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What's new at area Amusement Parks

May 07, 2001

What's new at area Amusement Parks



By KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

Fly like a bird. Visit the Emerald Isle. Get scooped up in a Talon. Launch toward outer space.

At regional amusement parks, you can do all of this and more as the 2001 season prepares to blast off in a flurry of activity and variety.

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Unlike concerts, trips to the beach and other summertime activities, an amusement park packs a wildly divergent punch that holds something for everyone. So says Janet Porter, vice president and general manager of Six Flags America in Largo, Md.

"You get, not only the thrills, but you also get the atmosphere of a party," she says. "Rarely do you go anywhere with 10,000 people together all having fun."

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Among Six Flags' new features this year is the Skycoaster, an attraction that has riders strapped into a harness, lifted 100 feet in the air and then swung down to within 20 feet of the ground.

And that's not even the centerpiece. Batwing, the park's eighth roller coaster is patterned after a ride called The Stealth, installed at a Paramount-related theme park in Northern California last year.

"It's going to be different than anything any of us on the East Coast has experienced," Porter says. "Your back is going to be to the sky, and your stomach to the ground so you're going to feel like you're flying."

Six Flags isn't the only park with something new to offer this year.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Hypersonic XLC at Paramount's Kings Dominion in Doswell, Va., accelerates from 0 to 80 mph in 1.8 seconds, taking you from a point of rest up a 90-degree angle to a height of 165 feet where it pauses before returning to earth on a downslope of 90 degrees.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> HersheyPark in Hershey, Pa., has added a laser light show choreographed to music. ZOOAMERICA, affiliated with HersheyPark, is featuring an exhibit on the white alligator through October.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Dorney Park in Allentown, Pa., has added another new roller coaster to its arsenal of thrill rides. Talon, The Grip of Fear, where passengers in ski lift-like cars are lifted from above and taken through a rip-roaring two minutes, 33 seconds of loops, twists and drops.

At Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., the newest thing is the debut of Ireland, the park's sixth country-themed area and first since an Italian area was opened 20 years ago.

"We could never take a country as rich in heritage as Ireland and emulate it totally," says Busch Gardens vice president of marketing John Gillespie. "We can certainly pay homage to those countries by emulating them the best we can."

In addition to the thatched roofs of Ireland-themed shops and pubs, complete with imported artisans, other Ireland attractions include Corkscrew Hill, a four-dimensional ride, and Irish Thunder, an Irish dance show in the park's new Abbey Stone Theatre.

Busch Gardens has its share of thrill rides, but what Gillespie is pleased with is its accessibility to several ages and demographics.

"What we try to provide here is a place where families can come together and play together," he says. "We want to provide balance, we don't want to just focus on roller coasters and just one side of the family."

At Six Flags, Porter has a similar dilemma, but hers is to continue providing enough new thrills to keep visitors' appetites whetted.

"We have a lot of different offerings. We're looking for the new experience, different from all of our other offerings," she says of the endless quest to reinvent the park. "We have a great deal of competition for the entertainment dollar in this D.C. area. It's critical that we provide a new experience."

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