'Sup! Welcome to Tad's toadally awesome list of what opened at Disney World and Universal in 2017! As the Frog Family’s resident ride guy — someone has to film them! — I’ve been keeping score on all the attractions and experiences headed to the Orlando theme parks over the last few years.
Things were really hopping at Disney World and Universal in 2013 and 2014. 2015 was laid back — like yours truly on a weekend — but 2016 saw some sweet additions all across the 407 ( AKA Orlando). I had a blast riding Mako at SeaWorld Orlando — check out my video. Disney World gave us Frozen Ever After at Epcot and great projection shows popped up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom. The big guys were in charge at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, where we welcomed back The Incredible Hulk Coaster and met the big ape himself—no, not my dad—King Kong on Skull Island : Reign of Kong. #bigguy
You can check what's coming to Disney World and Universal in 2018 and beyond here, but first, let's take a trip down nostalgia lane.
What Opened at Disney World in 2017
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Pandora - The World of Avatar — Inspired by James Cameron’s 2009 movie, this new land transports guests to the world of Pandora, home of the Na’vi. Full of bioluminescent plants and centered by the impressive floating mountains, the area features two attractions. On the Na’vi River Journey, guests travel down a sacred river hidden within a bioluminescent rainforest. The attraction's finale has an “unforgettable encounter” with a Na’vi Shaman. The other attraction, the Avatar Flight of Passage, sends guests soaring over Pandora on a flying Banshee. Sweet.
Rivers of Light — Animal Kingdom's first nighttime show celebrates the beauty of all living things and features water, sound, dramatic lighting and special effects.
Epcot International Festival of the Arts — Running from Jan. 13 through Feb. 20, this new festival celebrates visual, performing and culinary arts. There were appearances by Disney artists and celebrity chefs, as well as performers singing hits from Disney's Broadway shows.
Choza de Margarita — This authentic outdoor tequileria offering hand-crafted margaritas and classic Mexican cuisine opened outside of the Mexican Pavilion in World Showcase.
Happily Ever After Nighttime Spectacular — This new show lights up the night sky above Cinderella Castle. Projection mapping will combine with Disney storytelling, pyrotechnics and classic Disney characters in a show that will inspire guests to find their own "Happily Ever After." Two unique parts of this show will be an original score and original, hand-drawn animation of characters like Ursula, Aladdin and Tiana.
Donald Trump added to the Hall of Presidents — late 2017 — The animatronic version of President Trump officially opened Dec. 19, 2017, at the Hall of Presidents. This attraction was under refurbishment for most of 2017. High-impact projection, sound lighting and other enhancements were added to the attraction.
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Star Wars Guided Tour — Fans of the force may now blast off on a seven-hour VIP guided tour of everything Star Wars. Special seating for Jedi Training - Trials of the Temple (ages 4-12 may participate in the show) and priority boarding on Star Tours - The Adventure Continues are just a few of the perks on this premium tour. (Darth Vader Voice) We would be honored if you would join us.
The Music of Pixar LIVE A Symphony of Characters — This show features a live symphony orchestra playing music from Disney•Pixar films. Its run has now ended.
NStar Tours — The Adventures Continue — The planet Creit, seen in the trailers for the upcoming "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," were added to this popular attraction.
Disney's Typhoon Lagoon
Miss Adventure Falls — A splashing good time is in store aboard this family-style raft attraction. Guests slide down on a white water rafting adventure past the lost and glittering treasure of the fabled Captain Mary Oceaneer. With a ride time of two minutes, this is one of the longest water attractions at both Disney Water Parks. Kowabunga!
Disney's Wilderness Lodge
The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge are now the Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge. New name=new amenities! The former quiet pool, Hidden Springs, is getting reimagined to tell the backstory of Boulder Ridge. Fashioned after an old quarry, the Boulder Ridge Cove pool area will feature an expanded sun deck and zero-depth-entry pool. The new Geyser Point Bar and Grill and a new quick-service restaurant will give all guests more dining options. #allthefrenchfries
New dining, drinking and entertainment venues opened in 2017.
Planet Hollywood Observatory — Reimagined as an observatory, the familiar Hollywood-themed restaurant returned with a fresh look inside as well as on the menu. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri lends his culinary flair to the menu's burgers and sandwiches. I liked this place from my last visit so much that ... I'll be back. If my parents want to go.
Paddlefish — The former Fulton's Crab House (and Empress Lilly before that) floats back with an upscale modern-yacht interior design. On the menu, there are returning Fulton's favorites along with new bites, such as table-side guacamole with Maine lobster and a “build-your-own” lobster boil. Mom gave a "Here, take my money!" remark when she heard about this one.
The Polite Pig — Local owners and James Beard award nominees James and Julie Petrakis bring wood-fired smoked and grilled items along with innovative beverages and craft beer to the Town Center area of Disney Springs. The Polite Pig is a sister restaurant to The Ravenous Pig in nearby Winter Park.
The Edison — Late 2017/Early 2018 — Resembling a 1920's electric company power plant, The Edison will feature food, cocktails, live entertainment, cabaret and music. It will feature distinct areas, with the Lab Performance room featuring entertainment such as palm readers, DJs and (ooh) contortionists. The Edison will be a sister restaurant to its Los Angeles location.
Terralina Crafted Italian — late 2017/early 2018 — Themed as an Italian home, this new restaurant will serve authentic Italian meals and cocktails. Overseen by James Beard Award-winner and Top Chef Master Tony Mantuano, this restaurant replaces Portobello Country Italian Trattoria.
Maria And Enzo's — late 2017/early 2018 — Located next to The Edison, this Italian restaurant will be designed as speakeasy feel, matching the feel of its neighbor. This table service and fast casual restaurant will be run by the Patina Group, operators of Morimoto at Disney Springs and Via Napoli at Epcot.
Enzo's Hideaway — late 2017/early 2018 — This small tavern is inspired by Roman aperitivo bars, located in the storied rum-runner tunnels that adjoin Maria & Enzo’s. Inspired by Florida’s true history of rum running, Enzo’s Hideaway will pour Prohibition-era cocktails at its Tunnel Bar and serve a casual menu of hearty Roman dishes, such as the city’s legendary Bucatini alla Carbonara and Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe.
Pizza Pointe — late 2017/early 2018 — Located next to Maria And Enzo's, this fast-casual restaurant will serve pastry specialties such as Bomboloni (Italian doughnuts), Sfoglia di Riso (pastry with rice cream) and Tiramisu. Savory items include signature Triangolo (stuffed pizza bread) sandwiches, Porchetta (roast pork) and Pizza al Taglio, Sicilian-style pizza by the slice.
"Minnie Vans" — A ridesharing "Lyft"-like service transports guests on-demand around the Walt Disney World resort. The vehicles are red with polka-dots and feature Minnie's bow on the side. ADORBS
Minnie Van Service Locations
- Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Boardwalk Resort
- Grand Floridian
- Polynesian Village
- Wilderness Lodge
- Yacht and Beach Club
What Opened at Universal Orlando in 2017
Universal's Volcano Bay — Universal Orlando Resort's third theme park features Krakatau — the fire and water volcano — that looks over this water playground full of thrills and relaxation. The park features all kinds of water rides, from slides to wave pools and rafting adventures to smaller places for your tadpoles. Don't worry about long lines or having to carry tubes around. Volcano Bay's unique TapuTapu wearable takes care of those hassles.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon — Visitors follow Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC's The Tonight Show, aboard a "flying theater" that zooms you around famous New York City landmarks. Pre-show activities let guests interact with Hashtag the Panda, listen to The Ragtime Gals and send their very own Thank You Note.
Christmastime at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Yes, you want to spend your winter break at school. This year, muggles and students were able to experience Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley trimmed with festive holiday decorations on the buildings and within the shops of the Wizarding World. There are also be holiday-themed food and drinks, as well as entertainment. The highlight of Christmastime at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts holiday show taking place on the castle. This new experience uses mapped-projection technology to "cast a spell" onto the castle and feature iconic moments from the films.
Universal's Holiday Parade — A reimagining of the park's long-running Macy's Holiday Parade, this extravaganza features Dreamworks favorites such as the Minions, Shrek and Madagascar. Yes, Santa is there as well. Brand new balloons also premiered.
LEGOLAND Florida Resort
LEGOLAND Ninjago World — Inspired by the popular LEGO building sets and the “LEGO NINJAGO: Masters of Spinjitzu” TV show, this new land lets aspiring ninjas practice their Spinjitsu and battle enemies on LEGO NINJAGO THE RIDE.
LEGOLAND Beach Retreat—Now Open—Surf's Up LEGO fans! Located inside the LEGOLAND Florida resort, this family-friendly hotel features 83 beach-themed bungalows and 166 total rooms. The guest bedrooms feature plenty of amenities and decorated with beach-themed LEGO artwork and details. The bungalows offer outdoor play areas and shaded patios.
Seven Seas Food Festival — Runs Feb. 11 through May 13 — Expanding to 14 weekends in 2017, this popular food festival is inspired by street food from Asia, the Caribbean, South America and the Mediterranean. New foods will expand the festival's food offerings and various craft beers will be available.
Dolphin Nursery — A redesigned nursery gives guests an up-close experience of the care SeaWorld employees give to dolphin mothers. Multiple-level viewing through acrylic windows gives visitors a close-up view of mothers and their calves. People LOOOVE dolphin videos. ALL. THE. YOUTUBE. LIKES.
Electric Ocean — SeaWorld Orlando's new limited-time end-of-day spectacle event immersed guests in a sea of wonder with bioluminescent lighting, music and pathway entertainment.
Kraken Virtual Reality (VR) Roller Coaster — SeaWorld's thrilling coaster laned a digital upgrade. Visitors will wear VR headsets and be plunged into a deep sea mission where they will encounter creatures inspired by extinct and legendary animals of the past. This is Florida's first VR coaster (and really hard to get on-ride footage of).
I hope you've enjoyed this look at what opened at Disney, Universal and the other parks in 2017. Hop on over to our When to Visit Orlando page for more planning tips, part of our Orlando Planning Timeline!
Related: Best Time To Visit Disney World