Epic year of expansions on the way to Universal Orlando

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On Thursday, December 12, 2013, I had the opportunity to attend Universal Orlando's CityWalk announcement, where they laid out some of the historic expansion that the Resort with undergo in 2014!

The Universal Orlando Resort will be brimming with activity as the destination's largest hotel, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, and the first phase of the revitalization of Universal CityWalk will all welcome their first guests by June of 2014.

I have to say that when the logo for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley popped up at Thursday's presentation I got goosebumps! As a huge Harry Potter fan, I am beyond excited. During our update we got a peek a the Hogwarts Express that will take guests from the Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley Area, making the two Universal Orlando Resorts connected by one story. There will be more information coming soon about how that will work ticketing wise when the two parks are connected, but I can't wait to take my seat on the train! Details were also given about the Leaky Cauldron Restaurant (and the ceiling) that will be on the bustling streets hidden in London. It looks amazing and I can't wait to hear more about this huge expansion! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley is set to open in 2014.

» IMAGE GALLERY: photos and artist rendererings from the event

Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort will have 900 Rooms and 900 Family Suites at opening with a fun retro vibe of iconic beach resorts in the 1950's and 1960's. Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort will be more of a 'value' resort, but it will have several large pools for each section of the resort, dining options, high-energy bowling alleys, and more at a manageable walking distance to the parks. Considering all of the amenities, dining and recreation options, and proximity to the Theme parks, Universal's Cabana Bay seems to be more of a value than a 'value' when it comes to resort choices for Universal Orlando! Guests can book stays at special preview rates for dates starting March 31, 2014 here.

Visitors to Universal CityWalk will have already noticed that there is a lot of construction going on, and Universal Orlando announced Thursday that it will open eight new venues across CityWalk throughout 2014 as part of a bold growth strategy designed to complement the entertainment complex's already popular collection of national brands.

The expansion comes after a nationwide search for culinary concepts that include a mix of established national brands, up-and-coming concepts and Universal's own creations. The new venues will share an overall theme that includes inviting common areas, al fresco dining, open kitchens and more.

"We want Universal CityWalk to grow along with the rest of our destination," said Ric Florell, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Resort Revenue Operations at Universal Orlando. "We are bringing our guests an amazing new collection of experiences that will be world-class and offer something for everyone."

With such a large variety of venues coming to Universal Orlando CityWalk, there is sure to be a dining experience for everyone, and here is a look at the eight venues opening by June 2014!

The Cowfish and The Hot Dog Hall of Fame that will be coming to Universal CityWalk are fun and quirky!

The Cowfish is a mix of sushi and burgers in a fun and funky environment with unique touches of technology to enhance your visit. My favorite touch they described was how there will be tablets in the Sushi Bar for people to surf, play games, and plan their visit to the Universal Orlando Resort as they sit under Pop Art. The result of an eclectic menu is ‘Burgushi’ which include sushi rolls created using burger components and sandwiches created using sushi elements.

The Hot Dog Hall of Fame boasts signature Hot Dogs from around the country in one place that will feature a Mustard Bar with custom created mustards from a partnership from the National Mustard Museum. Take a seat in the bleachers under a baseball bats and enjoy a loaded Chicago dog with all the toppings, a perfectly charred Boston brat, a monster LA dog, and more. If you love Hot Dogs, how can you not be excited about this restaurant coming to Universal Orlando CityWalk?

Amid Bars and themed celebrity restaurants, I am looking forward to how these venues will bring a sense of fun and whimsy to Universal Orlando CityWalk.

While I would have loved to see all original offerings at the Universal Orlando CityWalk announcement, I have to say that choosing to expand the Starbucks presence and adding Menchies and Cold Stone Creamery to CityWalk make more sense and go with the ‘best in class’ mind-set that is going into the renovation of Universal Orlando’s CityWalk.

Starbucks moving from the upper level of Universal Orlando City to a larger location downstairs that will be filled with seating and innovative touches. If you are like my family and like to be there are park opening, this is great because it is yet another option for a quick and easy breakfast on the way in for the day.

Menchies and Cold Stone Creamery are solid yogurt and ice cream places that are family favorites, which is important when you have a little (or big) kid who needs a treat after a long day in the theme parks!!!

And now we come to the unique restaurants that are coming to Universal Orlando CityWalk!

Antojitos is a going to be more of a culinary journey than passive restaurant experience. The themed facade of Antojitos is where you start your trip to cantinas, street carts, and markets of Mexico for tapas-style dining with authentic Mexican food. There will be guacamole made freshly at your table where the fresh ingredients are used to make Mexican street fare in an authentic environment.

The Red Oven is open now, and amid a modern Italian atmosphere you can find a huge variety of brick oven pizzas and salads. Again, fresh ingredients are the star in this open air, high end pizza parlor. I especially love the red delivery Vespa parked right outside!

The Bread Box will feature hand made breads and sandwiches with fresh ingredients to capture the feel of the Deli of your childhood or movies!

Pranzo will feature modern Italian foods and hand made pastas. Guests will be able to watch as the culinary team handcrafts your pasta from scratch to create fresh takes on classic dishes in a clean, contemporary dining atmosphere.

The common thread between the variety of restaurants is that there will be a focus on using only fresh ingredients, that are hand-made, and high in quality.

I always find myself wanting more of a fresh feel to my meal, so beyond beautiful and themed restaurants I am excited to find these kinds of foods offered in a Theme Park Area.

Another part of the Universal Orlando CityWalk revitalization is that the Universal Studios Store will be getting a facelift. The design will have more interactive touches and fresh design elements. It is a great place to catch those souvenirs that you said you would go back to pick up that you might have forgotten.

With all these locations opening as the first phase of a Universal Orlando CityWalk revitalization by June, 2014 is truly going to be an epic year for the Universal Orlando Resort!