Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run riders will take the controls as pilots, gunners or engineers. Photo courtesy of Disney Parks
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run riders will take the controls as pilots, gunners or engineers. Photo courtesy of Disney Parks

What's New at SoCal Theme Parks This Summer

How is a theme park like your kids? Because just when you think you know everything about them, they up and change on you. And just like with your kid, those changes are (mostly) good. Sure, we may have to say good-bye to a couple of old favorites, but look at all we get in their place. Sit back, buckle up, keep your arms inside the ride at all times, and see what our local theme parks have in store for you this summer.  

Carlsbad may be a bit outside our usual travel radius, but this ultra kid-friendly theme park is always worth the trek. Last summer Legoland expanded its water park, and in 2018 the park continues with themes aquatic by taking guests on an underwater expedition.

In the Lego City Deep Sea Adventure, riders go on a submarine tour of a 350,000-gallon tank that’s filled with creatures both organic and brick-based. Riders can choose to admire the view or turn the trip into a scavenger hunt, finding assorted treasures and checking them off on a touchscreen. The ride opened July 2, 2018 to much fanfare, and we were honored to be among the first to take the plunge. My daughter loved experiencing sea creatures and Lego creations in the same ride; in fact Deep Sea Adventure is her new favorite, supplanting even the Legoland Driving School. Lego City Deep Sea Adventure is sure to be a hit this summer (especially since it’s nice and cool indoors)!

Guests planning an overnight stay might want to check out another recent addition: the newly opened Castle Hotel.

King Fu Panda gets his moment in the sun. Photo courtesy of Universal

Universal Studios Hollywood
There are all kinds of changes afoot at Universal this season. 

In June, Universal debuted a new Kung Fu Panda experience: the all-new DreamWorks Theatre, featuring Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest, which takes the place of the old Shrek 4D. This multi-sensory epic uses state-of-the art visual effects to create an immersive adventure. Imagery is projected onto the interior space, blurring the lines between reality and illusion. Motion-enhanced seats, (plus wind and water effects) put the audience in the thick of the action, for a truly exhilarating experience.  

Continuing with the Kung Fu Panda theme, guests can also enjoy meeting the characters Po and Tigress, and stop by Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop for authentic Asian cuisine. We can vouch for the yumminess of the fare!

Think you know everything your wand can do?  Not even close! Back to Hogwarts with you, by way of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. New spells have been revealed, including the Incendio fire-making spell and the Alohomora unlocking spell. If you want to dress in your wizarding finest, the shops now offer a replica of Hermione's Yule Ball dress (or, if you're channeling your darker side, Snapes robe).  If all that wizarding gets you hungry, The Three Broomsticks offers new selections this summer, including a Ploughman’s Lunch, Cheese Toastie with Chicken, and Sunday Roast Sandwich. Butterbeer is now available in ice cream form as well. If you stay until dark, you can check out the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle. Needless to say, it's magical!

Meanwhile, one of the most pre-historic rides at Universal is about to be wiped out by a catastrophic meteor strike. Scratch that—Jurassic Park, The Ride is actually closing to make way for a newer better Jurassic World Ride coming in 2019. So say "see ya, wouldn't want to be eaten by ya" one last time before its extinction date on September 3, 2018. While you're there, say hello to Blue at the Raptor Encounter. (Pro tip: make sure you let him know who the alpha is.)

​The big news at the Happiest Place on Earth this summer is at Pixar Pier. The California Adventures attraction has been re-imagined to pay tribute to beloved Pixar characters. Pixar Pier is divided into four "neighborhoods;"  currently guests can visit The Incredibles Park, Toy Story Boardwalk, and Pixar Promenade.  (Inside/Out Headquarters opens in 2019.)

Highlights on the pier include the Incredicoaster, which is the fastest attraction at the Disneyland Resort. Guests are launched alongside the Incredibles on a mission to chase after the elusive baby Jack-Jack. New food options can be found at Lamplight Lounge and the Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats.

As part of the limited time Pixar Fest, guests are treated to the new Together Forever—A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular, a nightly multimedia fireworks show at Disneyland Park.

(And just to get a squeee! of excitement out of you: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is scheduled to open next year!)

Six Flags Magic Mountain
Feeling like a wild ride? How about one that's borderline crazy! The new CraZanity, opening this summer, is touted as World's tallest pendulum ride. The 17-story ride reaches speeds up to 75 miles per hour as it whips back and forth and higher and higher, giving riders a staggering view of the world below them. Minimum height for CraZanity is 48”. 

CraZanity is part of a newly themed Boardwalk area with renovated attractions including enhanced bumper cars, dining, games, and shopping.

Crazanity is scheduled to open July 13, 2018.

Knott's Berry Farm
Looking for more insane thrills? Knott's Berry Farm's newest ride may be just the ticket. Hangtime is the first and only dive coaster in California; it towers 150 feet over the Boardwalk area. Reaching top speeds of 57 mph, Hangtime features a "beyond vertical" drop (96 degrees, the steepest in California), gravity-defying inversions, and mid-air suspensions. Minimum height for this one is 48”.  

International Surf Festival
Various Beach locations - 9:00 AM Pick
Friday Night Flicks Drive-in at the Roadium
The Roadium Open Air Market - 6:30 PM Pick
Newport Dunes Movies on the Beach
Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort - 8:30 PM Pick
Laguna Art-a-Fair
Festival of Arts - 10:00 AM
Sawdust Art & Craft Festival
Sawdust Art Festival - 11:00 AM
Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides