The 626 roller coasters in the United States give Rick Munarriz, mastermind behind the thrill ride–rating site ParkOutlet.com, plenty to report on—and his family is happy to strap in for the ride. Each summer Rick and his wife and two kids dive, loop, and corkscrew across the country. Here, Rick’s picks for a heart-racing, hair-raising good time.
Top 5 Coasters
1. Millennium Force
Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
"Go up 310 feet as Lake Erie shimmers to your left, then barrel down at 93 mph."
Six Flags Magic Mountain Los Angeles, Calif.
"Your seat rotates as it races along the track."
3. Voyage Holiday
World Santa Claus, Ind.
"A wooden coaster with a surprisingly smooth ride."
4. Boulder Dash
Lake Compounce Bristol, Conn.
"The first terrain coaster (one that rides the contours of the ground) built on the side of a mountain."
5. Kingda Ka
Six Flags Great Adventure Jackson, N.J.
"It’s the world’s tallest and fastest, catapulting you over a record-breaking 456-foot hill."
Opening in 2007
Dollywood Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
"Set to the creepy backstory of an abandoned mine, this ride takes you through a dynamite explosion before plunging you into darkness."
Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
"On a short track like this, the accelerated segments and 95-degree drops feel even more thrilling."
by Melissa Antonelli
How can coaster enthusiasts use your site, www.ParkOutlet.com?
It started out as a site for me to chronicle the parks I’ve been to, and it’s grown into an information cache for all the parks in the country. I list nearby hotels and review each park. There’s also a section of ticket deals in Florida.
What are some of your favorite sites?
Roller Coaster Database (www.rcdb.com) Delivers details on almost every coaster—past, present, and future.
www.Screamscape.com Posts industry news. The buzz on new rides always starts here.
www.CoasterBuzz.com A great community-based site for coaster enthusiasts. It’s a lively, moderated forum.
How long have you been devoted to theme parks?
I got the bug early. Growing up in Florida meant pilgrimages to Disney World six times a year. As I got older, I traveled to regional parks with bigger coasters, like Magic Mountain in California, Cedar Point in Ohio, and Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.
How many roller coasters have you and your family been on?
We’ve hit parks as a family in nearly a dozen states. Nicholas, who’s 13, rode his 100th coaster in Las Vegas two summers ago and now he is nearing the 140 mark.
How often do you get to ride?
We live in Florida, so it’s never too much trouble to head out for the weekend to hit the parks. We have annual passes to Disney World, Universal Studios, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. We also try to support the smaller parks, like Cypress Gardens Adventure Park. Sure, I’ve been on Space Mountain more than a hundred times over the years, but we never get sick of Disney—where there is always something new.
Do you prefer steel or wooden coasters?
I am an equal-opportunity enthusiast. Some of my favorites, Voyage at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari and Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce, are wooden rides. They don’t bruise you like some of the older, poorly maintained ones. I also love smooth steel coasters, but they can get monotonous. Nicholas and I did a video shoot at Universal’s Islands of Adventure two summers ago and rode Dueling Dragons eight times in a row. It almost stopped being fun.
Where are you taking your family this year?
We hit seven major parks in the Northeast in 10 days last year, so this summer we’re going to enjoy the local parks. We’ll start at our condo in Kissimmee, a five-minute drive to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Any advice for families planning an amusement park vacation?
1. Stay at a park-owned hotel. Cedar Point and Disney World let resort guests enter the parks an hour early a few times a week.
2. If you’re traveling with someone who doesn’t like to ride, don’t force it. Some parks have programs that let one person stay behind with the non-riders and then board without a line when the rest of the group gets off.
3. If a park has long hours, take a break in the middle of the day (back at the hotel if it’s close). You’ll come back recharged at night just as everyone else is slogging toward the exit turnstiles.
4. If money is no object, look into ride reservation systems. At Six Flags, Universal Studios, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure you can pay to shave minutes off wait times.
Got any money-saving tips?
Buy a Six Flags season pass at any park (about $70) and you can use it at locations across the country. The same thing goes for Cedar Fair parks—Knott’s Berry Farm and Cedar Point included. And look for deals online. www.MouseSavers.com lists all the discount codes for Disney resorts.
Are roller coasters safe?
Three words to remember are "follow the rules." You’re not supposed to turn around in the seat, carry a camera, or dangle your feet off the side. Coaster accidents are rare, but when they happen it’s usually because someone tried to stand up on a sit-down coaster or wiggle their way out of the safety equipment. There are seat restraints, lap bars and seatbelts—most rides have two of the three. Gravity also keeps you in your seat. The fun of coasters is that they challenge your perception of danger. But every ride passes safety regulations before it opens, so it’s perfectly fine to throw your hands up in the air and scream as loud as you can.