Home » 16 Incredible Must-See New Attractions of 2019 from Around the U.S.

16 Incredible Must-See New Attractions of 2019 from Around the U.S.

From cartoon carousels to intergalactic adventures; trippy dark rides to adrenaline-packing thrills, 2019 was another banner year for theme parks across the United States. SeaWorld Parks continue their upswing, Cedar Fair parks continue to break coaster records and try their hands at theming, too, and the war wages on between Disney and Universal… the uncontested winner in this year’s battle for tourism dollars? You and I.

Here we’ve collected just a few of the big debuts we’ve seen this year, and the most anticipated rides yet to come in 2019. Is this the biggest year for theme parks yet? We’ll let you be the judge… 

1. Jurassic World: The Ride

Image: Universal

Location: Universal Studios Hollywood
Video: Jurassic World: The Ride nighttime POV

Never one to let a stale intellectual property stay past its usefulness, Universal Studios Hollywood shuttered the fabled Jurassic Park: The Ride last year. Fans waited over the winter months with baited breath as the attraction took on the sleeker silver and blue stylings of the newer (and for today’s youth, much cooler) Jurassic World series.

It’s fair to say that Jurassic World: The Ride – which surprise opened on July 12 – is a brand new adventure. Yes, screens do make an appearance, but they’re appropriately and impressively used. More importantly, new Audio Animatronics nearly give Disney’s best a run for their money, introducing Blue the Velociraptor and the terrifying Indominus Rex to the ride. Though insiders say the final product will have a few more tricks up its sleeves, guests have been queuing hours to see to get splashed by the mosasaurus and have been raving about the results.

2. Wildwood Grove

Image: Dollywood

Location: Dollywood
Video: Dragonflier POV

There’s no park on Earth quite like Dollywood! Nestled into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, the spectacular park celebrates the life of singer-songwriter Dolly Parton and the people and stories of her “Tennessee Mountain Home.” New for 2019 is Wildwood Grove, a new “land” based on Dolly’s imaginative childhood memories of playing in the great outdoors.

The land offers a number of charmingly-themed family flat rides perfectly designed for the area, like the “Mad Mockingbird” flying eagles, “Giant Tree Swing” rocking ship, “Hidden Hollow” play space, “Wildwood Creek” splash park, and the surprisingly zippy “Dragonflier” suspending family coaster, all centered around a glowing Wildwood Tree. This much-needed new area has already helped balance the park’s crowds and invite more families!

3. Tigris

Image: SeaWorld Parks

Location: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Video: Tigris POV

A “Skyrocket II” model steel launching coaster from U.S. manufacturer Premier Rides, Tigris is one of three identical siblings at SeaWorld Parks across the country (with SeaWorld San Diego’s Electric Eel and Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Tempesto being clones). Perhaps the most appropriately named of the three, Tigris roars foward and backward, finally blasting to its top speed of 60mph to the coaster’s 150-foot height. From there, a slow-motion heartline rolls hangs guests high over the park before thundering through a non-inverting loop finale. Short but oh-so-sweet, the ride is unassuming, but may be among the park’s wildest.

4. Jessie’s Critter Carousel and Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind

Image: Disney

Location: Disney California Adventure
Video: Critter Carousel POV and Emotional Whirlwind POV

A year out from celebrating its “grand opening” (with a $300 hard ticketed event, mind you) the divisive Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure is finally complete thanks to the opening of its last two attractions. Jessie’s Critter Carousel is a cartoon overlay to the park’s opening day original seaside carousel, while the Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind is a small family flat ride – the only ride salvaged from the park’s closed “a bug’s land” – redressed to resemble the beloved and emotional Pixar film.

Does Inside Out deserve more than a spinning carnival ride? We’ll let you be the judge. In any case, the two flat rides join Toy Story Midway Mania, the Mickey-faced Pixar Pal-a-Round Ferris wheel, and last year’s Incredicoaster as the land’s ride highlights.

5. Calico River Rapids

Image: Knott’s Berry Farm

Location: Knott’s Berry Farm
Video: Calico River Rapids POV

After years of trampling the park’s history in favor of behemoth steel roller coasters, new leadership at Cedar Fair has been reorienting the ship at Knott’s Berry Farm in recent years. Their biggest committment yet was the complete revitalization of two of the park’s historic dark rides: the Timber Mountain Log Ride and the Calico Mine Ride (which directly influenced Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, respectively).

Their latest show of dedication was in retooling the park’s existing Big Foot Rapids and wrapping it into the “world-building” of the two dark rides. Now, the Calico River Rapids carries guests past scenes of simple animatronic wild life with a real sense of place. Admittedly, it’s got a better “story” than either of Disney’s U.S. rapids rides – Grizzly River Run or Kali River Rapids! 

6. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

Location: Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Video: Smugglers Run POV

It’s here. Well, in California at least. While the Floridian version of the ride won’t open until August, the Internet is already buzzing about Smugglers Run, the supporting ride of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Admittedly, reaction to the new simulator has been mixed thanks in part to its inherent design: groups of six (in other words, you and probably a few strangers) take on roles in the cockpit of the legendary Millennium Falcon and head out on a smuggling mission for Hondo Ohnaka.

While concept video showed the Falcon gloriously flying around the natural wonders of Batuu diving into the planet’s canyons and slaloming around its petrified spires under blue-sky daylight, the ride actually takes place almost entirely on an urban city-planet at sunset, dodging skyscrapers and traffic amid wild and seemingly random flashes of gunfire and brake lights – probably more “Star Wars” than the former, but admittedly less freewheeling fun. It’s absurdly chaotic – by design! – as Hondo Ohnaka chatters over the intercom, cursing you for slamming into obstacles with laser fire illuminating the deck.

Two pilots control the ship (up and down, left and right), two gunners press buttons to fire turrets, and two engineers press buttons as they light up to repair damage caused by the other four. Half simulator, half video game, the ride reacts in real time and praises or scolds you for your performance (or, more likely, the performance of the complete strangers you’re likely riding with)! While some find the ride endlessly reride-able and sensational, others dislike the gaming elements, the ability to “lose,” and the pressure to “win” as strangers cajole you, sort of sapping the wonder of being behind the wheel. How will it translate to Orlando, its once-in-a-lifetime visitors, and its significant non-English-speaking visitors? We’ll find out…

7. Kaleidoscape

Image: Elitch Gardens / Meow Wolf

Location: Elitch Gardens
Video: Kaleidoscape POV

The best new dark ride of 2019 is perhaps the world’s strangest. Meow Wolf is a Santa Fe-based immersive, art collective whose best known installation is a 22,000 square foot exhibition in which guests explore a Victorian home being torn apart by interdimensional portals. Guests can climb, slide, touch, and crawl through trippy landscapes, otherworldly environments, and more. A new Meow Wolf is earmarked for Denver, so to get locals primed, the entertainment company took over the existing Ghost Blasters dark ride at Elitch Gardens amusement park.

Swapping (and in some cases, simply stripping and re-skinning) the classic Sally dark ride of blacklight ghouls and cutout ghosts, Kaleidoscape is a mind-bending trip through digital dimensions, psychedelic jungles, and abstract landscapes. The Ghost Blasters guns are now “Conglomatrons” able to condense objects into infinitely small shapes. It’s all an excuse to sail through absolutely surreal landscapes and watch as objects morph through light and sound. It’s an experience you have to see to believe.

8. Finnegan’s Flyer

Image: SeaWorld Parks

Location: Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Video: Finnegan’s Flyer POV

Busch Gardens Williamsburg has been voted the world’s most beautiful theme park for 29 consecutive years, and it’s easy to see why. Lush villages themed to European countries are set within the dense forests of Virginia, all centered on the beautiful Rhine River that carves a valley through the center. New for 2019 is Finnegan’s Flyer, an S&S Screaming Swing. With two massive arms that swing counter to each other, this massive flat ride looms over the bridge leading to the park’s Killarney Village. Brilliantly, riders are positioned so that each swing dangles them over the “Celtic Cliffs” to the waterway below. Finnegan’s Flyer caps off a two-year refreshing of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Irish-themed Killarney Village (coming a year after the world’s first VR simulator, Battle for Eire – a dizzying race through Irish folklore in search of the legendary Heart of Eire).

But some of the year’s BIGGEST openings await on the last pages…

9. Copperhead Strike

Image: Carowinds

Location: Carowinds
Video: Copperhead Strike POV

Cedar Fair has selected Carowinds – half in North Carolina, half in South – as a new Southern flagship park for the company, and their year-after-year investment proves it. Perhaps the biggest boon to the park’s lineup yet is this summer’s Copperhead Strike, designed by Mack Rides. The extreme steel coaster includes five inversions (including one just a few feet out of the station) and two launches (one accelerating the ride as it crests an airtime hill). If the ride is any indication of the kind of coaster Cedar Fair is hoping to add to the rest of its thrill parks across the U.S., it’s good news for everyone!

10. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure

Image: Universal / Warner Bros.

Location: Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Video: Magical Creatures POV

Going head to head with Smugglers Run is the other big debut of summer 2019, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. The stunning ride takes the place of the massive, bare steel Dueling Dragons (later, Dragon Challenge) that were inherited by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but never really belonged in the otherwise immersive land. The “story coaster” places guests in a train of magically-duplicated motorbikes (sitting on the bike or the sidecar) revving out to the edge of Hogwarts’ legendary Forbidden Forest for a Care of Magical Creatures class with Hagrid. The idea is that Hagrid’s flame-farting Blast-Ended Skrewts are loose, and we’re set out to find them. Along the way, the coaster zips past animatronic creatures like “Fluffy,” centaurs, Cornish pixies, and unicorns – a legendary quest that leaves riders cheering.

But there’s a caveat. Take a world-record seven launches. Add two hidden, rare, and technically-complex coaster manuevers deep in the Forbidden Forest. Mix in precisely-timed show elements, essential on-ride audio, and animatronics. Oh, and Central Florida’s daily afternoon thunderstorms that stall the outdoor coaster for hours. The end result? Perhaps the most embrassingly botched ride opening in history, with Hagrid’s opening late somedays, closing early most, and sometimes not opening at all… Yikes…

Still, riders who endure the multi-hour waits have nothing but universal critical acclaim, calling the ride the best in Orlando and perhaps one of the best on Earth. Literally, we haven’t seen one negative review of the ride, even from guests waiting 3 hours or more (including opening day’s 13 hour wait). 

11. Reese’s Cupfusion

Image: Hersheypark

Location: Hersheypark
Video: Cupfusion POV

In 2006, Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania opened Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge, a… curious dark ride seemingly pitting Team Peanut Butter vs. Team Chocolate in a strange laser-blasting dark ride through a sort of Malibu rock-and-roll Olympics. This year’s Reese’s Cupfusion retheme is a total rebuild, having guests and the familiar Hershey’s candy bars now take up arms against the generically evil sweets led by Mint the Merciless. As is en vogue, vehicles travel through flat scenes then suddenly come upon embedded screens awash in chaos, blasting kinetic characters before continuing along to the next screen. Is it better than the former occupant? Well, it’s different. And that’s a win for the park!

12. Yukon Striker

Image: Canada’s Wonderland

Location: Canada’s Wonderland
Video: Yukon Striker POV

While there was a time when B&M’s Dive Machines could only be found on U.S. soil at Busch Gardens Tampa and Williamsburg (SheiKra and Griffon, respectively), these vertical-drop coasters were picked up by Cedar Fair and are now spreading. In standard Cedar Fair fashion, Yukon Striker at Canada’s Wonderland is (what else?) the tallest, fastest dive coaster on Earth! If you ask coaster enthusiasts, the “embiggening” of coasters doesn’t always mean they’re better, and that’s probably true here… Most insiders agree that the simplicity of SheiKra and Griffon are like poetry, while Valravn and Yukon Striker do too much and lack the finesse (and iconic water landings) of their older sisters. Still, the record-breaking ride is yet another winner for Canada’s Wonderland, which has seen massive expansion on the coaster front in recent years.

13. Sesame Street

Image: SeaWorld / Sesame Workshop

Location: SeaWorld Orlando

Hogsmeade. Pandora. Radiator Springs. Batuu. This era of theme park design is centered on one massive idea: bringing to life the physical places guests have only seen on TV and in the movies; allowing them to eat where their favorite character eat; shop where they shop. It’s brilliant, then, that SeaWorld capitalized on its long-held rights to Sesame Street (see Sesame Street Forest of Fun, Safari of Fun, and Bay of Play at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Tampa, and SeaWorld respectively) to bring the Sesame Street to life. The mini-land replaces Shamu’s Happy Harbor, satisfying family’s desires with family flat rides, shopping at Mr. Hooper’s Store, and plenty of Instagrammable spots around the neighborhood.

14. Steel Curtain

Image: Kennywood

Location: Kennywood
Video: Steel Curtain POV

One of the world’s most renowned traditional amusement parks (and containing the planet’s oldest operating dark ride – from 1899), Kennywood has always been a classic place marked by classic rides. Though modern steel coasters like Phantom’s Revenge are deservedly iconic, few expected 2019’s big addition: Steel Curtain. The massive, 220-foot-tall, 9-inversion mega-coaster that now reigns over the park is the anchor of a new “land” themed to (and, we suspect, co-financed by) the Pittsburgh Steelers with the gargantuan steel ride dominating the classic wooden coasters the park otherwise offers. Steel Curtain features an inversion halfway down the first hill, plus other whacky and unique ways to flip riders.

15. Forbidden Frontier

Location: Cedar Point

Perhaps the most unorthodox opening on this list is Cedar Point’s Forbidden Frontier. Once upon a time, the forested island encircled by Millennium Force was home merely to “Jungle Cruise” style animatronic scenes for the park’s Paddlewheel Excursions ride. In 2012, a bridge opened the island to guests who paided for the upcharge Dinosaurs Alive – a walkthrough animatronic park. Now extinct, the dinosaurs’ home has become Forbidden Frontier.

Is it a walkthrough? A playground? A puzzle? Immersive theater? Well… yes. Seemingly tuned into the “escape room” era, Forbidden Frontier shares a lot with Knotts’ “Ghost Town Alive,” populating the island with puzzles, activities, and live actors such that you could spend hours (maybe days!) uncovering mysteries, unlocking secrets, and digging in. 

16. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

Location: Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Though Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge may be open for guests in Disneyland with Walt Disney World’s version coming online in August, neither will feature the land’s real star until this winter. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is said to be the most epicly-scaled ride Disney has ever designed. Insiders say that the full experience will be 30 minutes or more, with guests being captured by the nefarious First Order, transferred to prison cells, then whisked through a First Order base on a harrowing escape leading back to Earth… er, the planet of Batuu. Yes, Rise of the Resistance will take place on more than one ride vehicle, with guests transferring to trackless, LPS-guided transports halfway through.

If even half of what we’ve heard about Rise of the Resistance is true (we’re hearing 300 robotic figures, including 100 Storm Troopers alone; 100-foot-wide windows into space; full-sized AT-ATs; the most lifelike Audio-Animatronics on Earth of new-trilogy supreme-baddie Kylo Ren), it’s no wonder the ride failed to make Disneyland’s land opening in May. In fact, it won’t open in California until January 17, 2020… But it still makes our 2019 list because the ride is scheduled to open in Florida on December 5th. When it does, it has the potential to completely rewrite what a Disney Parks attraction can do…