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The 10 most exciting new North American theme park attractions for 2012

Transformers: The Ride

Coasters, and dark rides, and new lands, oh my! Which new U.S. theme park attractions do we think are the top 10 for 2012?

There's no question that 2012 will be yet another fantastic year for amusement parks in North America. And reeling from the aftermath of Universal Orlando's smash-hit Wizarding World of Harry Potter, almost all of the industry's players have brought out the big guns in efforts to reclaim tourism lost to the mega-parks and to the strengthening economy. 

So of all the world-class attractions making their way to the U.S. and Canada in 2012, what do we consider to be the best? Only time will tell. But for now, the speculation is in full-force, and marketing teams are working overtime to assure us that our hard-earned dollars will translate to more fun, adventure, and thrills than ever before. From what we've seen and heard, here are the top ten frontrunners for the United States' best new attractions of 2012.

Honourable Mention: WindSeeker(s) – Kings Dominion & Carowinds

It’s true that, as far as many enthusiasts are concerned, little attention should be paid to the arrival of still more WindSeeker tower-swing rides. The metallic take on Funtime’s StarFlyer opened as identical 300-foot towers at Kings Island, Cedar Point, Canada’s Wonderland, and Knott’s Berry Farm in 2011 and will dominate the skyline of Kings Dominion and Carowinds next summer. WindSeeker may not be the thrill ride it was promoted as, but its on-ride audio and spectacular nighttime lighting make it a truly well-done family attraction. If it’s marketed that way in 2012, then it will be a hit in the parks it’s being built at.

10. SkyRush – Hersheypark

SkyRush will tower over Hersheypark's current ride collection and incorporate a terrain-riding element into a massive, twisting coaster. Image © Hersheypark.

Hersheypark is sure to have a hit on its hands with their 200-foot thrill machine, SkyRush, when it opens next summer. Touted as “America’s first wing coaster” (a claim also made by two other rides on this list), SkyRush will be the tallest ride at Hersheypark and a sure way to cement it into the hearts of enthusiasts who might be surprised by the already-diverse line-up of attractions it has. Construction images showing track hovering mere inches off the ground made us think that this ride would be something special, and something Hersheypark needs.

Read more: SkyRush preview

9. Buena Vista Street – Disney California Adventure

Buena Vista Street will welcome guests to a Southwestern cousin of Main Street U.S.A., and re-establish California Adventure as a Disney-quality park. Image © Disney Parks.

In 2012, Buena Vista Street will open at Disney California Adventure, replacing the tepid and uninspired Sunshine Plaza as the park’s grand entranceway. It will be most guests’ first encounter with the $1.1 billion reconstruction of the park. Re-imagined as an idealized 1920s Los Angeles boulevard that Walt might have encountered in his youth, Buena Vista Street will be a natural pairing for guests traveling between Disneyland and California Adventure. In place of its sister’s castle, Buena Vista Street will house the Carthay Circle Theater, a structure of prominence in both Californian and Disney histories. Replace Disneyland’s “Partners” statue with a bronze sculpture of young Walt and early Mickey and you have “Storytellers,” an optimistic pair ready to take on their California adventure, and ready to invite you to yours. Buena Vista Street sets the new mood for the new park, and produces an incredible parallel for guests traveling down sleepy ole’ Main Street and traveling into bustling, bright Buena Vista Street, just as Walt himself did. That makes it a top ten experience for 2012.

8. Manta – SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego's Manta will reinvent animal interaction and rejuvenate the smallest of the SeaWorld parks with new life. Image © SeaWorld Parks. 

SeaWorld San Diego’s somewhat unassuming Manta launch coaster may not share the height, speed, inversions, or thrill of its Orlando sister, but it will pack its own family-sized punch and spruce up the oft-left-behind Californian park with a new flair. It’s also telling of SeaWorld Parks’ continued dedication to blending innovation with nature in their pursuit of “edutainment” attractions that let guests experience nature in incredible new ways. We think Manta will be a real boost for the smallest of the SeaWorld parks, and will also invigorate an ongoing search for new ways to entertain and delight visitors with the majesty of the natural world.

Read more: Manta preview

7. Leviathan – Canada's Wonderland

Leviathan will be the undisputed king of Canadian coasters in 2012, and B&M's first ever creation over 300 feet. Image © Cedar Fair Entertainment Company.

When Canada’s Wonderland opened Behemoth (according to myth, a tremendously large creature of earth) in 2008, fans of North America’s most-visited seasonal amusement park thought they’d finally hit the jackpot. But with 2012’s Leviathan (in legend, Behemoth’s sea-dwelling relative), many are left speechless for one reason or another. Leviathan is owner Cedar Fair’s third foray into the 300-foot giga-coaster model and the first attempt at such a feat by traditionally conservative manufacturer B&M. So when Leviathan opens, people will experience, for the first time, what it feels like to ride the tremendously smooth, open-air style of B&M’s classic coasters with absolutely unprecedented statistics.

Read more: Leviathan preview

6. Fantasy Forest – The Magic Kingdom

Journey of the Little Mermaid - this time, located in Eric's seaside castle and with an interactive queue - will be the central attraction in the new Fantasyland. Image © Disney Parks.

Due to open in phases through 2013, Fantasy Forest is the currently-in-progress retheme of The Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland. Previously built around a tents-and-tarps medieval festival theme, the new Fantasyland will feature dramatic castle architecture, a dense forest, and a waterfront shoreline. Headlining the area will be Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid (a duplicate of the recently-opened attraction at Disney California Adventure), a re-themed Storybook Circus area, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a family-friendly, slaloming, swinging coaster / dark ride. The new area will also contain a princess meet-and-greet and a restaurant themed to Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

5. X-Flight – Six Flags Great America

X-Flight will bring the thrilling concept coaster to America with tight curves and near-misses that can't be missed. Image © Six Flags.

Great America’s X-Flight will flip more than a few stomachs when it opens in 2012 as one of the contenders for America’s first wing coaster. With its unique, spread seats hanging off either side of the track, X-Flight will produce incredible sensations and views from its first inverted, 180-degree drop to its elegant barrel rolls and twists through keyhole-cutout scenery.

Read more: X-Flight preview

4. Wild Eagle – Dollywood

Wild Eagle uses B&M's Wing Rider coaster to feature sweeping turns, giant inversions, and majestic, graceful flight. Image © Dollywood.

Wild Eagle is America’s other B&M Wing Rider coaster, though it couldn’t be more different than Great America’s X-Flight. Wild Eagle will indeed feature the same winged seating, but instead of trusting the ride’s proven successful interactions with scenery, Wild Eagle lets nature do the talking. Literally built into a forested mountaintop, the ride won't utilize any extra set pieces to feign near-misses like all of the world’s other Wing Riders, instead using sweeping turns, giant inversions, and dives toward the treetops to simulate real flight. Because Dollywood had the courage to let the ride speak for itself and prove the model is more than a one-trick pony, it ranks just slightly above X-Flight on our list.

Read more: Wild Eagle preview

3. Verbolten – Busch Gardens Williamsburg

A peaceful journey through the German countryside will turn villainous on Busch Gardens' Verbolten, a trip through the treacherous Black Forest. Image © SeaWorld Parks.

It may be true that the cat’s out of the bag for most anyone who wants to Google it, but Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg will still strike a mysterious and unnerving chord among fans of unique coasters. Apparently borrowing from the knowledge of last year’s Cheetah Hunt at sister park Busch Gardens Tampa, Verbolten will send riders on a care-free joyride through the Black Forest of the park’s German Oktoberfest section. But, diverted into a dark show building, a surprise or two is cue store for riders who will experience a “first” in America. Unquestionably taking a queue from Alton Tower’s Thirteen (but thus far, refraining from making impossible claims of terrifying frights and 18+ age limits), this family coaster will be a must-ride for visitors to the park and will certainly be the most interesting coaster added to the United States in 2012.

Read more: Verbolten preview

2. Transformers: The Ride – Universal Studios Hollywood

The incredible technology of 1999's Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man proves its timelessness in 2012's Transformers: The Ride. Image © Universal Parks.

We still have our reservations about the choice of intellectual property with 2012’s Transformers: The Ride (open now at Universal Studios Singapore and opening next summer at Universal Studios Hollywood), but from the videos coming out of Singapore, this ride will be a massive hit. It combines the innovative ride system and the best effects of Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure’s Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man with the all-out, CGI, special-effects frenzy of the Transformers film franchise to create a ride that will entertain and immerse guests for years. Sure, we wonder how well the brand will hold up in a park dedicated to Hollywood’s classics (the last two sequels have gotten 20 – 30 % approval ratings on online scoring sites), but for the foreseeable future, Transformers: The Ride is positioned to be Universal Studios Hollywood’s #1 attraction. At least, until Hogwarts hits Hollywood...

Read more: Transformers The Ride preview

1. Cars Land and Radiator Springs Racers – Disney California Adventure

Cars Land and Radiator Springs Racers earn our vote for the most impressive theme park attractions of 2012. Image via Disney Parks.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could bring something out of left field and proclaim the most exciting U.S. attraction for 2012 to be a restaurant or something unexpected and jaw-dropping? But alas, it just wouldn’t be true. Cars Land is the newest and largest land coming to Disney California Adventure theme park, the anchor to its $1.1 billion, unprecedented re-construction and the home of its newest E-ticket attraction, Radiator Springs Racers. Cars Land will occupy a previously untapped portion of the park’s land. With six acres of rockwork alone, it will provide a new backdrop for the park and send families into a frenzy as the tens of millions of Cars toys owned by children across the planet come to life in their own Route 66 town. Following in the footsteps of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Cars Land will feature fully themed and immersive shops, restaurants, and props replicating the exact mood of the film right down to the lampposts and askew tin roofs.

And at its center, built into the Cadillac, tail-fin shaped mountain range, Radiator Springs Racers will bring the technology of Epcot’s wildly popular Test Track and infuse it with the storylines and effects of the Cars movie, culminating in an outdoor race between two cars, serving around rocky bluffs and through the town before culminating in a photo-finish of epic proportions.

Without a doubt, Cars Land is the most expensive and impressive addition to North America's theme park lineup for 2012, and we’re sure it will give Disney California Adventure the boost it needs to redefine itself as Disneyland’s worthy contemporary. Cars Land will be impressive and immersive and set the park up for a profitable and easy-going period of much-deserved relaxation.

Read more: Cars Land preview and Radiator Springs Racers preview

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.


There are 2 comments.

The order is way off. Nice try!

Hard to be "way off" on an opinion-based list! Haha. As far as well-known, anticipated, exciting, and important attractions, this is the list we arrived at. With such incredible dark rides and innovative themed areas, we would've been amiss to say that the top five attractions were all coasters or something terrible like that. Cars Land is changing the landscape of the Disneyland Resort. Verbolten is bringing a new, innovative ride system to America. In ten years, people will remember Buena Vista Street and Transformers when Leviathan and Skyrush are no longer "headlining" attractions. But, I'm sure we'd love to hear your list to compare!

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