The coronavirus may have closed theme parks around the globe in 2020, but there has been plenty going on behind the scenes, from the creation of a new Disney castle in Hong Kong to the addition of new worlds at Universal Japan and Epcot Florida, to completely new parks in China and South Korea.
Many of the world’s most well-known parks have now reopened, with stringent safety measures in place – including Japan’s no screaming rule – giving adrenaline junkies lots to look forward to when we can travel again. Here are the developments we’re most excited about.
1. Lotte’s Magic Forest, Busan, South Korea
This spin-off from Seoul’s popular indoor theme park Lotte World has a completely different look and feel from the original.
Four times larger and set both indoors and out, it has a European concept and an emphasis on nature, with an animatronic cuckoo clock, a talking tree, oversized topiary animals and fantastical water gardens.
Six zones will house more than a dozen family-friendly rides, interactive games and two high-octane roller coasters. It’ll be especially pretty in the evening, when it’s gardens are lit up in a galaxy of fairy lights. The park was due to open last year but is now shooting for a mid-2021 debut.
2. Universal Studios, Beijing
China’s first Universal Studios is expected to open in May, in the Tongzhou district of Beijing, around a 30-minute drive from the centre of the capital.
Spread over 53 hectares (130 acres), the park features seven themed worlds, including the first Kung Fu Panda land, where guests will find the Journey of the Dragon Warrior flume ride.
Other attractions include a nail-biting Jurassic Park dark ride, a Wizarding World of Harry Potter ride that allows guests to fly through scenes from the movie, and a dramatic Waterworld Stunt Show featuring gunfights and a plane crash.
A Universal CityWalk shopping mall and two luxury hotels are also included in the complex.
3. Legoland New York, the United States
There’s a whole lot of awesome coming to New York this summer with the opening of a huge Legoland theme park, located in Hudson Valley, 96 kilometres (60 miles) from the city.
It’ll be the largest Legoland in the group, with seven themed zones and more than 50 rides and attractions, including the Lego Factory Adventure Ride, a dark experience that uses technology to turn guests into miniature Lego figures.
There’s a hotel coming too, with 250 themed rooms, disco elevators, daily scavenger hunts and a heated outdoor swimming pool.
Legolands in California; Billund, Denmark; and Windsor, in Britain, are each also planning to open additional theme lands, and Legoland Shanghai is due to open in 2024.
4. Disney Castle, Hong Kong Disneyland
The recent opening of the new-look castle at Hong Kong Disneyland has had Disney super fans chomping at the bit – not just because these mouse-ear-wearing obsessives are engrossed with every little Disney detail but because this is the first Disney castle to be updated for the 21st century.
The reimagining says goodbye to the old pink and blue turreted palace dedicated to just one princess, and hello to a less sexist, more globally inclusive building that pays homage to all of the Disney princesses and queens.
More than double the height it was previously, the rechristened Castle of Magical Dreams features 13 towers, spires and turrets, each representing a different story.
Inside, guests can meet with their favourite heroines in the Royal Reception Hall and play dress up at the Bippity Boppity Boo boutique.
5. Super Nintendo World, Universal Studios Japan
Pull on your yellow overalls and jump into the acid-bright interactive world of Mario and friends at Super Nintendo World, the latest addition to Universal Studios Japan. Start with a stroll through Princess Peaches’ Castle, where you’ll find Mario, Luigi, Zelda and Donkey Kong.
Along with a number of activities that use “power-up” wristbands, there are two new rides: signature attraction Mario Kart Cooper’s Challenge, an augmented reality roller coaster that sees visitors race to the finish line, just like in the game; and the slower Yoshi’s Adventure “story-coaster”, which takes riders on a treasure hunt both indoors and outside.
The delayed February grand unveiling will now take place when the park reopens, following the lifting of Osaka’s state of emergency.
6. Godzilla Interception Operation Awaji, Nijigen no Mori, Japan
Japan’s manga-tastic Nijigen no Mori theme park, on Awaji Island, near Kobe, has unveiled Godzilla Interception Operation Awaji, which allows guests to zip line into the sawtooth jaws of the monster lizard.
Described as “the world’s largest life-size Godzilla”, the fearsome beast is 20 metres high, 25 metres wide and 55 metres long.
The ride, which launched in October, also entails shooting games and has augmented reality mysteries to solve. As well as our lizard friend, Nijigen no Mori features a host of cool cartoon- and anime-inspired rides and attractions.
7. Velocicoaster, Universal Orlando Resorts, United States
This new Jurassic World roller coaster, opening in the summer, is set to be the fastest and highest in Florida, travelling at up to 70mph and reaching heights of 155 feet.
Along the way, giant animatronic velociraptors chase riders through four stomach-flipping inversions, face-bending g-forces, a 360-degree barrel roll above the Islands of Adventure Lagoon and a couple of momentous 80-degree drops – which Universal says is its steepest plummet yet.
One for those with nerves of steel, Universal have said that “just a lap restraint will be holding riders in place”. Stars of the Jurassic World movie Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and B.D. Wong also play a role in the experience.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Epcot, Walt Disney World Florida
When Walt Disney World begins its reopening this month, it will debut a host of attractions, including Epcot’s first roller coaster.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is being dubbed a “storytelling coaster” and will feature a planetarium-like exhibit, spinning vehicles and a reverse launch.
Other attractions Disney World is aiming to unveil in 2021 – the park’s 50th anniversary year – include Reme’s Ratatouille Adventure, a trackless dark ride that will “shrink” riders before whizzing them through the streets of Paris, and Star Wars Halycon, a theme hotel with windows looking out onto deep space, lightsabre training and character meals on board “the ship”.
The cost of the three-day Star Wars Halycon experience will, it is rumoured, be in the thousands of US dollars.
9. John Wick: Open Contract, Motiongate, Dubai
The Middle East’s biggest Hollywood-inspired theme park has four studio zones; Smurfs, Lionsgate, Columbia Pictures and DreamWorks Animation, and more than 40 attractions.
This spring will bring two more: John Wick: Open Contract, an intense 10-storey free-fly roller coaster (cars are suspended underneath the rail) that reaches a g-force of 2.8.
Riders have a choice of two scenarios: they can either help John Wick – a retired hitman seeking revenge in the film franchise of the same name – or hunt him.
The other is the Now You See Me: High Roller, the world’s fastest single car spinning coaster, featuring non-inverted loops and half-rolls. It’s designed to make guests feel like “they are part of a daring Horseman escape”, according the park.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.