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Amusement Parks Offer Big New Thrills

High-tech fantasy worlds and splashy rides aim to wow all generations

couple smiling at amusement park

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En español | Amusement and theme parks are constantly competing to offer the fastest and the coolest rides and attractions. But this year brings some especially jaw-dropping new park experiences for kids and their families — many inspired by movies and popular television shows, including Star Wars and Sesame Street.  Parks are also adding some wild coasters and thrill rides, such as the Copperhead Strike, a double launch coaster that puts passengers through several inversions as they fly along a 3,255-foot steel track at Carowinds park in Charlotte, N.C.

Here are some other spots offering new options for family fun:

a rendition of Star Wars: Galaxy Edge theme park

Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge

Disneyland, Anaheim, Calif.; and Disney's Hollywood Studios, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The biggest theme park news in the cosmos is the massive Star Wars park opening on May 31 in California, with an identical land debuting in Florida on Aug. 29. Disney expects the attractions to be so popular that they are requiring guests to make timed reservations (you can make them for the Florida park already). The lands, which cost an estimated $1 billion apiece, promise a fully immersive experience on rides like Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, where guests can take control of the legendary spaceship. Visitors can also build their own souvenir droid, and visit a cantina serving such interstellar treats as the blue-and-green milk that kept Luke Skywalker fueled through several movie adventures.

a rendition of Wildwood Grove at Dollywood


Wildwood Grove at Dollywood

Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountains park welcomed a major expansion this spring with the opening of Wildwood Grove. Longtime fans, who love how Dollywood reflects Parton's personality, will be thrilled by the 55-foot-tall Wildwood Tree, which shines nightly with thousands of illuminated leaves and butterflies, the singer's signature symbol. The area also features six new rides — including a suspended family coaster named the Dragonflier and a spinning ride called the Mad Mockingbird — and Hidden Hollow, a 4,000-square-foot indoor play space perfect for entertaining little ones on rainy or muggy days, plus a new themed restaurant.

parade with muppets and floats at Sesame Street at SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld Orlando

Sesame Street at SeaWorld

Orlando, Fla.

If you have small children in tow, they will adore walking down the Muppet-lined avenue in this new section of SeaWorld, the Florida park best known for its focus on marine life. The Sesame Street area, which opened in late March, hosts the park's first daily parade, and has six themed rides, including Super Grover's Box Car Derby, Big Bird's Twirl, a Cookie Monster-themed drop, an Elmo train and a Grover family coaster. But there's real fun in simply visiting the carefully designed settings that feature iconic Sesame spots such as Big Bird's nest, Hooper's Store and the famous 123 Sesame Street stoop.

families celebrate at the official opening of Lego Movie World at LegoLand Orlando

LOCK + LAND Photography

Lego Movie World, Legoland Florida

Winter Haven, Fla.

Lego's theme parks were built on the popularity of the brightly colored toy building blocks. But with the recent success of the Lego movies, Legoland has broadened its appeal with a new section devoted to the films called Bricksburg. The area, which opened in March, features three new rides, including the standout Masters of Flight, which takes guests on a suspended adventure through a domed 3-D theater. The area also houses the park's first water ride, where passengers spray at targets from their boats. And, of course, there will be plenty of areas to play with the toy bricks.

rendition of the American Dream Mall

Courtesy of American Dream

American Dream Mall

East Rutherford, N.J.

More than a decade after it was first announced, the third-largest shopping center in North America is about to make its debut, but it will offer much more than another destination for a retail spree. The $5 billion American Dream Mall delivers a blizzard of entertainment options, like the first indoor ski and snowboard park in the Western Hemisphere, a Nickelodeon Universe theme park, and a Dreamworks-branded 8-acre indoor water park. It will also have a Sea Life Aquarium and a Legoland Discovery Center. Outside, a Ferris wheel nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty will provide sweeping views of the west side of Manhattan from 26 climate-controlled gondolas. The mall, which has faced numerous delays, now plans to open in late summer.

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