A roller coaster where riders can pick a personal soundtrack, a pirate ride with water gun fights, the tallest water ride in the world, and a walkway that sparkles at night with a million lights are some of the most exciting new attractions at amusement parks this year.
Other theme park news includes a ride based on the new "Terminator" movie at Six Flags Magic Mountain near Los Angeles; the new Diamondback coaster at Kings Island in Ohio, with speeds up to 80 mph on a mile-long track; and the reopening of the failed Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C., as a more family-oriented attraction called Freestyle Music Park.
The unique lighted walkway, Starlight Experience, debuts at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Ind., is home to the massive water ride Pilgrims Plunge, where a boat drops 131 feet at a 45-degree angle, creating a wall of water 45 feet high.
The coaster with customized music, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Universal in Orlando, exemplifies a continuing theme park trend of "interactive experiences that can change based on guests' participation," said David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. "These started with the shooting gallery type of experience where guests could ride through an attraction, aim at a target and score points."
This season's attractions "take that interactivity to the next level where you can choose the outcome or features of the ride that will make each experience different," he said.
Other examples: A new Six Flags attraction, Buccaneer Battle, lets you have a dynamic water battle that's like being in a video game come to life. Eight people on each boat are armed with Super Soaker cannons. You hit other riders and targets, some of which blast water back or squirt from the ground. Meanwhile, park visitors randomly passing by shoot at the boats using land-based guns, and riders can shoot back.
"You're actually part of the ride," said Six Flags spokeswoman Brooke Gabbert. "You're engaged the whole time." Kids as small as 36 to 48 inches can ride with an adult, but all ages enjoy it: "We had a grandpa on the ride and he was having a blast."
Riders do get wet, though, so the park has a new "people dryer," which blasts hot air for three minutes for $5 and fits up to five people. "It takes the chill off," Gabbert said.
At Freestyle park in Myrtle Beach, "The Time Machine" coaster has multiple soundtracks so you can hear a different song each time you ride. "It's a reward for doing it more than once," Mandt said.
At SeaWorld Orlando, the new Manta roller coaster has a manta ray theme. Guests who don't care to ride can tour a new aquarium that's part of the attraction.
Big new rides are what teenagers and other coaster fans look forward to, but some parks are also adding play areas for younger kids. "We continue to see new products added designed to appeal to all ages," Mandt said.
Freestyle is opening 11 attractions in a new themed area called Kids in America, aimed at younger guests. Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Va., is adding a new Sesame Street Forest of Fun with junior rides.
Here is a list of these and some of the other new attractions around the country this year, with details provided by IAAPA and the parks:
Six Flags: Rethemed coasters in two parks, Medusa at Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., and Superman in Agawam, Mass., now called Bizarro after the DC Comics villain, with custom-built audio in each rider head rest, fog banks and fire bursts.
Six Flags Great Escape, Lake George, N.Y.: New Sasquatch drop tower, park's tallest ride at 19 stories tall.
Hersheypark, Hershey, Pa.: New to Boardwalk area, The Shore wave pool, and Intercoastal Waterway lazy river.
Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Va.: New Sesame Street Forest of Fun, with four new rides including junior coaster and log flume.
Kings Dominion, Doswell, Va.: New Americana, a 110-foot Ferris wheel, and El Dorado, a swinging pendulum ride.
Freestyle Music Park, Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Revamped version of Hard Rock Park, with more family attractions.
Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.: New zipline ride and new shows: "Sha-Kon-O-Hey! Land of Blue Smoke," part of Dollywood's celebration of 75th anniversary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and "Imagine," aerial-trapeze show headlining Dollywood's annual Festival of Nations.
Carowinds, Charlotte, N.C.: New 125-feet-tall "Carolina Cobra" steel coaster.
SeaWorld Orlando: New steel roller coaster Manta.
Universal Orlando: Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster with customized soundtracks.
Walt Disney World: "The American Idol Experience" show (since February) at Disney's Hollywood Studios (in Florida).
Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio: Starlight Experience, themed lighted walkway with over a million LED lights, music, displays with colored lights themed to the changing seasons.
Kings Island, Kings Island, Ohio: Diamondback steel coaster with open-air stadium-style seats, two helix twists, mile-long track, speeds up to 80 mph, 215-foot plunge.
Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, Santa Claus, Ind.: Pilgrims Plunge, with riders' boat plunging 131 feet, creating wall of water 45 feet high and 90 feet wide.
Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Ill.: Buccaneer Battle, pirate-themed interactive water attraction.
Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, Calif.: New Terminator Salvation: The Ride wooden coaster with high-tech special effects, five hills and six high-speed banked turns, themed on new "Terminator Salvation" movie.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif.: Odin's Temple of the Tiger, tiger exhibit and show.
Disneyland, Anaheim, Calif.: New fireworks show, "Magical" with flying Dumbo puppet; new characters in "Fantasmic!" show on Rivers of America, along with HD projection and 40-foot-tall dragon; new floats and lighting for Electrical Parade; new street show, "Celebrate! A Street Party," where guests can interact with characters.
Universal Studios Hollywood: New live show based on classic horror movie "Creature from the Black Lagoon"; Simpsons Summer Celebration, and hi-definition, flat-screen monitors on all Studio Tour trams.
Legoland, Carlsbad, Calif.: New "Bob the Builder In 4-D: Bob the Builder and the Roller Coaster" 4-D film.