A great summer for Orlando theme park vacation

Associated PressJune 20, 2013 

ORLANDO -- If there's ever been a summer to visit a theme park -- or two, or three -- this is it.

Thrilling, sense-assaulting rides? Penguins?

Yes, yes.

In Orlando, four of the area's big parks -- Disney, Universal, Legoland and SeaWorld -- have opened, or are about to open, new attractions.

Disney

Back in December, Disney World opened a newly expanded Fantasyland, the largest project in the park's 41-year history. There are two sections: Enchanted Forest, where visitors will find Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" and Ariel from "The Little Mermaid," and Storybook Circus, which is inspired by the Disney film "Dumbo."

A new ride called Under the Sea-Journey of the Little Mermaid and Enchanted Tales With Belle, a walk-through experience that features a magical mirror and costumed characters, will impress movie lovers. And the popular Dumbo attraction is now a little less crowded, because Disney built a second, identical ride.

The new spaces are built on what was once the site of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea experience, and the expansion doubles the size of the original Fantasyland.

George Kalogridis, president of the Walt Disney World Resort, said that if he were bringing his family to the park on a summer day, he would begin with the Enchanted Tales with Belle experience, then check out the new Doc McStuffins segment at Disney Junior-Live on Stage at Hollywood Studios.

Hollywood Studios is also the place to find costumed characters from the Disney-Pixar movie Monsters University.

"Something new in every park makes it easy to satisfy everybody in the family," he said.

Universal

Over at Universal Orlando, a 3-D theme park ride based on the Transformers toy and film brand opens today; a similar ride is already open at Universal's parks in California and Singapore.

The park describes the ride as an interactive, "larger than life battle" between the Autobots and Decepticons. It uses flight simulator technology, along with wind, heat and smoke to make the riders feel immersed in the experience.

SeaWorld

At SeaWorld Orlando, the Antarctica -- Empire of the Penguin attraction opened on May 24.

With a ride, restaurants and the penguin habitat, it's the largest expansion in the park's history.

The ride takes visitors through a queue, themed around a fictional penguin named Puck. As visitors make their way through the queue and ride, the temperature keeps dropping -- until visitors are in 30-degree temperatures.

The ride ends at the penguin habitat, where more than 250 birds live. Visitors can watch the birds frolic on shore or underwater.

Park executive said that in doing research for a new attraction, penguins are a big draw at parks.

"As we developed this attraction, we found that adults like penguins just as much as kids, and we've seen adults act just like kids when they're around them," said Terry Prather, the vice president of park operations at SeaWorld Orlando.

Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens in Tampa has two new offerings: the Madagascar Live show and three just-born rare Malayan tiger cubs.

Legoland

Over at Legoland Florida, the park is expanding to include a new ride and interactive play area based on the company's popular Legends of Chima product line.

The section, which is scheduled to open July 3, will include an interactive water ride called The Quest for Chi, a Lego-building challenge, a 4-D movie and a meet-and-greet with costumed characters.

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