The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood — As a resident of the Los Angeles area, I've been waiting for years for the opportunity to wander the streets of Hogsmeade without having to get on a plane first. That's why my top new year's resolution is to start running more often, to preemptively work off all the extra Butterbeer I will be drinking after the new land opens officially on April 7.
The new Frozen musical at Disney California Adventure — Yes, I will miss the Aladdin show, which closes on Jan. 10 to make room for this new production. But Disney's established an enviable record of transforming its animated hits into captivating stage musicals that fans want to see again and again — just as it did with Aladdin. If anyone took bets on this sort of thing, I'd wager that the Frozen musical will turn out to be a more entertaining way to spend time with the beloved characters of Frozen than the Maelstrom overlay that Walt Disney World is getting.
Ninjago - The Ride at Legoland California — It's a shooter ride where your hands are the weapons. Just wave your hands and blast the baddies in front of you. How cool is that?
A refurbished Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner restaurant — The restaurant that can make a claim on launching the American theme park industry deserves better than the condition into which it had fallen in recent years. Fortunately, Knott's and Cedar Fair management agree, and they are investing to return Mrs. Knott's restaurant into the world-class experience that it deserves to be. Plus, we're hoping that this launches this Great Fried Chicken War of 2016 with Disneyland's Plaza Inn.
Rivers of Light at Disney's Animal Kingdom — World of Color (the original version, at least), Disneyland Forever, and Paint the Night have shown Disneyland fans that Disney still can bring it better than anyone in developing night-time spectaculars. Here's hoping that Disney matches — or exceeds — its recent Disneyland Resort efforts on the much larger canvas of Disney's Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal's Islands of Adventure — We were fans of the King Kong 360/3D encounter when it opened in 2010 on the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal Orlando's version promises to "plus" the Hollywood experience in every way, with the addition of custom ride vehicles, immersive decoration, and jaw-dropping animatronics.
Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando — Universal Orlando's on-site hotels provide the best value for the money in the entire theme park industry. The Cabana Bay, which opened last year, set the standard for what a value-priced theme park hotel could provide in comfort, atmosphere and service. So we can't wait to see what Universal Orlando and its hotel partner, Loews, deliver with their next hotel, which will sit between the Cabana Bay and Royal Pacific both physically and in price and amentities.
Mako at SeaWorld Orlando — Theme Park Insider's reader ratings have made clear that fans love Bolliger & Mabillard's mega/hyper coasters more than any other model of coaster in the world. So it is long past time for the world's theme park capital — Orlando $#8212; to get one of these coasters for its own.
Shanghai Disneyland opening — Disney's 12th theme park promises to be its most ambitious yet, with Disney's largest castle, an innovative new ride system for Pirates of the Caribbean, an intense Roaring Rapids ride, and a Tron Lightcycle coaster than has many fans glowing with excitement. (Sorry about that one.) Yeah, most of us never will visit this park, but we are hoping that the completion of this project frees up the time, money, and bandwidth for Disney to continue and expand its planned improvements for the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts.
Universal's next steps — Universal's movie studio held off Disney to claim the top spot at the box office in 2015, and Universal's theme parks are enjoying record attendance and revenue. The company bought control of Universal Studios Japan in 2015 (its most popular park), and Universal has been thrilling fans with a steady stream of announcements (and leaks) about new attractions, hotels, and parks over the past few years. We are looking forward to more in 2016, as Universal continues to work to close the gap between it and industry leader Disney.
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