The Florida theme parks are bursting at the seams with amazing news this week. We begin with the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World for some pictures from the Fantasyland expansion. We next skip over to Epcot for a glimpse of the new Habit Heros exhibit/attraction and news of Test Track changes. The biggest news of the week comes from Universal Orlando Resort with big announcements of new and updated attractions, a new parade, and night time lagoon show. Not to be left out, however is Busch Gardens Tampa for a little bit of history from that park and finally we swim to SeaWorld for the Just for Kids event and some Turtle Trek construction.

The Magic Kingdom's answer to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is well along in development and the first phase should be opening within the next few months. This will include the "dueling" Dumbo's, The Great Goofini roller coaster and new train station.

The Double spinner Dumbo, which will now bring the Magic Kingdom's spinner ride tally to 4, is well along. One of the spinners is already testing.


The exterior of the Little Mermaid attraction in Florida is set to well outshine the California counterpart with its intricate sets and theme. Below we catch a glimpse of Prince Eric's castle, the hills, and the caves that the queue will wind through.

We also had a chance to look over the progress of the Beauty and the Beast offerings being built as well.

In the foreground you can make out the castle walls being constructed.

The Tavern

Belle's Meet-and-Greet

Over at Innoventions East, the tarps have come down around the new Habit Heroes exhibit. The new experience sponsored by Florida Blue Cross and Blue Shield will encourage guest to "Suit Up" and help battle against bad habits. Look for the exhibt to have a soft opening starting February 3rd.

Test Track will go down in April for a multi-month conversion. We can expect new effects, an altered queue that lets you 'build' a model Chevrolet, and then 'ride' your Chevy car on the ride itself. The sets may be different as well, though the track won't change. We poke around the queue and post-show to see it one last time.

The major theme park news comes from Universal Orlando Resort who made several announcements to update us on new projects for 2012 and also made some "surprise" entertainment announcements.

For 2012 Universal is pulling out all the stops to battle for the number one theme park spot while also trying to keep the attention away from Disney's New Fantasyland. For 2012 Universal is claiming that this is "the year to be here" stating that they are offering " more adventure, excitement, laughter and awe-inspiring moments than ever before" across it's two theme parks and night time entertainment district, CityWalk.


Out of all the announcements this one rings the most interesting. It's no secret that the BMG has struggled to live up to their expectations of being a major must see show for tourists visiting Central Florida. BMG and Universal received their share of criticism when the original show opened with many critics and fans of BMG calling foul that the show offered little new content and instead was a "best of show" taking pieces from their New York, Las Vegas and How to be a Rock-star shows.

Ticket sales where also substantially lower than expected with Universal having trouble filling the large Sharp Aquos theater. This resulted in Uni giving out heavily discounted tickets to families with children or large chunks of free tickets to their Team Members to help fill the theatre. When the recession did not seem to let up, the management reduced the amount of seats available to sell.

Based on the preview video it appears that the new show will once again be borrowing heavily from former BMG shows such as the "How to be a Rock-Star" tour and highly advertised "new" bits such as the "GiPads" are clearly nothing exclusive to the Universal Orlando production. Only once the show opens in February will be be able to see just how much is unique to this "New" production. Hopefully the idea of a New show will help sell more tickets so that Universal can finally see the return on investment they have been looking for.

CINEMATIC SPECTACULAR: 100 years of movie memories

The concept art suggests we are looking at a Universal 360 Cinesphere 2.0 with added fountains and special effects. We just hope the waterfall screens will be easier to look at than the former giant balls. Just like the previous show, expect minimal fireworks with a larger focus on movie imagery both on the lagoon and projected on the buildings around you.

Here are some pictures taken this week from the construction.

One of the more surprising announcements from Universal this week is their introduction of a daily parade to their entertainment line up starting this Spring. This will be the first time Universal Studios Orlando tackles a professional daily parade. While parades such as Macy's, Mardi Gras and the former Festival of the Dead parade make for great seasonal parades they lack the grandeur, design and professionalism of the parades found at Disney Parks or even Universal's sister parks such as Universal Singapore.

The parade, entitled "Universal Superstar Parade", will feature " larger-than-life floats, state-of-the-art technology and hundreds of energetic street performers." The parade focuses on characters such as " the minions from Despicable Me, E.B. from the hit comedy, Hop

While the concept art looks appealing we can't help but notice the obvious skewing of characters to the younger kids while avoiding other popular Universal franchises such as The Mummy, Jurassic Park and the Universal Monsters. This is obviously an attempt to offer more family friendly counter programming against Magic Kingdom. This might even force Disney to finally introduce a new parade. Here's to hoping we can finally say "Hasta la vista, baby" to decade old parade floats.

Interested in being a part of an all new entertainment experience? Well then Universal might just have the job for you! Take a look at this statement they released this week:

Holding Auditions February 4thth For Skilled Dancers, Stilt Walkers, Drummers, Roller Skaters, Animated Character Performers and More

WHAT:hereDancersAnimated Character Performers DrummersRoller SkatersStilt WalkersAUDITION
INFO: Interested candidates can learn more about available positions and schedule an audition by All candidates should have full availability, must be at least 18 years of age and provide proof of eligibility to work within the United States.

DESPICABLE ME: Minion Madness
Universal wrapped up their recent announcements with a closer look at the much anticipated Despicable Me: Minion Madness attraction opening this summer!

Despicable Me

Once guests make it through training, they join an interactive, minion-inspired dance party where they can show off their best moves.

The attraction looks like it will be a charming addition. We hope it improves upon past similar attractions such as Jimmy Neutron and The Funtastic world of Hanna Barbera. Exciting, too, is the level of detail in design promised in this attraction. Let's hope it elevates a space previously occupied by a mildly themed attraction into a rich and thrilling experience.

In this quick look behind the walls you can see that the Jaws lagoon is history. All drained and torn up, only a few bits of the original set seem to remain. Sheesh they are quick!

What happened here? While it would have been a bummer to not meet Shreck, did they really have to send out an actor that didn't fit the costume?

Out at CityWalk, the mini golf course is really sailing along nicely. Each week new, interesting details pop up that make us more and more eager to play.

This is going to be so cool!

Islands of Adventure is a park finally coming into its own. Wait times throughout the park are a good indicator of park attendance and overall "health".

Not bad.

Universal has a tremendous amount of faith in the power of Harry's magic. They have been investing in improvements to this park both obvious and hidden. Let's hope they stay on the right track.

The highly anticipated update for the Amazing Adventures of Spider-man is fast approaching. The improved attraction is set to open in March and will feature all-new, 4K digital high-definition animation, new high tech 3-D glasses and upgrades to the set, audio and lighting systems. A video of the iconic opening scene where spider-man lands on the front of your ride vehicle was released and we got to say, we are very interested in this project.

What makes this so interesting is that the entire ride was designed around the look of the original projections. Universal, wanting to create a seamless experience went to great lengths designing the physical sets to match the exact color and look of the movies. This included making digital renderings of brick walls and other spaces found in the movies and literally printing out giant life sized sheets of these items to cover the various environments in the attraction. Now with the new, more detailed, and grittier videos in the attractions we wonder how much of the sets will be redone to match.

Here are a few shots of the higher resolution characters. All we can say is WOW:

This attraction has held up very well over the years. While the refurbishment and renewal of the attraction isn't particularly needed, we are glad to see Universal taking steps to keep classic attractions fresh and new.

The Jurassic Park River Adventure is currently down for annual maintenance and is scheduled to return on February 6th.

th Anniversary in 2009. The original park was an admission-free hospitality facility that consisted of a tour of the new Anhauser-Busch brewery (and free beer!) and a bird garden where visitors could watch bird shows and animal acts.

August A. Busch, Jr. and son Adolphus Busch IV dedicate Busch Gardens on March 31, 1959

Over the years, the park started to grow. Ever the wildlife lover, August A. Busch, Jr. added a 29 acre Serengeti Plain (which later grew to 70 acres), which allowed African wildlife to roam free for visitors to view and became the largest, free-roaming habitat outside of Africa.

An aerial view of Busch Gardens in 1964

The brewery

The original suspended monorail (opened in 1966), which took visitors over the Serengeti Plain to get a closer look at some of the animals

Hospitality House (and free beer!)

The Old Swiss House was built in 1964 and was modeled after the real Old Swiss House in Switzerland, which was owned by the brother of August A. Busch Jr's third wife, Trudy. The Tampa version was a Valentine's Day present from August to Trudy. The Old Swiss House was considered one of the finest restaurants in Tampa for many years. It closed in 1983 and reopened in 1990 as the Crown Colony House restaurant.

After the brewery closed down some years later, Busch Gardens focused progressively on its tropical landscape, exotic animals and amusements to draw visitors. The park began charging admission as the entertainment became more complex, with extra fees for the thrill rides, such as the roller coasters for which Busch Gardens is now known.

Today, Busch Gardens covers 335 acres and filled with many unique animal exhibits, award-winning roller coasters and more! Did you know that in 2010, Busch Gardens drew 4.2 million visitors, making them one of the Top 20 visited theme parks in the United States and one of the Top 25 worldwide? The park is now owned by Britain's Blackstone Group and is operated by SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.

Next week we will explore the roller coasters of Busch Gardens.

The Just for Kids Festival at Sea World Orlando is heading into its final weekend and ends on February 4th.

Creepy much?

This brand new event has proven to be a huge success and is wildly popular with the locals as well as the out-of-towners. In fact, The weekend concerts have had to add a third showings of its Just for Kids festival entertainment this Saturday and next Saturday.

The biggest expansion in Sea World Orlando History is still in the initial phases of construction with very little being recognizable. Outside the Penguin Encounter work has commenced. This will be an amazing new land once finished.

The first-of-its-kind, domed 3D theatre attraction is well under construction and set to open sometime this Spring.

The Water coaster ride Journey to Atlantis has returned from a minor refurbishment. Voyages have commenced once more.

February 4th and 5th, 2012

This weekend marks the 37th Annual Arts Festival in downtown Mount Dora, a good thirty minutes due north of Disney World. A event brings 300,000 people to the quaint town; this year, over 286 artists are scheduled to participate. Stores stay open and booths abound with main stage performers singing their hearts out over at Donnelly Park. The festive atmosphere challenges the experiences you'd see at nearby Orlando; everything here is a downright original. The art show is also a competition, with over 21,000 dollars in awards given out by a select jury of artists. Walking the streets of the art show is free, most of the main boulevards are closed to traffic and parking is located is specific locations. I know I'll be in attendance!

Cogratulations to otisney for guessing last weeks parkhopper in posting...
"that little fella can be found in Universal's Hollywood Drive-In Golf"

Look into the magnifying glass below and see if you can figure out where the park hoppers are this week. Post your guess in the comments area below. If you are the first to guess the answer you will be featured in next week's update. GOOD LUCK!

Want to meet up with other Disney fans while at Disney World? Several of the Orlando Parkhopper team members are part of a group that meets every weekend.

Join the public Facebook group and get notified of events
(the locations are different every time).

If you appreciate this column, share this page with your friends and don't forget to click that Facebook thumbs up button at the top of the page (it give us the encouragement to bring you even bigger and better updates)!

We want your photos! Contribute to the Orlando Parkhopper by emailing with your submissions. We welcome volunteers for single contributions as well as permanent "Parkhopper" staff.

Please join us in thanking the fantastic and talented crew of writers, photographers and news contributors who worked so hard this week to bring you the latest information from the parks. This week's team included:

- Kevin Yee
- Aimster - Pictures by Aimster
- DisnyFan89 -

- Eric M. Davis

- Miles Bresin - Miles' Photos

- Editors: Fishbulb, Dustysage

Thank you for reading, we hope you've been inspired to explore Orlando's many wonderful attractions. We'd love to hear your comments below.