The Downlow | What to Expect at Florida Theme Parks in 2017


We’re already in to February (how is that possible?!) so we’d better take some time to look into our crystal ball and see what Florida theme park fans can expect in 2017! Cranes fill the sky around Orlando as construction continues at a number of parks including Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios and Universal Studios! We’re exciting about what’s in store for 2017, so let’s get started!

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon (Universal Studios)

What is it: A “flying theater” style ride where guests will race head to head against Jimmy Fallon through the streets (and air and river) of New York! While no images or plans have leaked to the public, most beleive the “flying theater” concept will look a lot like Soarin’ over at Epcot. Guests can expect to race Jimmy through the halls of 30 Rockefeller Center, through Midtown Manhattan, over top skyscrapers and even through the East River towards the finish line.
Backstory: Race Through New York was announced by Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show way back in October 2015. The ride will replace the dated Twister attraction in the New York section of the park. It appears that the ride is the result of good old fashioned business synergy: Universal Studios are a part of Universal Parks & Resorts which is part of Comcast NBCUniversal. Ah, synergy!

What’s the status for 2017?: On his show in January, Fallon announced that Race Through New York will open at Universal Studios Florida on April 6, 2017.

Fast and the Furious: Supercharged (Universal Studios)
What is it: A full-length Fast and Furious attraction based both on the wildly-popular movie franchise and the shorter Fast and the Furious: Supercharged that is already a part of the Universal Studios Hollwyood backlot tram tour! Details are scarce as to what the ride will actually entail, but a safe guess would say that it will use a mixture of 3D projection screen and motion-based vehicles, similar to other popular Universal attractions like Transformers 3D The Ride and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s.
Backstory: The Fast and the Furious movie series is now up to 8 installments with no sign of slowing down. Universal Studios Hollwyood brough F&F property to its Hollwyood theme park as part of the famous backlot tram tour in June 2015. Not even two months later, Universal announced that a full-scale version of the attraction would be built at Universal Studios Floria. To make room for F&F, Universal announced that both Disaster and Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue would close in late 2015. Construction began in early 2016 and continues (see pic above) today.

What’s the status for 2017?: Construction will continue throughout the year with an expected opening date sometime in 2018.

Potter Expansion (Universal Studios) – RUMORED

What is it: A rumored expansion of the Universal’s Harry Potter-themed lands which already include Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios. While no one know exactly what to expect, buzz continues to build that the existing Fear Factory Live ampitheater beside Diagon Alley will be torn to make room for the expansion, possibly themed after the Ministry of Magic from the Potter series.

Backstory: Anyone who follows theme parks knows that the Harry Potter-themed lands at Universal Resorts in Orlando (and now California) are the absolute best that this industry has to offer. Hogsmeade, which features a full recreation of the village as well as Hogwart’s Castle, stunned the world when it opened in 2010. Not only was it incredibly detailed and beautiful, but it also featured what is still the best theme park atttraction out there: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Amazingly, Universal was able to impress even the most skeptical folks when they opened phase 2 of the Potter world, Diagon Alley in 2014. Diagon Alley features an incredible recreation of a Potter environment (this time its the titular Diagon Alley, as well as Knockturn Alley and a newly-created Carkitt Market) and the centerpiece attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s, is a stunning ride that weds motion-based ride vehicles with 3-d screen capabilities. Now the only question is, will Universal try once again to strike Harry Potter gold by building another new land?

What’s the status for 2017?: If we had to guess, probably nothing in 2017. It’s on the list because it’s still a rumored possibility. The Downlow thinks it’s only a matter of time before Universal decides to move forward with more Potter – it’s just too popular for them to stop. But with all of the other attractions, lands, water parks and hotels that Universal Resorts in Florida has in motion right now, we think a Potter expansion is still a few years out.

 Nintendo World (Universal Studios) – RUMORED

What is it: A new theme land that will bring the environment and familiar faces of Nintendo to life! Universal has announced that the lands will be highly immersive and interactive and feature “many” rides. Rumors are already swirling that in Orlando – where Nintendo World will likely open after it opens at Universal Studios Japan – Universal will make room for Nintendo World by demolishing Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone, the Barney Theater, the Animal Actors Ampitheatre and maybe even, gasp, E.T. As for atttractions, eagled-eyed theme park fans discovered several patents filed by Universal late last year that line up with the rumors that we could see a real-life version of Mario Kart and a Donkey Kong mine cart attraction. (Click here for a description of those patents!)

Backstory: In 2015, Universal signed a deal with Nintendo to bring that intellectual property into its parks in Japan, Hollywood and Orlando. For more than a year, Universal maintained radio silence as it prepared to announce what exactly fans should expect in the coming years. Finally, in November 2016, Universal announced that Nintendo World would open first in Japan and then come stateside to both Universal parks. Simultaneously, theme park afficiandos discovered that Universal filed several ride patents late last year that could give an indication as to what they’re planning for Nintendo attraction.

What’s the status for 2017?: Unknown. Universal has yet to make any further announcements, but if they hope to get Nintendo World open in Orlando by 2020 as some have speculated, they’d almost certainly have to break ground (and clear some land) this year.

Volcano Bay Water Park (Universal Studios)

What is it: Huge (50+ acres) state-of-the-art water park with a majestic centerpiece: a 200-foot tall “active” volcano that will house the Krakatua Aqua Coaster! This new ride will be propelled by magnets (a first for a water ride) that will shoot riders up the moutain before letting them slide all the down. The park will be able to control “eruptions” and other smoke affects at the top of Krakatua and in a brand new twist for theme parks, the line for the new aqua coaster will be entirely virtual. Guests will be issued wearable bracelets called TapuTapu that will notify them when it’s time to board Krakatau. Universal will toy with a version of this virtual queue with Race through the Streets Starring Jimmy Fallon, but Universal has said that Volcano Bay will exclusivly use this new tech.

Backstory: Universal Resorts has owned and operated another water park, Wet ‘n Wild, since 1998. In 2015, Universal announced Volcano Bay would be built in a vacant lot beside their Cabana Bay Resort and would be ready to open by 2017. As expected, Wet ‘n Wild closed for good on December 31, 2016, and now it’s a mad rush to finish Volcano Bay.

What’s the status for 2017?: Universal recently announced that Volcano Bay will open to the public on May 25, 2017.

Pandora: The World of Avatar (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)

What is it:State-of-the-art recreation of Pandora, the world created by famed director James Cameron for his 2009 film Avatar (and possible sequels). We expect one e-ticket attraction (Flight of the Banshee) and one family-friendly boatride through the bioluminescent forest of Pandora.

Backstory: Believe it or not, Disney announced Pandora way back in 2011 and Disney nuts have been fighting about it ever since. Many think brining a non-Disney movie property into a Disney park makes no sense. Others are willing to give Disney Imagineers (such as project director and Disney legend Joe Rohde) a bit of leeway to see what they can come up with. And what have they come up with? A new highly-themed environment that will allegedly have walking paths AND plant life that responds to guests as they venture through the land. The Flight of the Banshee ride is a Soarin-style ride that will let guests soar over the world of Pandora while riding a flying banshee that will “breath” and “flap its wings”.

What’s the status for 2017?: After years of build-up and then construction, Disney just announced that Pandora: The World of Avatar will open on May 27, 2017.

Star Wars and Toy Story Lands (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
What is it: New immersive theme lands for both the Star Wars and Toy Story franchises coming soon-ish to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS

Backstory: In 2015, Disney announced what was quickly becoming the worst-kept secret in the business: they would soon break ground on both coasts on a new Star Wars land at Disneyland and Hollywood Studios. Additionally, DHS would be getting that much-desired addition to Pixar Place with the news that Disney was also building a Toy Story Land behind the show building of the Toy Story Midway Mania ride. The Star Wars lands are expected to both have two e-ticket attractions: one which will allow guests to control Han Solo’s Millenium Falcon and another (possibly trackless dark ride) that will put guests in the middle of the battle between teh Resistance and the First Order. The rides for the new Toy Story Land are likely to be more kid-friendly: a family coaster based on Slinky Dog and an alien saucer flat ride.

What’s the status for 2017?: Lots of cranes and construction! Progress at Disneyland’s Star Wars Land is noticeably further along and may expect it could open by 2019. At DHS, Toy Story Land is really starting to pick up speed and the work at Star Wars Land appears to moving quicker than it had been a few months ago. It seems possible that Toy Story Land could be ready by 2018, but Star Wars Land is likely still several years away.

Something in the works at Epcot…Possibly Guardians of the Galaxy


What is it: We don’t know yet. Disney isn’t saying but rumors are swirling that some kind of Guardians of the Galaxy-themed ride experience is coming to Epcot.

Backstory: Disney’s Epcot is sacred theme park land that opened by in 1982 and has always upheld its mission to educate visitors about the world of the future and the world around us now. While the World Showcase has remained largely the same since the park opened, the Future World part of Epcot has seen attractions come and go, sometimes much to the chagrin of purists. We know that Ellen’s Energy Adventure has closed, and the rumors continue to mount that either Ellen’s or maybe even Mission Space will be the future home of a Guardians of the Galaxy atrraction. We’ll see. Disney is in the process of retrofitting their Terror of Tower dark ride in California as a new GotG attraction. Some have speculated that the Epcot incarnation of a Guardians ride might be a suspended rollercoaster or a new inside dark ride. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.

What’s the status for 2017?: If the buzz is true, expect Disney to announce this ride and for construction/demolition to start later this year.

Kracken VR Coaster (SeaWorld)

What is it: A refurbishment of SeaWorld’s Kracken roller coaster which will see riders wear VR headsets and immerse in an ineteractive ride experience. It’ll also be Florida’s only VR roller coaster experience.

Backstory: Back in 2000, SeaWorld hit a homerun with the opening of Kracken, a Bolliger and Mabillard steel floorless coaster (your feet don’t touch the floor) that was the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Florida when it opened! But fast forward 17 years and old boy seems a bit dated. So in keeping with the newest theme park trends, SeaWorld closed Kracken in September 2016 to refurbish the ride withe virtual reality (VR) technology – riders will wear headsets with state-of-the-art visuals and sounds technology to give the sensation of an underwater adventure with the titular Kracken.

What’s the status for 2017?: Kracken VR should be ready sometime before Summer 2017
So, that’s our list! What did we miss? Anything you’re looking forward to in 2017? Which of these attractions are you most excited about? Leave us a comment below!

Interested in a free Disney/Universal quote?

Ang Bertugli Spece, one half of the Dis Downlow team, is a travel consultant with Simply Enchanted Travel and would love to help you get started planning a dream vacation!

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