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Two tickets to Paradise (and one to Hellbender)
Roundup of 2023 season news
Earlier in the year, I ran down the most anticipated new rides and attractions opening this season, including the 10 most drool-worthy U.S. coasters, a follow-up namecheck of 10 additional thrill machines debuting around the world and here in the States, and the 10 most significant new attractions that aren’t coasters. With the season upon us, let’s fill in some of the blanks and take a look at more of this year’s developments. Let’s also circle back and update some 2023 season news.
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Paradise Pier Fun Park
An entirely new amusement park recently opened in Biloxi, Mississippi as part of the Margaritaville Resort. (Side note: For a laid-back dude, Jimmy Buffet is quite the enterprising tycoon. The son of a son of a sailor seems to be opening hotels and restaurants at a furious pace. For those who can’t get enough of his Parrot Head mystique, he’s even pitching retirement communities.) The modest Paradise Pier Fun Park offers 15 rides, including Rolling Thunder, a family spinning coaster with some “hamster wheel” cars that rotate vertically. The headlining attraction is the Biloxi Tide-Turner, a 180-foot-tall observation wheel with enclosed gondolas. Among other features at the waterside park are Storm Surge, a pendulum ride; Saltwater Stables, a two-level carousel; and Buoy Blaster, a drop tower ride.
Perhaps Paradise Pier’s most intriguing attraction is Aerobar, which lifts patrons high into the air to sip on mixed drinks. For $19.99 guests get a “complimentary” beverage in a souvenir cup that they can imbibe with a commanding view of the Mississippi Sound. Of course, margaritas are on the menu. I’m guessing the bartender doesn't slide drinks down the bar.
Last year, Anakeesta, the mountaintop park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, opened Astra Lumina, a captivating multimedia nighttime experience. This season, it will keep the momentum rolling with The Hellbender Smoky Mountain Coaster. Unlike the park’s first alpine coaster, which holds the distinction of being the country’s only single-rail mountain ride, the new attraction will be a more traditional two-rail model from Wiegand Sports. Passengers will experience two 90-degree turns, four 270-degree turns, and one 360-degree turn as they max out at 25 mph along the 3,350-foot course. Anakeesta will also be debuting BirdVenture, a play zone that will include seven slides that will send guests soaring 50 feet down the mountain.
Twister III, RipQurl Blaster, and Rocket Blast
After refurbishing its wooden coaster, Twister II, downtown Denver’s Elitch Gardens has renamed it Twister III: Storm Chaser this season. In addition to making it a (presumably) smoother ride, the park also added a lights-out tunnel that includes effects mimicking a tornado.
I’ve already reported about the new rides and attractions that Six Flags has on deck for this season. Turns out the chain has one more surprise. The D.C.-area park, Six Flags America, will be unleashing RipQurl Blaster, a water coaster that will use water jets to propel its rafts uphill, at its water park, Hurricane Harbor.
Waldameer, the classic park in Erie, Pennsylvania will also be focusing on its water park this year. When guest brave Rocket Blast, they will experience three direction-shifting “FlyingSAUCER” turns along with three uphill blasts on the new water coaster.
When I ran down this season’s most anticipated U.S. coasters, I included Palindrome and Circuit Breaker, two rides scheduled to open at COTALAND, the park adjacent to the Circuit of The Americas racetrack in Austin, Texas. Palindrome was actually first announced with a 2022 opening date. Now, the park is saying both coasters will be delayed to late 2024. That has fueled speculation that the rides may never get built. Here’s hoping that is not the case.
On a more positive note, Luna Park at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York officially debuted Tony’s Express, a junior coaster, and Leti’s Treasure, a flume ride, when the park opened in late March. Both rides were scheduled for last year, but the coaster only operated for a few days before the park closed for the season. In addition to the intertwining rides, Luna Park will be welcoming two ropes courses, one for kiddos and one for older adventure-seekers, as well as a sports bar and a beer garden.
As always, please join the conversation! Offer your takes on the 2023 season news.