A Summer Preview of What’s New and Fun

By Chad Emerson

Summertime is often the peak season for large parks and resorts to debut new rides and shows.  While the summer of 2018 includes several high-impact, new attractions, this year is decidedly more subdued in its overall offerings than recent summers.  

The Slinky Dog Dash at Disney’s Toy Story Land is a new attraction this summer that seeks to help turn the land into a complete park area.

That may be part of a normal cycle when you consider the massive investments in recent years including Avatar at Walt Disney World and a new waterpark plus Harry Potter expansions at Universal.  Lending more credence to 2018 being a temporary part of a slower cycle is the fact that multi-billions of dollars are slated to be invested by Disney, Universal, Six Flags, Busch and more in 2019 with mega-attractions galore either opening or beginning construction.

All of this shouldn’t distract from several fun new rides and shows coming to the industry’s larger operators this summer.  In this issue, The Large Park Report highlights several of the most anticipated additions for 2018.  

New Western U.S. Attractions

This year, Knott’s Berry Farm is bringing new thrills to the region with Hangtime, the first dive coaster on the West Coast.  The California theme park behemoth unveils this high thrill addition that features a negative-g loop (one of only a few in the world) and a 96-degree drop that literally makes the track disappear to the rider.   The ride is also visually stunning with custom lighting installed on the track for a brilliant after-dark experience.  Knott’s Berry Farm is clearly making a strong play to position itself as the King of Thrill Parks on the West Coast.

Legoland California is also bringing a unique new experience to the West Coast with Lego City: Deep Sea Adventure.  While a variety of rides simulate a submarine voyage, Deep Sea Adventure will be one of the first to put guests into real submarines that travel through a massive water tank.  Best of all, real sharks, rays, and other sea-life will be encountered while on the submarine.  Add in on-board interactive games and special effects and it’s clear to see why Legoland’s latest addition is among the most highly-anticipated in 2018.

SeaWorld San Diego has often been a tamer ride version of its Orlando sister park (think:  Mako, Manta, and Kraken in Orlando) but in 2018 the original SeaWorld property is putting its thrill foot forward with the debut of the Electric Eel coaster.  Checking in at nearly 900 feet in track and a top height of 150 feet, Electric Eel brings three separate launches to the coaster during the ride experience.  And while this Premier Rides coaster won’t top thrill chart records, it does tilt SeaWorld San Diego toward a more complete theme park experience with an impressive coaster offering.

California’s Great America, on the other hand, doesn’t lack for a strong inventory of roller coasters.  Yet, when they announced their latest addition last year on National Roller Coaster Day, thrill aficionados were intrigued.  While the RailBlazer coaster boasts impressive features like a 90-degree drop, 1,800 feet of track and a 180-degree stall maneuver, it’s the actual ride vehicle layout that is most intriguing.  RailBlazer is one of the first ever single-file rider vehicles, meaning that you have other riders in front and behind you but no one beside you.  Mounted on a single track, this set-up creates an ultra-thin ride profile which allows the coaster to make sharper twists, turns, and corkscrews.   This innovative way to experience a roller coaster makes RailBlazer one of the most closely watched new attractions in 2018

New Eastern United States Attractions

Last year, Disney opened one of the largest theme park additions in decades with the immersive Avatar-themed land at Animal Kingdom.  Next year, they will raise the stakes even higher with the new Stars Wars-themed additions to Hollywood Studios.  This year, in between those two E-ticket additions, Disney debuts a major expansion to its Pixar-themed area of Hollywood Studios.  Up until now, that area has primarily been the home of the uber-popular Toy Story Mania and a few minor areas like character experiences.  This summer, Disney adds two new rides and new themed food and beverage plus merchandise options to arguably turn Toy Story Land into a “complete” area of the park.  The Slinky Dog Dash family coaster is the feature new attraction to the land which aspires to make guests feel like they have been shrunk down to Toy Story size.

Just down the Interstate, Universal Orlando is delivering a Fast & Furious movie-themed attraction to its Florida property with new effects, storyline, and enhanced simulator visuals.  Officially known as Fast & Furious-Supercharged, this major new attraction features ride vehicles that take guests on a trip through the Fast & Furious world—merging a tracked ride mechanism with immersive visual effects.  Unlike the Universal Hollywood version, the Orlando ride is housed within its own ride building with extended and interactive queues.

For major new thrills, Cedar Point will debut Steel Vengeance for the summer season.  A hybrid coaster that combines a steel track with wooden framing, Steel Vengeance will claim several new records including more airtime (nearly 30 seconds) than any other roller coaster on the planet.  In addition to extended airtime, the coaster checks in at over 200 feet with an initial 90-degree drop.  Just when you thought that Cedar Point couldn’t get any bolder in pressing roller coaster limits, they bring Steel Vengeance to the industry.

Not to be outdone in the roller coaster arms race, Six Flags is bringing the world’s largest loop coaster to its Great America park near Chicago.  Known as Mardi Gras Hangover, the super-loop coaster stands over 100 feet tall with multiple inversions that appear to leave riders upside down almost as much as they are right side up.  An even more interesting twist is that the ride vehicles are configured so riders face each other—meaning that some riders experience the entire ride backwards in addition to the massive loops.

A summer season review wouldn’t be complete without a refreshing new water attraction.  This year, SeaWorld Orlando debuts the Infinity Falls raft ride as the headliner for a new rainforest-themed area of the park.  What makes Infinity Falls stand out from most raft rides is its 40-foot drop—the largest ever for a river rapids ride.  While 40 feet may not sound extreme for a roller coaster, dropping a free-floating raft down several stories in height brings a thrilling new element to the industry’s water attractions category. 

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