15 Top Theme Park Additions for 2017

With another season of family vacation fun fast approaching, theme parks across the country are unveiling new additions to draw in and thrill visitors. This summer, you’ll be able to travel to the distant planet of Pandora, skim across water on a jet ski, and get twisted, dropped and flung in different directions.  Keep reading to discover the top 15 attractions opening at U.S. theme parks in 2017.

Pandora - The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Pandora World of Avatar, photo by Kent Phillips, courtesy Disney Parks

Walt Disney World: Pandora – The World of Avatar

Orlando, Florida

Topping the list of new theme park additions in 2017 is Pandora – The World of Avatar, which will open at Disneys Animal Kingdom in May. Based on the fictional planet of Pandora featured in James Cameron’s Oscar-winning 2009 film, Avatar, Pandora – The World of Avatar will include two signature attractions: Avatar Flight of Passage, where guests can soar on mountain banshees, and Na’vi River Journey, a family-friendly boat-ride through a bioluminescent forest. The Animal Kingdom addition will also include an Avatar-themed restaurant, drink stand and gift shop.

Pandora - The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom

River Journey Pandora World of Avatar, artist rendering, courtesy Disney Parks

Seaworld San Diego: Ocean Explorer

San Diego

At SeaWorld San Diego, the 3-acre Ocean Explorer will include multiple aquarium tanks and attractions anchored by a miniature submarine ride to an underwater sea base.  Onboard the submarine, passengers can review an interactive digital display and learn about impressive species such as Japanese spider crabs and moray eels as the ride passes through each different aquarium. Mike Price, SeaWorld San Diego’s assistant curator of fishes, promises that visitors will “come eye-to-eye with giant octopuses, huge spider crabs and hundreds of colorful jellies – some of which have never been seen at the park before.”

Ocean Explorer SeaWorld San Diego

Ocean Explorer SeaWorld San Diego, artist rendering, courtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

SeaWorld San Antonio: Wave Breaker

San Antonio

At 50 mph and 61 feet tall, SeaWorld San Antonio’s Wave Breaker will not be the tallest or the fastest roller coaster, but it will boast unique innovations like two accelerating magnetic launches. Wave Breaker’s jet ski-style ride allows guests to straddle their seat, grip onto the handlebars and cruise over the water through banks and turns. What’s more, Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster draws inspiration from SeaWorld’s Saturday morning Sea Rescue television program, and will feature stars from the show who will educate families about the park’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts on videos while they wait.

SeaWorld San Antonio Wave Breaker Coaster

SeaWorld San Antonio Wave Breaker Coaster, artist rendering, courtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Kings Island: Mystic Timbers

Mason, Ohio

The 16th roller coaster to debut at Kings Island amusement park will be a 3,256-foot-long wooden behemoth. Riders ascend 109 feet up the lift hill only to plummet at 53 mph through the forested terrain of the park. Themed around a story of an abandoned lumber company, the ride utilizes Kings Island’s natural topography and sends riders up steep cliffs, down ravines, across water, through twists and turns and inside a mid-course tunnel.  Along the way, passengers lift out of their seats during 16 airtime moments. Mystic Timbers will open on April 15.

Mystic Timbers Kings Island

Mystic Timbers Kings Island, photo courtesy Kings Island amusement park

Universal Orlando Resort: Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

Orlando, Florida

Universal Orlando’s latest 3-D simulator ride will take audiences of the “Tonight Show” on a race to the major sights of New York City pitted against Jimmy Fallon in his Tonight Rider. However, the truly innovative part of this attraction happens before the ride starts. Universal has uniquely replaced the typical attraction line with an entertainment lounge including the Ragtime Gals barbershop quartet and walk around Hashtag Panda character (both from Jimmy Fallon’s show). Guests are sure to be entertained while they wait; plus, they can enjoy charging stations before the ride. Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon opens on April 6.

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

Photo – 5 Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, courtesy Universal Orlando Resort

Busch Gardens: InvadR

Williamsburg, Virginia

Over the past year, Busch Gardens asked its fans to vote on the name, logo and lead character for its new roller coaster. The hybrid wooden coaster with steel supports has a 74-foot drop and nine airtime hills, making it a perfect “bridge” coaster for kids looking to advance from the kiddie rides but not quite ready for Busch Gardens’ more intense attractions.  The fastest speed for InvadR will be 48 mph, and the ride opens on April 7.

InvadR Busch Gardens Williamsburg

InvadR Busch Gardens Williamsburg, artist rendering, courtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Casino Pier: Hydrus

Seaside Heights, New Jersey

One of the iconic images from 2012’s Superstorm Sandy was a roller coaster dragged out to sea off a New Jersey amusement pier. Seaside Heights’ Casino Pier has rebuilt, and its new roller coaster, Hydrus, will open for the summer season. Hydrus will drop riders 72 feet into a vertical 97-degree free fall at 45 mph. In the free fall, riders will enter a series of inversions including a loop and cutback.

Hydrus Casino Pier

Hydrus Casino Pier, courtesy Casino Pier.

Playland’s Castaway Cove: GaleForce

Ocean City, New Jersey

Also in New Jersey, Playland’s Castaway Cove in Ocean City will debut GaleForce, a 125-foot tall, triple-launch, steel coaster. GaleForce has gone through an extensive testing period, and is scheduled to open in time for the 2017 summer season. The ride will launch riders at 64 mph up and over a 125-foot hill and subsequently free fall beyond a 90-degree drop. The compact, intense coaster finishes with a series of twists and rolls. Playland’s Castaway Cove is also constructing a “Wild Waves” steel coaster around GaleForce.

GaleForce Playland

GaleForce Playland, courtesy Playland’s Castaway Cove

OWA: Rollin’ Thunder

Foley, Alabama

OWA is a brand-new amusement park currently under construction on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, and the Rollin’ Thunder roller will be the headline attraction. Designed by Italian amusement ride company Zamperla, Rollin’ Thunder will be similar to Thunderbolt, which returned to Brooklyn, New York’s Coney Island in 2014.  Rollin’ Thunder will be a steel coaster taking riders up a vertical lift rising over 100 feet.  Once riders reach the top of the hill, the train will release into the nearly vertical drop, a 98-foot-loop, with inversions at approximately 65 mph. After, riders return to the station after a series of “out-of-your-seat” hills.

Zamperla Thunderbolt for Rollin' Thunder

Zamperla Thunderbolt for Rollin’ Thunder, artist rendering courtesy of Zamperla

Hersheypark: Hershey Triple Tower

Hershey, Pennsylvania

A variety of drop rides will debut in 2017, including a handful of rides at Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark. Take your pick between three drop towers of increasing heights: Hershey’s Kisses Tower, Reese’s Tower, and Hershey’s Tower. Each tower not only has a different height (80, 131 and 189 feet, respectively), but also a different ride experience from a simple rise and drop to a more exhilarating, high-speed drop, reaching up to 45 mph on Hershey’s Tower. Hershey Triple Tower opens on April 8.

Hershey Triple Tower

Hershey Triple Tower, image courtesy Hersheypark

Dollywood: Drop Line

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Dollywood’s new 200-foot Drop Line free fall tower ride yields incredible views of the amusement park set in the Great Smoky Mountains area. But you may not get to take in the scenery for long before  plummeting nearly 20 stories to the ground.  Dollywood also adds a junior coaster, Whistle Punk Chaser, for younger riders.

Drop Line Dollywood

Drop Line Dollywood, artist rendering courtesy Dollywood

Valleyfair: North Star

Shakopee, Minnesota

Minnesota’s Valleyfair amusement park will receive a new icon for its skyline when North Star, a 230-foot-tall tower swing ride opens. You’ll want to hold on tight to the chains as the giant swing lifts you 20 stories above the ground, spinning at speeds of 40 mph. The ride can accommodated up to 32 side-by-side seats dangling in chains. North Star will debut when Valleyfair opens for the 2017 summer season on May 12.

North Star Valleyfair

North Star Valleyfair, image courtesy Valleyfair amusement park

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom: Wonder Woman: Lasso of Truth

Vallejo, California

You’ll think twice about spreading fake news when Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth opens at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.  Billed as an “extreme pendulum ride,” during the exhilarating journey, 40 people sit on an oversized spinning disc that swings to a height of 147 feet at speeds of nearly 70 mph. The ride is expected to open in spring 2017.

Wonder Woman Lasso Of Truth

Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth, artist rendering courtesy Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Disney California Adventure: Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!

Anaheim, California

The classic Twilight Zone Tower of Terror will get reimagined at Disney California Adventure when this ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’-inspired ride opens in late May.  The Guardians (minus Rocket Raccoon) are held hostage in a fortress, as riders help Rocket on Mission: Breakout. The ride also anchors Disney’s “Summer of Heroes,” featuring new activities, including Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Dance Off!, Avengers Training Initiative, Heroic Encounter: Black Widow and meet-and-greet opportunities with other super heroes including Groot. For younger kids, the Disney Junior Dance Party debuts at Disney California adventure with character appearances from popular Disney Junior TV shows.

Guardians of the Galaxy–Mission: BREAKOUT!

Guardians of the Galaxy–Mission: BREAKOUT!, artist rendering courtesy Disneyland Resort

SeaWorld Orlando: Kraken Virtual Reality

Orlando, Florida

SeaWorld Orlando will update its 16-year-old Kraken roller coaster by adding virtual reality goggles to the ride. Guests can choose to wear the VR headsets and experience a new story where they travel back to primordial oceans and encounter a prehistoric beast, the Kraken. Riders can also opt to not wear the VR goggles and enjoy the 65 mph, 149-foot drop with seven inversions that are 100 percent monster-free.

Kraken VR

Kraken VR kelp forest HD, artist rendering, courtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

A version of this article originally appeared on U.S. News & World Report, MSN.com and Yahoo!. For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on instagramtwitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.