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.