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Buckle Up! America’s Best New Theme Park Rides

Buckle Up! America’s Best New Theme Park Rides

A 3-D dragon in Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.  (Photo: courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort)

Some folks hit amusement parks for the thrill of scream-inducing scary coasters. Others look to commune with their favorite movie characters, be they dogs, dwarves, or wizards. And some of us crave old-fashioned family fun we can share with the kids. Here’s a look at new theme-park rides worth checking out this summer.

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts at Universal Orlando Resort, Orlando, Fla.

The all-new Diagon Alley at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, set to open soon, will be an immersive experience complete with music, shows, and shopping. All that will set you up for the Escape from Gringotts ride, a 3-D adventure amid scenes and sounds from the Harry Potter world. You’ll see your favorite characters (and some not-so-favorite, including a certain dark lord) as you zoom underground through the goblin-staffed Gringotts Bank vaults.

(See also6 Totally Terrifying New Thrill Rides Worth the Trip This Summer)

 

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. (Photo: Ricky Brigante / Flickr)  

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Can you name all seven of Snow White’s dwarfs? It’s likely you’ll remember them all by the time you climb off this “dark ride” through the little guys’ underground workplace. The mine train is getting raves for the quality of its animated characters, a hallmark of the Magic Kingdom’s recently opened New Fantasyland area. Fans also like the ride’s first-of-its-kind swinging car design, which has you going back and forth as well as up, down, and around. And you only need to be 38 inches tall to hop aboard.

 

Dollywood’s FireChaser Express celebrates firefighters. (Courtesy: Dollywood)

FireChaser Express at Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

This is not a super-scary coaster — at 35 mph, it’s slow by modern standards — but it’s full of character and fun and a couple scary moments. The story line: You’re a firefighter en route to battle the flames licking near Crazy Charlie’s Gas and Fireworks Emporium — yikes! When you get to the end, it’ll launch you again to do the whole thing backward. Fireworks add a dose of pizazz.

Familiar characters from Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images)

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem at Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles

Become a minion in this 3-D ride, earning your way via a trip through Gnu’s laboratory along with that supervillain and his daughters (all voiced by the movie cast) and your stubby yellow minion colleagues. It’s more funny than scary and ends not with a bang but with a dance party. When you’re done, plan to hang out for a while in the new Super Silly Fun Land family play zone.

An artist’s rendering of the new attractions at Knott’s Berry Farm this year. (Photo: Ricky Brigante/Flickr)

Camp Snoopy and Calico Mine Ride at Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, Calif.

If you want a truly old-school theme park, look to Knott’s Berry Farm, open long before there was a Disneyland (Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant is celebrating its 80th birthday!). The park is celebrating 30 years of a partnership with the Peanuts gang with three new kiddie rides and a refresh of the Camp Snoopy play area, opening June 14. New scenes and characters decorate Camp Snoopy’s Grand Sierra Railroad, and the Calico Mine Ride (the original “dark ride”) will be smoother and sleeker than before, with new animatronic characters and special effects. But the essential vibe won’t change, so be prepared for a wave of nostalgia.

The family-friendly Roar-O-Saurus has a dinosaur theme. (Photo: MWW Chamber of Commerce / Flickr 

Roar-O-Saurus at Story Land, Glen, N.H.

Although Story Land is not one of the better-known names in the theme park business, the wooden Roar-O-Saurus (with dinosaur-shaped cars) is getting a lot of positive buzz this summer for a smooth ride that’s thrilling but not scary. Like everything else at this family-oriented park, it’s great for both kids and adults looking to pull gentler G’s.

The Lightning Run is the newest coaster at the just-reopened Kentucky Kingdom. (Photo: Robert Burge Photography/Kentucky Kingdom)

Lightning Run and other rides at Kentucky Kingdom, Louisville, Ky.

This is not just a new ride — this entire theme park (formerly under the Six Flags banner) just reopened in May after a major expansion. A new 10-story steel roller coaster, Lightning Run, joined the park’s three existing wooden coasters (its flagship wooden coaster, Thunder Run, got a $1 million facelift). The park also added a handful of new kid-friendly rides and expanded the Hurricane Bay water park area.

Pipe Scream, Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

 If you like the roll of a coaster but not the rocking of a jerky little compartment, this could be the ride for you. About 30 people at any given time face each other on a flat platform-style seating area that spins as it moves along an undulating track. It goes around and up and down, but it saves the really scary (and neck-popping) stuff for other coasters (of which Cedar Point has many).

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