2023 gave U.S. theme park fans their first Super Nintendo World, their first “surf coaster” and plenty of other new attractions. But which one deserves to be called the best new ride of the year?
I think I’m eminently qualified to answer that question, considering I visited 23 different parks all over the county during the past year!
So here’s what Theme Park Tribune considers the five best new-for-2023 attractions:
5. Tron Lightcycle Run
Walt Disney World’s newest roller coaster just squeaks into this list thanks to a lack of depth among theme park additions for 2023.
Tron Lightcycle Run isn’t a bad ride by any means, but it feels like a disappointment to both thrillseekers and Disney fans, considering the groundbreaking and more well-themed coaster that debuted at the resort a year earlier.
Zooming around in the dark will always be fun, even if Magic Kingdom deserves a better headliner than this.
4. Wildcat’s Revenge
The latest wood-to-steel coaster conversion by Rocky Mountain Construction is not among their very best, in my opinion.
Still, a middle-tier RMC is better than the vast majority of coasters.
Wildcat’s Revenge is also the best coaster in Hersheypack’s stacked lineup, delivering tons of airtime from its 82-degree, 140-foot first drop to its signature element, dubbed the “world’s largest underflip.”
SeaWorld Orlando’s newest roller coaster was perhaps the biggest theme park surprise of 2023, just because it was surprisingly good.
I had plenty of reason to doubt Pipeline since I’ve loathed every previous stand-up coaster I’ve experienced. Yet it wasn’t just a marketing gimmick to call this a “surf coaster,” as Bolliger & Mabillard delivered a different — and much more comfortable — ride compared to Pipeline’s stand-up ancestors.
You can’t help but smile when you feel the ride’s airtime pops while standing and having your seat bounce up and down. Here’s hoping we see more “surf coaster” models make their way to other parks, especially ones that are a tad longer.
2. Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge
Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood delivered on the hype when it opened in early 2023. Its only attraction is a big reason why wait times remain high nearly a year later.
When Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge first debuted in Japan mid-pandemic, it was unfairly bashed by theme park pundits who hadn’t actually been on the ride. Sporting the most significant use of augmented reality technology in a major theme park ride to date, it truly needs to be experienced in person to absorb the frenetic energy meshing familiar Nintendo gameplay with a dark ride.
Yes, there could some re-balancing between the AR and physical elements. Yet it’s hard to imagine anyone rolling into that beautiful Rainbow Road finale feeling disappointed.
1. Arie Force One
The thought of Fun Spot Atlanta beating a Universal park in any category— letting alone winning any “best of” award — would have been laughable. Yet their new coaster deserves that honor.
While it’s another RMC creation like Wildcat’s Revenge, Arie Force One feels many steps ahead thanks to its relentless pacing and awe-inspiring elements like the “Raven Truss Dive” looping through the ride’s structure and the “arcade roll” over the park’s arcade building.
The ride’s finale is a bit too intense for my tastes — maybe I’ll try it with padding over my stomach? — yet that can’t detract from the rest of the amazing ride. Fun Spot Atlanta isn’t just a stop for two coaster credits anymore; it sports one of the very best coasters in the country.
DISCLOSURE: These rankings are based on my own opinion and perspective. For Wildcat’s Revenge and Pipeline, I experienced the rides as part of events exclusively for members of the media. My participation was not predicated on any promise that I would review the ride favorably. For the other three attractions, I was not granted any special access and paid for my own admission.