- Tom Kelley The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Want to venture off to the world of Pandora from “Avatar” or dive into a new water park that surrounds a 200-foot volcano? This summer, you can do this and more, thanks to new attractions that are opening at amusement and theme parks across the Southeast.
Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of the amusement park season, and it’s when most places are introducing their new rides and attractions for 2017. Ranging from tranquil pools to thrilling rides to immersive lands, there’s something that everybody in the family can enjoy.
Some of the biggest attractions are debuting at the big Orlando, Fla., parks, but places closer to home have plenty to offer, and they can be enjoyed on a day trip or a weekend jaunt. Here’s a sampling of what’s new:
Walt Disney World
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is debuting Pandora — The World of Avatar, an entire new area of the animal-oriented park that’s based on James Cameron’s 2009 movie. The land is a marvel of landscaping, with “floating” mountains and bioluminescent plants. Two new rides are featured: Avatar Flight of Passage is a 3-D flight simulator that takes riders on a trip on the back of a banshee, while Na’vi River Journey is an indoor boat ride that floats guests on a river tour of the rain forest of Pandora.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom, 2901 Osceola Parkway, Orlando, Fla.www.disneyworld.com.
Universal’s Volcano Bay is a new 30-acre water park featuring the usual assortment of wave pools, sand beaches, lazy rivers and slides. But some of them go around and through the 200-foot Krakatau volcano that dominates the landscape. Noteworthy is the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, a ride that propels riders uphill and along a twisty, wet route. The park also gives guests a wristband device called TapuTapu that allows them to reserve ride times on some of the attractions so they can enjoy the pool or beach instead of waiting in long lines. Over at Universal Studios Florida, the theme park has added Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, a 3-D ride that takes guests on a virtual race through the city with the “Tonight Show” host. You’ll encounter the sights and smells of the city, a splash of the Hudson River and Hashtag the Panda.
Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Boulevard at I-4, Orlando, Fla. www.universalorlando.com.
SeaWorld is joining the virtual ride craze by adding the technology to its Kraken roller coaster. Riders will wear VR headsets that turn the coaster into a deep-sea mission where they encounter various sea creatures. The ride is set to open June 16. For those who crave something less thrilling, the park’s Dolphin Nursery is being enhanced, including large viewing windows and multiple levels of viewing. It will open later this summer.
SeaWorld Orlando, 7007 SeaWorld Drive, Orlando, Fla. www.seaworld.com/orlando.
Fun Spot America — Kissimmee
This fun little park in the shadow of the big Orlando institutions is building Mine Blower, a wooden roller coaster that features a 360-degree barrel roll, an 80-foot drop and plenty of hills and turns packed into a tight footprint. The ride is under construction and an opening date has not been set, but the park hopes it will be operating around the Fourth of July. The park includes an assortment of other rides, including a steel roller coaster, go-kart tracks and various spinning rides. A sister park in Orlando, across I-4 from Universal Orlando, also has a wooden roller coaster and assorted rides and go-karts.
Fun Spot America-Kissimmee, 2850 Florida Plaza Blvd., Kissimmee, Fla. www.fun-spot.com.
Six Flags Over Georgia
Six Flags celebrates its 50th anniversary with Justice League: Battle for Metropolis. It’s a slow, dark ride through an enormous building that combines 3-D video, special effects, animatronics, and plenty of fun and excitement. Riders don 3-D glasses and aim “stun blasters” to battle the bad guys, rescue the heroes and save Metropolis in an immersive experience that’s part comic book, part video game.
Six Flags Over Georgia, west of Atlanta on I-20 outside of I-285 (275 Riverside Parkway, Austell). www.sixflags.com/overgeorgia.
This amusement park that straddles the North Carolina-South Carolina line south of Charlotte, N.C., is adding four classic carnival rides in its County Fair section. Electro-Spin flips riders 63 feet in the air with their legs dangling in floorless seats; the Zephyr swing spins guests in a circle up in the air; Do-Si-Do’s three giant arms whirl them up and around in circles; and Rock ‘N’ Roller combines music and lights with a hilly, circular ride. The area also features booths with typical fair food: hot dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, etc.
I-77 at the North/South Carolina line south of Charlotte, N.C. www.carowinds.com.
Stone Mountain Park
Dinosaur Explore in the park’s Crossroads area lets visitors interact with 14 types of dinosaurs including 20 full-size species with special effects that make them move and roar. Among them are two brachiosauruses that are more than 20 feet tall and 33 feet long. The exhibit is open through 2017 but only on days when the park attractions are open; check the website calendar for details.
Stone Mountain Park, 1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd., Stone Mountain. www.stonemountainpark.com.
This amusement park off I-75 in Valdosta is adding a new area to its Splash Island water park: Ohana Bay adds some kid-friendly slides as well as others that teens and adults can enjoy. A splash play area and additional seating complete Ohana Bay. Splash Island is included with regular admission to the Wild Adventures theme park.
Wild Adventures and Splash Island, 3766 Old Clyattville Road, Valdosta. www.wildadventures.com.
Dollywood is best known for its shows and food, but for 2017, the park is adding two new rides: Drop Line, a 200-foot free-fall drop tower, and Whistle Punk Chaser, a smaller roller coaster aimed at younger visitors. Both rides are located in the park’s Timber Canyon section. The neighboring Splash Country water park is adding Tailspin Racer, a high-speed racing water slide.
Dollywood and Splash Country, 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd., Pigeon Forge, Tenn. www.dollywood.com.