With recession clouds looming and gasoline prices soaring, summer 2008 is shaping up as the year for many Southern Californians to vacation locally, and that may mean a theme-park visit.
California's major amusement and theme parks drew more than 40 million visitors in 2007. Those numbers are expected to climb this year with more than $150 million in rides, attractions, parades and shows debuting at California parks this summer.
As The Times' theme-park blogger ( www.latimes.com/funland), I've test driven many of the new thrills and adventures in store for 2008. Here's a park-by-park preview:
This is the season of Hollywood synergy as the park's grand old Adventureland district takes on the khaki-colored charm of Indiana Jones, who (in case you hadn't noticed) is back in the theaters in a big way.
That means a new live-action show at the Oasis theater. The 20-minute show "Indiana Jones and the Stone Tiger" is staged six times a day; there's a bit of Saturday-matinee menace to the show, but if your kid can handle a ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean, he or she should be fine.
After the show, Indy races around the rooftops of Adventureland a bit and there's a few other staged chases. You can also get a free adventure map for youngsters to search for clues that unlock some Internet goodies when they get home.
DISNEY'S CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE (ANAHEIM)
The unloved 8-year-old sibling of neighboring Disneyland is about to go through a massive growth spurt. And it's not going to be pretty until about 2012.
Lots of people bash Anaheim's "second gate," but I hold the park dear. I've long held out hope that, despite its rough beginnings (shortly before 9/11), California Adventure might someday realize its true potential. The coming tween years stoke that promise.
A $1.1-billion makeover will kick into full gear after this summer, and once the dust settles you probably won't recognize the place. Plans call for a World of Color water show in 2009-2010 (think the Bellagio water show on steroids), a $100-million "Little Mermaid" indoor "dark ride" in 2010-2011 and a new Cars Land section of the park in 2011-2012 (including a $200-million Radiator Springs Racers ride), plus a 1920s Los Angeles-themed face-lift for the main entrance.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
There's plenty in store for 2008 before California Adventure turns into a massive construction site. Chief among the park's new offerings this summer: the $80-million Toy Story Mania dark ride opening June 17. Disney Imagineers offered me a "play test" of the ride through a 3D video game, and all I can say is prepare to be blown away (and to wait in a really long line).
Also on tap at California Adventure: the water-themed Pixar Play Parade (which I didn't like -- much too wet for my taste) and an all-new Playhouse Disney puppet show (perfect for the preschool set and their stroller-pushing moms).
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD (UNIVERSAL CITY)
The $40-million Simpsons Ride, which opened last week at the movie and television theme park, has amusement-park junkies and Simpsons' fanatics salivating.
The simulator ride, which replaced the Back to the Future attraction, takes visitors on a careening journey through the low-budget Krustyland theme park. Played out on an 80-foot-tall domed screen, the bizarre storyline retains all the dysfunctional wackiness of the animated television show.
The line, which will be long, should prove as entertaining as the ride itself -- with dozens of Simpsons characters manning Krustyland midway game booths throughout the queue.
KNOTT'S BERRY FARM (BUENA PARK)
What's new at California theme parks this summer
Disney's California Adventure, Magic Mountain and others are spending millions to attract more visitors.
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