In the Shadow of the Mouse

Secrets of a theme park obsessed local who lives next door to Mickey, with annual passes to every Central Florida park

2014 Central Florida attraction openings: past, present, and future

2014 is a prolific year for attraction openings at the Central Florida theme parks and water parks. Thus far this year, we’ve had Ihu’s Breakaway Falls open at Aquatica, and Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando re-opened after its refurbishment (although I miss Shamu Up Close, which let you see training sessions while the stadium was closed).Here’s the pre-opening ceremony for the terrifying new waterslide, which has three shoots that drop you randomly and one where you control your fate (but still drop like a rocket):

SeaWorld is also in the midst of its 50th anniversary celebration, which began in the spring.

Next up was Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Walt Disney World, which completed the Magic Kingdom’s ambitious New Fantasyland expansion. It officially opened today (May 28), although I was there earlier this year for the dedication ceremony. You can see the ceremony in the video below:

And here are five rides on the new family coaster from five different perspectives:

Prior to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the Magic Kingdom welcomed Festival of Fantasy, its new and extremely impressive afternoon parade, on March 9. Click the video below to see the full parade, including the impressed fire-spewing Maleficent dragon. All of the floats are works of art, with moving parts and minute details:

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is suitable for younger kids, but what if you have toddlers in the family? Legoland Florida opened its Duplo Village kiddie area this past week, which rides, an air conditioned play area, and even a fun water spot for the youngest members of the family. Here’s the opening ceremony:

2014 also saw the reappearance of a beloved Florida landmark: the Florida Pool, which was restored in the Cypress Gardens area of Legoland. Some of the original Southern Belles who used to roam the gardens even came back for the event.

There’s another opening just around the corner: the Aqua Drag Racer water slide at Wet ‘n Wild, Universal Orlando’s water park. It debuts on June 12, just in time for the brutal summer heat. If you’ve never been to Wet ‘n Wild, it’s a great water park for several reasons. First, it has some unique attractions, like knee skiing and wake skating on a real lake. Second, it’s the only area water park where you can buy an express. Like Universal, it has express lines that let you bypass most of the wait if you purchase the pass. It’s work its weight in gold during the peak season, when endless lines stretch down the stairs and you bake while waiting in the sun for your turn to cool off.

Here’s a guided tour of Wet ‘n Wild, although Bubba Tub is gone now to make way for the new ride:

Speaking of Universal, it has its own grand opening coming on an as-yet-undetermined day. It already celebrated the opening of its new Cabana Bay Resort, and now it’s just about ready to introduce the world to the long-awaited Diagon Alley, its Harry Potter expansion.  The official opening date hasn’t been announced yet, but there’s a media preview from June 17 to 20 and a special vacation package with dates starting on June 29, so those are big clues.

In the meantime, enjoy this teaser video with some of the Diagon Alley creators that will help whet your appetite:

There’s one more Central Florida opening, but alas, it’s in the air, both literally and figuratively. Falcon’s Fury, the 300+ foot face-down drop tower that looms above Busch Gardens Tampa was supposed to be open already, but a delay in parts has caused it to miss its announced debut, with no new date in sight. It should still open this summer, and in the meantime, the new Pantopia area is already welcoming guests. You can learn more about the making of Pantopia in the construction tour video below:

Keep an eye out, as I’ll be covering the remaining openings, including all four days of the big Diagon Alley event. You can read my reports here and follow me on Twitter at @themeparkwriter for live updates.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse. Email comments and story ideas to

FastPass+ must dos at the four Disney parks: Grab these attractions

Now that FastPass+ is a thing, what rides should you grab when your booking window opens? As an annual pass holder, I’m at a disadvantage as I can only make ride and attraction reservations 30 days out. However, if you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can do it a full 60 days before you check in, as the Walt Disney World website explains. Either way, here are my suggestions for the FastPass+ ressies to grab at each of the four parks:

b7Magic Kingdom

Two words: Elsa and Anna. If you don’t want a multi-hour wait to meet everyone’s favorite princesses, this is the FastPass+ reservation to snap up as soon as it becomes available. Otherwise you’ll wait two hours, three hours, or possibly even more, depending on the crowd level. The second best option is a viewing spot for the Festival of Fantasy parade. Yes, you could go for a major ride like one of the mountains, but both Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain have interactive queue lines that give you something to do while you’re waiting, and most of the Space Mountain wait is indoors, in air conditioning. Waiting in those lines is preferable to standing out in the sun for an hour or more to stake out a good parade spot.


Soarin’ is the main attraction here, although Test Track can get some pretty wicked wait times in the summer. Still, Test Track has a single riders line if your family is willing to be split up in separate cars. I’d rather get a Soarin’ FastPass and do Test Track as a single.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Toy Story Mania or Fantasmic. Toy Story Mania has obnoxious lines during the peak season, and Fantasmic attracts huge crowds that become something of a mob scene. Granted, the Tower of Terror and Rock n Roller Coaster are also popular, but their wait time rarely approaches Toy Story Mania. Better yet, Rock n Roller Coaster has a single riders line, so use the heck out of that if others in your party are amendable to the idea.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

b6Kilimanjaro Safaris or Kali River Rapids in the summer. The safari is the signature ride here; you can usually get on with little to no wait if you rush to it early in the morning. Otherwise, just grab a FastPass and rush over to Expedition Everest instead. Yes, Expedition Everest offers FastPasses, too, but it has a single riders line, so that’s a wiser option if you don’t want to waste your precious FastPass allotment. However, if you’re visiting in the dead of summer, opt for Kali River Rapids instead. The line gets very long as people seek a good soaking to cool down in the vicious Florida heat.

Those are my personal suggestions. Sure, there are many, many other options, so work your FastPass+ selections around your own family’s tastes. Yes, it might be hard to plan something as detailed as your ride and show preferences that far in advance, but there’s also a big plus side. Once you make your reservation, you know for sure that you’ll be able to do the things that matter the most to you, even if the park is packed to capacity.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

Festival of Fantasy creators share their thoughts on new Magic Kingdom parade

bg3I had a chance to attend a media viewing of the new Festival of Fantasy Parade at the Magic Kingdom. Wow! As I shared in one of my previous In the Shadow of the Mouse posts, I was blown away by this fine example of Disney showmanship. I have a full video of the parade in that post, but view that only as a small sample of what awaits you if you see it in person. There’s no way a computer screen can even begin to compare.

I also had an opportunity to talk to some of the parade’s creators. I think you’ll enjoy hearing their thoughts now that something they’re be working on for the past two years has finally come to fruition. You’ll learn what it’s like for those creators to watch guests witnessing the parade for the first time and sharing in their excitement.

First, here’s Kris Bunnell, Producer, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Creative Entertainment. I previously talked to Kris at a media fashion show that showcased some of the costumes and floats before the parade’s debut. It was great fun to hear her thoughts now that the whole parade has been officially unveiled:


Next is Creative Director Steve Davidson, who talks about what it’s like to nurture a project for two years and see it finally make its debut in front of an appreciative crowd:


Last is Sayre Wiseman, Show Productions Director at Walt Disney Imagineering, who talks about all the little details that make this parade such a stunner:


It’s always a pleasure to talk to the creative minds at Disney who bring shows, parades, and attractions to life. Hopefully you’ll enjoy watching the interviews as much as I did when I filmed them.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse. Email comments and story ideas to

Old-school Disney showmanship: Festival of Fantasy parade at the Magic Kingdom

When Walt Disney World first announced the Festival of Fantasy Parade, I felt a mixture of hope and excitement, tempered by a bit of cynicism. After all, it’s just a parade. What can they really do with that? Disney parades are fun, but as a local I typically see them once, then hit the Magic Kingdom at parade time so I can do my favorite rides with shorter lines while the tourists are busy fighting over prime viewing spots.

blog1Still, my appetite was whetted when I got a chance to preview some of the costumes and floats. From the dark and dangerous ravens and thorn bushes to accompany the steampunk Maleficent dragon to the twirling stained glass-style sea horses for the Little Mermaid float, I’ll admit that I was intrigued. The parade made its debut on March 9, and I saw it the very next day. As someone who can be quite cynical when Disney makes a misfire (cough cough…Journey into Imagination reboot…cough), I can wholeheartedly say that Festival of Fantasy is full of old-school Disney showmanship that rises to the next level and beyond.

Yes, the star of the parade is Maleficent, especially if you’re in one of the spots where she breathes real fire as she battles Prince Phillip (hint: castle hub near the Fastpass+ viewing). I was just as awed by that float as I expected to be, but I also loved the hard-core action and creative touches on the other floats and the high energy of the accompanying performers.

blog2For example, you have to see the Rapunzel float, with Flynn and the thugs literally swinging out over the sides. The Peter Pan float is preceded by a contingent of Lost Boys who perform Newsies-inspired dance moves. The ravens and thorns with Maleficent are properly menacing, and the colorful costumes of the Little Mermaid contingent are a true ocular delight.

As a local, I’m lucky enough to be able to see the parade as much as I wish, limited only my patience for staking out a spot (see my tip at the end of this article to ease that process). If you don’t have that luxury and you won’t be down to Orlando for a while, enjoy the full video of the parade below. Yes, I did manage to capture the fire!


Full 20-Minute Festival of Fantasy parade at the Magic Kingdom – use this link if video doesn’t appear below:


Locals’ Secret

blog3Everyone wants to see the parade in the castle hub or along Main Street. Yes, that’s the traditional spot, but if you head over to Frontierland, you’ll often be able to get a great viewing spot even close to kick-off time. That depends on the overall crowd, of course, but it’s never as crazy as Main Street.

As a bonus, the parade route starts at the far end of Frontierland, so the 3 o’clock parade really will start at 3 o’clock, vs. the 15 or 20 additional minutes it takes to reach the end of the line.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse. Email comments and story ideas to