Theme Park Ranger
12:18 PM EST, December 26, 2013
The year has been dotted with theme-park grand openings and announcements. Here are seven new attractions expected to have staying power.
You've seen space shuttles, but you've never seen one in the way that Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex presents its Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, which debuted in June. Guests glide from an appealing, starry pre-show to a surprising nose-to-nose encounter with the vessel, which is mounted at a jaunty 43.21-degree angle. (Get it? Like the 4-3-2-1 countdown.) You truly are facing history in that $100 million building. It makes folks want to clap, cry and cheer "USA! USA! USA!"
Watch the birdies
In May, SeaWorld Orlando's Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin attraction put a new spin on dark rides, with round, rumbling vehicles gliding along without a rail on the ground to guide them. The finale goes from virtual birds to the real-life waddlers in an open-air and below-freezing environment. But don't rush off. There's also a warmer room with an aquarium designed to show off the swift swimming skills of penguins.
Built for speed
It was as if Universal Studios was going for a world record with the construction of Transformers: The Ride — 3D. The simulator sprang up in a jumbo, gray box in the middle of the theme park in June, about a year after work started. Inside, there are urban robotic battles and a giant screen that doubles as a tube to elevate riders to the upper level of the attraction. Outside, the meet-and-greet with Megatron and Co. also is dramatic, but in a theatrical way, complete with steel curtain.
Your little princess may want to meet royals at Princess Fairytale Hall at Magic Kingdom, but don't miss the glass-slipper display in the new palace, part of the Fantasyland expansion. The posh surroundings, which opened to commoners in September, sure beat standing in the hot sun for a moment with Tigger.
At home with Homer
Since August, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie should have felt even more at home at Universal Studios with the addition of Springfield, featuring life-size versions of scenes from the hometown of "The Simpsons" animated television series. There's plenty to see — and taste, including drinks such as Duff Beer and the Flaming Moe, which doesn't blaze but does smoke.
Fun Spot America expanded with White Lightning, Orlando's only wooden roller coaster, which has its ups and downs near International Drive. It also added a steel coaster called Freedom Fighter, which opened in June, along with a dramatically arched SkyCoaster seen from Interstate 4.
After decades of just shaking his head around and gesturing broadly, Mickey Mouse actually spoke one-on-one with guests at a Magic Kingdom meet-and-greet location. He doesn't have a wide-ranging vocabulary, but the voice gives the experience more authenticity — well, if a 5-foot mouse wearing pants can be authentic.
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