The Mouse (as in Mickey Mouse) might be the reason Orlando, Florida, because the most desirable family vacation destination in the country, but he is not the only reason to head to central Florida.
Courtesy of Visit Orlando, the highly effective and terrific tourism bureau for Orlando, is touting 13 new attractions in the city for 2013. And only a couple of them have Disney in the name.
SeaWorld is adding a voyage to the bottom-of-the-world in Antarctica – Empire of the Penguin, the theme park’s biggest expansion to date. It will include a state-of-the-art interactive ride that follows a young penguin’s adventures through the Antarctic, a new penguin habitat, a new dining area and, of course, the obligatory gift shop.
Universal Studios, my favorite theme park is you’re traveling with slightly older children, will debut TRANSFORMERS: The Ride – 3D in summer 2013. The CGI ride puts riders right in the middle of an epic battle between — what else? — the Autobots and the Decepticons.
Disney World is touting its new feature for the little ones, Fantasyland. The sweet new section is the largest expansion ever for the Magic Kingdom. It includes the live, interactive Enchanted Tales with Belle that lets kids (and adults) play the parts of the castle that come alive in “Beauty and the Beast”–from the teapot to the silverware. This attraction strikes the perfect tone for nostalgic parents but it fun enough that event he 12-year-old boys who were with us there wanted to go through a second time so they could play different parts. Fantasyland also features Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, a musical showcase featuring Ariel and friends, and the gorgeous Be Our Guest Restaurant, the first in the Magic Kingdom to serve alcohol. In 2013, Princess Fairytale Hall will open, allowing little princesses to interact with big princesses Aurora, Cinderella and others.
Disney World has plans for something everyone can enjoy: MyMagic+ a website and app. Starting sometime this spring, you’ll be able to log on before you leave for Orlando to lock in seating for parades, fireworks and character interactions. (While I likely wouldn’t do any of that–I prefer to be a little less scheduled when I’m working my way through the parks and even though you can change your plans via a smartphone app, I probably wouldn’t. However, I would definitely take advantage of the chance to book FastPasses before I even get on the airplane. I love the parks and the rides. Don’t love the lines.) It will all be coded into a MagicBand wristband, which will serve as your room key, park ticket and FastPass. Disney is touting the system’s ability to customized and personalized, although some privacy proponents are concerned.
Finally at Disney World, a feature just for the grown-ups, Senses, a Disney-owned-and-operated spa at the posh Grand Floridian resort. I got a sneak peek at the gorgeous new facility a month ago. While it offers spa treatments for little ones, this high-end spa promises an experience that would be wasted on a 4-year-old.
Other Orlando Developments for 2013:
Fun Spot America (formerly Fun Spot Action Park) will debut new roller coasters–the White Lighting wooden coaster, the world’s biggest SkyCoaster, a new suspended family coaster called Vekoma and a wide range of family friendly racetracks and rides–as part of a 10-acre expansion.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will unveil the 90,000-square-foot (8,100-square-meter) home for the Space Shuttle Atlantis in July 2013. The $100 million exhibit will provide views of the vehicle up close, along with interactive features reflecting major accomplishments of the Space Shuttle Program, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station.
Shopping in Orlando
The Florida Mall in Orlando will add clothing retailer Michael Kors, accessory and jewelry retailer Tous while The Mall at Millenia will add retailers including Prada and YSL and Swiss watchmakers Hublot, Omega and Breitling. Orlando Premium Outlets – Vineland Ave will add 12 new stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th.
Eating in Orlando
Universal Orlando Resort will offer the Superstar Character Breakfast, a chance to meet Despicable Me Minions, SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer. The Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience will include dinner at Lombard’s Seafood Grille followed by dessert in a private viewing area for Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular nighttime lagoon show.
East End Market will open in spring 2013 in Orlando’s Audubon Park and house 10 local, independently owned food enterprises, including a butcher, seafood merchant, produce vendor and baker. Inside the market, James Beard Nominated Chef Henry Salgado, alongside his wife Michele will open Txokos Kitchen (pronounced show-kohs), a dine-in restaurant featuring farm-fresh lunch and dinner options.
Staying in Orlando
Alfond Inn at Rollins will open in Winter Park, just north of downtown Orlando. The 110-room boutique inn on the ground of Rollins College will feature a swimming pool, fitness center, restaurant, lounge and meeting space. All profits will go into an endowment to provide full scholarships for top Rollins College students.
Aloft Orlando Downtown Hotel, a 118- room property, will feature a bar with cocktails and music, a lounge, free wifi and meeting and banquet space.