ORLANDO, Fla. – Harry Potter's Diagon Alley in Orlando, the world's longest and fastest inverted roller coaster in Ohio and water parks in every corner of the United States are among the many new attractions at theme parks this season.
And families with young kids won't be disappointed, either: Many parks are unveiling rides appropriate for children, yet exciting enough to thrill adults.
"Amusement park guests demand innovation year after year," said Jeremy Schoolfield, editor-in-chief of Funworld Magazine, which chronicles the amusement park industry. "Coming up with new experiences is built in our DNA."
Here's what's hot.
Universal Orlando Resort will open its second Harry Potter-themed area this summer, called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley. The zone's centerpiece will be a ride called Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which takes visitors into Gringotts bank to help retrieve a magical object. The original Potter attraction is at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park, while the new one will be at the adjoining Universal Studios Florida park. Guests must buy a two-park ticket to visit both Potter areas, but they can travel between them on the Hogwarts Express train, which will offer views of characters and magical creatures from the book. Among them: Hagrid on a flying motorbike, the Weasley twins on brooms, and the Knight Bus in London traffic. Universal has also opened new restaurants at City Walk and the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, an 1,800-unit hotel, where half of the rooms are suites that sleep six people.
At Disney World, the unveiling of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride May 28 will complete the New Fantasyland area that opened in December 2012. The ride is charming and exciting at the same time: Visitors will enjoy animatronic dwarfs singing "Heigh-Ho" in an underground-themed gem mine, then experience the thrilling anticipation of the roller coaster as cars climb a steep hill, before plunging down a mountainous landscape. And let's not forget one of the most popular attractions in New Fantasyland these days: meet and greets with Anna and Elsa from Disney's hit movie "Frozen." Recent wait times to meet the royal sisters ran four hours.
Hardcore thrill seekers will want to visit Busch Gardens in Tampa, where Falcon's Fury will soon open. Riders will be seated upright and whisked to the top of a 335-foot tower before the seat pivots 90 degrees so the guest is looking straight down. The rider then plunges in a six-second free fall.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk will open its latest thrill ride, The Undertow. It's fast and does a complete 360-degree spin.
New at Universal Studios Hollywood are the "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" 3-D motion-simulation ride and a new "Despicable Me"-themed play area called Super Silly Fun Land.
Knott's Berry Farm celebrates 30 years of Snoopy and the Peanuts gang; it has made improvements to its Grand Sierra Railroad attraction.
Also for the younger family members, Legoland California has turned its entire water park into a "Legends of Chima" themed water park.
SeaWorld has redone its entrance and now includes Explorer's Reef, with kid-friendly touch pools, waves and coral reefs.
At Luna Park on Coney Island, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the Thunderbolt will soon open. The steel coaster is named after a now-demolished and once-beloved wooden roller coaster.
Roar-o-Saurus at Story Land in New Hampshire is a tame wooden coaster with cars shaped like dinosaurs.
There's nothing tame about Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. The drop tower is perched on the face of the Kingda Ka coaster — and it will lift riders up 415 feet in the air and plunge them downward at 90 mph. At Six Flags New England in Springfield, Mass., the SkyScreamer is billed as the world's tallest swing at 400 feet.
Dollywood's FireChaser Express opened in March, and takes riders forwards and backwards — and close to a shed of exploding fireworks.
Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay — once under the Six Flags umbrella — is scheduled to reopen late May. The centerpiece ride will be Lightning Run, which will take riders on a 100-foot, 80-degree drop.
Six Flags Over Georgia is opening Hurricane Harbor, a multi-million park expansion that includes tropical landscaping and a 38,000-square-foot wave pool.
The Banshee recently opened at Kings Island north of Cincinnati. The steel coaster, named for a wailing mythological messenger from the underworld, includes a 167-foot lift hill and a 150-foot curved first drop. Riders also experience a zero-gravity roll and speeds up to 68 mph.
Six Flags Great America just outside of Chicago is showcasing Goliath, touted as the world's fastest wooden coaster with the tallest and steepest drop.
Speaking of drops, Schlitterbahn in Kansas City, Kansas, is scheduled to open Verruckt in June. It's been certified by Guinness World Records as the world's tallest water slide; four people at a time will plummet 168 feet in a raft. The raft is expected to reach a top speed of 65 mph.
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