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What's New and Thrilling at Orlando's Theme Parks This Summer

The inside scoop on the hot, new attractions at Walt Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld.

The great Walt Disney once said, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." This creative culture is alive and well today, not just at Walt Disney World, but at all of Orlando's theme parks as each announces big new attractions just in time for summer.  

Universal Reign of Kong in Orlando, FL
Reign of Kong adds to the thrill and excitement of Islands of Adventure. (©Universal Orlando Resort)

Universal's Reign of Kong

Universal's Islands of Adventure is about to get even more adventurous with Skull Island: Reign of Kong. Passengers will board a truck for a thrilling, frightening, adrenaline-pumping 3-D journey into a doomed 1930s expedition. Along the way, into the dark heart of a terrifying island, guests will face prehistoric predators, man-eating beasts and the colossal King Kong. Will you make it out alive?! (Seriously, you go first then let us know how it goes.)

Loews Sapphire Falls at Universal Orlando, Florida
The new Loews resort gives guests a Caribbean retreat in Universal's backyard. (©Universal Orlando Resort)

Loews Sapphire Falls Resort

After visiting Skull Island, you'll need a tropical island to get the blood pressure back down. Thankfully, there's Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, a Caribbean-inspired paradise with lush landscaping, cascading waterfalls and the largest swimming pool of the now five Universal properties. Other amenities include water taxi service to CityWalk and the theme parks, a waterfront restaurant Amatista Cookhouse and a signature rum bar. Overnight guests also receive early park admission one hour before the public.

Universal's The Incredible Hulk

Watch out: One of Orlando's most-powerful rides is undergoing a transformation. The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal's Islands of Adventure, has been known for its sheer power that launches riders from zero to 40 mph in the first second and flings them through seven inversions reaching at peak speed of 67 mph. Later this summer, Hulk will re-open with ride enhancements, making it more memorable than ever before. Outside, guests will be greeted by the Hulk himself. While waiting in line, a new story further builds anticipation as guests become part of a perilous scientific experiment led by General Thaddeus Ross. Finally, they'll enter the new ride vehicle complete with an audio system blaring an exclusive Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy) score.  

Mako roller coaster at Seaworld
Mako will the longest, tallest and fastest roller coaster in town. (©SeaWorld)

SeaWorld's Mako

Strap in and brace yourselves! On June 10, SeaWorld will introduce one whale of a coaster. Well, it's actually a shark. Inspired by a powerfully fast Mako, this hyper coaster will be the city's fastest, longest and tallest. The track is almost one mile long, the crest reaches 200 feet high and the vehicle reaches a stunning 73 mph. This brings SeaWorld's number of mega coasters to three, which beats out any other theme park in town.

"Moving through our ride attraction, guests will take the point of view of being underwater and being a Mako shark, slowly hunting its prey under a pier and leading to a giant shipwreck," says Brian Morrow, vice president of theme park experience and design at SeaWorld. 

The ride also features an educational componet and includes live footage of sharks in the ocean who have been tagged by SeaWorld and partner Guy Harvey.

"We have three zones of education," says Morrow. "Guests will learn the true story of attack and what sharks eat—and guess what? We're not on the menu so that's good news. We'll also learn about the diverse species of sharks. There are over 420 of them. We'll represent the largest shark, the whale shark, to the smallest shark on the planet, 6 inches, the pup shark. We'll learn about how sharks need our help and the differences you can make. Quick fact: 100 million sharks a year are killed for the sole purpose of making an appetizer ... stay away from shark-fin soup."

Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida
Disney Springs is double the size of Downtown Disney as renovations near completion. (©Walt Disney World)

Disney Springs

This summer, Disney Springs completes its final stage of a multi-year renovation to double the size of the old Downtown Disney. New restaurants like Morimoto Asia, the Boathouse and the Indiana Jones-themed Jock Lindsey Hangar Bar have already opened along the lake at the Landing, between the existing Marketplace and Westside. Behind Morimoto Asia and around a crystal-clear springs, the fourth and final "neighborhood," the Town Center, will open. The Town Center features Spanish-Revival architecture inspired by the age of Henry Flagler and will house 30 tenants including Anthopologie, Lacoste, Kate Spade, Sephora and Sprinkles Cupcakes in addition to two restaurants by James Beard award-winning chefs: Tablas Frontera by Rick Bayless and Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine by Art Smith.

Frozen Ever After ride at Epcot
A rendering of the new "Frozen Ever After" in Epcot's Norway Pavilion. (©Walt Disney World)

Epcot's "Frozen Ever After"

Get your FastPasses ready, because there is already a line forming at Epcot's Norway Pavilion for "Frozen Ever After." The old Maelstrom attraction has been upgraded to a "Frozen" experience based on the number-one animated film of all time, where guests can experience the kingdom of Arendelle complete with the royal sisters, hit songs by the original cast and a boat-ride adventure through a frozen forest, past Troll Valley and into Elsa's castle on the North Mountain. Next door is a quaint country village where Anna and Elsa will meet guests inside their childhood cabin.

"It's inspired by the rural area of Norway; we took the same research trip as the 'Frozen' filmmakers," says Imagineer and project manager Lauren Niederhiser. "The whole journey takes place after the film. It's a celebration of love conquering fear."

(Also at Epcot, the new Soarin' flying adventure re-opens June 17 taking passengers beyond California and around the world.)

Rivers of Light show at Animal Kingdom
The Rivers of Light show transforms Animal Kingdom nightly. (©Walt Disney World)

Animal Kingdom After Dark

Disney's sleepiest park that closed at 6 pm is now awakening to several new night experiences. Across the Animal Kingdom park, guests can experience long-time favorites such as Expedition Everest coaster, DINOSAUR and Kali River Rapids into the night along with special night-time safaris, shows and entertainment. 

"Night in a place of nature is just different," says Joe Rohde, long-time Disney Imagineer and Animal Kingdom creator. "Night in a place of nature is part of the cycle of life. It is meant to be dark. It is meant to be night. There are pools of darkness as much as there are pools of light. There are areas of quiet as much as there are areas of sound. And there’s the constant knowledge that there are animals around you. Night is awake. Things come to life.”

The Rivers of Light show premieres soon, where the park's waterfront will become center stage for an extraordinary ceremony for the natural world, complete with storytelling, innovative special effects, floating lanterns and performances. When the sun goes down, the Tree of Life awakens, as an animated montage of Disney's beloved animals dances across the trunk and magical fireflies glow in the leaves. The Harambe Village will host a Wildlife Parti with street musicians and entertainers, exotic foods and refreshing libations, while Discovery Island will host a Carnivale with lively music, dancing and vibrant costumes. Guests can also enjoy a new waterfront restaurant, Tiffins, celebrating the art of traveling.

Star Wars stage show at Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida
A new "Star Wars" stage show entertains guests throughout the day at Hollywood Studios. (©Walt Disney World)

"Star Wars" at Hollywood Studios

Disney is in the process of transforming 14 acres of Hollywood Studios into a full "Star Wars" land, but a few new experiences this summer will make the wait easier for die-hard "Star Wars" fans.

"This is the place where Star Wars lives," said Walt Disney World president George Kalogridis. "Our guests step into the saga every day with a new stage show, fireworks and several other new experiences."

Stormtroopers patrol the park, stage shows are presented throughout the day, and special themed food is offered like Blue Milk Panna Cotta, a BB-8 cupcake and a Han Solo Souvenir kid's meal. Inside Launch Bay, guests can play "Star Wars" video games on a Disney Infinity, see artifacts from the films, trade items with a Jawa and meet Kylo Ren and Chewbacca. The popular Star Tours attraction and Jedi Training remain, but with a few new surprising elements. A stunning "Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular" will end each day with fireworks that tell the story of good and evil set to John Williams' iconic music.