Want the lowdown on the latest developments at theme parks around the world? Travel Weekly talks to those who were among the first to trial new rides and attractions

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Walt Disney World Resort

Art of Animation

Maria Burnham, Funway Holidays reservations sales agent, visited the new Disney Art of Animation resort in Orlando in June. The resort has 1,120 family suites, and 864 rooms scheduled to open in September. There are three pools, four courtyards, and an animation-themed food court.

This hotel is pure, in-your-face Disney – I loved it. From the minute you walk into the lobby it lives up to its name – there are sketches all over the walls. It really brings you back to when Disney was first created, with the guys drawing the characters. As you get further into the resort the sketches get bigger and create massive pictures.

There are different scenes from Finding Nemo, Cars, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, and the rooms are movie themed too.The Finding Nemo Family Suite really impressed me. The whole room makes you feel as if you’re in the movie, with themed furniture. They have a really clever way of fitting more people into the suites – a bed folds down from the dining room wall.

It’s a very low-rise, accessible resort, and quite different to some of the other Disney properties. Art of Animation would be brilliant for families and young couples, but it might be a bit too much for older couples, who I’d send to Animal Kingdom instead.

Book it: Funway Holidays offers seven nights in a Lion King Family Suite at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort from £3,455 for a family of four, including flights with Virgin Atlantic departing October 10.


Seaworld & Discovery Cove

Turtletrek & Freshwater Oasis

Graham Bishop, Virgin Holidays Oxford Street store manager, visited Orlando in July and experienced new attractions TurtleTrek at SeaWorld and Freshwater Oasis at Discovery Cove.

TurtleTrek is an attraction, but it’s more than that – there’s an underlying message too. Seeing through the eyes of a turtle is really enjoyable but it highlights conservation issues too.

It begins with a talk about the life of turtles and how their environment is being affected. You can see the turtles swimming around you through the glass so kids won’t get bored. Then you go into the 360-degree 3D auditorium. From the hatching of the egg, you take a journey through the life of a turtle, through its eyes. It really ?brings everything to life.

Freshwater Oasis is a first step for Discovery Cove in broadening the scope of what it offers. The main attraction is the dolphin swim, but Freshwater Oasis is a nice relaxing thing to do after that. You can swim around and come face to face with the creatures – I’d never seen otters so close up before. The monkey enclosure is in the middle, so you can see them too, and the bar is just outside, so you can pop out, get a drink and take it back in to a shallow seating area and chill out.

Book it: Virgin Holidays offers seven nights at the Rosen Inn in Orlando including flights and ?car hire from £629 for departures between November 13-21. A one-day Discovery Cove Ultimate Ticket including a dolphin swim and 14 days’ admission to SeaWorld Orlando costs £179.


Universal Studios Hollywood


Do Something Different’s Keeley Webb visited Transformers: The Ride – 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood. Based on the iconic brand from Hasbro, the ride propels guests along 2,000ft of track, surrounded by 14 giant screens.

As a huge Transformers fan, the opportunity to get up close and personal with Optimus Prime and Bumble Bee was totally amazing, and this ride was without doubt the highlight of my trip.

Universal Studios Hollywood has turned the films into reality with this utterly immersive 3D ride. Transformers fan or not, everyone will love this and it’s definitely one I could take my granddad on. The great thing is you don’t have to be familiar with the film or the characters to feel part of the ride.

The queue is where the adventure starts. You are briefed by General Morshower and the other characters throughout on large screens – they collectively explain how the Decepticons have come to earth in search of the AllSpark.

Then we jump into an Evac vehicle, and the special effects really begin to come alive, whizzing through the streets, being thrown across cities and crashing through offices, fighting the Decepticons with the help of Optimus Prime. This ride actually surpasses 3D films, not only do you feel the g-force but also wind and water, making this ride breathtaking. It’s something you can’t get from the cinema or your living room.

I can’t wait to see if Transformers comes to Orlando ?so more people get to experience this thrill! Before riding this, I thought Spider-Man was ground-breaking, but Transformers has taken 3D to another level and made it more real than ever.

Book it: Do Something Different offers a second day free on one-day tickets to Universal Studios Hollywood during 2012, for £49 per adult and £44 per child.


Disneyland Paris


Co-operative Travel branch manager and regional Disney specialist Russell Mears visited Disneyland Paris in April and saw the new Dreams show.

I’ve been to Disneyland Paris five times, but now the 20th anniversary celebrations are underway it’s the best it has ever been.

The Dreams show is a big part of this. Except for seasonal activities such as fireworks on bonfire night, Paris hasn’t really had a big evening entertainment show – it was always what Florida had that Paris lacked.

I went on the Disneyland Paris Ambassadors trip after winning a place through a competition in Travel Weekly.

One of the great things about the Dreams show is that it’s visible all over the park. They’ve extended the castle moat and there are projections on the water, lasers and fireworks – you’d get a great view from anywhere on Main Street and even the smallest and tallest visitors will be able to see.

It’s a fantastic mix of everything. Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are the main players, but you have all the current characters too. Kids and adults will love it – all the girls in our group were obsessed with Tangled and there’s a beautiful lantern release when they play the song from the film.

Dreams is definitely what Paris needed and if clients have been in the past it’s a great way to entice them back. I’m trying to go back at Christmas because I know my two-year-old, Cohen, will love it.

Book it: A two-night package staying on a B&B basis at Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe including return travel with Eurostar, and the three-day hopper ticket for Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studio Park, starts from £860 for a family of four with two adults and two children aged four to six.


Universal Studios Orlando

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Waltham Abbey Travel’s Chloe Sturrock went to Orlando for the first time in June with Funway Holidays and experienced the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride before it officially opened.

Minion Mayhem is fantastic. I’ve seen the film, but even if you hadn’t, while you wait in the queue you’re surrounded by screens giving the lowdown on the Despicable Me plot.

The idea is that you are enrolling to become a minion. You’re called through in large groups to Gru’s living room to be recruited, and at this point even the adults really start feeling like children again. There are alarms and flashing lights, and you move into the main ride where you are trained to be a minion.

The combination of being thrown around in your seat and the amazing 3D graphics on the huge screens really make you feel as if you’re in the film. At the end you’re officially enrolled as a minion, and even though the ray that has been used to ‘shrink’ you is reversed and you’re turned back to a human, in your head you still feel like a minion.

As you walk out you pass through a minion party, and on our visit all the kids were going crazy dancing away with them.I’ve no idea how they make the 3D effects feel so real, but they are just amazing. This ride is one that appeals to all ages – it’s perfect for kids, but fun for adults too.

Book it: Funway Holidays offers seven nights at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, return flights with Virgin Atlantic and a three-park Bonus Ticket from £3,139 for a family of four in January 2013.


Warner Bros Studio Tour

Harry Potter

Travel Weekly’s Susie Toogood visited The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros Studio Tour London in Leavesden.

It is every Harry Potter fan’s dream to step into the world of Hogwarts, and now you can. As the doors to Hogwarts castle creak open, visitors are greeted by the astounding Great Hall set.

A tour guide fills visitors in on history of the set, and children can get a stamp in the ‘Passports’ that are given to them at the beginning of the tour.

The self-guided tour leads Harry Potter fans around the movie sets, stopping at the common room, the boys’ dormitory, Hagrid’s hut and Dumbledore’s office, and there are props and sets from Professor Snape’s potion class and the Weasleys’ burrow house too.

Out to the backlot and impressive sets of Privet Drive and Hogwarts Bridge tower over visitors, then there’s a great photo opportunity with the flying car.

Diagon Alley is next, with cobbled paving and topsy-turvy buildings. The rest of the tour shows guests the make-up and special effects involved in all of the films, and includes a stop at the magical model of Hogwarts, which was digitally enhanced to create the castle.

The tour is best suited to children ?aged eight and over. A gift shop greets visitors at the end, offering a selection ?of magic wands, cloaks and capes. The tour is as magical as the films and is worth a visit.

Book it: Superbreak offers entry to the Harry Potter Studio Tour for a family of four and one night’s B&B at the three-star Jurys Inn Watford with two adults and two kids sharing one room for £178.


Paultons Family Theme Park


Travel Weekly’s Juliet Dennis went to Hampshire to test out Paultons Family Theme Park’s latest ride, Magma, which opened in March.

Paultons Family Theme Park’s volcano-themed ride Magma is all about the shock factor. One minute I was perching 25 metres high in the sky admiring the view, palms sweating with anticipation. The next, I was wondering where my stomach was and screaming at the top of my voice as 10 tons of steel twisted and dropped us towards the mountain base.

To one of side of me was my friend Jane and to the other, a seven-year-old boy, not a scream between them but ?both were grinning from ear-to-ear.

Another plunge and another involuntary scream from yours truly. This was fun. Not gut-wrenching or sick-inducing, but adrenalin-filled, old-fashioned fun.

I could even wave down at my two-year-old twins watching with a mixture of delight and amazement and still enjoy the thrill of each drop and twist.

Magma reminds me of my favourite theme park ride: Disney’s The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. While Magma is geared for anyone from the age of five – hence a tamer version of the truly scary tower – the pure thrill of dropping at speed is the same. And the views of the park and its New Forest surrounds are impressive, too.

For clients with families of different ages, Paultons is ideal. Magma will appeal to older children, while next to it are mini trampolines and rides for younger children, and only a stone’s throw away is Peppa Pig World, which, put simply, is a dream come true for any toddler.

Book it: Juliet and her family stayed at the four-star Marriot Meon Valley Hotel, Southampton. Holiday Extras offers a family room with a two-day ticket from October 30 for £215. The hotel is 18 miles from the park.