Travel

The Most Exciting New Theme Park Rides Opening This Year

Get ready to lose your lunch. There are a lot of new rides hitting US theme parks in 2021.

Photo courtesy of Universal Studios
Photo courtesy of Universal Studios
Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

More than a few of us could go for a good scream right now. Theme parks are back in 2021; they’re welcoming guests-with some restrictions still in place-and making up for lost time. 

A lot of attractions that were planned for 2020 never opened due to the pandemic. So, this is a big year for park-goers: Not only is it possible to get back on a roller coaster, but parks like Disney and Universal are cutting the ribbon on a whole lot of heart-pounding new rides.

Here are the most stomach-churning, hat-stealing, scream-worthy new theme park rides coming in 2021. 

Photo courtesy of Disneyland
Photo courtesy of Disneyland
Photo courtesy of Disneyland

Avengers Campus

Disneyland
Anaheim, California
This isn’t a single ride, but a whole new area of the park-the first MCU-specific Marvel theme area in the US, which may be the biggest new theme park attraction in the US this year. (Super Nintendo World might take the title for a global opening.) Opened on June 4, the Avengers Campus is built around the previously opened ride, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! 

The new area also includes Spider-Man Adventure, an interactive screen ride, though those are the only two rides you’ll find, for now. There’s also a whole lot of themed food if you’re looking for very small or very large food altered by Pym particles. 

Photo courtesy of Legoland New York Resort
Photo courtesy of Legoland New York Resort
Photo courtesy of Legoland New York Resort

Lego Factory Adventure Ride

Legoland New York Resort
Goshen, New York
This ride is part of the newly opened Legoland New York Resort, the third Legoland park in the US and eighth in the world. But this is the only one of those eight parks that has the Lego Factory Adventure Ride. It’s a dark ride that’s still geared towards kids, as you’d expect from most Lego-based entertainment. (But, like The Lego Movie, everyone can enjoy it.)

Other rides at the new Legoland include The Dragon, a roller coaster, and Lego Ninjago the Ride, an interactive experience “where children train side by side with Master Wu to save the World of Ninjago.”

Jersey Devil Coaster

Six Flags Great Adventure
Jackson Township, New Jersey
The newest coaster at Great Adventure hits 58 miles an hour and rises 13 stories before sending you down, down, down. The two-and-a-half minute ride is the “world’s tallest, fastest, and longest single rail coaster,” according to Six Flags. (Though, that’s certainly a different thing than being the world’s tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster in general.) It also boasts a zero-gravity roll and a 180-degree stall. Bring a change of pants. 

Jurassic World Velocicoaster

Universal Islands of Adventure
Orlando, Florida
Cross the bridge from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter into the Jurassic Park/World theme area to hit Universal’s newest roller coaster. The Velocicoaster is an intense journey through a velociraptor paddock. The line-and you’re going to be in line for a while-features loads of Jurassic easter eggs (dino eggs?) before you’re encouraged to leave everything in a locker. The ride has two launches, the fastest of which hits 70 mph in 2.4 seconds. There are multiple inversions, a 53-mph barrel roll, and a “Top Hat” that flings you 155-feet into the air before twisting into an 80-degree drop. 

Courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood
Courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood
Courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood

Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash

Universal Studios Hollywood
Los Angeles, California
On this family-friendly ride based on the family-friendly films, you’ll encounter 64 animal robot figurines that take you on a trek through their plush New York apartments and less-cushy New York alleys. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll even see yourself briefly turned into one of the pets. It’s a slower ride with lots to look at, but kids will enjoy this one. 

Photo courtesy of Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World
Photo courtesy of Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World
Photo courtesy of Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

Walt Disney World
Orlando, Florida
The trackless Ratatouille-themed ride originally debuted at Disneyland Paris but is opening at the France Pavilion in Epcot Center this fall. Rescheduled from 2020, it launches October 1, 2021 just in time for Disney World’s 50th-anniversary celebration. Jump in and have Chef Remy shrink you to his size for an adventure through Auguste Gusteau’s Parisian restaurant.

Ice Breaker

SeaWorld
Orlando, Florida
SeaWorld’s first launch coaster is set to open at some point this year, though there’s still no exact date. Ice Breaker will have backward and forward launches, including a reverse launch into a 93-foot, 100-degree angle fall that SeaWorld’s calling the “steepest beyond-vertical drop” in Florida. The opening moments look like you’re a baby being rocked to sleep by a demon. That’s a whole lot of anticipation to endure if your least favorite part of a coaster is the climb to the top.

Emperor

SeaWorld San Diego
San Diego, California
Named after the park’s famous emperor penguins-SeaWorld San Diego is the only place in North America where you can see one-this ride was originally scheduled to open in 2020. No date has been given yet for this year’s opening, but the floorless coaster will hit 60 mph and contains a 150-foot drop. It’s billed as the “tallest and fastest floorless dive coaster in the state,” which is a pretty specific superlative but alluring nonetheless.

Iron Gwazi

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Tampa, Florida
Roller coaster enthusiasts know that Busch Gardens has some pretty intense ones. Iron Gwazi, originally scheduled to open last year, follows suit: It’s a hybrid coaster with three inversions, a top speed of 76 mph, and a 91-degree drop from 206 feet up in the air. It touts “a dozen airtime moments” and three inversions. That first drop is not for the faint of heart. 

Dare Devil Dive Flying Machines

Six Flags Fiesta Texas
San Antonio, Texas
If you love coasters but fear the tilt-a-whirl, steer clear of this one. The steampunk-themed ride is a four-seat plane that banks, loops, and swirls around a central pillar. The ride opened in March with promises that you’ll experience “the thrills and sensations of weightlessness.” It’s hard to tell from pictures, but the top of the ride is five stories up in the air.

Photo courtesy of Adventureland
Photo courtesy of Adventureland
Photo courtesy of Adventureland

Dragon Slayer

Adventureland
Altoona, Iowa
Adventureland is calling this a 4-D spin coaster, and if you see the ride, you might suggest there be more emphasis placed on the “spin” part. The steel coaster has you free spinning all over as it winds through its twists. It only hits a maximum speed of 35 mph, but there’s a lot of motion going on. It looks like a ton of fun, assuming you can handle spinning like a sideways top for a couple of minutes.

Stunt Pilot

Silverwood
Athol, Idaho
There were once vintage plane airshows in Athol. Silverwood is keeping the spirit of those shows alive with a new single-track coaster that transitions between elements quickly, mimicking the banking and excitement of an aerial show. It starts with a big 113-foot drop and then gets into three inversions as the coasters bursts through an open barn door and other obstacles, reaching a top speed of 52 mph. Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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