Huge swings, new coasters add thrills to theme parks
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Massive swings at Cedar Point, Kings Island, Dollywood and a Six Flags in California, plus coasters at Six Flags themed on the Green Lantern and a new Little Mermaid attraction at Disneyland are among the new attractions awaiting visitors this season at theme parks around the country.
Cedar Point and Kings Island in Ohio, and Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., all are rolling out a thrill ride called Windseeker, which spins riders nearly 30 stories in the air in two-person swings that flare out and rotate around a tower.
An extremely wet April in Ohio delayed work on the ride at Cedar Point in Sandusky and Kings Island in Mason, so they weren't ready when the parks opened earlier in May, but they're expected to be up and running soon.
Six Flags parks in Vallejo, Calif., and St. Louis also are debuting monster swings. Their version, called SkyScreamer, towers 236 feet above the ground with two-person swings soaring in a 98-foot circle at 43 mph. The ride will be lighted at night from top to bottom.
And Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., added a swing ride called Barnstormer, with two pendulum arms seating 16 passengers each. The swing takes riders to a peak of 81 feet in the air and rotates at 45 mph. A barnyard-themed play area and pig pen water play area surround the ride.
"Creativity and innovation, which are really the foundation of the business, are alive and well in our industry, and I think the attractions that are opening illustrate that," said David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
Roller coaster enthusiasts will also be able to get their fix on new rides at the Six Flags parks.
Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, Calif., are launching Green Lantern, a 15-story stand-up coaster that begins with a 45-mph vertical drop before rocketing riders through five inversions, including loops and corkscrews.
Green Lantern is among three new coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Six Flags New England near Springfield, Mass., adds the steel coaster called Gotham City: Gauntlet Escape from Arkham Asylum, while the Dare Devil Dive coaster opens at Six Flags Over Georgia in Austell, Ga., featuring a 10-story vertical drop. Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington marks its 50th anniversary by bringing back a faster and steeper Texas Giant coaster.
New York's Coney Island has this year opened its first new roller coasters since the famed Cyclone was built in the 1920s. Four new thrill rides in the park are known collectively as the Scream Zone.
In early June, Disney California Adventure in Anaheim debuts The Little Mermaid -- Ariel's Undersea Adventure as part of a multiyear billion-dollar expansion of the park. The family-friendly ride features characters from the popular movie as riders travel on a virtual underwater journey. Disney parks in Orlando, Fla., and California are reopening the venerable Star Tours ride this month with a new 3-D element and "Star Wars"-inspired story line for the deep space flight simulator.
"Star Wars" fans get a treat at Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif., too, with Star Wars Miniland, which offers scenes from the movies made of 1.5 million Lego bricks, including depictions of Tatooine where Luke Skywalker grew up; Endor; the icy planet Hoth and the Millennium Falcon. Later in the year, in October, the world's fifth Legoland park is scheduled to open on the East Coast, on the site of the old Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Fla.
SeaWorld parks in Orlando, Fla, San Diego and San Antonio are introducing their first new Shamu shows in five years, environmentally themed killer whale attractions called "Believe." In addition, SeaWorld San Diego opens Turtle Reef, a nearly 300,000-gallon aquarium featuring more than 60 threatened or endangered sea turtles. Another animal-themed attraction, Cheetah Hunt, opens at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla., with a cheetah habitat and roller coaster.
Universal Studios Hollywood has a new video host for its tram tour this year in the person of Jimmy Fallon. The former "Saturday Night Live" star and late-night talk show host narrates the tour, which takes visitors behind the scenes of movies and television shows to sets and locations on the Universal Studios back lot.
Fallon called the tour "a classic" that shows "all the hard work that goes into making a movie or a TV show."
Fallon's narration starts in June, replacing Whoopi Goldberg.
On Memorial Day weekend, Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta will premiere an all-new laser show using a new digital projection system, special effects and pyrotechnics.
The 825-foot side of Stone Mountain has been used a canvas for laser shows at the park since 1983.