It's a big year for fans of theme parks and roller coasters all over North America.
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.
MOTOCOASTER: Darien Lake, Darien Center, N.Y., http://www.godarienlake.com. New ride design intended to simulate a motorcycle, with 12 motorcycles on a figure-eight layout, 44 feet tall, at speeds up to 40 mph.
FAHRENHEIT, Hersheypark, Hershey, Pa., http://www.hersheypark.com. Vertical lift inverted loop coaster, up to 58 mph, 2,700 feet of steel track. Also new at Hershey, the Howler ride, with sphere-shaped cars that rotate at a 20-degree angle, creating a "tornado-like" experience.
VOODOO, Dorney Park, Allentown, Pa., http://www.dorneypark.com/. Inverted steel coaster that ascends 185 feet up, launches forward and backward, twists 360 degrees and rockets riders up to 70 mph.
DOMINATOR, Kings Dominion, Doswell, Va., http://www.kingsdominion.com. Floorless roller coaster with five inversions, said to have the world's largest vertical loop. The coaster comes to Virginia from Geauga Lake in Aurora, Ohio, which is now a water park, Geauga Lake's Wildwater Kingdom, http://www.wildwaterfun.com/.
--At Six Flags parks:
DARK KNIGHT, Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., and Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Ill., near Chicago, http://www.sixflags.com/greatadventure/ and http://www.sixflags.com/greatAmerica/. Indoor roller coaster with hairpin turns, drops into darkness and video from the upcoming Batman movie, "The Dark Knight."
TONY HAWK'S HALFPIPE, Six Flags America, Bowie/Mitchellville, Md., http://www.sixflags.com/America/. Water slide designed to evoke skating a halfpipe.
TONY HAWK'S BIG SPIN: Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington, Texas, http://www.sixflags.com/overTexas and at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo, Calif., http://www.sixflags.com/discoveryKingdom/. Built to resemble a skate park, with cars that twist, turn and spin.
GOLIATH, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, San Antonio, Texas, http://www.sixflags.com/fiestaTexas. Inverted coaster that suspends riders from an overhead track and goes 50 mph.
X2 COASTER, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, Calif., http://www.sixflags.com/magicMountain/. This is a redesign on an existing coaster, with new visual, auditory and sensory effects.
EVEL KNIEVEL, Six Flags St. Louis, Eureka, Mo., http://www.sixflags.com/stLouis. Wooden coaster with a 2,700-foot track, 80-foot drop, and double 55-foot drops. Expected opening late June.
THOMAS TOWN, Six Flags Over Georgia, Austell, Ga., near Atlanta, http://www.sixflags.com/overGeorgia/. Play area for younger children themed on Thomas the Tank Engine.
--In the South:
HARD ROCK PARK, Myrtle Beach, S.C., http://www.hardrockpark.com. New rock 'n' roll-themed park, with coasters named for Led Zeppelin and the Eagles, plus a groovy dark ride based on the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin."
RIVER BATTLE, Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tenn., http://www.dollywood.com. Water adventure ride with nine rafts. Each raft holds eight people armed with soaker guns taking aim at each other and more than 100 interactive targets, including splashing beavers, skunks, otters, and bears.
--In the Midwest and West:
PLANET SNOOPY, Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, http://www.cedarpoint.com. New children's play area with seven rides, plus a new Snoopy-themed restaurant and ice show.
SKYSCRAPER, Challenge Park (at Cedar Point), Sandusky, Ohio, http://www.cedarpoint.com/public/park/challenge_park/. A thrill ride that spins like a propeller with open cars 16 stories off the ground. Expected opening June.
THUNDERHAWK, Michigan's Adventure, Muskegon, Mich., http://www.miadventure.com/. The 105-foot tall inverted roller coaster flips riders upside down five times. Relocated from Geauga Lake in Aurora, Ohio, which is now a water park.
KEYLIME COVE, Gurnee, Ill., http://www.keylimecove.com. New water park with wave pool, body slides, lazy river, activity pool for water sports.
KIMA BAY: Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, Santa Claus, Ind., http://www.holidayworld.com. New monkey-themed water park attraction at Splashin' Safari.
NICKELODEON UNIVERSE, Mall of America, Bloomington, Minn., http://www.nickelodeonuniverse.com. Nickelodeon, the children's cable network, has had Nick-branded zones in theme parks before, but this park, which opened in March, is the company's first standalone theme park. Rides include SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge roller coaster.
ODYSEA, Lagoon Park, Farmington, Utah, http://www.lagoonpark.com/. Interactive family water ride with flying fish-shaped gondolas that can be navigated to avoid getting sprayed by water from other cars.
AFTERSHOCK, Silverwood Theme Park, Athol, Idaho, http://www.silverwoodthemepark.com. New 191-foot boomerang-like inverted steel roller coaster, with two towers, 90-degree inclines and a 177-foot drop. Expected opening July.