By David Sibila
With the steady openings of new thrill rides, family entertainment and shopping options, even more exciting things to do have been popping up all over Orlando. Colossal chocolate treats, frozen royalty, a high flying roller coaster, and new apps that were all the craze, made 2016 a record year of expansion across the destination. We've gathered a list of the top stories from the Visit Orlando blog that were big hits with our fans. Get a peek at all that was new in Orlando in 2016.
The opening of Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen at Universal CityWalk was the surprise hit of 2016 with its vast menu of chocolate indulgences surrounded by steampunk decor; it proved to have all of the ingredients for success. The menu is sweet with chocolaty goodness with one-of-a kind gourmet treats, specialty custom flavored milkshakes, and hearty appetizers and entrees - all featuring a very important ingredient.
2016 saw the return of King Kong to Universal Orlando Resort. His newest attraction at Universal's Islands of Adventure is in one word, massive! Fans of the classic character and thrill seekers alike are in for a colossal treat with all of the hidden unknowns and scary surprises, from the queue to the gift shop.
Lazy days of sun filled fun arrived in 2016 with the opening of a watery paradise at Universal Orlando's newest hotel Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. The Caribbean inspired property is the fifth on-site hotel with direct access to Universal's two theme parks and brings a whole new world of tropical accommodations in Orlando designed around relaxing colors, tropical gardens and a waterfall centerpiece.
2016 saw the opening of the newest roller coaster to join the roster of thrilling rides in Orlando. Infamous among the seas for being big, fast and fearless, the Mako shark has taken on a new form as the tallest, fastest roller coaster at SeaWorld, which is sure to give thrill seekers everywhere another reason to visit Orlando.
For fans of Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, 2016 finally provided a permanent home for the royal sister with the opening of Frozen Ever After at the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. For the first time in forever, visitors can now set sail for the kingdom of Arendelle and come face-to-face all of the film's poplular characters including everyone's favorite talking snowman, Olaf.
It's no doubt that the force has awakened a whole new galaxy of Star Wars themed attractions and entertainment at Walt Disney World. In 2016 the saga took to the skies with an all-new, out-of-this-world, nighttime spectacular in the heart of Disney's Hollywood Studios. The nightly show is complete with fireworks, lasers and massive video projections of iconic Star Wars moments.
Disney Springs at Walt Disney World opened the final phase of their multi-year transformation in 2016. The new Town Center becomes the fourth "neighborhood" and centerpiece of the newly rebranded and expanded shopping and entertainment district with 23 new retail shops, the addition of celebrity chefs Rick Bayless and Art Smith and an ATM that dispenses cupcakes, YUM!
Space fans can now get up close and personal with the legends who have journeyed into the final frontier and the rockets that have taken them there. America's astronauts are being celebrated with the opening of the all-new Heroes & Legends attraction at Kennedy Space Center, which is dedicated to the inspiring spirit that has pioneered our space program for over half a century.
Orlando embraced the Pokémon Go craze and became a thrilling haven for players who wanted to experience the hit game in the Theme Park Capital of the World SM. From our walkable entertainment districts to our world-famous theme parks, players were able to find countless numbers of PokéStops and Gyms across the destination.
Speaking of mobile apps, visiting Orlando got a whole lot easier in 2016 with the launch of Visit Orlando's new mobile app. Through groundbreaking functionalities visitors can now use their mobile device to explore, have fun and earn savings during their stay in the No. 1 most visited destination in the U.S. The app, currently in public beta, is available for download through the iTunes and Google Play.
International Drive started glowing red this year with the rebranding of the Coca Cola Orlando Eye at I-Drive 360. That's because the 400 ft. observation wheel took new look with all-new experiences that became a refreshing enhancement to the year-old family attraction.
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Written by David Sibila, Senior Manager of Content and Social Media for Visit Orlando. He's a TV producer turned content and social media strategist, hands-on dad and a casualty of four rescued pets.