The 38 Fastest, Scariest, and Best Theme Park Rides Opening in 2017
Although the very first version of a roller coaster is thought to have been built by the Russians in the 15th century, it wasn’t until 1884 that roller coasters came to the United States. When “The Switchback” opened at Coney Island, the roller coaster traveled six miles per hour and cost a nickel to ride.
Over the past 100 years, theme parks have becoming much more thrilling places — but they’ve retained their inventive spirits. Every year, theme park engineers push the limits of technology and constantly imagine new ways to thrill visitors. And 2017 is no exception.
This year’s crop of exciting new attractions includes rides that use virtual reality to submerge guests into a fantasy world, steel roller coasters that go as fast as race cars and nauseating, vertiginous machines that find new ways of inducing motion sickness.
From New Jersey to Japan, here are 38 of the tallest, fastest, scariest, coolest and best new theme park rides opening in 2017.
Walt Disney World, Florida — Pandora: World of Avatar
Walt Disney World’s interactive Avatar-themed land will be the largest addition to the Animal Kingdom in the park’s history. Inside the attraction, guests will be immersed in a glowing rainforest where they can meet with a Na’vi Shaman or ride a Banshee on a fast-paced tour of Pandora. The attraction will open on May 27.
SeaWorld San Antonio, Texas — Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster
At SeaWorld in Texas, guests will be able to experience the Wave Breaker, an $18-million rollercoaster that is themed to look like personal watercraft. Guests will feel like they’re driving jet skis along the ride’s 2,600-foot track, hitting up to 44 miles per hour. The ride is expected to open “in 2017,” according to the park.
SeaWorld San Diego, California — Ocean Explorer
As part of SeaWorld’s attempt to rebrand itself outside of live animal shows, the theme park is introducing a whole new parade of environmentally-conscious rides. The Ocean Explorer, expected to open in late spring, will take visitors on an underwater research expedition in a mini-submarine. From their submarine, guests will learn facts about the spider crabs, jellyfish and octopus swimming around the aquarium they are inside.
Kings Island, Ohio — Mystic Timbers
Riders whip around Kings Island’s new wooden 3,265-foot track at 50 miles per hour. The coaster will reach 109 feet at its tallest peak and send riders through 16 airtime hills. Mystic Timbers is themed as an abandoned lumber mill and is expected to end in a grand special effects finale in a mysterious shed covered in vines. The ride opened on April 15.
Universal Studios Orlando — Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
Jimmy Fallon will go down in history as the first late night host to have an entire theme park ride named after him. Guests to the attraction start the experience by learning a bit about the history of The Tonight Show, including a gallery housing mementos from the show’s entire run. The ride itself is a 3D motion-simulator that has guests race around the streets of New York City with Fallon. It opened on April 6.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Virginia — InvadR
Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s first wooden roller coaster is actually more of a hybrid. The ride is a “hybrid wooden coaster with steel supports” that sends riders down a 74-foot drop and over nine air-time hills. The ride, which is themed after a Viking invasion, can reach up to 48 miles per hour. The InvadR opened to the public on April 7.
Movie Park Germany — Star Trek: Operation Enterprise
Love for the Star Trek franchise crosses borders. Movie Park Germany will launch the world’s only roller coaster for Trekkies this spring. The coaster will send riders through several different inversions, a twisted halfpipe and a 130-foot drop.
Pier 39, California — The Flyer San Francisco
For those who like a bit of education with their attractions, Pier 39’s newest ride will take visitors on a tour of San Francisco. The Flyer is a “28-seat flying theater” that will take guests over the San Francisco skyline, across the Golden Gate Bridge and onto Alcatraz Island using a massive movie screen and 3-D tech.
Six Flags — Joker 4D Coaster
Six Flags will introduce its 4D coaster, based off of Batman’s Joker character, to Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags New England and Six Flags Great America over the course of the summer. The coaster — which premiered at Six Flags Great Adventure last year — is a free-fly ride, which means there’s no floor below riders to save them from the sky or the ground. While the coaster zips around the track, it is also flipping guests head-over-heels so they face each other as they jet down two beyond-90-degree free falls.
Parc Asterix, France — Pegase Express
For those who like their rides with a bit of history, Parc Asterix’s new ride is named for Zeus’s mythical winged horse Pegasus. The roller coaster has over a half-mile of track that takes riders through twists and turns and vertiginous ups and downs. The ride will open on June 1.
Plopsaland de Pamme, Belgium — Heidi The Ride
The second wooden roller coaster in all of Belgium opened to the public on April 2 this year. Heidi The Ride may not be the most boundary-pushing ride premiering this year (it reaches a height of 72 feet and goes up to 44 miles per hour) but it could be one of the most beautiful. The wooden track has been fitted a multitude of lights to turn the ride into a colorful beacon for the entire park.
Silesian Amusement Park, Poland — Lech Coaster
For just over 100 seconds, riders on the Lech Coaster will experience one thrilling history lesson. When it opens on July 1, the roller coaster will be the largest in Eastern and Central Europe. It was themed after the legend of Prince Lech, the legendary founder of Poland. Before the actual ride starts, visitors will learn all about the first Polish rulers, but once they buckle in, they will go 60 miles per hour over a half-mile of track, including four inverse curves.
Grona Land, Sweden — Ikaros
Icarus may have flown too close to the sun but hopefully Grona Land’s new drop tower, inspired by the Grecian myth, will not. Opening April 29, the Ikaros ride will lift riders over 300 feet in the air, turn them 90 degrees so they are parallel to the ground and drop them at 55 miles per hour.
Bellewaerde, Belgium — Dawson Duel
Roller coasters are fun, but for those with a competitive streak, they may not be fun enough. This May, Bellewaerde theme park will premiere Europe’s first dueling alpine coaster. Riders pick an opponent and then sit down on sleds on two parallel tracks, racing to see who can be the first to reach the ground 80 feet below.
SeaWorld Orlando, Florida — Kraken Virtual Reality
SeaWorld Orlando’s “floorless” coaster will combine several different elements to create a unique type of coaster. Starting this summer, guests will be given the option of donning VR headsets to experience the Kraken roller coaster in a new way. With their eyes and ears covered, guests will embark on an immersive “undersea” adventure alongside the famous Kraken sea monster and other sea creatures.
Playland’s Castaway Cove, New Jersey — GaleForce
This 125-foot roller coaster was originally scheduled to premiere last summer but, due to shipping delays and bad weather, the opening was pushed back to this May. When GaleForce premieres to the public, the one-minute ride will go up to 64 miles per hour and include one stomach-clenching 100-degree drop.
Casino Pier, New Jersey — Hydrus
The beachside community of Seaside Heights, New Jersey is still recovering from the damage of Hurricane Sandy. One of the most iconic photos of the damage done — a roller coaster submerged in the Atlantic Ocean — was shot here. But less than five years later, the pier theme park is back with an all new, behemoth steel roller coaster with a 72-foot vertical drop. Hydrus will start with a 97-degree drop and won’t stop sending riders through turns throughout its 1,050-foot track. The ride is expected to open in May.
Disneyland Paris — Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
Disneyland Paris’s 3D motion simulator Star Wars attraction features 70 possible mission combinations. Guests could end up underwater in Naboo, running through the city of Coruscant or aboard Darth Vader’s Death Star. Star Tours at Disneyland Paris re-opened to the public in March with scenes from The Force Awakens.
OWA, Alabama — Rollin’ Thunder
The all-new OWA theme park in Foley, Alabama will open this summer with 20 rides. For guests who want to get to the heart of the action at OWA, Rollin’ Thunder should satiate all thrill-seekers. The steel coaster climbs up a completely vertical hill, drops straight down 100 feet and then twists and turns through several different inversions, including a 98-foot loop.
Dollywood, Tennessee — Dropline
Dolly Parton’s Dollywood is also introducing a drop tower ride this year. The Dropline, which will open over the summer, lifts guests 200 feet over Timber Canyon before they experience a freefall back down to the ground. For those with stomachs of steels, the views at the top could be one of the most majestic ways to view the surrounding Great Smoky Mountains.
Legoland Florida — Ninjago World
Legoland’s Ninjago World has been open since January, but it’s still one of the hottest rides of 2017. The interactive “dark ride” allows guests to score points when they use ninja hand moves to send fireballs and lightning at a cast of 3D villains.
Disney California Adventure — Guardians of the Galaxy, Mission: Breakout!
Taking over the space that, until recently, was used by the Tower of Terror, Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy-themed ride will open on May 27. The essence of the ride will be the same as the Tower of Terror (guests go up and drop down very fast), but the story of the ride will have guests help rescue the Guardians from the evil Collector’s Fortress.
Fremont Street Experience, Nevada — Fear The Walking Dead
What happens in Las Vegas has no choice but to stay in Vegas if you’re dead. A Walking Dead-themed ride is scheduled to premiere in the sin city this July. The immersive, walkthrough attraction will basically stick visitors directly into the Walking Dead storyline. For those who ever wondered how they would fare in a zombie apocalypse, this is a pretty good place to start training.
Ferrari World, United Arab Emirates — Mission Ferrari
The fifth coaster to premiere at Dubai’s new Ferrari World theme park will be the Mission Ferrari SFX coaster, opening later this year. The indoor/outdoor ride will two 3D movie screens inside — and, of course, plenty of fast drops and inversions on the rest of the track.
Efteling, Netherlands — Symbolica: Palace of Fantasy
The Dutch amusement park Efteling will premiere its highly-anticipated “dark ride” Symbolica this summer. Up to six guests step into a carriage where they can choose one of three routes through the Palace of Fantasy. The $38-million attraction will be the biggest, most elaborate and most expensive in the park’s history when it opens on July
California’s Great America — Patriot Floorless Coaster
There’s no safety net at Great America’s newest roller coaster. The Patriot Floorless Coaster shoots guests 91 feet above the park, through a 360-degree loop at 45 miles per hour and around twists and low-to-the-ground hairpin turns. The ride, which was specifically designed for smoothness, opened to visitors on April 1.
Six Flags — Justice League: Battle for Metropolis at Six Flags
The “Battle for Metropolis” ride will premiere at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, Six Flags Over Georgia and Six Flags Magic Mountain in California this summer. The 4-D ride will combine a traditional motion-platform with VR and a shooting-style arcade game. Riders become members of the Justice League and must defend Metropolis from The Joker and Lex Luther.
Hersheypark, Pennsylvania — Hershey Triple Tower
For visitors who prefer to make game-time decisions, Hersheypark introduced the Triple Tower on April 8. The three drop towers — named Hershey’s Kisses Tower, Reese’s Tower and Hershey’s Tower — not only feature three different heights (80 feet, 131 feet or 189 feet) but three different drop speeds, up to 45 miles per hour.
Futuroscope, France — The Extraordinary Journey
For those who can’t book a whirlwind trip around the world but still want to try, France’s Futuroscope theme park is introducing a ride inspired by Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. Visitors sit on a platform in front of a giant screen that will immerse them in the adventures of Phileas Fogg. However, this is no calm, sightseeing tour. At one point during the ride, the platform spins guests around upside down with their feet dangling.
Fun Spot America, Florida — Mine Blower
Florida is getting its first roller coaster with a barrel roll this summer at Fun Spot America. The $6 million wooden coaster, called the Mine Blower, will also feature a 115-degree drop from 80 feet in the air.
Heide Park, Germany — Ghostbusters 5D Ride
Fans of Ghostbusters movies old and new can immerse themselves fully in Heide Park’s 5D ride, opening later this year. Riders pile into ECTO-1 patrol cars and drive through a haunted warehouse, on a mission to protect the theme park from invading ghouls. Each car is armed with laser proton guns, ghost traps and 3D glasses to make the experience as memorable (and interactive) as possible.