Each year, Orlando’s theme parks add one or two new rides and shows to ensure that regular visitors always have new experiences to enjoy.
Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios each added new rides and shows during 2016, as did the smaller theme parks of LEGOLAND, Gatorland and Fun Spot Orlando.
So, here’s a list of the 10 best new theme park attractions.
- The Freedom Flyer Virtual Reality Experience at Fun Spot
At the moment, Fun Spot’s The Freedom Flyer Ride is the only virtual reality coaster in Orlando (although that’s going to be changing later on in 2017).
The Freedom Flyer is a suspended family coaster. It’s an inverted twister roller coaster in which the train runs beneath the track. The Freedom Flyer is 66 feet above the ground and at its top speed goes 34 mph. This roller coaster made its debut in 2015, but the virtual reality components were added only at the end of 2016, making 2017 the year of Virtual Reality rides in Orlando!
Guests will strap in to their seats, put on a VR headset (available in selected seats) and then experience both the excitement and g-forces of the ride itself but also have to deal with attacking robots!
Anyone who wants to ride the Freedom Flyer needs to be 54 inches or taller. (That’s 4-and-a-half feet tall).
Fun Spot Orlando is at 5700 Fun Spot Way, just north of International Drive, on Grand National Drive and Del Verde Way. It’s a wee bit north of the Outer Limitz Trampoline Arena at International Festival.
- The Gator Gauntlet at Gatorland
The mobility impaired will love the Gator Gauntlet at Gatorland, new in 2016.
Guests are transferred from their wheelchairs to a secure harness that holds them in a seated, upright position and allows them to soar over the Alligator Breeding Marsh at a height of 350 feet for an adrenalin-charged experience.
Guests who’d like to ride the Gator Gauntlet do need to meet certain requirements regarding strength, coordination and size.
The Screamin’ Gator Zip Line is also new at Gatorland, and the non-mobility impaired will get their thrills by zipping at 30 miles an hour over the alligators and crocodiles below! It takes about two hours to traverse all five ziplines across the park.
Gatorland is at 14501 Orange Blossom Trail, just off Highway 441 in South Orlando. (Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios are all south of Orlando, also, about 15-20 minutes away from Gatorland).
- LEGO NINJAGO: The Ride at LEGOLAND
LEGO NINJAGO World recently opened at LEGOLAND Orlando, as did LEGO NINJAGO: The Ride. It’s a “dark ride” with 3D computer animation of the characters one sees, and $D special effects which include blasts of heat, cooling fog, and lots of strobe lighting.
Guests young and old strap themselves into their seats, then use “ninja hand moves” to earn points by defeating the animated fireballs and lightning strikes launched against them. This is what makes LEGO NINJAGO: The Ride so much fun – competitive guests can track their scores against their friends and family – or even other riders.
LEGOLAND is at One LEGOLAND Way in Winter Haven, Florida. It’s about 45 minutes away from Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld.
- Kraken® Virtual Reality Roller Coaster at SeaWorld
At the time of this writing, Fun Spot’s The Freedom Flyer is the only roller coaster delivering the Virtual Reality experience. That’s going to change this summer when SeaWorld’s Kraken Virtual Reality Roller Coaster makes its debut.
It may be a bit early to include rides and shows that haven’t made their debut yet as among the “best 10,” but simply from their descriptions alone you know these rides and shows are going to be out of this world.
The joy of virtual reality is that while the ride itself may be on a track that doesn’t change, the virtual reality experience can be redesigned again every year or so to give guests a new experience far into the future. That’s what’s happening here, as the Kraken Roller Coaster, which made its debut in 2000, but the addition of virtual reality makes it a brand-new experience.
- The Mako Hypercoaster at SeaWorld
The Mako Hypercoaster classifies as new because it opened in June. It is billed as the “tallest, longest and fastest” roller coaster in Orlando. The Mako is almost a mile long. It’s also a hypercoaster, which means that it has a drop of more than 200 feet, which really adds to the excitement when riders plunge down the track at over 70 miles an hour. (Once the Mako reaches that 200 feet apex, guests will have a chance to enjoy Orlando’s skyline for a few brief seconds until that downward plunge begins) A unique feature of the Mako is its Hammerhead turn. Periods of weightlessness and then g-forces really make the Mako a tremendously fun ride.
SeaWorld is at 7007 Sea World Drive. Enter on Central Florida Parkway which is between International Drive and Sea World Drive.
- Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter isn’t exactly new – it’s been open since 2014, but it’s probably the most popular region of Universal Studios for the greatest number of guests as practically everyone seems to be a fan of the Harry Potter movie series. Taking the Hogwarts Express train between Diagon Alley (in Universal Studios Orlando theme park) and Hogsmeade Village in the Islands of Adventure theme park is an experience in itself (but it’s necessary to have a Park-to-Park admission ticket to enjoy this particular ride.) The ride is about 4 minutes long, and provides a different experience depending on which way the train is going.
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal Studios
Once you’ve taken the train into the Islands of Adventure theme park and finished your exploration of Hogsmeade Village, it’s time to move along to Skull Island: The Reign of Kong. This isn’t a roller coaster, but an adrenalin-charged ride none the less – although it will probably be too intense for small children. The ride opened in July 2013.
Guests enter into a 1930s world and join a scientific expedition to Skull Island. After a bit of back-story, they put on their 3D glasses, enter an expedition truck, and begin the ride. Dinosaurs and other creates attack the trucks before Kong arrives and does battle with the largest and most vicious. Plenty of animatronics make this a breath-taking adventure ride.
Universal Orlando is at 6000 Universal Boulevard, which is just off International Drive, a couple miles north of SeaWorld.
- Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire stage show at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire show made its debut at Disney World in June 2016, and is a heartwarming new show about the power of friendship that your kids will love. It features two of Disney’s newest princes, Tiana from Princess and the Frog and Rapunzel from Tangled, as well as Anna and Elsa of Frozen. But that’s not all – Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck and Goofy are on hand as well.
- Soarin’ Around the World at Epcot’s Future World
Soarin’ Around the World is a new hang-gliding adventure that will be fun and exciting for kids of all ages. (Originally Soarin’ Around Florida, the ride was refurbished and now includes….the World!) Guests relax in hang-gliding shaped seats which raise 40 feet above the floor, and suspend them beneath an IMAX projection dome. The digital projection of such features as the Great Wall of China, Iguazau Falls in South America and Sydney Harbour in Australia are breath-taking (although susceptible people might start to feel air sick!)
- The Star Wars Experience at Hollywood Studios
Bits and pieces of the Star Wars experience have been opening throughout 2016, but what’s eagerly awaited is the Star Wars Land experience which will open sometime in late 2017. By definition, that’s going to be the funnest new attraction of all!
Star Wars Land takes over where Hollywood Studio’s “Streets of America” used to be, and several popular attractions were closed including Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure and The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow. However, in addition to Star Wars Land, there will also be a new Toy Story Land, so there’ll be plenty to excite kids of all ages.