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Amusement-park industry picks up speed

Amusement and theme parks have been in the doldrums for several years, but bolstered with new rides and attractions costing hundreds of millions of dollars the industry is on the rise. The investments are apparently paying off with increased attendance.

Ohio-based Cedar Fair, an industry leader which owns seven amusement parks and five water parks including Cedar Point on Lake Erie, invested some $27 million this year on various enhancement at its facilities across the U.S.

Later this year it plans on opening a $22 million indoor water park at Cedar Point and a $16 million inverted roller coaster at its Knotts Berry Farm in California.

That's just a sampling of near-record-breaking amounts that are being spent to ignite the multi-billion-dollar industry that has been virtually static since September 2001. Attendance has been flat with the recent lackluster years blamed on the general decline in tourism, especially in foreign visitors.

With the economy stronger this year and favorable weather reported at most prime amusement park locations -- hot and dry at several of them -- attendance is on the upswing, note industry analysts.

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What are the newest hot rides?

Last year Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster took honors and is rated highly this year too, since at 420 feet tall and with a top speed of 120 mph the ride remains the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world. Cedar Point boasts more rides (67) and more roller coasters (16) than any other park.

Most talked-about attraction this year though, and some say perhaps the scariest, is a sequel to "The Mummy" movie series. The ride, "Revenge of the Mummy," made its debut recently at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. The attraction combines high-speed roller-coaster engineering to propel guests through an indoor set of ancient Egyptian catacombs filled with robotic creatures intent on wreaking havoc.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Universal recruited Stephen Sommers, writer and director of "The Mummy" in 1999 and "The Mummy Returns" two years later to help with the special effects for its "psychological thrill ride."

Riders sit in 16-passenger cars typical of indoor or "dark" amusement park rides. But the system generates the acceleration, curves, drops and turns of a roller coaster, while careening through a darkened set where special effects bring riders face to face with the sinister characters in the Mummy storyline.

University opened a second "Revenge of the Mummy" at its park in California. Each ride cost an estimated $40 million.

Want to ride some other stomach-churners?

Hersheypark's Storm Runner in Pennsylvania offers a new coaster with a hydraulic launch that sends riders speeding up to 72 mph in two seconds. According to the Associated Press, the $12.5 million ride has a 180-foot drop, two corkscrew rolls and a 135-foot Cobra loop.

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Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill., near Chicago has added five new rides, including the Ragin' Cajun, its 13th roller coaster.

And then there's Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America at Bloomington which is offering something new. Its Timberland Twister spinning roller coaster is called the first of its kind in the world.

If you want to find out where all of these parks and rides are, the best bet is a new Web site offered by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (www.ticketforfun.com).

Tired of waiting?

In the past year or so, several of the nation's amusement parks have started selling day passes that including line-cutting privileges, but about at twice the price of regular admission.

So far these premiums have been offered at Universal Studios Hollywood and Legoland California. The Universal parks in Orlando offer a similar options but it is included with a stay at one of the three on-site hotels, starting at $219 a night, notes the Wall Street Journal. Six Flags Inc., which operates numerous parks throughout the U.S., offers a new twist to skipping lines: Guests at some of its sites receive a pager than allows them to check in at a ride's entrance; later, they are buzzed to return and jump aboard.

This queue-jumping phenomenon began a few years ago in Disney Co. properties, with the introduction of FastPass, a free system that allows visitors to make an appointment off a ride. We've tried FastPass on several of our Disney World visits and it does give park-goers extra time to wander around rather than stand in line.

Here and there

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Hawaii is looking at its best tourism season ever. "One only needs to look at its jam-packed airports or its sold-out hotel rooms to know this," says Marsha Wienert, state tourism director,

Work is progressing on adding a $3.2 million silo at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. The silo, which will house 10 guided missiles such as the Redstone, Peacekeeper, Titan I and II, is part of a $36 million improvement project at the museum, which draws 1.2 million visitors a year.

Bob Retzlaff is travel editor of the Post-Bulletin. He can be reached by phone (507-285-7704) or e-mail (retz@postbulletin.com).

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Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, offers loads of fun.

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