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Top 17 for 2017: Best new attractions 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 2017. Then I realized a number of big rides have already been announced and many more are already in the planning stages.

It already seems like 2017 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 17 over the coming months as new projects are announced. Until then, here's my list of most anticipated attractions for 2017:

1) Pandora: The World of Avatar themed land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The new Avatar Land coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom in 2017 will be populated by blue-skinned Na'vi people, bioluminescent trees and flying banshees from the 2009 "Avatar" movie.

The themed land will be tied to a trio of sequels continuing the story set forth in one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

The alien land's marquee attraction will be an E-Ticket banshee flight simulator similar to Soarin' at Epcot and Disney California Adventure.

An indoor boat ride similar to Pirates of the Caribbean will take riders on a river journey through the illuminated forest of Pandora.

2) Toy Story Land at Disney Hollywood Studios

With construction underway, Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida is expected to debut in 2017 (although Disney has yet to announce an official opening date).

Themed to the “Toy Story” movies, the new land will feature the Slinky Dog Dash family roller coaster and Alien Swirling Saucers ride.

Riders on the launched coaster will sit between the stretching coils of the Slinky Dog as they pass a series of toys strewn about “Andy’s backyard.”

Alien Swirling Saucers is expected to employ a ride system similar to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree at Disney California Adventure. Riders will try to escape the Claw as their alien-themed vehicles spin to a “space jazz” soundtrack.

3) Volcano Bay water park at Universal Studios Florida

The 53-acre Volcano Bay water park is set to open in June at Universal Studios Orlando next door to the Cabana Bay hotel.

The 200-foot-tall Krakatau volcano at the center of the Polynesian-themed water park will feature waterfalls by day and lava flows at night. A 125-foot-tall trap door-launch speed slide will travel through the man-made volcano before splashing into a pool below.

The new park will include rafts, rapids, racing and body slides as well as a wave pool, water play fortress and lazy river.

4) Race through New York starring Jimmy Fallon at Universal Studios Florida

“Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon will take visitors on a virtual 3-D ride through the streets, subways and skies of Manhattan in the Race through New York attraction coming to Universal Studios Florida in 2017.

Photos posted by Fallon on Twitter and Instagram show the late-night talk show host wearing a motion capture suit while working with Industrial Light and Magic on footage for the new ride, which replaces the Twister: Ride It Out attraction.

On his show, Fallon described Race through New York as “scary, fun, exciting” and said the attraction will feature smoke, scent and water effects.

5) Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout at Disney California Adventure

The venerable Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure will get a “Guardians of the Galaxy” overlay in time for the May release of the film’s sequel.

Mission: Breakout, as the new “Guardians of the Galaxy” ride will be known, will take visitors on a comical and thrilling ride on the indoor drop tower with new visual effects and music from the film’s soundtrack, according to Disney.

6) Mystic Timbers wooden coaster at Kings Island

The new Mystic Timbers wooden coaster coming to Ohio’s Kings Island in 2017 promises a 50 mph race through the woods combined with a tantalizing mystery: What’s in the shed?

Built by Pennsylvania-based Great Coasters International, the 109-foot-tall coaster will traverse 16 airtime hills through wooded terrain along a 3,265-foot-long track, according to park officials.

Themed as an abandoned lumber mill, the ride ends in a mystical vine-covered shed that is expected to feature a special effects finale.

7) InvadR coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

The InvadR hybrid wood-steel coaster coming to Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 2017 will feature an 81-foot first drop and nine airtime hills.

The Virginia theme park let fans vote on the ride’s name and will crowdsource the Viking-themed coaster’s design.

The new Great Coasters International ride will use refurbished trains from the former Gwazi coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa, according to Screamscape.

8) Joker 4-D coaster

The fourth-dimension roller coasters coming to three Six Flags parks will feature seats that spin forward and backward as the train navigates a zigzagging track with undulating straightaways and free-fall drops.

For 2017, the 4-D coasters are heading to Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags New England (Massachusetts) and Six Flags Great America (Illinois).

The 4-D Free Spin coaster by Utah-based S&S Worldwide, built on a relatively compact footprint, snakes back and forth on a serpentine track like a demonic pachinko game.

Similar versions of the 4-D coasters have been built at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey.

9) Justice League: Battle for Metropolis 3-D

Six Flags Over Georgia, Six Flags Great Adventure and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia plan to introduce Justice League 3-D interactive dark rides for 2017.

The rides, themed to the crime-fighting team of DC Comics superheroes, will feature motion-platform vehicles, animatronic figures and laser-gun game play. Along the way, riders will help Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern face off against the Joker, Lex Luthor and other comic book villains in this ride designed by Florida-based Sally Corp.

Since 2015, identical Justice League attractions have been rolled out at Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags St. Louis, Six Flags Great America and Six Flags Mexico.

10) Wave Breaker coaster at SeaWorld San Antonio

SeaWorld San Antonio plans to add an $18-million personal-watercraft-themed roller coaster in 2017, according to Screamscape.

SeaWorld recently filed a trademark for a roller coaster named Wave Breaker: The Rescue. The Texas marine animal park has been teasing a new Jet Ski-themed attraction for 2017.

11) Ocean Explorer ride at SeaWorld San Diego

The Ocean Explorer ride coming to SeaWorld San Diego in spring 2017 will take visitors on a simulated underwater research mission aboard a miniature submarine.

Educational information will appear on the sub’s digital dashboard as the indoor-outdoor ride passes aquariums filled with spider crabs, jellyfish and octopus, according to SeaWorld.

The California park will also add a jellyfish-themed wave swinger carousel as well as three kiddie rides.

12) Triple Towers at Hersheypark

The new Triple Towers coming to Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark in 2017 combines three drop tower rides in one attraction, according to theme park officials.

The three rides will have varying heights, thrill levels and candy themes: Kisses Tower (80 feet), Reese’s Tower (131 feet) and Hershey’s Tower (189 feet).

13) Great Nor’Easter coaster renovation at Morey’s Piers

Morey’s Piers in New Jersey plans a $4-million renovation of the Great Nor’Easter inverted coaster for the 2017 season, according to Shore News Today.

The 1995 Vekoma coaster, which features seats that hang below the track, will be retracked by the Netherlands-based manufacturer for a smoother ride.

The Jersey Shore waterfront park will hold a contest to choose a new name for the renovated coaster.

14) Ninjago World themed land at Legoland Florida

A dark ride coming to Legoland Florida in January will allow riders use karate-chop hand gestures to shoot fireballs at ninja warriors on giant video screens.

The high-tech Ninjago: The Ride will feature sensors on the front of each ride vehicle that register the hand movements of riders who zap color-coded fireballs at digital screens populated with animated Lego figures.

Based on a line of ninja-inspired Lego toys and a spin-off television show, the dark ride will be the centerpiece of a new Asian-inspired Ninjago themed land featuring test-of-skill games, a restaurant and a retail store.

15) Classic flat rides at Carowinds, Dorney Park and Worlds of Fun

A team of scavengers scoured the globe for vintage flat rides — industry-speak for spinning thrill rides that travel near the ground and/or rise up into the air — to bring back to Cedar Fair amusement parks in the United States in time for the 2017 season.

After extensive rehabs, four of the rides —  a Huss Troika, Mondial Top Scan, Mack Music Express and Zierer Wave Swinger — are heading to Carowinds outside Charlotte, N.C.

Two of the rides — another Huss Troika and a Huss Condor — are on their way to Missouri’s Worlds of Fun.

Pennsylvania’s Dorney Park will also get a Huss Troika and bumper cars.

16) Swing towers

Valleyfair will replace an aging Enterprise spinning flat ride with a 230-foot-tall Star Flyer tower swing ride in 2017, according to park officials.

The new Star Flyer ride from Austria-based FunTime is a departure for Cedar Fair, Valleyfair’s parent company, which has installed similar Windseeker tower swing rides by Netherlands-based Mondial at several parks.

Six Flags America in Maryland will also add a 242-foot-tall FunTime swing tower called Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth.

17) Patriot floorless coaster at California’s Great America

California’s Great America amusement park in Santa Clara will convert Vortex from a stand-up coaster to a floorless coaster in 2017, according to park officials.

Stand-up coasters, designed to let riders stand throughout the ride, were developed during the coaster wars of the 1990s when ridemakers sought to outdo each other with gimmicky innovations. Floorless coasters, which let riders freely swing their feet with nothing below them, offer a more comfortable rider experience.

The 1991 Great America coaster, built by Switzerland-based Bolliger & Mabillard, will be rechristened Patriot following the conversion. The repainted track will remain unchanged.

In 2015, Ohio's Cedar Point converted the 1996 Mantis stand-up coaster into a floorless coaster now known as Rougarou.

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