At first I thought it was too early to look ahead at the new attractions coming to U.S. theme parks in 2012, but then I realized a number of big rides have already been announced and many more are being teased in elaborate marketing campaigns.
Photos: Most anticipated new U.S. theme park rides for 2012
It already seems like 2012 is shaping up as a good year for ride enthusiasts and theme park fans as the major industry players are planning to roll out big projects that have been on the drawing boards for a while.
Coming in 2011: Top 10 new U.S. theme park rides debuting this summer
Other projects remain mysteries that the marketing divisions at the individual parks have been relentlessly priming with viral campaigns designed to build excitement in advance of an official announcement.
Since it is still early, I'll update my Top 12 over the coming months as new projects are announced. Until then, here's my list of most anticipated rides for 2012:
1) Cars Land, the 12-acre themed land under construction at Disney California Adventure, will feature three new rides set amid a faithful re-creation of the isolated red rock desert town populated by Lightning McQueen and other animated vehicles in the Pixar movie “Cars.”
2) The Magic Kingdom will transform Fantasyland into a magical fairy-tale forest with new and upgraded rides, character meet-and-greet areas and a themed restaurant. The centerpiece of the expansion at the Florida park will be a new Little Mermaid dark ride that will take visitors on a musical journey under the sea with Ariel and her friends.
3) Universal Studios Hollywood will add a Transformers dark ride featuring 3-D high-definition footage with special effects and robotics. The new Transformers attraction at the California park is expected to constitute the next generation of the Spiderman dark ride systems at Universal Studios parks in Florida and Japan.
4) Canada's Wonderland moves into the top echelon of the world's roller coaster parks in 2012 with the addition of Leviathan, the Toronto-area amusement park's 16th coaster (just one behind the 17 coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain and Cedar Point). The $28-million inversionless Giga coaster will include an 80-degree first drop followed by a series of camelback hills and a 115-degree overbanked hammerhead turn.
5) Six Flags Great America (X-Flight) and Dollywood (Wild Eagle) will both add similar wing coasters by Bolliger & Mabillard in 2012. With riders sitting on either side of a 3,000-foot-long track in a winged formation, both coasters will feature multiple inversions and high-speed drops.
6) The Verbolten multi-launch roller coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg will take riders on a high-speed drive along the German autobahn before detouring through the forbidden Black Forest. The themed family coaster will feature two launch zones and an indoor section of the ride with special effects and a free-fall platform.
8) SeaWorld San Diego will add a $10 million-plus roller coaster that marks the U.S. debut of a highly anticipated prototype ride. The 30-foot-tall Manta coaster at the California park will feature dual launch zones, a 54-foot drop into a subterranean trench and a dramatic wing dip into a shallow lake over a 2,800-foot-long track.
9) Hersheypark will add a first-of-its-kind $25-million steel roller coaster in 2012 that will be the tallest, fastest and longest at the Pennsylvania theme park. The 200-foot-tall Skyrush coaster will feature a near-vertical 85-degree first drop followed by four high-speed banking turns and five airtime hills at speeds reaching 75 mph.
10) The Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom drop tower at Six Flags Magic Mountain will be attached to both sides of the park's 415-foot-tall Superman: Escape from Krypton coaster tower. The new thrill ride will rank as the world’s tallest (400 feet) and fastest (85 mph) drop tower.
12) Holiday World's new ride for next year is essentially the same ride the Indiana theme park added last year. The $9-million Mammoth, destined to become the world's longest water coaster when it debuts in 2012, will unseat the previous title holder, Wildebeest, which Holiday World added in 2010.