This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things in Orlando We Can’t Wait to Experience in 2016. What a year 2015 was in the Orlando theme parks. We had The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly but 2016 looks to be even better. We have brand new looks coming to some our favorite rides, several completely new attractions, and even a brand new onsite resort. If you’re not excited about what’s coming in the next twelve months you want to check your pulse, as you may possibly be dead. For the rest of us, let’s kick off the countdown with…
# 6 – Frozen Ever After (EPCOT)
The biggest change in the history of World Showcase is about to happen when the Norway pavilion transforms into the land of a fictional country. That’s right, while last year we wrote about the heroic efforts of the #SaveMaelstrom campaign – which unfortunately worked about as well as the Save Mr. Toad protests – this year we are hailing our new theme park overlords Frozen. The old Maelstrom attraction is being converted over to Frozen Ever After, a boat ride that will have guests sailing past audio-animantronics and everyone’s favorite: screens. Frozen Ever After will feature the rear projection technology that we all love in the dwarf animatronics at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, along with the rare opportunity to hear the song Let It Go.
But that’s not all! A Frozen meet and greet is coming to World Showcase, and you remember that a similar meet and greet forever changed how guests enter the Magic Kingdom every morning, Guests meeting Elsa and Anna wll do so at the new Royal Summerhaus. The theming of the Summerhaus will be based on an actual log cabin from Norway, and will also feature some of the tricks used in the Talking Mickey meet and greet on Main Street USA, which should help increase capacity.
Will the demand for these new attractions force World Showcase (or at least Norway and neighboring Mexico pavilion) to open along with Future World, instead of its normal 11AM start time? Let’s hope so, because the earlier we can get into World Showcase to start eating and shopping the better!
# 5 – Sapphire Falls (Universal Orlando Resort)
After hitting a mammoth home run with the Cabana Bay Beach Resort in 2014, Universal is back with another new hotel in 2016 with Sapphire Falls. A sister resort to the Royal Pacific Resort, the Caribbean themed Sapphire Falls will feature water taxi service to the Universal parks and CityWalk, along with early entry into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. However it will not give guests use of Unlimited Express Pass (a perk of the Royal Pacific, Hard Hock Hotel, and Portofino Bay.) The Sapphire Falls main pool will be 16,000 square feet in size, “surrounded by cascading waterfalls,” and feature a water slide, so it’s safe to say your kids will enjoy it here. Of course Sapphire Falls will also bring with it more onsite dining and bars, and considering Universal hotels already have Emeril’s Tchoup Chop, Jake’s American Bar, Mama Della’s and Bice Ristorante, the bar is set pretty high. Sapphire Falls will also be pet friendly, which is a nice amenity if your family features high maintenance Yorkshire terriers like ours.
# 4 – Mako (SeaWorld)
After a couple challenging years, SeaWorld Orlando is attempting to get back its marketplace share and one of the ways it is attempting that is with the upcoming Mako hypercoaster. Billed as Orlando’s tallest, fastest, and longest coaster, Mako joins fellow coasters Krakken and Manta, making SeaWorld a must do for thrill seekers. SeaWorld is also going to have the area around Mako completely themed to sharks. This area includes Sharks Underwater Grill, which has the best happy hour in the Orlando parks. Let’s hope SeaWorld can also lift the curse on opening new roller coasters at the theme parks and not be beset with instant problems like Universal and Disney had suffered with Escape From Gringotts, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Rip Ride Rockit.
# 3 – Soarin’ Around the World (EPCOT)
Even though our All Star Panel didn’t vote it as one of the Six Best Attractions at Walt Disney World, Soarin’ is one of our absolute favorite rides here at the SATURDAY SIX. It has its naysayers, but it is the only ride at Disney where you are almost guaranteed to get an ovation at the end of the ride. Where else do you see that? It’s breathtaking and pure Disney magic. That said, Soarin’ at EPCOT has more scratches on its film than a fourth generation dubbed VHS tape. The conversion over to a digital film, AND a third theater (which will help with capacity) AND a brand new ride film? Just what the doctor ordered. And Disney, once you have Soarin’ Around the World up and running, go fix Journey Into Imagination with Figment and Ellen’s Energy Adventure.
# 2 – Skull Island: Reign of Kong (Islands of Adventure)
We’re so excited for Skull Island: Reign of Kong that we’re going to overlook Seth Kubersky’s massive case of gimmick infringement with his Six Reasons Skull Island Will Rule. Why? Because he’s right about everything. It’s going to be HUGE. The queue is going to be AMAZING. And best of all, WE’RE GONNA SEE A KING KONG ANIMATRONIC. Skull Island: Reign of Kong rising above the ashes of fan favorite Kongfrontation (which close in Universal Studios Florida in 2002) gives hope to fans of Back to the Future: The Ride, Jaws, and Ghostbusters. No one expected ol’ banana breath back in the parks so soon, and who knows what else the future may bring.
# 1 – Rivers of Light (Animal Kingdom)
The SATURDAY SIX is on record of being huge fans of Animal Kingdom back before it was cool. It’s NOT a half day park. It has two of the best rides in all of Walt Disney World. It has the two best shows at WDW. It has great bars, it has unique restaurants, and it has incredible animals. Soon it is about to have what could possibly be the best nighttime spectacular in Orlando with the Rivers of Light. Taking place on the Discovery River, this is one show that can’t be compared to anything else on property. The sure to be stunning water and light show will also feature live music and puppets by Michael Curry, who you may know from puppets used in Finding Nemo: The Musical and Diagon Alley’s Tales of Beedle the Bard. We don’t make many guarantees, but we’ll bet the house that Rivers of Light will blow us all away.
HONORABLE MENTION – The Hulk Coaster (Islands of Adventure)
The Incredible Hulk Coaster is hands down one of the most exciting rides in Orlando, but guests getting off the ride in late 2015 probably couldn’t pass the NFL concussion protocol. So the ride is getting a refurb. But this ain’t just any refurb. The entire track is getting replaced. Just incredible. Rumors tell us on-ride audio could be coming, along with a new queue (which is needed, because Hulk’s old queue is one of its only faults). It should also convince even the most hardcore Disney fan that Universal is not giving up the theme park rights to Marvel any time soon. This is a major investment and when the Hulk comes back online later in 2016 it will be better than ever.
DOUBLE SECRET HONORABLE MENTION: Hello Kitty Interactive Retail Experience (Universal Studios Florida)
We’ll be honest. A Hello Kitty Interactive Retail Experience replacing the old Lucy: A Tribute wasn’t high on our list of things we are looking forward to in 2016. That is until Universal put up this amazing posters featuring Hello Kitty in classic movie posters of Jaws and E.T. First of all, we want these posters as prints as soon as the store opens. Second, if this is a taste of the synergy and fun the Hello Kitty store will bring then we can’t wait. We love good theme park gift shops, and this could be one of the best as not only is it promising unique and exclusive merchandise, but there will also be a Hello Kitty meet and greet, something the kiddos will love.
DARE TO DREAM – Actual Souvenir Mugs in Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar
Okay we love Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, but we’re gong on six months and it’s time for the souvenir mugs to arrive. The Cool-headed Monkey mug arrived, but that is the only one. The Hovito Mojito drink had its signature blog dart appear, but the mug still has not shown up. Mugs/glassware for the Anything Goes, Reggie’s Revenge, and the Air Pirate’s Mule are still nowhere to be found. This is more Mutt Williams than Indiana Jones if you ask us…
So there you have it: Six Things in Orlando We Can’t Wait to Experience in 2016. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)
Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, master photo manipulator Matt Cleary, professional hot air balloonist @Bioreconstruct, #blocked and reported for spam Michael Sheehy, Best Week Ever author and celebrated co-author Seth Kubersky and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey.