ICON Park (formerly I-Drive 360)
By James | Last updated August 23, 2023
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ICON Park is a new entertainment complex, near the Orange County Convention Center on International Drive in Orlando.
It has been built on the site of the former Mercado retail and restaurant complex, Gooding’s Plaza and Wyndham Orlando Resort. It officially opened to the public on May 4, 2015 but was preceded by a preview weekend.
The new project was first announced in early 2011 to include several Merlin attractions; namely a Madame Tussauds waxworks museum, a Sea Life aquarium and the Orlando Eye (now renamed The Wheel at Icon Park); a 400 foot high rotating observation wheel. The overall format is similar in layout to their Merlin counterparts elsewhere.
As well as the main attractions, ICON Park is also home to a motion-simulator ride, a bowling alley, a range of shops and restaurants and the existing Sleuth’s Dinner Theater. A couple of new themed hotels are also on the cards plus renovation/expansion of the existing 1,054 room Wyndham Orlando Resort.
There is a free seven-storey parking garage onsite with valet parking available. For those also planning a visit to Legoland Florida, the Legoland shuttle bus leaves from right outside.
The centrepiece of ICON Park are the three main attractions housed in a single building with a small food court:
- The Wheel at Icon Park Orlando (formerly called the Orlando Eye) – a 400 foot high observation wheel, similar to The Coca-Cola London Eye, offering panoramic views over the area
- Madame Tussauds Orlando – the famous waxworks museum where you can get up close to a host of celebrities, sports people, politicians, film and music stars
- Orlando Sea Life Aquarium – a state of the art aquarium including a 360 degree underwater ocean tunnel
A recent addition to the main building is the 7D Dark Ride Adventure (see below).
As well as the centrepiece attractions operated by Merlin, there are a couple of other attractions making up ICON Park including:
- Museum of Illusions Orlando — a series of illusions you trick your senses
- Kings Bowl Orlando — 22 lane ten-pin bowling alley plus billiards, several bars and a restaurant
The Museum of Illusions Orlando has taken over the building that used to house Skeletons: Museum of Osteology; a walk-through attraction featuring over 500 skeletons including around eight human skeletons. Some of the exhibits are interactive and some set in dioramas. Skeletons vacated the building in 2020 and is now a touring exhibition.
There are also a large number of restaurants and bars including Buffalo Wild Wings, Yard House, Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Cowgirls Rockbar, Seafood Republic, Dick’s Last Resort, Ben & Jerry’s, Pretzelmaker, Café de Paris, Tin Roof, Bar Jour, Sugar Factory, Paramount Fine Foods and Toca Boca Orlando.
Two more restaurants and a food court; the Ox Grill, Mikado and the Wheelhouse Market opened in 2019.
Note development is ongoing and not everything is open yet, but construction has started on the 300 foot tall Orlando Slingshot and the 400 foot tall Orlando Gyro Drop Tower. Both were originally expected to open in the Spring of 2020.
The new 425 foot Starflyer swing ride has already opened next door at Vue 360.
7D Dark Ride Adventure
In August 2016, an eight seater 4D full-motion simulator was installed in the centre of the I-Drive 360 main building alongside the Orlando Eye, called 7D Dark Ride Adventure. The ride is built by Triotech and operated by Arcade City who also run a separate amusement arcade.
Guests can choose one of four different films and you compete against the other riders by shooting a laser gun at various characters like aliens, robots or zombies. You wear 3D glasses and the special effects include lighting, sound and wind.
Minimum ride height is 40 inches and you can request that the seat motion be disabled during the ride.
Kings Bowl Orlando
One of the key entertainment venues is a 28,000 square foot Kings Bowl Orlando featuring 22 ten-pin bowling lanes, full sized billiard tables, outdoor Bocce ball court, full service restaurant, 2 premium bars serving speciality cocktails and beers, customisable private function space, a dance floor, 70 HD big screen TVs and live DJs playing classic rock. Kings Bowl opened in April 2104.
Both the Titanic Exhibit and Bodies Exhibit were expected to relocate to the site but this did not happen and the Titanic Exhibit moved to another location on International Drive.
History of ICON Park
Development time for I-Drive 360 as it was formerly known was originally reckoned to be less than two years from start to finish. However delays pushed it back to late 2014 and in April 2014 the opening date was pushed back further to the Spring of 2015. Some delays were caused by disagreements regarding zoning, signage and murals.
Originally billed as I-Walk Orlando, the developers had to change the name to I-Drive Live following legal objections from Universal Orlando because Universal felt that the name I-Walk was too close to their own entertainment complex Universal CityWalk and would confuse visitors into thinking I-Walk was part of the Universal Orlando resort. In December 2013, the name was changed again to The Orlando Eye, the name of one of the main attractions before being renamed I-Drive 360, Icon Orlando 360 and then finally ICON Park.
Today ICON Park is managed by IDL Parent LLC (related by Unicorp National Development) and they also own The Wheel. Merlin continue to operate both Madame Tussauds Orlando and the Orlando Sea Life Aquarium.
History of the Mercado Shopping Complex
The Mercado Shopping Complex originally opened in the 1990s and at its peak featured around 75 shops, restaurants, dinner shows, live entertainment and attractions including the Titanic Experience, The Guinness World Records Experience and the Hard Rock Vault. During the period 2005 to 2007 it gradually fell into disrepair as more and more of the units closed.
It was bought by Unicorp National Development who initially planned a large 2,100 room condo hotel and then another development to be called The Square but neither ever came to fruition and the site was flattened and had stood empty for five years.
With the purchase of the adjoining Gooding’s Plaza and Wyndham Orlando Resort, Unicorp National Development and Merlin Entertains Group (owners of Legoland Florida) proposed the I-Walk Orlando complex in 2011.