Thrilling roller coasters, creative fantasy lands, new dining options and a few new hotels are slated to debut at U.S. domestic theme parks in the coming year.
From Universal Studios Orlando to SeaWorld San Diego, from Hersheypark to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Walt Disney World and many other popular theme parks, here's a sampling of what's ahead for 2021.
EPCOT and Disney Springs
Walt Disney World Resort's EPCOT is undergoing the biggest transformation of any Disney park in history with new attractions and experiences. Highly anticipated is the debut of Remy's Ratatouille Adventure in the France pavilion. Within this new attraction, guests will feel they're "shrinking" to the size of Chef Remy as they race across across Gusteau’s kitchen floor aboard special trackless ride vehicles in a 3D "chase."
A photo of the new signage installation for Remy's Ratatouille Adventure is shown above. // Photo by photographer David Roark provided courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort.
Joining this family-friendly experience, the France pavilion will be a new restaurant, La Crêperie de Paris, offering both table- and quick-service options and a menu from celebrity chef Jerome Bocuse.
For those heading for EPCOT in 2021, two festivals await. The EPCOT International Festival of the Arts—mixing visual, culinary and performing arts—will run from January 8 through February 22. Between March 3 and July 5, park goers can indulge their passions for fresh flowers at the Taste of EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival.
Elsewhere in Walt Disney World Resort, a new Cirque du Soleil show, “Drawn to Life,” is coming to Disney Springs. It's a collaboration between Cirque du Soleil, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering. The opening date is yet to be announced.
Disney Springs will unveil new venues in 2021. // Photo by Walt Disney World Resort
Disney Springs also is introducing several new venues in 2021. Gideon’s Bakehouse will open its flagship location with signature cookies, cakes, monthly specials and some Disney Springs menu exclusives.
Ever wished for a donut sandwich? The new Everglazed Donuts & Cold Brew will serve oversized donuts with unique, decadent flavors, as well as cold-brewed coffee, lattes and frappes and, yes, signature donut sandwiches. In addition, M&M’s Disney Springs will also open on the West Side with candies and merchandise.
In 2021, Hersheypark in Hershey, PA, will continue to enhance Hershey's Chocolatetown with new dining and retail offerings that complete that will complete that area of the park's recent $150 million update and expansion.
Opening in 2021 at Hersheypark is the new Chocolatier restaurant and bar, shown above. // Image is courtesy of Hersheypark
Celebrating the life and legacy of Milton Hershey, the town's and park's founder, a new Chocolatier full-service restaurant and bar will feature past and present "pieces" (such as a car, ride parts or signage) from the Hersheypark ride collection. Park visitors can enjoy the new second story patio and views of neighboring attractions. Also debuting will be Sweeterie, a scratch confectionery kitchen led by chef Cher Harris, the park's corporate pastry chef. It will offer chocolate-dipped treats, artisanal baked goods and signature hand-crafted fudge.
Chocolatetown's new Milton’s Ice Cream Parlor will reflect the aura of Milton Hershey's original malt shop along Philadelphia’s Spring Garden Street. Expert ice-creamologists will craft custom creations from house-made ice cream, Hershey’s candy toppings and sauces.
The 23-acre development of Hershey’s Chocolatetown includes such features as Candymonium, the park's tallest and fastest coaster; a new arrival experience and front gate; Kisses Fountain; a Starbucks store; and Hersheypark Supply Co. (with apparel, gifts, toys and more) that's exclusive to Hersheypark as part of a new 10,000-square-foot flagship store.
New Iron Gwazi
Taking thrills to new heights in 2021 is Busch Gardens Tampa Bay's new Iron Gwazi roller coaster. Reaching a top speed of 76 mph, it will plunge riders from a 206 foot-tall peak into a 91-degree drop. Thrill seekers will have a dozen "airtime" moments, including three inversions.
The new wood-and-steel hybrid coaster (shown in the photo above) combines the wooden look of the park's former Gwazi coaster (closed five years ago) with a new steel track.
Claim to fame? When it opens, Iron Gwazi will become the world's fastest and steepest hybrid coaster and North America's tallest.
Vortex to Cyclone
When coaster buffs ride Carolina Cyclone at Carowinds near Charlotte, NC, in 2021, they'll notice something a bit different about the coaster’s two trains: It has new trains, but there's a back story that roller coaster enthusiasts will appreciate. After the iconic coaster, Vortex—the world’s first coaster with six inversions on a single circuit—closed at Kings Island, a fellow Cedar Fair Entertainment Company park in Mason, OH, its trains were shipped to Carowinds during the 2019-2020 off-season,
So, now they’ve been sanded, repainted and incorporated into Carolina Cyclone, which now has "new," more-rounded bodes, decked out with a silver piping element in the spot where Vortex had its stripe. Roller coaster heritage enthusiasts will be able to ride the original trains of the iconic Vortex on the steel tracks of Carolina Cyclone.
Universal Orlando Update
Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando will unleash Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Florida’s fastest and tallest launch coaster as well as a "pack of fierce Velociraptors" in summer 2021. This will be the first coaster based on the blockbuster Jurassic franchise and will feature an original story that expands upon what fans have seen in the movies. Intense maneuvers will send guests catapulting up to 70 mph and and more than 150 feet into the air.
Where to stay for an affordable, multi-day Universal visit? Just opened is Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites. Offering 2,050 guestrooms including standard rooms and spacious, two-bedroom suites, it's the second hotel in the destination’s "Value" category, joining sister property Surfside Inn and Suites.
Check out the video below highlighting the look and features of the new Dockside Inn and Suites:
Guests staying at the new Dockside Inn and Suites receive exclusive theme park benefits like early park admission, and rates start as low as $77 per night.
A New Emperor
SeaWorld San Diego is the only place in North America where travelers can see the emperor penguin—but an emperor of a different species is on the way. Opening in 2021 is the new Emperor, California's first floorless dive coaster with nearly 2,500 feet of track. Soaring at more than 60 mph, Emperor will dangle and drop riders more than than 150 feet before plunging 90 degrees into exhilarating loops. Each of the floorless ride cars will hold 18 riders in three, six-person rows.
The debut of Emperor also brings a new animal-conservation partnership for SeaWorld and Penguins International. It will focus on penguin awareness and conservation efforts, with a portion of the proceeds from sales of SeaWorld's penguin merchandise donated to Penguins International.
A new Avengers Campus, the first Disney ride-through attraction, is coming to Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, CA, with the opening date yet to be determined. While riding through the new attraction (which features Spider-Man), park goers will "sling webs" and have heroic encounters with Avengers and their allies, including Iron Man, Black Widow and Black Panther.
At the new Pym Test Kitchen at Disneyland Resort, food scientists will tap into Ant-Man and The Wasp’s shrinking and growing technology as they serve up perfectly sized snacks.
Walt Disney Imagineering also is putting finishing touches on the new Snow White attraction at Disneyland Park. Visitors can expect new state-of-the-art audio and visual technology and enhanced story elements such as a dazzling mine scene. The new Snow White attraction is slated to open when the park reopens, but no date was available from Disney at press time, so check the Web site for timing updates.
Another new Disneyland attraction is coming in 2022, when Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, the first major Mickey-themed ride-through attraction.
USA Today voted Pantheon, originally slated to debut this year at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, as the most anticipated roller coaster opening in the U.S., for 2020. But given the pandemic, its debut is now planned for 2021.
As the world's fastest multi-launch coaster, Pantheon—located within the park's Festa Italia village—will take riders into two inversions, four launches, five air-time hills, a 95-degree drop, a height of 180 feet and a top speed of 73 mph. Extending over 3,328 feet of track, the all-new coaster will have creative theming that reflects such ancient civilization gods as Pluto, Mercury, Jupiter, Minerva and Neptune. The ride lasts two minutes, and two trains can accommodate 20 riders each.
More Theme Park Fun
SeaWorld Orlando's first launch coaster, the Arctic-themed Icebreaker, will also debut in spring 2021. Within the park it will be located across from Wild Arctic. On Icebreaker, riders will experience four airtime-filled launches—both backward and forward—culminating in a reverse launch. That reverse launch will include a 93-foot-tall spike with 100-degree angle. The thrills will continue as riders fly over a near vertical "tophat" maneuver into a series of twists, turns, and airtime hills.
In California, Universal Studios Hollywood’s lively new ride, “The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash!,” was slated to open last spring but, given the pandemic and park's spring 2020 closure, it now will debut in 2021 when the park reopens. The fun attraction answers the question: “What are your pets really doing when you’re not at home?” It also highlights the importance of "pet adoption" as guests will assume the roles of stray puppies.
Seated within ride vehicles that resemble cardboard boxes—reminiscent of where Katie (in the movie) finds her beloved Max as a puppy—guests will travel along a track towards a pet adoption event and the ultimate happy ending of a forever home.
Technology firsts will combine sophisticated facial recognition with enhanced gesture tracking, helping to identify each guest as a unique stray puppy for the duration of the ride. Every time guests experience “The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash!” they will likely see themselves characterized as a different stray puppy, so riders will have a new experience with each ride.
The ensemble movie cast will reprise the "voices" of their iconic characters—Patton Oswalt as Max, Kevin Hart as Snowball, Eric Stonestreet as Duke, Jenny Slate as Gidget, Tiffany Haddish as Daisy, Lake Bell as Chloe, Dana Carvey as Pops, Chris Renaud as Norman, Hannibal Buress as Buddy, Bobby Moynihan as Mel, Jessica DiCicco as Princess and Tara Strong as Pickles.
The new Universal Studios Hollywood attraction will be located on Pets Place (previously known as Baker Street), and adjacent to the “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” and “Super Silly Fun Land” attractions.
The new water park features at Kings Dominion.
In 2021, Kings Dominion, a Cedar Fair Entertainment Company park in Doswell, VA, will open a redesigned area of its Soak City water park with two new family attractions, a new dining experience and upgraded amenities. Highlights include the new 45-foot Aqua play structure, Lighthouse Landing, plus Sand Dune Lagoon, a 3,000-square-foot, mini-wave pool for kids.
Many other new attractions planned at U.S. theme parks are on the horizon, some delayed by the pandemic. The Jersey Devil Coaster, a new thrill ride at Six Flags Great Adventure, was announced in 2019, expected to open in 2020, but now is slated to open in the future. Traveling at speeds up to 58 mph, the ride will send passengers along 3,000 feet of track to a height up to 13 stories. Last week, Travel Agent asked a Six Flags spokesperson for an update on what's new in 2021 for that park and its others around the U.S. but was informed that the list of what would open in 2021 was still being finalized.
USA Today also reported this month that Legoland Florida is planning an expansion next year, given plans publicly filed with Winter Haven, FL, the city nearest the attraction; a rendition filed with those plans at least six rides or attractions.