We’re just three months into 2013, and we are bursting with theme-park developments. And this is supposed to be the slow season. Instead of waiting nine months to compile a year-in-review post, I’ve decided to make quarterly reports that update the goings-on in one swoop. OK, a drawn-out swoop, but a swoop, nonetheless.
I’ve organized it in categories: New Business (attractions announced or opened), Old Business (progress made on previously known projects) and Came and Went (events and such that were contained within three months in question).
We won’t pretend it’s comprehensive, but it hits the highest points and may include a news item you missed or repressed. Some items include links for more details.
Legoland Florida announced its next expansion, World of Chima, will feature a water ride called the Quest for Chi. The Winter Haven park reopened its water park and, in the process, doubled the number of Lego blocks used in nearby figures and displays to 4 million. Legoland made alterations to its pricing structure, including a discount for buying for specific days in advance and an annual pass for Floridians for $99. (The latter includes parking.) Read more about World of Chima at Legoland Florida.
Downtown Disney will be renamed Disney Springs as the result of a new expansion plan set for completion in 2016, Disney officials announced. The project doubles the number of shopping, dining and entertainment venues, and it includes two parking garages. Read more about Downtown Disney and Disney Springs.
Two attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios will end their runs on April 6, Disney World announced. The curtain falls on the “Disney Channel Rocks” street show and the “Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun” parade.
Fresh food offerings were added to the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival lineup at kiosks around World Showcase. (The very mention of “Dole Whip with Spice Rum” caused a minor frenzy.) Some call it a “pretty Food & Wine.” This is the 20th year for the flower fest.
Disney World began unveiling details of its long-under-wraps MyMagic+ program, which eventually will include the ability to secure FastPasses in advance and colorful guest wristbands to activate other features at the parks. First up: Turnstile-free entrances at the theme parks.
The Kinsey Collection, art and artifacts documenting African-American history, opened in the American Adventure building at Epcot. Check out the Imagineered lanterns, designed to decorate and inform (and showcase stars such as Whoopi Goldberg). Read more about Kinsey Collection at Epcot.
Rapunzel’s Tower popped up in Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland. It stands high above a new restroom next to “it’s a small world” and within spitting distance of Haunted Mansion. Not that Rapunzel would ever spit. Read more about Rapunzel's Tower (and bathroom) at Magic Kingdom.
Disney World introduced “Limited Time Magic,” special mini-events that typically last one week. Examples: Meet and greets with rarely seen characters, Dapper Dans quartet sings boy-band medley.
George Kalogridis was appointed president of Walt Disney World. Kalogridis, a UCF alum, was previously president of Disneyland Resorts. Read a profile of WDW president George Kalogridis.
Universal’s Mardi Gras festivities began. New parade floats feature celebrations from around the world. Think Day of the Dead on stilts. Among the Mardi Gras performers have been Matchbox Twenty, Demi Lovato and “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips.
TNA Wrestling ended its eight-year run of taping episodes at Universal Studios in March. Read more about TNA Wrestling leaving Universal.
The Orange County Regional History Center opened “A Year in the Life: Backstage to Onstage at Universal Orlando,” an exhibit that looks at the creative design of theme park events.
Orlando Science Center entered a partnership with National Geographic that’s connected to its newly remodeled Digital Adventure Theater. There it started showing major-studio (and 3-D) movies such as “Wreck-It Ralph” and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” The science center also developed a new exhibit called “Corrosion: The Silent Menace.”
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex introduced the Angry Birds Space Encounter, complete with real-world slingshots. It announced a straightforward name for its upcoming shuttle exhibit -- Space Shuttle Atlantis -- and an opening date for the $100 million attraction -- June 29.
Hard Knocks announced it will open a location at Pointe Orlando on International Drive, with franchises set for other cities in the Southeast U.S.
Pirate’s Dinner Adventure near International Drive added a “Three Musketeers” dinner show.
Kissimmee’s Old Town complex introduced a weekly Bike Night for motorcycle enthusiasts and a country night for line-dancing types. Read more about Old Town's motorcycle and country nights.
Silver Springs announced that Whitesnake will cap off this year’s concert series, but that it would be back next year, even after the state took over operation of the park.
Busch Gardens in Tampa is planning a musical called “Madgascar Live! Operation: Vacation.” It’s set to debut at the park’s Stanleyville Theater on May 18.
Chocolate Kingdom – part attraction, part museum and history center – opened in Kissimmee.
Construction continued on Transformers: The Ride – 3D, set to open this summer at Universal Studios. The park had other construction hot spots, including at the former location of the Jaws ride and Amity area and as at the remodeling of a restaurant in the World Expo section. Universal has not announced what form those projects eventually will take. There are also unspecified construction walls up at the Studios’ sister park, Islands of Adventure.
Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the under-construction hotel at Universal Orlando, remained under construction. Reservations can be made for stays for March 31, 2014, and later.
At SeaWorld Orlando, work continued on Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, a deep-freeze of a ride that includes an animal habitat. The project also includes an eatery and shopping, all of which are set to open May 24. Read more about SeaWorld Orlando: Antarctica.
The “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination” exhibit continued at Orlando Science Center. Its final day is April 7. After that, the force will no longer be with us. Read more about "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination."
Construction continued at the Fun Spot USA expansion near International Drive. Two roller coasters and an arch for the SkyCoaster are taking shape and are set for a grand opening in early June.
Work is being done on the next phases of Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland, including Princess Fairytale Hall (a meet-and-greet opportunity set to open sometime in 2013) and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a roller coaster scheduled to open in 2014.
CAME AND WENT
Aquatica celebrated its fifth birthday with a limited $5 admission deal, which was extended by a cold snap. The water park also played host to Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for the Special Olympics of Florida.
SeaWorld Orlando’s Bands, Brew & BBQ festival ran for six weekends, with different national acts performing Saturdays and Sundays. Included in the lineup: Sheryl Crow, Josh Turner, Darius Rucker, Styx and more.
“The Jewels of the Titanic” exhibit, featuring relics found from the ocean-floor wreckage, made a stop at Titanic: The Experience on I-Drive.
Talk show “Live With Kelly & Michael” produced four episodes in front of a live audience at Magic Kingdom. The shows included taped segments of co-hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan and their families experiencing attractions such New Fantasyland and the refurbished Test Track.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco made the traditional “I’m going to Disney World” pledge after his team’s Super Bowl victory and followed it up with a Main Street parade at Magic Kingdom.
Ten actors from “Days of Our Lives,” an NBC daytime drama, made appearances at Universal Studios.
Otronicon, a technology fest, returned for another three-day run at Orlando Science Center.