June 2008: "Park Places" Column
Summer Thrills and Old-Fashioned Fun
Await at the South's Theme Parks
River Battle at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN, is one of the many new attractions delivering water fun and escapism adventure at theme parks throughout the South this summer.*
By Georgina Cruz
With the summer season here, why not come out and play at major theme parks throughout the South? Just grab your spouse, significant other, family or friends, and escape for a getaway of thrlls, chills and old-fashioned fun.
To keep you posted on the latest and greatest happenings at southern theme parks from Texas to Florida, from Virginia to Tennessee and beyond, I'll be writing a new theme park column, which you'll find in this space every other month.
I’ll update readers on the South's latest and greatest "wow" attractions, waterpark sprays and slides, special events, fantastic production shows, children's rides, dining upgrades, animal and marine encounters and more.
If roller coasters thrill you, any of the Six Flags parks is definitely your ticket. The entertainment company is introducing seven new coasters at its parks this summer season – including two in Texas, another in Georgia.
Destined to be huge with teenagers and intrepid adults, Tony Hawk’s Big Spin at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, TX, between Dallas and Fort Worth (817-640-8900 or www.sixflags.com) is a spinning coaster. Its random twists and spins are aptly named after the skateboarding legend.
Prefer to feel the bottom drop out from under you as you dip and soar? Goliath — The Ultimate Inverted Coaster (shown above*) at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio (210-697-5050 or www.sixflags.com) lets you do just that. You experience spine-tingling gravitational forces and speeds of 50 mph with nothing underneath your feet but earth –and sky.
Also new at Six Flags parks – and sure to be a hit with families with youngsters – is Thomas the Tank Engine at Six Flags Over Georgia in Atlanta (770-739-3400 or www.sixflags.com). This attraction entertains children and the young at heart with a ride on the rails through that lovable train engine’s mythical home on the Island of Sodor.
Other highlights of the Thomas the Tank attraction include themed play areas, and appearances by Sir Topham Hatt, Controller of the Railway, who poses for photos and greets visitors. And for that perfect souvenir to remind you of your visit back home, a store located within the area features an assortment of -- you guessed it -- Thomas-themed merchandise.
Upcoming Park Events
Coming to a Galaxy near you, Star Wars Weekends are featured every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, through June 29, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando where the new, interactive Toy Story Mania! attraction with Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Mr. Potato Head and pals just opened (407-W-DISNEY or www.disneyworld.com).
But for Obi-wannabes, well, the Force will be with you during the Star Wars Weekends events. Okay, I admit I'm a Star Wars fan. Who isn’t a fan of that cutie, R2D2?
Seriously, though, the event’s centerpiece is the park’s super-cool Star Tours ride.
On this ride, you can hobnob with, and photograph, 50 characters from all six Star Wars movies. Keep those cameras clicking for Darth Vader, C3PO and Chewbacca, as well as many celebrities from the films.
Hint: You might encounter an especially adorable Jedi Knight, the one-and-only Mickey Mouse, hoisting his own scaled down lightsaber.
Further north, KidsFest is now in swing at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN, (800-365-5996 or www.dollywood.com). Through Aug. 3, this festival offers Creature Adventures starring the Kratt Brothers, stars of PBS’ Zoboomafoo series, and their animal buddies.
Families should also be on the look-out for those veggies everyone loves: Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber – alongside the pirates who don’t do anything as VeggieTales LIVE! returns to Dollywood in a hilarious stage show this season. And at Dolly’s Imagination Playhouse, the Penguin Players present three sing-along stage shows.
While at Dollywood, parents may like to take the opportunity to introduce children to American centuries’ old crafts and heritage.
For instance, the little ones might watch in amazement at the demonstrations of blacksmithing, glass-blowing or wood-carving. It's a family-focused experience and a look into the past.
Old-fashioned fun is on tap for the Independence Day Festivities at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (407-W-DISNEY or www.disneyworld.com) on July 4. The park presents one of the year’s most spectacular Fantasy In The Sky displays at 9 p.m. with more than 800 fireworks.
In addition, there are two presentations of the lighted parade extravaganza, Spectromagic at 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. Grab some popcorn, sit back, relax and enjoy!
Or perhaps you would prefer to celebrate Independence Day enjoying a concert by Sister Hazel at 9 p.m. on July 4 at Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, SC. (843-236-ROCK or www.hardrockpark.com).
That park's signature Led Zeppelin Coaster is shown at left.*
Another performance idea for later in July is Raven Simone of the Disney Channel’s “That’s So Raven."
She'll present a high-energy concert at Alabama Adventure’s Coca-Cola Amphitheater on July 25 (205-481-4750 or www.alabamaadventure.com).
Park News & Notes
The Simpsons Ride opened in May at Universal Orlando Resort (407-224-4233 or www.universalorlando.com).
The long-awaited ride is larger-than-life with a 28-foot-tall Krusty the Clown (see photo at right*) at the entrance. Visitors enter the attraction through Krusty's mouth and extended tongue.
The Simpsons Ride delivers a giant, wrap-around cinematic extravaganza. Park goers even enjoy a journey through an animated corkscrew. And, among the surprises, riders get spritzed with baby powder and water.
Water, water everywhere! There is a definite deluge of water fun news in parks all over the South.
First off, you are sure to get wet at Dollywood’s new attraction, River Battle (800-365-5996 or www.dollywood.com). The entrance is shown at left.*
The $5 million themed water raft ride follows a 500-foot channel and boasts nine rafts for eight passengers each that are equipped with soaker guns.
Riders take aim at each other and more than 100 targets (some of which “shoot” back – yes. as in dousing you — and others display special effects for surprises at every turn).
Hey, spectators beware when near this new attraction. Why? Raft riders will soak people standing around along the ride’s banks. What will they think of next?
And speaking of more water fun, a new expansion just opened in May at Rock ‘n’ Roll Island, located at Water Country USA (800-343-7946 or www.watercountryusa.com), sister park to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va. (800-343-7946 or www.buschgardens.com).
The focal point of the new area is a 33-foot-tall tower, the Jammin’ Juke Box, with three body slides, each 200 feet long, which spill riders into a 9,000 square foot pool. The expansion also features a lazy river and children’s area.
For its part, the Miami Seaquarium (305-361-5705 or www.miamiseaquarium.com) has announced a Splashtacular Summer of Fun with daily performances by the All American High Dive Team (shown at right*) through Aug. 17.
These are professional divers from around the country who delight audiences with their comedic antics and Olympic diving abilities -- including a 75-foot-high dive into a clear-sided pool with just eight feet of water.
To keep youngsters cool and happy, the Miami Seaquarium also has a Kids Water Play Area with inflatable water slides and wet slip-n-slides, as well as Salty’s Pirate Playground and Spray and Play misting stations.
Carowinds’ Boomerang Bay Water Park (800-888-4386 or www.carowinds.com) on the NC-SC state line near Charlotte, S.C. seems to be saying, “come on in, the water’s fine.”
Look for an expansion and new features this season -- including Bondi Beach, a new 600,000-gallon wave pool, along with cabana service, a new walk-up food station and a new apparel and merchandise shop.
As the park’s second wave pool, Bondi Beach boasts 34,000 square feet of water play or 9,000 square feet more than the existing Great Barrier Reef wave pool.
Bondi Beach also has 275 feet of “beach frontage” (at the shallow end where there are “geyser” water effects too).
At the new pool, there are 75 rental cabanas – the perfect spot to sit back, relax indolently in the shade and enjoy chair-side service from one of the park’s eateries.
Much else in new across the south at these and other major parks. We couldn't tell the entire story in one update. So stay tuned for another theme park update in early August!
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of the various theme parks described above. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos.