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8 of the world’s best new theme parks

As those of us in the Northern Hemisphere enjoy these last days of summer, many families are flocking to theme parks both in the US and abroad to squeeze in a few more moments of fun.

That includes a series of new parks that have opened around the world in the last two years, keeping things fresh with surprisingly understated natural surroundings or just the opposite – jaw-dropping, hair-raising, all-consuming attractions.

From the super subtle and surreal, like Ghibli Park in Japan, to a tidal wave of fun at Columbia Pictures Aquaverse in Thailand, here’s a look at a few of the most noteworthy new theme parks for those unforgettable family memories.

Katmandu Park, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Experience the hidden realms of the Himalayas in the middle of the Caribbean at Katmandu Park in Punta Cana.

Opened in March 2023 on the east coast of the Dominican Republic, the park is full of mystery and lore.

According to legend, explorer Kilgore Goode was on an adventure through Nepal when he stumbled upon the “Desirata” jewel, protected by a ferocious yeti. But the discovery turned everything upside down.

Immersing guests in this magical world, Katmandu Punta Cana skips more classic boomerang and twister coasters, instead specializing in tech-savvy, interactive indoor rides.

For instance, the 4D dark ride, “Legend of the Desirata,” chronicles the brand’s origin story – all brought to life by sensory, lighting and projection effects.

Another key attraction is EtherQuest, an interactive walk-through experience where guests use blasters and props to defeat an army of evil mages in the “upside-down house” amid immersive projection technology.

Not to be outdone is the “Challenge of the Mad Mage,” which enables every guest to partake in a blaster duel during a surreal chess match while wind, vibration and mist sensations enhance the experience.

Aside from immersive rides, guests can also check out the Himalaya-inspired mini golf course, a sky-high ropes course, climbing walls and a whimsical carousel for younger adventurers.

Katmandu Park, Punta Cana. Av. Alemania, Punta Cana 23000, Dominican Republic. Tickets from $120 for adults; $85 for children for a one-use pass. 

Super Nintendo World, California

Oh yeah! Mario time! Just over a year after opening at Universal Studios Japan in 2021, Super Nintendo World touched down at Universal Studios Hollywood in February 2023.

Guests enter the Mushroom Kingdom via the game’s iconic green pipe. Once inside, visitors will discover a world of fun experiences, from meeting their favorite characters to dining on “Piranha Plant” caprese, Chef Toad’s short rib special and “? Block” tiramisu at Toadstool Cafe.

Fans of the game will appreciate the impressive grounds, featuring recreations of familiar game scenes like Princess Peach’s Castle, Bowser’s Castle and Mount Beanpole, designed to look like the game’s 16-bit graphics.

But the marquee attraction is “Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge.”

A cross between a video game and a roller coaster, the tech-savvy ride takes passengers through a multi-sensory world where they’ll use augmented reality (AR) to navigate different race courses and try to defeat Team Bowser.

Guests who purchase a Power-Up Band (an add-on wristband that syncs with the park’s app) can also use AR to play mini-games and “Key Challenges” throughout the park to unlock a final boss battle with Bowser Jr.

Super Nintendo World. Universal Studios Hollywood, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA, US, 91608. Tickets from $109. 

Ghibli Park, Japan

If you love Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli animated films, like the Academy Award-winning “Spirited Away” or “My Neighbor Totoro,” this new park is for you.

Located outside of Nagoya, Japan, Ghibli Park opened in late 2022. Within the 17.5 forested ground of the Expo 2005, guests will find five areas that recreate several animated famous scenes with all the whimsy, artistry and attention to detail the studio is known for

There aren’t any hair-raising rides, but you can count on charming interactive exhibitions.

Guests can check out a recreation of the Catbus featured in “Totoro,” explore the antique shop featured in “Whisper of the Heart,” or head up to the top of the “Castle in the Sky” tower for scenic views.

There’s also a cinema screening short films, a couple of cafes, and several family-friendly activities, like a Totoro-themed playground and a monorail.

Two more areas, Mononoke Village and the Valley of Witches, are expected to open later in 2023.

Ghibli Park, Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park, 1533-1 Ibaragabasama, Nagakute, Aichi. Tickets from $15 for adults; $7.50 for children. 

Legoland Korea Resort, South Korea

On the heels of LEGOLAND New York Resort’s debut in 2021, LEGOLAND Korea Resort opened in May 2022.

Like its sister parks, this playful wonderland in Chuncheon, about 1.5 hours east of Seoul, is devoted to all things LEGO, with more than 40 rides and attractions across seven thematic zones.

In the aptly named Bricktopia area, guests can hop on family-friendly rides, visit LEGOLAND Lookout for great park views, and get hands-on with creative workshops and a built-and-test car-racing zone.

The park is designed for 2- to 12-year-olds, so there aren’t too many high-octane rides, but the Dragon coaster in the LEGO Castle zone should test your mettle.

Meanwhile, young children will love the wave racers, LEGO planes, spinners, rock climbing and pirate experiences.

For the ultimate experience, stay overnight in a LEGO-themed hotel room where you’ll be immersed in castle, pirate or ninja decor. Hotel guests also enjoy exclusive play areas and fast-track park access.

LEGOLAND Korea Resort, 128 Hajungdo-gil, Chuncheon-si, Gangwon-do, 24240, Korea. Tickets from $38 for adults; $30 for children. 

Columbia Pictures Aquaverse, Thailand

In Asia, one of the most exciting openings of 2022 was Thailand’s Columbia Pictures Aquaverse.

Located along the coast near Pattaya, about two hours south of Bangkok by car, the movie-themed water park revolves around rides and experiences inspired by popular films, such as “Jumanji,” “Ghostbusters” and “Zombieland.”

As its name suggests, Aquaverse focuses on water-based fun – splashing, soaking, slipping, sliding, you name it.

You can expect everything from rainbow-hued slides to the world’s first water dome ride, surfing machines, and the “Hotel Transylvania” area, with nine slides and over 100 splash-tastic features for kids.

For landlubbers, there’s also go-karting, “The Emoji Movie” mini golf course and several themed cafes.

In addition to rides and games, the park hosts performances at its Mega Wave Pool, where guests can hang out in the pool while enjoying movie screenings, DJ sets and concerts.

Columbia Pictures Aquaverse, 888 Sukhumvit Road, Tambon Na Chom Thian, Amphoe Sattahip, Chang Wat Chon Buri 20250, Thailand. Tickets from $41. 

Lotte World Adventure Busan, South Korea

About three decades after opening its flagship park in Seoul, Lotte World expanded in March 2022 with a second location, Lotte World Adventure Busan, on the country’s southeastern coast.

Embodying a colorful fairytale atmosphere, the park showcases tasteful  European-inspired gardens, wide-open plazas and handsome fountains, and an array of thrilling rides, games and attractions peppered across six themed zones.

In “River Village of Tinker Falls”, much like a central plaza, visitors can make a splash on the Orge’s Flume ride or meet the park’s many characters, including a giant talking tree and adorable woodland creatures.

From there, they can explore the Lorry Castle in “Queen Lorry’s Royal Garden” or get their adrenaline pumping on the Giant Swing (which soars nearly 150 feet high) and the Giant Digger (which reaches speeds of up to 65 mph) in “Underland”.

The park is also home to low-key children’s rides in “Little Farm Land” and Korea’s first “roller coaster” restaurant. Dubbed the Food Drop, the restaurant serves steak, burgers and pasta via a twisting-turning rail system overhead.

Come evening, the park illuminates its various attractions and fountains, then puts on a dazzling light, music and dance show.

Lotte World Adventure Busan. 42 Dongbusangwangwang-ro, Gijang-gun, Busan, South Korea. Tickets from $35 for adults; $25 for children. 

Peppa Pig Theme Park, Florida

The world’s first Peppa Pig Theme Park opened last year in Winter Haven, Florida, and has been delighting children with wholesome fun ever since.

Dedicated to the classic British animated TV show, where little Peppa has everyday adventures with her friends and family, the 4.5-acre park welcomes pint-sized guests with well-designed, multi-sensory activities across six playscapes.

Kids will love “Peppa’s Pedal Bike Tour” around a camping-inspired trail, the action-packed Muddy Puddles Splash Pad and interactive shows at Mr. Potato’s Showtime Arena.

For those ready for their first roller coaster, the Daddy Pig ride takes families on a windy road in the show’s red car.

They can also sail on Grandad Dog’s pirate boat, enjoy a dinosaur ride, see what Grandpa Pig is growing in the greenhouse or play games at the Fun Fair fairground.

And since the park is located next door to LEGOLAND Florida Theme Park and LEGOLAND Water Park, guests can easily combine visits to all three for a fun-filled family getaway.

Look out for another Peppa Pig Theme Park, opening in Dallas, Texas, next year.

Peppa Pig Theme Park. 1 LEGOLAND Way, Wynter Haven, Florida, US, 33884. Tickets from $34. 

Genting SkyWorlds Theme Park, Malaysia

Located within Resorts World Genting, about an hour’s drive from Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, Genting SkyWorlds Theme Park opened in February 2022.

Across the 26-acre park, which cost $800 million and took nearly 10 years to create, visitors will find 26 attractions across nine areas inspired by movies and explorations, from Rio and Central Park to Andromeda Base and Robots Rivet Town, among others.

The journey begins at Studio Plaza, an art deco-styled building channeling old-world Hollywood, which ushers guests into the park.

There are many attractions for thrill-seekers including a coaster bike ride through the twisting, turning peaks of Eagle Mountain, a 3D “Invasion of the Planet of the Apes” adventure in Liberty Lane, and the space-themed “Independence Day: Defiance” ride in Central Park.

For younger guests, “Ice Age: Expedition Thin Ice” offers a leisurely journey through frozen caverns and “Bigweld’s Zeppelins” invites families to soar in slow motion.

A dedicated app enables guests to check ride wait times, reserve ride time slots and access personalized suggestions for things to do.

In addition to the outdoor park, an indoor area called Skytropolis is home to a cinema, bowling, virtual reality experiences, an arcade, and seven hotels within the integrated resort.

Genting SkyWorlds. Genting Highlands, 69000 Genting Highlands, Pahang, Malaysia. Tickets from $34 for adults; $29 for children. 

This post appeared first on cnn.com

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