Record numbers of theme park visitors are preparing for thrilling and memorable new experiences this year.

According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions’ IAAPA Global Theme and Amusement Park Outlook Report (2017 to 2021), more than 398 million people are expected to take part in the fun in the months ahead. 

Roller coasters are a big part of what’s new this season, and an abundance of new rides and experiences—more than 70 according to the IAAPA compilation—include water slides, kiddie rides and new themed lands. 

According to park guest surveys, roller coasters remain the top-rated ride of interest to park guests, and 2018 will see many new coasters deliver big thrills.

With 12 roller coasters, four giant swings, four towering rides and, many more unique experiences to excite visitors, parks across the country are ready for a season filled with fun.

Family entertainment centers are a segment of the attractions industry that continues to grow and expand, offering an array of experiences from golf and go-karting to ziplines and trampolines.

These traditionally smaller destinations provide a mix of activities designed for parents and kids to experience together. 

Families can also soak up the fun at dozens of water parks, with many new water slides and water attractions making a splash all season long.

Discover what's new here: 

NORTH AMERICA 

CANADA

Alberta

Calgary Zoo opens Panda Passage exhibit for its two new adult pandas and two panda cubs. Panda Passage enhances the habitat that formerly housed the zoo's Komodo dragons and rhinoceroses. calgaryzoo.com

Ontario

Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan opens two new rides and an expanded play and splash area for children. “Lumberjack” is a thrill ride that takes guests to heights of 75 feet on two swinging-axe pendulums, propelling them in 360-degree loops. “Flying Canoes” is an interactive family ride that allows passengers to control their adventure on two-person canoes that rotate around a circuit. In addition, Splash Island’s children’s pool in Splash Works will double in size and feature several new interactive spray features. canadaswonderland.com

Quebec

La Ronde in Montreal debuts Carnaval en Folie, a new family zone where colors and sounds re-create the festive atmosphere of the fairs and carnivals of yesterday. The Carnaval en Folie zone will include three new rides: the “Toubillon” carousel, the “Petite Roue” Ferris wheel, and “Tour du Fou,” a high-flying merry-go-round. laronde.com/fr/larondef 

MEXICO

KidZania, the interactive entertainment destination for kids opens in Guadalajara. Children can role-play in more than 100 real-life occupations, explore the kids’ city and have fun, while learning through realistic role-play designed specifically for children ages 2-14. guadalajara.kidzania.com/es-mx

UNITED STATES 

Alabama

Top Golf

Topgolf opens its second Alabama location in Huntsville. The 53,000-square-foot venue will feature climate-controlled hitting bays for year-round play, a chef-driven food and beverage menu, music, private rooms for corporate and social events, and more than 200 high-definition televisions. Now open. topgolf.com/us/huntsville

Arizona

Topgolf opens its third Greater Phoenix location in Glendale. The 65,000-square-foot, three-level venue includes up to 3,000 square feet of private event space and climate-controlled hitting bays that can host up to six players at one time. topgolf.com/us/glendale

California

Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach debuts a 29,000-square-foot Pacific Visions expansion. The new area includes an immersive 300-seat interactive theater, art gallery, and additional exhibition space for live animals. aquariumofpacific.org

California’s Great America in Santa Clara opens “RailBlazer,” a new roller coaster featuring a 90-degree drop, three inversions, and dynamic rotations throughout the ride. Guests straddle the coaster’s single track giving them an unobstructed view of the ground and sky during the off-road adventure-inspired ride. cagreatamerica.com

Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim debuts Pixar Pier, a transformed land where guests will enjoy newly themed attractions, foods, and merchandise representing beloved Disney Pixar stories. The experience includes the “Incredicoaster” themed after “The Incredibles” film, and neighborhoods based on “The Incredibles,” “Toy Story,” and “Inside Out.” Opens June 23. disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog

Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park premieres a new steel roller coaster “Hang Time.” The ride towers 150 feet over the park’s boardwalk area, and ride experience includes inversions, midair suspensions, and twisting dives along the track. “Hang Time” will send riders up a vertical lift hill and down into a 15-story, 96-degree drop that gives the illusion the track has disappeared. Opens May 18. knotts.com

Legoland California Resort in Carlsbad opens Legoland Castle Hotel, a three-story, 250-room hotel (now open). Accommodations range from 20 suites to guestrooms themed to knights, princesses and more. The park also opens “Lego City Deep Sea Adventure” submarine ride. Up to 12 passengers board one of eight real submarines as they explore an imaginative underwater ocean world. Open. legoland.com/california

SeaWorld San Diego opens “Electric Eel,” the park’s third roller coaster. The 150-foot-tall ride features a triple-launch with accelerations of more than 60 mph. Now open. seaworld.com/san-diego 

Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia introduces “CraZanity,” a towering pendulum attraction that seats riders in an outward-facing circle and speeds up to 75 mph as it swings 172 feet in the air. The park’s Drop of Doom tower also gets a new virtual reality element, “DC Superheroes Drop of Doom VR”. Riders don headgear allowing them to join characters battling villains, all while plunging 85 mph down a 400-foot tower. sixflags.com/magicmountain

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo debuts “Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster.” The ride’s two trains seat 32 riders face-to-face as they speed past each other in a dueling adventure. The figure-eight coaster turns riders upside down 12 times. sixflags.com/discoverykingdom

Universal Studios Hollywood debuts Kung-Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest in the DreamWorks Theatre. The immersive experience will be the first to use interior projection mapping technology including seven 4K projectors, 360-degree surround sound and physical effects including wind and water, raging rapids and the characters from King-Fu Panda. Opens summer.  universalstudioshollywood.com

Waterworld Concord introduces “Splashwater Island,” a four-story water play structure with more than 100 features. Guests will ascend ladders and splash down more than nine water slides.  waterworldcalifornia.com

Connecticut

Quassy Amusement & Waterpark in Middlebury opens its Category 5 Rapids slide complex featuring three water slides at its Splash Away Bay water park. The largest of the slides is named “Torrent” featuring a funnel design sending riders up its walls and oscillating to create a weightless sensation before flushing out riders. Open. quassy.com Toy Story land Familytravel.com

Florida

Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Waterpark in Orlando introduces Ray Rush, a new family raft slide which launches riders through enclosed tubes, a translucent sphere, and an open halfpipe slide shaped like a manta ray. aquaticabyseaworld.com/en/orlando 

Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista opens “Toy Story Land” featuring characters Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Slinky Dog. Toy Story Land features two new attractions: the “Slinky Dog Dash” family roller coaster and “Alien Swirling Saucers,” a flying saucer ride. Opens. disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/hollywood-studios/toy-story-land

Legoland Florida Resort in Winter Haven introduces “The Great Lego Race,” an attraction that is created by transforming the “Project X” roller coaster into a virtual reality experience that takes riders through a rollicking race. Donning virtual reality headsets and using Bluetooth technology the ride synchronizes virtual visuals with the roller coaster’s twists, turns, drops and climbs, creating an all-new experience. legoland.com/florida 

SeaWorld Orlando debuts “Infinity Falls,” the world’s tallest river rapid ride. Each raft will twist and turn through a lush jungle environment as guests experience up to Class IV river rapids. A unique vertical elevator lifts each raft for a dramatic launch into the river, 40 feet below. seaworld.com/orlando/rides/infinity-falls

Topgolf 
opens its second South Florida location in Doral. The 65,000-square-foot venue features golf games using microchipped balls that instantly score themselves, showing players the accuracy and distance of their shots instantly on a television screen in their hitting bay.  topgolf.com/us/doral

Universal Studios Florida opens “Fast and Furious – Supercharged” which immerses guests in the popular franchise, complete with authentic cars and characters from the movies. Now open. universalorlando.com

Georgia

Great Wolf Resorts
 opens its first Georgia property in LaGrange. Great Wolf Lodge Georgia features indoor water slides, a giant tipping bucket, wave pool, lazy river, and a family raft ride. Additional family-focused attractions outside the water park include the “MagiQuest” interactive adventure game and the indoor Great Wolf Adventure Park. Open. greatWolf.com/Georgia

Six Flags Over Georgia near Atlanta opens “Twisted Cyclone,” a hybrid roller coaster that goes from a 75-degree initial drop to three inversions at 50 mph. The coaster train, modeled after a classic 1960s sports car, combines a traditional wood coaster structure with a steel track. sixflags.com/overgeorgia/attractions/newfor2018

Wild Adventures in Valdosta adds “Megabugs! Adventure Encounters,” a new interactive area including more than 70 exhibits featuring big insects and arachnids. wildadventures.com

Idaho

Roaring Springs, the water park in Meridian, adds three new water slides in its new Bearfoot Bay expansion. Open. roaringsprings.com

Illinois

Great Wolf Resorts opens in Chicago’s northern suburb of Gurnee. The company’s 17th resort, Great Wolf Lodge Illinois features indoor water slides, a giant tipping bucket, wave pool, lazy river, and a family raft ride. Additional family-focused attractions outside the water park include the “MagiQuest” interactive adventure game and the indoor Great Wolf Adventure Park. GreatWolf.com/Illinois

Six Flags Great America in Gurnee adds the world’s largest loop coaster, the park’s 16th roller coaster. The 100-foot-tall ride features 32 face-to-face seats and takes daring riders through several 360-degree revolutions. Open.  sixflags.com/greatamerica/attractions/newfor2018

Indiana

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus adds two new thrills for kids celebrating the Swahili word for elephant. The “Tembo Falls” water slide complex features eight junior slides including twisters, helix, mini-bowl and two racing slides and “Tembo Tides” will have a junior wave pool featuring spray features for younger children. holidayworld.com

Iowa

Adventureland in Altoona opens Bernie’s Barnyard, an area created specifically for the park’s youngest guests with kiddie rides, a playground, arcade games, and more. adventurelandresort.com

Kentucky

Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville adds two new rides. “Scream Xtreme” will have riders soaring and spinning high above the park, and closer to the ground the new family ride “Rock ‘n Roller” will leave passengers of all ages dizzy. kentuckykingdom.com

Maine

Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach opens the “Sea Viper” roller coaster. palaceplayland.com

Maryland

Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro debuts a new centerpiece for its Hurricane Harbor Water Park, “Wahoo River.” The themed adventure river will have seven water action zones complete with water arches, geysers, surging waves, waterfalls, and tipping buckets. Open. sixflags.com/america

Massachusetts

Six Flags New England in Agawam debuts “Harley Quinn Spinsanity,” a colossal swing ride that reaches up to 70 mph and spins riders up to 147 feet in the air. sixflags.com/newengland

Minnesota

Topgolf opens its first Minnesota location in Brooklyn Center, near downtown Minneapolis. In the 65,000-square-foot venue, guests can enjoy self-scoring golf games using microchipped balls that instantly show players the accuracy and distance of their shots on a television screen in their hitting bay. topgolf.com/us/minneapolis


Valleyfair in Shakopee opens “Delirious” in its nostalgic Route 76 area. The 70-foot looping thrill ride, which features a train that races around the inside of the track, completes 10 revolutions in less than a minute. valleyfair.com

Missouri

Silver Dollar City in Branson debuts the “Time Traveler” roller coaster, the world’s fastest, steepest and tallest spinning roller coaster. The ride features a 10-story, 90-degree vertical drop and three inversions: a dive loop, a vertical loop, and a zero-G roll along more than a half mile of track. Now open.  silverdollarcity.com/timetraveler

Six Flags St. Louis opens “Typhoon Twister,” in its Hurricane Harbor water park. The hybrid zero-gravity water slide and wave wall sends up to four people barreling down an enclosed 54-foot drop in a cloverleaf raft. sixflags.com/stlouis

Topgolf opens its first Missouri location in Chesterfield. Guests can enjoy point-scoring golf games using microchipped balls that instantly score themselves, showing players the accuracy and distance of their shots instantly on a TV screen in their hitting bay. topgolf.com/us/st-louis

Worlds of Fun
 in Kansas City introduces “Nordic Chaser,” a new family ride. Guests of all ages will board mini-ships that rotate around a circuit, providing the sensation of rising and falling along ocean waves. Now open.  worldsoffun.com

New Jersey

Diggerland in West Berlin, introduces The Rugged Riders and Farm Tractors, bringing to the park a fleet of more than 25 rides guests can drive, ride and operate themselves. The construction theme park for families also announced the Soaring Eagle Zip LineVentrac Tractors and Elevation Station – a scissor lift ride – set to open this season. diggerlandusa.com

Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari in Jackson opens “Cyborg Cyber Spin,” an anti-gravity gondola ride that spins on three separate axes. Twenty-four riders sit with their feet dangling as they twist and turn and are propelled up to seven stories above the ground. sixflags.com/greatadventure

Topgolf opens its second New Jersey location in Mount Laurel. The 65,000-square-foot venue features microchipped golf balls that score themselves, providing players with instant feedback on each shot’s accuracy and distance. topgolf.com/us/mount-laurel 

Six Flags

 

New York

Darien Lake in Darien Center opens the new “Tantrum” roller coaster taking riders up a 98-foot/90-degree vertical lift with a 97-degree drop reaching up to 52 mph rushing through features including an Immelman turn and tilted loop finish. Open. darienlake.com

The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom in Lake George introduces “Pandemonium,” which takes 24 riders at a time on a ride that lifts, spins, and tilts at all angles. At sundown the ride’s colorful light package will illuminate the sky, providing a unique after dark experience. sixflags.com/greatescape

Splish Splash Water Park in Calverton opens two new water slides. On the Riptide Racer four guests simultaneously race head first on mats and get drenched as they sail down. Bombs Away features two dueling 300-foot slides perched from a 50-foot tower, combining the anticipation of the AquaLaunch capsule and visual impact of looping translucent fiberglass as guests await the floor to drop from beneath their feet. splishspash.com

North Carolina

Carowinds near Charlotte debuts Camp Snoopy, a newly expanded kids’ section featuring new rides, and a climb-and-play area, “Beagle Scout Acres.” Camp Snoopy will feature five new rides: “Camp Bus” that lifts guests into the air and lowers them back down to the ground; “Peanuts Trailblazers” puts guests behind the wheel of a Jeep-like vehicle on a small, round speedway; “Kite Eating Tree” sends a kite vehicle up and down a tree; “Pig Pen’s Mud Buggies” rotates around the popular Pig Pen character while bouncing on a bumpy ride and “Woodstock Whirlybirds” an oversized spinning bird’s nest. carowinds.com

Ohio

Cedar Point in Sandusky opens “Steel Vengeance,” a 200-foot-tall hybrid roller coaster featuring a 90-degree initial drop and a Twisted Snake Dive, a maneuver that puts the train into a half-barrel roll, lets it hang upside-down momentarily, before turning back to the direction of travel, just shy of a complete roll. Now open. cedarpoint.com

Oregon

Oaks Amusement Park in Portland debuts a new roller coaster that features a 72-foot vertical lift, a heartline roll, 97-degree loop, and top speeds of 45 mph. The public is helping the park name the new ride through a name-the-coaster contest. Now open. oakspark.com

Pennsylvania

Sesame Place in Langhorne debuts the “Oscar’s Wacky Taxi” ride. The wooden-steel hybrid family roller coaster has a bright yellow, taxi cab-inspired train featuring Oscar the Grouch.  sesameplace.com/philadelphia

Dutch Wonderland in East Lampeter Township opens its first suspended roller coaster named Merlin’s Mayhem featuring a 60-foot rise and two helix turns, making it the park’s tallest ride. dutchwonderland.com 

The Boardwalk at Hersheypark in Hershey opens two water rides. “Breakers Edge Water Coaster” seats four riders on in-line rafts and rockets them through splash-filled hills, tight turns, and sweet thrills perfect for the whole family. On the “Whitecap Racer” guests ride on a mat through turns and tunnels as they sail down six colorful racing lanes. Open. hersheypark.com

Thomas Town at Kennywood will open at the suburban Pittsburgh area park in West Mifflin. The addition will feature four new family rides based on the characters from the beloved children’s series, “Thomas the Tank Engine.” The rides include "Cranky’s Drop Tower," "Harold’s Helicopters," "Firefighting Flynn," and "The Convoy," as well as new shows, gift shop, play area, party pavilion and games. Open.  kennywood.com

Topgolf opens its first Pennsylvania location in Pittsburgh in the summer. The 65,000-square-foot venue features point-scoring golf games using microchipped balls that instantly score themselves, showing players the accuracy and distance of their shots on a television screen in their hitting bay. topgolf.com/us/pittsburgh

Waldameer Park and WaterWorld in Erie opens two new family-friendly rides. “Balloon Race” in Kiddieland sends riders spinning around and gliding up and down in colorful hot-air balloons, while the “CannonBowl” single- or double-tube water slide has drops, twists, and turns before it sends riders spinning around in a giant bowl. waldameer.com

Tennessee

Nashville Shores in Hermitage adds a new Aqua Park on Percy Priest Lake. Designed by Wibbit Sports, the on-the-water play area features monkey bars, action towers, wiggle bridges, a balance slide, and jump. nashvilleshores.com

Texas

Aquatica San Antonio debuts the Taumata Racer, and high-speed, 375-foot racing water slide including a 180-degree turn and tunnel. Now open. aquaticasanantonio.com

Cinergy Entertainment Group opens a new location in Edinburg in summer. The new entertainment center features cinemas, bowling, multi-level laser tag, elevated ropes course, game floor, escape rooms, premium food offerings, full-service bar, multiple event rooms, reserved ticketing, luxury recliner seating, and the Cinergy Epic auditorium. cinergy.com

Crayola Experience opens its fourth location in Plano. Located at The Shops at Willow Bend the magic of Crayola comes to life in a one-of-a-kind attraction is where color, chemistry, and technology magically combine to create a colorful adventure for a child’s imagination. crayolaexperience.com/plano

Schulman’s Movie Bowl Grille adds a 6,000-square-foot location in Denison featuring dine-in movie theaters, 24 Brunswick bowling lanes, an interactive arcade and amusement center, multi-level high-definition laser tag center, full-service restaurant, and a 100,000-square-foot mixed-use retail center. moviebowlgrille.com

Sea Life Aquarium
 and Legoland Discovery Center opens at the Shops at Rivercenter in downtown San Antonio. The complex consists more than 65,000 square feet of interactive and educational attraction space. sanantonio.legolanddiscoverycenter.com

Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio opens “Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster,” a single-rail coaster that features a 90-degree drop, zero-G roll, and a 180-degree stall. sixflags.com/fiestatexas

Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington debuts “Harley Quinn Spinsanity,” a 24-seat gondola-style ride that delivers a combination of negative and positive gravitational forces as it twists and rotates on three separate axes in a continuous movement. sixflags.com/overtexas

Topgolf opens its 11th Texas location in Pharr, in the Rio Grande Valley. The 55,000-square-foot venue features self-scoring golf games using microchipped balls that score themselves, showing players the accuracy and distance of their shots instantly on a television screen in their hitting bay. topgolf.com/us/pharr

Urban Air Adventure Park, a trampoline park for all ages and fitness levels, opens two new locations in Killeen and Tyler. urbanairtrampolinepark.com

Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg debuts “Battle for Eire,” a virtual reality attraction featuring a fierce fairy warrior named Addie who leads riders on an adventure through her homeland of Ireland. Addie’s goal is to rescue the Heart of Eire, which represents the magic of Ireland, with a little help from park guests. seaworldparks.com/buschgardens-williamsburg

Kings Dominion near Richmond debuts “Twisted Timbers,” a hybrid roller coaster featuring a 109-foot barrel-roll drop, three loops, and 20 airtime moments. The 3,351 feet of steel track make some maneuvers possible that were previously unimaginable on a traditional wooden coaster. Now open. kingsdominion.com

Ocean Breeze Waterpark in Virginia Beach opens a new family raft water ride with a patriotic theme.  Riders board four-person tubes at the top of a 70-foot platform before sliding into a dark, enclosed tunnel with a series of unpredictable twists, turns, and drops that lead to a thrilling and refreshing splashdown. oceanbreezewaterpark.com

Washington

Seattle’s Space Needle, one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, is undergoing a 360-degree "spacelift." The new look includes a breathtaking, multi-level, floor-to-ceiling glass viewing experience. With nothing between guests and the view but seamless glass panels and innovative inclined glass benches, visitors will experience the intense feeling of floating on air above the beautiful Seattle landscape. The renovation includes the world's first and only glass rotating floor, lounge and unique dining experience. spaceneedle.com

Wisconsin

Noah’s Ark Waterpark 
in Wisconsin Dells opens a new water slide named “Raja – The World’s Largest King Cobra.” Riders will race side-by-side on tubes from six stories up along more than 335 feet of twists and turns at speeds up to 30 mph, concluding with a 37-foot plunge into the mouth of a massive snake. noahsarkwaterpark.com

Sky Zone opens a new 22,000-square-foot trampoline park in Greenfield. Guests experience “Freestyle Jump,” “Foam Zone,” “Sky Slam,” and “Sky Hoops,” as well as “Ninja Warrior Course,” a “Challenge Zone” that includes jousting pits and an aerial ladder, “Free Climb,” a climbing wall and “Fusion Dodgeball,” a new take on a classic backyard game that uses a trampoline court system as its venue. skyzone.com/greenfield

EUROPE

Belgium

Walibi 
in Wavre debuts a new family-friendly roller coaster. At its adjacent water park, Aqualibi the park opens a 700-square-meter aquatic playground for children. walibi.com/belgium/be-en

Denmark

Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen introduces “Winter in Tivoli,” the historic amusement park’s first winter-season celebration in its 175th anniversary. Operating Feb. 2-25, the park opens an ice-skating rink, shops, and restaurants. Select park rides will operate during the event as well. “Chess – The Musical” will play in the Tivoli Concert Hall. tivoli.dk/en

Germany

Holiday Park in Haßloch opens the Maya the Bee indoor zone with experiences celebrating one of the park’s most popular characters. holidaypark.de/en

Legoland Deutschland Resort 
in Günzburg introduces “The Great Lego Race,” a ride transforming the “Project X” roller coaster into a virtual reality experience that takes riders through a rollicking race. Donning VR headsets and using Bluetooth technology the ride will sync the virtual visuals with the roller coaster’s twists, turns, drops and climbs, creating an all-new experience. legoland.de/en

Great Britain

Alton Towers in Staffordshire opens the “Wicker Man” wooden roller coaster, the park’s first new coaster since 2013 and the U.K.’s first new wooden roller coaster since 1997. The coaster will tower nearly six stories (57.57 feet/17.7 meters) over the park and include a fire-like element. Now open. altontowers.com

Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Blackpool, England, opens “Icon,” a coaster that propels thrill-seekers forward at high speeds at the start of the ride and at a second point halfway through the two-and-a-half-minute experience. blackpoolpleasurebeach.com/icon

Legoland Discovery Centre opens at the Arena Birmingham in Birmingham, England, featuring play areas and adventures including Miniland, an interactive city made of Lego bricks, a 4-D cinema, creative workshops with a master Lego builder, and “Kingdom Quest,” an interactive chariot ride. birmingham.legolanddiscoverycentre.co.uk

Peppa Pig World in Ower, Hampshire, England, debuts two new rides. “The Queen’s Flying Coach Ride” takes families on a tour around the newly extended part of Peppa Pig World and “Grampy Rabbit’s Sailing Club” which takes guests along a new water route to discover Pirate Island. paultonspark.co.uk/attractions/peppa-pig-world

Sweden

Furuvik in Furuvik debuts “Spökjakten,” a dark ride that lets guests compete and collect points by scaring ghosts and other creatures. The park also opens Furuvik Havshotell, a 28-room seaside hotel and restaurant inspired by traditional yacht clubs and classic American boardwalk culture. furuvik.se/english

Liseberg in Gothenberg opens the “Valkyria” dive coaster featuring a vertical 50-meter drop. The ride climbs then pauses at the peak of the life hill briefly before plunging vertically into an underground tunnel at a speed of 105 kph. liseberg.com/en/home

ASIA

China

Little Big City in Beijing is a new family attraction that features interactive, handcrafted miniature locations. It depicts iconic buildings and streets of Beijing city to scale along with special effects and cutting-edge multimedia technology to bring the world class city’s colorful history to life. The attraction also includes more than 6,500 miniature “locales,” created in detail from extensive historical research. merlinentertainments.biz/little-big-city

Japan

Universal Studios Japan 
in Osaka debuts “Final Fantasy XR Ride,” a virtual reality roller coaster. The attraction, based on the "Final Fantasy" video game franchise invites guests to don virtual reality headsets as they board airships to explore various "Final Fantasy" worlds. usj.co.jp/e

Malaysia

Legoland Malaysia Resort in Johor Bahru introduces “The Great Lego Race,” a ride transforming the “Project X” roller coaster into a virtual reality (VR) experience that takes riders through a rollicking race. Donning VR headsets and using Bluetooth technology the ride synchronizes the virtual visuals with the roller coaster’s twists, turns, drops, and climbs, creating an all-new experience. legoland.com.my

LATIN AMERICA

Costa Rica

KidZania, a “mini-city” that allows children to role-play in more than 100 real-life occupations, opens in Heredia. From board member to baker and doctor to truck driver, kids can try their hand at real-life occupations. kidzania.com

 

Published in Adventure

 It's a day every father dreads.

Because it is inevitable, because there is little we can do about it, it looms like a specter on our already difficult parenting journey. Despite our best efforts, there is no avoiding the cultural influence and messages on the sides of busses, on billboards, in pop songs, in movies…even in schoolyard chatter. And, knowing it's coming, we prepare.

Still.

Still there is no disguising the cringe on that fateful day when she finally asks the question… 

"Daddy, can we go to Disneyland?" 

And though you've prepared for this moment, you still cringe and quickly wonder how you might avoid the interminable lines, gum on your shoes, and refrains of "It's a Small World" echoing in your head for months after. 

Now I once worked with a couple of people who had worked at Disneyland as part of a college program, and they both testified with great fervor that it was the most amazing professional experience of their lives. Of course "The Disney Way" is legendary in management circles. But I still imagined some sort of indoctrination ceremony, maybe with someone in a mouse suit handing out cups and saying in that distinctive, high-pitched Mickey voice, "Heh heh, here kids, have some Kool-Aid." 

But parents of small children, listen to me, for I have been to the mountaintop (the Matterhorn, of course) and I have seen Disneyland, and you should not be worried about a thing!

That's right, reluctant mouseketeers, I have visited the Happiest Place on Earth and have left it able to say "Happiest Place on Earth" without a trace of cynicism. I am encouraging you to embrace the mouse. Disney is da bomb and I am a convert! Before I dole out some advice on how to make your Disney experience the best it can be, let me tell you what I think makes this place so amazing. 

Disney's purpose statement is "We make people happy." That's great and all, but who among us isn't jaded by the pervasive corporate practice of treating its purpose statement like a bumper sticker, sort of regretting it's out there once they've sold it out for the sake of quarterly earnings. But when you are at Disneyland, you genuinely have the sense that every single "cast member" (never say employee at Disney) loves their job and truly delights in making every single person they see happy. 

Our daughter, Piper, celebrated her 9th birthday at the park and was given a big button to wear that proclaimed that fact. Now, clearly the 5000 or so park employees that said "happy birthday" were trained to say so to anyone bearing the button. But it doesn't even matter; their enthusiasm and joy is so warm and authentic that even my inner cynic was left in awe. Even dancers in the parade bent down to smile and wish her happy birthday, without missing a step. 

And I think it does Disney a disservice to call it an amusement park, thereby classing it with those operations where daddy's worst fears are all realized. Because, every flower is real (even the ones that are part of a ride or show); not one single piece of gum could be found on the bottom of a shoe or elsewhere; loose trash is unheard of; you encounter all sorts of really good street entertainment just about everywhere you wander; and even when waiting in long lines you are entertained, so that you don't feel as if you're waiting. It just generally gives the sense of a place that opened long enough ago to have worked the kinks out but not so long that it has run down or the employees have gotten jaded. But Disney has been there 58 years! 

Besides Disney's flawless operation, there is one more reason I, Daddy, was able to enjoy the experience as much as I did: We managed to hit the park just after most school spring breaks, so the crowds were moderate.For even more, visit the park during historic slow times (see advice below).

Kids at Disneyland

And so, without further ado, sit on down, have some Kool-Aid, and listen to these ten essential pieces of advice to make your Disneyland experience the happiest it can be.  

1. Go when it's slow — Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure are adjacent but separate parks. Don't miss either one. Go when the crowds are light (like weekdays, January thru March) and for at least two days. Save money by doing one park per day (instead of a "park hopper"). Buy online beforehand for small discounts. 

2. Stay close by — Unless you've got a big budget, stay close to the park but not in it. There are loads of lodging options around the park that achieve your parking, sleeping, and dining requirements without the Disney price tag. But if you've got the money? Enter the Disney fantasy bubble and never have to burst it during your whole stay.  

3. Get a smartphone app — We used the free and popular Mousewait for checking wait times for rides, entertainment schedules, bathrooms near you, restaurant choices, and other resources. Familiarize yourself with it before you go. 

4. Plan your day(s) so you're not spending time in the park figuring out what you might want to do. (Or if you can, save brain cells and go with seasoned Disney veterans like we did. We were just along for the ride, as it were.) Of course a good plan begins with a good night's rest and a hearty breakfast outside the park beforehand.  

4. Bring your own food — but if eating at park restaurants, eat lunch before 11 or after 1pm and dinner before 6pm to miss the waves of humanity. 

6. Bring two backpacks — Carry Pack One with you. Put Pack Two in a locker ($7 - $9 per day for unlimited access).

Pack One contains:

- Snacks

- Water

- Sunscreen, glasses, hats

- Park maps (get at the entry gate or around the park)

- Park tickets (you must have them to re-enter the park)

- Fully charged phones/cameras

- Jackets and such if weather requires. Otherwise leave backup clothes in the other pack.

- As little else as as possible so you're not lugging too much weight around or having to deal with a fat pack on rides.

Pack Two in the locker contains:

Meals (you have to use the picnic area just outside the park)

Cool weather clothes and/or Splash Mountain reserves

Crap Treasures you accumulate during the day

7. Establish a lost kid strategy and randomly test them on the procedure a couple of times during the day. 

8. Avoid the lines when possible — Hit the most popular rides early (like Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure or Space Mountain in Disney) and use fast passes for lines over 40 minutes. While holding a place in your first line, consider sending one adult for Fastpass reserved seating for the nighttime fireworks or light shows. Note in your planning which rides do and do not use Fastpasses. Familiarize yourself with how Fastpass works beforehand. 

9. Use in-park transportation — These are essentially rides unto themselves anyway, but with the added bonus of saving your poor feet. 

10. Buy “treasures” toward the end of the day — This not only serves as a "cooling off period" for the "ooh! Mommy, I need that right now!" conniption fit, but it also saves you lugging things around all day.

Published in Destinations

These exhibits, tours and thrill rides will make for fun and adventure-filled family travel memories.  Here are five to consider:

1.Indiana Jones Exhibit, Montreal, Canada.

The National Geographic Society and Canadian production company X3 have teamed up (with the cooperation of George Lucas) to create the 10,000 square foot, Indiana Jones Adventures in Archaeology interactive exhibit. Premiering now through September 18, 2011 at the Museum of Science in Montreal, kids of all ages will be mesmerized by the wealth of enchanting items that make up the expansive collection. See your favorite Indy film props and set designs made available by Lucas Films. Embark on an interactive tour that explores the compelling myths of the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant. Children will enjoy the interactive quest game that tests their skills while they move throughout the exhibition. Consider opting for the handheld multimedia guide that allows visitors to skip sections and spend more time where their interest is most intense.

Contact: www.indianajonestheexhibition.com; www.tourisme-montreal.org.

2. The Ride. New York, NY.

Board the super-sized tour bus, which uses stadium-style seating facing the sidewalk, to provide participants with a wide angle view of the streetscape. During its first summer season, expect high-energy tour guides, street performers, and plenty of surprises. The 4.2 mile, 75 minute trip, which showcases the pulsing city from Times Square to Grand Central to Central Park, is part theatre, part comedic improv and part informational tour. The experience continues to evolve and on any given day may include jugglers performing on the sidewalk or a “businessman” who suddenly breaks into song and dance while standing on the street corner. The Ride departs from the Marriott Marquis at Times Square.

Contact: 866-299-9682; www.experiencetheride.com.

3. Disney’s California Adventure, Anaheim, California.  Fans of Disney movie heroine Ariel will want to check out the Voyage of the  Little  Mermaid at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. Its opening in Paradise Pier was part of a five year, $1.1 billion expansion of this park that includes other new attractions and an evening program. The musical, underwater adventure begins when guests board a car resembling a large clam shell. The adventure is inspired by the major scenes and popular songs from the movie.

Contact: (714) 781-4400; http://disneyland.disney.go.com/

4. Alabama Adventure, Bessemer, Alabama.

This southern, family-friendly theme park features super-soaker BuzzSaw Falls. Cool off as you plunge five stories through a watery chute and finish with a splash that drenches riders and watchers. The theme park offered a prize to the consumer who came up with the best name for the new ride. The winner chose to remain anonymous and the prize, which includes full season pass privileges, has been donated to the local Ronald McDonald house. Ask about the park’s concert series and the Family Four pack savings.

Contact: 205-481-4750; www.AlabamaAdventure.com.

5. Holiday World, Santa Claus, Indiana.

Junior theme park goers were the focus of $5.2 million worth of new projects at this 100-acre Midwestern Park. Visit Splashland where body slides, shallow pools and other water play facilities will delight toddlers and young school age children. A  sleigh ride, Rudolph’s Round-up, located in the park’s Christmas area, is custom designed for young children to ride with older park goers. Also: free Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the park.

Contact: 1-877-Go-Family; www.HolidayWorld.com.

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Published in Family Travel Blog