The long list of new attractions includes the rock 'n' roll-themed Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; the Nickelodeon-themed park at Minnesota's Mall of America; Toy Story Mania! at Disney; The Simpsons at Universal; and enough new thrill rides to literally make your head spin.
The coasters include Behemoth, Canada' s longest, fastest and tallest coaster, opening at Canada's Wonderland near Toronto; Fahrenheit at Hersheypark in Pennsylvania, and The Dark Knight Coaster at Six Flags in New Jersey and near Chicago, based on the upcoming Batman movie "The Dark Knight." There are also new Tony Hawk-themed rides opening at several Six Flags, a water ride at Dollywood where you shoot giant soakers at other riders and interactive targets, and new children's areas at SeaWorld, Cedar Point and other parks.
"There are new thrills and exciting family adventures from coast to coast at America's theme parks this summer," said David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. "Everything from thrilling roller coasters to action-packed dark rides to whimsical children's areas and a number of new water park attractions. There's something for everyone."
Mandt said that most Americans are within a "one-tank drive to a local theme park," making the parks a good family destination even in a slow economy. And while theme-park admission can be pricey for a family of four, Mandt mentioned a couple of ways to save. Tickets bought online are often cheaper than at the gate; parks sometimes offer deals or discount coupons on soda cans, milk cartons or other items; and some employers offer theme-park discounts as a benefit. Also, if you're likely to go a couple of times, "a season pass will typically pay for itself in less than three visits," Mandt said.
Here are some of the new parks and attractions in the U.S. and Canada. A few opened earlier this spring; most but not all will open by Memorial Day. Check with parks for specific opening dates.
--In California and Florida:
THE SIMPSONS RIDE, Universal Orlando, Orlando, Fla., http://www.universalorlando.com and at Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles, http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com. The Simpsons Ride, a simulator ride that's part thrills, part TV show, replaces Back to the Future at Universal in Hollywood and Orlando.
TOY STORY MANIA!, Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., http://www.disneyland.com and Disneyland, Anaheim, Calif., http://www.disneyland.com. Interactive ride where you shoot at virtual targets, inspired by the "Toy Story" movies. Opens at Disney World in Florida May 31 and at Disney's California Adventure June 17. Mandt said the ride is a good example of the interactive trend hitting theme parks: "Your first ride and second ride are different, and you actually have a role to play in the outcome." Also new at Disneyland in Anaheim, Innoventions Dream Home in Tomorrowland, a 21st century redesign of the classic House of the Future, and Pixar Play Parade at California Adventure with characters from movies like "Toy Story," "Monsters, Inc." and "Cars" on giant floats.
JUNGALA, Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay, Fla., http://www.jungala.com. Interactive animal park, where you can watch white-cheeked gibbons up close, observe an orangutan paint, and experience tug of war with a Bengal tiger. Geared to families with children ages 6-14.
AQUATICA, SeaWorld, Orlando, Fla., http://www.aquaticabyseaworld.com. Water park adjacent to SeaWorld, with waterfalls, racing slides, a raft ride, wave pools, rivers, lagoons, a beach and 36 slides. The park is also home to dolphins, birds and fish.
SESAME STREET BAY OF PLAY, SeaWorld, San Diego, Calif., http://www.seaworld.com/sandiego. Themed kiddie park with Sesame Street characters, two rides and live show.
PACIFIC WHEEL, Santa Monica Pier, Calif., http://www.pacpark.com. This new, $1.5-million Ferris wheel with 15,000 lights replaces the old Ferris wheel, which recently sold on eBay to a buyer from Oklahoma.
LAND OF ADVENTURE, Legoland, Carlsbad, Calif., http://www.legoland.com/California.htm. A new area of the park with attractions that include a dark ride, Lost Kingdom Adventure, and Pharaoh's Revenge, where you shoot foam balls. New Sea Life Aquarium expected to open in July.
FIREFALL, California's Great America, Santa Clara, Calif. http://www.cagreatamerica.com/. Thrill ride that flips and turns riders through fire and water effects.
PONY EXPRESS, Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, Calif. http://www.knotts.com. A launched coaster that travels through 60-degree turns and maneuvers.
--In Canada, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic:
BEHEMOTH, Canada's Wonderland, Vaughan, Ontario (near Toronto), http://www.canadaswonderland.com. Canada's tallest, fastest roller coaster, with a 230-foot first drop followed by seven more out-of-your seat drops.
NIAGARA'S FURY, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, http://www.niagarasfury.com/. High-tech attraction telling the story of the creation of the famous falls. Centerpiece of renovated Table Rock observation site.