With spring fast approaching, thoughts turn to the upcoming peak season at Florida's world-leading theme parks. 2014 will bring a host of new rides and attractions, catering for everybody from toddlers to thrill-seekers. No fewer than seven new attractions have already been announced, meaning that there are plenty of reasons to return to the Sunshine State next year.
Let's take a look at what will be on offer!
7. Duplo Valley (LEGOLAND Florida)
Expanding on the existing Duplo Village concept, LEGOLAND Florida's toddler-friendly area will be rethemed to become Duplo Valley in time to reopen in spring 2014. Boasting an indoor play area and a water pla area, it will be similar in concept to Duploville Playland, which opened at sister park LEGOLAND Windsor earlier this year.
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.
6. Ihu's Breakaway Falls (Aquatica)
Something BIG is coming to SeaWorld Orlando's Aquatica water park next season. Ihu's Breakaway Falls will tower some 105 feet over the park, and is promised to be the steepest (and only) ride of its type in Orlando. The exact nature of the attraction is yet to be revealed, but we can deduce that it won't be a standard body slide: Summit Plummet over at Disney's Blizzard Beach stands at 120 feet tall, which would negate SeaWorld's claim that its new addition is the "tallest ride of its kind" in the area.
The slides will be named after Ihu, Aquatica Orlando's gecko, who it is claimed searches for the "biggest thrills, steepest hills and coolest spills in the water park".
5. Falcon's Fury (Busch Gardens Tampa)
Extreme height seems to be a feature of the new additions to parks in the SeaWorld chain next year. Busch Gardens Tampa will install the enormous Falcon's Fury drop tower, which will stand at a staggering 335 feet tall. This will make it the tallest freestanding drop tower in North America when it opens next spring.
Falcon's Fury will send riders plummeting towards the ground below at 60 miles per hour. Its chief gimmick, though, will be that it twists guests by 90 degrees so that they are facing directly downwards before they freefall down to the bottom.
4. Aqua Drag Racer (Wet 'n Wild Orlando)
Wet 'n Wild Orlando will open a unique new "racing" water slide for the 2014 season, dubbed Aqua Drag Racer. The park, owned by Universal, claims that the slide will be the tallest and fastest of its kind in Florida. It will stand at 60 feet tall, and will allow guests to race each other through 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.
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.
3. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Disney's Magic Kingdom)
When Disney announced initial plans to overhaul Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, fans quickly noticed that the central area would be dominated by meet-and-greets with Princesses. With complaints ringing in its ears, the company made major changes to the New Fantasyland concept, with the most significant being plans to install a Snow White-theme roller coaster at its heart.
The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster is far from an afterthought, though. Winding its way around (and through) one of Disney's signature faux mountains, it will take guests on a trip deep into the diamond mine where the Seven Dwarfs work. Pitched at kids who have outgrown the nearby Barnstormer, it will feature a unique ride system that sees the mine carts swing from side-to-side as they round corners. Expect to see it open in the spring.
2. Hogwarts Express (Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure)
When Universal Orlando decided to install a second Harry Potter-themed land at Universal Studios Florida, it knew that it had to connect it to the existing Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. What better way to link the new area (which will be themed around London's Diagon Alley) to Hogsmeade than via a recreation of the Hogwarts Express?
Initially, Universal envisaged the attraction as little more than a basic transportation link. But it quickly became clear that many fans were more excited about the Hogwarts Express than they are about the rest of Diagon Alley. Now, the Hogwarts Express will be a full multi-sensory experience, with technology 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!
1. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Universal Studios Florida)
The Hogwarts Express may have generated a lot of excitement, but the real headliner of Diagon Alley is a major roller coaster-dark ride hybrid set in Gringotts Bank. The Gringotts scenes in the movies almost seem to have been designed specifically to inspire a theme park ride, and this promises to be some ride.
Universal hasn't officially announced any details of the ride experience, but they have begun to leak out online. Like Revenge of the Mummy, the Gringotts Bank attraction promises to be much more than just a standard roller coaster. Expect stunningly-detailed recreations of sections of the bank seen in the movie (and a heavily-themed queue line to match that of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey), plus thrilling elements that may include freefall drops, tilting tracks, a launch section and enormous screens used to project the action.
What are you most excited about?
So there you have it...2014 promises to be an amazing year for visitors to Florida's theme parks. Which new attraction are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments below!
You can keep up to date with the latest confirmed and rumored opening dates for new attractions through Theme Park Tourist's "New Attraction Watch" section, and by signing up for our weekly newsletter.