What’s new at SoCal theme parks this summer

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will open May 31 at Disneyland Park in Anaheim. The 14-acre attraction is Disneyland's largest-ever single-themed land expansion.
(Courtesy of Disney Parks)

Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer theme park season in Southern California, and many of the region’s parks are rolling out new rides, shows and attractions to lure tourist dollars. Here’s a look at what’s new this summer at the region’s parks.

Disneyland Resort
Inside Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Disney guests will take the controls in one of three unique and critical roles aboard the fastest ship in the galaxy when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens May 31 at Disneyland Resort in California.
(Courtesy of Disney Parks)

The most anticipated American theme park event of the year will be the May 31 opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland Park in Anaheim.

Besides shops, restaurants and interactive experiences, Galaxy’s Edge will feature two Star Wars-themed rides. The first, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, will open May 31. The second ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, will open later this year.

The new themed land, located where Big Thunder Ranch and a portion of unused land behind the Rivers of America area, is designed as the remote smugglers port Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu, which will be populated with Star Wars characters, including Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8 and Chewbacca.

Smugglers Run will put riders in the cockpit of Han Solo’s famous smuggling ship for an interactive virtual reality ride through space.

Other attractions opening May 31 are Oga’s Cantina bar, Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, Ronto Roasters restaurant and a drink stand serving blue and green milk.

Shops include Droid Depot, Savi’s lightsaber workshop, Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, Black Spire Outfitters and four others.

When it opens in the fall, Rise of the Resistance will take riders into a full-size star destroyer spaceship for a hands-on battle between the Rebellion forces and the evil First Order.

Because the new land will attract heavier-than-usual summer crowds, ticket-holders will require reservations to visit Galaxy’s Edge between May 31 and June 23 (Disney hotel guests will receive automatic reservations). For details, call (714) 520-5050.

Also new this summer, “Mickey’s PhilharMagic” 3D movie, now playing in the Sunset Showcase Theater at Disney California Adventure Park. “Pop-Up Disney! A Mickey Celebration,” an Instagram-worthy exhibition and shop, has opened in Downtown Disney District.

And coming next fall, the separate-ticket Oogie Boogie Bash: A Disney Halloween Party will be held on select evenings Sept. 6 through Oct. 31 in Disney California Adventure. Tickets start at $110.

1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim.

Knott’s Berry Farm
An artist's rendering of Calico Rapids, with animatronic wild animals along the raging river course. It will open this summer at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park.
(Courtesy of Knott’s Berry Farm)

On May 24, Knott’s kicks off “Ghost Town Alive!,” an Old West adventure performed by actors and dancers in the saloon and on the streets of its Calico Ghost Town with an all-new storyline for 2019. It will play on select days through Sept. 2.

From June 7 through Aug. 11, the park will host Summer Nights, an evening program of live music, food and game events on the Midway section of the park.

Also, in the Charles M. Schulz Theatre, the new “Beach Blanket Beagle” musical dance party will play June 7 through Aug. 11.

The park’s newest ride, Calico River Rapids, will open later this summer. The white-water rafting adventure will feature new animatronic animals, water cannons and special effects.

Next door, Knott’s Soak City Waterpark will return for its summer season, May 18 through Sept. 18.

8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park.

Legoland California
The train at the new Duplo Playtown at Legoland California theme park in Carlsbad.
(Courtesy of Legoland California)

Today, Legoland will reopen its Duplo Playtown area in a new, more central location of the park to make way for a tower ride opening in the old location in 2020. The new playtown includes a new Legoland Express train for small children.

In April, Legoland premiered a new 4D film, “Lego City 4D — Officer in Pursuit” inside its Lego Showplace Theater. The film, about a Lego policeman chasing a mischievous crook through the streets of Lego City, includes 4D effects, including water droplets, wind and bubbles. The film screens multiple times daily.

Also new this year is the Lego Movie 2 Experience, a walk-through attraction themed to the film that opened in February. It features sets and soundstages used in the film and Lego brick models featuring more than 500,000 bricks.

1 Legoland Drive, Carlsbad.

San Diego Zoo
A baby okapi, born at the San Diego Zoo this past winter, is among the new attractions at the zoological theme park.
(Courtesy of the San Diego Zoo)

The zoo has no new attractions this summer, but it is celebrating the birth of several new animals, including a baby giraffe born April 28 and a baby okapi born in January.

920 Zoo Drive, San Diego.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park
A Blue Morpho butterfly.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The park’s annual Butterfly Jungle attraction continues through May 12. The temporary spring exhibition invites visitors into a greenhouse where butterflies from around the world are in free flight. The park has no new attractions this summer, but it’s celebrating the birth of new giraffe, born in January.

5500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido.

SeaWorld San Diego
Tidal Twister, a new "dueling" trains roller coaster will open May 24 at SeaWorld San Diego.
(Courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego)

On May 24, SeaWorld will open its latest roller coaster, Tidal Twister. The new “dueling” coaster is being billed as the fastest coaster of its kind in the world. Tidal Twister takes riders on a 300-foot-long figure-eight track that’s suspended 16 feet off the ground.

The horizontal ride carries riders at speeds up to 30 miles an hour, and when its two 16-passenger trains meet in the middle of the track they invert in 360-degree barrel rolls.

Tidal Twister follows the Electric Eel, which opened last summer and is capable of speeds up to 62 miles an hour.

Next year, the park will open yet another coaster, the 153-foot Mako dive coaster.

500 Sea World Drive, San Diego.

Six Flags Magic Mountain
West Coast Racers, a side-by-side racing coaster with twin tracks, will open later this summer at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia.
(Courtesy of Six Flags)

West Coast Racers, billed as the world’s first racing launch coaster, will open in late summer, making it the 19th coaster at the Valencia theme park. Two 12-seat cars race on side-by-side tracks that make two complete laps through the course at speeds up to 55 miles per hour.

26101 Magic Mountain Pkwy, Valencia.

Universal Studios Hollywood
Jurassic World: The Ride, an upgraded and expanded version of the old Jurassic Park ride, will open this summer at Universal Studios Hollywood.
(Courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood)

Universal Studios is upgrading its 20-year-old Jurassic Park ride with a bigger, more high-tech and modernized version, Jurassic World: The Ride, opening this summer.

Built on the bones of the original ride, Jurassic World will have its own original storyline inspired by the “Jurassic World” films.

As before, riders will board rafts that will take them through lush vegetation to see re-animated dinosaurs in their natural habitat until all goes awry.

The new ride will feature the new films’ Indominus Rex predator as well as the aquatic Mosasaurus in a 3-million-gallon glass aquarium. The ride concludes with the rafts dropping down an 84-foot waterfall.

New features include a “Raptor Encounter,” where visitors can get up close to “Blue” the gentle raptor, and a “Dino Play” children’s play zone with oversize dino “fossils” to play on.

Also new this spring is the “Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle,” a light, projection and music show in the park’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. It will play May 25-27 with additional summer hours to be announced soon.

100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City.

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Pam Kragen is a feature writer who specializes in writing human interest, dining, theater and opera stories. She joined The San Diego Union-Tribune staff in October 2012 after 27 years at the North County Times, where she served as the Arts & Features Editor, as well as the paper’s longtime arts writer and theater/opera critic. She is the president and co-founder of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from San Diego State University and completed fellowships in theater criticism at the University of Southern California and opera/classical music criticism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She reports from the U-T’s North County office in San Marcos.