The battle lines have been drawn in Central Florida. Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) Universal Orlando announced earlier this week that it's opening the Volcano Bay water park on May 25, just in time for Memorial Day weekend and the subsequent summertime crowds.
Disney(NYSE: DIS) hasn't unveiled an official opening date for Pandora: The World of Avatar, the immersive Avatar-themed expansion at Disney's Animal Kingdom. It's still loosely clinging to a summertime debut. However, the recent rollout of a new discounted multi-day ticket for Florida residents blacks out availability at Animal Kingdom -- and only Animal Kingdom -- from May 27 until when the passes expire on June 9. Does that mean Pandora will open on May 27, also in time for the holiday weekend crowds?
It's going to be an interesting Memorial Day weekend, and things will get even more action-packed as the seasonally potent summer crowds start to arrive a couple of weeks later. Two of the biggest new theme-park attractions to open in the area since Universal Orlando's 2014 opening of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley expansion and Disney World's 2012 New Fantasyland debut are about to open possibly just two days apart. Throw in the Jimmy Fallon attraction opening at Universal Studios Florida a month earlier, and you have Comcast and Disney making major investments to win over visitors this year.
The first "winged" roller coaster in the country is set to debut at Indiana's Holiday World & Splashin' Safari theme park in April. Riders are suspended on both sides of the track, and the coaster reaches speeds of 60 mph in only 3.5 seconds.
The tallest and fastest giga coaster in the world debuted this spring -- it's also the longest steel roller coaster in North America. The first drop (shown here) is 325 feet -- taller than the Statue of Liberty -- and the ride reaches speeds of 95 mph.
In this new 3D interactive adventure, guests sit in submarine-like vehicles and shoot ray guns at attacking animated underwater creatures like puffer fish and a iron-armored octopus.
(Photo by Knott's Berry Farm)
Morey's Pier & Beachfront Water Parks
Wildwood, New Jersey
Opening Memorial Day weekend, this new attraction features a giant smoke-breathing gorilla that hangs from a lighthouse on the Wildwood boardwalk. After zipping around the animal in a vintage war plane, guests can munch on frozen bananas and recharge their phones at the retail space under the ride.
This new hybrid steel-wooden coaster has a steep 128-foot drop, a "Top Gun" tie-in and a Zero G Roll. There are two trains on the ride at the same time -- adding an extra thrill when they pass each other on turns.
This ride -- the first wooden shuttle coaster to be built in more than 100 years -- will run two trains at the same time when it opens this summer. Riders go over drops and loops only to fall backwards and do the whole track in reverse.
This seven-story roller coaster is opening in OKC this summer, placing riders face to face as they loop 360-degrees and freeze upside-down 72-feet in the air.
(Photo: Frontier City)
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It's not a dormant volcano
Comcast is playing up Volcano Bay, calling it the resort's third theme park. Comcast is so confident about the new water park that it even closed the nearby Wet 'n Wild water park it operated just outside Universal Orlando last month.
Volcano Bay will be roughly half the size of either of Disney World's two water parks, but loading it with high-end watery diversions and pioneering wearable tech to reserve wait times on flagship attractions will make it a popular park once the weather heats up. It can market the convenience of virtual queues, something Disney World doesn't seem in a hurry to embrace at its Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach water parks.
It's probably not a surprise that the country's four busiest water parks are all in Orlando, according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach topped the attendance list with 2.3 million and 2.1 million guests, respectively, in 2015. The now shuttered Wet 'n Wild park clocked in fourth with 1.3 million visitors in 2015.
Comcast's hope here has to be that it can attract at least as many guests as the Wet 'n Wild park that it closed down, and that they will pay more to visit Volcano Bay. With Universal Orlando continuing to add to its on-site hotel room count, the potential built-in audience keeps climbing. Introducing Volcano Bay will just give them one more reason to never leave the resort.
Disney is no shrinking violet. It may also be gearing up to open the Rivers of Light lakefront nighttime attraction -- after fumbling its debut last year -- around the same time Pandora opens for business. The show would give Disney's Animal Kingdom a one-two punch that should translate into a big spike in attendance.
If a trip to Central Florida isn't on your itinerary this summer, that may change as more details of the major Disney World and Universal Orlando additions are revealed.
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