The Theme Park Summer Begins!

Memorial Day has become an unofficial start to the theme park summer and that’s especially true this year as many attractions, areas and parks all open for the first time to the public today.  Here’s a quick breakdown of what has opened and how it may affect your visit.  I’ll add a few brief thoughts where I see fit, although I try not to lay out any judgments on attractions without experiencing them first hand.  We’ll have reviews of most of these attractions by the end of the summer.

Wishes yellow green

Pandora – World of Avatar (Animal Kingdom)

The opening I’m most excited about has to be the newest Animal Kingdom land.  Based on the film Avatar, this land was met with skepticism six years ago when it was announced.  Although the construction time was the butt of many jokes, the time passed may have relieved some of the cynicism about the source material.

Pandora has been open to Annual Passholders and a few other guests for the past few weeks and there aren’t many negative reviews of the land as a whole.  While I’ve tried to avoid spoilers and photos, what I have seen looks absolutely beautiful.

Elephant ToL

Pandora features 2 rides, 1 E-ticket thrill ride and a slow boat ride, a counter-service restaurant, meandering paths and a few other areas to spend some time.  I think this land could add anywhere from 3-6 hours to your Animal Kingdom itinerary, especially if you go this summer.  Speaking for myself, I plan to see the park both first thing in the morning and at night as the experiences will likely differ.

Volcano Bay (Universal Studios Orlando)

While I don’t typically bring up Universal Studios much on the blog (not because there isn’t quality areas and attractions there but because this is a Disney theme park blog), I think Volcano Bay merits mentioning due to a few factors.  Volcano Bay is a new water park at Universal.  From what I know and have seen, the park looks very impressive and has top of the line slides and technology.  Saying that Volcano Bay may change the landscape of top-tier water parks is probably true.  Do I think you should skip Wizarding World of Harry Potter to do it?  Probably not.  But, the issue becomes if you’re planning to go to a Disney water park is Volcano Bay superior and by how much?

Typhoon Lagoon boat

I’m a big fan of Typhoon Lagoon (and Blizzard Beach to a lesser extent) but to think that Volcano Bay won’t top those parks is naive.  Depending on how much water parks matter to you, Universal may be able to steal a day away from Disney vacationers if the park draws rave reviews.  I’ll be curious to follow this story and see what kind of reception Volcano Bay gets over the summer.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! (Disney California Adventure)

Over on the other coast Tower of Terror gives way to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout.  If my excitement for Pandora is a 10/10 my excitement for this attraction is probably 4/10.  Reviews are starting to pour in saying that the attraction is great but my problem with the rethemed attraction lies elsewhere.

For the sake of debate let’s say the ride is great… Then the park still has the problem of having a building that looks nothing like Hollywood in the middle of a Hollywood themed land.  I don’t like the looks of the outside of the building and it draws away from the park’s Californian theme.  In a few years this could all be okay if the area is made into a Marvel Land and the old-time Hollywood is done away with but until then it could be somewhat awkward for California Adventure.  I hope I’m wrong!  Maybe I’m just annoyed about the punctuation in the title.

For your touring plan, I imagine this will have long lines for a while and FastPass would be advised.  It shouldn’t really change much about your touring plan altogether though.

Hollywood Studios Adds 2 New Nighttime Shows

These shows are somewhat minor additions compared to the 3 listed above and that’s why I put them last on the list.  The Music of Pixar Live! is a symphony show at the Beauty and the Beast theater in Hollywood Studios.  I think this is a great idea and I’m excited to see live music being in such a prominent role for a new show.  Hollywood Studios definitely needs more things to do and this is showing 3 times a night throughout the summer.  If it’s popular, I imagine the show will continue past summer.  As far as touring goes, I would definitely try to make it to a concert (set aside an hour) especially if you don’t have kids as it’s a pretty long time to sit and listen for young ones.

The other show Hollywood Studios has added is a projection show that plays before the Star Wars fireworks at the Chinese Theater.  This show is called Disney Movie Magic and showcases some of Disney’s live action films.  In a change, Disney kept this a secret until last night when the show debuted.  I don’t think this will add anything new to your touring plan but it’s a little something extra to keep guests busy before the fireworks.

Star Wars light sabers

That about does it for what’s opening today.  There are minor changes here and there, and the Magic Kingdom fireworks have already debuted to rave reviews.  Get there early for that!  Later in the summer Disneyland’s Rivers of America will open back up and we’ll be sure to give a quick update on that when the time comes.  For now, let us know if you have any questions and we look forward to reviewing the above items more thoroughly in the coming months.

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– Andrew

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