Orlando has very little competition in the “most visited city” category. And it doesn’t stay at the top of the list by sitting still. New venues, renovations, upgrades and additions are perpetual, and 2015 is no exception. Here’s a quick peek at a few new and exciting venues and attractions for your next visit, some already entertaining guests – some on the verge of their highly anticipated grand openings….
Standing watch: the 400-foot Orlando Eye will open this spring. — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Welcome to “Eye” Drive?
International Drive (widely known as I-Drive) is a hub of activity for visitors and locals. Myriad hotels, dining, shopping and entertainment venues line this thoroughfare and it has a brand new sentinel standing watch.
The Orlando Eye – a towering, 400-foot, cantilevered observation wheel – is the most visible arm of a three-attraction venue by Merlin Entertainments and it’s already generating excitement if gawking motorists on nearby I-4 are any indication.
Installation of its 30 glass-enclosed passenger capsules began on Jan. 17. Weighing in at over 6,000 pounds apiece, their ski-lift design will keep floors level, allowing guests – up to 15 in each – to walk around for optimal 360-degree views in comfortable, air-conditioned confines.
Each of the wheel's capsules will accommodate up to 15 guests. — Photo courtesy of The Orlando Eye
Once onboard the wheel, bets are on folks will stay for its sister venues at what’s being called the I-Drive 360 complex. The SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium will feature more than 5,000 creatures, a 360-degree Ocean Tunnel and a number of educational elements that will encompass conservation and breeding efforts, feedings and more. Madame Tussauds Orlando will showcase its unparalleled wax recreations of celebrities from all walks – Einstein to Selena Gomez, Abe Lincoln to David Beckham. All three venues are set to open this spring.
Ricky Martin meets his doppelganger; Orlando visitors can meet him when Madame Tussauds opens this spring. — Photo courtesy of Madame Tussauds Orlando
Folks interested in a peek at the ongoing construction can enjoy patio seating in the shadow of the Eye at Tin Roof Orlando, which serves up burgers, beer, cocktails and an array of Southern-influenced goodies, along with some surprises (the tuna tataki salad is a winner!). Live music’s on tap seven nights a week.
Tin Roof boasts colorful confines and live music nightly. — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
“And once things get going,” says General Manager Patrick Nietzer, “we’ll do happy hour music at least four nights a week and daytime music Thursday through Sunday.” Nietzer says the rotation is an amalgam. “It’s anything high-energy that people can sing along to – rock, pop, country, soul, alternative, Top 40. And mostly covers. Our bands take requests; they are walking, talking jukeboxes.”
Mangia with Mickey
The Disney realm has a brand-new dining venue with fare that’s quite literally oven-fresh. The eagerly anticipated Trattoria al Forno is now open at Disney’s BoardWalk – serving Old World favorites (and a few modern takes) that showcase the diversity of Italian cuisine.
A warm open-kitchen design allows guests to watch the chefs’ artistry in progress, including the fiery maw from which its pizzas – baked al forno (“from the oven”) – emerge, crusts light, thin and ready for hearty appetites.
Trattoria al Forno's wood-fired pizza with fennel sausage, salame piccante and house-pickled peppers. — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Oenophiles can visit Italy by way of the Trattoria’s extensive wine list. “Our wines are 100 percent Italian,” says Vinnie Tai, general manager. “We have about 70 bottles, 25 of which will be available by the glass or in quartinos – servings of about one-and-a-half glasses that are ideal for sharing among friends and family.”
Gaming fans who like it really immersive – and anyone intrigued by collaborative puzzle-solving – are destined to love Escapology Orlando, a unique and intriguing new addition to I-Drive’s exploding roster of attractions.
This is an escape room game, wherein 2-5 participants are literally locked in to a themed experience with a rich, engaging storyline – perhaps you’re a CIA operative during the Cuban Missile Crisis or a scientists working at Area 51 – and equipped with only your problem-solving skills, challenging to escape within an hour’s time.
Stuck? Game masters will give hints if need be as players work together to uncover clues, find necessary items and win their freedom. Online advance booking recommended; $25-30 per person.