Your Summer Travel Guide to Theme Parks

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure will become Universal Orlando Resort’s first “story coaster” when it debuts June 13 in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

For Millennials, theme parks top the list of attractions interested in visiting on vacation. This is according to MMGY Global’s 2018-2019 Portrait of American Travelers, which also shows strong interest in this regard among Gen Xers. It’s no surprise then that new thrill rides based on such generational icons as the Harry Potter and Star Wars movies series are among the hottest tickets around.

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure will become Universal Orlando Resort’s first “story coaster” when it debuts June 13 in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The ride’s thrills include seven launches, dropping nearly 17 feet unexpectedly, a free-fall vertical drop and being catapulted 65 feet in the air and then immediately dropping backward in one movement. Measuring nearly a mile in length, the long roller coaster will ascend above the nearby trees, accelerate through ruins and speed forward and backward, while guests ride in a motorcycle or in its adjacent sidecar.

Guests will enter through ruins in the Forbidden Forest, which were imagined and brought to life by Universal’s creative team in collaboration with the Harry Potter films’ production designer, Stuart Craig, and art director Alan Gilmore.

As they go to the motorbikes, guests will see materials from Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class, including dragon eggs on the verge of hatching and a nursery where Hagrid kept his blast-ended Skrewts, a creature that appears to be a cross between an elongated crab and a scorpion, with no discernible head. Guests will also encounter characters from the Harry Potter films, including Arthur Weasley, Hagrid, and his dog, Fang, through a pre-show experience brought to life with digital projections and special effects. During the show, guests learn about their impending trip into the Forbidden Forest as part of their lesson for the day.

Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened May 31 at Disneyland Resort in Southern California and will debut on August 29 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. Advise clients to arrive early; access to the park, land and experiences may be restricted or unavailable depending on guest demand and other factors.

Guests hop aboard the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run ride to “jump into hyperspace” and engage in missions, games and in-queue experiences. They can also build their own custom lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop; design, assemble and activate their own mechanical creations at Droid Depot; dine at Oga’s Cantina, Kat Saka’s Kettle and other Star Wars-themed food outlets; and shop at the Black Spire Outpost and Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities. 

Advise clients that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will not be available during Extra Magic Hour or Magic Morning at Disneyland Park and that Disney FASTPASS service and Disney MaxPass are unavailable for Edge’s attractions. The Disney Parks will launch Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, later this year.

Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth — billed as the world’s tallest pendulum ride — is the newest thrill ride at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ. Riders on floorless seats spin around while swinging to and from at speeds of up to 75 mph, 172 feet above the  ground. Jackson is about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia and less than two hours from New York City.

Coming this summer, Steelers Country is a collaboration between Kennywood Park and the Pittsburgh Steelers that celebrates the hard-hitting heroics of the players, putting the fans at the center of the action. The centerpiece will be The Steel Curtain, a 220-foot-high roller coaster that will speed riders through 4,000 feet of track at 75 miles per hour while navigating nine inversions — the most in North America. One, at 197 feet above the ground, claims the world record for tallest inversion. Kennywood is in West Mifflin, PA, about 12 miles southeast of downtown Pittsburgh.

Not a theme park in the traditional sense, but New York’s Liberty Island and its iconic 151-foot-tall torch-bearing resident has been thrilling people for 133 years. Now, the brand new, 26,000-square-foot Statue of Liberty Museum has opened with three gallery spaces and the opportunity for an up-close view of Lady Liberty’s original torch. The museum also affords visitors panoramic views of Lady Liberty, lower Manhattan, and all of New York Harbor. Access to the museum is free of charge with the purchase of a Statue Cruises ferry ticket to Liberty and Ellis islands. The new museum is part of a $100 million Liberty Island-wide beautification effort.

Jungala water park is landscaped with walls of rock, sky-high tree formations and water sprouting from natural pergolas and “lost ruins.”

Just in time for summer, Mexico’s Riviera Maya has a new, luxury boutique water park: Jungala. Created by tourism developer Grupo Vidanta, the new park is open to guests staying at Vidanta Riviera Maya resort, as well as the public, seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Designed to call to mind a mystical voyage through the jungle, the park is landscaped with walls of rock, sky-high tree formations and water sprouting from natural pergolas and “lost ruins.” Guests will also have the chance to spot native animals and birds as they explore caves, waterfalls and bridges. 

In terms of rides, thrill-seekers will be able to enjoy attractions such as the Aqua Drop, Aqua Loop, Flatline Loop, and Whizzard, while families may opt for the family slides or children’s areas, including the Kids Waterslide Complex and Aqua Play Rain Fortress, which Grupo Vidanta says is the largest interactive play structure in the world. There will also be a lazy river — billed as the longest in Latin America, with a length a little over half a mile — as well as a Wave Pool, which will incorporate natural sand. 

There are several on-site bar and dining options, as well as boutiques and stores, and visitors can rent amenity-laden VIP cabanas. Group buyouts are also available, with special benefits available for groups of 15 tickets or more. Travel agents booking a group can block out a private area or even the entire venue, which can hold up to 2,000 guests. Customizable group packages are available. 

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