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Florida Theme Park Guide to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Busch Gardens and more

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By Michelle Stark, Anne Glover, Amber McDonald and Kelly Stefani, Times Staff Writers
Illustration by Steve Madden, Times Staff Artist
Developed by Alexis N. Sanchez

Are you a Florida theme park fanatic? Send your favorite memories, horror stories (we all have them) or park insider tips to our Things to Do editors at calendar@tampabay.com or post to the official Things to Do Facebook page.

  1. Busch Gardens' new Cobra's Curse ride coming in 2016 (w/video)

    Attractions

    TAMPA — Busch Gardens on Thursday joined what is looking like an arms race of new thrill rides and roller coasters coming to Florida's I-4 corridor over the next year or so.

    Cobra’s Curse, as depicted in this rendering, is a family spin coaster that will combine the free-spinning dizziness of a 
Tilt-A-Whirl with the ups and downs of a traditional roller coaster. It is being built in Busch Gardens’ Egypt section.
  2. High-speed shark-themed thrill ride Mako coming to SeaWorld next summer

    Florida

    Opening next summer next to its shark encounter, SeaWorld Orlando announced on Wednesday that its newest roller coaster named Mako will be a killer ride, the tallest, fastest and longest coaster in Orlando.

    SeaWorld has announced that Mako, a new coaster coming in 2016, will mimic the quick turns and speed of sharks - and will be the tallest, fastest and longest coaster in Orlando.  Mako will be a 200-foot-tall hypercoaster that will reach 73 mph along 4,760 feet of steel track (that's nearly a mile long) and leave riders feeling both breathless and weightless. [SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.]
  3. Universal will double down on Halloween Horror Nights scares this year

    Florida

    It's no surprise that after the gangbuster business Universal raked in last year for its Halloween Horror Nights, the theme park announced it is expanding the scare-fest to a record 30 nights and doubling the number of actors roaming the park to startle visitors.

     Universal
  4. Disney resort bar lets you see Magic Kingdom fireworks without park ticket

    Florida

    A new bar has opened up at Walt Disney Word's Polynesian Resort, and you don't have to be a theme park or resort guest to take in this unusual watering hole. Trader Sam's Grog Grotto is a bar loaded with tiki-tacky Hawaiian kitsch, special effects that go off on the ceiling, walls and fake windows with a screen that …

    Reminiscent of a South Seas hideaway, Trader Sam's Grog Grotto at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort whisks away guests to a tropical oasis with a selection of exotic cocktails, small plates and scenic views. ? Located in the Great Ceremonial House, the themed lounge overlooks the resort's marina and Seven Seas Lagoon and features signature beverages such as the Polynesian Pearl and Castaway Crush and a? varied? menu? including? pork p‰tŽ b‡nh m“ sliders, Hawaiian poke, sushi and pan-friend dumplings. The lounge has 50 seats inside and 82 on the patio.? Disney?€™s Polynesian Village Resort? is located at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.? (David Roark, photographer)
  5. What's new this summer at Universal, SeaWorld and Orlando's International Drive

    Florida

    Universal Studios

    The Orlando theme park is having a blockbuster concert series this summer to mark its 25th anniversary starting with Latin pop star Prince Royce this Saturday and teen heartthrob Shawn Mendes on Sunday. The rest of the lineup is even bigger with Pitbull (May 30), Kellie Pickler …

    This April 29, 2015 photo shows the Orlando Eye, the city's new 400-foot observation wheel in Orlando, Fla. The wheel is slow enough for those with jumpy stomachs but not good for those with fear of heights. A dark, submarine-inspired thrill ride in California and swank new offerings at Downtown Disney all top the summer’s must-do list for theme park and amusement fans.(AP Photo/John Raoux) NYET628
  6. For summer, Adventure Island brings scream of a new water slide, Island Nights party

    Florida

    Adventure Island brought a screamer of a new water slide on board this summer called Colossal Curl, (above) a 622-foot-long thrill slide with a "weightless wave wall" that leaves riders a little breathless in the finale.

     Colossal Curl, the new thrill slide at Adventure Island
  7. For summer, Busch Gardens brings back shows, fireworks, riding coasters in the dark

    Florida

    Busch Gardens brings back its extended hours and fireworks in summer, and the new drop ride Falcon's Fury will be in full stomach-churning swing to ride in the dark.

    Riders are transported up, up, up 335 feet, to the top of the new Falcon’s Fury, and then down — at 60 mph.
  8. Downtown Disney halfway through its transformation to double in size

    Florida

    You don't need a theme park ticket for Downtown Disney, and the shopping and dining destination is halfway through a two-year project to double in size and be reborn as Disney Springs, a fictional boom town from the turn of the 20th century.

    Downtown Disney is halfway through a project to double the shopping and dining spot in size and it's already shaping up. Just opened is The Boathouse: From the creator of the T-Rex and Rainforest Cafe, a waterfront restaurant with nautical theme that has an Amiphicar, that?€™s a special car drives into the water and around the lake in what looks like a vintage convertible
  9. Disney kicks off summer with 24 hours in Magic Kingdom, more 'Frozen' fun

    Florida

    As the world's largest tourist attraction, Walt Disney World has a huge incentive to innovate and move as many people as possible through its four theme parks with the least amount of unpleasantness. To date, 12 million of its MagicBands have been distributed. This summer may bring the device's pluses and minuses into …

    This undated image released by Walt Disney World shows actresses dressed as royal sisters Queen Elsa, left, and Princess Anna, from the Disney animated motion picture "Frozen," during a performance of the “Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, ”in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The production moves to the larger Hyperion Theater June 17, with new technology like a high-definition LED screen and a snow making machine. (Chloe Rice/Walt Disney World via AP) NYET638
  10. Busch Gardens/Adventure Island deal offers two park visits, two meals for $99

    Florida

    Busch Gardens is offering a $99 two-park, two-meal deal available now through June 14 at the Tampa theme park and its neighboring water park, Adventure Island. Called the Ride, Slide and Dine ticket it allows visitors to choose two visits and two meals to either Busch Gardens or Adventure Island. It has to be purchased …

     files Falcon's Fury at Busch Gardens.