L.A. Feature_Theme Parks

78 Summer Fun At L.A.'s Amusement Parks

LOS ANGELES _ Speeding like superman at 100 mph. or escaping the clutches of a Velociraptor ... just another day of fun and fantasy at L.A.'s theme parks.

Never content to sit still, the most famous of these parks - Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott's Berry Farm - continually create new experiences for visitors. This year, visitors can try out spectacular new attractions, say goodbye to an old favorite and visit a new oceanside amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier.

Magic Mountain has upped the ante for roller-coaster fans with Superman: The Escape, the world's tallest and fastest. 'Guests' in the Man of Steel's Fortress of Solitude 'escape' enemy forces and wind up on the ride of their lives, hitting the long-coveted speed of 100 mph. in seven seconds, then curving 415 feet straight up, hanging weightless for an unprecedented 6.5 seconds.

"People have been talking about 100-m.p.h. roller coasters for the past century," said Paul L. Ruben, the North American editor for Park World, an international trade magazine. "The roller coaster arms race has been inching skyward, but this is a quantum leap over anything thatOs out there."

Officials at the Valencia park would not say how much they're spending on the ride, which uses electromagnetic catapults instead of conventional chain lifts and gravity, but they said it was more than the $11 million it cost in 1994 to produce its other heroic thrill, Batman The Ride.

Visitors to Universal Studios Hollywood may wish they had Superman for protection when they experience Jurassic Parkathe Ride. The new high-tech attraction will take guests into the Steven Spielberg hit movie's jungle habitat with some of the most advanced animatronics ever designed.

Riders enter the film's celebrated wooden gates and cruise through the steaming tropical waterways of the 6-acre attraction, which includes an 84-foot plunge and the chance to get up-close-and-personal with terrifying, five-story 'creatures,' including Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptors.

The 13-story, $100-million labyrinth was in development long before the debut of the "Jurassic Park" film, and Spielberg has served as a creative consultant since the ride's inception, officials said. The Jurassic Park ride joins other movie-themed attractions at Universal, like the runaway time machine of "Back to the Future," the inferno of "Backdraft" and the out-of-this-world adventure of "E.T." Next to Universal Studios Hollywood, entertainment giant MCA Inc. is also expanding its popular CityWalk venue, a hybrid of amusement and shopping that experts have dubbed an urban entertainment center. The new block-long stretch will feature CityWalk's distinctive architecture: a collection of L.A. styles highlighted by a large collection of neon signs.

"It's our obligation of keep CityWalk fresh," said Ron Bension, chairman of MCA's Recreation Services Group. "This type of entertainment requires some new excitement once in a while." Change is also in the air at Disneyland, which Walt Disney once pledged would never be completed. October brings the final performances of the Main Street Electrical Parade, the venerable classic that has brightened the Anaheim park's evenings for almost 25 years. Mike Davis, vice president of entertainment for Disneyland, estimates that more than 75 million visitors have watched the procession since its first run in 1972. "After 20 years-plus, it's time to move on," Davis said.

But for every ending there are new beginnings, and summer visitors can see a musical spectacular based on the upcoming animated film, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

And a new Tomorrowland will blast off in 1998. The revamped futuristic landscape will include a new signature attraction, Astro Orbitor, and a new-generation 3-D experience, Honey I Shrunk the Audience.

Just as Disney struck a nostalgic chord with the recreation of a turn-of-the-century American Main Street, Pacific Park, opening this summer on the venerable Santa Monica Pier, re-creates the amusement parks that once dotted oceans along the Pacific Coast.

The Santa Monica West Coaster, a 55-foot roller coaster that races across the park, and Pacific Wheel, a giant Ferris wheel that takes riders more than 100 feet above Santa Monica Beach and the Pacific Ocean, are among the 11 new rides that join the pier's other shops and attractions, including the 1910-vintage hand-carved merry-go-round that appeared in the movie "The Sting."

Beach culture is also traveling inland as Knott's Berry Farm, America's first theme park, sports a new look. The park, which began as a roadside berry stand in the 1920s, is transforming its Roaring '20s area into The Boardwalk. There, visitors will find the new Hammerhead water ride, which spins passengers from a grotto inhabited by sharks and mermaids upside down and sideways to a height of 80 feet. Knott's star, Snoopy, also brings his Peanuts comic

strip gang to help kick off Snoopy's Joe Cool Summer, a parkwide lineup of new shows and entertainment.

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