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crazy4wdw
03-26-2007, 06:46 AM
What's fresh at Orlando theme parks?
A breakdown of what's in store for the Big Three

Scott Powers and Laura Brost | Sentinel Staff Writers
Posted March 26, 2007

Orlando's theme parks are counting on an invasion of red and green monsters and Blue Men to help draw visitors this spring and summer.

None of the parks will be opening any major new rides, though some are in the works. But SeaWorld Orlando is ready to take the wraps off several new children's rides and a new show based on Sesame Street characters, Walt Disney World will finally open its Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club and Universal Orlando is making room for a permanently installed Blue Man Group show.

Here's what's in store at the Big Three:

SeaWorld Orlando

With an eye toward attracting younger children and teens, SeaWorld last week previewed five new kid-friendly attractions.

"SeaWorld is all about the kids and families . . . ," spokeswoman Becca Bides said.

Besides the new Elmo and the Bookaneers show opening April 2, featuring the furry little red creature and other Sesame Street characters, SeaWorld is adding three new children's rides, including a sea life-themed carousel. It's also bringing on Shamu Rocks, a new rock 'n' roll version of the killer-whale show geared more toward teens.

The children's rides effectively double the size of Shamu's Happy Harbor, and Bides said they elevate it from being a children's playground area to a children's destination.

Bides said her park is looking for a strong season.

"We've had especially strong attendance at our Viva la Musica series, and we've seen a great response from parents writing in about our new kids' and family attractions, especially Sesame Street," she said.

Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando announced it is closing a signature ride at Universal Studios, Back to the Future: The Ride, but has not yet announced what will take its place. Whatever will go into that building likely won't be ready for the spring, though a summer opening might not be out of the question.

Instead of new rides, Universal has focused on new entertainment. In December the resort added a live TV audience show, iVillage Live, to an amphitheater in Islands of Adventure. The show has entrances both inside the theme park and outside; this will be the show's first big season.

And in June, Universal is planning to open the Blue Man Group show, hosting an act that has been a long-running hit in Las Vegas, New York City and other places. The show, a high-energy mixture of mime, special effects and music, is going into a sound stage that Universal has been overhauling into what officials have promised will become a state-of-the-art theater. The performance space will be accessible from Universal CityWalk and Universal Studios

Just as when they visited last year, Universal will be the main draw when Roger Santavicca, his wife, Christine, and three children head to Orlando in May.

"The kids really loved Universal Studios, and that's the truth to be honest," said Santavicca, 53, who lives in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

The Santaviccas plan to stay at a hotel at Universal and take advantage of free access to the express area for rides. It's a hotel benefit they used last year.

"We waited in a line for about five minutes . . . where there were lines of people waiting for 40 minutes," Santavicca said.

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World opened two new attractions this winter, the Finding Nemo: The Musical show at Disney's Animal Kingdom and The Living Seas With Nemo and Friends ride at Epcot.

The debut of the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club, originally set for January, was delayed due to technical problems. But Disney has been promising that the Magic Kingdom attraction will be yet another major advancement in theme-park technology.

The show features Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed hero of the 2001 Monsters Inc., who has opened a comedy club to collect laughs that will generate power for the future.

Disney also has reworked an informational ride at the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot, working three Disney characters and a new story line into the ride. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros replaces El Rio Del Tiempo and will feature Donald Duck, Jose Carioca (a parrot) and Panchito (a Mexican charro rooster) from the 1944 Disney film, The Three Caballeros.

But Disney World spokesman Rick Sylvain said this season's biggest draw is likely to be the continuing Year of a Million Dreams campaign, which features thousands of daily random giveaways in and around the theme parks.

"Year of a Million Dreams has really hit its stride," Sylvain said. "There's the chance that guests will possibly be selected for a dream anywhere from getting the front of the Fast Pass line to the spectacular, like a trip around the world, to that night in Cinderella Castle."

For Betsy and Mike Horn of Woodbury, Minn., a trip to Disney in June is looking like a dream vacation -- even if they don't snag a giveaway.

Their two boys -- ages 5 and 9 -- have talked about the park "constantly" since they visited two years ago. This time, the trip will be a surprise to them.

And if they get picked for something special as part of the Dreams campaign?

"I think they would be very excited," their mom said. "Even a little pin -- that would be something that would just make their day."

Betsy Horn, 38, said one of the big draws is how Disney treats visitors with disabilities. One of the Horns' children has autism.

"They bend over backwards," she said. "We get on every ride first [with a disability pass]."

The Horns plan to make a stop at SeaWorld, but most of their seven-day vacation will be spent at Disney.

"It's just magical when you walk in there and you see the looks on both the kids' faces," Betsy Horn said.

Scott Powers can be reached at spowers@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5441. Laura Brost can be reached at lbrost@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6063

DisOrBust
03-27-2007, 12:19 PM
Great to hear Shamu Rocks is coming BACK! I love the line about the GAC. How many people say you don't get front of the line acess with it. They do and thats why it gets abused.

rwodonnell
03-27-2007, 04:40 PM
I love the line about the GAC. How many people say you don't get front of the line acess with it. They do and thats why it gets abused.
That was not our experience when we went in 2005 with my nephew who has trisomi 9 (not sure if I spelled that right - it exhibits itself in a similar fashion to autism). We did bypass the normal line, but we waited in a separate area, and there were times when I think we waited a fair amount longer than we would have (sometimes that was due to the need for an easy loading vehicle.)