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Just when you thought Orlando couldn't get any better...

21 November 2010 by By Simon And Susan Veness

We may still be catching our breath from the spell-binding Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando's latest mega-offering that opened this summer.

But there's one thing you can be sure of in the world of Florida's theme parks. There's always another mind-blowing opening on the horizon.
And next year we have to get ready for a burst of speed from Busch Gardens and Walt Disney World in 2011, plus a touch of calm, relaxing tranquillity from the Discovery Cove theme park.
 The lagoon show: Underwater hikers at SeaVenture, a major new attraction at Discovery Cove
Then in October, the biggest development in 11 years will open with the advent of Legoland Florida, just down the road in Winter Haven.
But let's start with the real rollercoaster fan's blast, a new 4,429ft, 60mph thrill-ride called Cheetah Hunt that opens at Busch Gardens in Tampa in the spring.
At 'only' 130ft high, it is not the biggest in the area's pantheon of mega-coasters but, with three fast-launch points (0-60mph in just three seconds) it will be the most dynamic. Other features will be an underground trench and a full inversion, all over a smooth, fast-turning switchback of a track.
Busch Gardens will also wrap the ride around two key animal habitats, including an eye-catching cheetah enclosure, Cheetah Hunt.
If 60mph at zero feet seems too tame, how about going flat out at 500mph in a Pod race? That is the premise for Star Tours II 3-D, the headline new attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios (part of Walt Disney World in the heart of Orlando) from next May.
From the opening of the Studio's park in 1989, Star Tours (a Star Wars simulator ride) has been a cornerstone of the full-on, immersive Disney experience, surrounding guests with squabbling droids C-3PO and R2-D2, space battles and close encounters with asteroids on a Starspeeder voyage to the planet Endor.

 Star Wars Turn: Lightsaber lessons at Walt Disney World
Now, the fast-paced whirl through the galaxy of George Lucas will be replaced by a new 3-D film that updates the story and introduces more characters, special effects and adventures.
Set between the two three-film series (and dubbed Star Wars 3.5), the revamped attraction will take riders to the planet Coruscant  -  home of the Galactic Empire  -  and then drop in unexpectedly on the Boonta Eve Classic Pod-race.
 More...Florida: Inside Harry Potter theme park
Can adults enjoy Disney World without the kids?
Six things you must do in Orlando

After all that hectic zipping around, you may need something more relaxing, in which case Discovery Cove's Grand Reef could be ideal. SeaWorld's 'swim-with-dolphins' park is ten years old and this expansion will add a white-sand beach, underwater grottoes, palm-tree-lined island and a million-gallon snorkelling lagoon full of fish and rays.
The highlight, though, will be SeaVenture, with guests wearing special underwater helmets for a 'hike' along the floor of the lagoon and stingray feeding.
Looking further ahead, next October will see the debut of Legoland Florida aimed at children aged two to 12.

 Back to the future: Two new restaurants have just opened at Epcot
Forty miles south of Orlando, it will have more than 50 rides and Florida-themed attractions spread over 145 acres, incorporating the heart of the former Cypress Gardens park, with its tropical gardens and lakefront.
There is also a new reason to visit downtown Orlando, where the sparkling £240million Amway Centre opened last month as the 18,500-seat home of the Orlando Magic basketball team and major concerts.
Free tours of this stunning venue will be available most days, and it is a great place to visit for its chic rooftop bar overlooking the city.
Finally, while it may sound ho-hum compared to the rides, we have been very impressed by two new restaurants just opened in Disney's Epcot Park.
Via Napoli is a brick-oven pizzeria with all the charm of old Naples that serves wonderfully authentic thin-crust pizza, while the Mexican La Hacienda has fantastic cuisine with great margaritas  -  and it has a grandstand view of the nightly fireworks.



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