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Orlando Parkhopper

Award Winners announced, Jaw-less Universal, Disney's "big" announcement, and more!

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by , 01-02-2012 at 11:43 PM

2011 has come and gone and Central Florida has seen a lot of things come and go this past year, including the Orlando Parkhopper column itself. This week, we take a look at some of the things we say goodbye to in 2011, as well as some construction that will create some new attractions in 2011. So, this week fasten your seat belt as we bid a fond farewell to Jaws, take a look at the construction progress at the Drive In Mini Golf and around Universal, and then analyze the "major" announcement Disney released on New Year's Eve, for some of you. All of this, plus the results of our first annual Central Theme Park awards! So, move your wretched bodies into the dead center of the room and we'll get started!


MiceChat is proud to announce the winners of the first annual Central Florida Themed Park Awards. The Orlando Parkhopper and MiceChat crew helped narrow down the top selections, but it is you, the park goers from MiceChat, that voted and declared the winners. We have listed the winners below in BOLD with the runners up listed below them.

Best new attraction or show or entire
new theme park in Central Florida

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue - Disney Hollywood Studios
The Magic, Memories and You - Magic Kingdom
Cheetah Hunt - Bush Gardens Tampa
Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room - Magic Kingdom

Best Overall Theme Park

Islands of Adventure
Magic Kingdom
Disney's Animal Kingdom
Busch Gardens Tampa
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Universal Studios Orlando
SeaWorld Orlando

Best Parade or Show

Illuminations: Reflections of Earth - Epcot
Main Street Electrical Parade - Magic Kingdom

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights - Disney's Hollywood Studios
Festival of the Lion King - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Finding Nemo the Musical - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Boo To You Parade - Magic Kingdom
HalloWishes Fireworks - Magic Kingdom
Blue Horizons - SeaWorld Orlando
Macy's Holiday Parade - Universal Orlando
Dance to the Music - Busch Gardens Tampa

Most Neglected Attraction
(or Attraction, theme park, parade, or experience most in need of attention or refurbishment)

Studio Backlot Tour - Disney's Hollywood Studios
Journey Into Imagination With Figment - Epcot
Splash Mountain - Magic Kingdom
The Great Movie Ride - Disney's Hollywood Studios
Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress - Magic Kingdom
Country Bear Jamboree - Magic Kingdom

Expedition Everest - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Stitch's Great Escape - Magic Kingdom
Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls - Island's of Adventure
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Magic Kingdom
E.T. Adventure - Universal Studios

Hidden Gem Award
(Most underrated attraction, park or theme park experience)

The American Adventure - Epcot
Living with the Land - Epcot

Electrical Water Pageant - Bay Lake Walt Disney World
Maharajah Jungle Trek - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Impressions de France - Epcot
Keys to the Kingdom Tour - Magic Kingdom
Pangani Exploration Trail - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Discovery Island Exploration Trails - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Walkabout Way - Busch Gardens Tampa

Best Of The Rest
(pick your favorite attraction which is not
in one of the major theme parks)

Kennedy Space Center
La Nuba

Ripley's Believe it or Not
Orlando Fun Spot
Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Bok Tower Gardens
Marineland Dolphin Adventure
Magical Midway
Capone's Dinner Show

Park with Best Food

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Islands of Adventure
SeaWorld Orlando
Busch Gardens Tampa

Best Dark Ride

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - Islands of Adventure
Haunted Mansion - Magic Kingdom

Pirates of the Caribbean - Magic KingdomThe Amazing Adventures of Spiderman - Islands of Adventure
Spaceship Earth - Epcot
The Great Movie Ride - Disney's Hollywood Studios
Revenge of the Mummy - Universal Studios
Men in Black - Universal Studios
The Sea with Nemo and Friends - Epcot
Journey to Atlantis - SeaWorld

Best Rollercoaster

Expedition Everest - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster - Disney's Hollywood Studios
Space Mountain - Magic Kingdom
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Magic Kingdom
Revenge of the Mummy - Universal Studios
Incredible Hulk - Islands of Adventure
Cheetah Hunt - Busch Gardens Tampa
Dragon Challenge - Islands of Adventure
SheiKra - Busch Gardens Tampa

Best Family Attraction

Toy Story Midway Mania - Disney's Hollywood Studios
it's a small world - Magic Kingdom
Splash Mountain - Magic Kingdom
Peoplemover - Magic Kingdom
Spaceship Earth - Epcot
American Adventure - Epcot
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom Railroad - Magic Kingdom
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - Magic Kingdom
Dumbo the Flying Elephant - Magic Kingdom

Best Miniature Golf Course

Disney's Fantasia Gardens
Disney's Winter Summerland
Pirates Cove Adventure Golf
Congo River Golf
Gator Golf Adventure Park
Putting Edge

Best Water Park

Typhoon Lagoon
Blizzard Beach
Wet N' Wild
Adventure Island

Best Theme Park Restaurant
(Restaurant located inside of a theme park)

Le Cellier Steakhouse - Epcot
Mythos - Islands of Adventure

50's Prime Time Cafe - Disney's Hollywood Studios
The Hollywood Brown Derby - Disney's Hollywood Studios
Bistro de Paris - Epcot
Yak and Yeti - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano - Disney's Hollywood Studios
Teppan Edo - Epcot
Tusker House - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Coral Reef - Epcot

Best Hotel or Resort Area Restaurant
(Restaurant in a resort area but not within a theme park)

California Grill - The Contemporary

'Ohana - The Polynesian
Victoria & Albert's - Grand Floridian
Jiko - Animal Kingdom Lodge
Artist Point - Wilderness Lodge
Hoop De Doo Musical Review - Fort Wilderness
Yachtsman Steakhouse - Yacht Club
Emeril's - CityWalk
Flying Fish Cafe - Boardwalk Hotel
Kouzzina - Boardwalk
Tchoup Chop - Royal Pacific
The Wave - The Contemporary Hotel

Best Counter Service / Quick Service Restaurant
(Theme park or resort area)

Earl of Sandwich - Downtown Disney
Three Broomsticks - Islands of Adventure
Flame Tree BBQ - Disney's Animal Kingdom
Sunshine Seasons - Epcot
Pecos Bills Tall Tale Inn and Cafe - Magic Kingdom
Ghiradelli Soda Fountain - Downtown Disney
Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory - Port Orleans Resort
ABC Commissary - Disney's Hollywood Studios
Tangierine Cafe - Epcot
Desert Grill - Busch Gardens Tampa

Best Value Hotel

Disney's Pop Century Resort
Disney's All Star Movies
Nickelodeon Suites
Disney's All Star Music
Disney's All Star Sports

Best Moderate Hotel

Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter
Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
Disney's Port Orleans Riverside
Royal Pacific - Universal Orlando
Gaylord Palms
Hilton Garden Inn
Royal Plaza - Downtown Disney
Celebration Hotel

Best Deluxe Hotel

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney's Polynesian Resort
Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort
Disney's Contemporary Resort
Portofino Bay Hotel - Universal Studios
Hard Rock Hotel - Universal Studios
Walt Disney World Dolphin
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
Walt Disney World Swan

Are you at the Parks nearly every week? Would you like to share your news and photos? We are looking to grow our team of parkhoppers to cover even more of the fun and excitement in Central Florida. If you think you'd like to help out with photography, writing, or editing please write to [email protected] or [email protected]

The "big" announcement came from the Disney PR machine during Dick Clark's Rockin' Eve. In a somewhat lackluster marketing ploy, on New Years Eve, Disney announced the "One More Disney Day" promotion. Aside from the contests and the obligatory deal, the key piece of the announcement was that the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in California will be open 24 hours on Leap Day, February 29th, 2012, something that has been suspected by many since the teasers began. What's even more interesting, according to the fine print, the actual attractions, dining, and entertainment are not finalized yet and the times are actually 6AM 2/29 - 6AM 3/1.

The fact that the announcement, which could have been a great new surprise, was not a surprise due to leaks all over the Internet, and a fairly lackluster announcement at that, is only a tip of the iceberg. What made many of us a little irritated is the countdown clock on the teaser website counted to 11PM EST as the time the announcement would be made, but at 11PM the show took a break for the local news, making the announcement never actually officially announced. Seems like someone made a major scheduling error for something that they tried to hype so much for the last week or so.

Even though it's the end of a busy holiday season, construction is in full swing at Universal. The Hollywood Drive Mini Golf has colors being added to our mysterious worm friend, as well as the house right next door. In addition, a few more details have been popping up here and there. It's really looking like it could be a fun course with monsters, robots, and cages galore!

Another +1 for Universal for fixing the mechanism that caused the "4D" part of the Shrek 4D marquee to move again. It's things like this that we notice, and definitely applaud when it's done, or call you out on if it's left and forgotten.

Construction slowly continues on Despicable Me, with the exterior ever so gradually taking shape.

Some other minor details around the park include a new Lorax photo op, some new turnstiles capable of allowing entrance and exit into the park, and a new Saturday Night Live merch cart has popped up. Could this be a sign for an SNL themed show in the park?

New Lorax photo-op

In and out turnstiles

While Disney tried to have the big announcement this week, the major came from Universal. January 2, 2011 marked the end of an era, as Jaws and the entire Amity/Cabot Cove area sailed its final cruise to prepare for a new attraction.

While Universal hasn't stated what the new area will be, speculation is fixing its gaze upon the expansion to Harry Potter for the area, causing the Wizarding World to be split between the 2 parks. A few interesting rumors have cropped up that suggest the area will include a Gringotts Bank themed hybrid coaster attraction, shops, and restaurants including The Leaky Cauldron. We'll definitely keep you posted as more information gets revealed, but for now bid a fond farewell of a Universal classic: Jaws.

May you find bigger and better boats in the Amity Island in the sky.

Tuesday, January 3rd, walls immediately went up to allow construction to begin.

The new Lagoon show, dubbed "Project 315" began vertical construction. This is all in preparation for the new nighttime lagoon show that will debut in the summer. Hopefully the infrastructure isn't too intrusive, but we'll keep you posted as it continues.

Some intense girders and lighting are going in.

The Disney Parks and Universal may have been popular tourist destinations for the holidays for years. But Sea World seems to be hedging its bets and coming up strong for taking a lot of the charm and family fun for the holidays. Sea World offered an impressive line-up, including 6 Holiday themed shows! Trust us, if you were wondering if the holidays are worth it there - they are! And the events are included in park admission! If you missed it this year, too bad. Make sure to get there next year though.

Clyde and Seymore's Christmas Show ends with snow over the audience!

Busch Gardens celebrated the new year in a slightly different way than the other parks this week. While other parks were worried about DJs, capacity, and fireworks, our favorite Tampa theme park celebrated a birth....the birth of a baby giraffe on December 27, 2011. The newborn, at 127 pounds and at 5 foot, 7 inches tall is the calf of father Jafari and mother Tesa, who has previously given birth to four other calves. The latest addition to the park's giraffe population brings the total to 18. And while the baby and mom haven't joined the Serengeti just yet, in about 3 months you can see the new bundle of joy to the park. We'll make sure you see the new baby out in "the wild" as soon as we spot it!

Where were the Parkhoppers this week? Look into the magnifying glass and see if you can figure it out. Post your guess in the comments area below. If you are the first to guess the answer you will be featured in next week's update. GOOD LUCK!

Want to meet up with other Disney fans while at Disney World? Several of the Orlando Parkhopper team members are part of a group that meets every weekend. Join the public Facebook group and get notified of events (the locations are different every time). Drop by to visit the "attraction of the day" with us. Newcomers are welcome!

If you appreciate this column, share this page with your friends and don't forget to click that Facebook thumbs up button at the top of the page (it give us the encouragement to bring you even bigger and better updates)!

We want your photos! Contribute to the Orlando Parkhopper by emailing [email protected] with your submissions. We welcome volunteers for single contributions as well as permanent "Parkhopper" staff.

Please join us in thanking the fantastic and talented crew of writers, photographers and news contributors who worked so hard this week to bring you the latest information from the parks. This week's team included:

Thank you for reading, we hope you've been inspired to explore Orlando's many wonderful attractions. We'd love to hear your comments below.

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Updated 01-03-2012 at 09:47 AM by Orlando Parkhopper



  1. mark's Avatar
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    Another wonderful update! Thanks for all your work!
  2. SummerInFL's Avatar
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    Great update! Love to see all the winners! The miniature golf is really taking shape at City Walk, looks like it will be a lot of fun to play.
  3. Dustysage's Avatar
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    We had just over 1,000 votes for the Central Florida attractions. It was so much fun to see your responses and suggestions.

    I'm really excited about Universal's Harry Potter expansion. They captured a day from Disney with phase 1 and it sure does look like their major expansion into the Studios park is designed to capture a 2nd day. Smart move.

    So far, it doesn't look like Disney has a very good plan to compete. Fantasyland expansion, interactive queues and Avatar (which kids don't care about) hardly hold a candle to what Universal is doing. As a huge Disney fan, I'm disappointed that they aren't being more aggressive. It's a new year, time for Disney to step up to the challenge.
  4. MickeyMaxx's Avatar
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    Thanks for a great Parkhopper! The updates, the MiceChat Awards, and possibly the best Jaws excursion I never got to go on. Megan put her heart into that tour! Sorry to see it go, but can't wait to see what develops in its place!
  5. WildForMrToad's Avatar
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    @Dusty did you guys do a survey for Southern California as well?
  6. Orlando Parkhopper's Avatar
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    Yes WildForMrToad we did do a SoCal Theme Park Awards and voting is still open!

    It was featured in this weeks In the Parks

    and the voting link is right here…
  7. sir clinksalot's Avatar
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    I think the ONLY thing that is going to take away from the Potter excitement is the rumored Star Wars land for the Studios park.
  8. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    I just can't Imagine anything more neglected than WaltDisney World"s River Country. PD
  9. Maverick's Avatar
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    River Country isn't really neglected it's closed down. Also Dusty I don't think you can really say kids don't care about Avatar.
  10. mainejeff's Avatar
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    I agree with Dusty in regard to Avatar. Now if we're talking Star Wars.......THAT is a whole different story!
  11. Robbie-Nobby's Avatar
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    The Hidden Park Hopper Image is from the Temple of Heaven in the Chinese Pavillion of Disney Worlds Epcot Center.