When should you plan your next Orlando theme park vacation?

July 21, 2017, 10:03 AM · With Disney announcing so many new attractions coming to the Walt Disney World Resort, you might be thinking about when would be the best time to plan your family's next vacation to the Orlando area. Remember, Disney's not the only game in town, and rival Universal Orlando has some big projects in the works for the years ahead, too.

Planning vacations around attraction openings is always a bit of a trick. Theme parks typically don't reveal official opening dates until a couple of months before the big day — not enough time to put together a week-long family vacation to this often-booked area. And opening crowds can be ridiculously large, so many smart fans plan to visit new rides only after their first summer of operation. Not only do crowds come down by then, but parks get better at running new rides with a few month's of shakedown and practice, as well.

So we recommend that you use this calendar as just one more piece of information to consider when planning your trip, along with school and work schedules and any other family commitments.

What was new this year in Orlando

Universal Orlando in April opened Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, a Tonight Show-themed experience that includes a walk-through tribute to the six hosts of NBC's long-running late-night talk show, a "green room" where you can meet Hashtag the Panda and watch a live performance by the show's Ragtime Gals barbershop quintet (which, if you are not into the joke, sings mildly risque "buy band" songs, not standard barbershop repertoire), and a "flying theater" ride where you race through the city with an on-screen Fallon and a Easter egg carton's worth of Tonight Show characters.

Volcano Bay replaced Wet 'n Wild as Universal Orlando's water park. Richly detailed and wonderfully decorated, the Polynesian-themed Volcano Bay features a 200-foot volcano at its heart, housing three trapdoor slides as well as an aqua coaster. You will find more than a dozen other slides surrounding the volcano throughout the park, all of which use the park's "TapuTapu" virtual queueing system.

Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom is Disney's most ambitious theme park land to date, recreating the alien world from James Cameron's 2009 hit Avatar. You will walk under floating mountains and among alien flora that becomes bioluminescent after dark. The land's two rides include Disney's first all-new indoor boat ride in the United States in three decades, as well as the exhilarating Flight of Passage, which won our Theme Park Insider Award as the world's best new attraction of the year.

Next month, Epcot will debut its two new Mission: Space adventures. The Green side will feature a mild adventure into Earth's orbit, while the Orange side will offer a wilder, more physically intense ride to Mars.

How have these affected crowds?

Pandora has shifted some Disney traffic to Animal Kingdom, mostly at the expense of Hollywood Studios, which largely remains a construction zone, thanks to all the projects under development there. We expect wait time to increase substantially at Mission: Space when the new adventures open, especially with the neighboring Ellen's Energy Adventure ride closing at the same time, to make way for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy ride.

Fallon hasn't moved the needle at Universal, but Volcano Bay often hits capacity, and at this point, we strongly recommend that you book a stay at a Universal on-site hotel if you wish to visit the new water park, as those guests get one hour of early access to the park, which is essential in getting prime seating locations and first access to the park's often-long virtual queues.

Coming in 2018

Universal Orlando will bring its Fast & Furious: Supercharged experience from Universal Studios Hollywood's Studio Tour to Universal Studios Florida, where it is taking over the former Disaster! site. After walking past some of the street racing cars featured in the hit movie series, you'll end up the middle of an explosive high-speed chase featuring Dom and the gang fighting Owen Shaw and his henchmen.

Also next summer, Walt Disney World will open Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios. This expansion is being built behind the Toy Story Midway Mania ride, which will become part of the new land. It also will feature Slinky Dog Dash, a Mack Rides family coaster, and Alien Swirling Saucers, another tea cup-style spinner ride.

In August, the new Aventura Hotel will open at the Universal Orlando Resort, located between the Sapphire Falls and Cabana Bay Beach resorts.

Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway will replace the Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios, but Disney has not announced an opening date. However, the Great Movie Ride closes Aug. 13, so it's possible that the new ride could debut as early as 2018, probable that it will be open by 2019, and almost certain to be open by 2020. This will be Disney's first ride themed to Mickey Mouse and will use practical sets and digital effects to take riders from the real world into the world of Mickey's cartoons.

What's the outlook for 2018?

The new land and maybe new ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios will start to bring back the crowds that currently just show up for Tower or Terror and Midway Mania, then park hop elsewhere for the rest of the day. But neither attraction has enough appeal to draw much more than the typical number of new visitors overall to the Walt Disney World Resort. In fact, with Galaxy's Edge on the horizon for 2019, we expect that some fans who might normally consider visiting Disney in 2018 will hold off until 2019, to see the new Star Wars land.

Over at Universal, Fast and Furious will extend the park's appeal to that franchise's many fans and should lead to an increase in attendance, but even since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, predicting an increase in attendance at Universal has been the safest bet in the theme park industry, so we're not exactly going out on a limb there.

Coming in 2019

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens at Disney's Hollywood Studios. We are expecting the Disneyland version of this highly-anticipated new land to open first, which should take a little of the pressure off as the most fanatical early adopters head west to see the new land there. But let's not kid ourselves. This is going to be wildly popular, and certainly will prompt Disney to make changes to its Fastpass+ or ticket offerings in order to control crowds.

What's the outlook for 2019?


What else is coming to Orlando?

Disney has announced a Guardians of the Galaxy ride, expected to be an indoor/outdoor roller coaster with "yaw"-rotating cars. (Drifting through space?) This is going into the Universe of Energy pavilion, which is closing on Aug. 13, so we are expecting the ride to open sometime between 2018 and 2020 as we expect construction to begin later this year.

Epcot's World Showcase will get a copy of Paris' Ratatouille: The Adventure dark ride, to go into a new building behind the existing France pavilion. Disney has filed permits for site prep work, but we appear to be months away from the start of construction, so it's unlikely that we will see this attraction before 2020, though Disney has promised that it will be completed no later than Epcot's 40th anniversary in 2022.

Over at the Magic Kingdom, a copy of Shanghai Disneyland's TRON Lightcycle Power Run will be moving in next to Space Mountain and behind the Speedway in Tomorrowland, and Main Street USA will be getting a Broadway-style theater, with both expected to open in time for the park's 50th anniversary in 2021. Don't expect either before then, however.

Universal hasn't announced any opening dates for new rides beyond next year's Fast & Furious attraction, but it has announced that it will build a copy of Universal Studios Japan's Super Nintendo World at some point after the Osaka version debuts in 2020. Widely tipped to replace the Woody Woodpecker KidZone, expect the video game-themed land to open three years after KidZone closes, whenever that might be.

Also announced, but with no opening dates, are a 4,000-room hotel complex on the old Wet 'n Wild site at Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World's intriguing Star Wars-themed "Disney 360" experience hotel, and a new Sesame Street land at SeaWorld Orlando. The Wet 'n Wild hotel is deep within the permitting process and construction should begin soon, while the Star Wars hotel likely won't debut for at least a year or two after the land opens at Disney's Hollywood Studios. And your guess is as good as ours on SeaWorld actually doing anything interesting with Sesame Street.

After 2019's Star Wars-inspired surge in attendance, expect a smaller increase in crowds in 2020 as the spill-over from Star Wars is muted somewhat by other fans choosing to delay their visits until Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary celebration in 2021. Epcot celebrates its 40th in 2022 and Universal's Super Nintendo World will open sometime in this time period, so we probably should just go ahead and brace ourselves for another "Roaring 20s" for theme park attendance in Orlando.

Replies (20)

July 21, 2017 at 10:13 AM · My cousin was just there, right before Avatar land opened, said Studios light because of construction but still exciting stuff. Me, I want to wait till Star Wars but also do want to check out Avatar so might fit it in 2019 or a bit sooner.
July 21, 2017 at 10:39 AM · Was hoping that the promise of Star Wars: Galaxy's Esge in 2019 would keep the largest crowds away for my planned trip next year, but looking at early voting results that doesn't appear to be the case.
July 21, 2017 at 10:42 AM · I'll be visiting Disney World for my first time in August, and I'll happen to be there the week they're closing Great Movie Ride and Energy Universe. I'm glad I'll get a chance to ride these before they leave.
July 21, 2017 at 10:45 AM · I live in south Florida so I make it up to both WDW and UO every year so I have the blessing of picking and choosing - which park, what dates, etc - so kind of lucky in that respect. I just enjoy the theme park wars have been engaged full throttle. However, I have to agree with a poster who wrote in a different post about the Disney Decade. I was at the Eisner/Disney Decade announcements at the Contemporary Resort in the early 90's and about half (if that) actually saw the light of day. I hope Disney follows thru on all the proclamations. Don't wanna be cynical, but the budget minders will substantially reduce all the glorious concepts and artist renditions by the time these proposed changes and additions come to fruition. I hope I'm wrong.
July 21, 2017 at 11:19 AM · Do most people really "delay" trips to WDW based on attraction openings? I know I do (we delayed our every-other year trip that would have occurred last year because of PtWoA and to be on schedule to see Galaxy's Edge in 2019), and most people that follow sites like TPI might. However, I'd argue that the average American family (and most foreign visitors) say, "Hey kids, we're going to Disney World" whether there's a big new attraction coming the following year or not.

Then there's a much larger group of guests that visit EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Many of those AP holders and DVC owners form the backbone of Disney's financial model at the Florida resort, and are the primary reason there's no such thing as a slow day at WDW anymore. It doesn't matter what opens from year to year, these people have invested thousands of dollars to go to WDW every year (in some cases multiple times a year). While many will show up to see what's new, they go regardless of the state of the parks because they've already got skin in the game.

July 21, 2017 at 11:15 AM · I'll be back in the fall! I go even when there isn't anything new, hahaha
July 21, 2017 at 11:38 AM · I can either stay home at Southern Cal and get half the experience in 2019 or go to Orlando to get the full experience in 2023. Epcot needs to be done with the new Guardians and Ratatouille before I'll go.
July 21, 2017 at 12:11 PM · As a Universal AP holder, I can only afford one Disney day a year. Naturally, Animal Kingdom is the choice this year. I'll finally give Avatar a spin next month.
July 21, 2017 at 12:14 PM · Coming from the UK we like new rides/experiences to justify the costs...we went this year for 3 weeks & were thinking of leaving it until the 50th in 2021 but we're going to get a 'cheap' deal and go for a week in 2018...4 years is too long to wait & going in 2018 whilst their won't be much new will give me a Disney top up and leave plenty of new experiences for a longer trip in 2021.

Universal need to play their hand...there's not a lot announced their that is having any impact on our decision.

July 21, 2017 at 12:27 PM · Considering I've never visited and have been planning a 2017 visit for about a year before the announcements, I'm definitely going this year. However, it is very unlikely my next visit will be before 2021 in order to allow as much to open as possible. Given the expense of a Florida trip and the rate at which new attractions are built, if you can't afford to go on an annual basis (or aren't interested in going that frequently), once every five years seems about right to maximize new attractions without breaking the bank.
July 21, 2017 at 2:16 PM · The sagacity of my dear old grandmother applies to Robert's poser "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today because if you enjoy it you can do it again tomorrow!"
July 21, 2017 at 2:35 PM · We were planning on going to Universal in 2018 after the Fast & Furious ride opened but we are now going in September to attend the Halloween Horror nights. I totally agree that most people don't bother waiting for new rides and just plan their trips when they can. I'm lucky enough that we are able to go at least once a year to Universal and we've rarely gone to Disney since we are all adults.

With all the changes at Disney and all the cool new rides coming I must say that we will continue to visit Universal every year like we plan but will for sure go to Disney once the new Star Wars land opens. Maybe will even swing by Pandora before then but defiantly not this year since that IP doesn't really appeal to us.

July 21, 2017 at 3:18 PM · Surprised the poll only asks about Disney Wolrd, given the content of the article.
July 21, 2017 at 5:40 PM · I agree with AJ's comment. My wife and I took our first Disneyworld trip in 2008 then went back in 2009, 2011, and 2016. We live in Oklahoma so it is a commitment to go to Orlando.

While it was still a good time and was part of our vacation and not the main event so to speak, we took family two of those times to liven it up since it was pretty similar being so close together. Universal during this same timeframe really underwent a lot of changes, and in our minds for the last 8 years or so they were the more interesting park.

Now we go to out of the way places we have never been (ValleyFair & Waldameer this Summer were both pretty nice little parks) and plan to let the Orlando parks build up before we return to Florida.

July 22, 2017 at 3:44 AM · Pandora here I come! 2017, baby!!!

(PS Disney just recently extended their Pandora evening ride time for onsite resort guests through the month of August - I may have lost out on riding the new version of Mission:Space - it's supposed to be delayed into September - but I gained four more hours of Pandora time for my two visits to DAK!).

July 22, 2017 at 7:19 AM · My wife and I hope to be celebrating our silver wedding anniversary a couple of months late at Disneyworld in November 2019, so I'll be watching the Star Wars development at Hollywood Studios anxiously. But since our last visit was in 2012 frankly there'll be so much new stuff since then it will feel almost like a new destination. Every park will have new attractions so if some have yet to open it won't be too much of a disappointment.
July 22, 2017 at 8:26 AM · I only wish I could afford to go to Disney world. But in reality it is an expensive venture that only people with money and yearly salaries of over $60,000 per single person or marriage salaries of over $100,000 can afford the cost and visit. I am a regular guy single who made at most like $35,000 a year as programmer and then a postal clerk working 40 hrs weekly paying bills for home mtg & insurance electric & oil bills phone bills & car payments and auto insurance & gas for car & grocery bills and presents for birthdays & Christmas & easter & halloween for aunts & mom & dad & uncles & grandmother & 3 brothers a sister & 2 sisterinlaws & 2 brotherinlaws & 4 nephews & 4 neices. Making after all deductions taken out only about $985.00 every two weeks. I was actually living to work wishing I could afford Disney magic but knowing and freaking in reality that I would never see Disney again. I went once in summer 1977 as a 17 year old with parents & sibling because a great great aunts both sisters died within 3 weeks of one another left my parents $5,000 in will. So we were able to go to Disney world when you paid admission in receiving a booklet with ride tickets A B C D E where we had to be selective with 5 kids what rides we could afford to all go on buying extra tickets needed. Eating dinner at affordable crystal palace. We camped outside park at affordable jellystone campground. We stayed whole day in park with dad mom went to trailer at 6:00 with sister. We stayed last people out last tram we bought 14 hotdogs on Main Street as leaving cause was half priced so as not lose money on hotdogs we took home with us and ate in trailer at 2:30 am. We left two days later for home camping in a campground in Myrtle beach. That was last time we could afford a Disney trip. I Took my dad a stroke survivor for over Columbus holiday in oct 1999 he was in wheelchair we stayed in cheapest hotel for 3 days with bus transport to wdw. I wheeled him thru Disney world he was 68 ( had stroke when he was 53 ). He enjoyed the time we were there. He passed away jan 19,2001. That was last I could afford Disney. I don't think Walt would have liked what his original notion for the park turned into. He wanted a place where both parents could enjoy it with their children and grandchildren not one where only affluent people could afford the expensive venture it is me know as. Of my brothers and sister only the two youngest brothers can afford yearly Disney adventures. The youngest and his husband are married with joint income of over $165,000 yearly no kids and the next to youngest is married with one boy & one girl is a dentist owns his practice in Oswego New York making yearly salary of over $960,000. They both can afford yearly visits to both Disney world and Disneyland. The dentist has bought annual Disney passes for themselves. I am now on the other side of the downward slope to death and heaven. I am now on dialysis retired disabled so an adventure to Disney is no longer an option. Disney executives should read this and rethink why wait created WDW it wasn't to make money venture but family memories for all families not just affluent ones. Bye
July 22, 2017 at 8:28 AM · What about Sea World next years brand new Infinity Falls a river rapids ride through a highly themed rainforest?
July 22, 2017 at 6:48 PM · I'll probably make my next trip in 2019 for Star Wars Land. I'll stay on-site and pay whatever the upcharge might be, in order to see it with as little headache as possible. Once I've ridden the two attractions, I'm happy to just take in the sights, sounds, and smells.

I'll also enjoy Pandora and Toy Story Land, and make time for Volcano Bay and the second Harry Potter Land. And I haven't done Transformers, Kong, the Hogwarts Express, or the re-tracked Hulk.

Mostly, I'm waiting for Star Wars, but it's been a few years, so Orlando has quite a bit I haven't seen, as it is.

Then, my ideal situation ($$ permitting) is a few days both before and after new years 2021/2022 so I can hit the 50th and 40th anniversaries of MK/EPCOT, respectively.

But 2019 for me.

July 24, 2017 at 1:01 PM · It's easier when you live close by. We are about 7 hours away from Orlando and make at least two trips a year. US and IOA are more our speed, but we are looking forward to visiting Avatar and Star Wars lands. Our next planned trip is in October for HHN, but with the news of the closing of dueling dragons, we are planning a long weekend before Sept 4 to get one more ride on the Chinese Fireball.

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