Four years after Disney announced it would build Star Wars lands at its parks in Florida and California, fans finally will be able to set foot in the most anticipated theme park attraction since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Orlando in 2010. Galaxy’s Edge is scheduled to open this fall at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Even before the land on the Outer Rim of the Star Wars galaxy opens, 2019 will be a blockbuster year for new and revamped theme park rides. And it’s not just standalone rides that are opening — three parks will get entire new lands. In addition to Galaxy’s Edge, Legoland will open Lego Movie World on March 27 and Sesame Street land will open at SeaWorld this spring. Those three lands alone account for 11 new or rethemed rides.
Disney owns the end of the year, when Galaxy’s Edge will debut, giving fans the chance to pilot the Millennium Falcon and drink blue milk. Another new ride, Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway, will also open at Hollywood Studios this fall.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Bradenton Herald
But elsewhere, spring is the time for celebration, when the new lands at SeaWorld and Legoland and a new roller coaster at Busch Gardens will open.
Both Universal parks will get new attractions this year too, although the company hasn’t said when they’ll open.
All together, six of Central Florida’s theme parks will get new rides or major attractions this year, and some of the others will get new shows.
Here’s what’s happening:
Lego Movie World opens March 27 at Legoland in the space that used to be the World of Chima and recreates the town of Bricksburg, setting for “The Lego Movie.” One of the three rides is the former Quest for Chi, rethemed as the Battle of Bricksburg, with Chi’s water cannons used to fend off invading Duplo aliens. Expect to get wet.
The other two rides are new. Masters of Flight will be a flying theater, similar to Soarin’ at Epcot. Suspended on Emmet’s Triple Decker Flying Couch in front of a virtual screen, guests will have an adventure with characters from “The Lego Movie” and its sequel, “The Lego Movie 2,” which opened Friday.
Unikitty’s Disco Drop will be a child-sized drop tower, based on “The Lego Movie” character, a princess that is half kitten, half unicorn. Here’s how a Legoland press release describes the ride: “This ride swoops guests to the tiptop of Cloud Cuckoo Land, then drops, spins and bounces them back down to earth.”
Looking ahead: Construction is under way on a new five-story, 150-room Pirate Island Hotel, which will connect to the existing Legoland Hotel and is scheduled to open in spring 2020. The hotel, Legoland’s third, will have pirate-themed rooms including treasure chests and boat-shaped bunk beds.
Although Sesame Street will be a new land, it is mostly the theming that is new. Sesame Street will replace Shamu’s Happy Harbor, which was also oriented toward toddlers and very young kids. The six rides SeaWorld has announced are former Happy Harbor rides that have been rethemed. SeaWorld isn’t saying which is which, but for example, it looks like the Shamu Express, a steel-rail coaster that peaked at 30 feet high and 28 miles an hour, will become Super Grover’s Box Car Derby.
Rethemed rides, in addition to Super Grover’s Box Car Derby, will include Abby’s Flower Tower, a swing tower; Slimey’s Slider; Cookie Drop, a drop tower; Elmo’s Choo Choo Train; and Big Bird’s Twirl n’ Whirl.
But there is also new construction. Sesame Street — an actual street with familiar landmarks including Abby Cadabby’s garden, Mr. Hooper’s store, Big Bird’s nest and the stoop at 123 Sesame Street — also will include wet and dry play areas, a daily parade and character meet-and-greets.
Sesame Street is scheduled to open this spring; SeaWorld has not announced a specific date.
Other changes at SeaWorld Orlando:
▪ “One World,” the park’s killer whale show, is transitioning to more educational presentations over the course of the year, said Suzanne Pelisson Beasley, corporate communications manager for SeaWorld’s corporate parent company. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment announced three years ago that it was ending the breeding of orcas and changing its whale shows after years of controversy. After a whale killed a trainer at the Orlando park in 2010, the documentary “Blackfish” stirred public anger over the treatment of whales in captivity and put pressure on SeaWorld, which suffered significant drops in attendance and revenue.
▪ SeaWorld’s newest thrill ride, Infinity Falls, a river raft ride with a 40-foot drop, opened in October. Also last year, SeaWorld ended its experiment with virtual reality on its Kraken roller coaster, citing the extra time required to clean and adjust the headsets after each ride. The coaster — 4,177 feet long, 153 feet tall, top speed of 65 mph, seven inversions — continues to run without the virtual reality plug-in.
▪ Aquatica, SeaWorld’s water park, is scheduled to open a new waterslide with two-person rafts this spring named KareKare Curl. The park calls it a thrill slide.
▪ In January, Aquatica became the first water park in the world to become a Certified Autism Center.
Busch Gardens, which has the largest collection of roller coasters of any single Florida park, is adding a new one for its 60th anniversary year: Tigris, a triple-launch steel coaster that the project manager claims will make “you lose your lunch.”
The coaster will launch riders forward and backwards at high speed — up to 60 miles an hour. Along the top, after a 150-foot climb almost straight up, the track twists like a ribbon, staying level as the car rolls around it sideways, a coaster element called a heartline roll. The ride finishes with a large loop.
The three launches — including a backwards launch — and the heartline roll will make it one of the park’s most thrilling coasters, said Andrew Schaffer, project manager. Those same elements might test the courage — and the stomachs — of some riders, he said.
Early in the process, when the project team was envisioning the ride, “We were trying to hit a thrill-seeking rider,” Schaffer said in an interview. “That reverse launch is going to be very exciting and the heartline roll ... it’s a very dramatic ride.”
It’s a compact ride, designed to mimic the agility of a tiger. The track is just over 800 feet long — the length of Goofy’s Barnstormer at Magic Kingdom — but the car will travel along some sections of the track three times, so the ride will cover about 1,700 feet. That’s still short for a roller coaster, about the length of Scorpion at Busch Gardens. But it’s not a family coaster: Minimum height to ride is 54 inches.
The coaster is located in the space in Stanleyville formerly occupied by the Tanganyika Tidal Wave water ride, which closed three years ago. It is next to Jungala, where the park has Bengal and Malayan tigers. The queue will also include educational content about tigers and efforts to save them.
Tigris is due to open this spring, on an unspecified date.
Looking ahead: Busch Gardens also announced that Gwazi, a double wooden roller coaster that closed in 2015, would be revamped into a new thrill ride that will open in 2020. Parts of the coaster’s structure have been removed, but the touringcentralflorida.com website reported that the contractor listed on the demolition permit was Rocky Mountain Construction, a company known for transforming wooden roller coasters into hybrid coasters with a wooden foundation and a steel track.
Two new attractions are set to open, one at each of Universal’s Orlando parks. We know something about one and little about the other.
In the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure, a new roller coaster is under construction, replacing the dueling Dragon Challenge coasters that were closed in September 2017 and demolished. Universal has said the new coaster will be a family coaster — unlike Dragon Challenge, which had a minimum height requirement of 54 inches and turned riders upside down five times — but hasn’t released any information about its design. Construction photos show what could be Hagrid’s hut near the Forbidden Forest.
The park said the new coaster will open this year but hasn’t narrowed down the timing.
The company also says a new attraction will open this year at Universal Studios in the space previously occupied by Terminator 2: 3D, which closed last October. Universal has said only that it will be replaced by “an all-new live action experience based on a high-energy Universal franchise” that will open in 2019.
Surfside Inn and Suites will open this summer, the first of two hotels being built on the site formerly occupied by Universal’s Wet ‘n Wild water park. The beach-themed hotel will have 750 rooms and suites and will have budget prices; a check of the website this week showed rooms starting at $157. Surfside Inn will be part of Universal’s Endless Summer resort. The resort’s second hotel, Dockside Inn and Suites will open in 2020 and will have 2,050 rooms and suites.
Looking ahead: After buying more than 500 acres of land near the Orange County Convention Center and getting permits for earth moving, Universal executives last year filed paperwork to trademark a couple names for theme park use, then publicly conceded their interest in building a fourth Orlando park there
Comcast, Universal’s parent company, has said nothing publicly since. But in December, someone leaked a photo from a presentation to Comcast employees that appeared to show a rendering of a theme park with Nintendo’s Mario character and the name Universal’s Fantastic Worlds — one of the names trademarked by Universal.
Another leaked document indicates the new park will house Nintendo-themed attractions. Universal and Nintendo have said publicly that they are working together on theme park lands, including one in Orlando, although they have not said when or which of Universal’s Orlando parks.
Also, after Universal Studios Hollywood announced it would close its Jurassic Park ride and replace it with the Jurassic World Ride this year, fansites said the Jurassic Park sections of Islands of Adventure would also get a makeover, including a new roller coaster. Universal, however, has made no announcement about the attraction at its Orlando park and did not respond to questions on the rumors.
WALT DISNEY WORLD
Even with so many attractions opening at other parks, it’s hard to match the hype and anticipation for Galaxy’s Edge, a 14-acre Star Wars land set to debut this fall at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Galaxy’s Edge will have only two rides, but a scale model shows a lavishly detailed, forbidding land.
A Star Wars land has been in the works more or less since 2012, when the Walt Disney Co. announced it had acquired Lucasfilm and its Star Wars franchise for $4 billion and that more Star Wars content would be incorporated into its parks (several Disney parks already had Star Tours motion simulator rides). Three years later, Disney announced it would build Star Wars lands at its parks in Florida and California.
Events at Galaxy’s Edge take place during the third trilogy, following “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” The setting is new to Star Wars lore: Black Spire Outpost, the largest settlement on Batuu, a remote planet on the Outer Rim of the Star Wars galaxy. Largely forgotten by the mainstream, it has become a haven for smugglers, traders and adventurers. The settlement, which has not appeared in any Star Wars movies, is named for the petrified remains of its ancient trees.
The rides are Smugglers Run, which puts guests in the roles of smugglers and members of the flight crew aboard the Millennium Falcon, and Rise of the Resistance, where guests are taken prisoner aboard a Star Destroyer and must fight to escape. The land also has a table-service restaurant, Oga’s Cantina and a store with Star Wars merchandise.
By the time Galaxy’s Edge opens in Orlando, it’s unlikely to reveal surprises — its twin will have opened a few months earlier at Disneyland in California.
Hollywood Studios will get something entirely new about the same time, though. Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway, the first Mickey Mouse themed ride at any Disney park, will open this fall in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which used to house the Great Movie Ride. It will be a family ride, based on Disney Channel’s “Mickey Mouse” cartoon shorts.
The story is that Mickey and Minnie go on a picnic in their little red car. When they look inside a train running next to them, they see that their friend Goofy is the engineer. “You will step into the movie screen and onto Goofy’s train,” said Kevin Rafferty of Disney’s creative team. “With Goofy as your engineer, what could possibly happen?”
What could, indeed?
More of what’s happening at Disney World this year:
▪ Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, a show, will open March 31 at Hollywood Studios. The cocky star of “Cars” will share racing tips with help from Mater and Cruz Ramirez. He’ll be appearing on a giant wrap-around screen with new animation.
▪ The Tomorrowland Speedway, closed Jan. 2 so it could be re-routed to make room for construction of the Tron roller coaster at Magic Kingdom, is scheduled to reopen in mid-May. No projected reopening date has been announced for the Disney World Railroad, which closed in December for the same reason, but is also getting refurbished.
▪ The NBA Experience, a collaboration between the NBA and Disney’s creative team, will open this summer at Disney Springs. The NBA Experience will feature a restaurant plus hands-on activities built around professional basketball, including on-court action, photo opps, trivia games, video games and more.
▪ “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth,” a nighttime show that has been running at Epcot since 1999, will close at the end of summer. A temporary replacement, “Epcot Forever,” will debut this fall. Its permanent replacement, still unnamed, will open in 2020.
▪ Skyliner, a system of aerial gondolas similar to the old Magic Kingdom Skyway that once connected Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, will open this fall. Skyliner will have a hub at the Caribbean Beach Resort and will connect that hotel and several others with Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
▪ Disney’s Riviera Resort, part of the Disney Vacation Club, will open late this year with about 300 units ranging from studios to villas that sleep 12. Although an opening date hasn’t been announced, the Riviera is accepting guest reservations for stays beginning in December. The resort was inspired by Walt Disney’s travels to Europe and European art. It will be connected to Skyliner.
▪ Seasonal shows and parties this year include the “MoveIt! Shake It! MousekeDance It” Street Party in front of Cinderella Castle, Magic Kingdom; a dance party with the Incredibles at Pixar Place, Hollywood Studios; the Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party at Discovery Island, Animal Kingdom; and the Guardians of the Galaxy – Awesome Mix Live! musical showcase at Epcot.
Looking ahead: Three major new rides are planned to open by 2021, the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World: the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, both in Epcot; and the Tron roller coaster, in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom. The Epcot rides are well under construction; Tron’s site is still in the earth-moving stage.
Disney has announced several other attractions in the works that don’t yet have projected opening dates: an immersive Star Wars hotel adjacent to Galaxy’s Edge; a space-themed restaurant at Epcot; and a Beauty and the Beast sing-along at Epcot.