Something old, something new, something borrowed, something ... boo! With warm weather in the forecast, theme parks are opening around the country, taking advantage of the latest technology to unveil new attractions, update old favorites and create more immersive experiences.
“You’re dealing with a generation now that’s grown up with video games as opposed to just TV and movies,” says Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com. “They’re used to a certain level of interactivity with their entertainment.”
Depending on your tastes and travel plans, the following parks are definitely putting the active in interactive:
Six Flags Great America
This weekend, the popular park in Gurnee, Ill., will unveil MagiQuest, the first theme-park-based outlet of the popular live-action/interactive attraction. Upon entering the 10,000-square-foot game space, visitors can purchase a “magic” (okay, wireless-equipped) wand that unlocks more than 80 special effects. Along they way, they tackle challenges, navigate multiple game levels and try to defeat the dragon and save the princess. Open weekends through May 9, then daily May 12–Aug. 29.
Long known for its kid-friendly focus, this park in Mason, Ohio, heads into ghostbuster territory with Boo Blasters on Boo Hill, its newest interactive ride. Rolling through various dungeons and graveyards, riders are confronted by legions of ghosts and demons, but can fight back courtesy of their car-mounted lasers. Optional 3-D glasses enhance the effects while scoreboards track your boo-blasting ability. Open Friday–Sunday through May 23, then daily through the summer.
Silver Dollar City
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, this 1880s-style theme park in Branson, Mo., honors Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and water fighters everywhere with a new, $7 million ride called Tom & Huck’s RiverBlast.
Guests board eight-person rafts and ride down a 570-foot river channel, doing super-soaker battle with passengers on other rafts, shore-based sharpshooters and targets that occasionally shoot back. At the end, a giant drier is available to blow everybody dry. The park is open Wednesday–Sunday through May 16, then daily.
This soon-to-debut water park at Legoland California may not be interactive in the usual sense, but it’ll definitely be immersive. Occupying 5.5 acres at the north end of the resort, the attraction will feature water slides for one to six people, a zoo-themed water play area for toddlers and a variety of LEGO characters that spray and splash water. Guests will also be able to float a lazy river on rafts they design themselves. Management hopes to open the floodgates for Memorial Day.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Transatlantic airfare not in the budget this year? If so, the new Europe in the Air attraction at Busch Gardens Williamsburg may be the next best thing. Combining a 59-seat motion simulator and large high-definition screen, visitors will find themselves swooping over the likes of Stonehenge, Neuschwanstein Castle and the Colosseum. Alas, although the park is currently open — Friday–Sunday through May 30, then daily through Labor Day — Europe in the Air won’t take flight until sometime next month.
He’s ba-a-a-ck. Thirteen years after he left the stage at Tomorrowland, Michael Jackson’s space-age alter ego Captain EO has returned to Disneyland. A groundbreaking achievement at the time (brought to you by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola no less), the 17-minute 3-D movie will serve as a nostalgia trip for some, an introduction for others and a chance to see the late King of Pop before he became Wacko Jacko.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Speaking of return engagements, another iconic character will make a comeback this summer when Universal Studios unveils King Kong 360 3-D, the high-tech successor to the animatronic attraction destroyed by fire in 2008. As part of the studio’s tram tour, guests will encounter physical stimuli (wind, water, gorilla breath), 3-D effects (flying raptors and snarling dinosaurs) and, of course, the big fella himself as he does battle with that toothsome T. rex. Alas, the official opening is a vague “Summer 2010.”
Although it’s not a theme park per se, this shopping, dining and entertainment complex in Foxborough, Mass., is going interactive this summer with Espionage, an hour-long, walk-through adventure experience set to open in July. Working in groups, visitors role-play as secret agents in order to solve puzzles, complete tasks and undertake missions that change based on their decisions. A second immersive experience based on Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is expected to go live in August.
Finally, unless you’ve been living in utter Muggle oblivion, you’ve probably heard about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the new attraction dedicated to everybody’s favorite boy wizard. Located at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, it’ll feature, among other things, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a combination tour/ride that will take visitors through the halls of Hogwarts, past the Whomping Willow and into the thick of things in a hotly contested Quidditch match. The magic — actually, it’s advanced robotics and 360-degree filmmaking — begins June 18.