Fairly soon, I’m sure we’ll be ready to go public with some specifics. But it’s safe to say that you’ll see a lot more ‘Star Wars’ at Disney and at Disney parks in the near future,” Iger said.
His future announcement may very well coincide with the new release of the latest film “The Force Awakens” in December.
Disney has has an obvious uptick in attendance after the introduction of new rides and themed lands designed around its popular film properties. So films understandably remain as popular ride themes.
Disney already is building an “Avatar”-themed land at its Animal Kingdom Park in Orlando. That land is set to open in 2017.
Ride the flying banshees
Avatar land will feature Pandora’s floating mountains, plants that glow in the dark and a boat ride through the jungle. But its star attraction will be a ride on flying banshees like the ones that the Na'vi ride in the movie.
Disney President Bob Iger rode recently on the back of a flying banshee. Not surprisingly, he reported in Variety that it was “so real, so lifelike…There’s never been anything like it.”
Rides are described as “banshees brought to life” via large video screens. The rides promise 3-D action inside a huge movie theatre. The attraction is said to include Pandora’s floating mountains and various huge plants that include restaurants, of course.
The themed addition, designed with film director James Cameron, represents the largest expansion to Animal Kingdom since the park opened in 1998, according to newspaper reports.
Another potentially very popular ride is from the hit movie “Frozen.”
It is being built in the space in the Norway pavilion that had been occupied by Maelstrom, a boat tour of Norway’s cultural and geographic highlights. It is scheduled to open at Epcot in the first half of 2016. Because the ride will open relatively quickly — less than two years after Maelstrom closed — theme park experts say the new ride probably will be built on the same track as Maelstrom rather than starting from scratch. Disney is also building a separate meet-and-greet space nearby for Frozen’s heroines, Anna and Elsa, but has not said when it will open.
What else is new?
As for “Fast and Furious,” speculation was raised during the opening of Universal Studios Hollywood’s hosting the new “Fast & Furious: Supercharged” attraction in late June. During a talk with media, actress Michelle Rodriguez discussed her excitement about the ride and the potential of it moving to other parks. "So I'm wondering if this thing is going to travel, if it's going to go to Florida and then maybe China," she said at a news conference.
No ride confirmation, of course, but the possibility of another movie attraction is a long-running rumor. Even if it does not happen, it shows that rumors of new rides are not limited to the general public. They are also of interest even to movie stars who are in the shows that may end up as theme park rides.