It promises to be a banner year for Florida's theme parks in 2014. At Universal Orlando, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley will open, bringing with it two major rides and a host of shops and restaurants. Over at Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom will finally complete its New Fantasyland Expansion with the debut of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster. And Busch Gardens Tampa, Aquatica and Wet 'n Wild Orlando will weigh in with new rides of their own.
With so many existing and new experiences on offer, it would be easy for visitors this year to miss something special. So we thought we'd round up 20 incredible new experiences that you won't want to miss if you're visiting the Sunshine State's theme parks in 2014.
20. View Disney's new Festival of Fantasy Parade
Disney's Festival of Fantasy Parade will official debut at the Magic Kingdom on March 9. The new addition will replace the former Celebrate a Dream Come True parade, which has been running in various formats since 2001. As usual, it will see a host of Disney characters in a procession down Main Street, USA, and is said to be a celebration of the recently-expanded New Fantasyland area of the park.
The parade will feature elements from The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Dumbo, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Tangled and Brave. Disney promises that it will feature innovative new parade floats, colorful costumes and an original soundtrack boasting a brand new parade theme song.
19. Take your toddlers to splash around in Duplo Valley
Florida's newest theme park, LEGOLAND Florida, will retheme its existing Duplo Village toddler-friendly area to become Duplo Valley in time to reopen in Spring 2014. Boasting an indoor play area and a water play area, it will be similar in concept to Duploville Playland, which opened at sister park LEGOLAND Windsor in 2013.
The main attraction in Duplo Valley will be the Duplo Train, which will pass through scenery themed around the countryside. Nearby, a miniature tractor ride will enable toddlers to try their hand at plowing fields and searching for missing farm animals. The existing Duplo Barn, meanwhile, will be updated to add new play areas and a room packed with Duplo bricks. The new water play area will also feature a farmyard theme, and will include water jets and interactive elements, all surrounded by oversized models of animals.
18. Brave the world's first "face-down" drop tower
Busch Gardens Tampa will install the enormous Falcon's Fury drop tower in 2014, which will stand at a staggering 335 feet tall. This will make it the tallest freestanding drop tower in North America. The ride's chief gimmick, though, is not its height - but the unusual twist at the top. Riders will be rotated by 90 degrees so that they are facing directly downwards before they freefall down to the bottom.
17. Board the Hogwarts Express
Connecting the soon-to-open Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida to the existing Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure will be a recreation of the Hogwarts Express train. Initially conceived as little more than a tranport link, it is now set to be a full multi-sensory experience, with technologyy being used to recreate the journey that Harry and his friends take every year to Hogwarts.
Linking two lands with a shared theme in two entirely separate theme parks, the Hogwarts Express will be a truly unique attraction. In fact, it's the only ride listed in our extensive database of 3,500 attractions that is listed as belonging to two parks!
16. Race your friends and family on Aqua Drag Racer
Over at Universal Orlando's water park, Wet 'n Wild Orlando, a brand new set of water slides will enable riders to race each other to the bottom. Standing at 60 feet tall, Aqua Drag Racer will see guests plunging down a series of twists, turns and steep hills while lying on a foam mat. Four riders will race each other at a time, hitting a top speed of 15 feet per second. This has led Wet 'n Wild to claim that its new addition will be the tallest and fastest slide of its kind in Florida.
Aqua Drag Racer will feature a clock at the bottom, allowing guests to see how fast they plummeted down it - and to declare a winner. The slide is being manufactured by Canadian specialist ProSlide, and will be a customized example of the firm's KrakenRACER model.
15. Swing through the Seven Dwarfs' mine
The new roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, will take guests on a musical journey through the diamond mine and enchanted forest from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Guests will swing from side-to-side in its unique cars, as well as passing through Snow White's cottage.
14. Stock up on Wizard Wheezes
Sure to be one of the most popular stores in Diagon Alley, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes will sell all manner of tricks, and will feature the distinctive storefront seen in the movies. As with the stores at the existing Wizarding World, expect the merchandise to be completely unique to Diagon Alley - although the merchandise from the soon-to-close Zonko's in the original Wizarding World will be moved here.
13. Book your Walt Disney World rides in advance with FastPass+
The legacy FastPass system is no more at Walt Disney World, and those little paper passes are a thing of the pass. If you're an on-site hotel guest, you can go online via the MyDisneyExperience website and reserve time slots for most attractions at Disney's Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom up to 60 days in advance of your trip . So, if you want to, you can book a whole raft of FastPass+ slots before you even arrive at the resort.
If you're not staying at a Disney resort, you currently can't reserve FastPass+ slots in advance. Instead, you'll have to do so on the of your visit, using special kiosks that are set up around the parks.
12. Try a warm Butterbeer
Since the debut of the Wizarding World at Islands of Adventure in 2010, Butterbeer - the fictional drink from the Harry Potter books and movies - has been available in chilled or frozen variants. It has proven to be immensely popular, with millions of servings of the drink having been sold to visitors.
Earlier this year, Universal began experimenting with a warm version of the drink. The drink comes in a cup with a Starbucks-style cardboard sleeve, and has proven to be a hit with most early reviewers. It's not yet been confirmed as a permanent addition, but we'll be stunned if it isn't.
11. Stay at Walt Disney World's newest hotel
Luxury chain Four Seasons is due to open a new hotel on Walt Disney World property in 2014. It will feature 444 rooms, 3 pools, a "lazy river", a spa with 18 treatment rooms and extensive sports facilities including tennis courts and a climbing wall.