The Most Exciting New Theme Park Openings in 2023
Thrills, chills, and Mario Kart.
Theme parks will never stop the constant deluge of superlative-laden new attractions. It’s part of the fabric of theme parks. It’s also what thrill-starved park enthusiasts demand.
But it’s not just that each new ride must be the tallest or longest or fastest something or other—though that certainly doesn’t hurt. The mandate has extended to making the attractions fully immersive. We don’t just want the fastest coaster, we want the coaster to help us experience the worlds of beloved movies. Or better yet, we want an entire new theme area with food and characters and winding queues based on our favorite nostalgic games. Well, 2023 is poised to deliver all of that and more.
The year will be dotted with theme park openings that check all the boxes. Something you’ve never seen before? There’s a roller coaster that’s basically a surfboard. Big thrills? The world’s steepest flume drop is coming to Texas. Familiar films? The Tron Lightcycle / Run coaster is finally ready to make you feel like Jeff Bridges’ second-best character. Entire theme areas? Super Nintendo World is coming to US shores.
There are a lot of new attractions you won’t want to miss. Here are the most exciting theme park openings coming to the US (and beyond) in 2023.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal City, California
This is almost certainly the most exciting theme park opening of the year. It’s Universal’s second Mario-themed area following the spring 2021 opening of Japan’s Super Nintendo World. The first US-based Super Nintendo World will open on February 17, 2023, and we can’t wait to check it out.
Super Nintendo World will be an entire theme area you enter through one of the game’s iconic green pipes, complete with a towering Bowser’s Castle. The new theme area will include Power-Up Bands you can wear to play interactive games throughout the land, including hitting “?” blocks and acquiring points on rides and other touchpoints. You can also hit up the Toadstool Cafe, which will have a menu of Mario-themed eats to keep you going throughout the day.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal City, California
Ok. We’re doubling up a bit here. But the logic is sound: This is set to be Super Nintendo World’s biggest attraction. The park is making big claims about the Mario Kart-inspired ride, which will have riders donning special AR goggles and taking to the races. You’ll throw shells, obtain coins, and enter Bowser’s Castle—all in an attempt to win the prized Golden Cup for Team Mario.
According to Universal Studios, the journey will feature “cutting-edge augmented reality” along with projection mapping and physical set pieces. You can expect a range of outcomes from the ride, according to the park, which means you can check it out multiple times without having the exact same experience twice. (Though it’s worth mentioning that these kinds of claims often deserve an asterisk; Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind can be different each time, but only a little.)
Magic Kingdom at Disney World
It feels like Disney World’s Tron coaster has been in the works longer than Chinese Democracy. But the park announced at the 2022 D23 Expo that it will finally open this coming spring. When the ride starts welcoming thrill-seekers, they’ll be seated on side-by-side Lightcycles (a la Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure). The ride will take you indoors and outdoors under a canopy. It won’t be precisely the same as the Tron ride at Disneyland Shanghai, but it’s similar.
This one is billed as the world’s first surf coaster. The term makes sense as soon as you understand what the ride actually is. Riders will essentially be positioned to feel like they’re standing on a giant surfboard that speeds along a track, reaching up to 60 miles per hour. Special harnesses will keep you standing and allow for freedom of movement, so you can feel every gnarly curve and bank. According to the park, the ride’s totally tubular experience includes five airtime moments and a “wave curl” inversion.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
The latest addition to Dollywood Parks & Resorts, coming in spring 2023, is a roller coaster that treks through the Smokies “in search of the elusive ‘Big Bear’.” It will be Dollywood’s longest roller coaster to date, expanding the perimeter of the Wildwood Grove area with a 3,990-foot track. The coaster will reach a top speed of 48 miles per hour with three launches, multiple airtime hills, carousel turns, tunnels, and even a detour behind a waterfall. Supposedly there’s an audio component to the ride; it’s probably not “Jolene” but you never know.
SeaWorld San Diego
San Diego, California
SeaWorld’s new ride in San Diego will be the longest and fastest straddle coaster on the West Coast. The rider positioning looks a bit similar to what you experience on something like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal Orlando, or what you might experience on Tron Lightcycle / Run. You’ll start inside the “Wild Arctic” exhibit before getting launched out into the open on a vehicle that’s meant to resemble a snowmobile.
SeaWorld San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas
The superlatives surrounding this new ride are enticing, as long as you don’t mind getting wet; Catapult Falls will have the world’s steepest flume drop, as well as the tallest flume drop in Texas. It will also be the only vertical lift flume coaster in North America—by which we mean that the flume hits a sort of open-air elevator that launches you down a 53-degree drop at 37 miles per hour. You’ll also experience a launch of 30 feet per second along the ride’s water track. Basically, you’ll probably scream, you’ll likely get soaked, and you’ll almost certainly have a blast.
Hersheypark’s new hybrid coaster is slated to open this summer. It’s an update of the park’s first roller coaster, the iconic wooden Wild Cat, with steel track added to the original structure. The ride will hit 62 miles per hour at its fastest, and will climb to a height of 140 feet throughout its roughly 2.5-minute ride. More importantly, you can expect an 82-degree drop and four inversions, including “the World’s Largest Underflip,” according to the park. That’s an inversion that starts with an upward climb before being followed by a “counterclockwise 270-degree roll and a dive down towards the side.”
Universal Orlando Resort
Universal is getting a Minion infusion. It already had Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, which sat across from the Shrek 4-D ride until its recent closure. Minion Mayhem will be joined by Villain-Con Minion Blast, which is an interactive ride that sounds a bit like Universal’s Men in Black Alien Attack ride.
You will find a mix of features on the ride, including a screen, physical sets, and “state-of-the-art gaming interactivity.” The story takes place at a convention for villains that brings together the Vicious Six from Minions: The Rise of Gru. You’ll earn points by shooting items and causing destruction throughout the ride. The pair of Minion-themed rides will be at the center of a new Minion-themed area, including a restaurant.
Few parks make their name on roller coasters like Cedar Point. The new Wild Mouse is a nod to its original Wild Mouse ride, but according to the park, the “modern version will provide a ride experience the original couldn’t.” Cedar Point’s 18th roller coaster will feature mouse and cheese-themed cars that spin 360 degrees along 1,312 feet of vibrant orange track. The cars spin freely, so there is a bit of chaos to the journey, which hits a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour.
Universal Orlando Resort’s Universal CityWalk
This technically opened a little while back, but it’s worth throwing into this list because it’s a unique theme park experience that most people have yet to try. Universal Studios has opened its first-ever escape rooms just outside the parks on CityWalk. There are two options to choose between, each of which is $50 per person. You can do a Jurassic World-themed escape room where you’ll step into the shoes of a geneticist on Isla Nublar who must survive—gasp!—a dinosaur escape. The other option has Biff of Back to the Future fame stealing Doc Brown’s latest invention to mess with the space-time continuum. You, being the good Samaritan you are, must attempt to stop him. Oh, Biff.
Openings outside the US
A whole lot of rides and parks will open in 2023 outside the US. Here are a couple of the most exciting.
Spain’s largest theme park, PortAventura World, will unveil a new dark ride roller coaster based on the video game and Tom Holland film Uncharted. The ride is expected to open midway through the year.
Chessington World of Adventures will be opening a new theme area called the World of Jumanji in the spring of 2023. There aren’t a whole lot of details available yet. Jumanji superfans can add this to a list of newly minted Jumanji attractions, along with the rides at the Columbia Pictures Aquaverse in Thailand, which opened in late 2022.
The new year is bringing plenty of options for every kind of theme park enthusiast, whether you’re a thrill seeker, gamer, or someone who prefers to bring the whole family along. Go get that heart rate up.