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If you think that you’ve seen all that Orlando has to offer … think again. With more than 66 million visitors last year (an all-time high), Orlando is the country’s most-visited destination and wants to keep that top spot by evolving and expanding each year, giving kids big and small new reasons to come for a first visit, or a fifteenth.

RELATED: Not sure which Disney is for you? This Disney World vs. Disneyland infographic should help

So it should come as no surprise that this Florida mecca—home to theme park titans such as Disney, Universal and SeaWorld—unveiled a bevy of new highlights this year certain to inspire a trip. Below are some of our favorites.

 

Avatar inspired Navi River Journey | Concept art, Walt Disney Imagineering

Avatar inspired Navi River Journey | Concept art, Walt Disney Imagineering

Pandora – The World of AVATAR at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Step into Pandora, the otherworldly setting from James Cameron’s popular sci-fi film. The largest expansion in Animal Kingdom’s history (also five years in the making), it will feature floating mountains, bioluminescent rainforests, alien wildlife, after-dark entertainment and a family-friendly attraction called Na’vi River Journey.

 

Volcano Bay Rendering | Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Volcano Bay Rendering | Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park

Add another water park to Orlando’s splish-splash of offerings. Set to open in June of 2017, this one within Universal Orlando Resort is tropical themed. A towering “fire-and-water volcano” called Krakatau, which streams waterfalls during the day and fiery lava effects at night, looms over a lush landscape of heart-pounding water slides, lazy rivers and other water-themed attractions.

 

Ninjago Ride at Legoland California | Photo courtesy of Sandy Huffaker/Legoland

Ninjago Ride at Legoland California | Photo courtesy of Sandy Huffaker/Legoland

LEGO NINJAGO World at LEGOLAND Florida Resort

Inspired by the wildly popular LEGO building sets and the “LEGO NINJAGO: Masters of Spinjitzu” TV show, this new attraction is set to open in January. Fans will experience an immersive land to live out ninja adventures, including an interactive dark ride that boasts groundbreaking technology and animation that allows guests to blast fire, lightning and ice with their hands.

 

Kraken rendering | Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Kraken rendering | Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

VR Kraken Roller Coaster at SeaWorld Orlando

With SeaWorld phasing out its live orca shows by 2019, its turned its attention to boosting other areas of the theme park. Among the highlights for 2017: The Kraken roller coaster will be transformed into a virtual reality (VR) roller coaster experience, the only one of its kind in Florida. The coaster will be retrofitted with VR headsets to give riders the sensation of traveling through the sea amid mythical and prehistoric creatures. This summer the park will also unveil an updated Dolphin Nursery, where guests can get an up-close experience with mother and baby dolphins, as well as a new end-of-day spectacle called Electric Ocean.

 

american-football

NFL Pro Bowl Week 

The NFL will celebrate its brightest stars of today and tomorrow with new Pro Bowl week festivities in Orlando, culminating in the all-star game at Camping World Stadium on January 29, 2017. Activities around this newly created week include accessible team practices at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World; a Pro Bowl-themed 5k run; a parade of Pro Bowl players in the Magic Kingdom; Pro Bowl-themed elements throughout Disney Springs; and a variety of other youth football and family activities across Orlando to celebrate football at all levels.

ALSO: Feel like a princess (or prince) when you reap big travel perks with Orbitz Rewards!

Disney world's Epcot Center

Epcot Center| Flickr CC: Anthony Quintano

Epcot International Festival of the Arts

For six weekends over January 13 through February 20, 2017, Epcot will host its first-ever Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Taking a creative cue from the park’s popular Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (August 31 through November 13), this new fest instead spotlights visual and performing arts from around the world. Highlights will include getting to watch Disney artists work live, hands-on arts experiences and Broadway performances. The festival is included with regular Epcot admission.

 

miss-fortune-falls

Miss Fortune Falls Attraction at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park

Go on a water-soaked journey aboard treasure rafts that climb high before plunging into a white-water adventure. With a tide time of two minutes, this family-style raft ride will be among the lengthiest attractions at both Disney water parks. It’s set to open this spring.

soccer-ball

Orlando’s Multipurpose Soccer Stadium

Enjoy the thrill of the “goooooaaaaaal” at Orlando’s newest stadium devoted to the planet’s most popular sport, soccer (football to the rest of the world). Scheduled to open prior to the 2017 Major League Soccer season, this stadium in downtown Orlando will seat 25,500 and serve as home to the Orlando City Lions and Orlando Pride soccer teams.

Photo courtesy of Andretti Indoor Carting

Photo courtesy of Andretti Indoor Carting

Andretti Indoor Karting & Games

Channel your inner Mario Andretti (vroom-vroom!) at this entertainment complex, set to open in spring 2017. It features high-speed electric superkarts on a two-level track, more than 120 arcade games, a rock wall, a zip line and more. In other words: heaven for the thrill-seeker kid hyped up on sugar.

 

Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Universal Orlando Resort’s “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon”

One thing is certain with this ride: Expect to laugh. Universal’s new 3-D ride invites guests to join “The Tonight Show” studio audience on a crazy race through the streets and skies of New York City, with Jimmy Fallon leading the way. Fallon has compared his ride to the popular Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios, saying that “instead of Harry Potter, it’s me … and instead of Hogwarts, it’s New York City.”

 

Starbright Holidays | Photo courtesy of David Roark, photographer, for Disney

Starbright Holidays | Photo courtesy of David Roark/ Disney

Drone Illumination at Disney Springs

This. Is. So. Cool. Disney has partnered with Intel to create a dazzling technological wonder in the sky called “Starbright Holidays – An Intel Collaboration.” It’s the first time in the United States that 300 show drones have flown at one time to produce a choreographed nighttime show. While this aerial show at Disney Springs only lasts twice nightly through January 8, we hope to see more (free) tech-savvy attractions like this in the future.

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Tagged: Disney, Family time, Florida

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Erica Bray

Erica Bray

Erica is a practical free spirit who loves travel, yoga and ice cream. A Northwestern University-trained journalist with more than 15 years of experience straddling digital and broadcast media, Erica can be found doing handstands everywhere she travels -- even risking arrest in some cases. Learn about her at www.erica.media.

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