From a speedway that offers your choice of luxury supercars to a 400ft simulated freefall that will have your stomach in knots, Orlando’s new attractions do not disappoint.

With record attendance years in 2010 and 2011, Orlando's theme parks have been reinvesting their cash in new attractions. From Walt Disney World to Universal Studios to Sea World, visitors arriving to Florida this summer and autumn will not be disappointed.

Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World, a complex of five theme parks, two water parks and several themed resorts, is in the middle of a landmark development in the Magic Kingdom, the complex’s flagship park. After years of bumping up the adrenaline for tweens and teens with roller coasters and high-tech rides, Disney is now focusing on the littlest tykes by doubling the size of Fantasyland, the section of the park reserved for the youngest Disney fans. In the largest expansion since the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Fantasyland will now contain two areas, Fantasyland Forest and Storybook Circus.

Fantasyland Forest, which will open in phases starting late 2012, puts the spotlight on several of the Disney princess characters, including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Rapunzel, Tiana and Ariel. The adjacent Storybook Circus, which began opening new attractions in March, also includes an update for one of the park’s most beloved rides, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, inspired by the title character from the animated classic. To battle the attraction’s infamously long lines, Disney is adding a second flying pachyderm track to the original in early July.

Other major additions to Fantasyland are scheduled to open in time for the 2012 holiday season, and new attractions will continue rolling out through 2014. The biggest of these is Under the Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid, where riders sit in clamshell-shaped cars while an animatronic Ariel, her pals Scuttle and Sebastian and the evil Ursula retell of the story of the mermaid princess and her impetuous pursuit of a human prince. Also scheduled for the holidays is Enchanted Tales with Belle, based on the film Beauty and the Beast. A new restaurant, Be Our Guest, takes its name from one of the film’s signature songs, and its interior will recreate the Great Hall in Beast’s castle.

Elsewhere in the five-park resort, Disney is balancing out its emphasis on the younger set with improvements to some of the more adult rides. The Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster, which was closed in January, reopened in late May with big improvements in the speed of the ride, more voluminous geyser eruptions and wider lanes for the queue.

Test Track, the famously popular race car attraction at Epcot, another one of Walt Disney World’s theme parks, was also closed this spring and is scheduled to reopen in early autumn. Disney’s Imagineers (the company’s engineering team) were still working on the ride at press time, but the update will allow visitors to become part of the design team and choose various characteristics for their own cars. Afterwards, they will board the cars — newly programmed with the features they chose — and take the vehicles out on the Test Track where immersive sound, motion and visual effects create the experience of actually testing the vehicle they designed.

In the meantime, if you have a need for speed, the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Walt Disney World’s speedway has a brand new race course and is offering six laps in your choice of supercar, including a Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo, Porsche 997S or Audi A8. You can blast around the new track behind the wheel, or opt to ride with a professional driver if driving a car that costs more than the average American house makes you nervous.

In September, Disney announced that Avatar Land, a joint venture with filmmaker James Cameron, will be a new section in Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom theme park. Construction on the area, which reportedly cost a half-billion dollars and will contain experiences themed to the director’s blockbuster 3D movie and its two planned sequels, is set to begin in 2013.

In May, Walt Disney World also added a new hotel, the Art of Animation Resort. Rooms and suites feature decor from Finding Nemo and Cars (open now), the Lion King (opening 10 August) and the Little Mermaid (opening 15 September).

Universal Studios
Over at Universal Studios's Islands of Adventure theme park, located a mere 15 miles away from Walt Disney World, the vaunted Spider Man ride has been completely overhauled with new film and sound effects. There is a simulated 400ft freefall that will have your lunch attempting to break free of your digestive tract, and the ride’s 3D film projections have all been upgraded to full 4K resolution – defined as more than three times the resolution of consumer high-definition video. Spider Man creator Stan Lee even makes a cameo appearance.

In addition to the remake of Spider Man, Universal Studios is scheduled to open a new attraction in July based on the hit animated film Despicable Me.  In the ride, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, the movie’s villan John Gru has relocated his evil empire to Universal Studios Orlando and the audience, who all get turned into members of Gru’s crew of little yellow minions, are taken on a 3D ride through the super villain’s laboratory.

SeaWorld, a theme park/aquarium, does not usually leap to mind as an innovator in presentation technologies the way Disney and Universal do, but the new TurtleTrek show belongs in the top rank of Orlando’s immersive attractions. Before the show, visitors walk through two large water habitats ; the first is home to hundreds of freshwater fish and manatees, while the second showcases saltwater fish and sea turtles. Many of the manatees and sea turtles were rescued from the wild by SeaWorld staff. Then the main event is a 3D, 360-degree domed theatre, reportedly the first of its kind in the US, and a film that tracks sea turtles as they make their epic journey to nest on ocean beaches. The underwater 3D footage feels very realistic. The film ends with a call to action, asking viewers to help conserve turtles and their habitat.

Discovery Cove, SeaWorld’s water resort, still has its big lagoon where visitors can swim with dolphins and relax on an expansive beach. It also added a Freshwater Oasis section that is blanketed by a rainforest canopy and brings people face to face with exotic wildlife. Visitors wade or swim along water-filled trails while marmoset monkeys leap from branch to branch in the canopy above and small Asian otters play in the shallows.

Next spring, SeaWorld is also scheduled to open Antarctica — Empire of the Penguin. Details are still being held close to their chest, but many say that the ride will take visitors into — and actually among — the park’s flourishing colony of penguins. While it is not clear how shorts-wearing refugees from Orlando’s infamous summer temperatures are going to interact with penguins living in a habitat whose temperature hovers near freezing, the ride is being called the first of its kind for any zoo or park.