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While the rest of us were lining up for toilet paper rolls like they were Beyoncé tickets, Florida’s theme parks were prepping for a whole new world—one in which people actually take vacations again. When you’re ready to venture out, you can look forward to some theme park upgrades and a stay at these nearby family-friendly hotels.
Whether you’re traveling with kids or you’re an AFOL (adult fan of LEGO… look it up), you’ll find a celebration 10-years in the making as the Winter Haven amusement park commemorates its decade-old anniversary throughout 2021 (lock in your advance tickets right here). New this year is Brickbeard’s Watersport Stunt Show, a swashbuckling spectacular that features a new female LEGO pirate character. The park has also added more ways to stay cool in the Florida heat, including another blessedly air-conditioned 4D movie and a shaded structure above Miniland USA. Keep the fun going with an overnight stay at the LEGOLAND Pirate Island Hotel, which opened in June of 2020, or LEGOLAND Beach Retreat. Both hotels offer free daily breakfast, nightly kids’ entertainment and separate kids’ sleeping areas in each room—a godsend for the entire family. And prepare to go hog wild in 2022, when LEGOLAND Florida debuts the world’s first Peppa Pig Theme Park, a separately ticketed funland with rides, water play areas, live shows and other attractions that’ll make your preschooler snort with delight.
Pardon their pixie dust, but the most magical place on earth is putting the finishing touches on some attractions set to open on Oct. 1, 2021—the park’s 50th anniversary. EPCOT’s newly expanded France Pavilion will say bonjour to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, which “shrinks” riders down to rodent size as they scamper through Chef Gusteau’s restaurant. They’ll emerge restored to their normal size, leaving plenty of room for pancakes at the adjacent La Crêperie de Paris, scheduled to open on the same day. Several more eateries are slated to debut late this year or early next year, including Space 220 at EPCOT and Toy Story Roundup BBQ in Hollywood Studios. In honor of Disney World’s golden anniversary, Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Tower Hotel at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Spaceship Earth at EPCOT will all glow brightly as part of “Beacons of Magic.” After logging all those miles on your pedometer, rest your head at Disney’s new boutique hotel, Walt Disney World Swan Reserve, opening July 2021. It’s located within walking distance of EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and comes with access to all the amenities of the adjacent Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, including its private beach. (Get advance tickets to Walt Disney World parks here.)
So you had to cancel that safari vacation in 2020. But you’ll be in high spirits after a visit to this theme park’s family-friendly Giraffe Bar, which opened in March of 2021. The indoor-outdoor venue features an extensive drink list, small plates and big views—it overlooks the park’s Serengeti Plain. Sip on a Masai Margarita while your mini-me enjoys juice in a limited-edition souvenir giraffe cup. After your wild time, hibernate at the Hyatt Place Tampa/Busch Gardens. Just 2 miles from the amusement park, the hotel features free breakfast, parking and WiFi, sofa beds, and an outdoor swimming pool. Pick up advance tickets for Busch Gardens right here.
June 10 will be dino-mite as the theme park debuts its Jurassic World VelociCoaster. With speeds reaching 70 miles per hour and 155 feet in height (including an 80-foot drop), the ride will have you doing double-takes as you spot Jurassic World movie cast members and raptors throughout the experience. Then get your retail therapy fix at Universal CityWalk, which recently debuted two new stores: The Universal Legacy Store celebrates the park’s 30-year history with vintage-themed merch, while the enormous new flagship Universal Studios Store showcases 8,300 square feet of contemporary items, including a line of Hogwarts athleisure. (This would’ve been nice to have in 2020, but we’re still here for it.) Construction is also underway on its new Epic Universe park, set to open in 2024 or 2025. Stay at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites, a casual, budget-friendly hotel that opened last year. Two outdoor pools, a game room and two-bedroom suites that sleep up to 6 make this hotel a no-brainer for families. Be sure to reserve your theme park tickets ahead of time here.
If the idea of launching backward into Florida’s steepest beyond-vertical drop sounds like fun to you, then SeaWorld’s new Ice Breaker roller coaster will be cold comfort—make that cool comfort! The ride, whose opening date is still TBA, will be the centerpiece of SeaWorld’s updated Wild Arctic area, which also includes the new outdoor Glacier Bar and Altitude Burgers (formerly Mango Joe’s). Expect to see refreshed aesthetics throughout the park, including an Instagram wall for coral seascape selfies. Add on a ticket to Aquatica Orlando, SeaWorld’s adjacent water park, so you can experience RiptideRace. The waterslide, which made its splashy debut in April, allows you to race in a two-person raft against another duo through 650 thrilling feet of thrilling twists, turns and tunnels. If your family can’t get enough water, then they’ll get along swimmingly at the Hilton Orlando, which features multiple pools, a lazy river, splash pad and cabanas. Plus, no need to wait in line when you book your SeaWorld tickets here in advance.
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