Discover gravity-defining roller coasters and innovative rides at America's top amusement parks.
With another season of family vacation fun fast approaching, theme parks across the country are unveiling new additions to draw in and thrill visitors. This summer, you'll be able to travel to the distant planet of Pandora, skim across water on a jet ski and get twisted, dropped and flung in different directions. Keep reading to discover the top 15 attractions opening at U.S. theme parks in 2017.
Walt Disney World: Pandora -- The World of Avatar
Topping the list of new theme park additions in 2017 is Pandora -- The World of Avatar, which will open at Disney's Animal Kingdom in May. Based on the fictional planet of Pandora featured in James Cameron's Oscar-winning 2009 film, "Avatar," Pandora -- The World of Avatar will include two signature attractions: Avatar Flight of Passage, where guests can soar on mountain banshees, and Na'vi River Journey, a family-friendly boat ride through a bioluminescent forest. The Animal Kingdom addition will also include an Avatar-themed restaurant, drink stand and gift shop.
SeaWorld San Diego: Ocean Explorer
At SeaWorld San Diego, the 3-acre Ocean Explorer will include multiple aquarium tanks and attractions anchored by a miniature submarine ride to an underwater sea base. Onboard the submarine, passengers can review an interactive digital display and learn about impressive species such as Japanese spider crabs and moray eels as the ride passes through each aquarium. Mike Price, SeaWorld San Diego's assistant curator of fishes, promises that visitors will "come eye-to-eye with giant octopuses, huge spider crabs and hundreds of colorful jellies -- some of which have never been seen at the park before."
SeaWorld San Antonio: Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster
At 50 mph and 61 feet tall, SeaWorld San Antonio's Wave Breaker will not be the tallest or the fastest roller coaster, but it will boast unique innovations like two accelerating magnetic launches. Wave Breaker's jet ski-style ride allows guests to straddle their seat, grip onto the handlebars and cruise over the water through banks and turns. What's more, Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster draws inspiration from SeaWorld's Saturday morning Sea Rescue television program, and will feature stars from the show who will educate families about the park's rescue and rehabilitation efforts on videos while they wait.
Kings Island: Mystic Timbers
The 16th roller coaster to debut at Kings Island amusement park will be a 3,256-foot-long wooden behemoth. Riders ascend 109 feet up the lift hill only to plummet at 53 mph through the forested terrain of the park. Themed around a story of an abandoned lumber company, the ride utilizes Kings Island's natural topography and sends riders up steep cliffs, down ravines, across water, through twists and turns and inside a mid-course tunnel. Along the way, passengers lift out of their seats during 16 airtime moments. Mystic Timbers will open on April 15.
Universal Orlando Resort: Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
Universal Orlando's latest 3-D simulator ride will take audiences of the "Tonight Show" on a race to the major sights of New York City pitted against Jimmy Fallon in his Tonight Rider. However, the truly innovative part of this attraction happens before the ride starts. Universal has uniquely replaced the typical attraction line with an entertainment lounge including the Ragtime Gals barbershop quartet and walk-around Hashtag the Panda character (both from Jimmy Fallon's show). Guests are sure to be entertained while they wait; plus, they can enjoy charging stations before the ride. Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon opens on April 6.
Busch Gardens: InvadR
Over the past year, Busch Gardens asked its fans to vote on the name, logo and lead character for its new roller coaster. The hybrid wooden coaster with steel supports has a 74-foot drop and nine airtime hills, making it a perfect "bridge" coaster for kids looking to advance from the kiddie rides but not quite ready for more intense Busch Gardens attractions. The fastest speed for InvadR will be 48 mph, and the ride opens on April 7.
Casino Pier: Hydrus
Seaside Heights, New Jersey
One of the iconic images from 2012's Superstorm Sandy was a roller coaster dragged out to sea off a New Jersey amusement pier. Seaside Heights' Casino Pier has been rebuilt, and its new roller coaster, Hydrus, will open for the summer season. Hydrus will drop riders 72 feet into a vertical 97-degree free fall at 45 mph. In the free fall, riders will enter a series of inversions, including a loop and cutback.
Playland's Castaway Cove: GaleForce
Ocean City, New Jersey
Also in New Jersey, Playland's Castaway Cove in Ocean City will debut GaleForce, a 125-foot-tall, triple-launch, steel coaster. GaleForce has gone through an extensive testing period and is scheduled to open in time for the 2017 summer season. The ride will launch riders at 64 mph up and over a 125-foot hill and subsequently free fall beyond a 90-degree drop. The compact, intense coaster finishes with a series of twists and rolls. Playland's Castaway Cove is also constructing a "Wild Waves" steel coaster around GaleForce.
OWA: Rollin' Thunder
OWA is a brand-new amusement park currently under construction on Alabama's Gulf Coast, and the Rollin' Thunder roller will be the headline attraction. Designed by Italian amusement ride company Zamperla, Rollin' Thunder will be similar to Thunderbolt, which returned to Brooklyn, New York's Coney Island in 2014. Rollin' Thunder will be a steel coaster taking riders up a vertical lift rising over 100 feet. Once riders reach the top of the hill, the train will release into the nearly vertical drop, a 98-foot loop, with inversions at approximately 65 mph. After, riders return to the station following a series of "out-of-your-seat" hills.
Hersheypark: Hershey Triple Tower
A variety of drop rides will debut in 2017, including a handful of rides at Pennsylvania's Hersheypark. Take your pick between three drop towers of increasing heights: Hershey's Kisses Tower, Reese's Tower, and Hershey's Tower. Each tower not only has a different height (80, 131 and 189 feet, respectively), but also a different ride experience from a simple rise and drop to a more exhilarating, high-speed drop, reaching up to 45 mph on Hershey's Tower. Hershey Triple Tower opens on April 8.
Dollywood: Drop Line
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Dollywood's new 200-foot Drop Line free-fall tower ride yields incredible views of the amusement park set in the Great Smoky Mountains area. But you may not get to take in the scenery for long before plummeting nearly 20 stories to the ground. Dollywood also adds a junior coaster, Whistle Punk Chaser, for younger riders.
Valleyfair: North Star
Minnesota's Valleyfair amusement park will receive a new icon for its skyline when North Star, a 230-foot-tall tower swing ride, opens. You'll want to hold on tight to the chains as the giant swing lifts you 20 stories above the ground, spinning at speeds of 40 mph. The ride can accommodated up to 32 side-by-side seats dangling in chains. North Star will debut when Valleyfair opens for the 2017 summer season on May 12.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom: Wonder Woman: Lasso of Truth
You'll think twice about spreading fake news when Wonder Woman: Lasso of Truth opens at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Billed as an "extreme pendulum ride," during the exhilarating journey, 40 people sit on an oversized spinning disc that swings to a height of 147 feet at speeds of nearly 70 mph. The ride is expected to open in spring 2017.
Disney California Adventure: Guardians of the Galaxy -- Mission: Breakout!
The classic Twilight Zone Tower of Terror will get reimagined at Disney California Adventure when this "Guardians of the Galaxy"-inspired ride opens in late May. The Guardians (minus Rocket Raccoon) are held hostage in a fortress, as riders help Rocket on Mission: Breakout. The ride also anchors Disney's "Summer of Heroes," featuring new activities, including Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Dance Off!, Avengers Training Initiative, Heroic Encounter: Black Widow and meet-and-greet opportunities with other super heroes including Groot. For younger kids, the Disney Junior Dance Party debuts at Disney California adventure with character appearances from popular Disney Junior TV shows.
SeaWorld Orlando: Kraken Virtual Reality
SeaWorld Orlando will update its 16-year-old Kraken roller coaster by adding virtual reality goggles to the ride. Guests can choose to wear the VR headsets and experience a new story where they travel back to primordial oceans and encounter a prehistoric beast, the Kraken. Riders can also opt to not wear the VR goggles and enjoy the 65 mph, 149-foot drop with seven inversions that are 100 percent monster-free.
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