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AAA World Article

Along for the Ride

The most highly anticipated, thrill-quenching, wow-inducing attractions debuting at theme parks around the country

By Stacy Tillilie

AAA World Article

HARLEY QUINN Spinsanity at Six Flags New England
Photo Courtesy of Six Flags New England

The posted signs tease “Top Secret,” “Keep Out!” and “Really Really Tippy Top Secret.” And the tease works. People congregate in front of the construction walls, taking selfies and trying to sneak a peek through any crease in the façade that might reveal the slightest hint of what’s being created inside. The eclipsed sight of lurching cranes and colossal steel framework, along with distant sounds of buzzing saws and droning engines, are telltale signs that something big is in the making—something big enough to include towering stacks of ginormous toy blocks scraping the sky and otherworldly mountains rising from Florida’s pancake-flat landscape.

Indeed, the anticipation of Disney World’s next best thing has been building among theme park-goers for nearly three years, but come June 30, it will finally reach a crescendo. That’s when Disney will tear down the walls and pull back the curtain on the all-new Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, based on Disney·Pixar’s Toy Story blockbuster trilogy. Part of the largest expansion in Hollywood Studio’s history, the 11-acre land will take the form of the backyard of character Andy with larger-than-life toys, making guests feel as if they’ve shrunk to the size of a doll or action figure. Highlights include Slinky Dog Dash, a family-friendly roller coaster punctuated by playful drops and scenic bridges; Alien Swirling Saucers, inspired by the playset that Andy won at Pizza Planet in the first Toy Story—complete with “The Claw” dangling above; and upgrades to Toy Story Mania!, the popular midway attraction that will now don a new carnival game box-themed entrance and a third track with 3D objects to blast. Also, over in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you can enjoy a brand-new bird show featuring characters from the Up movie.

And what about those strange mountains neighboring Toy Story Land? Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until 2019 to see beyond the walls of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Construction is currently under way on this 14-acre world that promises to be nothing short of epic, with a remote trading port in wild space where visitors find themselves immersed in the action of a battle alongside their favorite Star Wars characters. One major attraction will invite guests to pilot the Millennium Falcon, and another will welcome them onto a Star Destroyer inside a hangar bay. (The all-new land will also be connected to a Star Wars-themed luxury hotel, which is rumored to be a few years away from becoming reality.) Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is also debuting at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, where it’s slated to open in 2019 before its Florida counterpart, which is projected to follow later in the year.

But you don’t have to wait beyond this year to get in on some exciting Pixar action in the resort’s two parks. On June 23, Disney California Adventure Park will premiere Pixar Pier, bringing four Pixar-themed neighborhoods; the high-speed Incredicoaster, inspired by The Incredibles movies; and Pixar character enhancements to Mickey’s Fun Wheel. Disneyland guests also can enjoy the new Together Forever—A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular, a Pixar Fest of animated films and a Disneyland After Dark series of special themed events.

From Quests to Cars
Disney, of course, isn’t the only theme-park giant rolling out new attractions. In what seems to be a constant competition of one-upmanship with Disney, Universal Studios is setting the bar high with new attractions at both its Florida and California parks. While it may take a few years for Universal’s Super Nintendo World to come to Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood—some experts say sometime after its 2020 opening at Universal Studios Japan—2018 is already seeing head-turning changes in the parks.

Thanks to the recent acquisition of DreamWorks Animation, Universal is debuting the DreamWorks Theatre at Universal Studios Hollywood this summer. The Art Deco-style theater, complete with an old-fashioned ticket booth tended by a sleeping Pinocchio, will showcase Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest, a multisensory attraction that claims the first-ever integration of interior projection mapping, with extraordinarily detailed scenes that immerse guests in the 180-degree story action, including water and wind effects and pivoting seats, as they meet up with their favorite Kung Fu Panda characters on an adventure that entails river rapids, pirates and, of course, Kung Fu.

Florida-bound park visitors will want to make tracks to Universal Orlando Resort, where The Fast & Furious—Supercharged opened at Universal Studios Florida. Gear up for a thrill ride that takes you on a high-speed, adrenaline-pumping car chase with the cast of the Fast & Furious film franchise. You can also check out—and take photos with—the 15 authentic cars on display from the Fast & Furious films, including Dom’s Dodge Charger and Letty’s Turbo Truck. Plus, the attraction uses the Virtual Line system that provides an allotted ride return time, allowing guests more time to explore the parks. Also debuting is a new Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle projection show in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter–Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure (on select nights throughout the year). And while a date wasn’t available as of press time, expect a new nighttime lagoon show at Universal Studios Florida to replace the now-closed Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular–100 Years of Movie Memories.

From Falls to Fairies
Just up the street at SeaWorld Orlando, theme park-goers can look forward to Infinity Falls, opening this spring. This rainforest river-themed attraction, the centerpiece of a new rainforest area, takes riders in eight-person rafts through lush jungle where they’ll experience raging Class IV rapids and, after being lifted on an innovative elevator system, brave the world’s-tallest river rapid drop, down 40 feet into the rushing waters.

Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Waterpark, saw the unveiling of Ray Rush this spring. The family raft ride sends groups of up to four riders through a series of enclosed tube sections, including being launched at 33 feet per second with water jets, swirling in a 360-degree clear sphere and plunging into an open-air halfpipe designed in the shape of a manta ray—all while sharing a message of water conservation.

This past March, SeaWorld’s Aquatica in San Antonio, Texas, revealed Taumata Racer, a high-speed waterslide in which riders race downhill headfirst on foam bodysurfing mats in a series of twists, turns and descents—among them, a 55-foot drop—over the course of the 375-foot-long slide. A new Sesame Street Party Parade will run daily beginning this spring at SeaWorld San Antonio and this summer at SeaWorld San Diego. The California park will also present the Electric Eel, a multi-launch coaster—the tallest and fastest coaster in the park’s history—with impressive twists, loops and air time. Riders are propelled backward and forward, accelerating up to 60-some miles per hour in seconds, and then soar nearly 150 feet and experience an inverted “heartline” roll. Another exclusive ride perk is an upside-down view of Mission Bay.

Also in the SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment family, Busch Gardens is ringing in spring with a game-changing attraction at its park in Williamsburg, Virginia. Battle For Eire—Action VR Ride is a 360-degree virtual-reality adventure that has riders donning headgear and hopping aboard a dragon to team up with the last fairy guardian on a rescue mission to save the Magic of Ireland. And over in Tampa Bay, Florida, Busch Garden’s waterpark, Adventure Island, celebrated the March opening of Vanish Point, a drop slide replete with a 70-foot tower and two harrowing wave paths. Test your mettle by stepping into one of two skyboxes where the floor vanishes beneath you, sending you into a freefall, or plunge down a 455-foot-long slide to make a serious splash.

From Cyborgs to Cyclones
The world’s-largest regional theme park company is also going big this year. Six Flags Entertainment Company is bringing more record-breaking rides than ever to its growing lineup of theme parks from coast to coast.

Thanks to a partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products/DC Entertainment, Six Flags is introducing a slew of superheroes and supervillains to many of its parks. That includes the WONDER WOMAN Golden Lasso Coaster—the world’s first single-rail coaster and first Wonder Woman-themed roller coaster—featuring a 180-degree stall, a 90-degree drop and a zero-gravity roll, at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio. Another DC-inspired attraction, with an anticipated opening later this spring, is CYBORG Cyber Spin, a gyroscopic gondola ride that spins on three axes while whirling forward, backward and sideways up to 70 feet in the air—a first of its kind in North America—at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey. And if you like getting dizzy, find your way to New York’s Lake George area, home of The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom, another Six Flags park, where Pandemonium, a classic spinning attraction with face-off seating and dazzling lights, will deliver delightfully unpredictable lifts and tilts.

The psychotic supervillain Harley Quinn is staking her claim in Six Flags parks this year, too. HARLEY QUINN Spinsanity, an extreme pendulum ride that swings guests up to 70 miles per hour and up to 147 feet in the air, will provide guests with the feeling of weightlessness at Six Flags New England in Agawam, Massachusetts. Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington is also introducing its version of HARLEY QUINN Spinsanity, dispensing jaw-dropping g-forces along with thrilling twists and turns. At Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California, the new HARLEY QUINN Crazy Coaster, the world’s first-of-its-kind inverted looping coaster, will have riders on dueling trains experiencing head-to-head flybys at combined speeds of 70 miles per hour, culminating with the illusion that riders can high-five each other.

Want more Six Flags’ superlatives? CraZanity, the world’s-tallest pendulum ride at a record-breaking 17 stories high and reaching speeds up to 75 miles per hour, will rock guests 172 feet in the air at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California (which, beginning this past January, now operates 365 days a year). Or endure the Mardi Gras Hangover, the world’s-largest loop coaster soaring 100 feet tall, at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois. You’ll ride in face-off seating, careen through a series of 360-degree revolutions and dangle upside-down for some heart-thumping hang time. Coaster enthusiasts will also want to visit Six Flags Over Georgia, just west of Atlanta, for Twisted Cyclone. The new hybrid coaster sports a classic wooden structure with 2,400 feet of modern steel track and boasts a 75-degree initial drop, a reverse cobra roll, 3 completely upside-down inversions and 10 airtime moments.

Six Flags’ water attractions are also making waves in 2018. At Six Flags St. Louis’ Hurricane Harbor waterpark in Eureka, Missouri, guests will be treated this spring to Typhoon Twister, a hybrid zero-gravity slide complex where they’ll board four-person rafts before slipping into a 125-foot whirlpool bowl, spinning in circles, sailing down an enclosed five-story drop, being propelled up a 45-foot wave wall, and finally plunging into a pool below. Near Washington, D.C., Six Flags America’s Hurricane Harbor touts the new family-friendly Wahoo River adventure, with a zero-depth entry, waterfalls, wall sprayers, tippy water cones and a wave generator. And at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Concord (formerly Waterworld Concord), premiering May 5, in Northern California, families of all ages are sure to love the soon-to-be-opened (projected later this spring) Splashwater Island, an interactive water play area with some 8,000 square feet of fun-filled slides, geysers, jets and more. 

From Hyper Hybrids to Hair-Raising Heights
When it comes to groundbreaking attractions at regional parks in 2018, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, is back this spring season with a vengeance—that is, with Steel Vengeance, the world’s first “hyper hybrid” coaster (deemed a new category of thrill ride), wowing guests with a presence looming some 205 feet high, a 90-degree initial drop, a top speed of 74 miles per hour, four inversions and a record-breaking 27.2 seconds of airtime. The Western-themed attraction shatters 10 world coaster records and boosts the park’s record-breaking status to a total of 5 laurels, including the most roller coaster track at one amusement park (11.4 miles) and the most rides at one amusement park (71).

Steel Vengeance, Cedar Point
Video Courtesy of Cedar Point

Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, has also hit pay dirt with the $26 million Time Traveler, the world’s-fastest, -steepest and -tallest complete-circuit spinning roller coaster, which opened on March 14. This revolutionary coaster—exclusively designed and engineered for mountainous terrain—boasts a height that stretches 100 feet in the air; an out-of-the-station 10-story, 90-degree vertical drop down an Ozarks mountainside; and a top speed of 50.3 miles per hour. It also claims bragging rights as the first and only such coaster with three inversions: a dive loop, vertical loop and zero-gravity roll; a vertical loop rising 95 feet; and a double launch that goes from zero to 47 miles per hour in three seconds and 30 to 45 in three-and-a-half seconds.

Roller Coaster
Silver Dollar City's Time Traveler
Photo Courtesy of Silver Dollar City

While you’re exploring the dizzying array of amazing new attractions, rest assured knowing that the creative and technical teams at your favorite theme parks are busy dreaming up even bigger and better ways to entertain you—and outdo the competition—next year. If you happen to catch a glimpse of anything through the seams of those construction walls, drop us line. We’ll be sure to share the news. 


This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of AAA World.

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