Summer theme park season is nearly here, and the big parks across the country have once again created a number of new rides and attractions. Two of the biggest and most exciting additions are Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Walt Disney World. Now, it’s just a matter of getting out there and test-driving these attractions.
This new Harry Potter addition to Universal Studios Orlando has been called an expansion, but they’ve built so much into it that it could be considered an attraction of its own. You start by walking through London’s Leicester Square with detailed, near identically dimensioned fronts of Kings Cross Station and adjacent buildings. Then there’s the full-size Knight Bus, complete with an interactive shrunken head. Plus, head over to Diagon Alley, where you can visit real shops. The Leaky Cauldron serves traditional English food like fish and chips, cottage pie, bangers and mash, and Scotch eggs. But, consider yourself warned—it’s now an even bigger attempt at merchandising: Quality Quiddich Supplies sells items like sweaters, brooms, and props. At Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes you can find novelty items and magical jokes, such as Skiving Snackboxes and Pygmy Puffs. Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions sells things like Hogwarts uniforms, and you’ll be able to eat at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream.
At the end of the alley is Gringotts Bank, with a dragon on top that breathes real fire. In the bank is a queue for the ride called Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which is rumored to be a groundbreaking combination of theme park technologies. Yes, there’s more merchandising: There will be three gift shops selling items like telescopes, star charts, plushies, quills, inkwells, and parchment. You can also take a turn into Knockturn Alley and explore stores of dark magic. Of course, Hogwarts Express, with interior detail, will take you to and from this expansion and Hogsmeade Station within Islands of Adventure (you’ll need a park to park ticket for this, however). This will be opening this summer, and those on the inside are pointing to June.
This ride at Universal Studios Hollywood trains you to become a minion until things go, predictably, haywire in the laboratory. The simulator ride sits you down to watch a comical talk between Gru and his daughters, then moves you into another room to be turned into a minion and then sends you on a ride through the laboratory to save Agnes’ present. Upon exiting the ride is a dance floor for kids, with huge screens on the front wall—with dancing minions overlaid on a live video of the dance floor. There’s also a replica of Super Silly Fun Land from the first movie with 80 water features, a dry playground area, a swinging chair ride where you can view the whole area, and a recreation of the arcade game Super Silly Space Killer. This ride is now open for kids of all ages to enjoy.
The newest addition to Disney World is in Fantasyland with Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Dopey, Sneezy, Bashful, and Doc. Disney Imagineers took Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and pulled out the details that really make the movie. Riders walk through a wooded area and past a woodland cottage to a roller coaster ride through and around the mine of the seven dwarfs. A long line can ruin a ride, even with a smartphone to bide the time—but this ride has an interactive queue.
The line has Jewel Sorting, which is essentially Bejeweled on big touchscreens, and Jewel Washing, where you clean jewels with musical water spigots. There’s also The Vault, where you turn over barrels of glowing stones and look up to see the ceiling transform. After that, you hop into mining carts and ride through the mine, seeing extremely lifelike dwarfs with 3D facial expressions and detailed interiors and exteriors. It’s set to officially open this spring.
Six Flags Great America in Chicago is opening the fastest, tallest, and steepest wooden roller coaster in the world. Reach speeds up to 72 miles per hour, climb, and then drop 180 feet at an 85 degree angle. It includes three overbanked turns, a 180 degree zero G roll twist, and two inversions. The roller coaster is set to open sometime in the next six weeks.
Opened in April, this ride in King’s Island is the longest inverted roller coaster in the world. Ride along 4,124 feet of track at speeds up to 68 miles per hour. There are a bunch of features: curved loop, drive loop, zero-G roll, batwing, outside loop, spiral, in-line roll, and carousel. You can even join in by taking pictures of haunting, Banshee-like things around the park and upload them on Twitter with the hashtag #KIBanshee. Try to eat after you take this, uh, banshee, for a ride.
Standing at 335 feet tall, this drop tower literally changes the traditional idea of how you face gravity: like a bird of prey, riders will be turned 90 degrees so they face down… and then drop at 60 miles per hour toward the ground. Just to clarify, it’s 90 and not 180; it would be like laying belly down on your bed, except your bed is air. The ride is under construction in Busch Gardens and will appear this summer. May 1 was set to be its opening date, but it’s been delayed for finishing touches.
Want more information about theme parks? Read on:
- 6 Ways to Save Money & Find the Most Value at a Theme Park
- When is a Theme Park VIP Pass Worth It?
- How to Avoid Crowds at Major Attractions
By Cody Brooks for PeterGreenberg.com