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Here's what to expect when Central Florida theme parks reopen

Mary Thurwachter
Special to The Palm Beach Post
Walton Sun

This summer, you can look forward to something that's never happened before: when Epcot reopens on July 15, it will feature pieces of two of its most popular festivals, the Epcot International Flower and Garden Show and the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

The new "Taste of Epcot International Food & Wine Festival," starting on July 15, will feature 20 signature global marketplaces spaced around the park.

And because the Flower and Garden Show was cut short, elements of that festival — including the new Remy topiary at the France pavilion — will make an appearance.

Compared to last year, when Central Florida theme parks introduced three whole new lands, the lineup for 2020 looks less thrilling.

And while there’s nothing as wow-inspiring as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge this summer, new attractions that include a stunt show, record-setting roller coasters and technologically advanced rides are expected to keep folks coming back to the world’s most crowded theme parks — even after the ongoing coronavirus pandemic shut things down cold.

The parks — shut down for almost three months — are reopening in June and July, albeit on a limited basis. With new protocols in place to allow for social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitization, people are slowly but surely coming back to satisfy their craving for thrills, chills and fantasy.

Here’s the lowdown on the six biggest theme park additions in 2020.

Ice Breaker

SeaWorld Orlando, 7007 Sea World Drive, Orlando; seaworld.com/orlando

When SeaWorld opens its first launch roller coaster later this year, riders will dive through four launches that go both forward and backward, finishing with a reverse launch into a 93-foot-tall spike and 100 degree angle. The ride will offer the steepest vertical drop of any ride in Florida.

Along with the addition of Ice Breaker, SeaWorld has formed a new partnership with the Alaska SeaLife Center, a research, rescue, rehabilitation and education facility.

SeaWorld Orlando reopened on June 11.

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Disney’s Hollywood Studios, disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/hollywood-studios

This replacement for the much-loved Great Movie Ride made its debut on March 4 and is the first ride-through attraction here starring Disney’s signature character.

The fun begins when guests see the premiere of a new cartoon short with Mickey and Minnie getting ready for a picnic. They drive alongside a train and find out that the engineer is Goofy. Then, one magical moment lets you step into the movie and on Goofy’s train for a wacky, wild ride.

Daisy Duck makes an appearance, as does a new bird character named Chuuby. This ride is good for kids of all ages (it has no scary scene like the Great Movie Ride did).

Hollywood Studios reopens on July 15.

HarmonioUS

Epcot, 200 Epcot Center Dr, Orlando; disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/epcot

Set to open later this year, a new permanent nighttime spectacular called HarmonioUS will add more Disney characters into Epcot, unlike its character-free predecessor. Disney spokesmen say the show “will celebrate how the music of Disney inspires people the world over, carrying you away harmoniously on a stream of familiar Disney tunes reinterpreted by a diverse group of artists from around the globe. HarmonioUS will have massive floating set pieces, custom-built LED panels, choreographed moving fountains, lights, pyrotechnics and lasers.”

Epcot reopens July 15.

The Bourne Stuntacular

Universal Studios Florida, 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando; universalorlando.com

Hyped as a new hybrid of live entertainment and screen-based technology, the Bourne Stuntacular is Universal Orlando’s first new stunt show in 21 years. Universal opened its gates on June 5 — the first theme park in the state to reopen. Stuntacular is set to launch later this year.

Universal PR flacks say the attraction will follow the character of Jason Bourne around the globe as sinister characters pursue him. “Thrilling chase scenes, punishing fistfights, death-defying leaps and danger at every turn” will happen right in front of guests with live performers, high-tech props and an immense LED screen, making it impossible to discern where the live action ends and the cinema begins.”

Iron Gwazi

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, 10165 N. McKinley Drive, Tampa; buschgardens.com/tampa

Roller coaster aficionados won’t want to miss Iron Gwazi, a record-breaking ride that combines a new steel track with existing wooden supports from the shuttered Gwazi wooden coaster for a new hybrid coaster made by Rocky Mountain Construction. It’s the tallest hybrid coaster (206 feet), as well as the fastest (76 mph) and steepest (91-degree drop) hybrid coaster anywhere.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay park president Stewart Clark says: “Iron Gwazi is the evolution of a classic wooden coaster into a modern icon. From the bones of the original Gwazi, a new legend rises, reaching taller heights and faster speeds, delivering the next-level thrills that our coaster fans crave and expect from Busch Gardens.”

The park reopened on June 11. Test runs on the ride started in March. Though no opening date is set, it looks like it will happen in the next few months.

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

Epcot, 200 Epcot Center Dr, Orlando; disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/epcot

A trackless ride just like the one that debuted in Disneyland Paris six years ago, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is set to open at Epcot later this year. The new ride will shrink riders down to the size of a rat. Participants will scurry along with Chef Remy through Gusteau’s Restaurant in rat-shaped vehicles. They will see characters from the Disney Pixar film, including Chef Remy, along with the sounds, sights and smells of the restaurant. Special water and heat effects will be part of the experience.

Epcot reopens July 15. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will be in the France area of Epcot’s World Showcase, and is expected to open before year’s end.

When do theme parks reopen? And what will be different?

Walt Disney World theme parks will open beginning July 11 for Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, followed by Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 15.

Park reservation system: To enter a Disney park, a park reservation will be required. Reservations will be made through the My Disney Experience app. You may request one park per day.

Social distancing: Markers have been set in lines 6 feet apart to encourage social distancing guidelines and visitors who are 65 or older or at a higher risk of getting coronavirus are encouraged not to visit the park just yet.

Masks and temperature checks: Employees will wear face masks and disinfect railings and surfaces to help keep things as clean as possible. Employees and guests will have their temperatures taken, and anyone with a temperature of higher than 100.4 degrees won’t be allowed in. Guest 2 and up are asked to wear masks.

Touchless hand sanitizer stations have been placed throughout the parks.

Universal Studios, which reopened June 5, has similar restrictions in place and warns that beyond typical wait lines for rides, guests can also expect lines to get into small shops, such as the wand store in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Starbucks.

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, which opened on June 11, have temperature checks and mask requirements for employees, a 6-foot separation requirement in entry and ride queues, Plexiglas shields at food stations. Staff regularly disinfect ride vehicles and touch points.

Warning notice: Park websites post this notice: “Exposure to COVID-19 is an inherent risk in any public location where people are present; we cannot guarantee you will not be exposed during your visit.”

This story originally published to floridatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.