California's major amusement and theme parks drew more than 40 million visitors in 2007. Those numbers are expected to climb this year with more than $150 million in rides, attractions, parades and shows debuting at California parks this summer.
As The Times' theme-park blogger ( www.latimes.com/funland), I've test driven many of the new thrills and adventures in store for 2008. Here's a park-by-park preview:
This is the season of Hollywood synergy as the park's grand old Adventureland district takes on the khaki-colored charm of Indiana Jones, who (in case you hadn't noticed) is back in the theaters in a big way.
That means a new live-action show at the Oasis theater. The 20-minute show "Indiana Jones and the Stone Tiger" is staged six times a day; there's a bit of Saturday-matinee menace to the show, but if your kid can handle a ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean, he or she should be fine.
After the show, Indy races around the rooftops of Adventureland a bit and there's a few other staged chases. You can also get a free adventure map for youngsters to search for clues that unlock some Internet goodies when they get home.
DISNEY'S CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE (ANAHEIM)
The unloved 8-year-old sibling of neighboring Disneyland is about to go through a massive growth spurt. And it's not going to be pretty until about 2012.
Lots of people bash Anaheim's "second gate," but I hold the park dear. I've long held out hope that, despite its rough beginnings (shortly before 9/11), California Adventure might someday realize its true potential. The coming tween years stoke that promise.
A $1.1-billion makeover will kick into full gear after this summer, and once the dust settles you probably won't recognize the place. Plans call for a World of Color water show in 2009-2010 (think the Bellagio water show on steroids), a $100-million "Little Mermaid" indoor "dark ride" in 2010-2011 and a new Cars Land section of the park in 2011-2012 (including a $200-million Radiator Springs Racers ride), plus a 1920s Los Angeles-themed face-lift for the main entrance.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
There's plenty in store for 2008 before California Adventure turns into a massive construction site. Chief among the park's new offerings this summer: the $80-million Toy Story Mania dark ride opening June 17. Disney Imagineers offered me a "play test" of the ride through a 3D video game, and all I can say is prepare to be blown away (and to wait in a really long line).
Also on tap at California Adventure: the water-themed Pixar Play Parade (which I didn't like -- much too wet for my taste) and an all-new Playhouse Disney puppet show (perfect for the preschool set and their stroller-pushing moms).
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD (UNIVERSAL CITY)
The $40-million Simpsons Ride, which opened last week at the movie and television theme park, has amusement-park junkies and Simpsons' fanatics salivating.
The simulator ride, which replaced the Back to the Future attraction, takes visitors on a careening journey through the low-budget Krustyland theme park. Played out on an 80-foot-tall domed screen, the bizarre storyline retains all the dysfunctional wackiness of the animated television show.
The line, which will be long, should prove as entertaining as the ride itself -- with dozens of Simpsons characters manning Krustyland midway game booths throughout the queue.
KNOTT'S BERRY FARM (BUENA PARK)