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

Los Angeles Times

There's a lot more than pixie dust swirling through the air at the Disneyland resort as construction crews, excavators and towering cranes work on several new theme-park rides set to debut this summer and beyond.

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

Photos: Top 10 most anticipated Southern California theme park rides for 2011

The headliner for 2011 is the $100-million Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure, opening at Disney California Adventure 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 Goofy's Sky School 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 Cars Land and the main entrance extreme makeover are completed.

Across the way at Disneyland, the long-anticipated reboot of the classic Star Tours 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 Mickey's Soundsational 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.

Six Flags Magic Mountain 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 Green Lantern 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.

The Valencia amusement park reopened the revamped Superman: Escape from Krypton shuttle coaster in March with new trains that rocket riders backward at 100 mph.

The 301-foot-tall WindSeeker promises to change Knott's Berry Farm 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 Star Wars Miniland 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 Carlsbad kiddie park, utilizes 1.5 million Lego 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 One Ocean 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 Octotron, 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:

Photos: Top 10 new rides at U.S. theme parks for 2011

Photos: Top 12 most anticipated new U.S. theme park rides for 2012

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