Orlando’s theme parks take you to new worlds – and a virtual New York
Just when you think they can’t possibly top the fire-breathing dragon at Gringotts Bank, Orlando’s theme park wizards are at it again with a spellbinding array of new attractions.
This summer, the “Theme Park Capital of the World” launches some of the “most state-of-the-art” expansions in theme park history, says George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando.
And to think it all started with a simple 2-D pants-wearing mouse! Here’s a look:
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
Universal Orlando Resort
Board a „flying” theater seat for a crazy computer-simulated tour of New York City with Jimmy Fallon, the goofball host of NBC’s The Tonight Show. Count on seeing zany characters from the show, including the Ragtime Gals and Hashtag the Panda as you race through the streets and skies of the Big Apple. (Fallon’s family makes a cameo appearance near the pizza parlor.) You’ll careen through a Manhattan subway tunnel, dive into the East River and dodge skyscrapers as your senses are stimulated even more by piped-in pizza scent, fireworks and music from Fallon’s house band, The Roots. After experiencing all this, a seat in the audience at the real Studio 6B might seem pretty tame.
SPRING FOR A BITE AT DISNEY SPRINGS: Buh-bye, mammoth turkey legs, and hello, celebrity chefs. Disney Springs, an upscale dining and shopping zone at Walt Disney World, is home to restaurants connected to James Beard Award-winning chefs Rick Bayless, Masaharu Morimoto and Art Smith. Joining them is TV personality/ chef Guy Fieri, above, who created a sandwich menu for the Planet Hollywood Observatory, an eye-popping four-story sphere with an outdoor terrace. Count on „off the hook” (in Fieri parlance) burgers and 20 Florida craft beers on tap. If you survive all the new attractions, drinks are on us.
Universal Orlando Resort
Joining Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the 30-acre Volcano Bay water park recalls the languid lagoons and palm- fringed islets of the South Pacific. Call it serenity spiked with squealing: Erupting out of the park’s steaming 200-foot volcano is the shriek-inducing Krakatau Aqua Coaster.
Aboard a specially designed canoe, guests cruise up and down the volcano’s peaks and valleys, lurch into dark passageways and splash through waterfalls. Other elements include a wave pool with sandy beaches, a winding river, multi-passenger raft rides and a waterslide that plunges from the top of the volcano into the water below.
Every Volcano Bay guest receives the TapuTapu wearable device. Designed exclusively for use in this water park, it will hold your place in line and offer tap-to-play experiences. Use it to shoot water cannons, make „whale spouts” and illuminate images in hidden caves.
Pandora — The World of Avatar
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
Way back in 2009, Avatar and its blue-hued human-alien hybrids broke box-office records — it’s still the top-grossing movie ever worldwide. Now, new Avatar films are in the works, and for those who can’t wait, the movie’s Oscar-winning creator, James Cameron, and his team have collaborated with the folks at Walt Disney Imagineering to bring the lush, digitally created world of Pandora to life. It’s a dreamlike landscape of floating mountains, bioluminescent rainforests, glowing plants and Pandoran creatures galore.
Mount a winged banshee and ride the Avatar Flight of Passage into a multi- sensory experience. You’ll actually feel the banshee „breathe” as you soar past floating mountains into the forest and head to a confrontation with the Great Leonopteryx, the most feared predator in Pandora’s fictional world.
The Na’vi River Journey is a gentler ride aboard an eight-seat boat into the midst of a mystical, musical Na’vi ceremony. The highlight: a close-up encounter with the Na’vi Shaman of Songs. „She is the most technically advanced audio- animatronic figure ever created,” says Terry Brinkoetter, public relations director for Disney Destinations.
Think Outside The Parks
Orlando is more than the sum of its attractions
Away from its storied attractions, Orlando is a magic kingdom all its own. Its vibrant neighborhoods, lively dining scene and trendy boutiques showcase the city’s stylish side and make it a vacation destination in its own right.
Your first stop is Winter Park, located seven miles northeast of Orlando. Its most celebrated street is brick-paved Park Avenue, lined with high-end boutiques such as locally owned Tuni and hip restaurants. Don’t miss, an Italian eatery with some of the best people-watching in town.
Park Avenue is also home to The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art which houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by stained-glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. From the museum, it’s a short stroll to the launching point for Winter Park’s Scenic Boat Tour, which takes guests by pontoon boat through 19th-century canals and pristine lakes.
Four miles southwest of Winter Park is Ivanhoe Village, where galleries and antique shops frame lovely Lake Ivanhoe. Browse for funky pop art and gifts at Boom-Art by Rogers Studio (1821 N. Orange Ave.; 407-895-0280), owned by two former circus clowns. Celebrate your splurge with a locally brewed beer at The Imperial, a one-of-a-kind furniture store, wine bar and beer garden in one If you’re hungry, check out Mesa21 a new Mexican joint where authentic carnitas are complemented by alfresco lakeside dining.
Over in Audubon Park, 3 miles east, East End Market is home to a 14,000-square-foot indoor farmer’s market. Come for the craft coffee at Lineage Coffee Roasting stay for the gardening inspiration at Porch Therapy. In the mood for a cold brew? Check out Redlight Redlight, consistently ranked one of the top craft beer bars in the Southeast.
Don’t leave the area without visiting the 50-acre Harry P. Leu Gardens on the shores of Lake Rowena. Wander the grounds to explore more than 12,000 plants and a lovingly restored turn-of-the-century home.