LEAP'S NOTE - Tad has put together a new post What's New At Disney World and Universal in 2017 and beyond! That's where you'll find the latest and greatest info about what 2017 has to offer Orlando visitors. Still, you're more than welcome to check out what hopped up in 2016 right here.
Welcome to Tad's totally awesome list of what arrived at Disney World and Universal Orlando in 2016. As the keeper of all things cool (and head Frog Family videographer), I have put together a running list of all the attractions and experiences that have popped up in Orlando theme parks for the last few years. While 2013 and 2014 were major growth years, for Disney World and Universal in particular, 2015 was relatively tamer. There was plenty of construction, though, for attractions and experiences that will see their debuts this year and in coming years.
Let's take a look at what has already opened at Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld and the other parks in 2016 and get an idea of what lies ahead in 2017.
What Opened at Disney World & Universal in 2016
- LEGOLAND Water Park added a new Build-A-Boat attraction inside Creative Cove, where kids can create and race watercraft through swift-moving "rivers." This is the first of five coming attractions and expansions for the Winter Haven, Fl., resort within the next year.
- Starting May 27, Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park became a nighttime destination with the debut of Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris, Tree of Life "awakenings" (similar to the castle projections in Celebrate the Magic at Magic Kingdom), more nighttime entertainment and rides (Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and DINOSAUR). Guests on the after-dark trek across the savanna will encounter two new species—African wild dogs and hyenas. Guests who want a premium savanna experience may book the "Savor the Savanna" two-hour private tour through the 110-acre Harambe Wildlife Reserve, which includes dinner.
- Discovery River Theater became the setting for the limited-time engagement of a "The Jungle Book" live stage show that started May 28 at Disney's Animal Kingdom. "The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic" featured singers, musicians, dancers and performers.
- Opening along with the nighttime hours at Disney's Animal Kingdom was Tiffins restaurant near Pizzafari on Discovery Island. This signature restaurant offers a diverse menu, inspired by the creation of Disney's Animal Kingdom, and waterfront views from both indoor and outdoor seating.
- A live stage show "Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away" debuted at Disney's Hollywood Studios on April 4. This show features live vignettes with BB-8, Kylo Ren, Chewbacca, Darth Vader and Darth Maul.
- The Town Center opened at Disney Springs on May 15 with a ton of new retailers and restaurants, including The Savannah Bee Company, which sells honey and all-natural beauty products, and Filthy Rich, a celeb-inspired, affordable jewelry line, joined retailers such as ZARA and Under Armour Brand House.
- In mid-May ,"Turtle Talk with Crush" in Epcot's The Seas added new characters from Disney Pixar's "Finding Dory," including Dory and some new friends. Check out my video!
- LEGOLAND Florida added a new 4D NEXO KNIGHTS movie experience May 26 that pits five knights against the evil Jestro and the Book of Monsters.
- At Epcot, Norway was expanded to include the new Frozen meet-and-greet and attraction that replaces Maelstrom. The Frozen Ever After boat ride submerses guests in the world of Arendelle and allows them to experience different scenes from the popular film. Guests can then meet Anna and Elsa at the Royal Summerhus cabin that takes its inspiration from Norwegian culture. Both opened June 21. Read more here on our strategies for meeting Elsa and Anna with the shortest wait.
- A third theater and new 4K projection system was added to Soarin' at Epcot on June 17. Even better, though, is Soarin' Around the World. The new ride experience takes guests to some of the world's most unique man-made and natural landmarks such as the Great Wall of China, the plains of Africa and Monument Valley.
- A new castle stage show, Mickey's Royal Friendship Faire, debuted June 17, replacing the long-running Dream Along With Mickey. The new show brings together characters from "Princess and the Frog," "Tangled," and "Frozen" along with classic characters Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Goofy.
- A Star Wars-themed fireworks show using lasers, video projections and other special effects debuted June 17. "Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular" includes characters and scenes from the complete saga.
- Although the date of Toy Story Land's debut is unknown, Toy Story Mania received a third track in May. This has helped lower wait times and provide more FastPass+ availability for Hollywood Studios' most popular ride!
- Modern steakhouse STK and Rick Bayless' Frontera Cocina opened in June at Disney Springs. While STK offers fine dining and entertainment (a DJ plays nightly) inside The Landing, Frontera Cocina showcases gourmet Mexican cuisine at Town Center.
- SeaWorld Orlando debuted a 73-mph coaster, Mako, on June 10. This hyper coaster—Orlando's longest, fastest and tallest—is based on the world's fastest shark, and includes nine hills and one drop from 200 feet in the air.
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong opened at Universal's Islands of Adventure in July. This multi-sensory, multi-dimensional experience takes guests on a 1930s expedition into the jungle, where they'll encounter prehistoric predators and a savage beast who may be friend or foe! The trackless all-terrain vehicle is 40-feet-long, uses a positioning system to navigate the jungle road and can accommodate up to 72 guests. The front and back axles allow the wheels to be steered individually for sharp turns and complicated maneuvers. The vehicles have their own drivers, each with distinct personalities that will make riding multiple times a must.
- Loews' Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal's 5th hotel, opened July 14 to its first guests. The resort is built around a tropical lagoon and towering waterfall.
- Busch Gardens Tampa added a new family spin coaster, Cobra's Curse, on June 17. Riders ascend on a vertical lift before facing an 80-foot snake over the Serengeti Plain.
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster roared back to life Aug. 4 at Universal's Islands of Adventure after a lengthy refurbishment. The coaster should be smooth as glass with an all new track, ride car, queue and even soundtrack!
- The AbracadaBar opened in late July at Disney's BoardWalk entertainment area. This cocktail lounge was once home to famous magicians, boardwalk illusionists and magician's assistants of the Golden Age. Although they are gone, their magic lives on.
- Blaze Fast-Fire'd Pizza, which is known for its custom, artisanal pizzas, opened Aug. 5 at Disney Springs.
- Universal Orlando brought a chocolate factory to CityWalk in August. The 19th-century-inspired Toothsome Chocolate Factory will open at the location inside the former NBA City restaurant.
- Pizza Planet closed to make way for the Muppets-themed PizzaRizzo at Disney's Hollywood Studios. This refreshed dining spot opened in November and features clever hints of Rizzo hidden throughout the two-story, quick-service spot.
- A new projection show "Once Upon A Time, opened at Magic Kingdom on Nov. 4. "Beauty and the Beast" characters Mrs. Potts and Chip travel through the most adventurous scenes from Disney classics such as "Cinderella," "Peter Pan," Alice in Wonderland" and "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh." Cinderella Castle is the backdrop for the new show, which uses projection mapping technology that makes these stories come to life!
- On Nov. 14, a brand new holiday show debuted at Disney's Hollywood Studios. "Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!" is an original story that transports guests to the North Pole, where two spirited elves are in search of Santa. The show will feature scenes from "Mickey's Christmas Carol," "Beauty and the Beast," "Pluto's Christmas Tree," "Bambi" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
- Princess Elena of Avalor, Disney's first princess inspired by Latin cultures, made her theme park debut in a Magic Kingdom castle show in August. Later in the year, she began greeting guests at Princess Fairytale Hall. Her animated show, "Elena of Avalor," made its Disney Channel debut in July.
- After originally setting a April 22 debut for the "Rivers of Light," the opening of the new nighttime show at Disney's Animal Kingdom was delayed. The show will debut in 2017, but a opening date has not been revealed. The show will combine live performers with floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery. Two storytellers will summon four animal spirit guides—15 feet tall and 30 feet long lanterns in the shapes of a tiger, turtle, elephant and owl—that will lead guests on a mystical journey. Set on the Discovery River, the outdoor amphitheater will seat 2,500 people on each side. Music, along with fountains of light and color, will transport guests from the Asian jungles to African safaris and North American mountains. It's the first of several changes that will make the park an after-dark destination.
What's Coming to Disney World & Universal in 2017 and Beyond!
- Fast & Furious: Supercharged is headed to Universal Studios Florida in 2018. Based on the popular film franchise, the new Fast & Furious: Supercharged will put guests in the middle of the action, where they'll explore the headquarters of Dom Toretto's underground racing world and be part of a high-speed chase with some of the films' stars. As many of you know, Fast & Furious: Supercharged opened this summer at Universal Studios Hollywood as part of its Studio Tour. Check out the video here. Fast & Furious at Universal Orlando will be located inside the San Francisco area of the park and not part of a tour.
- During the Spring 2017, Disney Springs will add The Edison, an "industrial gothic"-style restaurant and lounge that will include craft cocktails, classic American cuisine and even burlesque dancers.
- LEGOLAND Florida is adding a new LEGO NINJAGO ride that will allow guests to blast animated fireballs, lightning, shockwaves and ice in the dojos before moving on to a powerful villain. It's the centerpiece of a new LEGO NINJAGO World, opening January 12.
- On April 17, LEGOLAND Beach Retreat will open, offering views of Lake Dexter. This village-style resort will be distinguished by a LEGO lighthouse and will feature 83 single-story duplex units that sleep up to five.
- James Cameron's AVATAR-based land Pandora is set to open in Disney's Animal Kingdom in Summer 2017. The land will be the largest expansion in Animal Kingdom history with floating mountains and bioluminescent plants. The main attraction will be AVATAR Flight of Passage, which will let guests take flight over an alien world aboard a Banshee. On the Na’vi River Journey, guests will travel through the bioluminescent forest.
- SeaWorld announced major news—that it's ending its practice of keeping orcas in captivity. It will end its theatrical shows and will introduce "natural orca encounters." SeaWorld's last generation of killer whales will continue to live out their lives in the parks. The changes will start in San Diego in 2017, followed by San Antonio and then Orlando in 2019. SeaWorld also announced a new partnership with the Humane Society of the United States that will focus on the health of our oceans and the animals that make their homes in them.
- Universal Orlando will open its first water park, a water theme park, in 2017. Volcano Bay is being built on 53 acres south of Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
- Jimmy Fallon is getting his own ride at Universal Studios Florida in 2017. The 3D "Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon" will be a fun and funny adventure taking guests through the streets of New York.
- At 14 acres, Star Wars Land will be the largest land at Disney World. It will transport guests to a never-before-seen planet, with two new attractions based around a secret mission aboard the Millennium Flacon and an epic Star Wars battle. No timetables have been revealed for the creation of the land. Read full details about Star Wars Land here.
- An 11-acre land will rise up around Toy Story Mania, offering a Buzz-sized perspective on Andy's backyard. Look for oversized building blocks and game board pieces, plus a brand new family coaster aboard the Slinky Dog and an alien saucers spin based on the little green man — and the claw!
- Universal has partnered with Nintendo to bring to life experiences based on Nintendo's games, characters and worlds. While not much is yet known about this partnership and what it means for Universal Orlando, we do know it will include at least one major attraction.
We hope you've enjoyed this look at what's coming to Disney World and Universal Orlando in 2016. If you're planning an upcoming trip, make sure to come back to see what's been added as you get closer to your visit. While you're at it, go back and see what opened in 2013, 2014 and 2015.