2011 preview: Southern California theme parks prepare for a summer of new rides and shows

2011 preview: Southern California theme parks prepare for a summer of new rides and shows

There's a lot more than pixie dust swirling through the air at the


resort as construction crews, excavators and towering cranes work on several new theme-park rides set to debut this summer and beyond.

The tandem


theme parks haven't seen this much construction since Disney California Adventure opened in 2001 next door to Disneyland.

The headliner for 2011 is the $100-million

, opening at

on June 3. The elaborate dark ride will take visitors on a family-friendly musical underwater journey based on

"The Little Mermaid"

animated movie.

Nearby, the park will also reopen a kiddie coaster with a new

theme at the same time.

California Adventure visitors should be forewarned the construction dust won't settle at the Anaheim theme park until 2012, when the 12-acre

and the

are completed.

Across the way at

, the long-anticipated reboot of the classic

motion-simulator attraction will also open on June 3, with riders experiencing 54 possible story lines resulting in a different beginning, middle and end for every journey.

On May 27, the music-centric

parade debuts on Disneyland's Main Street USA with dancers, drummers and two dozen Disney characters.

Southern California's other theme parks plan a series of new attractions for 2011 to counter Disney's continuing $1.1-billion expansion project.

will reclaim the "Roller Coaster Capital of the World" title on

Memorial Day

weekend with the addition of a first-of-its-kind ride in the U.S. The

vertical coaster will feature suspended trains that rock back and forth on the straightaways and rotate head over heels as the cars plunge over free-fall drops.



amusement park reopened the revamped

shuttle coaster in March with new trains that rocket riders backward at 100 mph.

The 301-foot-tall

promises to change

skyline when the $5-million spinning swing ride debuts at the

Buena Park

theme park in late June or early July. WindSeeker will carry 64 riders in twin-seat gondolas to the top of the tower, where the ride’s metal arms will extend out at a 45-degree angle and spin for one minute at 30 mph.

Down in

San Diego County

, the new

renders epic battles, iconic cityscapes and massive machines in an intimate 1:20 scale at

Legoland California

. The new Star Wars attraction, which opened in March at the


kiddie park, utilizes 1.5 million


bricks to build a visual timeline stretching from the first film in the series to the latest television cartoons based on the space fantasy.

On Memorial Day weekend,

SeaWorld San Diego

will launch a new killer-whale show after the death of an animal trainer in 2010 at its sister park in Orlando, Fla., forced a complete reworking of the marine park's signature attraction. The conservation-themed

show will feature fountains, underwater imagery and orcas performing in unison against a new backdrop of giant LCD screens.

The most jaw-dropping new ride of 2011 belongs to San Diego's

Belmont Park

. The

, which opened in January, simulates a looping roller-coaster experience over an undulating Himalayan-style track. Sitting two abreast in roller-coaster-style seats, riders control the forward and backward direction of a spinning car as it rotates around a circular course. The easily nauseated need not apply.

Want to see what's happening at theme parks across the country? Check out these photo galleries: