By Chad Emerson
For most large parks and resorts, 2020 was a wasted year. Some never re-opened after closing for the pandemic while others opened at dramatically reduced capacities (while incurring significant new expenses despite massive lost revenue). As the calendar turns to 2021, vaccines and other treatments offer hope that the pandemic may begin to abate and allow theme parks to creep back toward normality. In this issue, The Large Park Report examined some of the most highly anticipated new rides and attractions debuting in 2021 at seven large parks.
Delayed from 2020
One of the big stories from 2020 is the number of signature attractions whose grand opening was delayed until this year. This includes two rollercoasters from industry giants SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. At SeaWorld, the marine-themed park will unveil Ice Breaker—a new coaster that features a 100 degree drop angle and a near 100-foot backwards climb. Add in four separate launches and it’s clear that Ice Breaker’s delayed opening is likely to be well worth the wait.
Meanwhile, just down Interstate 4, Busch Gardens will debut Iron Gwazi, a hybrid steel and wood coaster. With a featured drop over 200 feet, Iron Gwazi will instantly become Florida’s tallest and fastest rollercoaster. And for the
nostalgic types, Iron Gwazi will actually re-use some of the wood infrastructure from Busch Garden’s original Gwazi wooden coaster bringing the well-loved original Gwazi back to life to a degree.
Another highly anticipated new ride is Jersey Devil at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. Similar to Ice Breaker and Iron Gwazi, this new coaster was originally slated to debut in 2020. The delay didn’t diminish the thrills though as the Rocky Mountain Construction coaster is set to break several records. Upon opening, the Jersey Devil will become the world’s longest, fastest, and tallest single rail rollercoaster—an impressive triple-recording breaking status. With over 3,000 feet of track, this new thriller will certainly serve as one of the industry’s highlight attractions in 2021.
Not to be outdone by their sister parks, SeaWorld San Diego is also slated to unveil new dive coaster themed to the iconic Emperor penguin while Busch Gardens Williamsburg reveals the world’s fastest multiple launch coaster as Pantheon brings speeds in excess of 70 mph and heights soaring near 200 feet tall.
A Universally Anticipated New Thrill Ride
Universal Orlando was one of the first large parks to re-open during the pandemic and has remained open throughout. This year, the Central Florida mega-resort turns its attention to the Islands of Adventure park with the addition of a new Jurassic Park themed coaster from Intamin. The thrill factor is evidenced by a double launch system, with speeds reaching 70 mph and a 155-foot-tall peak.
More than the exciting stats though, one of the most anticipated aspects of VelociCoaster will be its immersive theming and overall environment. From dramatic fire effects at the ride’s entrance to highly detailed velociraptors throughout the queue and ride, the new attraction promises to continue Universal’s successful approach to adding a depth of experience to its thrill rides that began with the Harry Potter attractions.
New thrill rides are also slated to debut soon at the Walt Disney World Resort but the pandemic has created some uncertainty regarding actual timing. With 2021 serving as the Golden Anniversary of Walt Disney World (officially October 1, 2021), the industry giant had planned an extensive new array of offerings to celebrate its 50th birthday.
Some of those (such as a major refurbishment of Epcot’s iconic Spaceship Earth) have been delayed and won’t even be close to opening in 2021. Others like the new Ratatouille-themed, trackless dark ride will greet guests in 2021. Uncertainly remains about two of the most anticipated attractions though.
A new Guardians of the Galaxy thrill ride at Epcot and Tron Lightcycle roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom were both originally intended to serve as tentpole attractions for the 50th Anniversary. While construction continued on both through the pandemic, Disney has yet to confirm whether either will end up opening in 2021. Both are in different phases of testing so it’s possible but, as with all things pandemic-related, uncertainty remains the theme of the day with one or both potentially slipping to 2022.
Regardless, while the large park and resort industry experienced a wrenching 2020, hope springs eternal as we enter 2021 with many highly anticipated new attractions being unveiled throughout the country.