Summer is right around the corner. And with the arrival of summer comes warm weather vacations. From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, you’ll pack up the car and head to campgrounds and cabins, lakes and beaches. But it doesn’t matter if you have a family of Disney-loving tots, or are just an adrenaline junky with a mild Peter Pan Complex once you're finally out of the office, there’s one type of summer vacation that towers above the rest: a trip to an amusement park.
The rides at theme parks have come a long way since the mechanical, steam-powered carousels of the 1860s. From banks and barrel rolls to corkscrews and camelbacks, modern roller coasters have their own set of buzzwords and physics lessons. From expansions on already popular theme park attractions (Wizarding World of Harry Potter) to an assortment of new roller coasters, amusement parks have invested in cutting-edge technologies in pursuit of record breaking thrill rides; the highest, fastest, and steepest are just a few of the superlatives riders will come across this summer. "It’s going to be a crazy good year," says Dave Lipnicky, an economist and volunteer public relations director for American Coaster Enthusiasts.
10 SkyScreamer: Six Flags New England, Massachusetts
Swing rides are an amusement park staple. The first flying swing ride debuted at Idora Park in Oakland, California in 1908. Over the years, the ride has transformed from a glorified playground swing to a fast, freewheeling, stomach-churning vault through the heavens. In 2012, Six Flags New England approved plans for a 410-foot swing tower. However, the park is keeping the “actual” height of the tower under wraps for fear that a rival will swoop in with a taller attraction and steal the title of World’s Tallest Swing Ride. The Texas SkyScreamer currently holds the record. It tops out at 402 feet and 10 inches and reaches a maximum speed of 40 mph.
9 Falcon’s Fury: Busch Gardens: Tampa, Florida
What adrenaline junkie can resist a ride named after a bird of prey? Standing at a dizzying 335 feet, Falcon’s Fury will be the tallest freestanding drop tower in North America. The ride has a 5 to 6 second free fall time. More importantly, at the attraction’s highest point the seat configuration pivots 90 degrees in midair, and riders are paused in a facedown position. Falcon’s Fury then drops at 60 mph.
8 Verruckt, Schlitterbahn: Kansas City, Kansas
The Verruckt will be the world’s tallest water slide, and if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to plunge down Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel, this water slide and hypercoaster combo is the closest you’re going to get.
Verruckt, which means insane in German, features a 17-story drop and reaches speeds up to 65 mph. In fact, the ride is taller than Niagara Falls. It’s also 40% taller and 20% faster than its closest competitor.
7 FireChaser Express Launch Coaster: Dollywood, Tennessee
Part theme ride, part rollercoaster, the FireChaser is a tribute to the firefighters who battle blazes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The theme: a pyromaniac at Crazy Charlie’s Gas and Fireworks Emporium calls in false alarms to the local fire station on a regular basis.
The roller coaster: riders are launched backwards out of a firehouse in coaster cars designed to look like firefighting trains from the 1940s; they ascend a 79-foot lift hill, then drop to a side-to-side trick track with six zero-gravity airtime hills. During the half-mile journey, the coaster races around fire towers and a fireworks testing area, reaching a maximum speed of 35 mph.
6 Thunderbolt Coaster: Luna Park, New York
The original Thunderbolt was a classic wooden coaster designed by John A. Miller. It operated at Coney Island from 1925 to 1982, sat idle, and was eventually torn down in 2000. The new $10 million Thunderbolt is a tribute to that classic Coney Island amusement.
The 125-foot steel coaster has over 2,000 feet of track and is designed to reach speeds of 65 mph. The Thunderbolt is the latest investment that New York has made to revitalize Cony Island. The coaster will sit beside the historic B&B Carousel and the Steeplechase Plaza, a new, two-acre public pavilion designed to be the core of the revamped seaside park.
5 Wonder Mountain’s Guardian: Canada’s Wonderland, Ontario
A 60-ft tall coaster lift hill. Mythical beasts. 3D glasses. Wonder Mountain’s Guardian is a $10 million rollercoaster and dark ride hybrid. After ascending the exterior of Wonder Mountain, the Guardian dips into a cavern where riders wearing 3-D glasses can battle mythical creatures. The Guardian travels along 1,000 feet of coaster track and features forests, underground lakes, subterranean cities. It also boasts the longest interactive screen ever built for a ride. “It’s going to be better than what you’ve seen at Disney or Universal,” said Ernest Yale, founder of the Montreal-based company in charge of the project.
4 Flight of the Demon: Heide Park: Germany
Built by Switzerland’s Bolliger & Mabillard and painted by German graffiti artist Markus Genesius, the $20-million Flight of the Demon is a winged coaster that swoops through the dark along a track awash with devilishly colored lights and lasers. The special effects are not only reminiscent of Italian horror director Dario Argento’s use of colored light filters in the 1977 film Suspiria, but of some sort of end of the world Walpurgisnacht rave. Riders sit on either side of the track in a winged formation as the flying demons, which feature gleaming red eyes and dagger-like fangs, navigate multiple inversions. Flight of the Demon features a 130-foot lift hill, rolling corkscrew, double-inversion pretzel knot, and an Immelmann loop
3 Banshee Inverted Coaster: Kings Island, Ohio
There are 13 coasters at Kings Island, including The Beast, a legendary thrill ride that debuted in 1979 and still holds the record for the world’s longest wooden roller coaster. It's 7,539-feet long. Following in The Beast’s footsteps, the Banshee is the world’s longest inverted coaster, with a 4,124-foot under-the-track-design that features seven inversions. Pioneered by Swiss coaster designers Bolliger & Mabillard, the first inverted roller coaster, "Batman: The Ride," was introduced at Six Flags Great America in 1992.
2 Goliath Coaster: Six Flags Great America, Illinois
The name says it all, and this coaster is a giant. Set to debut in spring 2014, Goliath is billed as a triple-record breaking wooden coaster. Reaching speeds of 72 miles per hour, Goliath will be the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster with the tallest (180 ft.) and steepest (85 degrees) drop. It starts with a stomach-quivering climb up a 165-foot lift hill, then…the plunge. Passengers rocket through a series of over-banked turns, an underground tunnel, two inversions, and a 180-degree zero G-roll twist. It’s extreme. It’s record breaking. And it’s best not to eat lunch before getting on. Idaho-based Rocky Mountain Construction is building Goliath, and the company knows a thing or two about groundbreaking adrenaline coasters. Last summer, they wowed coaster enthusiasts with the triple-inversion "Outlaw Run" in Missouri’s Silver Dollar City.
1 Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: Magic Kingdom, Florida
The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the centerpiece of the new Fantasyland expansion in the Magic Kingdom. Disney’s latest family-friendly coaster aims for the middle of the thrill scale. At the top of the ride’s peak, there’s a faux broken train track and two ominous-looking vultures, and then the swaying vehicles teeter over the crest and riders descend into a mineshaft filled with emeralds, rubies, and animatronics.
The ride is similar to the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attraction, but with Disney's classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" narrative. "This is a family-based experience from Day One: a focus on family, a focus on experiencing it together," said Mark Kohl, executive project manager with Walt Disney Imagineering. In other words, the lifts, banks, and turns have enough excitement for the kiddies, but not too much for Grandpa and Grandpa.