Courtesy of Hershey Park
Brace Yourself: Opened in May 2008, the so-called “sweetest place on earth” just got edgier. This inverted vertical loop “lift” coaster starts off swooping riders up 121 feet above the ground only to plunge them right back down in a gut-wrenching, 97-degree negative drop—the steepest in the U.S. At the 121-foot crest, the upcoming drop is at such a steep incline that the only thing riders in the stadium-seating trains see is, well, nothing. No track at all. Once you survive that first drop, there’s still more to come: a 107-foot inverted loop, an inverted corkscrew roll, cobra element, airborne inverted S-roll, another inverted corkscrew, a little airtime hill (stomach floating), a high-speed banked curve, another hill, and then a high-speed banked curve to end it. All this action takes place in about 85 seconds—less time than it takes to polish off a Hershey bar.
If You Chicken Out: Suspended over the boardwalk area, the Roller Soaker is a curious Mean Girls kind of “interactive” coaster; each passenger is given four gallons of water to dump on spectators below as they pass overhead. But riders beware: huge water sprayers are available to onlookers for retaliation.
Courtesy of Stratosphere Hotel and Casino
Brace Yourself: Not all the scariest rides are roller coasters, a fact that everyone who has been to the top of the Space Needle-like Stratosphere hotel in Vegas knows only too well. Perched over the Strip, the most frightening of the Stratosphere’s three rides is an electric-green-colored centrifuge called Insanity, which extends 64 feet over the north edge of the tower. Spinning over 40 mph, riders are angled down by 70 degrees so all they see is the street, 900 feet below. This is truly one of the world’s most harrowing rides.
If You Chicken Out: The appropriately titled X-Scream is only slightly less frightening, propelling riders headfirst 27 feet over the edge of the building in a roller-coaster car, and dangling them in a weightless state before retracting the car and then repeating the whole thing at a steeper angle. Tip: the back seats are less scary.
Courtesy of Thorpe Park
Chertsey, Surrey, U.K.
Brace Yourself: Sure, Britain’s mostly dreary climate can seem like a strange choice for a theme park, but this roller coaster, built in 2002, still holds the record for number of inversions: 10. It flips riders over and over and over again in maneuvers called the double corkscrew, the cobra roll, and the quadruple heart-line roll. If you’re more likely to be in China than the U.K., an exact replica of this ride, called the Tenth Ring Roller Coaster, was built in 2006 at Chimelong Paradise in Guangzhou.
If You Chicken Out: No Way Out is the world’s only backward roller coaster, and what’s more, it runs its course in the dark. Although it’s not a concept anyone wanted to copy, it is a handy indoor option if it’s raining.
Courtesy of Six Flags
Six Flags Great Adventure
Jackson, New Jersey
Brace Yourself: The current big daddy of coasters, this ride towers, quite literally, above all others. At the ride’s highest peak, the brave folks who step aboard soar a record 456 feet (the equivalent of 45 stories) aboveground. Catapulting up with the help of a hydraulic launch at a record-setting speed (128 mph), Kingda Ka reaches its top height in just 3.5 seconds. On the way down, there’s a 270-foot spiral; this is not a world record, but there’s plenty of spinning action for this hair-raising trip, during which riders will experience both negative and positive G force.
If You Chicken Out: Drive your car or take a VIP Land Rover tour ($150 per guest) of the 4.5-mile auto trail through the 350-acre Wild Safari, which holds the world record as the largest drive-through safari outside of Africa. Some 1,200 wild animals roam the park, including giraffe, lions, rhinos, and kangaroos, and spottings are guaranteed. Nervous Nellies take comfort: the most ferocious of the animals are behind bars.
Brace Yourself: The name translates roughly to “hey, what the hell,” which is what you will hear others shouting in Japanese when you’re on this ride. Only the second “4-D” coaster in the world (X2 is the other), this has the same 360-degree turns and insane style of head-over-heels spinning on the winglike cars as X2. But there are plenty of differences; for one, this track is a little longer and the ride is far taller—at 250 feet, it’s the seventh-highest roller coaster in the world. And from the top, riders have a spectacular, if brief, view of nearby Mount Fuji.
If You Chicken Out: You may need to suck it up here, because there are two other thrill-ride title holders at this park: Fujiyama, the world’s eighth tallest, fifth longest, and tenth fastest roller coaster; and Dodonpa, the third fastest coaster in the world, which tops out at 107 mph.
Tower of Terror
Gold Coast, Australia
Brace Yourself: Australia’s Gold Coast is a little off the map for most people, but if you are in the neighborhood, head for this: the fastest, tallest thrill ride in the Southern Hemisphere (and at 100 mph, the fourth fastest in the world). After climbing at a rate of 4 G’s to a heart-stopping height of 38 stories, or 377 feet aboveground, the steel shutter roller coaster has a 6.5 second, 100 mph, zero-gravity drop, and then stretches straight out for the equivalent length of three football fields.
If You Chicken Out: Your choice: head over to the Australian Big Brother House (on the park property) and watch caged reality show contestants battle it out; or make a beeline to Tiger Island, Dreamworld’s exclusive big cat habitat, which features both Bengal and Sumatran tigers behaving better than the Big Brother contestants.
Courtesy of Holiday Park
Haßloch, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
Brace Yourself: Always tops in any list of the best coasters in the world, including Internet Coaster Poll, which polls fans from around the globe, GeForce is not only one of the largest coasters in Europe, it’s always one of the most complete and satisfying because it’s long enough and not gimmicky. But it’s also harrowing, reaching 4.5 G, a height of 203 feet, and speeds exceeding 74 mph. And there are seven coveted moments of weightlessness when your stomach just floats…and floats again.
If You Chicken Out: Try Lighthouse Tower, but don’t be fooled; it may look like an old-fashioned circular swing from the early 19th century, but it’s much, much taller—almost 300 feet aboveground—and surprisingly fun.
Courtesy of Cedar Point Amusement Park/Resort
Brace Yourself: No list is complete without mentioning at least one of the 17 roller-coaster rides at the self-proclaimed home of the roller coaster, Cedar Point. Of the many to choose from, Maverick, the newest (built in 2007) and most expensive ($21 million), is not one of the park’s highest-tallest-fastest record-holders, but it’s one of its best. It’s plenty fast—at 70 mph—and features eight airtime-filled hills and countless twists and turns. It’s just a more complete ride, and during the longish 2.5-minute trip, there’s even an unusual surprise…which would be spoiled if we told you beforehand.
If You Chicken Out: Because Cedar Point is known for its coasters, you should check out another one of the park’s superstars, Millennium Force. From a height of 310 feet, it drops 300 feet down at an 80-degree angle and reaches a top speed of 93 mph at the bottom. It gets even better (read: calmer) from there. Or, you could just hop on the runaway-mine-car-themed Cedar Creek Mine Ride, which is not too fast and has a few twists and sharp spiral turns.
Courtesy of Six Flags
Superman Ride of Steel
Six Flags New England
Brace Yourself: There are three versions of the Ride of Steel coaster in the U.S.: one at Darien Lake in New York State, one at Six Flags American in Maryland, and one here. But this is the one that wins the awards every year as the best roller coaster in the U.S. With its speeds of more than 77 mph, a 221-foot drop into a tunnel, two bunny hills, three camel backs, and a grand total of 10 seconds of weightlessness, it’s easy to understand—with your wobbly legs getting off the ride—why this ride won Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award (the Oscar of the amusement park industry) again in 2007.
If You Chicken Out: Head for the Thunderbolt, a classic wooden coaster with some Cyclone-like herky-jerky bite; the park bought the ride from the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.