The COVID-19 pandemic derailed many 2020 plans for Central Florida theme parks. With vaccine distribution beginning (albeit slower than expected), it may take new attractions to get tourists back out to Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld parks.
2021’s slate of new attractions includes a mix of 2020 castoffs and projects that were so far along that even the pandemic couldn’t slow their construction. The lineup includes new roller coasters — some aiming for record-setting thrills, others a mix of intensity and immersive theming — along with two Disney projects that may present great leaps forward in nighttime entertainment and hotel experiences.
Here’s a rundown of the five biggest additions coming to Central Florida in 2020:
5. Ice Breaker
Opening: TBA 2021 at SeaWorld Orlando
SeaWorld’s coaster didn’t make our list last year, but thanks to the pandemic, it gets a do-over. Originally supposed to open in spring 2020, this Arctic-themed coaster was, like other SeaWorld rides on this list, delayed until 2021.
Ice Breaker was manufactured by Premier Rides, the company behind other launch coasters like Tigris at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and West Coast Racers at Six Flags Magic Mountain. The model is known as a Sky Rocket, with multiple launches over the same piece of track much like Tigris, but with a much longer 1,900-foot layout.
The 90-second ride will not feature any inversions, but does feature a 93-foot-tall spike that guests will experience on two backward launches, eventually hitting a top speed of 52 miles per hour.
If you’re looking at our list from 2020, you may ask why this now beats out Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure for the fifth spot on the list? Perhaps because Ice Breaker offers something new to SeaWorld with the park’s first launch coaster. Ratatouille, on top of being a carbon copy of an attraction that opened in Disneyland Paris in 2014, it also marks Disney World’s third straight addition of a trackless dark ride to one of its parks.
Opening: TBA 2021 at Epcot
Another holdover from 2020, “Harmonious” will be the first new permanent nighttime show at Epcot since 1999 — and another piece in the park’s transformation.
Unlike its predecessor, “Harmonious” will feature Disney and Pixar characters, with concept art showing glimpses of films like “Moana,” “Coco,” and “Brave.” Disney is promising it will be its largest nighttime spectacle yet, utilizing five massive barges in World Showcase Lagoon with LED panels, lasers, lighting and water effects, and pyrotechnics. The first of these barges recently appeared on the lagoon to begin testing.
Epcot purists, however, are among the most vocal in Disney’s fanbase. If Disney’s newest show can’t win them over with its technological advancements, the further injection of Disney characters into Epcot — a grave offense to those who remain committed to the idea of an IP-free Epcot — may lead to bad word-of-mouth from fan blogs, YouTubers and influencers.
Opening: TBA 2021 at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Last year’s No. 1 on our list has been unseated by other additions, but don’t mistake that for a lack of enthusiasm for Iron Gwazi.
Iron Gwazi, a hybrid coaster from Rocky Mountain Construction, features 4,075 feet of track, along a 91-degree drop and a top speed of 76 miles per hour, making it the fastest and steepest hybrid coaster in the world. The ride had begun testing just before the COVID-19 shutdown in mid-March and appears to have been ready to welcome guests for months, with Busch Gardens releasing an on-ride video in November.
The attraction may cement Busch Gardens Tampa Bay as the Central Florida destination for coaster enthusiasts — dispelling the notion that the most competitive theme park market has little to offer thrillseekers compared to the likes of Cedar Point. In fact, the 206-foot-tall Iron Gwazi will actually claim the title of North America’s tallest hybrid coaster from Cedar Point’s own RMC, Steel Vengeance.
2. Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser
Opening: TBA 2021 at Disney World
The pandemic has created uncertainty about when some announced Disney projects will open (like Magic Kingdom’s Tron coaster) and outright canceled others (like Epcot’s festival pavilion), but this immersive, ultra-expensive hotel experience is still set to debut in 2021.
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser sounds like a mix of a cruise ship with live-action roleplaying set in the “Star Wars” universe. From guest rooms with simulated views out into space to a lightsaber testing experience, the idea is that guests are living their own “Star Wars” story, a line often used to describe Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
“This is a new type of immersive vacation that only Disney could create – a two-night, cruise-style itinerary where you’ll become the hero of your own adventure in an experience that surrounds you 24/7 in Star Wars storytelling,” Thomas Schoolfield, managing editor at Disney World public relations, wrote about the new hotel.
This high-end experience, with rumored pricing well over $3,000 per night, would be an immediate revenue generator for Disney parks struggling for profitability after the pandemic. If Disney pulls it off, expect to see other Disney parks and perhaps even rival Universal come up with other “immersive” hotel options.
1. Jurassic World VelociCoaster
Opening: Summer 2021 at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
So how do you beat a massive roller coaster and an immersive hotel experience? How about a well-themed roller coaster?
While Universal Orlando fans have seen this coaster taking shape on the Jurassic Park waterfront in Islands of Adventure for more than two years now, the coaster was only confirmed by Universal in late September.
It will feature two launches, including one hitting 70 miles per hour in 2.4 seconds, along with some thrilling elements such as a 360-degree barrel roll over the park’s lagoon, a zero-gravity inverted stall, and Universal’s steepest coaster drop yet at 80 degrees.
“The Jurassic World VelociCoaster will raise the bar in extreme roller coaster design and become the ultimate experience for coaster enthusiasts and thrill-seekers,” Universal said in a press release. “Spanning more than 4,700 feet of track and reaching heights of up to 155 feet, the coaster’s signature maneuvers will have guests twisting and soaring above land, barrel rolling just inches above water, speeding through near-misses and launches within the paddock, and more, with just a lap restraint holding them in place.”
But unlike Iron Gwazi, VelociCoaster will include animatronics and a highly-themed environment — much like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which was built by the same coaster firm, Intamin.
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