2019 will be a pivotal year in the crowded Orlando theme park market. Every major park is set to add new attractions, hotels, restaurants and even new lands this year, and how those new offerings are received could mean radical shifts to the Disney-Universal rivalry, the International Drive hotel market and the competition for the youngest theme park visitors.
Here’s a rundown of the five biggest additions coming to Orlando parks in 2019:
5. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Opening: Fall 2019
Taking over the space formerly occupied by The Great Movie Ride, this new Disney’s Hollywood Studios attraction hasn’t been hyped as heavily as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but could be a technological leap for Disney in its own right.
Touted as a “2 1/2 D” ride — meaning no 3-D glasses will be required — Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is the first ride-through attraction starring Disney’s signature character. It’s based around the short Mickey Mouse cartoons seen on the Disney Channel since 2013.
Along with the new Toy Story Land attractions, the new ride will boost capacity in a park which has undergone tremendous change in recent years. Hollywood Studios will need all the space it can get come the end of the year, as massive crowds are expected once Galaxy’s Edge is open.
4. Lego Movie World
Opening: Early Spring 2019
What Legoland Florida is calling its largest investment ever, Lego Movie World will recreate the city of Bricksburg seen in the 2014 film. It will also include three attractions: Lego Movie Masters of Flight, a flying theatre attraction with a 180-degree turn after riders have been seated, Unikitty’s Disco Drop, and Battle of Bricksburg, a rethemed version of the park’s Quest for Chi boat ride.
“These will be all very family-friendly rides,” Brittany Williams, Legoland Florida’s senior public relations manager, said in November. “The most aspirational of which would be [Unikitty’s Disco Drop], which will be a bit more thrilling. Lego Movie Masters of Flight will be one that the whole family can enjoy together.”
Given Legoland’s target demographic of kids aged 2 to 12, it will face competition for the younger end of that group from SeaWorld Orlando’s Sesame Street, also set to open in 2019. While SeaWorld’s addition has the more established brand, none of its attractions will be entirely new; all six in the Sesame Street area will be rethemed versions of existing rides from the former Shamu’s Happy Harbor section of the park.
3. Universal’s Endless Summer Resort
Opening: August 2019
The only non-attraction on the list, the first phase of Universal’s Endless Summer Resort could mark a major turning point in the Orlando hotel market.
Universal Orlando Resort has grown by more than 7,000 hotel rooms in the past five years. Endless Summer will add 750 rooms with the Surfside Inn and Suites opening this year. Another 2,050 rooms will follow in the second phase, called the Dockside Inn and Suites, opening in 2020.
The resort’s location at the corner of International Drive and Universal Boulevard and it’s aggressive promotional pricing — as low as $73 per night for a seven-night stay — may put pressure on neighboring I-Drive hotels and Disney World’s “value” resorts.
“The other hoteliers in the market are definitely going to have to up their game,” said Paul Sexton, vice president of Orlando hotel services firm HREC Investment Advisors. “They cannot any longer afford to just get by on an OK-quality hotel and to do their marketing in a way that attracts the lower-priced buyers.”
Disney has hotel plans on its own for 2019, but focused on more affluent customer. Disney’s Riviera Resort, a new Disney Vacation Club property, is set to open next to the Caribbean Beach Resort and will be connected to the new Disney Skyliner system. It’s also scheduled to complete an overhaul of the Coronado Springs Resort, including a new 545-room tower and two new restaurants.
2. New “Harry Potter” coaster
Opening: Sometime in 2019
Universal has been very tight-lipped about the new attractions coming to its Orlando parks in 2019, but it’s hard to miss all the construction taking place on the former site of Dragon Challenge. The new “Harry Potter”-themed roller coaster appears to be set in the Forbidden Forest adjacent to Hogwarts Castle and will contain several indoor elements.
“Opening in 2019 at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, the new experience will become Universal’s most highly-themed coaster yet — immersing guests in an all-new adventure that is the next installment of the Wizarding World brought to life at Universal Orlando Resort,” Universal said in an October 2018 press release.
Universal has said little else about the ride or its other 2019 addition, an unnamed show replacing Terminator 2:3D in Universal Studios Florida.
1. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Opening: Late Fall 2019
Arguably the most highly-anticipated addition in Disney World’s history, the 14-acre addition to Disney Hollywood’s Studios is the Mouse’s answer to the immersive design of Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal. Along with transporting guests to a galaxy far, far away with “Star Wars”-themed shops and a cantina, the land will also feature two new rides.
Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run will put guests in the cockpit on Han Solo’s famous ship, having to fulfill their role as pilot, gunner, or flight engineer. The other attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, places guests in the middle of a space battle with the First Order.
According to Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger, these are “the biggest lands” that Disney has ever built.
“Not only are they big in size and scale, they are huge in ambition in terms of both the experience that we aim to create, meaning the immersive experience, as well as the specific experiences people will have and the attractions namely in both cases too, very, very innovative and we believe compelling and exciting e-ticket attractions,” Iger said in November 2018.
Unlike the other entries on this list, this experience isn’t exclusive to Orlando. Disneyland in Anaheim, California will open its version of Galaxy’s Edge first in summer 2019.