SoCal theme parks welcome us back with safety guidelines, yes, but also exciting new features
Editor’s Note: This is your summer survival and fun guide to our SoCal theme parks in this new world. We include new rides and areas and what to expect for them (depending on your kids’ ages); tasty new bites, restaurants and drinks, such as some plant-based items at Star Wars Land; insider tips, such as hotel and packages at Legoland, the trading of mini-figures, collecting pop badges and keeping an eye out for Mr. Gold for a free ticket and budget-friendly ideas.
Theme parks around Southern California are all abuzz this summer, and this isn’t just because they have reopened after being shut down for more than a year. While reopenings are something on their own to celebrate, our beloved SoCal parks have exciting news to share, including new worlds, new attractions and new foods to try. As with everything post-pandemic, a theme park visit entails safety protocols, extra research and a good dose of patience. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
Most parks have the latest COVID-19-related restrictions and information available online. Familiarize yourself with new protocols so you don’t have any surprises. Not everything is opening up at once and restrictions apply to some rides and not others, so expect select rides to be closed for a time. Online reservations, in addition to an online ticket purchase, may be required. (Parking reservations can usually be made online as well.) Cash transactions have gone the way of the dodo, as have paper maps. Download a park’s app to get information on wayfinding, wait times, attractions and dining options. Trust us: You want to make sure you’ve downloaded the app before you arrive at the park. We recently witnessed several frustrated families hitting roadblocks (e.g. ordering food) because they had not downloaded the app. Finally, strollers or wheelchairs may not be available to rent, so plan accordingly.
Parks ask that all guests adhere to social-distancing guidelines, limit party size to three households, purchase tickets and make advance reservations, mask up if not vaccinated and stay away when sick. Temperature checks and hand sanitizing may be required for entry to parks and at specific rides.
And now for the fun.
Fans of the “The Lego Movie” franchise will find the largest expansion of Legoland California Resort to date — the Lego Movie World — cause for celebration. This eye-catching rendition of the brick world of the movies features six new attractions: the Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi Carousel, Benny’s Playship play structure, Unikitty’s Disco Drop, Emmet’s Super Suite apartment walk-through (with character meet-and-greets), Build Watevra You Wa’Na Build Lego station and a screen-simulated triple decker flying couch ride called Emmet’s Flying Adventure.
The new Everything is Ramen restaurant and Cloud Cuckoo Crepes stand will be ready for your appetite when you finish exploring. Still hungry? Don’t forget the old favorite — Legoland’s famous Granny’s Apple Fries (gluten free!) on Castle Hill next to the Hideaways play area.
Check with the park to see if the mini-figure trading and pop badges programs have been reestablished. If so, your kids can bring their own mini figures to trade at various spots throughout the park, and they should keep their eyes peeled for a worker wearing a pop badge pin featuring Mr. Gold. Trade it in for a prize worth talking about at the front gates.
If you didn’t include a waterpark admission with your ticket, cool down on hot days at the Splash Battle ride where you’ll likely get wet with spray guns or check out the adjacent splash pad, Swabbie’s Deck.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Knott’s Berry Farm had its 100-year anniversary last summer, but since no one was able to visit, the park is celebrating this summer for the whole season with “A Knott’s Family Reunion,” which will run through the end of August. This festive celebration is a tribute to the Knott family’s legacy of bringing family and friends together in a rich assortment of old-fashioned fun.
Amid the nostalgia, new memories can be made at the new rendition of an old favorite, Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair. The 4D interactive dark ride takes riders — equipped with jelly blasters —through the Boysenberry Pie Factory, Frog Forest, Fortune Teller Camp, Thunder Cave, Weird Woods and County Fair with the hope of recovering the stolen boysenberry pies from Crafty Coyote, as well as competing for the highest score.
Disneyland and California Adventure Park
First Star Wars got its day in the sun, and now it’s time for the Avengers to shine. June marked the grand opening of the Avengers Campus at Disneyland Resort inside Disney California Adventure Park. This brand-new land is set to recruit and train the next generation of heroes, starting with an interactive escapade called “WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure.” Accessories for this ride and other areas, including WEB Tech and Spider-Bots, can be purchased at gift shops for a custom experience of the park.
Also on offer is the ability for guests of all ages to dabble in their superhero dreams by training with Black Panther and Wakanda’s elite guards, the Dora Milaje. Family and friends can team up to fight alongside the Avengers and their allies and encounter heroes (and villains, too). If all that fighting gets you hungry, Quantum pretzels and a Pingo Doce beverage are some of the new foods on offer. Families may want to tackle the mega-sized shareable Pym-ini sandwich, made with a little help from Pym Particles, at Pym Test Kitchen. We devoured the Not so Little Chicken Sandwich, a gigantic fried chicken breast teased with teriyaki and red chili sauces sitting “inside” a teeny brioche bun.
At Disneyland, the Jungle Cruise has been updated with new characters from around the world, reimagined with the same heart and spirit of the classic ride. For fans, a gift shop has been added at the end with a jungle full of merchandise to peruse.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Six Flags offers fun for the whole family, especially those with thrill seekers in tow. Younger kids will love the Looney Tunes-themed rides such as Yosemite Sam’s Flight School (airplane ride) and Pepe Le Pew’s Tea Party (twirling cups). Teens and tweens, or those ready for the thrill of a wild roller coaster, have a bevy of rides to choose from, including the most recent addition, West Coast Racers, the world’s first single-track, quadruple-launch racing coaster. The ride was inspired by the work of Southern California’s own custom car shop, West Coast Customs. You’ll find the ride in The Underground area of the park, which also includes new dining and retail locations.
In addition to season passes, Six Flags Magic Mountain offers various levels of membership that come with the perks of a season pass and more at a low monthly price. Depending on the level of membership, offers include unlimited soda drinks, food and merchandise discounts, free parking and even line-skipping privileges.
If the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” or world-renowned studio tour isn’t luring you back to Universal Studios Hollywood, perhaps the park’s newest attractions will. Both “The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash!” and “Jurassic World –The Ride” feature innovations that fans of each movie will love. If you are curious what your pets do at home when you are not there, head over to Pets Place, where 64 animated figures, including Max, Snowball, Gidget, Chloe and Duke, come to life using hyper-realistic projections. Inside the ride’s corridors, guests can explore dachshund Buddy’s apartment, Snowball owner Molly’s living room, as well as Max and Duke’s apartment. If dinosaurs rock your boat, “Jurassic World – The Ride” will wow with highly realistic dinos that can’t be described as cute: Indominus rex in a battle with Tyrannosaurus rex. But scary might be your thing.
If the summer days start to get too hot, don’t forget the various water parks adjacent to the theme parks, including Legoland Water Park, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and Knott’s Soak City. Whatever theme park and attractions you choose this summer, we can all agree: it feels good to be back in action.
Elisa Parhad is a travel and lifestyle writer and photographer based in L.A. Her work has appeared in L.A. Parent, the Los Angeles Times, Delta Sky magazine and Faces, and she is the author of the board book “Los Angeles Is…”