Orlando is hopping with action.  Disney World is in the middle of adding a huge family coaster to their ongoing Fantasyland expansion.  While at the same time, Universal is firing on all cylinders in both parks.  Here we review the new track spotted for the Seven Dwarfs Mine coaster at Magic Kingdom, then we cruise over to King’s Bowling on International drive, we throw in a book review, then I offer my thoughts on Universal’s expansion.

More Seven Dwarfs Coaster Track

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster at Magic Kingdom has been taking shape lately; you can see some of the many banking turns through the peep holes they helpfully placed into the construction walls. This weekend I happened to drive by the STOLport – the old airport strip next to World Drive that they use as a staging area for Imagineering and construction – and saw still more track to come. It was all twisty! Looks like this ride has barely any straight track pieces – that will make for an interesting ride!

Bowling Fit for a King

I was invited to a media preview of King’s Bowl this week. It opens to the public on Monday, and I think the public will like it.

The location on International Drive is right next to Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and right next to the upcoming home of I-Drive Live (giant Ferris wheel, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, aquarium). That’s prime real estate for tourists. And yet they are targeting locals. There will be leagues at this one, and the prices are in line with what locals would pay: $6/game for the first game, $5/game after that.

The food here is of high quality, with a twist to almost every dish. The sliders caught my eye (well, my taste buds) the most, with a zing I couldn’t quite place (powdered red pepper sprinkled on before grilling?) The fried chicken with ponzu sauce was a treat I should try to replicate on my own.

The signature drinks are mostly of the sweet variety, with the standout star clearly the fizzy lifting drink (remember Wonka?) that tasted for all the world like a liquid version of a grape popsicle. With alcohol in it.

The bowling is more than adequate. Unlike Splitsville, which suffers from being shoehorned into its space, here the run-up/approach to the lanes is standard and not shortened. Whew. That makes a huge difference. The lights are subdued and there’s almost a Cosmic Bowling look to the place. But it combines with the 60s-era nostalgia vibe pretty well.

There are other things to explore here: an outdoor (covered) bocce court, several pool tables, and a separate restaurant that includes tables where you tap your own beer right at the table (an odd kind of thrill; and you can reserve these tables in advance by calling in!)

The bar section is plastered with giant screens and monitors, and there is a ticker tape crawl of news from the sporting world. Should be pretty easy to keep up with sports in this place.

In all, King’s Bowl delivers. As locals, we will definitely be back. And I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to visiting tourists, either.

There is a longer photo tour of King’s Bowl at my personal blog.

Book Review: Lots to Do in Line at Walt Disney World

Meredith Lyn Pierce wrote a book about the queues in Disneyland and the things you could do to stay occupied there. As a California local, this made sense. She was there all the time anyway. She’s back with another book, this one about the Florida parks (Amazon; $8.20), and the recipe is pretty similar.

As its heart, the book is like one of those pamphlets I recall from my childhood that challenged you to find scavenger hunt items. I think I saw them on paper restaurant menus given to kids: can you find a blue tiger in the wallpaper? Can you spot a yellow monkey? The hunts were a harmless lark, by and large. They probably helped fill the time just a little bit, but there was no “deeper” meaning to them.

The same is true of these Lots to Do in Line books. They certainly do no harm, but they do not gel into more than the sum of their parts. There are tons of hunts here – over 300 pages worth – but there is little additive to the experience of reading all of it. The book is in long/thin format, designed to be slipped into a pocket, and it’s clearly meant to be carried around the park, probably by a young child. How young? Maybe six or seven years old, I guess? One of the central conundrums is that a child old enough to read may not care to simply hunt for a quote where a 6th grade girl compares the environment to something (your choices are a quilt, chess, a river, or a child). The hunts are “throwaway” questions that don’t amount to anything; they don’t reveal a deeper story about the attraction, its history, or its designers… they are just there to provide a diversion and a distraction for anyone using the book. For young kids, I expect they will have the hunts read out loud to them by the parents.

Because it’s all about diversions, a child who needs that level of distraction would find this useful. I can’t picture my own kids wanting to do this beyond an attraction or two, but then again, my kids grew up in the parks, so that’s hardly a fair test. A visiting child who doesn’t know the parks may fare better. Of course, I would normally assume that a visiting child is struck with wonder at the parks and the theming and doesn’t NEED the stimulus of empty hunts, but I may be assuming too much about today’s kids. Would my own kids like a book such as this for their first visit to Dollywood or King’s Island? Actually, in that context they probably would. Discloure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher.

Universal Orlando Resort

Universal rumbles forward with more and more progress each week. Transformers looks fit to start its internal tests any day now, and it seems all but certain that soft openings will come long before the official start in summer. Could they come as early as May? No one is saying, but that seems a likely target.

The construction of Springfield, near the Simpsons ride, has started to pick up pace recently. A few new metal structures have appeared along the water. There is no indication what they are, but these appear to be smaller buildings rather than a larger one.

The former International Food Court has been converted to familiar-looking facades: one for Moe’s Tavern and one for Krustyburger.

Across the lagoon, progress continues on the Harry Potter expansion, rumored to be Diagon Alley and a Gringott’s roller coaster. The mini-land is rumored to be connected to its IOA counterpart via a train. Hogwarts Express is said to be a second-story (elevated) train (tram, really?) that will reportedly use viewscreens instead of regular windows. You’ll have to have a two-park ticket to switch parks like this, which should drive sales nicely for Universal.

More information and updates

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations: