The summer of 2016 will be a big one for Florida’s theme parks: five major attractions opening, plus lots of smaller additions and upgrades. More details coming soon, but here are what we’re calling the Big Five in the order that (we think) they’ll open:
▪ Disney’s Animal Kingdom at night, Memorial Day weekend. Disney World’s youngest park typically closes at 5 or 6, earlier than the other three parks, but with new attractions, the park will now stay open after dark. The star of Animal Kingdom at night was intended to be a new light and water show that was set to open Friday, but the opening was postponed indefinitely when Rivers of Light, with its complicated technology, wasn’t ready. Instead, a live show based on The Jungle Book movie will be staged in the amphitheater that was built for Rivers of Light. With new lighting, the Kilimanjaro Safari will run at night,as will other attractions. Two street parties and a light show projected on the Tree of Life have also been added for the after-dark hours.
▪ Mako roller coaster at SeaWorld, June 10. Mako is Orlando’s first “hypercoaster” and is pretty straightforward. It has no inversions, no riding backwards, not even many turns — just up, down and forward at high speed, up to 73 miles an hour. Its thrill is the air time, the moments when you lift slightly out of your seat and feel like you’re floating. Most of the air time comes on nine hills, the first of which is 200 feet high, the highest in Orlando. Mako is the centerpiece of Shark Wreck Reef, a shark-themed plaza that takes in the existing Shark Encounter — an underwater tunnel through shark habitat — and a restaurant, Underwater Grill.
▪ Frozen Ever After, a ride based on the Disney animated movie, at Epcot in June. A specific date hasn’t been announced for this boat ride, which was built on the track of the former Maelstrom in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot, but it will open sometime in June, along with a new meet-and-greet site for Anna and Elsa, the stars of Frozen. The boat adventure will set sail from Arendelle, accompanied by music from the movie, for a Winter in Summer celebration, for which Queen Elsa has invited riders into her Ice Palace. Next door, Anna and Elsa will greet fans in their Royal Sommerhus.
▪ Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, late June or July. King Kong, who was booted from Universal Studios in 2002 to make room for Revenge of the Mummy, returns to the adjoining park. This time, though, visitors are going to his home turf, Skull Island. The story is that guests are going to explore the newly discovered volcanic island with the Eighth Wonder Expedition Co., but after they board an enormous bus, pass through the doors of an imposing temple and meet some scary creatures, “something goes horribly wrong” (Doesn’t it always?). The opening date has not been set, but the ride is scheduled to be ready for a press preview June 22-24
▪ Cobra’s Curse, a roller coaster at Busch Gardens, this summer. Cobra’s Curse will be a family coaster, but it will have some intimidating elements. The ride starts with a 70-foot vertical lift and brings riders within a few feet of the fangs of the 80-foot snake king, whose statue has been discovered and raised from an archaeological dig. Partway through, the seats suddenly turn so that riders are facing backwards. A little further along, a mechanism is unlocked and the seats spin freely, depending on the weight distribution of the riders. The track has been completed and tests are being done with cars loaded with crash-test dummies. An opening date has not been set, but June has not been ruled out.