At first I thought it was too early to look ahead at the new attractions coming to U.S. theme parks in 2013, but then I realized a number of big rides have already been announced and many more are already in the planning stages.
> Photos: Most anticipated new U.S. theme park rides for 2013
It already seems like 2013 is shaping up as a good year for ride enthusiasts and theme park fans. Big industry players have announced major projects, and several smaller parks are planning to roll out significant additions.
> Coming in 2012: Top 12 new U.S. theme park rides
A few projects delayed by the economic recession have been given a 2013 opening date that might be best described as tentative rather than definitive. Only time will tell. But we won't let that dampen our anticipation.
Since it is still early, I'll update my top 13 over the coming months as new projects are announced. Until then, here's my list of most anticipated rides for 2013:
1) Magic Kingdom - Fantasyland
The final phase of the ambitious Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom in Florida is expected to wrap up in 2013, featuring a Seven Dwarfs mine train coaster, a Little Mermaid dark ride and a dueling Dumbo attraction.
2) Silver Dollar City - Outlaw Run wooden coaster
The $10 million Outlaw Run hybrid wood-steel coaster at Missouri's Silver Dollar City will feature a double barrel roll and a 153-degree over-banked turn with nine airtime hills.
3) Six Flags Fiesta Texas - Iron Rattler wooden coaster
The 1992 Rattler wooden coaster at Six Flags Fiesta Texas will be reborn as the Iron Rattler hybrid coaster with a steel track on wood supports. The remade ride will feature a barrel roll inversion and a series of beyond-vertical banked turns. Rocky Mountain Construction Group will to handle the rehab, which includes the removal of the cliff-top triple helix.
4) Six Flags Magic Mountain - Full Throttle
The Full Throttle launch coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain will feature the world's tallest vertical loop (160 feet), with riders traversing the loop twice - once on the inside and again on the outside over a top hat element. Reaching 70 mph, the ride will feature three launches, including a backward launch.
5) SeaWorld Orlando - Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin
Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin will transform SeaWorld Orlando's 24-year-old Penguin Encounter habitat into a new winter-themed land with 55-foot-tall glaciers in the shape of nuzzling penguins towering over shops, restaurants and an as-yet-unannounced attraction. SeaWorld remains highly secretive about the new attraction, describing it only as a one-of-a-kind, family-friendly yet thrilling interactive ride offering varied adventures from a penguin's point of view.
6) Cedar Point - Gatekeeper winged roller coaster
Billed as the tallest, fastest and longest winged coaster with the highest inversion of any coaster in the world, the $30-million Gatekeeper will fly over Cedar Point's front entrance as the new icon of the Ohio amusement park.
7) Disneyland - Fantasy Faire
The Fantasy Faire medieval village at Disneyland in California will feature princess meet-and-greet areas and stage shows at the current location of the Carnation Plaza Gardens bandstand next door to Sleeping Beauty Castle.
8) Morey's Piers - Wooden roller coaster
The $10-million wooden roller coaster by Great Coasters International will span two piers and dive under the boardwalk at Morey's Piers. The New Jersey seaside amusement park is considering two names for the ride: Wildwoody and Boardwalk Flyer.
9) Dollywood - RiverRush water coaster
RiverRush water coaster at Dollywood's Splash Country water park will carry riders in a toboggan up a 237-foot-tall conveyor belt before plunging them down a 25-foot drop at 45-degree angle.
10) California's Great America - Gold Striker wooden roller coaster
California's Great America has relaunched plans for an oft-delayed wooden roller coaster by Great Coasters International that would send riders whirling into a one-of-a-kind twist around the Star Tower observation deck near the park's entrance. The 3,100-foot-long ride would include a terrain-hugging S-turn, a high-speed station fly-by and a series of zero-G camelbacks and bunny hops at speeds topping 50 mph aboard Millennium Flyer trains.
11) Fun Spot Orlando - Park expansion
Fun Spot Orlando plans an extensive expansion that will add thrill rides, a water park and a wooden roller coaster in 2013. The 2,000-foot-long White Lightning wooden coaster, built by Great Coasters International, would reach a height of 75 feet and speeds of 48 mph. (Shown: Prowler at Worlds of Fun)
12) Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk - Undertow spinning coaster
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk plans to replace a 20-year-old steel coaster with the $5.5 million Undertow spinning coaster in summer 2013. The 50-foot-tall Undertow will reach speeds of 40 mph along a 1,400-foot-long track.
13) Steel Pier - Star Flyer
The once-famed Steel Pier on the long-faded Atlantic City Boardwalk will invest more than $100 million on new entertainment venues and amusement rides, including a 385-foot-tall Funtime Star Flyer dubbed the tallest swing tower in the world.