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Florida leads in USA Today list of best new amusement park attractions

Attractions at Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and Islands of Adventure made the list, but Disney’s $1 billion Star Wars land seemed to be snubbed.
Tampa theme park Busch Gardens opened its triple-launch roller coaster Tigris in April. [Courtesy of Busch Gardens]
Tampa theme park Busch Gardens opened its triple-launch roller coaster Tigris in April. [Courtesy of Busch Gardens]
Published Feb. 10
Updated Feb. 11

USA Today released its list of 2019’s best new amusement park attractions over the weekend, and Florida made a stronger showing than any other state, with SeaWorld’s Sesame Street Land taking the No. 1 spot.

Florida had three attractions in the top 10. No other state had more than a single appearance. The newest roller coaster at Tampa’s Busch Gardens, Tigris, landed at No. 3 and was the highest-ranking roller coaster. Meanwhile, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal’s Islands of Adventure park in Orlando came in seventh and was the third-highest-ranked roller coaster.

A panel of experts along with editors from USA Today’s 10Best ranking site compiled a list of 20 new attractions, then readers voted on what the top 10 would be.

It’s been a big year for theme parks across the country with parks pushing the boundaries of ride technology and immersive experiences.

Related: First look: New 6-acre Sesame Street land opens at SeaWorld Orlando

The Sesame Street land was the first to open in March, bringing a much-needed boon to SeaWorld attendance, which suffered after the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which criticized the park’s treatment of its killer whales. But just in time for Sesame Street’s 50th anniversary, the life-sized, six-acre replica of Sesame Street arrived, complete with Mr. Hooper’s Store and Big Bird’s Nest. The land also brought the first daily SeaWorld parade and immersive experiences like interactive bubble wands a la the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

April brought along Tigris at Busch Gardens. The triple-launch coaster is Florida’s tallest and, while it only lasts 45 seconds, is an intense experience that changes depending on where you sit, making it highly re-rideable. Aside from the thrill of the ride’s speed, heartline roll and G-forces, a portion of merchandise purchased in the Tigris gift shop goes to protecting tigers and their habitats.

Related: We rode Tigris, the new Busch Gardens coaster. This is what it's like.

June brought one of the most highly anticipated — and problematic— rides of the year. Universal’s Hagrid ride features seven launches, the most of any coaster in the world, as riders are hurtled through the Scottish countryside along for a journey that not only thrills, but tells a new Harry Potter story.

Related: We rode the new Hagrid roller coaster at Universal's Harry Potter world

Although praised for its immersiveness and technical wizardry, the ride debuted to 10-hour waits and had to overcome a number of obstacles, including maintenance issues that saw the attraction staying closed hours after the park opened.

Related: Sneak peek: We toured the new Star Wars land at Disney World

Noticeably absent from the list was Disney’s $1-billion, 14-acre Galaxy’s Edge, the Star Wars-themed land that opened in both Florida and California this year. Disney received criticism for what seemed to be underwhelming interest in the land. Ride lines for its first attraction, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, weren’t anywhere near the wait time for the Hagrid ride. However, Disney’s top brass countered by saying 10-hour waits weren’t a sign of success and the company planned to have a better visitor experience with lower attendance numbers.

Smuggler’s Run received lackluster reviews, but Rise of the Resistance, the second ride to open, was raved about for its hyper-immersive experience and a newly designed ride system that incorporates multiple ride types into one experience. Rise of the Resistance launched in December to virtual ride queues filled within the first hour of the park opening.

Theme park columnist Seth Kubersky even said the ride was “the best ride in Orlando and possibly the best ride in the country.”

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