Florida theme parks offer new features

A major expansion at Universal Studios, Disney and a new thrill ride at Busch Gardens are in store

mclear@bradenton.comMay 29, 2014 

If you've ever wanted to plunge straight toward the earth from 30 stories in the air, you'll have to wait a bit longer.

Falcon's Fury, the newest addition to Busch Gardens in Tampa, which was originally scheduled to be open May 1 has been delayed yet again.

But the other major theme parks, all close enough to Bradenton for an easy day trip, all have some have exciting new attractions planned for this summer.

Here is a look at some of a few of the one that looks especially promising.

Busch Gardens

Just an hour away from Bradenton is the African-themed park that offers a mix of world-class rides and exotic animals.

Its newest ride, Falcon's Fury, is billed as "North America's tallest freestanding drop tower."

How high, exactly? It reaches 335 feet -- much higher than the tallest building in Bradenton or Sarasota -- and then it makes a 90-degree turn in mid-air and sends it passengers hurtling toward the ground, face-first, at 60 miles per hour.

On Wednesday, a Busch Gardens spokesperson announced there would be an indefinite delay. "Due to a delay in the fabrication of key component parts, neither the manufacturer nor Busch Gardens are able to complete the lengthy testing processes needed to open the ride to the public. We look forward to the launch of Falcon's Fury, North America's tallest freestanding drop tower, later this summer," states the press release.

Falcon's Fury is the centerpiece of Pantopia, a new "village" within Busch Gardens. The old Timbuktu village has been transformed into the fictional Pantopia, which includes an animal show with cats, dog and kangaroos, and a new shopping area that sells clothing and souvenirs made from recycled materials.

Details: Busch Gardens, Tampa. Tickets: Regular daily admission $95. Information: 888-800-5447, buschgardens.com.

Universal Orlando Resort

If you're a serious Harry Potter fan, you've probably already checked out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure. It features Hogwarts castle, shops and rides, all with a Potter theme.

That part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, called Hogsmeade, opened four years ago. This summer, a new "land" within that world, is set to open at Universal Studios Orlando. The media opening is set for June 17-19, so it should be open the public soon after.

Visitors enter the new Diagon Alley from the streets of London, visit the Leaky Cauldron restaurant and Olivander's wand shop and other shops along the alley where quidditch supplies will be available.

The main attraction in Diagon Alley is a new ride called Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. It's a thrill ride that takes passengers through the perils of Gringotts vaults, including encounters with Harry, Ron and Hermione and a fire-breathing dragon.

Details: Universal Orlando Resort. Tickets: Daily admission to both parks, $136; one park, $96. Information: 407-363-8000, universalorlando.com.

Walt Disney World

Fantasyland has been one of the most popular destinations in Disney Word's Magic Kingdom ever since it opened in the 1970s. A recent expansion and several new attractions should promise to make it more exciting than ever before. It's the largest expansion in the history of Magic Kingdom, and it will double the size of Fantasyland.

The new Fantasyland includes two new themed areas -- the Enchanted Forest (inspired by "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" and the Storybook Circus (inspired by "Dumbo"). Both feature themed rides, shows and restaurants.

It's open now, but expansion will continue through the end of they year.

The newest element of the New Fantasyland to open is the Seven Dwarfs mine train, a family coaster that takes passengers through the forrest where Snow White and the Dwarfs live, and then into the mine where the dwarfs whistle while they work.

Details: Disney World, Lake Buena Vista. Tickets: General daily admission, $99. Information: 407-939-5277, disneyworld.disney.go.com.

Legoland Florida

Legoland started last fall to expand its toddler-dedicated area. It reopened just within recent weeks with a new name -- Duplo Valley.

The area, named for Lego's line of building toys for pre-schoolers, includes a new farm-themed attractions, an air-conditioned indoor play area, and a water play area all geared toward toddlers ages 2 to 5.

The central feature is the new the Duplo Train where toddlers can board a train on their own or with their parents to explore countryside-themed scenery.

Details: Legoland Florida, Winter Haven. Tickets: General daily admission $69 adults, $62 children and seniors. Information: 877-350-5346, florida.legoland.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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