I've visited many theme parks in the United States over the last few years as the theme park blogger for The Times' Travel website, but this summer's crop of rides already has me updating my bucket list. Here's a look at some of the biggest new roller coasters, dark rides, live shows, water slides and themed lands planned for this summer at theme parks across the country.
Silver Dollar City, Mo.
If I could visit only one theme park this summer, I'd head to Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., to climb aboard the triple-inversion Outlaw Run hybrid (wood and steel) roller coaster, this year's most eagerly awaited new ride.
With a top speed of 68 mph and an 81-degree first drop, the $10-million Outlaw Run features a double barrel roll and a 153-degree over-banked turn with nine "airtime" hills. Attempts have been made in the past at constructing a looping wooden coaster, but the results have been mixed to poor.
Also, two aging wooden coasters — Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Hades 360 at Wisconsin's Mt. Olympus — have been transformed into new rides with the addition of gravity-defying inversions. Expect the trend to continue with more parks adding inversions to their existing wooden coasters.
399 Silver Dollar City Parkway, Branson, Mo.; (417) 336-7100, http://www.silverdollarcity.com
Cedar Point, Ohio
Ride enthusiasts have consistently voted Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, the world's top theme park. It's added to its impressive arsenal of roller coasters with the Gatekeeper.
Billed as the tallest, fastest and longest "winged" coaster (no track above or below the rider) with the highest inversion of any coaster in the world, the $30-million ride flies over Cedar Point's front entrance as the new icon of the amusement park.
After climbing a 170-foot-tall lift hill, Gatekeeper rotates upside down before plummeting into a dive drop at speeds topping 65 mph. The coaster passes over the new Cedar Point entrance twice — first during a zero-gravity roll through a pair of keyhole towers and again during a 360-degree inline roll.
Similar winged coasters were added in 2012 at Tennessee's Dollywood (Wild Eagle) and Six Flags Great America outside Chicago (X-Flight).
1 Cedar Point Drive, Sandusky, Ohio; (419) 627-2350, http://www.cedarpoint.com
Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin
SeaWorld Orlando, Fla.
SeaWorld's Antarctica is the marquee new attraction in the theme-park nirvana of central Florida. This dark ride transforms its 24-year-old Penguin Encounter habitat into a new winter-themed land with 55-foot-tall glaciers in the shape of nuzzling penguins.
Its centerpiece is a motion-simulator-based interactive ride offering varied adventures from a penguin's point of view. Visitors choose a mild or wild experience aboard a ride vehicle that spins, bumps and waddles.
Also in Florida, an alien robot invasion takes over Universal Studios Orlando in the form of the Transformers 3-D motion-simulator dark ride, and work continues on the Fantasyland expansion at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
7007 Sea World Drive, Orlando, Fla.; (888) 800-5447, http://www.seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-orlando