If your idea of a perfect summer day involves an adrenaline-infused rush from a truly frightening ride, skip the kiddie parks this year. The Matterhorn at Disneyland and Space Mountain at Disney World are both great when you’re 12, but they won’t make you weak at the knees. Instead, we recommend trying a different sort of ride—the kind with G force that will knock you silly and massive free-fall drops that will have you involuntarily laughing and praying for your life.
In the world of thrill rides, the two big events this summer are: the introduction of Hersheypark’s 11th roller coaster, Fahrenheit, featuring the steepest drop in the U.S., and the much anticipated reopening of the original “fourth dimension” ride, X (now dubbed X2), at southern California’s Magic Mountain.
“With the redesign, X2 will take even the most daring riders on a journey to a unique and unchartered dimension,” says Jay Thomas, Six Flags Magic Mountain president.
But you don’t need to go to Pennsylvania or California to get your thrills; our other favorites and record-breakers—the tallest, fastest, most inversions—are spread out all over the globe. The list has plenty of variety, from an early wooden coaster whose design plan was modeled after a ride at the 1939 World Fair in New York City (and opened in 1941 at the Six Flags New England, making it the park’s oldest roller coaster), to an altogether different kind of mini-theme park hanging over the Las Vegas Strip atop the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino. There’s the Colossus in the U.K., with the record number of inversions, and Tower of Terror on the Gold Coast of Australia—the fastest in the Southern Hemisphere. And, of course, no list would be complete without the world record-holder in height and speed, Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey.
And for those who know it’s not always about newness or the Guinness Book entries, some of the best rides, like the G-Force in Germany and Superman Ride of Steel in Massachusetts, are more than six years old, don’t hold any titles, and are still at the top of thrill-masters’ lists for their bells and spine-tingling whistles.
“The Superman ride at Six Flags New England keeps getting our Golden Ticket award because it’s such a darn good ride, and no one has built one since that tops in the steel coaster category,” says Gary Slade, publisher of Amusement Today, the theme park industry’s magazine of record.
And for those who get cold feet at the sight of a 400-foot drop, or a ride with a record 10 inversions, we have thoughtfully come up with the “chicken out” option for each ride. But fraidy-cat riders beware: some might also inspire nail-biting freak-outs, like the Millennium Force at Cedar Point, which Slade calls one of the best adrenaline rushes in the country. “If you’re not awake when you get on, you will be as soon as you hit the first drop…no coffee needed.”
If you’re up for some real fun this summer, get ready to rack up some frequent-flier miles, and read on. You said you love a thrill, right?
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick glossary of terms:
Airtime: That floating feeling of weightlessness created by negative G forces.
Camel Back: A series of hills—often at the end of a ride—designed to give more airtime.
Cobra Roll or Boomerang: A double inversion where the car twists and goes up and back on the same track.
Corkscrew or Barrel Roll: A twisted inversion that looks like…a corkscrew.
4D: When the cars—like those on X2—are designed to flip on a horizontal axis independently of the track.
G Forces: Negative G’s give you that airtime floating sensation found on top of hills; positive G’s pull riders downward, like during inversions and high-speed turns.
Shuttle Coasters: A coaster that goes forward and reverse on the same track.