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Theme parks adding rides

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 03:05 PM

Builders and designers are adding rides and attractions to theme parks throughout Central Florida.

The largest projects are a Fantasyland expansion in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and the opening of the new Legoland park in October. But many parks, large and small, have something new in the works, from the Despicable Me ride at Universal Studios to a new building centered on space shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center to a combination zip line and bicycle ride at Florida EcoSafaris.

Last week we told you about the wait times at new attractions; here's where visitors likely will be queuing up in the future:

Busch Gardens, Tampa

Animal care center: A much larger facility will become an attraction when it opens around Jan. 1. The hospital will have a walk-through area where guests can watch some procedures such as X-rays and even help prepare and distribute food for the animals.

Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando

Fantasyland: By the time the last new attraction opens in late 2013, Fantasyland will have doubled in size and the number of castles will have tripled. It will have two new rides, two royal settings where guests can meet the Disney princesses, an expanded Storybook Circus with changes in some of the rides, and one of the largest restaurants in Disney World.

The scene is dominated by two castles. One is the Castle of the Beast from "Beauty and the Beast," which will have a 550-seat restaurant, and Maurice's Cottage, entry to interactive storytelling with Belle and Lumiere. "Maurice is Belle's father, builder of gizmos and gadgets," said Mark Kohl of Disney Imagineering. "We're going to take you into his workshop. … You will be cast into characters that will allow you to be part of this tale."

The other is Prince Eric's Castle, which will house Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, a dark ride with clam-shell-shaped cars and audio-animatronic characters singing songs from "The Little Mermaid." It is being built on the site of the former 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride.

Storybook Circus will have two side-by-side flying Dumbo rides, one circling clockwise, the other counter-clockwise, on the site of the former Toontown. The Barnstormer kiddie coaster will be rethemed with Goofy as The Great Goofini.

The above attractions are expected to open by late 2012.

Phase 2, which won't be done until 2013, was redesigned after the Fantasyland expansion was originally announced. Separate meet-and-greet sites for Disney princesses were scaled down. Instead, guests will meet Cinderella, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty , and other Disney princesses at one venue, Princess Fairytale Hall, which will replace Snow White's Scary Adventure, one of the Magic Kingdom's original rides. But the story of Snow White will be told on a new ride, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a family coaster that will swing from side to side.

Enchanted Tiki Room : Closed since a fire in the attic in January, the Tiki Room is tentatively scheduled to reopen in August, with major changes to the show, featuring dozen of animatronic singing birds. The unpopular "Under New Management" show, which debuted in 1998 with Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from "The Lion King," won't return. Iago and Zazu will be replaced by the original hosts, Jose, Fritz, Michael and Pierre, the singing parrots.

Paradise Island: Construction of a waterfront amphitheater is under way behind a wall across from the Harley-Davidson store, but there's no word on when concerts will begin. The nightclubs in this adult-oriented section of Downtown Disney were closed in 2008 and will be replaced with family-friendly shops and restaurants. The area, to be renamed Hyperion Wharf, is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

Universal Orlando Resort

Despicable Me: This new ride will take guests into Gru's home and secret lab, where the super-villain will turn fans into his minions. "Gru needs help with this new venture," said Thierry Coup, senior vice president of the Universal Creative Studio. "It's going to be a very immersive 3-D experience."

The ride will end with a dance party. "Guests will step out of the ride and into the post-show and will be able to interact with the characters" on the dance floor, Coup said.

The ride will be the first-ever Universal animated film to made into a theme park attraction. It will be built on the site of the Jimmy Neutron attraction, which will close in mid-August. Despicable Me will open in 2012, the date as yet unannounced.

The Adventures of Spiderman: The ride, cutting edge when it debuted in 1999, will get a makeover with new 4K high-definition technology. Although the ride vehicle and the plot — Spiderman battling villains on the streets of New York — will remain the same, the technology will make the 3-D images of the action sharper and crisper, Coup said. Not only will passengers be able to see details they couldn't see before, new details will be added "that will take you deeper into that world," he said. "It's going to feel like an entirely new experience." The makeover will require the ride to be closed for a short time, probably not until 2012, and it will reopen sometime next year.

Hollywood Drive-In Golf: Two movie-themed miniature golf courses will be built next to the entrance of CityWalk. The family-friendly courses, "The Haunting of Ghostly Greens" and "Invaders from Planet Putt," will have elaborate scenes in the style of vintage horror and science fiction films. The courses will take guests under a giant spider and through a cemetery, flying saucer and the basement lab in a haunted house. The courses are expected to open in early 2012.

Others

Discovery Cove, Orlando: The saltwater pool formerly called Tropical Reef will be rebuilt with a new aquatic attraction, details to be announced later. "I would like to make it look and feel different — a little more rain forest-y, more swamp, a little more natural, possibly bring in a new species," said Reid Miller, director of zoological operations. Construction should take about a year, he said.

Florida EcoSafaris, Orlando: This 4,700-acre ranch and wildlife conservation area, which already has a zip line, horseback and motorcoach tours, is adding the Cypress SkyCycle, which will give guests a treetops tour of the property. The SkyCycle, tentatively scheduled to open in July, uses a bicycle-like contraption which moves by pedal-power along a cable similar to a zip line, but slower.

The route will take visitors through or over several eco-systems, including pine flatwoods, forested wetlands and a slough. The conservation area is home to 200 species of birds and a number of other endangered or threatened species, including the Florida panther and black bear, said Matt Duda, spokesman.

Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island: NASA will turn space shuttle Atlantis over to Kennedy Space Center after the orbiter makes its last flight, scheduled for July 8. The center is working on a 10-year master plan for the Visitors Complex, including a marquee exhibit built around Atlantis. Early plans call for a $100-million exhibit in a 65,000-square-foot new wing that will show how the spacecraft worked in flight, interactive displays on the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station. Groundbreaking is scheduled for 2012, with Atlantis' new home expected to open in 2013.

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