6 Reasons to Return to Orlando in 2016

Beyond thrilling rides and character meet-and-greets, there are plenty of new enticements for families.

U.S. News & World Report

6 Reasons to Return to Orlando in 2016

Orlando downtown skyline panorama over Lake Eola at night with urban skyscrapers, fountain and clear sky.

Whiz around on exhilarating roller coasters, mix and mingle with iconic "Star Wars" characters and check out the latest attractions on your next family trip.(iStockPhoto)

Think your family has enjoyed every ride at Walt Disney World, cast every spell at Universal and seen every show at SeaWorld? With constant competition between theme parks to attract new guests, Disney parks and resorts always roll out new wow factors to give you a reason to return. Check out these six new attractions around Orlando, Florida, that recently opened (or are scheduled to debut soon) in 2016.

The New Frozen Ever After Ride
Where: Epcot, Walt Disney World

Enjoy a "Summer Snow Day" with Queen Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and other memorable characters from the animated film "Frozen" on this new family water attraction. The journey starts on the docks of Arendelle from the animated film. Onboard, guests can mix and mingle with Kristoff's troll family of "boulders" before taking in Queen Elsa's alluring icy palace and singing along to "Let It Go." Oscar-winning composers Bobby and Kristen Lopez even created new lyrics to the film's songs for the attraction.

Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Where: Islands of Adventure; Universal Orlando

A motion picture legend, King Kong has returned to Florida's Universal Orlando Resort. "It's amazing to have Kong back at Universal," says executive producer Mike West of Universal Creative, "This is his home," he says. Skull Island: Reign of Kong, transports guests through an interactive and themed queue to a mysterious island aboard a massive expedition truck. During the adventure, one of five guides take families into the jungle to meet creatures such as winged bats, dinosaurs, serpents, insects and, of course, an up-close look at the 30-foot-tall King Kong goliath himself.

The "Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular" Display
Where: Disney's Hollywood Studios

The new Star Wars Galactic Spectacular fireworks show debuted at Disney's Hollywood Studios with high-tech lighting, pyrotechnics and other effects. With spectacular nighttime fireworks, music and iconic "Star Wars" characters, from Wookies to Ewoks, it's easy to unleash your inner Star Wars enthusiast while you enjoy saga-themed adventures. And as you catch the dazzling spectacle, you're bound to feel the Force. Gather your alliance together as you listen to John Williams' iconic theme song.

The Tree of Life Awakening and Rivers of Light Attractions
Where: Disney's Animal Kingdom

At night, Disney's Animal Kingdom and its signature attraction, the Tree of Life, "awakens" with bright lights and rich color. Disney fan and video blogger John Saccheri describes the scene as "breathtaking, a stunning visual extravaganza swarming with animated imagery." Later this year, the Rivers of Light nighttime spectacular will debut on the natural stage of the Discovery River with illuminated lanterns.

According to Michael Jung, a creative portfolio executive at Walt Disney Imagineering, "Rivers of Light" will ramp up a magnificent finale with bursts of light as animal images soar above – signifying the ancient belief that when animals passed from one world to another they danced in the sky and became beautiful rivers of light.

The Mako Roller Coaster
Where: SeaWorld Adventure Park Orlando

SeaWorld's newest roller coaster is Orlando's tallest, fastest and longest. Mako's 200-foot crest is visible throughout the park, and the squeals and cheers of satisfied amusement park-goers rings through the area as riders zip past. The coaster hits speeds of 73 mph as it zooms and twists across a two acre track. "Mako glides smoothly over the tracks, free of jarring and shaking," says theme park fan Cristen Curley Edwards, noting her knees continued to tremble after the ride was over.

The Heroes and Legends Exhibit
Where: John F. Kennedy Space Center

The immersive Heroes and Legends exhibit at the John F. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will serve as a reimagined entrance to the building beginning Nov. 11. Also featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, the Heroes and Legend attraction will showcase the heroism of America's early space pioneers. "We've been focusing on a story to create a 'launch pad' for our visitors that sets the stage for their full-day experience," says Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

About En Route

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Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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