Orlando beckons this fall with thinner crowds, new attractions – Orange County Register

Orlando beckons this fall with thinner crowds, new attractions – Orange County Register

Chances are you won’t be replicating my itinerary by visiting six theme parks in six days on your first or next Orlando vacation — even the official tourism association for the region considered that a “whirlwind trip” that was bookended by travel days. But when you’re a theme park enthusiast who’ll travel across the country to Florida to see Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter, both bi-coastal residents of California as well, walking 147,000 steps to experience 67 attractions in less than a week seems pretty normal.

Day 1 — Disney’s Animal Kingdom; Day 2 — Magic Kingdom Park; Day 3— Epcot; Day 4 — Universal Studios Florida; Day 5 — Universal’s Islands of Adventure; and Day 6 — Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

That’s three more parks and two more lodging nights than the average Central Florida visitor, according to Visit Orlando. The ambitious adventure wasn’t cheap. Cost of admission for the region’s six most popular theme parks (according to pre-pandemic numbers tallied by the Themed Entertainment Association) was more than $1,500 for two people, and that’s with an online discount. Food, flights and accommodations are additional expenses, as is parking if applicable, but souvenirs and Universal’s Express Pass, their version of Disney’s now-obsolete FastPass, soon to be the fee-based Disney Genie+, are optional.

Also discretionary is going to one amusement park, let alone a half-dozen on a single trip. But if you’ve been waiting out the pandemic and summer 2021 to take a much-needed vacation, now might be a prime time to make an escape to Orlando. COVID-19 is still among us, of course, and those nasty variants don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, either. What has dissipated somewhat are families with children now back to school. Even sweeter, many debuting and reopening attractions have been waiting until after summer for their coming-out party.

“Visitors to Orlando this fall will find a variety of special events like Disney’s 50th anniversary celebration, food festivals and Halloween fun that lasts for more than two months,” said Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. “We also usually see a slowdown of visitation due to school starting, making fall a perfect time to visit.”

Theme park attendance drops roughly 20 percent between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, a stat not lost on families that prioritize vacation over education or adults without children who enjoy smaller crowds, shorter lines and oftentimes cheaper rates.

But enough of the teasing. Let’s drop the rope and punch our own version of a “park hopper” ticket by checking out what’s in store for an Orlando getaway now that autumn is here and many families aren’t.

Magic Kingdom Park

Firework shells bursting over Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando produce a hidden Mickey. (Photo by David Dickstein)

The only theme park in the world with more annual visitors than Disneyland turns 50 years old on Oct. 1. The Golden Jubilee anniversary, or what the resort is calling “The World’s Most Magical Celebration,” is planned to last 18 months.

That’s also how long the Magic Kingdom’s next nighttime spectacular is expected to run. On the actual anniversary, “Disney Enchantment,” will replace “Happily Ever After,” which sees its fairy tale run end two nights earlier after enthralling millions of visitors with pyrotechnics and projection mapping across Cinderella Castle since May 2017.

If you want to ride the original “Song of the South”-inspired Splash Mountain, time is running out. Disney hasn’t announced when the flume ride — and its near-identical twin in Anaheim — will reopen as a reimagined nod to the 2009 animated feature “The Princess and the Frog,” but the mountainous makeover is on the horizon.

Country Bear Jamboree went into permanent hibernation 10 years ago in Anaheim, but the one in Orlando is still alive and kicking. (Photo by David Dickstein)

There’s no talk about removing or changing the last remaining Country Bear Jamboree in the U.S. Anaheim’s went into permanent hibernation in 2001, but Orlando’s is still packing in the foot-stomping crowds.

Carousel of Progress, a hand-me-down from Anaheim, is still entertaining Magic Kingdom guests after 46 years. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Meanwhile, the very Carousel of Progress that showed Anaheim guests a “great, big, beautiful tomorrow” from 1967 to 1973 is still exploring the joy of technological advancements using audio-animatronics in Orlando’s Tomorrowland. Seeing these attractions for the first time since childhood brought tears to this Orange County-raised writer’s eyes.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The Tree of Life is seen at Walt Disney World Resort’s Animal Kingdom on Monday, August 10, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Photo by Charles Sykes, Invision/AP)

Three-dimensional kites bearing likenesses of Simba, Baloo, King Louie and other jungle-dwelling Disney characters will soar over Discovery River Amphitheater starting Oct. 1 with “Disney KiteTails.” Details are few, but rumors point to a 15-minute daytime show featuring Jet Skiers zig-zagging on the water with windcatchers and kites as long as 30 feet — all to a soundtrack of Disney favorites, naturally.

Even after four years, Avatar Flight of Passage is the darling of the second-most visited Orlando theme park. Attractions Magazine rightfully ranks the 3-D simulator ride as the one to dash to at opening; within an hour of the rope drop the wait time was over 100 minutes on the day we went. Before guests mount a Banshee for the ride of their life, they serpentine through the best pre-show queue in Orlando — mystical and detailed scenery definitely makes the line feel shorter.

Other don’t-misses at Animal Kingdom are Expedition Everest, a Matterhorn-like coaster that goes backwards; Kilimanjaro Safari, like an abridged San Diego Zoo Safari Park experience; and the “Festival of the Lion King” show with less audience participation due to COVID-19.


A view of iconic Spaceship Earth at Epcot looms over one of the buildings that is part of the Mexico Pavilion in the World Showcase area of Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort. (File photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Epcot doesn’t turn 50 until 2032, but that’s not stopping Walt Disney World’s third-most popular park from getting in on the anniversary action. Staged on the World Showcase Lagoon and billed as one of the largest nighttime spectaculars ever created for a Disney Park, “Harmonious” debuts on Oct. 1.

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and La Creperie de Paris are scheduled to open Oct. 1 in the France pavilion of Epcot’s World Showcase. (Photo by David Dickstein)

On the same day Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and La Creperie de Paris open to riders and diners, respectively, visiting the nearby France pavilion. The ride, based on Pixar’s 2007 “Ratatouille,” “shrinks” guests to the size of rats for a 4-D culinary adventure that turns Gusteau’s famous Paris restaurant upside down.

Also on Oct. 1, Spaceship Earth, Epcot’s iconic geodesic sphere, will show off new lighting as part of a nightly, resort-wide “Beacons of Magic” extravaganza.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is seen at Walt Disney World Resort’s Hollywood Studios on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Photo by Charles Sykes, Invision/AP)

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is home to the most inaccessible attraction at a Disney park since Club 33, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Perhaps the end of summer offers a new hope to those shut out from experiencing Rise due to an agonizing reservation system that involves a virtual queue known to fill up in less than a second.

Frustration reaches the height of Chewbacca when Rise is down, and according to its ride operators, that happens a lot. Rise gets deserved rave reviews and is arguably the main attraction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the newest “land” here and at Disneyland. Also a blast is Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, a clone of what’s at Disneyland.

Guests board Runnamuck Railroad and journey into Runnamuck Park as part of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Photo by Matt Stroshane, Disney)

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway isn’t expected to open at Disneyland until 2023, but the first major ride-through attraction to feature the world’s most famous rodents is already a big hit in Orlando. Despite the overuse of high-tech projection screens, the trackless dark ride is frenetic fun. Is the experience worth waiting in line for over an hour, all the while wearing a mask in that Florida humidity? If that’s a “no,” then you probably found your rope-drop ride.

Universal Studios Florida

A fire-breathing dragon sits atop Gringotts on Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Florida. (Photo by David Dickstein)

While we have a soft spot for Universal Studios Hollywood, the two Orlando parks reign supreme in several categories. A big one is in how they pay homage to the magical mind of J.K. Rowling.

California’s Hogsmeade is quaint compared to the dual Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida and the nearby Islands of Adventure. The layout of Studios’ Potter-themed environment lends for a more immersive experience as one strolls the fantastical shops, eateries and other oddities of Diagon Alley. Ride-wise, there’s the mind-blowing Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and the Hogwarts Express train that runs between the two Harry Potter lands for those with a park-to-park admission ticket.

Similarities between the Studios parks in Florida and California are many, but one difference nostalgic West Coasters will appreciate is seeing — and riding — E.T. Adventure. At Universal Studios Hollywood, that attraction failed to phone home in 2003 and was destroyed to make room for the Mummy ride.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Jurassic World VelociCoaster is the first major theme park thrill ride to open since the pandemic began. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Jurassic World VelociCoaster is Orlando’s first major theme park thrill ride to open since the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also the best coaster in town, though, to be fair, this adrenaline junkie hasn’t ridden the highly rated Mako at SeaWorld Orlando. An instant classic when it opened in June, VelociCoaster boasts the world’s first 100-foot-long weightless inverted stall, 12 total seconds of out-of-your-seat airtime and 4,700 perfectly engineered feet of track.

Other must-do’s at Universal’s Islands of Adventure are the Jurassic Park River Adventure (similar to what’s at Universal City), the wet and wild Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, Skull Island: Reign of Kong (in California the ride is part of the studio tour, which Orlando doesn’t have), and the Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk rides — all winners for thrill-seekers who meet the minimum height. For youngsters who don’t, there’s Seuss Landing and a host of relatively tame rides.

Islands of Adventure’s Harry Potter section is the icing on the cake, or more appropriate, the butterscotch froth on the butterbeer — a must-drink regular or frozen ($7.99). Four years older than its Studios counterpart, the area treats guests to a re-creation of Hogsmeade and three rides: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff, both also found at the California park, and the sorta-new and splendid Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Wands are best bought at Ollivanders and the hungry can’t go wrong at Three Broomsticks.

The Wizarding Worlds at either park are so popular, just about the only way to avoid elbow-to-elbow crowds is to go in the cooler days of winter before or after the holidays, and, as we’ve been saying, in the early fall when school is in session. Of course, if you’re a wizard with a working wand, you can always use the Vanishing Spell. Populus evanesco!

Article source: www.ocregister.com

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