Top 16 for 2016: Best new rides coming to U.S. theme parks

At first I thought it was too early to look ahead at the new attractions coming to U.S. theme parks in 2016, but then I realized a number of big rides have already been announced and many more are already in the planning stages.

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It already seems like 2016 is shaping up as a good year for ride enthusiasts and theme park fans. Big industry players have announced major projects and several smaller parks are planning to roll out significant additions.

Since it is still early, I'll update my top 16 over the coming months as new projects are announced. Until then, here's my list of most anticipated rides for 2016:

1) Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Universal Studios Hollywood plans a spring debut for the highly anticipated West Coast version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The new themed land is expected to be a carbon copy of the Orlando original with one significant twist: The marquee Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction will feature 3-D technology. 

2) Skull Island: Reign of Kong

The next generation of King Kong attractions at Universal Orlando will take riders into the jungle island home of the gargantuan beast rather than bring the colossal ape to civilization as a chained captive.

The Skull Island: Reign of Kong dark ride at the Islands of Adventure theme park will combine massive 3-D screens, larger-than-life physical sets and huge animatronic figures.

3) Lightning Rod

Dollywood's newest ride is being billed as both the world’s first launched wooden coaster and the world’s fastest wooden coaster.

The hot rod-themed Lightning Rod coaster built by Rocky Mountain Construction will feature 12 airtime hills, taking advantage of the Tennessee theme park's terrain.

4) Frozen Ever After

Frozen Ever After replaces the Maelstrom water ride in the Norway pavilion at Disney's Epcot theme park in Florida.

Based on the “Frozen” film, the new boat ride is expected to take visitors to Arendelle and Elsa’s ice palace during a Winter in Summer celebration.

5) Storm Chaser

Kentucky Kingdom will convert a portion of the existing Twisted Twins dueling coaster into a hybrid ride with multiple inversions.

Renovated by Rocky Mountain Construction, Storm Chaser will feature a barrel roll first drop that looks simply amazing.

6) Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters

After a little more than two years in service, the beleaguered Luigi's Flying Tires at Disney California Adventure will be replaced by an entirely new ride.

Concept art of the new Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters attraction released by Disney shows riders in classic cars zooming around an enclosed course free of a track or turntable.

7) Valravn

Cedar Point’s 17th roller coaster will be a Bolliger & Mabillard Dive Machine called Valravn, according to Screamscape.

Sections of track have already begun arriving at the Ohio amusement park. An official announcement is expected Sept. 9.

8) Mako

The 200-foot-tall Mako coaster coming to SeaWorld Orlando will be the centerpiece of a two-acre shark exhibit with an underwater theme.

The 73-mph Bolliger & Mabillard hyper coaster will feature nine airtime hills and a custom musical score.

9) Cobra’s Curse

The elevator-style vertical lift hill of Cobra’s Curse at Busch Gardens Tampa puts riders face to face with an 80-foot-tall serpent statue.

The former King Tut’s Tomb walk-through attraction will be reused as the queue for the new Mack Rides spinning coaster.

10) The Monster

The Monster coaster coming to Adventureland will feature a vertical lift hill, 101-degree beyond-vertical first drop and five inversions, including an Immelmann and a pair of dive loops.

The new Gerstlauer Infinity steel coaster will replace the small Iowa amusement park’s log ride.

11) GaleForce

The GaleForce triple-launch coaster coming to Playland’s Castaway Cove in New Jersey starts with a forward-backward-forward sequence to get the 12-person ride vehicle up to 64 mph.

The 125-foot-tall S&S Worldwide ride features a 100-degree beyond-vertical drop and multiple inversions, including a corked roll and a raven dive.

12) Phobia Phear

The vertically-oriented Phobia Phear triple-launch coaster coming to Connecticut’s Lake Compounce will sit on a compact footprint but pack a sizable punch.

Identical versions of the Premier Rides SkyRocket II coaster can be found at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Tempesto) and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (Superman Ultimate Flight).

13) Vortex conversion

California’s Great America is expected to convert the 1991 Vortex stand-up coaster into a floorless sit-down coaster, according to Crain’s Cleveland Business.

Sister-park Cedar Point completed a similar Bolliger & Mabillard coaster transformation this year, complete with a name change from Mantis to Rougarou.

14) Ninjago land

Legoland California will add a new themed area based on a line of ninja-inspired Lego toys and a spinoff television show.

Located near the Imagination Zone, the new Ninjago land will feature a first-of-its-kind ride and interactive elements.

15) Delirium

Kings Dominion will add the Delirium thrill ride to the Candy Apple Grove area of the Virginia park in place of the Shockwave stand-up roller coaster.

The Mondial Revolution pendulum swing ride will propel riders 115 feet into the air at a 120-degree angle.

16) Skyhawk

The Skyhawk thrill ride coming to Canada’s Wonderland -- close enough to the U.S. to count! -- will lift riders 135 feet in the air aboard single-seat gondolas at the end of a cantilevered arm rotating around a central tower.

Riders control the wings of the Gerstlauer Sky Fly ride with their hands -- choosing to simply sit and spin, gently teeter-totter like a see-saw or wildly rotate like a plane propeller. 

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