What’s New at the SoCal Amusement Parks in 2021
You know how they say, “You don’t know what you’ve got 'til it’s gone?” Well, we SoCal denizens actually did. We knew we had the best theme parks, all within an easy drive. We took kids for birthdays, soaked up the atmosphere on holidays, and waved our annual passes around like keys to a magical kingdom. When all the amusement parks closed last year, we knew what we were missing.
But now all the amusement parks have reopened, and many of them have spent the past year building and creating. From the new Avengers Campus at Disneyland to the new Lego Movie World at Legoland (and everything in between), here’s what’s new at SoCal theme parks in 2021.
The brand new Avengers Campus. Photo courtesy of Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort
Let’s just dive in with the biggest park and the biggest news: Avengers Campus, the new land dedicated to discovering, recruiting, and training the next generation of Super Heroes, is finally going to open at Disney California Adventure on June 4. Avengers Headquarters is at the heart of the land, and Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure is a new interactive adventure where aspiring heroes wear 3D glasses and test drive the WEB Slinger vehicle.
But wait, there’s more. Visitors won’t just run into princesses at the park—now young heroes can meet their heroes, as Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, and Thor roam the grounds. Watch Spider-Man swing overhead and see Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, lead a training session. It wouldn’t be Disney without shopping and eating opportunities, so refuel at Pym Kitchen, Pym Tasting Lab, Shawarma Palace, and Terran Treats.
A few other new things at Disneyland...
Snow White gets a "happily ever after." Photo courtesy Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort
While the park was closed, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish (an original Disneyland attraction that was here when the park first opened in 1955!) got a makeover (and a new name). State-of-the-art audio and visual technologies have been added, along with new music, LED black lighting, new laser projections, and a new animation system. Now Snow White gets her happily ever after. But don’t worry, you can still spot the Evil Queen spying on everyone from a window above the entrance...
The Haunted Mansion has a few ghostly updates that sharp-eyed fans will find: the aging lady in the “April to December” portrait is back, a cat statue has appeared, and be on the lookout for floating chairs and puzzling dollhouses.
Rise of the Resistance is a Star Wars ride that opened in January of 2020, so there’s a very good chance this ride is new to you, too. Plus, new changes are coming to Splash Mountain and the Jungle Cruise later this year to erase some decidedly outdated references and incorporate more diversity at the park.
Lego Movie World opens this spring. Photo courtesy of Legoland
Everything is (extra) awesome when Lego Movie World opens on May 27. This new area of the theme park was scheduled to open (you guessed it) right as the world shut down; in fact, Legoland had already held a press preview. But now it’s ready to open with 3 new rides, 3 new attractions, new shops, and new places to eat.
The biggest draw is Emmet’s Flying Adventure, which allows young master builders to take a ride on Emmet’s Triple Decker Flying Couch, surrounded by a full-dome virtual screen. Although, Unikitty’s Disco Drop will be catnip for bigger kids. This new drop tower ride moves through Unikitty’s moods, including a swoop through Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Meanwhile, little kids will beeline for Benny’s Play-Ship, which is a new space-themed playground structure.
Check out The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash. Photo by Hamilton Pytluk / Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios reopened with a brand new ride, The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash. In it, kids (and their grownups) ride in big cardboard boxes (as puppies) to take an adventure through New York City, where they end the ride by being adopted into their forever homes. The wait in line to get on the ride is half the fun, as it swings through the apartment building, where pets from the movie lounge. The ride was just about ready to open when the whole theme park shut down last year, and early reports coming out of the park are that the ride, and the wait to get on the ride, are delightful for little kids.
Universal also has a new ending to Jurassic World – The Ride! Now a 22 foot-tall Indominus Rex awaits guests right before the waterfall.
There are also a few changes to the tram ride that eagle-eyed visitors will spot: King Kong 360 3-D has been upgraded, and the Grinch set is gone. (Might it return for Christmas? Who in Whoville knows?)
And speaking of the trams, on your way to board the tram ride, you can catch sight of the biggest thing that’s happening at Universal Studios—construction on the new Super Nintendo World. The first iteration of this world opened at Universal Studios Japan this spring and is a big hit. No official opening date has been announced for the Hollywood location, but you can keep tabs on how construction is progressing every time you ride the tram.
Bear-y Tales can come true! Photo courtesy of Knott's Berry Farm
Knott’s Berry Farm is getting ready to celebrate its 100th anniversary! (How is that possible?) As part of the celebration, there’s an all-new 4D interactive ride: Knott's Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair. It includes revamped scenes from the original dark ride, including the Boysenberry Pie Factory, Frog Forest, Fortune Teller Camp, and more. Visitors climb aboard ride vehicles equipped with jelly blasters to try and recover the stolen boysenberry pies.
As part of the celebration, Knott's Summer Nights returns from May 21 - September 6 this year. This nightly party fills the park from Calico Square to Charleston Circle with live bands and DJs.
West Coast Racers. Pre-pandemic photo courtesy of Six Flags Magic Mountain
File this under “it’s probably new to you.” West Coast Racers—which has two side-by-side tracks with four individual high-speed launches—was only open for 2 months before the pandemic hit, so this will be the first summer with the ride in operation.
See Abby Cadabby at the Bay of Play. Photo courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
A new roller coaster is scheduled to open at SeaWorld this year. It’s called the Emperor, and it’s on USA Today’s list of the most anticipated coasters of the year. It’s also California’s first floorless dive coaster, so if that’s your jam, mark your calendar! (Why is it called the Emperor? It’s “a tribute to the Emperor penguins’ journey from chilly, frosted cliffs to their deep dive into the depths of the ocean.” Now you know.)
However, what we’re really waiting for is more news about the new Sesame Place park. While you can get a preview at SeaWorld at the Sesame Street Bay of Play, the adjacent brand new Sesame Place Park was originally scheduled to open this year. However, it looks like it may be delayed until 2022 due to construction delays during the pandemic.