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Thrilling theme parks

IF YOU love theme parks and roller coasters, America is the ideal holiday destination. Here’s what’s new at the country’s best-known and most popular amusement parks.

Starting with the biggest and the best new attraction to be unveiled this year, over in Orlando, Disney World’s Animal Kingdom has added a major new attraction to the park’s Nahtazoo zone – Expedition Everest: The Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. It is Disney’s largest mountain and possibly the largest single attraction in the company’s history. Step inside the huge artificial mountain and a roller coaster, with a top speed of 50mph, will take you on an unforgettable encounter with the legendary Yeti, the biggest, fiercest creature Walt Disney designers have ever created.

The ride takes the form of a mile-long runaway train ride through the Himalayas, bringing visitors face-to-face with this mythological legend as you navigate an 80-foot drop, rumble over bridges and travel backwards and forwards through valleys to escape the monster.

The ride is a completely authentic recreation of Nepal and the Disney designers went on several research trips from western China to Nepal to create the 6.2 acre attraction. It even includes a Himalayan village called Serka Zong that leads visitors up to the ride. The realism even includes the climate, starting with light mist meant to simulate the weather in the low-lying mountains, to the freezing fake snow-capped mountain. At least 8,000 props purchased from Nepal adorn the village, along with prayer flags, ancient-looking carvings of goats and yak, plus 900 bamboo plants, 10 species of trees and 110 species of shrubs. Disney even based its design for the Yeti on genuine golden monkeys in the Qinling Mountains (cold-weather primates with blue faces and fiery orange fur).

Expedition Everest opens at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Florida on April 7. Guests in the park prior to April 7 may have a chance to take a test ride. Children must be at least 44 inches tall to ride.

Over in Disneyland, Orlando, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride raised the standard for all theme park dark rides when it opened, and it is still considered by aficionados to be the world’s best family ride. However, the first sequel to the incredibly successful movie is scheduled for a mid-summer release, and Disneyland’s attraction will be receiving some major upgrades, including a Jack Sparrow animatronic figure and several ghost pirates.

Legoland, California, also has a pirate themed area opening this year. Pirate Shores is a new land at the Carlsbad, California based park, anchored by Splash Battle – an interactive aquatic shoot-’em-up, where riders cruise through pirate-infested waters, in boats armed with their own water cannons. The area will also feature Treasure Falls, a 12-foot-drop mini-flume ride that shows “what pirates do on their vacation”, according to Legoland’s president and general manager, John Jakobsen. Two water play areas will round out the new land. Squabbies Deck is aimed at younger visitors, while Soak-n-Sail will provide 60 water elements for older kids.

Over in Paramount’s Kings Dominion, the Italian Job Stunt Coaster is opening this year. This new roller coaster will be the park’s 13th and will be a replica of the Italian Job coasters at Paramount’s Kings Island and Canada’s Wonderland.  

Finally, the SeaWorld parks in both Orlando and San Diego have announced a new killer whale show for 2006. The Shamu arenas will be completely revamped with props and huge video monitors, bringing the show into the 21st century. The Orlando park will also be adding three new attractions designed for kids near the Shamu Stadium.

If news of all these new rides has whet your appetite for a family trip to a US theme park, bear in mind our top tips for a fun fuelled pleasure ride:

Stay cool

Heat causes more pain and injury at theme parks than all the world’s roller coasters combined. You should drink plenty of water and don’t drink alcohol until you are finished with the rides for the day – alcohol dehydrates you, leaving you at risk of sunstroke and heat exhaustion. It also impairs your judgment, putting you at greater risk of injury on rides. Be sure to put on a waterproof sunscreen before you enter the park and remember to reapply it throughout the day – a hat or sun visor can help, too.

Wear comfortable shoes and socks – you’ll be on your feet for much of the day and will need the extra support from a good pair of shoes.

Follow instructions

Read the boarding restrictions before you join the queue. If you are pregnant, have pain or injuries in your back or neck, or have a heart condition, you will not be able to go on some rides. This is also true if you are under five feet, or taller than six – you will encounter rides where you will either not be permitted or won’t be comfortable.

If you can’t find the boarding restrictions at a particular ride, or have any questions about them, find a park employee and ask. Some parks make special seats available on select rides for larger visitors. Don’t cheat and ignore these rules to get on a ride you don’t belong on. You might think a ride looks tame enough for you, but sometimes there are potential problems on a ride that most visitors can’t see. If they tell you not to ride, don’t. And don’t even think about jumping the queue. Nothing provokes more fights and nasty exchanges in theme parks than impatient people who won’t wait their turn.

Stay in to stay safe

On any theme park ride, keep your rear on the seat, your hands on the grab bar and your feet and knees inside the car. If there is no grab bar, keep your hands on your lap. If you are on a ride with a lap bar, seat belt or safety harness, make sure that it is in place, snug and locked. If the ride starts to move and your restraint is not in place, immediately shout for help.

Don’t eat and ride

Remember the old saying about not going swimming for an hour after eating? Well, you needn’t be that extreme, but it should be obvious that you shouldn’t get on a roller coaster or any other turbulent ride if you have an upset, or overly stuffed, stomach. So wait a few minutes after eating to make sure everything’s sitting right. And throw away that gum before getting on board a theme park ride, too. On a high-speed ride that twists, flips and dips, you don’t want anything in your mouth that could block a vital airway.

Keep the kids happy

If you are visiting with a child, take a moment to explain the ride to them, and tell them how they should behave – they are depending upon you to keep them safe. Set a good example for them by following the rules and make sure that they know you expect them to follow those rules too. Tell them to stay seated, to hold the grab bar or put their hands in their laps, and not to stick their knees and feet outside a ride vehicle. Make them look to you for the okay to get on or off a ride, too. Never put a crying child on a ride. If your child starts to cry, let others pass you in line until your child is calmed or gently exit the queue and find something more relaxing to do. Young kids can’t keep an adult’s pace in a theme park, so let them take plenty of breaks. Finally, and most importantly, have fun! For details of trips to America’s theme parks call or visit us in the PDM offices in Lagos.