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From interactive trends to giving more for the kids

A ROLLER coaster where riders can pick a personal soundtrack, a pirate ride with water gun fights, the tallest water ride in the world, and a walkway that sparkles at night with a million lights are some of the most exciting new attractions at US amusement parks this year.

Other theme park developments include a ride based on the new "Terminator" movie at Six Flags Magic Mountain near Los Angeles; the new Diamondback coaster at Kings Island in Ohio, with speeds up to 128.7 kilometers per hour on a 1.6-kilometer-long track; and the reopening of the failed Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as a more family oriented attraction called Freestyle Music Park.

The unique lighted walkway, "Starlight Experience," debuts at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana, is home to the massive water ride "Pilgrims Plunge," where a boat drops 40 meters at a 45-degree angle, creating a wall of water 13.7 meters high.

The coaster with customized music, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Universal in Orlando, exemplifies a continuing theme park trend of "interactive experiences that can change based on guests' participation," said David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. "These started with the shooting gallery type of experience where guests could ride through an attraction, aim at a target and score points."

Choose the outcome

This season's attractions "take that interactivity to the next level where you can choose the outcome or features of the ride that will make each experience different," he said.

Other examples: a new Six Flags attraction, "Buccaneer Battle," lets you have a dynamic water battle that's like being in a video game come to life. Eight people on each boat are armed with Super Soaker cannons. You hit other riders and targets, some of which blast water back or squirt from the ground. Meanwhile, park visitors randomly passing by shoot at the boats using land-based guns, and riders can shoot back.

"You're actually part of the ride," said Six Flags spokeswoman Brooke Gabbert. "You're engaged the whole time." Kids as small as 91 to 121 centimeters can ride with an adult, but all ages enjoy it: "We had a grandpa on the ride and he was having a blast."

Riders do get wet, though, so the park has a new "people dryer," which blasts hot air for three minutes for US$5 and fits up to five people. "It takes the chill off," Gabbert said.

At Freestyle park in Myrtle Beach, "The Time Machine" coaster has multiple soundtracks so you can hear a different song each time you ride. "It's a reward for doing it more than once," Mandt said.

Big new rides are what teenagers and other coaster fans look forward to, but some parks are also adding play areas for younger kids. "We continue to see new products added designed to appeal to all ages," Mandt said.

Freestyle is opening 11 attractions in a new themed area called "Kids in America," aimed at younger guests.


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