Despite the reduction in flight capacity, the credit crunch and the pound’s weakness against the dollar, Brits seem reluctant to give up their US theme park breaks.
Visit Florida director, UK and Ireland, Colin Brodie believes final UK 2008 visitor numbers will be about 3% down on the previous year and will probably come down only another few percentage points this year.
“The demise of XL Leisure Group took the shine off the final numbers – we lost a large amount of capacity that hasn’t been replaced,” he said.
With the recession digging in its heels, the pound remaining sluggish, and late booking becoming more prevalent, it’s hard to predict how the market will fare this year. But Brodie remains upbeat. “Florida is still seen as great value for money, even with the pound down to $1.40,” he said.
Virgin Holidays head of Florida product Gill Standeven said another major draw for Florida is its diversity. “It ticks a lot of boxes for different customers from families to couples and singles,” said Standeven.
“We are also seeing an increase in people twinning Florida with a Caribbean break,” she added.
Here’s a taste of what’s new at the major US parks and attractions.
Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando is launching two new shows: High School Musical 3: Right Here! Right Now! and the American Idol Experience, which enables guests to experience auditioning, performing and judging.
Aerophile, which will be launched this spring in Downtown Disney, is a giant tethered balloon that takes up to 30 guests 300ft into the air on a six-minute trip.
Also new is the Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party on Main Street, USA, in the Magic Kingdom.
Also debuting this spring is Epcot’s Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, based on Disney’s Kim Possible TV show. Guests become hi-tech secret agents and help save the world.
At California’s Disneyland, the ageing It’s a Small World has been given a makeover and new characters from Disney and Pixar have been introduced.
And last year saw the reopening of its long-closed Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough and a new attraction, Pixie Hollow, where visitors can hang out with Tinker Bell and friends amid giant flowers and grass.
In May, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, near Los Angeles, will open a new wooden roller coaster called Terminator: The Coaster.
The three-minute ride, designed to tie in with the latest movie in the Terminator series, Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins, will feature onboard audio and reach 55mph.
The big news at Universal Orlando Resort, which last May debuted its popular The Simpsons Ride, is the delayed opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which will debut in its Islands of Adventure park next year.
The theme park within a theme park will feature immersive rides and interactive attractions set amid representations of places found in JK Rowling’s bestselling books such as Hogsmeade village and Hogwarts castle.
From May, visitors to Universal Studios will be able to get their fill of “hi-tech, customisable, multi-sensory entertainment” on the Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit roller coaster.
Billed as the most technologically advanced roller coaster in the world, the 65mph ride features a record-breaking loop and up to four vehicles can be on the tracks at a time.
Visitors can choose their own soundtrack for the ride, which features concert lighting and special effects, and edit footage of their experience into a music video.
The Sesame Street Forest of Fun attraction will open at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, on April 3.
Features will include a 4-D movie, wet and dry playgrounds, and four new rides, including a log flume and a junior roller coaster, Grover’s Alpine Express.
Last year SeaWorld Orlando opened a sister water park, Aquatica. But the star of the show this year is the 140ft-tall Manta Ray coaster, which will open in May, set within a seven-acre, ray-themed village area.
Riders will be positioned face down under a ray-shaped coaster train, touching 60mph as they traverse four loops and pass within inches of water.
Hard Rock park
The 55-acre Hard Rock theme park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, closed in September but could reopen in time for Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) after a change of ownership.
The park has more than 50 rides and attractions in five zones – Born in the USA; British Invasion; Cool Country; Lost in the 70s; and Rock and Roll Heaven – including big draws like the impressive, six-loop Led Zeppelin roller coaster.
Dollywood, country and western singer Dolly Parton’s 130-acre park in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, has more than 40 rides and attractions. New is the Adventure Mountain attraction and a show, Imaginé.
Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has expanded its Boardwalk at Hersheypark attraction to include two water-themed attractions: The Shore, a pool with waves, and Intercoastal Way, a ‘lazy river style’ attraction.
Also new are 27 rental cabanas.
Keycamp has a 14-night, twin-centre break with seven nights in a lodge in Kissimmee and seven nights in a cabin at Madeira Beach, St Petersburg, for £1,233. The price, based on two adults and two children in May, is accommodation-only and includes car hire. (Tel: 0870 700 0749)
Virgin Holidays has seven nights at the Walt Disney World Swan from £1,389 per adult and £469 per child, for July 1-8 departures. The price includes car hire and flights to Orlando from Gatwick or Manchester. (Tel: 0844 5573 875)
Funway Holidays has seven nights for the price of four at Universal Orlando Resort on departures from April 1 to October 8 – a saving of £285 per family, if booked by June 15. Prices start from £2,040 (two adults and two children, aged two to 11), including flights from London or Manchester to Orlando and seven nights at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. (Tel: 0844 557 0626)
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