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New this year in the Orlando area

Gatorland in Orlando, Fla.

Gatorland in Orlando, Fla. (Credit: Flickr / Hyku)

There's a lot going on in Kissimmee, Florida, this year, from theme park updates to Old Town overhauls. To wit: 

Gatorland is debuting its "Screamin' Gator" zipline that will allow visitors to race high above giant alligators and crocodiles when it opens this summer. The ride offers a 1,200-foot journey at heights of up to 56 feet and speeds of nearly 30 miles per hou across four lengths between seven towers, with some spans as long as 485 feet. The 45-minute ride will include a brief orientation and nature walk, four zips and a swinging bridge, for $60, which includes all-day admission to the theme park.

Legoland Florida is scheduled to open in October in nearby Winter Haven on the former Cypress Gardens property. The 150-acre park is will include intricate models of famous places, as well as rides, shows and attractions, similar to the San Diego attraction. The theme park will have ten distinct "lands," and more than 50 entertainment elements primarily geared to preschoolers and pre-teens (ages 2 to 12). Down the road, a water park and hotel will be added to the complex.

Walt Disney World is gearing up to improve several of its theme parks, as well. After being dark for several months, a new 3-D version of the popular Star Tours Attraction will debut at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on May 20. A new parade will debut at the park, too, featuring Pixar characters like Remy and Emile from “Ratatouille” and Carl and Russell from “UP.” The park also will debut the new Disney Junior-Live on Stage attraction to celebrate the launch of the company’s newly expanded Disney Channel station for preschoolers. Starting in February, characters from “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” will join those from the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny and Little Einsteins characters. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the immersive Wild Africa Trek will take small groups on personalized, guided excursions through previously unseen areas of the forest and travel through an animal-filled savanna in customized vehicles.

In Kissimmee, smaller attractions that hope to draw visitors to other parts of the area will be opening or expanding this year. Fun Spot USA will debut two new rides to its lineup: a 10-acre attraction on U.S. Highway 192 will open a new ride, called “Screamin' Eagle,” which suspends riders in 1-2 person “eagle” gliders that spin around a vertical axis, and Galaxy Spin, an interactive Wild Mouse ride that lets riders control how much their carriage spins as it makes its way through a roller coaster track. The rides will be part of a new 8,000-square-foot complex. 

Old Town in Kissimmee, also located on U.S. Highway 192, is getting an overhaul, as well. The property will be updated, retaining its 1950s theme, with the addition of new stores, eateries and new shuttle rides to and from participating area accommodations. The attraction will offer discounts for veterans and acting military personnel. New rides are expected to be announced soon at myoldtownusa.com.

Mauiva Air Tours is taking passengers on a flight from Kissimmee Gateway Airport over Central Florida in a Cessna 172 . A personal pilot and tour guide gives guests a lesson on the instruments used to navigate the plane and, once in the air, lets the front seat passenger, “co-pilot” take over the controls as the plane flies. Flights range from a $60, 15-minute tour to a $109 per adult ($99 per child) half-hour Grand tour over area theme parks. In addition, Fireworks or Sunset packages are available for $129 each. Visit orlandoairtour.com for details.

Tarantino’s Italian Restaurant, run by 3rd-generation Italians whose family opened the first Tarantino's in Queens Village in the 1950s, relocated its Kissimme spot to U.S. Highway 192 last month.

Tags: florida , theme parks , disney

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