The new, the now and the need-to-know in Florida’s family fun capital
- Last Updated: 7:09 PM, May 4, 2012
- Posted: 6:17 PM, May 4, 2012
That isn't the sound of roller coasters on the Orlando theme park landscape: It's the rumble of advancing cannon fire. The first shots of war that will last at least until 2014 are now being lobbed between Disney and Universal in Central Florida.
The battle began two years ago with the blockbuster opening of Universal's Harry Potter extension. Toppled from its unchallenged throne, Disney scrambled to come up with weapons to re-establish dominance on the family vacation scene.
Its first volley came in March, when Disney's Magic Kingdom made an early pitch to very young children by opening the first phase of its estimated $425 million Fantasyland makeover. There's a bright new Dumbo ride, now outfitted with the moat that Disney's other worldwide elephant carousels have. It will be joined in July by a twin that rotates in the opposite direction, plus an interactive Storybook Circus queue area that takes the misery out of waiting in the sun for the classic toddler photo op.
Besides Double Dumbo, as fans are calling it, other newly opened additions are also fixes of existing stuff: a re-themed Barnstormer kiddie coaster and the re-dressing of an existing Walt Disney World Railroad station.
None of that would necessarily coax a family to buy plane tickets to Florida. But just wait. As with its nightly fireworks show, Disney is working up to a grand finale, stretching its Fantasyland additions over two years. By December, Fantasyland gets an elaborate new indoor ride, Under The Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid.
True, a duplicate has been up and running at California's Disneyland Resort for nearly a year, but it's not the only major new Fantasyland ride under construction. The other is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster, which will have carriages that rock like miners' carts as they travel. That arrives in early 2014.
To prepare for that, a tragedy for Disney history: On May 31, Disney will close and demolish Snow White's Scary Adventures, an indoor ride that has been terrifying toddlers since Day One of the Magic Kingdom in 1971.
But also on May 31, Disney finally responds to recession demand with it’s summer-long expansion of its least expensive "Value" hotel offerings.
Construction on the 87-acre Art of Animation Resort started more than a decade ago as the second phase of the existing Pop Century, but the tourism climate put completion in limbo until now. Now it's finished. Outside, the recipe is all Disney Value: Sprawling three-story, motel-style buildings gussied up with eye-popping decorations themed to Disney movies. It's huge, adding nearly 2,000 rooms and a 310,000-gallon pool to the Disney lodging portfolio.