Niles: Theme parks hope new rides and roller coasters will win fans in 2023

We are just days away from the opening of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and the start of the Disney100 celebration at Disneyland, as well as the preview of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood. But plenty of other noteworthy attractions will be opening at major theme parks across the country in 2023.

Let’s start our imaginary road trip in San Diego, where SeaWorld continues its transformation into San Diego’s roller coaster capital with the opening of Arctic Rescue this spring. This triple-launch coaster from Intamin will feature seats that you straddle, like on a snowmobile. The concept is that you are rescuing animals in the Arctic, and the coaster won’t rise over 30 feet from the ground as the ride emphasizes twists and turns over big drops and airtime.

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San Diego’s weather won’t fool anyone into believing they’re riding in the Arctic, however, so I am more curious to see how the same type of coaster plays at SeaWorld’s sister park Busch Gardens Williamsburg. DarKoaster will feature four launches and run indoors, in the former Curse of DarKastle building at the Virginia theme park. That old dark ride offered an original story and characters, which I am looking forward to revisiting on this new coaster.

Up at Hersheypark in Pennsylvania, the wooden roller coaster Wildcat is getting a Rocky Mountain Construction steel-track makeover into Wildcat’s Revenge this summer. RMC did wonders with Twisted Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain and last year’s Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa in Florida, so Hersheypark is hoping that its new RMC will be a hit, too.

Families with younger roller coaster fans will want to check out Big Bear Mountain, a multi-launch Vekoma roller coaster coming to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., this year. With a height restriction of just 39 inches, this 66-foot tall, 3,990-foot-long coaster through the park’s Wildwood Grove land will be accessible to some preschoolers.

READ MORE: Top 10 of 2023 best new theme park rides and attractions in the United States

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom also is opening a coaster this year with TRON Lightcycle/Run, a clone of the successful ride first installed at Shanghai Disneyland. Meanwhile, rival Universal Studios Florida is going with a new interactive attraction rather than a coaster. Villain-Con Minion Blast will anchor a newly designated Minion Land in the Orlando park.

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Heading back toward the west, SeaWorld San Antonio in Texas is building what it is calling a “flume coaster” with Catapult Falls. The unique eight-passenger water coaster will feature a 20 mph launch, a 55-foot vertical lift and a 53-degree splashdown drop when it opens later this year.

Returning to Southern California, Knott’s Berry Farm will open its refurbished Fiesta Village in 2023, featuring MonteZOOMa: The Forbidden Fortress. This rebuild of the former Montezooma’s Revenge looping coaster will feature a randomized launch sequence, and its queue will get story upgrades about doomed treasure hunters searching for gold.

It’s way too early to tell which of these will be the best new attraction of the year. But I am certain that theme park fans will have a lot of fun “researching” that decision this year.


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