Welcome to random ramblings about the year in theme parks and attractions.
•Legoland Florida is a big deal. It's the area's first new full-blown theme park since Universal's Islands of Adventure went up in 1999. But it's going to take some adjustment. We're just not used to a park being closed two days a week.
And grown-ups need to understand that the Winter Haven attraction caters to children, and it's serious about it. When a colleague asked if Legoland, which opened in October, was going to rent out its lakeside mansion or botanical gardens for weddings, an official said something to the effect of "our target audience is 2- to 12-year-olds, and 2- to 12-year-olds don't get married."
•This was a study in contrasts of Disney World hype: The return of Star Tours at Disney's Hollywood Studios versus the debut of Magic Kingdom's "The Magic, the Memories and You," also known as the castle projection show.
Star Tours naturally drew a lot of attention because of its "Star Wars" association. The grand reopening in May attracted international media, creator George Lucas in an action sequence and a legion of movie characters and stormtroopers. The line of fans snaked through the park, and they rode over and over again, checking out the 40-plus different combinations of flight sequences of the retooled motion simulator.
In January, Disney unveiled the projection show to members of the media about to head out on the christening voyage of the Disney Dream cruise ship. We didn't know much about it except that it sounded like images tossed on the side of Cinderella Castle. "It's a heck of a lot more than a slide show on the castle," show director Alan Bruun previewed.
Oh, he was right. The castle transforms before your eyes, simply teeming with activity. One moment it's covered in virtual vines, the next moment it's in a ripple effect or a rocket blast-off. Yeah, there are candid shots of guests incorporated, but you have to be eagle-eyed to catch them … and then you might miss a cooler effect.
•The biggest talker among my friends had to be the Screamin' Gator Zip Line, which opened in June at Gatorland. Yes, my pals, this course does speed right over the alligator breeding marsh and, no, the jumping Cuban crocs can't snip at your feet. But I think they're thinking about it.
This may become known as the year of the zip. Aside from the Gatorland edition, the course at Florida EcoSafaris was made higher, longer and faster to go alongside its slower-paced Cypress Canopy Cycle; Zip Orlando opened in Kissimmee; and a least one stretch of wire has been installed at Old Town and Fantasy of Flight.
•I am a big fan of your admission paying for every attraction for the day. But a two add-ons introduced this year might make you feel special — for a special price.
Since January, Disney's Animal Kingdom guests have been experiencing Wild Africa Trek, a tour through previously forbidden areas of the theme park. Included are swinging bridges, the ability to dangle semi-precariously above crocodiles and hippos and a snack on the safari. Price (on top of Animal Kingdom admission): $189.
At Discovery Cove, SeaVenture is an add-on to the Grand Reef that opened in June. Guests don diving helmets (without getting wet hair!) and interact with thousands of fishies. Most striking is the close — but safely behind glass — encounter with sharks. Price (on top of regular Discovery Cove admission): $59.
•Do I really, really want to like "One Ocean," the killer-whale show that debuted at SeaWorld Orlando in April? Or am I just really, really glad that its predecessor, "Believe," is outta there? Either way, the shows lose some punch without trainers in the tank, but that's a bigger issue for higher pay-grade folks than me to determine.
•My "That Looks Like Fun" Award goes to Cheetah Hunt, a roller coaster that debuted at Busch Gardens in May. The focal point is a precarious-looking, perhaps top-heavy tower. The real rollicking fun follows the tower, in the back half of the ride. Bonus: real cheetahs nearby.
Gone, not forgotten
Here are some attractions, rides, shows and events that were seen for the final time in 2011. They are listed with their theme parks and the year they opened.
•Grad Nite, Walt Disney World (Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios), 1972
•Mickey's Toontown Fair, Magic Kingdom, 1988
•Manatee Rescue, SeaWorld Orlando, 1993
•Ariel's Grotto, Magic Kingdom, 1996
•The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management), Magic Kingdom, 1998
•Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast, Universal Studios, 2003
•ESPN: The Weekend, Disney's Hollywood Studios, 2004
•"Believe," SeaWorld Orlando, 2006
•Block Party Bash, Disney's Hollywood Studios, 2008
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