2020 and COVID-19 brought the entire world to a halt. Theme parks were shut down and had to return with serious modifications. Since life has returned to normal, Florida’s theme parks have been in a power grab. Let’s recap the insane progress of Florida’s offerings in these past years.
While restaurants and stores were able to quickly modify themselves for this socially distanced world, theme parks had issues. Mass crowds, full queues and frequently touched surfaces is a huge part of the themed entertainment world. The audience changed in that time as well. Money is tighter, politics have influenced where people travel and die-hard theme park fans tried new places in the past few years.
Now Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Legoland and smaller attractions are all aiming to have the first, the best, the fastest, the tallest and the most viral. These are the major additions that have opened in the past years.
Cinderella Castle Rose Gold Makeover – Walt Disney World
With work done throughout the 2020 summer, Cinderella Castle became a beacon of hope for the newly re-opened park. This rose gold design was loved by some and hated by others. Either way, it was a brand new shiny sight to see when Magic Kingdom re-opened.
Gideon’s Bakehouse at Disney Springs – Walt Disney World
Lots of additions and changes happen yearly at Disney Springs, but Gideon’s Bakehouse is worth noting specifically. This cookie location soft-opened in 2020 with 5+ hour long lines that stretched through most of Disney Springs. To this day, Gideon’s Bakehouse still regularly sees over an hour wait to buy their cookies and coffee.
The Bourne Stuntacular – Universal Orlando Resort
This high-energy stunt show replaced the Terminator 2: 3-D show. This new offering uses an incredible LED display and moving set pieces to take viewers into Jason Bourne’s world of action and adventure.
Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites – Universal Orlando Resort
The second half of Universal’s Endless Summer Resort opened, totaling the Endless Summer Resort’s capacity to 2,800 rooms. This value priced resort offers bus transportation to the Universal Orlando Resort theme parks with an overnight stay price point that is regularly lower than the competition.
Legoland Florida Pirate Island Hotel – Legoland Florida Resort
This expansion to the Legoland Florida Resort added its third hotel. This pirate themed hotel features family suites with hidden treasure and games. It also uses the Amazon Echo for specialty questions and answers about the Legoland Florida Resort.
Epcot’s re-imagined entrance and Spaceship Earth lights – Walt Disney World
Part of Epcot’s ongoing work of re-imagining the guest experience, this new entrance features music and lighting effects. This area also has a new fountain, throwing back to the original Epcot fountain design. Flags, a more open walking experience and new park planters welcome guests in. At night, Spaceship Earth comes to life with LED lights synchronized to music to create a mesmerizing 360º light display.
Epcot’s Creations Shop and Club Cool – Walt Disney World
Epcot continued adding more, with a new huge park store offering. This store uses the space previously used by Mouse Gear. Right next door is Coca-Cola’s Club Cool, a merchandise and sampler area where guests can try Coke products from around the world.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and France Pavilion Expansion – Walt Disney World
A near exact clone copy of the same ride at Disneyland Paris, this trackless ride added much needed capacity and air conditioned options to Epcot’s World Showcase. This area also features new food at La Crêperie de Paris, merchandise options and a large restroom.
Space 220 at Epcot – Walt Disney World
After years and years of delays, Space 220 finally opened at Epcot. This immersive dining experience takes guests on a “stellarvator up 220 miles above the Earth.” Inside the space capsule, guests dine on unique food and drink options with a massive wrap-around screen simulating outer space.
Enchantment Fireworks – Walt Disney World
This projection mapping and fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom has already ended its run. During its time it added new projection mapping effects down Main Street U.S.A., which is still being used for the current Happily Ever After fireworks show. This new show featured an original song, and partway through its debut it also featured an intro by Walt Disney.
Harmonious Fireworks – Walt Disney World
This large-scale nighttime firework show, which has already ended, featured millions of dollars worth of high-tech barges and pyrotechnic displays. While technically impressive, the massive black barges were too much of an eyesore to survive.
Disney KiteTails – Walt Disney World
This short-lived kite show was as imaginative as it was wild. Featuring live performers in the audience and large kites pulled behind jet-skis, this short family-friendly show attempted to add more life to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Unfortunately, the (purposeful) crashing of the kites and the low attendance seemed to end this show early.
Walt Disney World Swan Reserve – Walt Disney World
While not technically a Disney hotel, this new Marriott expansion onto the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort added new lodging and dining options. The rooftop view offers a sweeping look at Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Drawn To Life at Cirque du Soleil – Walt Disney World
After years of La Nouba, the longest running Cirque show in the world, Disney Springs’ prized Cirque du Soleil show ended for a new offering. Drawn To Life is a world-first collaboration between Disney Imagineers and Cirque du Soleil to create a masterpiece in storytelling and technical stunts.
Jurassic World VelociCoaster – Universal Orlando Resort
Claimed by many as the greatest new roller coaster in the world. The VelociCoaster at Universal Islands of Adventure is a high-speed, thrilling, record-breaking roller coaster. Guests will skyrocket up 155 feet, before plummeting into a zero-gravity stall and barrel-rolling over water.
Universal Studios Store – Universal Orlando Resort
Universal added a new flagship store to Universal CityWalk, taking over the place of numerous previous retailers. This store features blueprint style designs about the parks attractions and has a special Harry Potter wand areas.
Orlando Free Fall and Orlando Slingshot – ICON Park Orlando
Orlando Free Fall hit the news for the world’s tallest drop ride and shortly after also got in the news for the tragic death of rider Tyre Sampson. For its short period of opening, it touted numerous records and brought out thrill nuts. Its neighboring ride has since re-opened, a slingshot that throws riders up to 450 feet in the air at 100 miles per hour.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind – Walt Disney World
Cosmic Rewind, one of the largest indoor roller coasters ever built. This high-speed launching coaster takes guests though a simulated space ride as 80’s ballads and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy accompany the riders. This roller coaster has quickly become a fan favorite. The twirling and spinning motions feel as if you are dancing in space, and can only be described as giddy.
Connections Cafe & Eatery – Walt Disney World
Another step in Walt Disney World’s plan to improve Epcot. This cafe added a large indoor dining space and a Starbucks.
Finding Nemo: The Big Blue … and Beyond! – Walt Disney World
A re-imagining of the previous Nemo show, this new version featured screen effects, new songs, new props and a shorter show time.
Re-imagined Fantasmic! – Walt Disney World
After years and years of closure, Fantasmic! returned to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This re-imagined show featured much of the previous storyline, but added new lasers, water screen effects and a new set of Disney characters. Die-hard fans of the previous show praised this new imagining.
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser – Walt Disney World
Now on its way out, the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is an incredibly immersive and ambitious project by Disney. This multi-night hotel experience takes guests into the world of Star Wars like never before. Unfortunately, the price was so substantial that it stopped many guests from ever visiting and is generally agreed upon as to why it is closing its door this fall.
Universal’s Great Movie Escape – Universal Orlando Resort
This escape room isn’t exactly an escape room, but more of an immersive movie experience. Featuring Jurassic World properties and “Back to the Future,” Universal’s Great Movie Escape offer two ways to enjoy this experience in Universal’s CityWalk.
Ice Breaker – SeaWorld Orlando
After delays, SeaWorld Orlando was able to open their new multi-launch roller coaster. This roller coaster features a 93 foot vertical spike that guests soar up backwards. Riders are tossed out of their seats with airtime and numerous quick turns.
Iron Gwazi – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Thrill nuts tend to agree that this is the greatest hybrid roller coaster ever built. This world record breaking roller coaster reaches speeds of 76 miles an hour after dropping 206 feet and flying into three inversions. Iron Gwazi is not for the faint of heart, and currently holds the world record for the fastest and steepest hybrid coaster.
Peppa Pig Theme Park – Legoland Florida Resort
The world’s first Peppa Pig Theme Park is at the Legoland Florida Resort. At time of writing, it is the newest theme park in Florida. This toddler-friendly park features rides, shows, dining and characters. Its roller coaster, Daddy Pig’s Coaster, took the internet by storm and almost won as the best roller coaster (fan voted on) in the United States for 2022.
2023 openings, so far
Happily Ever After returns – Walt Disney World
The return of the fan-favorite firework spectacular involved new projection mapping elements on Main Street U.S.A. It brought back the iconic score and firework sequence.
Tron Lightcycle / Run – Walt Disney World
The long awaited launching roller coaster now soars over Tomorrowland. This high-speed roller coaster features a set of turns throughout the illuminated roof, known as the Upload Conduit. Riders will enter The Grid, an indoor section of the ride full of lighting effects and projection mapping. Alongside the ride, the show building and ride score are an iconic addition to the Magic Kingdom.
Roundup Rodeo BBQ – Walt Disney World
This new indoor dining location was desperately needed in Toy Story Land, an area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios infamously known for its lack of shade and ample heat. This new buffet offers meat and vegan options, as well as fun Cast Members who play along with the building’s interactive voiceovers and lighting effects.
Illuminations Minion Cafe, Freeze Ray Pops, Bake My Day and Illumination Theater – Universal Orlando Resort
Part of a re-imagining of the Production Central area of Universal Studios Florida, this new set of dining locations added mobile ordering and new food options. It also added a new merchandise location, a popsicle stand and a covered character experience.
Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast – Universal Orlando Resort
This brand new moving platform shooter game features large screens, an interactive queue and on-ride props, customizable blaster guns and a game update to the Universal Orlando app. This ride also changes the Production Central area of the park to Minion Land.
Pipeline: The Surf Coaster – SeaWorld Orlando
A world-first surf-style coaster, Pipeline launches riders at 60 miles per hour into a Hammerhead wave turn. This coaster has riders fully-standing as they surf and bounce their way through the waves. This is currently the newest roller coaster in Florida.
Serengeti Flyer – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Tied with SeaWorld San Antonio’s Tidal Surge as the fastest and tallest screaming swing ride in the world, Serengeti Flyer takes riders soaring over the park. This ride moves riders at 68 miles per hour as they swing up to 135 feet in the air.
Pirate River Quest – Legoland Florida Resort
Bringing back an old attraction in a new Lego inspired way. Pirate River Quest takes guests on an over 20 minute journey through the Cypress Gardens. This slow-moving ride showcases Lego charm and the historic Cypress Gardens’ waterways.
Coming in 2023 and beyond
New nighttime firework display at Epcot – Walt Disney World
An all-new firework show is coming to Epcot later this year. A date and details have not yet been announced, but it will be Epcot’s fourth firework show in five years.
Journey of Water – Inspired by Moana – Walt Disney World
Coming to Epcot later this year, Journey of Water – Inspired by Moana will be an edutainment attraction featuring nature elements and water effects.
Disney Polynesian DVC Tower Expansion – Walt Disney World
Building on to the famous Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort near Magic Kingdom, this Disney Vacation Club tower will add new DVC style rooms to the resort.
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure – Walt Disney World
Opening in 2024, this re-imagining of Splash Mountain will bring over a dozen new animatronics to the park with Princess Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog.” This water ride will feature classic and new songs, as well as the smell of beignets.
DreamWorks Land – Universal Orlando Resort
Coming to Universal Studios Florida in 2024, this all new kids area will feature “Shrek”, “Trolls,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and “Gabby’s Dollhouse.”
Arctic themed roller coaster – SeaWorld Orlando
Recently announced, but still vague with details, SeaWorld Orlando is building their eighth roller coaster. This coaster is rumored to be a family-friendly coaster featuring a storyline about Antartica.
Universal Epic Universe – Universal Orlando Resort
The theme park project of the decade, opening 2025. This upcoming 750 acre theme park and set of hotels will be a monstrous new addition to Orlando. This park will feature a Super Nintendo World land, a Universal’s Classic Monsters land, a How to Train Your Dragon land, a record-setting new dueling roller coaster and a Harry Potter themed land.
The Theme Park Wars wage on
While it is easy to look at delays and cancellations at the parks, it is also important to note the mass of new developments that have occurred in just the past few years. And, the above mentioned items were not everything, simply the major highlights. New entertainment offerings, restaurants and event offerings have occurred, as have seasonal events and re-opened attractions, show and stores.
The Theme Park Wars are ongoing, with major players going for the victory on every inch of the globe. In Orlando, the fight is only getting tougher with a new major theme park on the way. Who will win? Us, the consumers.