Thursday, May 22, 2014

From Harry Potter to Wild Florida: What’s on track at Central Florida theme parks

Posted By , , and on Thu, May 22, 2014 at 1:00 AM

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Ah, summer theme park visits. Whether you’re soggy from sweat or afternoon showers, no heat or inclement weather should put a damper on the excitement around the new rides scheduled to open this season. Both Universal and Busch Gardens have postponed the opening dates of their anticipated additions, but barring any further delays, most if not all parks should have big new additions this summer. Here’s the lowdown on what to expect — along with a look at some recent developments.
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Falcon’s Fury Brace yourself for that familiar stomach-sinking feeling that you probably hate and crave simultaneously, as you step onto North America’s tallest free-standing drop tower when Falcon’s Fury opens at Busch Gardens. Aside from the unorthodox height of 335 feet, a few other features set this drop tower apart from the rest. Probably the creepiest of them all is its 90-degree tilting seats, which force riders to face straight down as they descend — an element that’s brand new to drop-ride history. After rising up to a maximum of 335 feet, the car freefalls at about 60 miles per hour for five seconds. As the attraction comes to an end, riders’ seats gradually swivel back to a horizontal position. Busch Gardens retracted its opening date of May 1 and will not go on record with a new date, but it may still make its big debut this summer. Considering the fear factor, visitors should derive reassurance that the park is not rushing to open Falcon’s Fury by a “drop-dead” deadline. —Mina Abgoon

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Diagon Alley Harry Potter fans have been anticipating Universal Orlando’s extension since 2012, when the park closed JAWS to make room for an undisclosed addition. Now the opening is finally in sight. Although there is no official premiere date for the new attractions at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley and two rides are tentatively due to open this summer. In addition to Hogsmeade and other Harry Potter attractions already at Islands of Adventure, Universal is opening a London-themed waterfront park featuring Gringotts Bank and the Hogwarts Express, which will connect the two areas. The biggest upcoming attraction is the 4D, four-minute Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts. The ride — for anyone taller than 42 inches — will provide a wait similar to the other attractions, with winding lines through different bank rooms and the infamous lobby, and will feature new film projections of the cast. Once on the ride, visitors can prepare to be enchanted by the dragons, goblins, spells and even He Who Must Not Be Named. —Amy Daire
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Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Walt Disney World completes the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history — a revamped Fantasyland — with the opening of a brand-new steel roller coaster situated in Fantasyland’s heart. Based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Mine Train resembles Thunder Mountain with its faux craggy terrain and peak steep inclines, but the vehicle’s cars are a set of five interlocked “ore buckets” that run on a pivoting ride system, the soundtrack is music from the classic film, and everything slows down in the middle when the cars enter a mine glowing and sparkling with gems and featuring tableaux of singing, working Dwarfs in full “Hi Ho” mode. There’s even a replica of the Dwarfs’ cottage at the ride’s end, replete with Snow White dancing in a window. The attraction opens officially on May 28. —Leilani Polk

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Wild Florida
What started out as mainly an attraction for airboat rides now encompasses a wildlife park, a kayak tour, a full-service restaurant, animal exhibits and nature trails. The additions to the St. Cloud-based Wild Florida — unlike all the other hot-ticket attractions buzzed about this season — have already been completed. They offer a pleasant escape from the park’s noisier and more crowded neighbors. The Dead River Kayak Adventure Tour takes guests into the protected swamps, marshes and rivers of the Central Florida Everglades, and 10 new animal exhibits are home to raccoons, tropical birds, foxes, bobcats and lemurs — and more. A new park trail expansion includes a bridge across the gator pond, and a full-service barbecue restaurant feeds the humans items that range from pulled pork and ribs to gator tail and frog legs. Visitors will be able to enjoy a meal lakeside or in a 2,000 square-foot air-conditioned seating area. —Julie Garisto

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