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9:28 AM, Mar 28, 2013   |    comments
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Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO (USA Today)

(USA Today) -- Mother Nature slapped much of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic with late winter snowstorms earlier this week. Undaunted, many of the nation's seasonal theme parks will open Friday for weekends until their traditional Memorial Day grand openings.

Some what's-new highlights:

-- Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., has a new roller coaster, Outlaw Run, that boasts a number of wood-coaster firsts. Among them: the first to go upside down (three times); world's steepest drop (more than 16 stories at an almost vertical 81 degrees); second-fastest in the world (up to 68 mph) and the only wood coaster to feature a double barrel roll.

Coaster engineers have in the past attempted to incorporate upside-down maneuvers on wood coasters, but because wood, unlike metal, tends to shift it never worked. Outlaw Run uses new track technology, says a Silver Dollar City spokesperson, but will still appeal to wood-coaster purists.

Also new this spring at the theme park, Bluegrass Music Cruises on the Showboat Branson Belle. Dinner cruises feature Janice Martin, "the world's only violin-playing aerialist" who plays the violin while performing her aerial act.

The park opened on March 15 and will be open on select dates until May 22 when it begins its daily schedule.

-- Kings Dominion north of Richmond, Va., will unveil Planet Snoopy, billed as the world's largest Peanuts-themed area. The 14-acre children's area sports eight new family rides (for a total of 18) named for characters in the popular comic strip; three new live shows, including a BMX-style bike show (starting June 22); and an expanded Family Care Center with nap room, big-screen TV and other amenities.

The park opens Friday through April 7 for spring break then operates Fridays through Sundays before starting its daily schedule Memorial Day weekend.

-- Legoland California Resort in Carlsbad, Calif., opens its first U.S. Lego-themed hotel on April 5. The 250-room lodging has themed floors decorated with 3,422 Lego models and a play area targeting kids ages 2 to 12. Rates start at $149.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida launched Angry Birds Space Encounter last week. The 4,500-square-foot-attraction incorporates Angry Birds, Space Pigs and other elements of the popular video game.

A new $100 million home for the space shuttle Atlantis is due to open June 29 at the center, 45 miles from Orlando.

(USA Today)

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