Theme parks are constantly pushing the boundaries of technology to create new experiences for their visitors. From Disney's introduction of audio-animatronic characters in the 1960s to Universal's use of robotic arms in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, rides and shows have continued to evolve to impress new audiences.
2014 will see the opening of dozens of new rides. Many of these will be variations on existing favorites, such as inverted roller coasters and "4-D" movies. But some of them will introduce new elements that will enable experiences that we've never seen before.
Here are 5 examples of new innovations that will be introduced at theme parks in 2014 - and could become standard features of future rides if they prove to be a success.
5. Glasses-free 3-D (Hogwarts Express, Universal Orlando Resort)
The Hogwarts Express will link the existing Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure with the under-construction Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. It will recreate the journey taken by Potter and his friends at the start and finish of every year at Hogwarts.
In reality, the train will actually travel through a backstage area between the two parks. However, multimedia technology will be used to convince guests that they are journeying between London and Hogsmeade. Guests will look out of the "windows" and see scenes play out - and depending on where they are seated on the train, and the angle they are looking at the window from, the scene will look different.
No glasses will be used to achieve the 3-D effects. This means the scenes probably won't have the same depth as a traditional 3-D movie, but will not look flat either.
4. Face-down drop tower (Falcons Fury, Busch Gardens Tampa)
Drop towers continue to get taller and taller - Six Flags Great Adventure will grab the record this year with the 415-feet-tall Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom. But, essentially, the actual experience of riding a drop tower has changed relatively little over the past few decades.
That will change in 2014 at Busch Gardens Tampa, where a unique new drop tower, Falcon's Fury, will debut this spring. The ride will stand at some 335-feet-tall, and will send guests plummeting towards the ground below at 60 miles per hour. It will become the tallest freestanding drop tower in North America when it opens.
The drop tower's chief gimmick, though, will be that it twists guests by 90 degrees so that they are facing directly downwards before they freefall down to the bottom. This will tie in with the ride's theme, which is based around the concept of diving towards the earth like a bird of prey.
3. "Swinging" roller coaster cars (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Disney's Magic Kingdom)
The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the jewel in the crown of the New Fantasyland expansion at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the most popular theme park in the world. As the name suggests, it is themed around Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and will take riders on a musical journey through the diamond mine that is worked by the dwarfs as well as the surrounding enchanted forest.
Like most Disney roller coasters, this won't be a high-speed thrill ride. In fact, it's even designed to be a little tamer than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - itself hardly a white-knuckle attraction. So what's got Disney fans so excited about this new addition?
Well, one aspect is the unique, first-of-a-kind ride system that it will employ. Although the coaster will be built by Dutch firm Vekoma, it will feature unique, Disney-designed trains that are capable of swinging from side-to-side as they round corners. You can see footage of Disney's Imagineers testing the vehicles back in 2011 below:
With the ride's top speed likely to be somewhere between 20 and 30 miles per hour, it's unlikely that the trains will rocket around the course. But the thrills should come from the swinging action of the cars, accentuating the circuit's many curves.