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

Night of Joy 2015 line-up is packed with stars

Disney has announced the 2015 line-up for Night of Joy, and the Magic Kingdom event will be packed with big-name Christian music talent. Here’s who you’ll see during the two-day event, which runs September 11 and 12 this year:

Friday, September 11

  • TobyMac
  • MercyMe
  • Jeremy Camp
  • Colton Dixon
  • Big Daddy Weave
  • Francesca Battistelli
  • Rend Collective
  • I Am They

Saturday, September 12

  • Skillet
  • Lecrae
  • For King & Country
  • Mandisa
  • Matt Maher
  • Jamie Grace
  • Seventh Time Down
  • Veridia

Night of Joy is always an action-packed weekend, with the biggest decision being, “Which performers do I see?” The shows take place on three stages, so you’ll need to plan out your night. Here’s a little flavor of what you can expect. First, Mandisa’s opening medley from last year:

And TobyMac from 2013:

The concerts are high energy, and the park is packed with fans who are out to praise and celebrate. You can read my recap of last year here.

Tickets aren’t on sale yet, but they should be released in the spring. Watch for details in the coming months.

Elsa’s doing magic at Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom til January 12th

Elsa’s been lighting up Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom every night since Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party started in November, and she’s not done yet. The other Disney holiday activities have been put to bed for another year, but Elsa, along with Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf, is still on vacation in Florida and she’s not going to stop her work until January 12th.

You can see everyone’s favorite ice princess use her powers to ice the castle through this coming Monday. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the show (I particularly like it because it has a walking, talking Olaf):

Even if you miss her performance, she and Elsa will still be on hand to greet guests at Princess Fairytale Hall (whatever you do, get a FastPass+ to avoid the long waits). They’re a lot of fun to meet, as I discovered earlier in 2014:


Given all their Frozen fame, the sisters have had a busy year at Walt Disney World. They also brought a chill to the summer at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with a parade, the Frozen sing-along show, a local branch of Oaken’s Trading Post, and even ice skating and a snowy play area. Here’s their special welcome parade that ran each day:

This overview of the whole event features scenes from the show (yes, I know you’re probably tired of hearing “Let It Go,” but I promise that it’s actually a lot of fun, and not just for the kids…there are plenty of laughs interspersed with the songs):

You can still catch the show, but Elsa and Anna’s horse-drawn carriage and float moved over to the Magic Kingdom just in time for the Christmas festivities. See them in the Christmas parade here:

And if that’s not enough Frozen fun for you, remember that the ride in Norway is currently under refurbishment and will eventually debut with a new Frozen overlay, Hopefully that means the trolls will still be around.

Yes, I know that’s a lot of Frozen, but you have to admit that it’s still wildly popular. Eventually their fame flame will burn out…or would that be melt down? Either way, soon enough a new Disney hit will take its place, but Elsa and Anna fans are getting lots of changes to meet their heroines in the meantime.

Night goes fast at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: Videos of entertainment show why

When I attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party earlier this week (it runs on select nights at the Magic Kingdom through December 19), I couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by. It starts at 7 p.m. and ends at midnight, and it’s the fastest five hours I’ve ever experienced.

Actually, I’m not all that surprised, since the same thing happened to me not so long ago at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (was Halloween really less than a month away?). Disney hard-ticket events are always chock full of special fun and entertainment, so it takes a bit of planning and juggling to fit in everything you want to see. I recommend getting there before the party starts (your ticket gets you into the Magic Kingdom as early as 4 p.m.), grabbing a show schedule, and plotting out the night ahead with your must-sees.

If you’re not sure what you want to see, these videos should help you. Hint: if you’ve got little girls, they’re going to clamor to see everything involving Frozen, starting with Queen Elsa transforming Cinderella Castle into a glowing array of ice lights as the culmination of a special show:

Don’t want to watch the full show? (You really show…it’s worth it to see Olaf walk and talk). Here’s the Cliff Notes version, with just the castle lighting:

Elsa, Anna, Olaf, and Kristoff also feature prominently in the Christmas parade:

There’s plenty of relatively Frozen-free entertainment, too. Yes, there’s a segment in the castle projection show, but it’s just one small piece of a huge mash-up of Disney favorites that has a holiday bit tacked on for good measure during the party:

And of course, it wouldn’t be Walt Disney World without fireworks. Watch them light up the sky in holiday splendor:

There are other shows, too, that aren’t nearly as crowded as the biggies. I always enjoy A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas because it features Santa Stitch:

Celebrate the Season is back on the castle stage, too:

As you can see, there’s a lot to experience, and this doesn’t even include shopping for special holiday merchandise, enjoying free cocoa and cookies (or apples and apple juice), getting photos with characters in their Christmas best, or just walking down Main Street to soak up the Christmas ambiance as you marvel at snow in Florida.

If you’re planning to attend the party this year and don’t have your tickets yet, get them as soon as you can! It’s already been selling out on many dates this year, so you don’t want to be disappointed.

Night of Joy recap: Amazing night of music and fellowship at the Magic Kingdom

Night of Joy at the Magic Kingdom is over for another year. It’s hard to believe that Halloween events are just around the corner, but in the meantime, echoes of all the amazing music are still ringing in my ears (sometimes literally, as in the case of the rocking shows put on by the likes of Building 429 and Mandisa).

If you’d like another little taste of this event before it fades into 2014 history as a new line-up gears up for 2015, here are some videos:

Mandisa’s high energy opening medley:

Danny Gokey taking the stage during Mandisa’s set:

Chris Tomlin doing Waterfall, which was quite appropriate for the rainy first night:

Building 429 performing Where I Belong:

Matt Maher singing Your Grace is Enough:

I only brought my video camera for the first night so I could relax a bit on Sunday, which means that I don’t have any songs by Casting Crowns. However, I did have the opportunity to hear Mark Hall share his testimony. You can hear it, too, in the video below:

It was another great year in a long string of wonderful Christian music festivals. There’s something spellbinding about hearing your favorite bands with Cinderella Castle or Tomorrowland behind them. I’m sad that it’s over for another year, yet already looking forward to finding out next year’s line-up when Night of Joy returns once again.

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.

Night of Joy at the Magic Kingdom: A whirlwind of great Christian artists

tempNight of Joy at the Magic Kingdom is a September tradition. Its 2014 dates (September 5 and 6) both sold out this year, and that’s not hard to understand when you look at the line-up of favorites like Chris Tomlin, Hillsong United, Mandisa, Casting Crowns, MercyMe, Building 429 and more.

Unfortunately, early September is part of Orlando’s rainy season, which means that it’s not uncommon for Night of Joy to also be Night of Showers. That was true when I headed out to see the bands Friday night but, like most of the crowd, I didn’t let a little rain get in the way of the fun and fellowship. That’s what umbrellas, rain ponchos, and waterproof knock-off Crocs are for.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet several of the artists at a special luncheon on Friday afternoon. It’s a laid-back time to chat with them and learn more about their backgrounds and testimonies. Then it was off to the Magic Kingdom in the evening, where Night of Joy officially starts at 7 p.m., after the daytime closing, and runs until 1 a.m.

There’s one thing I hate about Night of Joy…too many great choices! The concerts run on three stages simultaneously and overlap, so you hve to make some hard decisions. I was tempted by the Matthew West show on the main stage by Cinderella Castle, but I saw him last year so I opted for Building 429. I love many of their songs, but especially the ear worm “We Won’t Be Shaken.” Indeed, I actually was shaken by the power of the speakers as they rocked the house at the Galaxy Stage in Tomorrowland.





Afterward, it was just a short jaunt to see Matt Maher on the Rocket Tower Stage. The crowd was thick, but I found a spot off to the side where I could see him and the band performing under a canopy to ward off the rain and enjoy their powerful music.




Next up, I hustled to the main stage at Cinderella Castle to catch Chris Tomlin. Both nights for Night of Joy sold out this year, and the crowd most certainly reflected that. It stretched down to Main Street USA, with eager concert goers packed together to catch a glimpse of the show.




I was happy that Chris Tomlin led off with my favorite song, “Shout to the Lord,” since I couldn’t catch his whole set. I really wanted to, but Mandisa beckoned from the Galaxy Stage, so I had to hustle back to Tomorrowland. That stage has a limited capacity, and like Building 429 she played to a full house. I was exhausted just watching her and the dancers put on their highly energetic show.




As a special treat, Mandisa also brought out fellow “American Idol” alumni Danny Gokey to perform.


Night of Joy has a solid line-up of shows all the way until the end on all three stages, with Hillsong United as the big finish for Friday. Then it starts all over again with more great music on Saturday before things wrap up for another year. It’s a very long and busy night, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and prepare for a lot of standing and for possible rain that could run anywhere from drizzle to drenching. If you’re a Christian music fan, it’s well worth the dampness and exhaustion to see such a great collection of artists all together in such a magical place.

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.

Night of Joy brings best Christian artists to the Magic Kingdom

18I love events like the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival and the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, and I had a blast at Frozen Summer over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios this year. I’m looking forward to Mickey’s Halloween and Christmas parties, but in the meantime there’s another event that I eagerly anticipate each September: Night of Joy at the Magic Kingdom.

What is Night of Joy? If you’re not a Christian music fan, you might have no idea. However, if you’re like me and love bands and artists like Casting Crowns, Matthew West, Mercy Me, TobyMac, Mandisa, Chris Tomlin, Third Day, Building 429, you know that you can see many of this big names live over the two-night span of this event.

This year, many of the aforementioned artists will be at the Magic Kingdom on September 5 and 6 at the after-hours event. Yes, many of the rides are open, too, but I never have time to even think about taking a spin on Space Mountain because I’m always busily plotting which artists I want to see and how to get to the appropriate stage. Shows run simultaneously on two stages in Tomorrowland and the main stage in front of Cinderella Castle, so you have to pick and choose.

Here’s this year’s schedule (you can buy a one- or two-night ticket):

September 5, 2014

  • Hillsong United
  • Chris Tomlin
  • Matthew West
  • for KING & COUNTRY
  • Mandisa
  • Building 429
  • Matt Maher
  • The Neverclaim

September 6, 2014

  • Skillet
  • Casting Crowns
  • Mercy Me
  • Britt Nicole
  • Israel Houghton & New Breed
  • Colton Dixon
  • Rhett Walker Band
  • We As Human
  • 1 Girl Nation

If you’d like a flavor of what Night of Joy is all about, here’s a video overview from last year:

I’m pleased that Matthew West is returning (and it’s his first year on the main stage), as his show is always a riot. Check of this video in which he performs the “Night of Joy Theme Song”:

The music itself is powerful, as are the artists’ personal testimonies. The atmosphere of fellowship leaves you feeling recharged, even if you stay until the very end and leave at 1 a.m. Z88.3 is the fixture on my radio dial, and I love seeing my favorite bands in person each fall after listening to them all year. If you’d like a chance to win tickets, the station is running a giveaway through August 29 that you can read about here.

The weather was a little soggy last year, but the Florida weather didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. Hopefully this year the rain will stay away completely and the two nights will be packed with power and as amazing as always.

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.

Videos show all the Frozen Summer fun at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Recently, I blogged about my day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios enjoying all the Frozen Summer activities. After all, who can resist playing in the snow in Florida, seeing Anna and Elsa, and singing “Let It Go” for the five hundred and thirty-fourth time?

If you haven’t made it over to the park to see it all for yourself, perhaps these videos will whet your appetite and inspire you to run over to the Studios. Just about everything, other than the ice skating, is included with your admission ticket, so it’s a nice little enhancement to a park that already has fun rides and shows like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours, Muppets 3-D, and the ever-popular Toy Story Mania.

Below, you’ll find a full overview of Frozen Summer, which runs through September 1:

This is an event that you’ll want to tough out until the end. As you saw in the video above, it’s capped with an impressive fireworks display. If you’re hearty enough to arrive at park opening and stay until close, you’ll begin your day with a cute welcome from Olaf, as seen in the video below:

The two big shows are the Frozen Sing-Along and Anna and Elsa’s royal welcome, which combines a mini parade with a cute little stage show. You can see it in the video below:

Frozen Summer is a great way for Disney to integrate one of its hottest (coldest?) properties into its parks. Anna and Elsa already to meet and greets at the Magic Kingdom, but that park is always the most popular, and it also has the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, so it doesn’t really need any other draws. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the perfect spot to act as the center of the Frozen action. In the video below, Creative Director Reed Jones talks about the event:

If you plan to make it out to Frozen Summer, you still have a while. Just hit the park by September 1 and you can witness snow in Florida, make your own snowman, and enjoy winter fun in the summer season.

The ‘shocking’ reality of Gay Days: What really goes on at the Magic Kingdom

gayEvery year, I hear wild and crazy assumptions about what goes on at Gay Days. The Magic Kingdom supposedly turns into a hell hole of debauchery that’s something like Amsterdam and Las Vegas mating and producing an army of gay love children who go on a rampage of murdering nuns and slaughtering puppies and kittens. Think I’m exaggerating? Here are some quotes from an actual anti-Gay Days website:

“(Families) travel from across the country to Disney World, only to discover that the park has been taken over by red-shirted, orgiastic homosexuals. And imagine the horror of seeing the lovable and innocent characters, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, whom the children have been taught to accept and cherish, suddenly promoting the gay lifestyle to children.

Throughout the day within Disney’s Magic Kingdom, they can be seen fondling each other, groping each other, engaged in open-mouth kissing, group urination in public restrooms – and worse.”

What the heck is group urination? And what could be worse? Group pooping? But wait, there’s more…

During the recently concluded Gay Days, I not only saw men kissing men, but these shirtless homosexuals were twisting the nipples of each other and fondling the butts and groins of their lovers. All of this occurs out in the open, in public, every year, at Walt Disney World.”

All that is paranoid whacko enough, but here’s where it takes a turn straight into Crazy Town:

“You might cringe at the thought that kids as young as 4 or 5 will be at this meeting, but they surely will be. You can count on it. Their homosexual parents will take their little kids and parade them around as Gay and Lesbian Tykes. But how do these kids know they are homosexuals? Forget about the little ones. How does a 13 or 14-year-old know he or she is homosexual? There’s only one way to know for sure. And that means these parents are allowing them to engage in sex. Yet, more probable, it’s because these parents are making a determined effort to turn them into homosexuals, by taking such actions as: Carting them off to Gay and Lesbian Youth Meetings.

“Yes, these young kids are being TRAINED  into a gay or lesbian relationship. And what a great place to start? Disney World! Where fantasies come true! Take the little tykes into a seabed of 100,000 homosexuals, introduced them into the raucous sex that is all around them, show them other little children who are homosexual, and maybe they can force their homosexuality on their kids.”

It’s pretty obvious the website’s author is clueless about homosexuality. As a doctor of psychology and trained counselor, I’ve worked with many gay and lesbian clients. All knew they were gay by their teen years, and many knew they were different quite early on, even though they were too young to know exactly what that difference was.

As Gay Days winds down for 2014, I’d like to set the record straight (no pun intended). Will you really see prancing she-males shoving their tongues down their partners’ throats at every turn? I’ve attended the event for many years now, and I hate to tell all those expecting horror and mayhem that you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Here’s the reality

1) You’ll definitely see a lot of red shirts. The red shirts are tradition, so yes, you’ll see a sea of them. They’re not only worn by gay men and lesbians, but also their family members and others who support them. Personally, I either don a red shirt or my rainbow “Straight But Not Narrow” tee. You might see some shirts with humorous double entendre sayings that have a gay twist, but they’re not any more graphic than the general t-shirts with double meanings you see on any other day. I personally love scoping out the best shirts, as some are very creative.

2) You’ll see PDAs, but very minor ones. I’ve seen some pretty shocking PDAs among straight guests on nearly every visit to the Disney parks. For example, go during the cheerleading events and you’ll need a gallon of eye bleach and an hour-long hot shower just to feel clean again. Most of the gay and lesbian guests keep things keep things tasteful during the event. You might see hand holding, quick kisses, and the like, but it’s very rare to see anything too intense. I personally see it as a great opportunity to introduce kids to the world’s diversity. If you have a young child who asks, “Why is that man kissing another man?” or “Why is that lady kissing that other lady?” it’s easy enough to say, “You know how men and women love each other? Sometimes two men or two women love each other that way, too.” Great teachable moment.

3) You’ll see a few ostentatious guests. Yes, there are some ostentatious guests during Gay Days, but I never find it to be in an obnoxious way. You know how adults come in elaborate costumes for Star Wars Weekends or Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party? Picture that on a very tiny scale. My favorite was the two guys in rainbow Tinkerbell costumes, but alas, displays like that are few and far between.

4) The Country Bears Jamboree will actually have a line. The line will be made up mainly of large, hairy men. Visit my fellow HypeOrlando blogger, Adam Rhodes, if you need a hint on why that might happen.

Basically, you really won’t see all that much of a difference on Gay Days from any other day. Granted, wild activities do take place at private events during the week, but those require separate tickets and only attract the wilder element, much as parties at any typical conventions attract the party crowd. The average tourist is never going to see that because they’re not part of the private group activities.

Gay Days is ending for 2014, and somehow Orlando once again managed to escape a plague of locusts or a rain of toads, so I guess we’re still okay with God. Or wait…maybe I have it all wrong. My vehicle already got covered with love bug guts this year. I’ve always thought that, despite what Snopes says, they’re really the result of a genetic experiment gone awry. Maybe, just maybe, they’re actually a Biblical plague to punish us all via destroyed car paint for allowing this annual tourism boost in our town.

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

What would Jesus do? (Hint: He probably wouldn’t picket Gay Days at Disney World)

This Saturday, one of the best-kept secrets of the Orlando tourist world will once again descend on the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. It’s the annual tradition known as Gay Days, when gay and lesbian guests make a day of it at the park. This isn’t a Disney-sanctioned event, but rather a private group outing (no pun intended) that started in 1991 when a group of about 3000 gays and lesbians went to the Magic Kingdom and wore red shirts to the park to make themselves more visible.

The event has grown by leaps and bounds since then, with around 150,000 members of the LGBT community, their families, friends, and other supporters descending on the park. The event has expanded to almost a week, during which they visit all four Disney World parks and other Orlando attractions. They pump a huge amount of tourist dollars into the economy and attract corporate sponsors and even special deals at some of the parks, like Discovery Cove.

If you’re thinking, “Oh my God, how horrible! Won’t someone think of the children!” in a Helen Lovejoy sort of mental voice, you really don’t know what Gay Days is all about. I love to visit the Magic Kingdom on its designated day, which is June 7 this year, wearing my “Straight But Not Narrow” rainbow shirt to show my support. I don’t see sin, debauchery, horrifying PDAs, or anything of the sort. Instead, I run into lots of fellow guests all having a great time who just happen to have same-sex partners. I see many families, too, with happy, well-adjusted kids who belie the homophobic notion that gay and lesbian couples can’t be good parents. I’ve actually met straight guests on Gay Days who have no idea that anything’s going on, although they do sometimes wonder why they missed the memo that red was the color of the day.

Alas, each year there are also homophobic hell raisers who feel compelled to warn others of the terrifying fact that they might have to be near and perhaps even (gasp!) stand in line and ride a ride with LGBT people. I saw one of my favorite (that word is dripping with sarcasm) public demonstrators while I was at the Skyscraper Polercoaster press conference this morning. He was up in an airplane, flying around with the banner seen below:




Jesus must be so proud.

Now, mind you, I’m a Christian myself, but the Jesus I worship was known as a pretty darned liberal sort of dude who hung out with the very people that others branded as sinners. He didn’t condemn them. He led by example and shared wisdom and didn’t go along with society’s status quo. Of course, we all know where that got the poor guy.

Jesus was pretty vehement about condemning certain sins and actions, like driving the money changers out of the temple, but He never mentioned sexual preference one way or another. Yes, yes, I know the whole Old Testament Leviticus thing, but that was before Christ shook things up, and it also banned things like having messy hair, tearing your clothes, trimming your beard, getting a tattoo, and eating tasty, tasty crabs and lobsters. I sure hope Plane Dude plans to fly around next with a banner that says “Warning: Sin Days at Red Lobster Every Day.”

Of course, this is America, which means we all have freedom of speech. You can fly around and warn against anything you wish, even if it poses absolutely zero threat to anyone. The thing that boggles me, as a Christian, is that it takes a lot of time and uses up a lot of fuel to fly around spewing hate speech, right? I certainly wouldn’t presume to speak for my Lord and Savior, but I just can’t help think about how many hungry people the money that was spent on that fuel would feed or how much it would help an underprivileged teen to get some mentoring in the time that it takes to fly around.

We’re supposed to be the hands and feet of Christ here in the world. He didn’t specify that we should toss those hands up in the air in terror and use those feet to flee if we’re in the midst of members of the LGBT community. In the words of my favorite Christian band, Casting Crowns, in their awesome song We Are the Body, “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come.”

Yet there are some who want to pick and choose who should come to our fair city of Orlando and Walt Disney World. I hope they feel the hatred was all worth it when Jesus soundly bitch-slaps them as they try to enter the gates of Heaven.

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.

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