Crazy. Insane. Terrifying. Generally speaking, these are not terms of appreciation.
Unless, that is, you’re a fan of extreme roller coasters, wild water slides and other gut-churning attractions. “It’s the whole ‘face your fears’ thing,” says Robb Alvey, owner/creator of ThemeParkReview.com. “You know that whatever’s going to happen is not really going to harm you but, holy crap, it’s going to be terrifying.”
If that sounds appealing, here are 10 attractions that are bound to get your heart racing and put your stomach in places it doesn’t normally go.
“Gentlemen, start your eeeeaaaiiieeee…” Opened in April, this 305-foot steel coaster at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Va., takes its cues from the original Intimidator, NASCAR racing legend Dale Earnhardt. The first drop plunges 300 feet at 85 degrees; the speeds top 90 mph, and the banked turns are full-throttle physics lessons. The park won’t reveal how many gs the ride pulls, but early riders have reported blacking or graying out in the turns.
The new Scorpion’s Tail at Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., is like a water slide on steroids. “The stats are staggering,” says Joel Bullock of TheCoasterCritic.com, referring to the ride’s 50-foot freefall start, 40-mph speeds and 3-g forces. Add to that the only loop in a water slide in the nation — not quite vertical for obvious reasons — and the result, says Bullock, is “insane.”
The new SkyJump at the Stratosphere Las Vegas couldn’t be much simpler: You jump off a platform 855 feet above the Strip. It’s scary alright, but since you’re attached to a cable for a controlled, 40-mph fall, hardcore thrill-seekers may still prefer the hotel’s three existing rooftop rides (Big Shot, X-Scream and Insanity). Not a problem: Scare yourself silly spinning, swinging and soaring 108 floors up — then throw yourself off the building.
Revamped two years ago, this “four-dimensional” coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, Calif., combines high speed (76 mph), dizzying drops (up to 88.8 degrees), special effects (flamethrowers!) and seats that spin independently so riders are alternately right side up, upside down, headfirst and backwards. Says Bullock, “The woman who rode next to me said, in all seriousness, that she saw her life flash before her eyes."
Top Thrill Dragster
Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure is slightly taller and faster, but the readers of ThemeParkInsider.com consistently prefer Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Sure, the 120-mph. launch gets your attention, but it’s the pause at the 420-foot peak that makes you question your decision. “You’re just hanging there in space looking over Lake Erie,” says Insider editor Robert Niles. “You have time to think, uh-oh, gravity works.”
Speaking of launches, gravity and other stomach-twisting stimuli, consider Mission: SPACE at Epcot in Orlando. This classic attraction uses a centrifuge and special effects to recreate a manned mission to Mars. The trip, of course, is simulated; the 2.5 gs of force, however, are real. (Choose the Orange Team for the full effect.) “For some, it’s the thrill of a lifetime,” says Niles. “For others, a quick way to revisit their lunch.”
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There are splashier shoot-the-chute rides out there, notes ThemeParkReview.com's Alvey, but Perilous Plunge at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., still gets his vote as the most hair-raising because the 115-foot plunge clocks in at a dizzying 75 degrees. “You get up there and realize it’s almost vertical,” he says. “Then, you’re suddenly covered in water, going ‘Oh s*, oh s*, oh my god, what was that?’ ”
Although it’s 12 years old, the SkyCoaster at Fun Spot USA in Kissimmee, Fla., maintains its gut-wrenching reputation as the tallest ride of its kind in the world. Hitched to a cable and hauled to the top of a 300-foot tower, riders proceed to pull a rip cord, freefall for 120 feet and then swing back and forth at up to 85 mph “It’s like a freakin’ gigantic swing set,” says Alvey. “It’ll definitely scare the pants off you.”
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Adrenaline junkies will scoff, but the Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando will unbalance your equilibrium without speed, spins or splash downs. Instead, it relies on an elaborate set, a scary backstory and a seemingly rickety elevator that lurches and drops in a different, and therefore unpredictable, sequence every time. “For a lot of people, fear of the unknown is a lot more terrifying than physical sensation,” says Niles.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
On the other hand, if it’s pure pin-you-in-your-seat speed you seek, you’ll need to broaden your horizons and book a trip to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, which is set to unveil the world’s fastest roller coaster. Called Formula Rossa, the 170-foot high screamer will have a top speed of 150 mph, so fast that riders will be issued safety goggles. Alas, you’ll have to hang on for a bit as the park doesn’t open until October 28.
Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail.
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