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New coasters, immersive rides coming in 2012

ORLANDO, Fla. — A host of new roller coasters, a 12-acre town lifted straight out of the animated “Cars” movies and an elaborate “Transformers” 3-D simulator ride are among the new theme park attractions scheduled to open around the country in 2012.

The list was introduced Tuesday by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions as the trade group opened its weeklong expo at the Orange County Convention Center. The event drew around 25,000 people to wander 500,000 square feet of exhibits highlighting what’s new in the industry — from rides and ticketing systems to concessions and smartphone apps for park guests.

Disney California Adventure is opening “Cars Land,” replicating the town of Radiator Springs from the movies, including a race-course ride and two other new attractions. Universal Studios Hollywood is debuting the new “Transformers” ride, and Walt Disney World in Orlando will open the first phase of the new Fantasyland with several new attractions, including a dark ride based on the adventures of the Little Mermaid character. A Little Mermaid attraction previously opened at Disneyland in California.

SeaWorld Orlando announced last week a new attraction for 2012 centered on sea turtles, including a first-of-its-kind 360-degree domed theater showing a 3-D movie about the endangered creatures. Legoland, which opened in October in central Florida, is renovating and reopening an existing water park at the site next year.

New roller coasters opening in 2012 include the “Manta” at SeaWorld San Diego, which will simulate underwater flight; and “Superman”-themed launch coasters at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif., and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, Calif. Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill., introduces a new coaster called “X-Flight.”

Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa., introduces a 200-foot-tall coaster called “Skyrush,” which will reach speeds of 75 mph. Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., will offer the 210-foot-tall “Wild Eagle.” Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia unveils a half-mile-long coaster called “Verbolten.”

“I think this is the first time in several years we’ve seen that number of blockbuster attractions open in one year,” trade group spokesman David Mandt said Tuesday.

As expected, the theme park industry overall saw modest growth — around 2 to 4 percent — in 2011 as parts of the country have been slower to recover from recession. Analysts predict about the same for 2012.

“If weather, if economy, if oil (prices) all stay about where they are now, we would anticipate another up season,” said industry consultant Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc. “There’s a lot of new product coming on line for 2012, so the parks should be able to capitalize on that.”

Attractions continued to offer deep discounts to get guests in the gate in slow times of the year, and are still trying to “wean themselves off of it,” Speigel said. October was a good month as many parks capitalized on Halloween.

“You look at how (parks) have all adjusted themselves and do better with what they’ve got,” said Steve Baker, an Orlando-based industry consultant and president of Baker Leisure Group. “I think it’s going to be a growth year, but I don’t know how big.”

Trends on the horizon include the development of more sophisticated immersive, interactive rides, and better smart-phone apps that can direct guests inside the parks.

“In the next 10 years, we’re going to see our level of participatory and interactive (attractions) ratchet up to new dimensions,” Speigel predicted.

The global gathering in Orlando this week, the largest of the year for the $24 billion attractions industry, drew more than 1,100 exhibitors from 32 different nations.