For many families out there, Walt Disney World is a yearly vacation visit—something the whole family looks forward to experiencing year after year. Of course, Disney being Disney, they want to keep things fresh so they're constantly expanding, renovating and launching new products to keep the magic alive. Here, ten new things that weren't around last year:
Festival of the Lion King. Can you believe it's been 20 years since this classic movie came out? Well, it's still alive and well in this colorful show in the new Harambe Theatre in the African section of Animal Kingdom. After a long day going on rides and touring the parks, this is a nice way to sit, relax and watch a show. My boys were captivated...we even watched it twice.
New Fantasyland. For Disney aficionados, this is where the magic really happens. The Magic Kingdom has gone through its largest renovation in Disney history and the New Fantasyland is the result. There's a new splash area for kids (fabulous on a hot Orlando day), a new Dumbo ride and plenty of space to meet and interact with the characters.
Peter Pan's Flight. Some rides are just worth waiting in line for. Peter Pan Flight is one of them. But if you're with little tykes who are restless (and really, who isn't), a good sixty minute wait can be hard. Enter the new Peter Pan interactive queue. Now when you wait in line, the little ones can interact with Tinkerbell and the whole Peter Pan clan. Plus, you can see previews of other rides in the park. Instead of whining, your kids will be happily entertained while inching to the front.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. This rollercoaster ride is another recent addition that is attracting tons of attention. It's more than just a rollercoaster (although it is a really good one), you go inside the mines with the dwarfs and see the sparkly diamonds and glittering jewels before climbing to the top where you get a bird's eye view of the whole park. Definitely worth the wait.
Festival of Fantasy Parade. Nobody does a parade like Disney. While the parade magic has been alive for years, Disney has recently updated it with the launch of the new Fantasyland. There's the wicked Maleficent dragon stretching over 50 feet long and 25 feet tall, eyes glowing and special effects in full throttle. There's new music, dances and a brand-new Disney theme song. My kids insisted we see the parade every day (and I didn't resist; it really is a highlight).
Frozen Sing-Along Disney's Hollywood Studios has captured the Frozen mania by creating this adorable re-enactment of the hit movie. The best part? Hundreds of sweet young voices (including my boys) sing loud and proud to the songs in the movie. Parents, don't be shocked if you find yourself belting out the words as well. This is definitely worth a visit.
Big Hero 6 Another new feature that my boys loved was visiting the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology lab featured in Big Hero 6 (one of their favorite movies). After exploring the lab we headed to the garage workshop where my kids met Hiro Hamada and the adorable Baymax. Located in Disney's Hollywood Studios this meet and greet is perfect for young fans of the movie.
Trattoria al Forno. Disney is not just about the rides and character meet and greets. It's also about great food. The newest Italian restaurant to open on the BoardWalk is Trattoria al Forno. Kids will love the variety of pizzas, while adults will love the fresh mozzarella and homemade pastas. Everyone will love the water views.
Dinner with Donald. This new character dining experience was a huge hit with my boys. You don't have to travel all the way to Africa to go on safari. The new "Donald's Dinner Safari" is an all-you-can-eat buffet with kid favorites (mac and cheese, chicken nuggets) plus a taste of African cuisine. Donald Daisy and friends walk around and pose for photos while everyone's getting their fill of food and drink. If you're an early bird, there's also a breakfast option, character included.
Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. Many Disney fans have been waiting for the completion of the over-water bungalows at the recently renovated and much-talked about Polynesian resort. Modeled after the famous villas in Bora Bora, these new rooms are pretty amazing. Two-bedrooms, two-baths, full kitchen and living room, and plenty of sleeping space (we love the Murphy beds!), the best part is the private plunge pool deck where you can watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks nightly, with music piped it. Now that's magical.
Judy Koutsky is the former editorial director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also executive editor of "Parenting," "AOL Parent" and "BabyTalk." Follow her on Twitter: @judykoutsky
Image courtesy of Disney.