6 major Orlando attraction openings and upgrades to look forward to in 2016

click to enlarge Concept art for Reign of Kong at Universal Studios - Photo via Universal
Photo via Universal
Concept art for Reign of Kong at Universal Studios
While 2015 was a slow year for theme park openings, 2016 will surely not be. Many projects that have been in the works for years will finally open next year. Along with this, we have a number of major updates coming to sections of the local parks that have been overlooked over the past few years. All of this combined mean that 2016 will be a great year to follow our local tourism industry. Here are what I think will be the biggest local tourism stories for 2016.

Mako at SWO

SeaWorld Orlando will be embracing thrill rides when it opens its fourth major thrill ride in 2016. Mako will be Orlando’s first hypercoaster, topping out at 200 ft. The coaster will hug the back of the park, running in-between a retention pond and I-Drive itself. The location of the new coaster will give the park, even, more I-Drive visibility and a more impressive skyline from the Beachline. Mako will also include its own unique lighting that will help showcase both the ride and the park in those critical evening hours when so many tourists pass by the park on their way back from Disney and Universal.
Mako will feature 9 airtime moments and go 73 mph, facts that will surely help this coaster become a ‘must do’ for many thrill fans. 

The new coaster will also include an updating to theming near the shark attractions. The underwater shipwreck theming will be a new concept for SeaWorld that has kept most of their themed areas as ones where humans regularly exist. The new, more fantasy, theming is similar to the entrance plaza updating that took place last year in San Diego. That update has been very well received.

With 2016 being an off year for thrill rides SeaWorld has positioned itself well. 

Kong, Hotel at USF

Universal Orlando Resort has plenty of construction happening right now with much of it waiting until 2017 to open, but next year will have plenty of new additions. Both the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride at Islands of Adventure and the Sapphire Falls Resort will add much-needed capacity. Sapphire Falls will add a 1,000 new on-site rooms plus a convention center, new dining options and an extension of the waterway.

Just across Hollywood Way from Sapphire Falls will be the brand new King Kong ride. The new 3-D, tram-style, family thrill ride is the first introduction of what was an iconic resort character since the closer of Kongfrontation in 2002. Despite having the small central character, the two rides have little else in common with each other. Kongfrontation was set in New York, was in Universal Studios and used mostly practical sets. Skull Island is set in the jungle, is found between Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park in Islands of Adventure and will use 3-D tech along with some practical sets including an outdoor ride section.
The new attraction will help balance crowds at IOA that currently flock to the back corner of the park where Hogsmeade, the original Harry Potter land, is.

Also coming to IOA will be the brand new Incredible Hulk Coaster. That coaster closed earlier this year and is being completely rebuilt. The new version should include a better-themed queue, updated track and the latest in launch tech. While this won’t be as large of a draw a completely new attraction for many theme parks this is essentially a new attraction due to the extensive refurb of the ride.

Wet n’ Wild Closing

This time next year we’ll be talking about the impending closure of Wet n’ Wild on Dec 31, 2016. In the meantime, many locals will be swinging by the world’s first modern water park to reminisce. Universal, WnW’s parent company, is opening the brand new Volcano Bay in 2017 so Wet n’ Wild will no longer be needed. Plans for the water park site have yet to be announced, but there is strong speculation that Universal will use the property to expand its hotel room and convention center offerings. There’s no telling if we will know what will eventually replace Wet n’ Wild by its closer in 2016.

Frozen at Epcot

Replacing Maelstrom in the Norway pavilion at Epcot, Frozen Ever After will be a brand new boat ride attraction opening in Spring 2016. The high-tech boat ride will be complimented by a new meet-and-greet and gift shop next to the existing Norway buildings. Frozen Ever After will likely be opened with a major marketing push. The new permanent Frozen presence will make World Showcase a must visit for any families with kids who just can’t ‘Let It Go.’ The new ride will also showcase some of the very latest animatronic and projection mapping technology.

I-Drive’s Coming of Age

2015 was the year for I-Drive. With I-Drive 360 opening in the Spring and Mango’s opening this month the area has begun a major transformation. The transition from budget gift shops to luxury hospitality will continue throughout 2016. Many projects will break ground (like Skyplex, Hollywood Plaza and iSquare) while others will be announced. Two indoor skydiving centers, a zombie laser tag, the brand new World’s Largest Entertainment McDonald’s, and more are planned to open in 2016 along this famous tourist strip. The only gay club on I-Drive recently opened, as did Cowgirls and the previously mentioned Mango’s, with Sugar Factory planning an opening later this month.

The DAK Expansions/Additions

The place with the most changes in 2016 will no doubt be Animal Kingdom. With two new nighttime shows, new dining and other new additions the park will soon become a must do for many who currently skip the “half day park.” Rivers of Light will be the new night time show that will combine show elements of Fanstamic! with World of Color style fountain technology, mix in some Bollywood music and a storyline that promises to tug at your heart strings. The new nighttime show in the lagoon isn’t the only new entertainment being added in 2016. The iconic Tree of Life will be getting its own projection mapping show, similar to Celebrate the Magic in Magic Kingdom. This show will tie-in with the water based show but both are designed to be viewed separate or together.

New signature waterfront dining will also be added to DAK in early 2016. Kilimanjaro Safaris will be opening a new evening safari that will feature some different animals and unique lighting that simulates a sunset glow. The new animals and lighting will make Kilimanjaro Safaris essentially two attractions in one.

All of this leads up to the massive new land, “Pandora - The World of Avatar,” that is planned to open in 2017. Some aspects of that new land may open by the end of 2016 but even if that this land will still be a major conversation piece for most of 2016.

What Animal Kingdom is receiving in 2016 is impressive on its own, then couple it with the additions the park has seen this year and last along with Pandora in 2017. It’s easy to see why Animal Kingdom is the park to focus on throughout 2016. 


Since 1990, Orlando Weekly has served as the free, independent voice of Orlando, and we want to keep it that way.

Becoming an Orlando Weekly Supporter for as little as $5 a month allows us to continue offering readers access to our coverage of local news, food, nightlife, events, and culture with no paywalls.

Join today because you love us, too.

Scroll to read more Arts Stories + Interviews articles

Join Orlando Weekly Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.