2020 wasn’t the year anyone expected for California’s biggest theme parks. 

Instead of opening a slew of new rides and lands, the likes of Disneyland, Universal Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm and others have been at least partially shuttered since mid-March. Unable to operate their attractions, they settled for operating as food festivals or opening up retail locations. 

A safe reopening of California theme parks is at least months away, given that the state’s COVID-19 surge is so bad that funeral homes in Southern California are reporting that they’re running out of space. There may also be a renewed war of words between the state’s theme park industry and Gov. Gavin Newsom over stringent reopening guidelines. 

But when they do reopen — or not long thereafter — California parks will be able to offer guests new attractions originally planned to open in 2020. Because of the uncertainty in different parts of the country, we felt it appropriate to separate our coming attractions lists for 2021. You find our list of the five biggest attractions coming to Orlando and Tampa here

Here are the five biggest new rides scheduled to open at Southern California theme parks in 2021.

Knott's_Bear-y_Tales_Return_to_the_Fair_Metro96 Wikimedia Commons

Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair (Metro96/Wikimedia Commons)

5. Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return To The Fair

Opening: TBA 2021 at Knott’s Berry Farm

Back in 2015, Cedar Fair announced plans to bring interactive dark rides to all 11 of its parks. Those plans stalled after Voyage to the Iron Reef opened at Knott’s Berry Farm, a ride which closed in January 2020 after operating for less than five years. 

In its place, Knott’s is reusing the ride system and layout while playing up the park’s history with Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return To The Fair. A follow-up to the more traditional Bear-y Tales dark ride that operated from 1975 to 1986, this new version will replace Iron Reef’s “laser guns” with “boysenberry blasters” as Boysen Bear and Girlsen Bear try to recover stolen boysenberry pies from Crafty Coyote. 

“Yes, it will be a media-based attraction and yes, we’ll still have screens in there, but we’ll be re-configuring the riide system and the position of the screens to give us a more immersive experience, to create more space, to have better theming and a better overall environment,” Nol Van Genuchten, vice president of creative at Triotech, the ride’s manufacturer, told Coaster101.com in a 2019 article. 

Time will tell if this re-do will be enough to revive Cedar Fair’s dark rides project across the larger chain. Knott’s has said the ride is ready to open whenever the park itself is allowed to reopen, with the finished entrance sign, queue, and ride vehicles all visible during 2020’s food festival events.

Emperor (SeaWorld San Diego)

Emperor (SeaWorld San Diego)

4. Emperor

Opening: TBA 2021 at SeaWorld San Diego

Emperor, a dive coaster from legendary Swiss coaster firm Bolliger & Mabillard, will be just the fourth of its kind in the U.S. Like other dive coasters, the key element on Emperor is its 90-degree, 143-foot drop, with the coaster then featuring three inversions and hitting a top speed of 60 miles per hour. 

“There will be no other coaster experience like this in California,” Marilyn Hannes, SeaWorld San Diego’s park president. said in a press release. “Emperor will both thrill our coaster enthusiasts and also serve as an attraction that educates guests about the importance of animal conservation.”

The new attraction began testing just before the COVID-19 shutdown in mid-March. SeaWorld delayed the opening Emperor and other coasters in the chain to 2021, though in this case, such an announcement was unnecessary, as SeaWorld San Diego never reopened its rides in 2020. 

SeaWorld was previously being sued by Level 10 Construction over allegations that the park refused to pay $3.3 million in construction costs for Emperor while the park was closed. That lawsuit was voluntarily dropped by Level 10 in August 2020. 

When the ride does open, it will offer something new to regional coaster fans. No other park in southern California, not even the coaster haven of Six Flags Magic Mountain, has a B&M dive coaster.

3. Lego Movie World

Opening: TBA 2021 at Legoland California

Legoland California in San Diego County was just weeks away from unveiling a two-acre expansion when COVID-19 shut down the state’s theme parks. Now, Lego Movie World is set to debut sometime in 2021. 

Theme Park Tribune attended the opening of the Florida version of the land in 2019 (at which time, Legoland officials were non-committal about replicating the land in other parks). Despite the lackluster box office performance of the “Lego Movie” sequel that same year — and Warner Bros. subsequently ceding the Lego film rights — California is getting its own Lego Movie World, with some slight changes. 

Borrowed from the Florida land will be the headliner flying theater attraction, Masters of Flight, along with the Unikitty’s Disco Drop kiddie drop tower, a play area, shop, and meet-and-greet location. Rather than build a version of the Battle of Bricksburg, a water-soaked shooting ride that Legoland Florida rethemed from the land’s predecessor, the third attraction in California’s Lego Movie World will be the Queen Watevra Carousel. 

Secret Life of Pets ride inside

Inside the Secret Life of Pets ride (Universal)

2. The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash

Opening: TBA 2021 at Universal Studios Hollywood 

Ready to debut whenever Universal Hollywood reopens, Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash is a rare addition for Universal: a family-friendly, animatronic-driven dark ride in the vein of Disney’s Fantasyland classics. 

The ride will put guests into the role of stray puppies looking for their forever home, even creating a “puppy” version of riders through optical facial tracking technology. 

The new attraction adds variety to Universal Hollywood’s ride lineup, which is heavy on screen-based thrill rides but has lacked a gentle dark ride since it lost its version of the E.T. Adventure in 2003. It also gives the Upper Lot a new ride just ahead of a major Lower Lot addition: the Hollywood version of Super Nintendo World, rumored to be opening in 2022.

1. Avengers Campus

Opening: TBA 2021 at Disney California Adventure 

It’s a safe bet that whenever Disney is opening a whole new land, it will top any list of coming attractions. 

Avengers Campus will be Disney’s first fully-fledged Marvel land (though as a quirk of Universal’s 1990s Marvel licensing contract, the word “Marvel” cannot be used in the name of the land or attractions, even in California). Alongside the existing Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission Breakout!, the expanded land will feature Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure, an interactive ride where guests shoot virtual webs — no gun or special equipment needed — to capture escaping Spider-Bots.

Upon opening, the land will also feature a stage show called “Doctor Strange: Journey into the Mystic Arts” and an Ant-Man-themed restaurant called Pym Test Kitchen.

The land may provide some level of balance between Disneyland and the smaller DCA, but like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Avengers Campus will be opening without its biggest attraction. The Avengers Quinjet ride, announced at the 2019 D23 Expo, has no opening date attached to it and could be delayed for years due to the impact on the pandemic on Disney parks. 

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