There’s no getting around it. What’s most anticipated at theme parks this year – and we’re talking intergalactic Anticipation with a capital “A” – are the two new Star Wars lands at the Disney parks. If you haven’t heard much about them yet, you will as The Mouse will surely supercharge its synergy synapses and hightail the hype into hyperdrive.
But there are plenty of other cool things coming to parks in 2019, including some wild roller coasters (over which I rhapsodize in an earlier article). It’s not just parks. A number of pilgrimage-worthy attractions will open at nontraditional venues. Let’s run down some of the coolest rides (other than coasters) that are on the way, starting with the obvious.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland in California and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida
Two rides will headline the lavishly themed, nearly identical 14-acre lands coming to both of Disney’s U.S. resorts. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run will empower visitors to take control of Han Solo’s famed hunk-of-junk starship, while Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will place them on the front lines of a skirmish between the Resistance and the First Order. Beyond the rides, expect lots of details to explore, blue milk and other distinctive drinks and dishes to sample, and interactive opportunities to experience, including the chance to meet Kylo Ren. The West Coast Galaxy’s Edge will open in the summer, while the galactic gang won’t make it to Florida until the fall.
Star Wars fans are eagerly awaiting the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but there’s lots more in store for Walt Disney World in 2019.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Wonderful World of Animation at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida
Mickey recently celebrated his 90th birthday, but the cherubic mascot hasn’t aged a whit. In fact, retro, pie-eyed versions of Mr. Mouse and his constant companion will star in their first ride, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Set to debut in the fall, passengers will be magically transported into an animated world alongside the mice where they will board a train with Goofy at the helm. What could possibly go wrong?
On May 1, the new nighttime show, Wonderful World of Animation, will premiere at the park as part of Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ 30th anniversary. It will draw on the Disney studio’s overflowing catalog of movies and characters and use the Chinese Theatre (which will also house the Runaway Railway ride) as the backdrop for the multimedia presentation.
Nickelodeon Universe and other entertainment venues at American Dream in East Rutherford, New Jersey
This is not your father’s mall. When the 3-million-square-foot American Dream (the third-largest mall in North America) opens in 2019, it will boast more space devoted to entertainment than to retail shops. Leading the lineup will be Nickelodeon Universe, the largest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere. It will feature rides (including two record-breaking roller coasters), live shows, and games based on SpongeBob SquarePants, Blaze and the Monster Machines, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other Nickelodeon characters.
American Dream will also include the indoor, glass-domed, 8-acre Dreamworks Water Park. It will be open year-round and feature an enormous wave pool and other rides themed to the animation studio’s movies. Open year-round as well will be Big Snow America, the first indoor ski and snowboard park in North America. Among its attractions will be a 16-story-tall, 800-foot-long ski slope and an ice-climbing wall.
Outside the complex will be The American Dream Observation Wheel, a 235-foot-tall slow-moving ride with climate-controlled cars that will offer stunning views of the Manhattan skyline. Other venues will include an outpost of KidZania, where children can try their hand at a variety of professions and roles, a Legoland Discovery Center, a Sea Life Aquarium, and a large ice skating rink. If all of that fun makes you hungry, American Dream claims it will have more eateries than any other mall in the country.
The Lego Movie World at Legoland Florida
The Lego brand soared in popularity when the wildly funny “The Lego Movie” opened to critical and audience acclaim in 2014. (A sequel is set to open this February.) Legoland wisely capitalized on the hoopla and incorporated elements from the films into its theme parks. Legoland Florida will open an entire land devoted to the movies this spring. The featured attraction will be The Lego Movie Masters of Flight. A flying theater attraction (think Soarin’ from the Disney parks), it will immerse passengers in the films’ offbeat animated world. The land will also include Unikitty’s Disco Drop, a drop tower ride; Battle of Bricksburg, a ride that will arm passengers with water sprayers; and Emmet’s Super Suite, where visitors will be able to meet characters from the movies.
Lionsgate Entertainment City in New York City’s Times Square
Another new indoor venue, Lionsgate Entertainment City will present experiences based on the movie studio’s films and television shows such as “Divergent,” “Gods of Egypt” and “Ash vs Evil Dead.” There will be a motion simulator attraction that will take passengers on an adventure in the Capitol from “The Hunger Games,” an interactive shooting dark ride set to the movie “John Wick: Chapter Two,” and a VR experience that will place participants on virtual motorcycles and unleash them in the world of the film “Nerve.” When the Lionsgate complex opens in the fall, visitors will also be able to load up on carbs at Peeta’s Bakery and make like Don Draper and order an Old Fashioned at the Mad Men Lounge.
Kind Heaven at The Linq in Las Vegas
Perhaps the most outré venue to open in 2019 will be Kind Heaven, a hard-to-describe $100 million attraction set to open in the late summer on the Las Vegas Strip. The brainchild of Jane’s Addiction front man and Lollapalooza impresario Perry Farrell, it will include dining and live music enveloped in a highly themed experience. Visitors will be transported, using theme park trickery, to Asian locales modeled after Bangkok, Taipei, the Himalayas and elsewhere. Vegas is no stranger to grand spectacle, but Kind Heaven promises to be especially audacious.
Sesame Street at SeaWorld Orlando
There are plenty of sunny days in Orlando. And now you’ll know how to get to Sesame Street when SeaWorld brings the beloved locale to its park. After guests visit Mr. Hooper’s store, the 123 stoop, Big Bird’s nest and other iconic spots, they’ll be able to hop on themed rides such as Elmo’s ChooChoo Train and Slimey’s Slider (which will let kids explore Oscar the Grouch’s compost heap – ew!). The former Shamu Express family coaster will get a makeover with the new name, Super Grover’s Box Car Derby. A parade featuring characters from the show will wind its way down Sesame Street daily.
Wildwood Grove at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
For its latest expansion, Dollywood carved out a 6-acre tract for the $37 million Wildwood Grove. Geared to visitors with children, the land will welcome original woodland characters such as Benjamin Bear and the fairy butterflies Flit and Flutter. The centerpiece Wildwood Tree will sparkle with incandescent leaves and other effects after dusk. Rides will include the spinning TreeTop Tower and the galleon ride, Sycamore Swing.
Jurassic World at Universal Studios Hollywood
The Jurassic Park ride has been terrorizing visitors with its fearsome dinosaurs and splashdown finale for years. With the “Jurassic World” reboot amassing T. Rex-sized box office receipts, Universal is getting its water ride spiffed up for the next generation of genetically engineered, prehistoric creatures.
Meow Wolf’s Kaleidoscape at Elitch Gardens in Denver
The art collective Meow Wolf is partnering with Elitch Gardens to bring what it is describing as the “first artist-driven dark ride.” The multimedia attraction, which will open in April, will likely be highly colorful (you know, like a kaleidoscope) and trippy.
Calico River Rapids at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California
The park’s BigFoot Rapids gets a makeover and will reopen in the summer as Calico River Rapids. Like its wonderful, classic attractions Calico Mine Ride and Timber Mountain Log Ride, Knott’s will be introducing animatronic characters and themed show scenes. It will also amp up the river rapids thrills for the ride.
Reese’s Cupfusion at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Another makeover, the former Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge will morph into Reese’s Cupfusion at the candy-crazy park. In the new version of the interactive dark ride, visitors are assigned the mission of protecting the candy factory while scoring points.
Pirates of the Deep Sea at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio
Previously themed to Scooby-Do, Six Flags has re-imagined its interactive dark ride with new, original, seafaring characters. Scheduled to open on Jan. 12, passengers will wage battle against nefarious mermaids and pirates, including the dastardly Captain Morgold, while trying to capture hidden treasures. They will use onboard guns to shoot at targets and rack up points along with the booty.
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