There's no denying that 2019 will be a big year for central Florida's bustling tourism industry. Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Orlando have major additions in the works. Disney has "Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge: debuting that summer, and Universal Orlando will counter with a Harry Potter-themed family coaster and a live-action experience.
This doesn't mean that the theme park mecca that Florida has become will be phoning it in next year. Disney, Comcast, and even SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) will be adding major attractions in 2018, hoping to establish positive momentum ahead of the monster year that should follow. Let's take a look at some of the new rides and attractions coming to the Orlando area.
Universal Studios Florida: Fast & Furious: Supercharged
Comcast's original Florida theme park should strike first with its springtime opening of Fast & Furious: Supercharged. The screen-intensive attraction will find guests boarding large vehicles that get immersed in action and racing sequences starring the characters from The Fast and the Furious franchise.
The ride will be the park's second attraction to feature Universal's virtual queue, where guests are assigned return times to avoid spending chunks of time snaking through switchbacks. The original incarnation of this attraction is part of the tram tour at Universal Studios Hollywood, but this one has a dedicated ride vehicle and additional video footage.
Disney's Hollywood Studios: Toy Story Land
Disney's first major move in transforming Disney's Hollywood Studios into a full-day destination starts this summer -- which in Disney-speak likely means late May -- with the arrival of Toy Story Land. A Slinky Dog kid-friendly coaster will anchor the new expansion. A spinning saucer flat ride and character meet-and-greet opportunities will round out the offerings themed to Pixar's original feature film.
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will open a year later adjacent to Toy Story Land as the ultimate tourist magnet, but don't sell the toys short given the franchise's appeal. The 2018 opening will help draw young families to a park with very few actual rides these days. It will be a substantial addition.
SeaWorld Orlando: Infinity Falls
SeaWorld Entertainment continues to languish in the never-ending wake of 2013's Blackfish, and SeaWorld is doing the right thing by aggressively investing in rides and attractions that have nothing to do with controversial killer whale shows. Infinity Falls will open next year as a river rapids raft ride that will give guests one more thrilling experience without triggering the ire of animal rights protestors.
Infinity Falls will feature a 40-foot drop, the tallest for this kind of attraction. Adding the best in-state coaster in 2016 and breathing new life to an aging coaster with a virtual reality update in 2017 have failed to turn sluggish attendance trends around for SeaWorld's most visited theme park. A record-setting water ride isn't going to turn the tide, either. However, it does make SeaWorld Orlando a more complete park outside of its signature shows, and sooner or later that's the recipe that will save SeaWorld Entertainment.
More to come
There are plenty of other minor updates in the works for 2018. Disney's Animal Kingdom just announced the springtime arrival of an Up-themed stage show to replace its current bird show. Universal Orlando will open its sixth on-site resort hotel. Even Legoland Florida will be hopping on the virtual reality trend by updating ones of its kid-friendly coasters with VR headgear.
The real prize remains 2019, and that's going to keep some potential visitors away from enjoying the 2018 additions. Why go next year when the following year will offer so much more? However, the quest for momentum and the need to fill a growing number of resort rooms have the theme park giants still hustling for the year ahead.