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The Smiler

Theme Park Tourist takes a look back at what the 2013 theme park season had to offer.

For thrill seekers across the globe, 2013 has been a year to remember. From world-record breaking coasters opening their doors in Europe, to history being made in The States, the 2013 theme park season has seen some ‘thrilling’ highs but also some catastrophic ‘downtime’ lows.

Smiling (and frowning) in Staffordshire

Thrill seekers in Europe were eagerly awaiting the opening of Staffordshire’s latest scream machine. Merlin-operated Alton Towers finally announced the name of itsmulti-inversion roller coaster, built by Gerstlauer, as The Smiler in January. More unusually, the park opted against a glossy press conference and instead leaked the name via British newspaper- The Metro. But the marketing team yet again delivered a unique campaign to coincide with the opening of the attraction, which was originally slated for March.

Park bosses certainly had a laugh placing smiles firmly on the face of the British public.  From projecting the iconic Smiler logo over the Big Ben to superimposing it on sheep, eyebrows were certainly raising across Britain as the UKs most popular theme park was awaiting the arrival of its latest flagship coaster.

Smiling at Alton TowersSmiling at Alton TowersThe Smiler opened to generally positive reviews

Billed as an ‘all controlling force’ that will ‘maramlise your body and mind’, The Smiler got off to a less than happy start. Already plagued with delays, the attraction missed its scheduled opening date twice; the first in March and the second in May before finally welcoming advocates onsite on May 31st 2013. As the first coaster to invert riders an astonishing 14 times, the 52mph mammoth inverter opened to critics raving about its disorientating and thrilling experience. A gimmick it may be, but attracting three hour waits and high guest satisfaction rates, The Smiler is going to be having theme park goers grinning for many years to come.

Under constructionUnder constructionThe opening of The Smiler was delayed twice

After The Smiler left advocates with a grin on their faces for the first few months, it also made many frown once again as the ride closed for a lengthy period of time. The coaster trains stalled on numerous occasions resulting in The X Sector section of the park closing, as cranes were needed to lift the train back to the station. The coaster also made the headlines for all of the wrong reasons as the park hit the peak season during the annual Scarefest event in October. Part of the ride's lift hill assembly failed as the cars navigated the circuit . Minor injuries to some riders were reported. In typical British press fashion, the papers went to town as the park made national headlines over the incident.

A more worrying incident occurred earlier in the season. In July park guests reported a bolt flying from the track. The track also became dislodged resulting in a segment coming out of place and the ride being shuttered as a full safety investigation was carried out by the park.  The ride re-opened some days later.

A first for Orlando

Across the pond, Orlando also welcomed a new selection of thrill rides. More unusually, the focus this time was on Fun Spot America; a quiet, family-run amusement park situated on one of the corners of International Drive. The park, as part of a multi-million dollar expansion, underwent an extensive facelift that included the addition of two-full size roller coasters.

Fun Spot expandingFun Spot expandingImage: Fun Spot

A leap forward for roller coaster design in the sunshine state, the first major addition as part of Fun Spot’s huge expansion came in the form of White Lightning. Built by wooden pioneers Great Coasters International, the steel hybrid roller coaster boasts airtime hills, 90-degree bends and bundles of fun for the whole family. The coaster certainly proves for family thrills, size really does not matter. Elsewhere, Fun Spot also drafted in Dutch-based Vekoma to build the first suspended coaster of its kind in Orlando. Freedom Flyer completes the new Fun Spot coaster line-up and aims to provide first class family fun on the International Drive strip.

Springfield becomes a reality

Universal Orlando aimed to please many television fans with its new Springfield expansion. Building upon the success of the family favourite The Simpsons Ride, which opened in 2008, the newly themed-area aims to bring the cartoon town of Springfield to life. Park guests can now visit the sites belonging to some of the most famous yellow characters on earth including a chance to dine at Moe’s Diner and an opportunity to shop for groceries at the Kwik-E-Mart. The specially selected food menus exclusive to the park also allow guests experience the great taste of Homer Simpson’s favourite donuts and burgers.

Shopping at SpringfieldShopping at Springfield

Elsewhere in the rapidly-changing park, Universal Studios Florida also launched Transformers: The Ride - 3D, a clone of the Universal Studios Hollywood attraction. Expect the evolution of Universal Orlando's first park to continue next year!

Flying the turns  

Historic Knoebels welcomed another iconic ride to itsarsenal after almost a decade of waiting. Flying Turns is currently the only example of a wooden bobsled coaster in the world and has been designed in-house by the park. With ground first breaking on the construction site in 2006, coaster enthusiasts have been waiting nearly seven years to experience the unique ride, which pays tribute to the original coaster built in the 1920s by legendary designers John Miller and John Norman Bartlett.

Flying the turnsFlying the turnsThe Flying Turns finally opened this year

Escaping to Antarctica

SeaWorld Orlando also aimed to provide a new experience to bring is guests closer to wildlife than ever before. Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin marked a new chapter for SeaWorld. A first of its kind, the new dark ride system is completely trackless which provides a new unique experience for guests. A cross between a simulator and dark ride, the attraction takes riders on a journey with Puck - a cute baby penguin to the Antarctic. Combining physical effects, simulation and wildlife, the ride aims to provide a new level of family fun. Highly themed to tie in with SeaWorld’s new area Antarctica, the attraction also gives riders a chance to have a ‘wild’ experience or a more tamer, ‘mild’ ride experience.

 Empire of the PenguinAntarctica: Empire of the PenguinImage: SeaWorldDespite a high level of promotion from the park, and impressive guest satisfaction rates, Empire of the Penguin left some fans disappointed. Some commented that the ride experience was too short while others said the ride theming failed to live up to the hype. That said, SeaWorld has debuted a revolutionary ride system that has huge potential for the future.

Riding the loop in California

The king of the coaster world Cedar Point also had plenty to shout about in 2013. In typical fashion, itunveiled yet again another tallest and fastest of its kind roller coaster in the form of Gatekeeper. This time, the ride is the largest example of a Wing Rider coaster in the world built by Swiss manufacturer Bolliger and Mabillard. Featuring five inversions and breath-taking drops, the coaster certainly makes a big impression when entering the largest theme park in the world.

Going Full ThrottleGoing Full ThrottleFull Throttle at Six Flags Magic Mountain features the tallest vertical loop in the world

Six Flags Magic Mountain in California is another coaster paradise. Their 18th (the most for any theme park in the world) opened in the summer and again boasted records. Featuring the worlds tallest vertical loop inversion, Full Throttle launches riders at 60mph and inverts them twice throughout its layout. Premier Rides was at the helm and delivered a variation of its launched coaster featuring lap bars aiming to intensify the experience.

Overall, the 2013 coaster season has been a global success. With 2014 welcoming many more unique attractions to the world stage, it is very exciting time to be a fan of theme parks.

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