Orlando, Fla. Visitors will find few new cutting-edge rides at the nation's amusement and theme parks this summer, despite starring roles in attractions based on the Mummy, SpongeBob SquarePants and Crocodile Dundee.
Industry leaders say this year is one of the least thrilling in a while when it comes to innovative rides. Many of the parks are still recovering from flat attendance during the past couple of years and are coasting off past investments or putting their money into sprucing up restaurants, bathrooms and other amenities.
The ride generating the most buzz for this season is Revenge of the Mummy, a dark-ride roller coaster opening at a cost of $40 million each at Universal Studios' parks in Florida and California. The ride uses technology found in magnetic levitation trains to take riders through a faux-Egyptian catacomb inspired by the movies "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns." The ride is filled with humanlike robotics, screens that re-create walls crawling with beetles and a track-switch that allows cars to zoom backward into a drop.
Another stomach-churner opening this month is Hersheypark's Storm Runner, a coaster with a hydraulic launch that sends riders speeding up to 72 mph in two seconds. The $12.5 million ride at the Pennsylvania park has a 180-foot drop, two corkscrew rolls and a 135-foot Cobra loop.
Disney's California Adventure is opening the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a free-fall ride among the most popular at the Disney-MGM Studios park in Orlando. SeaWorld San Diego opens Journey to Atlantis, a combination water flume and roller coaster that put SeaWorld Orlando on the thrill ride map four years ago.
SeaWorld Orlando for the first time is offering an outdoor night show that will entice visitors to stay past dinnertime. "Mistify" projects images on a screen of mist and uses dancing fountains, underwater light shows and fireworks over its waterfront. Next door, sister park Discovery Cove is allowing guests to swim with bottlenose dolphins at night and then offering a gourmet dinner afterward for $249 per person.
After more than a year of being shuttered, the 68-year-old Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Fla., reopens in July as a hybrid of a thrill-ride park and a botanical gardens.
Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington is introducing SpongeBob SquarePants The Ride 4-D, a 100-seat theater that combines a 3-D film with other sensory effects.
This year, Paramount Parks, which owns five parks in North America, is looking to a movie hero from the 1980s, Crocodile Dundee, as inspiration for two water parks. Paul Hogan, the actor who played the Aussie outbacker, has signed on as a spokesman for the Australian-themed water parks called Boomerang Bay. The water parks have opened at Paramount's Great America in California and Paramount's Kings Island in Ohio.
Spinning Dragons new at Worlds of Fun
Kansas City, Mo. -- For its 2004 season, Worlds of Fun unleashes Spinning Dragons, a five-story-tall roller coaster featuring hairpin turns and plummeting spirals that reaches speeds of more than 30 mph.
Spinning Dragons has cars that carry two pairs of passengers who face one another. Centrifugal force causes each car to spin independently and unpredictably as it makes its way through the track's rapid directional changes.
Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun are on the east loop of U.S. Interstate 435 at exit 54. For more information, call (816) 454-4545 or see www.worldsoffun.com.