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What's New at California Theme Parks

California is home to some of the world’s best theme parks. From well-known attractions to smaller operations, travelers will enjoy a host of new rides and exhibitions, many of which just opened in time for summer travel.

At Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Pirates of the Caribbean is a classic Disney theme park adventure brought to the big screen in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” On June 26, the attraction will re-open with new characters, Jack Sparrow and his nemesis Barbossa, as well as new features from the next adventure “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” The additions add a new twist to the attraction’s original storyline as the audio-animatronics characters race to be the first to claim a cache of plundered treasure. New special effects have also been added to enhance the theme park ride experience. Earlier this year, Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim opened “Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue,” an innovative ride-through attraction that brings the characters of the 2001 blockbuster “Monsters, Inc.” and the city of Monstropolis to life. The ride has quickly become one of the park’s signature attractions and is a not-to-be-missed family activity this summer.

In Santa Ana, life-size dinosaurs arrive at the Discovery Science Center in June. The new interactive exhibit, titled “DINOSAURS,” features a giant, walk-through Argentinosaurus and a fossil dig for budding archeologists, as well as full-size skeletal system replicas of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Knott’s Theme Park and Soak City in Buena Park, and Palm Springs Soak City Water Parks have both added a new attraction called Pacific Spin that blasts visitors down a 132-foot long tunnel, then drops them 75 feet into the mouth of a six-story funnel. The ride’s distinctive four-person cloverleaf-shaped tube hugs the inside of the funnel as riders pitch back and forth through 5,500 gallons of swirling water. The water adventure carries 700 passengers per hour at a speed of 35 feet per second.

SeaWorld San Diego premieres “Believe” this summer in the Shamu Stadium, home to Shamu the killer whale. The show blends new killer whale behaviors with elaborate set pieces, an original musical score, choreography and state-of-the-art multimedia. Also new is the re-launch of SeaWorld’s “Dine with Shamu,” the park’s only restaurant that allows visitors to meet killer whale trainers and get an up-close view of killer whales all in a unique backstage environment. In Carlsbad, LEGOLAND California opens the largest expansion in park history this summer, called Pirate Shores. Pirate Shores is a $10 million investment, featuring four new attractions all based on water play and fun. The cornerstone ride is Splash Battle, a ride where families take to the high seas in pirate ships equipped with water cannons to soak other riders. There’s also Treasure Falls, a mini-log ride; Swabbies Deck, an interactive play area for two to five year olds; and Soak-N-Sail, which features hundreds of gallons of water coursing through more than 60 interactive features.

New this summer, the San Diego Zoo in San Diego kicks off its Nighttime Zoo June 24 with daily hours beginning at 9 a.m. and running until 9 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to arrive early to visit with the animals and then enjoy entertainment (special shows and music), as well as close-up animal encounters starting at 4 p.m. The Nighttime Zoo runs through September 4. In Escondido, the San Diego Wild Animal Park also offers extended hours for summer with grounds remaining open until 9 p.m. from June 17 through September 4. For nocturnal viewing, guests will enjoy sunset and nighttime Wgasa Bush Line Railway tours, live entertainment and outdoor dining and shopping.

Family Nights are back at Belmont Park in San Diego, one of three ocean front amusement parks in California. Every Tuesday night from 4 p.m. to closing, visitors can ride the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, Beach Blaster, CHOAS, Bumper Cars, Vertical Plunge, the Liberty Carousel and more for only $1 per ride. Additionally, they will receive special discounts on food, shopping and other attractions throughout the entire park.

In the San Francisco Bay Area Region, the 100-acre Paramount’s Great America, located in Santa Clara, offers SURVIVOR the Ride, the world’s first reality roller coaster based on the hit CBS series. The real-life adventure show comes to life in an interactive rocking and spinning coaster that sends riders swirling along a wave-like track past ancient tribal relics and fiery torches to heights of five stories. In Vallejo, the 140-acre Six Flags Marine World unveils Tava’s Jungleland, which features seven new rides, a giant tree house adventure and a splash-water oasis. Families can also wander through the lush land and see rare wildlife firsthand, such as lorikeets, macaws, porcupines and camels.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz will open a new ride called WipeOut early next month. The surfer-themed WipeOut (a scrambler-type ride) is tucked under the boardwalk and surrounded by a 365-degree black light mural. The high-energy music and ocean-grotto entrance makes travelers feel like they took a tumble in the waves. It’s all aboard the Thomas the Tank Engine as he rolls into Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton July 28-30 and August 4-6. This fun-filled family event gives aspiring engineers the opportunity to ride Thomas the Tank engine. Other theme park activities include puppet shows, bounce houses, face painting, story telling and photos with Thomas. The Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco routinely adds new celebrities and other public personalities of current interest to their ever-growing collection of more than 250 wax portraits. This summer’s inductees include Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Donald Trump.

At Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City, Hollywood’s longest-running hit gets a rousing re-make. The Studio Tour, which has taken more than 125 million visitors behind the scenes of the biggest movies, gets new enhancements showcasing “The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “King Kong,” as well as lively new video narration by Oscar and Emmy-winning superstar Whoopi Goldberg. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach offers “Dazzling and Dangerous: Venomous Creatures” through March 2007, where travelers can safely encounter the ocean’s most deadly fish, including the tiny but toxic blue-ringed octopus.

Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica premieres four new games and attractions under the guide of Lights, Camera, Action! The all-new Hi-Striker is the electronic version of the original "ring the bell" test of strength, with thousands of light-emitting diodes and high-powered strobes. Riders enjoy the celebrity spotlight with high-resolution wireless video cameras installed in each row the the West Coaster roller coaster capturing their thrills on a custom DVD. Speed is key with Whac-a-Mole, the mole-hole popping game where players compete to win a prize. At Jet Racers, visitors will maneuver around a 400-square-foot area in Omni Directional Vehicles.

Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia features 17 world-class roller coasters and more than 100 rides, games and attractions. The newest roller coaster, called the TATSU, is the fastest, tallest and longest flying coaster in the world. Also new this year is Brunch with Bugs, where kids big and small can enjoy lunch daily at the Mooseburger Lodge with the Looney Tunes characters (reservations are required).

Bonfante Gardens in Gilroy introduces South County Backroads Garden, a re-designed Holly Garden, and three new educational exhibits designed to teach guests about butterflies, bees and trees. With the 2006 enhancements, the theme park now offers visitors a total of six gardens in addition to its rides and famous Citrus Trees. Visitors won’t want to miss their chance to discover the secrets of some denizens of the deep at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey at the Deep Sea Days Exploration Weekend on June 10-11. At the event, attendees will meet experts who study creatures in the wild, as well as others who create the technology to explore ocean depths. There will also be scientists and engineers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute on hand, showing off some of their latest discoveries and tricks of the trade.

For a free California vacation planning packet, go to www.visitcalifornia.com or call 800-862-2543 (domestic) or 916-444-4429 (international).

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