Despite the tough economic climate, theme parks invested heavily in new attractions for the 2010 season in a bid to keep guests coming through the gates. But will 2010's biggest new rides and shows prove to be long-term hits, or did they disappoint?
Last December, we took a look at the 10 most exciting theme park attractions opening in 2010. Although on paper all 10 sounded fantastic, in reality they have met with mixed success. Some failed to live up to the marketing hype, others suffered from serious technical problems, while one didn't even open to the public at all. So which were the hit attractions of 2010, and which were the unfortunate misses? Let's revisit our list.
10. Shoot the Rapids (Cedar Point)
Opening date: June 26, 2010
Type: Water ride
Cost: $10.5 million
It was something of a surprise to see the "coaster capital of the world" investing in a family-friendly water ride, but we were intrigued by Cedar Point's plans for Shoot the Rapids. Created by Intamin, the ride sees guests board 10-person boats and travel around a 2,100 feet, 3-minute long course. The highlight is an 85-feet, 45-degree first drop through water rapids and rock work, which is followed by a second, 49-feet drop.
Cedar Point suffered its share of problems with Shoot the Rapids, with delays to its opening date caused by oversized boats becoming something of a running joke among theme park fans. When the ride did eventually open, it didn't meet with unanimous approval from guests either - with the ride's somewhat generic theming coming in for particular criticism.
However, Shoot the Rapids has attracted plenty of positive commentary as well. Cedar Point fansite Point Buzz's forums are a good yardstick - with one rider describing the ride as "superior to the old log-flume for sure" and another claiming that while it is "nothing spectacular...it's still a water ride that I would go on a regular basis as long as it's warm enough." Given the relatively modest cost of the ride, we'll call it a qualified hit.
9. Space Fantasy: The Ride (Universal Studios Japan)
Opening date: March 19, 2010
Type: Dark ride / rollercoaster
Cost: $55 million
Back in September 2009, Universal Studios Japan announced that is would spend some 4-5 billion yen (around $55 million) on a new indoor ride to replace E.T. Adventure. It soon became clear that the ride would be Universal's answer to Tokyo Disneyland's Space Mountain - with a spinning rollercoaster taking guests on a 1,920-feet-long ride through the solar system.
Space Fantasy: The Ride's insane plot is uniquely Japanese and unlikely to make it across to any of Universal's US parks, but it does lead to a truly innovative ride experience. Riders are asked by Solar Princess Kosuma, "Princess of the Sun", to collect "stardust" to help save the sun. Using stunning gesture-recognition technology developed by GestureTek, guests are able to collect "clouds" of stardust from screens that line the ride's queue and its 98-feet lift hill. The spinning action of the coaster trains is then said to release the energy from the stardust, restoring the sun to health.
It's crazy - but according to at least one reviewer, it works. In the absence of our own correspondent in Japan (we're hiring!), we'll base our verdict on the level of innovation seen in Space Fantasy: The Ride, and label it a hit.
8. Intimidator (Carowinds)
Opening date: March 27, 2010
Cost: $23 million
Carowinds' Intimidator was the first of two NASCAR-themed rollercoasters to open in 2010, and towers over the other coasters at the park with its 232-feet-tall lift hill. The park opted for a design from Bolliger & Mabillard, with sister park Kings Dominion selecting B&M rivals Intamin to manufacturer its Intimidator 305 coaster.
Named in honor of the late Dale Earnhardt, Intimidator hits 75 miles per hour following its 211-feet first drop, and features seven "airtime" hills to represent Earnhardt's seven NASCAR championships. This makes it slower and less tall than Intimidator 305 - but unlike Kings Dominion's troubled ride, Intimidator met with almost universally positive reviews when it opened in March.
Coaster junkies have praised B&M's design for Intimidator, with Joel Bullock (the Coaster Critic) saying in his review that it has "height, speed, a smooth comfortable ride and abundant airtime." Meanwhile, About.com's Arthur Levine described Intimidator as "The standout coaster at Carowinds - and one of the best coasters anywhere, for that matter."
7. Captain EO (Disneyland, Epcot)
Opening date: February 23, 2010 (Disneyland), July 2, 2010 (Epcot)
Type: 3D movie
We cheated a little when we listed Captain EO among 2010's most exciting new attractions. Of course, the 3D movie starring Michael Jackson is anything but a new attraction having opened at Disneyland and Epcot in 1986. However, given that a generation of theme park goers missed it following its closure in 1997, we felt justified in including it.
While Captain EO wasn't confirmed as returning to either park when we put together the list, it ended up being brought back at all of its original homes - Disneyland, Epcot, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland. In all cases, it replaced Honey, I Shrunk the Audience - which itself had supplanted Captain EO over a decade earlier.
Starring Jackson and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Captain EO was the most expensive film ever produced if measured per-minute when first released (costing $30 million in total for a 17-minute feature). It tells the story of Captain EO (played by Jackson) and the crew of his spaceship, who seek to bring about peace by delivering a musical message to the wicked Witch Queen. While it returned without many of its original special effects (which were removed during the conversion to Honey, I Shrunk the Audience), the revised version does make use of the moving seats, strobe lights and compressed-air effects that were installed for its replacement.
Predictably, there were wild scenes of jubilation from Michael Jackson fans when the ride reopened at all four parks. A quote from Scott Freeman on ABC Local was typical, saying "It was wonderful. I grew up on Captain EO and I'm so glad it's back." A more measured review by Chris Lastrapes on DisneylandNewsToday.com states that the attraction "holds up to the test of time", although the claymation segments of the movie are picked out as appearing dated.
While it's impossible to describe Captain EO's return as anything other than a huge hit, we hope it's only temporary. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience is starting to show its age, and Captain EO should only act as an interim replacement while something more up-to-date is produced.
6. Madagascar: A Crate Adventure (Universal Studios Singapore)
Opening date: Early 2011
Type: Dark boat ride
Universal Studios Singapore has proved a hit during its debut year, having attracted over 1 million visitors in the first six months after opening. However, the park's two most interesting rides (both of which featured in our list of 2010's most exciting new attractions) have not played any part in that success.
Themed boat ride Magagascar: A Crate Adventure was originally due to open with the rest of Universal Studios Singapore in March 2010, but has been plagued by technical problems. Some reports have even suggested that these could lead to the complete removal of some sections of the ride prior to its eventual opening some time in 2011.
We're still excited about seeing how Universal fares in traditional Disney family dark ride territory, outside of its thrill-ride comfort zone. But with Madagascar: A Crate Adventure now 8 months (and counting) late in opening, it's impossible to describe it as anything other than a miss for now.
5. King Kong 360 3-D (Universal Studios Hollywood)
Opening date: Spring 2010
Type: “4D” show
Universal Studios Hollywood's Studio Tour is one of the best theme park attractions in the world, packing what would be a dozen attractions at any other park into a single tour. However, it suffered a huge blow in 2008 when a fire devastated large areas of the studio's famous backlot. The tour lost some of its most famous sights, including the New York Street set and the King Kong soundstage. Fortunately, the park has turned the fire into a positive, reopening the lost sets (plus a few new ones) and creating a brand new Kong soundstage to replace the rather dated one that was burnt to the ground in the fire.
Based on the 2005 Peter Jackson remake of the original film, King Kong 360 3-D sees guests donning 3D glasses on entering the soundstage. They then experience a cave full of giant bats, before witnessing a showdown between Kong and two T-Rex dinosaurs. The scene is created using a mixture of life-size animatronics and digitally projected images.
King Kong 360 3-D has been widely praised since its opening in June, with USA Today describing it as "the largest, most intense 3D experience on the planet". Dread Central praised the dynamic nature of the new Kong attraction compared with the previous version, saying: "Gone is the static feeling of a large animatronic head roaring at you, replaced with an all-out sensory overload as the tram was knocked around through all out war in a fully immersive 3D environment."
4. Intimidator 305 (Kings Dominion)
Opening date: April 3, 2010
Cost: $25 million
The second of the two NASCAR-themed rollercoasters to make our list, Kings Dominion's Intimidator 305 is also named in honor of Dale Earnhardt. The ride is the second Intamin Giga Coaster in the US, after Millenium Force at Cedar Point. On opening, it matched Millenium Force in height and speed, with a 300-feet, 85-degree first drop and a lightning-fast top speed of 92 miles per hour.
Intimidator 305 opened to rave reviews on April 3, 2010. However, reports soon began to emerge of many riders experiencing "blackouts" due to the high g-forces exerted on them. In response, Kings Dominion installed trim brakes on the coaster's first drop, slowing the ride's top speed to around 79.5 miles per hour and leading to intense debate about whether further changes should be made to it. Much to our surprise, Theme Park Tourist's original article on the addition of the trim brakes became one of the most-read stories we've ever published.
With Kings Dominion seemingly being forced into adjusting Intimidator 305's layout to help reduce its intensity, it's hard to describe the expensive addition as an unqualified hit. However, with the ride having received as much praise as it has criticism, we wouldn't write it off just yet.
Verdict: A tie (for now)
3. Battlestar Galactica (Universal Studios Singapore)
Opening date: March 18, 2010
Type: Dueling rollercoasters
The second attraction at the new Universal Studios Singapore park to make our list, Battlestar Galactica at least managed to carry a few riders following its opening day in March. However, its debut season has since proven equally disastrous to that of Madagascar: A Crate Adventure, with the park being forced to close the dueling coasters after just one week in operation to fix a serious design flaw.
Ultimately, Universal Studios Singapore admitted that the closure of Battlestar Galactica was caused by a seat detaching from one of the ride's trains while it was in motion. Fortunately for everyone concerned, the incident occurred during a routine test while no guests were on-board.
An investigation by manufacturer Vekoma and third-party experts revealed that "higher than anticipated stress and vibration levels" weakened the post which attached the seat to the train. The manufacturer will replace the welded component with a new, machined seat-post and will reinforce other areas of the ride train.
We're still excited about Battlestar Galactica, with its two distinct types of rollercoaster - an inverted rollercoaster (Cyclon) and a sit-down steel rollercoaster (Human). Let's hope that Vekoma and Universal Studios Singapore can resolve the technical issues, and turn the coasters into the thrilling (and safe) experience that they were designed to be.
Verdict: Miss (for now)
2. Thirteen (Alton Towers)
Opening date: March 20, 2010
Cost: £15 million ($24.5 million)
Alton Towers succeeded in generating sky-high levels of anticipation for its new coaster - and we fell for it hook, line and sinker. When the park that brought the world Nemesis (Europe's first inverted rollercoaster), Oblivion (the world's first vertical drop coaster) and Air (the world's first B&M flying coaster) adds a new coaster, theme park fans have to take notice.
Perhaps inevitably with the park billing it as the "ultimate rollercoaster" and the "scariest ride in the UK", Thirteen failed to live up to expectations. The coaster's world-first element (which we won't spoil for you if you haven't yet tried it) proved to be far less spectacular than Oblivion's vertical drop or Air's flight system, leaving many riders underwhelmed.
In our in-depth review of Thirteen, we found that it was not the ride that it was hyped-up to be by the Alton Towers PR machine. That's not to say it isn't innovative, or that its creepy theme doesn't fit well with the haunted atmosphere of Alton Towers itself. However, it is clearly a solid family ride that was wrongly marketed as an extreme thrill ride. On that basis, it's impossible to describe it as anything other than a miss - but parents and kids will be enjoying Thirteen for many years to come.
1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Islands of Adventure)
Opening date: June 18, 2010
Type: Dark ride
Cost: $50 million+
The opening of Universal’s $200 million Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure was the theme park event of 2010. At its heart lies a recreation of Hogwarts Castle, which houses the area's only all-new attraction - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Given its vast cash outlay, Universal needed the ride to prove a massive success.
The ride's queue has been talked about almost as much as the attraction itself, and it packs in an incredible amount of detail. Snaking through the interior of Hogwarts Castle and taking in many familiar scenes from the Harry Potter books and movies, the queue has been described as a walkthrough attraction in its own right.
The unique ride system employed by Universal was described by The Orlando Sentinel's Dewayne Bevil as "a cross between IOA's classic Spider-Man ride, Soarin' at Epcot and even an ultramodern version of Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion." It's a combination that works - in our Wizarding World survey, 85% of riders rated Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey as "awesome", with 82% viewing it as the best theme park attraction in the world.
Forbidden Journey does have some issues - notably its inability to accommodate larger guests (something Universal is working to fix) and the motion sickness that it induces for some riders - but overall it is a stunning triumph for its creators.
Despite a few disappointments, 2010 was a great year for new theme park attractions. Universal raised the bar for dark rides with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, several great new coasters made their debuts, and Universal Studios Singapore opened with the promise of more to come. There were also several great new additions that hadn't yet been announced when we put together our most-anticipated list - including Ferrari World Abu Dhabi's Formula Rossa, the world's fastest rollercoaster.
Next year will also see the opening of some major new rides and shows, with sleeping giant Disney in particular looking set for a banner year. We'll be posting our list of the 10 most exciting new theme park attractions opening in 2011 within the next couple of weeks - and we're on the lookout for great writers to help us review them.
You can keep up to date with the latest confirmed and rumored opening dates for new attractions through Theme Park Tourist's "New Attraction Watch" section, and by signing up for our weekly newsletter.