2019 has been nothing short of an interesting year for theme parks and the theme park community. This years has seen the debut of some incredible rides, lands and some crazy things happen. So because I’m someone who not only likes reflecting on the past, but also putting together lists, I’m going to take a look back into the year and relive my experiences from the past year.
Starting off, the biggest thing in theme parks this year was the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The fact that it took so long to get an entire land dedicated to Star Wars as opposed to hodge-podged attractions scattered throughout a park is beyond me. As mentioned before, I feel like Galaxy’s Edge has gotten a bit of a bad reputation due to not meeting the guest demand that was projected by everybody. But is that a bad thing? It has only been recently that the amount of guests has surged up, and that is without the marquee attraction Rise of the Resistance being open. Smugglers Run I feel also gets a bit of a bad reputation for being a glorified interactive Star Tours since they are both simulators. But there is no cooler experience than being in the pilot seat for it in all of Disney Parks and I will die on that hill. The merchandise offerings are also some of the best Disney has ever made for a park with highlights being the Toydarian Traders plush line and the Build Your Own Lightsabers that cost $200 but are some of the nicest pieces of merchandise you will ever own. But don’t think I’m some corporate shill (though I am) that thinks everything there is wonderful. I do take some issues with the land. Like that the prices on some things are a little too expensive. $13 for ONE hot dog taco is a joke and $6 for a bottle of Coke that holds less than a $4.50 bottle of Coke because of a fancy wrapper is dumber than dumb. Another thing is that Smuggler’s Run, while fun, is the worse when you are Gunner and slightly less bad as Engineer. They aren’t nearly as fun as being one of the Pilots, which is a shame since you have a 66% of being Not-Pilot. But even those two main gripes aside, Galaxy’s Edge is a mammoth of a land with tons of detail and I love it. It is the first land where I truly forgot I was at a theme park. Then I saw the price of a Ronto Wrap and remembered.
But Disney wasn’t the only place that got a high profile attraction, Universal also debuted a new ride for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. And what this ride lacks in having an easy to remember name (I actually had to look up the proper name for this), it more than makes up for in being a phenomenal ride. This ride truly feels like Universal has listened to the fans and has created a thrilling ride system using zero screens, not a lot of downtime between show scenes and being a truly innovative ride system having some new elements for Florida theme parks, including a 17 foot drop akin to Tower of Terror. To me, this is Universal’s best ride they have ever done and joins Revenge of the Mummy, Adventures of Spider-Man and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey as the industry changing rides that Universal has produced and their upper-tier attractions that need to be done. But the biggest issue with this ride is how unreliable it is. The ride goes down more often than Paris Hilton (ZING! Take that person with more money than me). It was so bad that the Universal constantly has to close the ride early or open it late because they are having so many technical issues with it. There is a reason that it had a 10 hour wait opening day and they have yet to introduce the Virtual Queue system to it when they said it would be available starting on day 2. But even with this issue, the ride itself is still one of the best rides I have ever done. I love everything about the ride and is one the best in Orlando. It is un-BEE-lievable (had to make one bee joke).
LEGOland also debuted a new land this year and I also almost forgot about it too. The LEGO Movie World opened on March 27th, 2019 and I have not heard anyone talk about it since, myself included. I went on opening day and was going to write about it. But the more I tried, I kept going on to other rides and experiences in Legoland that were so much better. The E-Ticket attraction, The LEGO Movie: Masters of Flight, is very forgettable. I had to look up the name of it and also found out there were two other rides there. I was there and forgot that there was more than one ride. This is a real shame because I love the LEGO Movies. They’re funny, memorable and have a lot to go off of, but this land I feel doesn’t fully capture it. Mostly because I don’t remember any of it. Is it a nice addition to LEGOland, yes. But I feel like there could have been more done to it to make it truly amazing. I hate that my big complaint is, “I can’t remember it,” but a good theme park experience should make you remember good or bad. I remember Cypress Gardens, Lost Kingdom Adventures being a reskinned Scooby Doo Boo Blasters, everyone in my group hating riding Coastersaurus except me because I’m a glutton for pain and The Dragon. But I could not tell you about their newest land.
One land that just opened that I do hear people always talking about though is Sesame Street Land at SeaWorld. Now the first question that everyone has with this is always, “What does Big Bird have to do with the ocean?” And your guess is as good as SeaWorld’s because it was never really said why outside of it teaches kids things. But it seems to have worked because I see more people tweeting about it than Shamu’s Happy Harbor ever did. I’m cheating with this one a bit as it is the only thing I am talking about that I have not personally experienced. But I wanted to talk about this as a comparison to this and The LEGO Movie World. Both opened around the same time and are reskins of less popular areas into brands that are more recognizable. The only big difference is that The LEGO Movie World added a massive E-Ticket attraction and SeaWorld gave Sesame Street Land a parade. But there are characters walking around on Sesame Street and the detail of everything just seemed better. Granted, SeaWorld is a much more visited park, so they were probably able to put more into it. But the fact that I want to go to SeaWorld mostly to visit Sesame Street shows how great of a job they did with this. Overall, the land has been a smashing success.
And speaking of smashing, the Skyliner opened this year as well. Bad jokes aside, I really do enjoy the Skyliner and think it is a great mode of transportation. I was even against it at the beginning when it was announced, but was glad to be proven wrong about it. I never hear about it breaking down (except that one time), it’s always a reliable mode of transportation (once again, except the one time), and most of all it is really cool riding in to see everything from a bird’s eye view (again, one time). But the elephant in the room is the fact that within a week of operating, two gondola’s did hit each other and caused an unexpected downtime. And I know everyone loves to rip on Disney for using that exact phrase rather than using accident. But it was an unexpected downtime, so it wasn’t a false statement. It was just one certain people didn’t want and wanted Disney to admit they messed up. But after a week of constant inspections, working with the manufacturer and redoing how they run the operation, the Skyliner is probably the most reliable thing on property. I haven’t seen a gondola stall and if I did it wasn’t for very long. What seemed like a dumb idea and then a scary one is now one of the better things to come out this year. It is fun to ride and gets you from Hollywood Studios to Epcot quicker than any other form of transportation that isn’t a car.
But none of those is actually my favorite thing from theme parks this year. That honor goes to a roller coaster that debuted in my hometown of Charlotte, NC (going for the bias pick here, but the ride is great on its own). In Carowinds, Copperhead Strike was debuted to the world and I have yet to see one person who did not like it. The ride was designed by MAC who previously worked on Slinky Dog Dash and is one of the smoothest, most thrilling and most fun rides I have ever been on. As much as a love Hagrid’s, I adore Copperhead Strike. The first ride element is a corkscrew which occurs as you are leaving the load platform. You go through it at a snails pace, which adds to the thrill of the element. There are two launches, five more inversions with one of them having you stall mid loop for a few seconds. The best part of the ride outside of everything is the restraint system. Rather than a traditional over the shoulder harness, you have a lap bar similar to Rip Ride Rocket and a seat that cups you. I never felt like I was going to fall out of my seat though through the many twists, turns and inversions. This is honestly my favorite ride I’ve ever been on for how fun it is. Easily something to further cement Carowinds as a park to visit.
2019 was a bit of a great year for theme parks as a whole, and there was a lot that I never even got to experience. Other major rides that opened this year that I wish I could’ve experienced include Iron Curtain, Tigris, Reese’s Cupfusion, Jurassic World, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Nano Battle, Yukon Striker and the newly refurbished Phantom Manor. Nickelodeon Universe opened in New Jersey to provide a large indoor park with several unique and fun rides. Halloween Horror Nights had arguably one of the best versions ever as a swan song for Michael Aiello as the Creative Director of the event before he goes to oversee Epic Universe (HHN 30 is GOING to happen for me). We lost Illuminations, ending the Illuminations lineage for nighttime shows at Epcot. D23 gave us more details about the future of Epcot as well as everything else for people to complain about. Universal announced the formerly mention Epic Universe, their true third theme park, is happening and that was about it. And finally and most importantly, everyone learned what unscrupulous meant. It’s been a wild 2019, and we still have ONE more big attraction opening with Rise of the Resistance. I won’t be there for the opening because I like my personal space and not getting trampled, but more power everyone who will be there. But here’s to 2020, and that’s a topic for another day.