Only in Orlando
Orlando, well known for its fun and attractions for visitors of all ages, will soon roll out a host of mega-sized thrills, exciting new restaurants and a whole lot more.
Think you know Orlando? Think again. Both frequent Orlando, Fla., vacationers and once-a-year business-related travelers alike are familiar with many of the region’s most famous attractions—Universal Studios, Sea World, the many restaurants, and of course, all things Disney rank high among them. But even regular visitors to International Drive and the Orange County Convention Center may soon experience the area anew, as it explodes with a host of new restaurants and attractions for all ages.
International Drive has long been known as a haven of fun, food and shopping in the Orlando tourist area, but according to Visit Orlando—Orlando’s official tourism association—the strip is evolving to offer even more. Disney World, Orlando’s crown jewel, will also unveil a treasure of new sights, sounds and tastes in the coming year. Global Pet Expo attendees who are able to leave the show floor this year to explore the I-Drive area may see glimpses of the wonders to come. And given the fact that the Global Pet Expo is scheduled to be in Orlando through 2019, attendees will soon have ample opportunity to experience those wonders first hand, as well.
“Exciting times are ahead for our clients and visitors of the convention district,” says Kathie Canning, Orange County Convention Center executive director. “The new additions on the horizon include innovative attractions, trendy restaurants and unique shopping opportunities, which provide travelers more variety in our already attractive destination. We are really looking forward to seeing everything come to life.”
Among the highlights of the developments will be I-Drive 360, a new Merlin Entertainments Group complex located on International Drive that is scheduled to begin opening segments in spring 2015. The complex will be home to the Orlando Eye—a massive 425-foot observation wheel that is sure to become a landmark in the area. The Eye will not be operational until the spring, meaning show attendees will be able to only gaze at the towering attraction. However, they should make note of it for next year, and plan to book tickets in advance of the 2016 show. Thrill seekers should also make note of the upcoming Star Flyer, a swing ride at the nearby Vue at 360 that will have riders soaring at a height of 420 feet.
Another newcomer to the I-Drive region scheduled to debut in 2016 will be SKYPLEX, which will feature what is being billed as the world’s tallest roller coaster. Also holding the distinction of being Central Florida’s tallest structure at 570 feet, the aptly named Skyscraper will feature tracks that wind down the colossal tower, while featuring hair-raisingly steep drops.
For those who prefer to avoid heights—even at the expense of what promises to be amazing views of the surrounding area—I-Drive 360 will deliver plenty of entertainment at ground level. Attractions will range from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum to Skeletons: Animals Unveiled—a first-of-its-kind museum displaying hundreds of skeletons and dioramas. Of course, the complex offers many opportunties to dine and shop at its many eateries and retailers, as well. Options will include Tin Roof, Bar Jour, Cafe du Paris, Sugar Factory, Yard House, Cowgirls, Shake Shack and Seafood Republic.
And if ground level is not low enough, Orlando will soon offer a virtual under-the-sea adventure. Sea Life Orlando Aquarium, also located along I-Drive, will offer an up-close and personal encounter with more than 5,000 creatures, including fish, seahorses and jellyfish. An immersive 360-degree ocean tunnel will surround visitors with turtles and sharks, for a unique view of aquatic life. An interactive journey for all ages with a diversity of marine life, the aquarium will also play an active role in conservation efforts and endeavor to inspire others to lend their support.
Meanwhile, Disney lovers need not despair—Walt Disney World Resort has a great deal in store for travelers of all ages. Disney is rolling out a multi-million dollar expansion and rebranding of its popular Downtown Disney—a dining, shopping and entertainment complex. Now called Disney Springs, the complex is scheduled to add 80 restaurants and retailers to the original 70 by late 2016, according to Visit Orlando. New retailers will include APEX by Sunglass Hut, Art of Shaving, Chapel Hats, Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC, Havaianas, Sanuk and Sound Lion.
Still, even these changes will only be the tip of the iceberg for Disney—or rather the tip of some floating mountains. In 2017, Disney will debut the Land of Avatar at Animal Kingdom, Disney’s wild animal-themed amusement park. The expansion, set to be the largest in Animal Kingdom’s history, will feature floating mountains, bioluminescent rainforests and a Banshee flying attraction, as well as new after-dark entertainment. And EPCOT will also open the new Frozen ride in early 2016, based on Disney’s popular animated film. The ride will take guests to Arendelle, immersing them in many of their favorite moments with music from the film.
Yet one thing is clear, Orlando is more than just the home of Mickey and Cinderella, it continues to evolve into a dynamic city with something for everyone, from the very young to the old.