ORLANDO, Fla. — A dark, submarine-inspired thrill ride in California and swank new offerings at Downtown Disney all top the summer's must-do list for theme park and amusement fans.
For those who want even more extreme summer adventures, a hybrid wood-steel coaster in Massachusetts and a spinning wing coaster based on Batman in Texas are also new for 2015.
"Pop culture really stands out this summer," said Colleen Mangone, spokeswoman for the Virginia-based International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. "It's allowing fans to experience pop culture in a whole new way."
"Star Wars," Justice League, "Fast and Furious" — all are represented in different ways and in different parks this summer.
There's some tamer fare as well, like the Amish Experience located in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, where a "Magic Lantern Show" promises a 19th-century entertainment experience.
I-Drive 360 in Orlando is slightly different from the area's other attractions, with its new, giant Orlando Eye Ferris wheel. Also in Orlando, Florida's only Starbucks that serves alcohol recently opened in Downtown Disney, just in time for thirsty summer crowds.
Here are the highlights of new theme park summer offerings:
The most visible and talked about attraction in Orlando this summer isn't at one of the mega theme parks. It's I-Drive 360, an entertainment complex good for all ages that combines Madame Tussauds wax museum, the Sea Life Aquarium and the Orlando Eye. The 400-foot-tall (122 meters) wheel is slow enough for those with jumpy stomachs (but not good for those with fear of heights). The aquarium has touch pools, a wall of trippy floating jellyfish and plenty of sharks to spy. The wax museum includes a figure of Juan Ponce de Leon, who led the first European expedition to Florida.
Over at Disney, imagineers are busy transforming Downtown Disney into Disney Springs. Some of the new restaurant and shopping offerings are open, including The Boathouse, a waterfront eatery that overlooks Lake Buena Vista. Guests can now take tours in "Mad Men"-era "amphicars" around the lake; the boat-cars are original, not replicas. Nearby, Starbucks serves beer and wine after 4 p.m.
Because the "Frozen" movie frenzy keeps growing, the "Frozen Sing-Along Celebration" at Disney Hollywood Studios moves to the larger Hyperion Theater June 17, with new technology like a high-definition LED screen and new snow-making. Note to parents: The theater is deliciously air-conditioned and dark, enabling weary park-goers to kick back and rest while little ones happily belt out "Let It Go" at the top of their lungs.
Two other openings in Central Florida are worth checking out: The Crayola Experience and Legoland Florida's new hotel.
Universal Studios Hollywood will unveil its Fast & Furious: Supercharged attraction on June 25, a 50,000-square-foot (4,600-square-meter) motion simulator ride based on the movie franchise. It promises to take riders on a 120 mph (193 kilometers per hour) journey through the "underworld of fast cars and international crime cartels" with the help of 3-D-HD imagery and 360-degree screens.
Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park is scheduled to open its 3-D, interactive dark ride called Voyage to the Iron Reef. It's a submarine-inspired attraction and guests can use ray guns to "freeze" puffer fish, octopi and other creatures during the ride, which takes place on 600 feet (183 meters) of track.
Legoland California in Carlsbad opens Lego Star Wars Miniland Death Star, with models of classic movie scenes. The park also opens Heartlake City, an area based on the Lego Friends toy line, which is centered around the lives of five girls.
Cedar Point in Sandusky has already opened its signature summer ride: Rougarou, a werewolf-themed roller coaster that's also floorless. Translation: Your feet are dangling as you plunge 137 feet (42 meters) through four inversions.
Wicked fast: Six Flags New England in Agawam is updating an old wooden coaster with a metal structure for a smooth hybrid ride, now called the Wicked Cyclone, with a 109-foot (33-meter) hill, two zero-G rolls and top speeds of 55 mph (88 kilometers per hour).
Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson adds a 13th coaster to its mix, El Diablo, a pendulum-style coaster.
Camelback Mountain Resort in Tannersville unveils a 533,000-square-foot (50,000-square-meter) Aquatopia Indoor Water Park with six pools, a surfing simulator, 13 water slides and an indoor water coaster.
At Hersheypark in Hershey, the Laff Trakk indoor coaster is a spinning glow coaster that "pays homage" to the funhouses of yesteryear, including a hall of mirrors.
At Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, the DreamMore Resort is new for this summer. It's a 307-room resort with a lazy river, a splash park and views of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington is introducing a 3-D interactive dark ride, Justice League: Battle for Metropolis. A similar ride is opening at Six Flags St. Louis in Missouri. At Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, Batman: The Ride is a 4-D coaster with magnetic fins that flip riders.
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