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PREVIEW

New year brings new theme park options

Dewayne Bevil on Attractions

Theme Park Ranger

January 5, 2012

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Big deals are coming to Central Florida's theme parks and attractions. In the coming years, we'll be able to visit an "Avatar"-based land within Disney's Animal Kingdom, see even more of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter somewhere at Universal Orlando and go stone-cold with SeaWorld Orlando's Antarctica area.

But let's think sooner rather than later and explore events of our immediate future.

Tech time

What: Otronicon

Where: Orlando Science Center, 777 E. Princeton St., Orlando

When to go: Jan 13-16

What to know: It's a high-tech expo that provides hands-on experience with new technologies, some of which were developed in Central Florida. Uses from Disney World rides to military are explored. And just for grins, folks can get on stage for Rock Band Experience.

What it costs: Included in regular admission — $17 general, $12 ages 3-11

More info: Otronion.org or 407-514-2000

What else: The science center will host "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination," beginning Oct. 13.

A Pirate's life

What: "Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente"

Where: Orange County Regional History Center, 65 E. Central Blvd., Orlando

When to go: Jan. 21-March 18

What to know: This bilingual exhibit uses rare photographs, statistics, career highlights and interviews to explore the life of Pittsburgh Pirates star and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash in 1972.

What it costs: Included in regular admission — $9 general, $6 ages 5-12

More info: TheHistoryCenter.org or 407-836-8500

What else: "Peanuts … Naturally," which explores cartoonist Charles Schulz's take on the environment, comes to the science center Sept. 28.

Kid stuff

What: Just for Kids festival

Where: SeaWorld Orlando, off BeachLine Expressway, southwest of Orlando.

When to go: Four consecutive Saturdays, beginning Jan. 14

What to know: SeaWorld introduces a kid-centric concert series, featuring groups such as LazyTown and the Doodlebops. Tickets will be distributed at 9 a.m. each day for shows at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Nautilus Theater. Elsewhere: "Elmo and Abby's Treasure Hunt" stage show and Shamu's Party Zone.

What it costs: Included in park admission — a one-day pass is $81.99 general, $73.99 ages 3-9

More info: SeaWorldOrlando.com or 407-351-3600

What else: More adult fare is on the way with the annual Bands, Brew & BBQ events, beginning Feb. 11 with a concert by Foreigner.

Skate of the union

What: Iceploration

Where: Busch Gardens, 40th Street and Busch Boulevard, Tampa

When to go: Its debut is Feb. 2.

What to know: The 30-minute show will use figure skaters, puppetry and live animals to travel the world, including stops at the Great Barrier Reef, Amazon rain forest and Antarctica — all in the confines of the park's Moroccan Palace Theater.

More info: BuschGardens.com or 813-987-5082

What else: Busch Gardens' Real Music Concert Series begins Jan. 18 with the Terry Myers Orchestra and the Swing Sisters. (Also on the list: Tony Orlando, the Osmond Brothers.)

New Orleans East

What: Mardi Gras

Where: Universal Studios, Kirkman Road and Interstate 4, Orlando

When to go: Select dates, beginning Feb. 11

What to know: The annual concert series — plus parade and bead mania — returns. The musical lineup has not been revealed, with the exception of Kelly Clarkson, who will appear on the Music Plaza stage on Feb. 18.

More info: UniversalOrlando.com or 407-363-8000

What else: The Despicable Me ride is scheduled to open sometime this year.

Overtime

What: One More Disney Day

Where: Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, off Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando

When to go: From 6 a.m. Feb. 29 to 6 a.m. March 1

What to know: Disney plays off the "extra" day we get in leap years by leaving the Magic Kingdom open for 24 consecutive hours for the first time.

More info: DisneyWorld.com or 407-824-4321

What else: Look for the first segment of the Fantasyland expansion to open to the public early this year.

Also on the way

Other attractions set for 2012 but without a firm opening date include:

•Turtle Trek, a 3-D movie experience, will open in "early" spring at SeaWorld Orlando, officials say, and its sister park Discovery Cove will introduce its Freshwater Oasis attraction later in spring.

An additional-ticket water park is set for Legoland Florida by summer.

•Disney World has not announced an exact start date for its Sorcerers in the Magic Kingdom, an interactive game that involves guests finding and defeating villains.

•Construction continues on Fantasyland, and it will run into 2013. Eventually, we'll see Under the Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid dark ride, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster and the Be Our Guest Restaurant.