The expansive Margaritaville Resort Orlando will serve as an alternative of sorts to Central Florida’s many theme parks, according to the project’s brand coordinator, Pat McBride.

“I think of it as an extension of theme parks,” said McBride, CEO of the McBride Co., a Vermont-based creative design firm. “But you also want those moments to escape from it all and not fight the crowds. So it’s a great antidote, as well.”

Preliminary site work and grading is already underway at Margaritaville Orlando, which is to be located in Osceola County, within sight of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The five-story hotel should start rising within a couple months, McBride said, and developers expect the first phase of the project, including the hotel, to open before the end of 2017.

Copyright 2017, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Disney Reveals Detailed Model of the Upcoming Star Wars Land

These Are All of the Changes Coming to Disney World

​Going to Walt Disney World soon? Don’t panic, but so many new things have been introduced in just the past week that you may need to rehash your vacation plans. Ticket prices are up, restaurants are changing, and fireworks are disappearing. All of that said, keep this in mind: exciting evening entertainment, dining options and beloved character appearances are going to make your next visit to Disney World extraordinary.

From princess breakfasts to international desserts, here’s what you may have missed while finalizing your trip:

Prepare for Disney to Cost More Than Ever Before

The annual price hike kicked in at Walt Disney World earlier this month, affecting one-day tickets as well as multi-day passes. Be sure to buy tickets online before arriving at the park to save $20 as opposed to front gate prices.

Get Closer Than Ever to Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Guests can already hug Chewbacca and get face-to-face with Kylo Ren at the Star Wars Launch Bay inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but a new character will soon be rolling into town. Starting this spring, beloved droid BB-8 will have its own meet-and-greet at the park.

Take in Two New Evening Shows

If your favorite part of visiting Walt Disney World was the fireworks, brace yourself. By May 12, Wishes will be gone with a never-before-seen nighttime show, Happily Ever After, replacing it. Don’t let nostalgia get the best of you, as this technologically advanced spectacle is lined up to be pretty phenomenal. Double down on the nighttime thrills while you’re in town, because after nearly a year of delays, Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is finally open, as well.

Dine Anew at Walt Disney World Resorts

Geyser Point Bar and Grill, the brand-new restaurant at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, just opened with a hearty menu of bison burgers, salmon BLTs, and crispy fried oysters. Over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jiko The Cooking Place has fully overhauled their menu, bringing in lamb tagine and elk loin entrees as well as a Tanzanian chocolate mousse. And though no dates have been announced, a first-ever “royal couples” character dining option is coming to Disney’s Boardwalk. Soon, guests can dine with Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, as well as The Little Mermaid’s Ariel and Eric at Trattoria al Forno, just steps from the International Gateway entrance of Epcot.

​Enjoy Refreshed Dining Options at Disney Springs

Two former Downtown Disney restaurants are getting a second life with full overhauls of their previous spaces. Paddlefish, the sea-faring restaurant inhabiting the former Fulton’s Crab House, offers chowders and build-your-own crab boils as well as a range of meats and steaks for ultimate surf-and-turf options.

Planet Hollywood Observatory is a fully reimagined take on the former restaurant, now featuring a Guy Fieri-designed menu and Stargazers Lounge, which specializes in local Floridian beers.

Expanding the Attractions

New Star Wars attractions are already open at both parks.

13 Walt Disney World Secrets You’ve Never, Ever Heard Before

Whether you’re a Disney World die-hard or new to how it all works, you probably know the basics: there are a system of tunnels underneath the Magic Kingdom called Utilidors, plenty of hidden Mickeys throughout the property, and the windows lining Main Street are insider dedications to those whom made Walt Disney World possible.

As interesting as those are, there are plenty more mysteries, tricks, and no-way-that’s-true! tidbits lurking in the shadows of the four parks that comprise Walt Disney World. From little-known facts about your favorite rides to construction secrets, and more, here is a bit of insider knowledge straight from house of mouse:

1. Have you heard the one about Magic Kingdom piping in the scent of freshly baked cookies onto Main Street? It’s true—the system still exists in the utilidors to prove it. The park did away with the practice, deeming the odor too artificial, but one thing is still piped in over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: the screams for The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Riders are screaming like crazy throughout drop sequence, but what you hear from the ground is primarily pre-recorded. Listen closely enough and you’ll notice how identical each run sounds.

2. Tinker Bell flying over the Magic Kingdom is one of the most iconic parts of the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular, but it doesn’t happen with magic alone. Tink is given a hefty push from the window of Cinderella’s Castle, but if she’s not shoved hard enough, she won’t have enough momentum and will need to hand-over-hand her way towards the end. Cast members who audition for this part are said to need major upper body strength—turns out, they really do have to fly!

​3. The most harrowing part of putting on EPCOT’s nightly show, IllumiNATIONS: Reflections of Earth, is actually getting the globe to the center of the World Showcase Lagoon. When it’s transported from backstage through the canal, there are only six inches on each side for the LED-covered orb to pass through—which explains the dark scratch lines on the walls!

4. Even with its replica Liberty Bell and Liberty Tree, Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square is much more authentic than you may have realized. Because there were no modernized bathrooms in the colonial days, it’s said that there technically aren’t any within this land either. Been to the ones in Liberty Tree Tavern or Columbia Harbor House? Well, those are so far back in the restaurant that they’re technically in other lands, keeping it truly authentic to the time period.

5. Be Our Guest is Walt Disney World’s toughest restaurant reservation, but if you’re lucky enough to end up inside, don’t miss the artwork throughout the ballroom. The snow outside the ornate windows was created from original movie animation cells, and the lifelike cherubs lining the ceiling mural bear the faces of children of the Imagineers working on the project—as well as the Imagineers’ baby faces themselves!

​6. Magic Kingdom’s Main Street is lined with our nation’s flags—only they’re not technically American. Because regulations require traditional flags be raised, lowered, and flown at half-mast, each is missing a star or a stripe In order to be left up permanently. They serve double duty, too, as the flagpoles are actually lightning rods in disguise protecting guests below from inclement weather.

7. Supposedly, the Imagineers working on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror liked to play pranks on each other, many of which involved a certain jar of pickled sausages. They hid and surprised one another with the jar, until an Imagineer mistakenly left it behind one night, which just so happened to be when every prop was being glued down. The jar still sits behind the photo pickup area today as an insider nod to Disney’s geniuses having fun while on the job.

8. The Jungle Cruise is one of WDW’s most iconic rides, so it’s fitting that it would quietly feature a handful of props recycled from across the property. The spiders inside the temple are leftovers from Haunted Mansion and the monkeys foraging for gold are actually repurposed from Living With The Land at EPCOT. Trader Sam sports a bit of Disneyana as well, as his striped loincloth is an homage to the original fabric lining the top of Jungle Cruise boats. The most surprising duplication, though, is the face of the explorer on the bottom of the totem pole. On this ride, he’s being poked in the rear by a rhino horn, but the same character can be seen in The Haunted Mansion’s graveyard scene, complete with shaking knees and a pouty old pup nearby.

9. The turbulent prehistoric thriller Dinosaur! at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland aren’t just similar—they feature the same ride track. And, if you think Animal Kingdom’s turbulent trip backwards through time is scary now, just know that Dinosaur in its original form, Countdown to Extinction, was so terrifying that its original soundtrack, motion and interaction had to be toned down.

10. Disney pays incredible attention to detail, right down to the sidewalk you step on. On Main Street, the differing colors help to subconsciously guide guests and keep them from tripping at night and at Liberty Square, well, the brown wavy path down the center of the road is said to represent how colonial-era residents would dispose of their waste back in the day. (Kind of ruins the craving for fried fish, doesn’t it?)

11. Though the true reason varies between Disney experts, the current monorail stop at EPCOT is not originally where it was intended to be. Sinkholes made building so challenging that the monorail had to be rerouted, which is why it now travels completely around EPCOT before stopping. Some say there were actually supposed to be two monorail stops—one at Future World and one at World Showcase, so they could function as separate parks—so we may have Floridian swampland to thank for saving us the cost of a second ticket.

​12. You can buy nearly anything you can think of with Mickey Mouse on it, but there’s one thing you can’t get—the color of his shorts. The exact hue of the famed character’s bottoms is proprietary and will never be shared publicly!

13. The exotic species on Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safari are treated exceptionally well, but naturalists do use exercise and feeding to their advantage. Staff shoot raisins out of cannons to get the gorillas to move out and about by the safari vehicles and put elephants to work for honey, their treat of choice, by smearing it on their roof so they need to use their trunks to earn it. If you see the lions out on your next trip, know that there is behind-the-scenes magic happening for that one, too—the top rock is actually air conditioned to entice them to spend time there!

Star Wars

The Star Wars lands are the ultimate homage to the film series.

Copyright 2017, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Copyright 2017, Disney Enterprises, Inc.



The parks are a mix of attractions and memorabilia.

Margaritaville Resort taking shape in Orlando

Copyright 2017, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Artist's rendering

Copyright 2017, Disney Enterprises, Inc.


Copyright 2017, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Last week, the Margaritaville Orlando’s promotional team released the first renderings of the project; they depict the hotel as well as what appears to be retail and conference space surrounding a network of swimming lagoons, beaches and wooden piers.  Not surprisingly, considering that this is the Margaritaville brand, one rendering also depicts a shallow, lagoon-like swimming area fronted by a tiki bar.

The hotel at Margaritaville Resort Orlando will actually be of modest size: just 175 rooms. But the overall resort is on a grand scale, encompassing 320 acres, including a lake that McBride said is approximately 50 acres on its own. That’s a whole lot larger than the mere 7 acres that the Margaritaville team had to work with for their recently opened Hollywood, Fla., resort.

In Orlando, 200,000 square feet of retail space, a dining and entertainment district, a 12-acre waterpark and miles of wooded trails will augment the Margaritaville hotel, the development team said. Perhaps more notable still, the property will contain 1,000 vacation homes and 300 timeshares.

At its core, the Margaritaville brand beckons to those in search of an idealized tropical nirvana replete with rum bars and plenty of neatly shaded hammocks.

But McBride said that the space at Margaritaville Orlando is enabling that concept to be stretched further. Guests will be able to while away the day on a fishing dock, make their way around the property in a water taxi or spend an evening barbecuing.

“The goal is to really give people the sense of escapism, to define that living vacation,” McBride said. “If they are staying at the hotel, they are getting several days of soaking in that lifestyle. If they are staying at the residences, they can do it for a few weeks.”

Copyright 2017, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

2 Main Attractions

There will be two anchor attractions at the parks, one that gives theme park visitors the opportunity to pilot the Millennium Falcon, and another that puts visitors “right in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance.”

14 Acres

The Star Wars lands are the largest ever single-themed expansions at both parks, in California and Florida.

Disney Parks has revealed the most detailed look yet at the Star Wars-themed lands coming to Disneyland, in California, and Disney's Hollywood Studios, in Florida.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek unveiled the model at the annual D23 Expo, where in 2015 Disney's Bob Iger initially announced plans for the homage to the film series.

“To say we are excited for the Star Wars-themed lands to open in 2019 is an understatement,” Chapek said in a statement. “All along, we have said this will be game-changing, and through the model we can begin to see how truly epic these immersive new worlds will be.”

Disney has already opened Star Wars attractions at the parks, while the complete Star Wars lands are planned to open in 2019.

The shark-themed thrill ride reaches a height of 200 feet and a speed of 73 mph. It also lasts nearly three minutes as riders hurtle along nearly a mile of track that takes them over water and within close range of pedestrian pathways.

According to SeaWorld, Mako’s steep drops create a sense of weightlessness for riders.

“As the sleek coaster cars crest each hill, riders, secured only at their laps, float out of their seats,” the park said.
Mako is the fifth roller coaster at SeaWorld Orlando, joining Kraken, Manta, Journey to Atlantis and the kiddie-size metal coaster Shamu Express, located in Shamu’s Happy Harbor.

Mako makes its debut at SeaWorld Orlando

Coming Soon

The lands have been in development for years already, and will be completed in 2019.

Artist's rendering

New King Kong attraction at Universal Orlando is outta this world!

Star Wars Land
The entire model, on display at the D23 Expo earlier this month.

Other Worlds on Display

And as at the smaller attractions already open, expect to see detailed exhibits from the films.

Copyright 2017, Disney Enterprises, Inc.


Copyright 2017, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

On Another Planet

The model shows how immersive the lands will be.

Mako, the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Orlando, opened on June 10 at SeaWorld Orlando.


"Skull Island: Reign of Kong" bringing them in by the busloads

ORLANDO — Guests at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure are beginning to experience the new “Skull Island: Reign of Kong” attraction.

The ride, which takes visitors into King Kong’s island home on a trackless, self-navigating 17-ton truck, has been in soft opening for approximately two weeks, Universal representatives said during a media preview of ride Thursday. As such, park goers have had sporadic chances to try it out, but not on a regular schedule. Universal hasn’t revealed a date for a full opening, saying only that it will be sometime this summer.

The ride is likely to make waves when it does open. It starts with a brief drive outside before riders arrive on Skull Island through a 72-foot-tall gate.

The gate is impressive enough that as I stood outside “Reign of Kong” on Thursday afternoon I overheard a passerby make reference to it while noting how “awesome” the entire exterior of the attraction is.

Once inside that gate, riders are treated to a horseshoe-shaped 3D screen that is the largest at Universal Orlando. Immediately, they are immersed into the 6-minute ride’s storyline, in which they are on Skull Island to help with a 1931 expedition.

But this being a King Kong ride, that expedition doesn’t go smoothly. Suddenly, prehistoric animals surround the expedition truck. Ancient raptors, giant crustaceans, enormous bugs and, of course, dinosaurs, descend from all sides. In brilliant 3D they reach for the vehicle. Behind them unfold wide shots of the tropical green mountains of Skull Island.

The film’s special effects are good enough that in a post-ride question-and-answer session between the media and Reign of Kong producer Adam Rivest, one reporter asked if the human characters who are part of the expedition were played by actual people. Rivest’s answer was no.

As Reign of Kong unfolds, the truck bounces and jerks while it drives along the road. At one point, water droplets spray into the vehicle, making the attraction four-dimensional. Throughout, the action is immersive enough that it’s impossible to see all that is happening. Action plays out to the right and to the left of the vehicle, meaning that riders can go through Skull Island several times without having the same experience.

Eventually, the misunderstood hero, King Kong himself, appears to take on and beat back the attacking dinosaurs.

His job complete, the ride ends with King Kong standing near the truck while its driver (a character rather than an actual driver) tells passengers not to look the ape in the eye. Rivest said his team worked diligently on the King Kong graphic to make sure its details would portray the ape’s emotions.

Both Rivest and Mike West, designer of the Skull Island ride, also said the Universal team put as much effort into the lengthy ride queue as they put into the ride itself.

Among its highlights are 150,000 square feet of hand-carved stonework, which took 70,000 man-hours to make. While waiting, guests will encounter an aging Skull Island native speaking its local tongue, but in ominous tones. Though most of the words aren’t recognizable, one is.

“Kong,” she intones.