10 most exciting US theme park attractions coming in 2021
2020 was supposed to be a great year for new theme park attractions.
And sure, the year started with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland and Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway opened just in the nick of time in March out in Florida. But like with almost everything else, 2020 was not kind to theme parks.
The COVID-19 pandemic not only slowed the construction of many theme park attractions, but it has also caused some parks, such as Disneyland, to close for the overwhelming majority of the year. In fact, that iconic park is still closed with no planned reopening date.
Even for the parks that are open, the impacts haven't been limited to construction timelines. We've seen refurbishment schedules postponed indefinitely, too. Some planned new attractions have quietly disappeared entirely.
Even so, there's still plenty to anticipate in 2021, even if we suspect we won't actually get to see some of these things until 2022.
This list of things to look forward to includes some theme parks we don't normally see roll out awesome new attractions. And, there's even a brand-new theme park on TPG's radar. Buckle up, despite the twists and turns of 2020, this one will be a fun ride.
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Disney World additions (and subtractions)
Disney World has had an up and down year through the pandemic.
The park closed from mid-March to early July, which while unprecedented was ultimately brief compared to the impact at some other parks.
Since reopening in the summer, Disney World initially operated at a reduced capacity of 25%. But more recently, the park increased capacity and announced it's adding back the popular Park Hopper service (which allows you to visit more than one park on the same day). Disney World has a variety of new attractions scheduled to open in 2021, which is the 50th anniversary of the park.
That said, we feel more confident about some of these potential openings than others.
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Remy's Ratatouille Adventure
This whimsical favorite that originated in Disneyland Paris was supposed to open in the summer of 2020 at Disney World. Part of an expansion of Paris in the World Showcase at Epcot, Remy's Ratatouille Adventure is a trackless ride similar to Runaway Railway or Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Rather, those rides are actually like Ratatouille, since it's been around much longer in Disneyland Paris.
Based on the Disney movie about a very talented rat, this ride will "shrink" you for an adventure in Gusteau's kitchen. The marquee sign is up and rumors are that final ride testing is underway, so we rate the likelihood of a 2021 opening as very high.
The 220 signifies the number of miles above the Earth you'll enjoy your meal at this new restaurant scheduled to open in Epcot.
Nestled in between Mission: Space and Test Track, you'll board a "space elevator" to whisk you to your table. With a plan to feature breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as an award-winning wine list with more than 1,000 different bottles, your space journey should be an experience ... for both you and your tastebuds.
Like Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, we expected this restaurant to open in 2020. Based on available construction views, we don't think this is a massive restaurant. So, Disney may hold off until indoor capacity restrictions are completely lifted before the first "astronauts" blast off for the first space meals.
Related: These are the best restaurants at Disney World
Harmonious at Epcot
2020 was supposed to be a big year at Epcot.
Along with Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, a creperie and Space 220, a new nighttime spectacular was on the horizon after the retirement of the nighttime Illuminations show in 2019. But, all the nighttime fireworks shows got put on hold when the park reopened. So, "Harmonious" could now debut in 2021, assuming that big nighttime shows come back next year.
Harmonious is set to be the largest nighttime spectacular ever created for a Disney park. It will celebrate how the music of Disney inspires people the world over, carrying them away harmoniously on a stream of familiar Disney tunes reinterpreted by a diverse group of artists from around the globe. Harmonious will feature massive floating set pieces, custom-built LED panels, choreographed moving fountains, lights, pyrotechnics, lasers and more.
No Mary Poppins?
Amidst the exciting reimagination of many parts of Epcot, the Mary Poppins-themed attraction was one of our favorites.
Alas, it may be one of the first major theme park attraction eliminations due to COVID-19. Disney has announced that it has postponed the development of this attraction indefinitely.
COVID-19 has been a serious financial drain on Disney as a whole. And, there are many attractions still in the pipeline. Unfortunately, this one may be on hold for quite a long time.
Tron roller coaster -- a firm maybe
The Magic Kingdom has long been the place for princess-themed rides, flying elephants and frosty Dole Whip.
However, serious roller coaster fans long have looked elsewhere for their thrills. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train started to change that, just a little. Still an entertaining (and not scary) coaster, it debuted as the closest thing to a "thrill ride" since Space Mountain. Then, came the announcement that a Tron-themed coaster would come to Magic Kingdom, nestled behind Space Mountain and Tomorrowland Speedway.
Rumored to be very similar to the popular Tron-themed coaster at Shanghai Disneyland, this version is meant to hurtle riders on their Lightcycles under a long, flowing canopy. This attraction was originally scheduled to open in 2021, in time for the 50th anniversary of Disney World.
While a late-2021 opening isn't out of the question yet, the park closure and slowdown in construction may push this into 2022.
Related: These are the best hotels at Disney World
Star Wars Halcyon should land in 2021
A few years ago, we started hearing rumors about what could be the most ambitious theme-park lodging experience in history. Calling it a hotel doesn't do Halcyon justice. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is meant to be more of an immersive experience. Think of a cruise ship, but anchored in a back lot behind Hollywood Studios.
Guests will arrive at Halcyon and be transported to their cabin after being processed aboard the Starcruiser, their home for a three-day experience. The theming of the "cabins" is just the beginning and includes the first Disney World lodging experience where windows aren't standard fare. Originally, bookings for this "Star Wars hotel" were to begin in 2020 for 2021 experiences, but while that didn't happen, construction has kept moving right along.
Along with lightsaber training and a trip to the bridge of Halcyon, we expect themed character meals aboard the ship. There are also themed private transports to Black Spire Outpost, likely a dedicated entrance into Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
Along with lightsaber training and a trip to the bridge of Halcyon, we expect themed character meals aboard the ship. There are also themed private transports to Black Spire Outpost, likely with a dedicated entrance into Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
All of this comes with a pretty hefty price tag, rumored to be thousands of dollars for a family to experience. It's also another reason why Hollywood Studios is currently the most exciting park at Disney World.
Guardians Cosmic Rewind is a maybe
Taking the place of Ellen's Energy Adventure alongside Mission: Space in Epcot is one of the largest enclosed roller coasters in the world. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will set some new standards when it comes to a Disney World coaster. Dubbed an "Omnicoaster," cars will turn 360 degrees, which means everyone gets a front seat at one point or another.
The construction took the massive space that Ellen's Energy Adventure occupied and made it bigger, setting lofty expectations.
Cosmic Rewind will start in the "Galaxarium" and explore Xandar, a mythical land. This "storycoaster" experience, similar to Tron, saw extensive delays when Disney World closed early in 2020. There are rumors that Cosmic Rewind could get pushed into 2022 as another way to draw fans back to the parks.
With Remy's Ratatouille Adventure set to open in 2021, along with the debut of Harmonious and potentially Space 220, perhaps Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will ultimately debut for Epcot's 40th anniversary in 2022.
Spider-Man slings into Disneyland
Disney World certainly had a rough start to the pandemic, shutting its doors for more than three months.
Unfortunately, that's nothing compared to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park, which both remain closed to this day with no anticipated opening date. Still, there's a promising attraction set to debut next year in Anaheim whenever California lift enough restrictions for the parks to open to more than just shopping.
Originally, set to open in the summer of 2020 as part of the new Avengers Campus, Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure is now penciled in to launch on the new Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure Park in 2021 ... hopefully.
Jurassic World Velocicoaster
Set to attack Universal Orlando in summer 2021, Velocicoaster won't be confined by Jurassic World.
The towers of this immense coaster can be seen even before you enter Islands of Adventure. And, they weave through the park, even offering a close-up view while sipping a butterbeer behind the Hog's Head bar in Hogsmeade.
Velocicoaster features a "zero-gravity inverted stall" (eep!) and a 155-foot drop and is set to reach 70 mph in 2.4 seconds. It also features four inversions. This is all part of an expansion of the Jurassic franchise at Universal Orlando. And, it's sure to be another exciting coaster experience at a park that seems to excel at thrill rides.
Related: How to use points to visit Universal Orlando
Icebreaker coming to SeaWorld Orlando
SeaWorld used to be known more for whales and dolphins but has developed into a bit of a thrill park with Kraken, Mako and Manta. Added to the mix in 2021 will be Icebreaker.
Featuring the "steepest beyond vertical drop in Florida" (93 feet tall with a 100-degree angle), this arctic-themed coaster continues to up the game of the park some people forget when they're in Orlando.
This is the first launch-style roller coaster at SeaWorld in Orlando. When all is said and done, Icebreaker may cost as much as $10 million to build. It should continue the trend of successful thrill coasters amongst the penguins and walruses.
A brand-new theme park
The popular, colorful bricks of Lego are debuting in New York in 2021.
Legoland New York was scheduled to open in 2020 as the ninth Legoland worldwide, joining the ranks of Legoland Florida, the California version and the parks Germany, Japan and Dubai.
(Image courtesy of Legoland New York)The New York version will sport a Legoland Hotel, one of the best parts of a Legoland vacation. It will also feature some of the best attractions from the Florida park, including Lego Ninjago The Ride and Miniland. Less than 90 minutes from New York City in Goshen, the park appears to have been practically ready to open for quite some time.
If you haven't visited a Legoland theme park yet, the Florida version is a one- or two-day stop about 40 minutes from Disney World. When the Legoland parks first opened, they catered to younger children. Thrill rides were really nowhere to be found.
Over time, this franchise of parks have added more cutting-edge rides, including the aforementioned Ninjago attractions and a new attraction using the same technology as Disney World's "Soarin' Around the World" to bring Emmet's Triple-Decker Couch to life.
Legoland even added a VIP program in recent years that is a Lego-lover's dream experience to meet with Master Builders as well as cut the line for all the popular attractions. We thought it was interesting that the Triple-Decker Couch didn't make the cut in New York, though many of the favorites from other Legoland theme parks await visitors.
Originally scheduled for July 4, 2020, Lego announced early on in the pandemic that the opening would move to 2021.
Honorable mention: Super Nintendo World
Though this is a list of new theme park attractions in the United States, we couldn't help but include a nod to the new Super Nintendo World scheduled to open in February in Tokyo.
Related: These are the 12 hottest destinations of 2021
Super Nintendo World brings to life iconic characters from the past decades like Mario and Luigi. And, Super Nintendo World was originally tabbed to go into the third theme park at Universal Orlando (fourth if you count Volcano Bay). With the pandemic slowing down many new developments, we're hoping that Super Nintendo World isn't one of those announcements that disappears into thin air.
For now, we'll watch Donkey Kong chase Mario from afar.
2021 will be a year of hits and ... more delays
While we expect all of these attractions to be hits when they open, we wouldn't be surprised to see some of them slip beyond next year.
The most likely openings to truly take place in 2021 will be the ones that were originally scheduled for 2020 that were close to completion before the pandemic hit (like Ratatouille). Those that were originally 2021 events (such as the opening of Tron, and perhaps especially Guardians), may more easily slide into 2022. And of course, with California still under more restrictive rules than Florida, we expect the offerings out west to be even more impacted than the ones in Florida into 2021.
There are less-known attractions that may or may not debut next year, such as a Moana-themed exhibit at Epcot. And, Busch Gardens has a few coasters that still have tentative 2021 dates. And while not an attraction, Disney World should see the opening of the new Swan Reserve tower in the summer of 2021.
The 50th anniversary of Disney World makes us think that some of those related attractions will have the biggest push, and at least a few additions seem likely to truly arrive in 2021.
But, timing a trip to be one of the first on any of these additions will be challenging to impossible to target in advance. Remember, that in addition to hazy views on when these projects may be able to open, reservations are needed just to get in Disney World.
2021 will probably not be a perfectly smooth ride when it comes to planning a theme park visit, but we do expect some thrills and new exciting things to happen as the next 12 months for theme parks are hopefully much brighter than the last nine.