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For the Thrill of it All

With most COVID restrictions beginning to ease and many people returning to their pre-pandemic activities, the local theme parks and other nearby attractions are more poised than ever to welcome back guests

Over the past several months, attendance at the area theme parks has soared. Guests from near and far have returned in droves after the parks were temporarily shut down for several months during the pandemic. With visitors excited to experience the many new rides and attractions in Orlando and the surrounding area, here is an overview of what exciting changes are taking place in the Theme Park Capital of the World. 

Walt Disney World Resort

With an abundance of stellar attractions and resorts, Walt Disney World has now combined the best of both by offering guests a revolutionary interactive resort experience. The long-awaited Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is a truly astounding two-night experience. Whether a die-hard Star Wars fan or not, guests will become completely immersed in this adventure that’s part live theater, part themed environment, part culinary extravaganza and part real-life role-playing game.


Guests of the park have been excitedly observing the progressing construction of the upcoming Tomorrowland attraction, Tron Lightcycle/Run. The highly anticipated roller coaster still does not have a confirmed opening date but when it does make its debut, the ride will be similar to the Tron Lightcycle Power Run attraction in Shanghai Disneyland. Based on the Tron movies, riders will board futuristic two-wheeled lightcycle vehicles and “experience the energy, lights and excitement of Tron’s high-tech universe” in a “thrilling race through the digital frontier.”

Live performances and parades have recently returned to the park as Walt Disney World has debuted the all-new castle stage show, Mickey’s Magical Friendship Faire—an updated version of Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire—as well as Disney Adventure Friends Cavalcade, which stars nearly 30 Disney and Pixar characters. Additionally, after a nearly two-year absence, Disney’s Festival of Fantasy Parade has returned to the park.

Mainamie, the white gloved hand, comforts Julie on her journey through the world of Disney animation in Drawn to Life, the highly anticipated new collaboration from Cirque du Soleil and Disney. The show premiered on Nov. 18, 2021, at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kent Phillips, photographer).


The first coaster attraction at Epcot, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, is expected to open this summer. When complete, it will be one of the longest fully enclosed coasters in the world, housed in one of the largest show buildings ever constructed for a Disney theme park. The family-thrill coaster will take guests on an intergalactic chase through time and space with the heroes of Xandar. Located in the park’s newly renamed World Discovery neighborhood, the attraction will be the first “other-world” showcase pavilion at Epc


This past September, Epcot welcomed a new “out of this world” dining experience. Located in Future World, Space 220 Restaurant offers diners a culinary exploration like never before. Through an imagineered elevator, guests feel as though they have been transported 220 miles above Earth to the Centauri Space Station. Views of Earth and stars are visible throughout the upscale dining experience via large panoramic windows, which reflect real-time day or night. Dining options consist of a two-course prix fixe lunch menu and a three-course prix fixe dinner menu.


This past December, the incredibly popular Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular returned to Disney’s Hollywood Studios after an extended hiatus due to the pandemic. The action-packed show is full of the comedy and thrills of the original production, along with a few new additions. 

Last month, the park debuted eight new limited-time-only sweet treats, including its “Beauty and the Beast Rose,” a dark chocolate mousse with black currant and Morello cherry atop a chocolate shortbread cookie, with additions of whipped cookies-and-cream fluff and sprinkled with gilded chocolate-covered cocoa nibs.


The sky is the limit for Disney KiteTails, a daytime performance that debuted this past October at the Discovery River Theater. During the show, performers fly wind catchers and kites of all shapes and sizes, while out on the water elaborate three-dimensional kites—some stretching to 30 feet long—depict beloved Disney animal characters, all to the beat of classic Disney songs. There are two unique shows, one themed to The Lion King and one to The Jungle Book

Another show to dive into is the new musical Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond! The show will feature puppets, live performers, animated backdrops, innovative lighting, sound and special effects to create an underwater world.


Late last year, Cirque du Soleil returned with a new show, Drawn to Life, that transports audiences into an inspiring world along with Disney animation. 

Elsewhere, joining the eclectic array of shops is the Kendra Scott store, which carries a full collection of jewelry with a portion of the proceeds going to Inheritance of Hope, a nonprofit organization that aims to help families facing the loss of a parent. 

New dining options set to debut this year include Local Green Orlando, a fast-casual eatery whose mission is to “redefine healthy, affordable food” with a menu that will include vegan, vegetarian and pescatarian dishes. Popular ice cream shop Salt & Straw is also set to open later this year. The scoop shop already has a location at Disneyland. 

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Universal Orlando Resort 

Universal Orlando Resort just launched “Discover Universal,” a new multimedia hub featuring entertaining and informative videos, podcasts, planning guides and more. The site will offer guests a behind-the-scenes look at the parks and resorts, key planning information as well as spotlighting the best things to do, see and eat. The travel itineraries and tips aim to help out-of-towners plan for an upcoming trip to the resort, while locals will be kept up-to-date on the latest news and events. 


An all-new, heavily themed tribute store, Universal Monsters: A Tribute to the Creatures of the Night, recently opened in Universal Studios. Located in Sahara Traders, next to the soon-to-reopen Revenge of the Mummy ride, this new merchandise location showcases some of Universal Pictures’ most iconic monsters. In addition to indulging in a monster shopping spree, guests can pose with life-sized photo ops, and even “monster-ize” themselves as caricature artists “stitch” them together with the likeness of their favorite creature.

Another new attraction officially opened at the park last spring. The new DreamWorks Destination has been billed as a “first-of-its-kind interactive character experience,” inviting guests to meet-and-greet, take photos and even dance with a bevy of DreamWorks Animation characters from Trolls, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar and Shrek. Located in the Woody Woodpecker KidZone, this new attraction replaced A Day in the Park with Barney, which was a part of the park for over 25 years.


Universal’s Islands of Adventure has unleashed Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Florida’s fastest, tallest and most intense launch coaster ever created. Inspired by the blockbuster Jurassic World movies, the coaster propels riders 155 feet into the air at extreme speeds up to 70 mph while racing alongside a ferocious velociraptor pack through an immersive dinosaur habitat with a thrilling 80-degree drop, steep inclines, 360-degree inversions and a dynamic inverted stall that alone spans more than 100 feet of track. A true thrill ride, guests feel a sense of weightlessness from start to finish.


Over the past year, Universal CityWalk  has debuted two new stores: an 8,300-square-foot flagship Universal Studios Store as well as the Universal Legacy Store. The former offers an extensive array of popular and signature merchandise and collectables while the Universal Legacy Store pays homage to Universal Orlando’s celebrated 30-year history with an eclectic selection of retro-themed merchandise staged amid decorative resort production art, vintage props, blueprint designs and construction photos. 

In addition to shopping, Universal CityWalk also opened an all-new quick service food venue, Bend the Bao. Located on the second level of Universal CityWalk, adjacent to the Universal Cinemark theater, the eatery offers menu items that “bend” the idea of a traditional bao.

Additional Adventures 


SeaWorld’s “coolest” new attraction has finally opened. After delays due to the pandemic, the Ice Breaker made its debut this past February. Located next to the park’s Wild Arctic exhibit, Ice Breaker is SeaWorld’s first launch coaster and the thrill ride boasts four airtime launches, both backward and forward, offering the steepest vertical drop in all of Florida. 


Legoland Florida Resort will soon be getting a new attraction, Pirate River Quest, next month. Riding aboard a Lego-themed boat with a crew of Lego pirates on the waters of Cypress Gardens, explorers of all ages will attempt to retrieve a lost treasure stolen by a troop of mischievous monkeys. Also at the park, Miniland USA has officially reopened after undergoing a transformation last year. This iconic section now features a new shade structure to provide extra enjoyment for admiring guests. 


A new addition to the scene, Peppa Pig Theme Park was designed exclusively with preschoolers in mind. The stand-alone theme park is located just steps away from Legoland and features six rides including the Daddy Pig Roller Coaster, which promises to be the perfect introductory experience for little ones. The park also offers six themed playscapes, a water play area, live shows, dining and more. The inclusive park is accredited as a Certified Autism Center and has increased accessibility for children with wheelchairs to be able to enjoy the attractions.


This historical exhibition offers guests the opportunity to step back in time to April 1912, and learn about the world’s most infamous ship and its passengers. Among the highlights is a full-scale recreation of the promenade deck in which guests can walk and feel the chill of the cold Atlantic air as they gaze at the stars. There are also galleries featuring the grand staircase, first-class parlor suite and more. Visitors will have a chance to touch an iceberg that’s the same temperature as the water on that fateful night and see the second-largest piece of the Titanic ever recovered, the “Little Big Piece,” a three-ton section of the original ship’s hull. Nearly 200 artifacts at the Orlando exhibit have been recovered from the Titanic’s wreck site. To further entertain guests, actors in period costumes share stories of the ship’s passengers and crew.


A unique and fun learning experience, visitors of the museum will discover “why your eyes see things [that] your brain cannot understand.” Geared toward guests of all ages, the museum showcases a variety of educational games and puzzles, including a collection of holograms and optical illusions. There are many great photo ops as guests venture through the Infinity Room, defy the laws of gravity in the Reverse Room and shrink to miniature size in the Ames Room.


With over 800,000 square feet of fun, Dezerland is Florida’s largest indoor attraction. The park offers a wide range of activities for the whole family, including a 12-lane bowling alley, bumper cars, axe throwing, glow-in-the-dark mini golf and the largest indoor go-kart track in the Sunshine State. It is also host to the world’s largest private auto collection valued at over $200 million. 


With its 18-acres of beautiful, tree-lined brick streets, 70 unique shops and restaurants, free weekly events, live music, car shows and more, Old Town is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. The one-of-kind rides and attractions include Old Town’s 86-foot Ferris wheel, a year-round haunted house and Xtreme Ninja Challenge, which offers visitors the chance to test their strength and ability in a challenging obstacle course.


Located on Lake Bryan, in the Lake Buena Vista area of Orlando, this family-owned recreational water sports facility is surrounded by cypress trees on a secluded, natural spring-fed lake, with white sandy beaches and lush tropical foliage. The 450-acre property offers the ultimate in watersports through its jet ski rentals, boat charters, wakeboard and waterski lessons by professional instructors, wild tube rides, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaks, pontoons and more. 


I-Drive has long been home to world-class attractions, entertainment, dining and shopping fun for the entire family. Located in the heart of International Drive, ICON Park welcomed two new additions this past December, Orlando FreeFall, the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower, and The Orlando SlingShot, the world’s tallest slingshot. ICON Park also recently partnered with Original Orlando Tours to host its own food-centric walking tour every Tuesday night. The Flavors of ICON Park Foodie Walking Tour offers guests samples from eight different restaurants and includes a ride on The Wheel, the area’s signature attraction.

Worth the Drive


Just 45 minutes from Orlando, Wild Florida offers visitors airboat rides to gain an in-depth look at some of Florida’s native wildlife as they travel deep into the protected swamps, marshes and rivers that make up the Central Florida Everglades. The drive-thru Safari Park allows guests to discover more than 100 native and exotic animals roaming freely from the comfort of their own car. Meanwhile, Alligator Park gives guests a closer look at lemurs, sloths, zebras and other animals that are native to South America, Africa and Australia.


Just a little less than a two-hour drive south of Orlando, the Vero Beach Museum of Art is the largest cultural arts facility of its kind on Florida’s Treasure Coast, featuring five art galleries, two sculpture parks, an art school, a gift shop, a café and plenty more. The nationally accredited museum offers something for everyone with its interactive and hands-on cultural and educational experiences.


Lake Wales History Museum features exhibits beginning with the foundation of Lake Wales in 1911 as well as the formation of the city, industry, places of interest and developments in the 19th century that led to the settlement of the area. The Lake Wales History Museum owns and preserves an estimated 20,000 items within its collection, and offers self-guided tours of local history through interpretive displays, educational programming, special events and school programs throughout the year. Originally a train depot, the site was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1990. 


This unique museum located in the Keys celebrates the state’s historic place in the world of underwater exploration and offers visitors a glimpse of artifacts, antiques, books, documents, photographs and several other items. Its latest exhibit, Dive Into Art: FantaSea, runs through April 20 and explores themes of mermaids, sea monsters and more through artwork created by area residents.