'Sup! Welcome to Tad's toadally awesome list of what's new at Disney World and Universal in 2017 and Beyond! As the Frog Family’s resident thrill seeker, tech junkie and head Frog Videographer—thank you very much—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
Be sure to swing by here often as you get closer to your trip, because we'll be adding to this list! You'll love seeing what's new at Disney World and Universal in 2017 and beyond! See you in the parks!
What's New at Disney World in 2017
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Pandora - The World of Avatar—Now Open— Inspired by James Cameron’s 2009 movie, this new land will transport guests to the world of Pandora, home of the Na’vi. Full of bioluminescent plants and centered by the impressive floating mountains, the area will feature two attractions. On the Na’vi River Journey, guests will 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, will send guests soaring over Pandora on a flying Banshee. Sweet.
Rivers of Light—Now Showing—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 will celebrate visual, performing and culinary arts. Look for appearances by Disney artists and celebrity chefs, and enjoy performers singing hits from Disney's Broadway shows. Hoping for someone to sing "One Jump Ahead" from Aladdin. Get it? Nod if you're with me. Cool.
Choza de Margarita— Mid 2017—An authentic outdoor tequileria offering hand-crafted margaritas and classic Mexican cuisine will open outside of the Mexican Pavilion in World Showcase.
Happily Ever After Nighttime Spectacular—Now Playing - 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.
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Star Wars Guided Tour—Beginning Jan. 2, 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—Now Playing— This show will feature a live symphony orchestra playing music from Disney•Pixar films. There's a good bet that your favorite Disney•Pixar characters will be making an appearance as well.
Disney's Typhoon Lagoon
Miss Adventure Falls—Now Open—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
ESPN Wide World of Sports
A new cheerleading and dance venue will debut mid-2017 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. This one-of-a-kind venue will accommodate 8,000 fans and has the ability to be configured for events such as volleyball, basketball and concerts. A large number of cheerleading competitions are held at Disney World, and the ESPN complex hosts the Cheerleading World Championships each April. Lily, the resident jumper, will certainly enjoy this.
New dining, drinking and entertainment venues will be hopping up in 2017.
Planet Hollywood Observatory—Now Open—Reimagined as an observatory, the familiar Hollywood-themed restaurant returns 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—Now Open—The former Fulton's Crab House (and Empress Lilly before that) floats back with an upscale modern-yacht interior design. On the menu, there will be 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—Now Open—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 will be a sister restaurant to The Ravenous Pig in nearby Winter Park.
The Edison—Late 2017—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.
Unnamed New Restaurant—Fall 2017—A new restaurant will replace Portobello Country Italian Trattoria. The new restaurant will be overseen by James Beard Award-winner and Top Chef Master Tony Mantuano.
Wine Bar George—Fall 2017—Master Sommelier George Miliotes returns to Disney (he helped open California Grill in 1995) with an intimate wine bar that will resemble a winemaker's home estate. I'm a teenager and don't know what any of that means, but mom says it's fancy, so, cool. Yay, wine people.
What's New At Universal Orlando in 2017
Universal's Volcano Bay—Now Open—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—Now Open—Visitors follow Jimmy Fallon—Host of NBC's The Tonight Show—on board 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—Nov 18—Yes, you want to spend your winter break at school. This year, muggles and students will be able to experience Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley trimmed with festive holiday decorations on the buildings and within the shops of the Wizarding World. There will also be holiday-themed food and drinks, as well as entertainment. The highlight of Christmastime at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be a holiday show taking place on Hogwarts Castle. This new experience will use mapped-projection technology to "cast a spell" onto the castle and feature iconic moments from the films.
Universal's Holiday Parade—Nov 18—A re-imagining of the park's long-running Macy's Holiday Parade, this extravaganza will feature Dreamworks favorites such as the Minions, Shrek and Madagascar. Yes, Santa will be there as well. Brand new balloons will also premiere.
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 will let aspiring ninjas practice their Spinjitsu and battle enemies on LEGO NINJAGO THE RIDE. This kicking new land opened on Jan. 12.
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—Summer 2017—A redesigned nursery will give guests an up-close experience of the care SeaWorld employees give to dolphin mothers. Multiple-level viewing through acrylic windows will give visitors a close-up view of mothers and their calves. People LOOOVE dolphin videos. ALL. THE. YOUTUBE. LIKES.
Electric Ocean—Summer 2017— SeaWorld Orlando's new end-of-day spectacle event will immerse guests in a sea of wonder with bioluminescent lighting, music and pathway entertainment.
Kraken Virtual Reality (VR) Roller Coaster—Summer 2017—SeaWorld's thrilling coaster is landing 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 will be Florida's first VR coaster (and really hard to get on-ride footage of).
What's New at Disney World and Universal in 2018
Universal Studios Florida
- Fast & Furious: Supercharged—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. This will be similar to Fast & Furious: Supercharged that opened at Universal Studios Hollywood. Check out the video here. Fast & Furious at Universal Studios Florida will be located in the San Francisco area of the park.
2019 and Beyond
Disney's Hollywood Studios
- Star Wars-themed land—2019—This can't come here fast enough. At 14 acres, a Star Wars-themed land will be the largest land at Disney World. It will transport guests to a never-before-seen planet, with two new attractions—One based around a secret mission aboard the Millennium Flacon and another that will place guests into the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. Read full details about Star Wars Land here.
- Toy Story Land—No Date Announced—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 aliens — and the claw! Big fan of the little green guys.
Universal Orlando Resort
- Universal has partnered with Nintendo to bring to life experiences based on Nintendo's games, characters and worlds. The first new addition—Super Nintendo World—will open at Universal Studios Japan in 2020. Orlando and Hollywood versions are set to follow.
I hope you've enjoyed this look at what's new at Disney World and Universal in 2017 and beyond. Make sure to come back to see what's been added as you get closer to your visit. Hop on over to our When to Visit Orlando page for more planning tips, part of our Orlando Planning Timeline!