Remember that moment in the original “Toy Story” movie when Buzz Lightyear climbs into the Claw vending machine at Planet Pizza, Woody goes in to rescue him and they disappear under the three-eyed toy aliens? The Claw descends to grab one of the little green aliens, and they reverently explain that the Claw is their master.
That scene was the inspiration for Alien Swirling Saucers, one of the rides that will anchor the new Toy Story Land when it opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios June 30. The ride will have a Claw hanging over it, as if it might pluck you from your rocket and deliver you into the hands of Sid Phillips, the toy-terrorizing boy next door.
With two new rides and a themed eatery, Toy Story Land is the biggest new attraction coming to Florida’s theme parks this year. But it’s not the only one.
Universal Studios is set to open its Fast and Furious -- Supercharged thrill ride this spring, and SeaWorld says it will open Infinity Falls, a whitewater raft ride, this summer. Legoland is debuting a virtual reality component on its Project X roller coaster on March 23, while SeaWorld has quietly removed the virtual headsets from its Kraken roller coaster.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom will mark its 20th anniversary with a new show, “UP! A Great Bird Adventure.” Aquatica (SeaWorld’s water park) will open the Ray Rush family raft slide this spring, while Adventure Island (Busch Gardens’ water park) will get a 70-foot drop slide. And Universal Orlando will open its sixth hotel.
But what about Star Wars land, you may ask, that sprawling mix of science fiction and fantasy that is expected to challenge the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for scope and popularity?
Galaxy’s Edge will open at Disney’s Hollywood Studios — and at Disneyland Resort in California — in 2019, no date specified. A model of the new land is on display at Walt Disney Presents at Hollywood Studios.
Here’s the rundown:
WALT DISNEY WORLD
In Toy Story land — Andy’s toy-filled back yard — guests will be magically shrunk to the size of a toy, where they can ride two new rides, Alien Swirling Saucers and Slinky Dog Dash, a roller coaster. They’ll also have access to the recently expanded Toy Story Mania! ride and can buy food from Woody’s Lunch Box, a walk-up window Andy created by setting his lunch box on its side.
Another moment in the original “Toy Story” movie might help you visualize the new roller coaster: Andy’s toys are in the back of the moving van, trying to rescue Woody and Buzz Lightyear, and Slinky Dog stretches waaaay out to reach them. That’s what the ride vehicle looks like. The coaster track was assembled by Andy from his Mega Coaster Play Kit. It runs through a good part of the 11-acre land. Disney says it will be “thrilling but not scary,” but has not yet said how fast it will be.
The setting for Alien Swirling Saucers is a play set that Andy won at Planet Pizza. The ride vehicles are jet rockets towed by the aliens’ saucers. There’s some spinning on carousel-like platforms — fan websites say the ride is similar to a slower version of the Mad Tea Party — but nothing too fast and no one is turned upside down. It’s a family ride in a land designed mainly for kids.
Other Disney news:
▪ Animal Kingdom, created as a celebration of animals, animal conservation and the natural environment, will mark its 20th anniversary on Earth Day, April 22, with a two-week Party for the Planet and the debut of a new show, “UP! A Great Bird Adventure.” The show will feature Russell from the move “Up” as a senior wilderness explorer and his friend the golden retriever Dug in encounters with exotic birds.
▪ At Epcot, Mission: Space, a simulator attraction, was revamped over the summer and now offers two versions of the ride. The old Orange Mission to Mars was enhanced with new, high-definition video, and a less intense and more family-friendly Green Mission around Earth was added.
▪ Beyond this year: In addition to Galaxy’s Edge, Disney plans to open Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway —which, surprisingly, will be the first Mickey-themed ride at any Disney park — at Hollywood Studios in 2019. Disney Riviera Resort, a Disney Vacation Club hotel, is also scheduled to open in 2019 near Epcot.
Disney has also tantalized us with these attractions: at Epcot, a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster and Ratatouille: The Adventure, a trackless dark ride, by fall 2022; at the Magic Kingdom, a Tron roller coaster in 2021; and a Star Wars-themed immersive experience based in a new hotel, location and opening date not announced.
The Fast and Furious franchise, subject of eight movies that have grossed more than $5 billion, arrives at Universal Studios this spring. Parkgoers get involved in a wild chase, depicted on high-definition 360-degree screens, similar to the setup for Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Islands of Adventure.
The ride has its own original story line. Riders will start in the Supercharged building, the base of operations for Dominic (Van Diesel) and the family, where they’ll see cars and scenes from the movies. They’ll board customized party buses to attend a race after-party, but en route, guests learn that Dom’s nemesis, Owen Shaw, has tracked them down. Soon they’re the prey in a high-speed chase.
Fast and Furious will use the same virtual line for admission that debuted last year at Jimmy Fallon’s Race through New York. Guests can reserve a specific time to see the attraction at no charge, either at kiosks near the ride entrance or on the Universal app, or they can wait in the stand-by line.
Other Universal news:
▪ At Islands of Adventure, the former Dragon Challenge coasters in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter have been taken down and will be replaced in 2019 by a coaster with a Wizarding World theme. The intertwined coasters were among the original attractions when Islands of Adventure opened in 1999 and were named Dueling Dragons, with the two coasters synchronized to make it appear they were about to collide. The coasters were renamed and rethemed in 2010 to fit into Wizarding World, but soon afterwards, their timing was changed so that there were no more near-misses. Universal has not released any information on the name or design of the new coaster.
▪ The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle show began in January and runs most nights after dark, also at Islands of Adventure. During the show, Hogwarts appears to be wrapped in light with projection mapping that uses video displays and special effects to bring the four houses of Hogwarts — Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin — to life.
▪ Aventura Hotel, Universal’s sixth hotel, will open in August. The 17-story hotel will have 600 guestrooms at a price point similar to Cabana Bay and lower than Universal’s legacy hotels.
Universal closed its Cinematic Spectacular show last fall, five years after the outdoor light-and-water show opened in 2002. It will be replaced by another show featuring a new story line and animated Universal characters, but an opening date has not been announced.
Beyond this year: Universal plans to build Super Nintendo World in Universal Studios and has said only that it will be after the Nintendo attractions open at Universal Studios Japan in 2020.
SeaWorld will open a new thrill ride this summer, a river rafting ride that will feature a 40-foot drop. Infinity Falls, inspired by South America’s rainforests, will be a twisting, four-minute ride on a jungle river with intense whitewater rapids. An elevator will lift each eight-passenger raft, then launch it into the river with a 40-foot drop.
The ride’s story line is that a drone exploring a jungle in South America discovered previously uncharted structures in a remote area along the banks of a freshwater river. Explorers and scientists set up base camp nearby, fell in love with the river, and set up a sustainable camp so others could learn about the jungle and the river.
The attraction will also offer encounters with animals native to South America and interactive experiences that will educate park guests about freshwater ecosystems.
Other SeaWorld news:
▪ The virtual reality component added to the Kraken roller coaster last summer has been removed with little explanation and no word on when it will be returned. The coaster, which opened in 2000, continues to operate as it originally did. The headsets created a new story line about undersea adventure, with visuals that began in a submarine base and led to encounters with prehistoric sea creatures.
A statement from SeaWorld said the virtual reality headsets were temporarily removed because of “equipment issues,” and that the park’s priority is “to provide a safe and exciting experience on every attraction.” The equipment issue is apparently specific to Kraken; a virtual reality coaster scheduled to open this year at a sister park, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, is not affected, a SeaWorld spokesman said.
▪ At Aquatica, SeaWorld’s water park, a new family raft slide opens this spring, replacing HooRoo Run. As with so many SeaWorld attractions, this one has an animal connection, in this case the manta ray, and it is called Ray Rush. Highlights of the 500-foot slide include swirling up and down the inside of a giant, translucent sphere and a drop into an open-air halfpipe that resembles the shape of a manta ray, where rafts will move as if on the ray’s wings.
Beyond next year: SeaWorld Orlando is working on a new Sesame Street kids land, scheduled to open by the fall of 2022.
The Project X roller coaster, which started life as the Jungle Coaster at Legoland in Windsor, England, and moved to Florida in 2011, reopens on March 23 in its third incarnation — a virtual reality coaster named the Great Lego Race.
Like Legoland’s other coasters, the park calls Project X a pink-knuckle ride. It’s a little scary, but not too scary, for younger kids. It stands 52 feet high and has a top speed of 35 miles an hour. The track doesn’t have steep climbs and drops, but a series of hairpin turns, which makes it a good fit for a race-themed makeover.
With the virtual reality add-on, guests will be in a race, sometimes airborne, against animated Lego models — a pirate, wizard, surfer and pharaoh — in quirky Lego vehicles and a setting made of Lego bricks. The virtual reality component is optional — guests can ride without the headsets.
Other Legoland news:
▪ Miniland, which already has model displays of characters and scenes from Star Wars movies, is getting new scenes from “The Force Awakens,” built of Lego bricks, to be unveiled on May 4.
Adventure Island, Busch Gardens’ water park, will open a new drop slide on March 8. Vanish Point, which features a 70-foot free fall, will let riders choose between two skyboxes, each of which will send them through 425 feet of spiraling tubes.