THE TOP 10
- Millennium Force (Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, 2000, Intamin AG). When Arrow Dynamics built Magnum XL-200 in Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1989, it was the first "mega-coaster" in the world -- breaking the 200 ft milestone. In the game of "one-upsmanship", each succeeding record holder would top the previous coaster by 5 or 10 ft. In 1999, the highest roller coaster in the world was Fujiyama, in Japan's Fujikyu Highland Park, at 259 ft.
Then came the new millennium.
Although the year 2000 did not see a worldwide computer meltdown, visits from aliens, or other amazing happenings... the world of roller coasters was rocked by two astounding events: the opening of the world's first "giga-coasters" -- breaking the 300 ft milestone. Solidifying its position as the Roller Coaster Capital of the World, Cedar Point opened Millennium Force in May, 2000. Standing 310 ft tall, with a first drop of 300 ft, Millennium Force was a mind-boggling quantum leap in roller coaster technology -- dwarfing the previous height record of "only" 259 ft.
Only 3 months later, the record was broken again with the opening of Steel Dragon, in Nagashima Spaland Park in Mie, Japan. Standing 318 ft tall, with a drop of 306 ft, Steel Dragon (built by Morgan Manufacturing) took claim to the prize of the world's highest and fastest roller coaster. Steel Dragon may, indeed, be a better ride than Millennium Force, but it's not in my Top 10 List since I haven't ridden it.
Nevertheless, making Millennium Force the best roller coaster in America is not only its awesome height, but also the fact that the first drop plummets down at an incredible 80°. Only 10° from vertical, this is much steeper than the typical 50° to 70° of most roller coaster hills. The height and pitch of the first drop -- to a maximum speed of 93 mph -- is truly a breathtaking experience.
Furthermore, Intamin AG (the makers of Millennium Force) got the design right. Realizing the key features of Millennium Force are its first drop, and the blazing speed it provides, they emphasized those aspects of the ride. Rather than trying to do too much with the design, they chose to not "trick" it up with loops and other high tech elements. Nope... this baby is all about acceleration and speed -- flat out, heart stopping, wind blown, hair straightening, SPEED.
After peaking at 93 mph, the ride flies through a series of highly banked turns and hills (with some fun "air time" on a couple of drops). By the time the train roars through its final high speed turn, and then smoothly brakes to an abrupt halt, after 6595 ft of track, the riders are left exhausted and breathless as they wipe the tears from their eyes (courtesy of the blinding rush of wind in their faces).
No doubt about it... even though years have passed since the dawn of the new millennium, Millennium Force remains the best roller coaster in America.
NOTE: In May of 2003, the "Top Thrill Dragster" opened at Cedar Point, making it the world's tallest roller coaster -- at an astounding 420 ft! This is a launched ride with a single hill at a 90° incline reaching a height of 420 ft and a maximum speed of 120 mph. This promises to be a top contender... although I haven't ridden it yet. Thus, I don't include it on my list, and Millennium Force retains my #1 rating for now.
- Mantis (Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, 1996, Bolliger & Mabillard). Standing 119 ft tall, the first loop of this 60 mph monster is among the very best ever created. This 145 ft tall stand-up coaster is made by the premier builder, Bolliger & Mabillard (B & M). A force of 3 G's will keep you pinned on your back (literally) as you roar smoothly through the first dive loop. Follow this with a hair-raising series of drops and loops, expertly paced with just enough time to recover from each element to the next... and it's a winner. It's also located in Cedar Point, Ohio -- literally next to my #1 coaster, Millennium Force -- truly making this the Roller Coaster Capital of the World.
- Montu (Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay, Florida, 1996, Bolliger & Mabillard). Another B & M winner! This 65 mph roller coaster features suspended coaches (with feet dangling free), a 128 ft drop into an excavated trench, a 104 ft tall vertical loop, an "inverse dive loop", and plenty of white-knuckle thrills.
- Texas Giant (Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington, Texas, 1990, Curtis D. Summers). Texans love to say that "Everything is BIG in Texas"... and in this case, it ain't bragging. The Texas Giant is, indeed, one of the tallest wood roller coasters in America. Furthermore... it's the Biggest and Badest. The first drop of 137 ft (at 53 degrees) to a speed of 62 mph, initiates a stomach-churning ride incorporating 21 drops. And, as an added punch... as the ride enters the latter portions of its track -- when most rides begin to ease up for the coast home -- this Big Bad Daddy pushes it up into another gear for a final few whiplash turns. To fully experience this bone-rattling ride, be sure to ride in the last seats of the train.
- Wild Thing (Valleyfair!, Shakopee, Minnesota, 1996, Morgan Manufacturing). This was the first of the new 200+ ft "mega-coasters" built by Morgan Manufacturing. As with all new Morgan coasters, they are steel, with no loops. However, as they prove... loops are not necessary for a world-class coaster. The 207 ft first drop, which accelerates you to 74 mph in 6 seconds, is the highlight. To fully experience the wind blown thrill of 74 mph on a roller coaster, be sure to ride in the front seats. A common opinion is that Steel Force, in Dorney Park, Pennsylvania (a slightly newer version of Wild Thing) is even better... but I can't confirm that since I haven't ridden Steel Force. Nevertheless, Wild Thing certainly lives up to its name -- and it justifies a trip to (the somewhat remote) Valleyfair! Park, near Minneapolis.
- Kumba (Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay, Florida, 1993, Bolliger & Mabillard). Yet another "world class" coaster from B & M. Kumba is a rolling coach, steel looper. It features a top speed of 63 mph and 7 inversions, including a "cobra roll" -- which mimics the motion of a common fighter pilot maneuver.
- The Beast (Paramount's Kings Island, Kings Island, Ohio,1979, Charles Dinn/KECO). With 7400 feet of track, this is one of the longest wood rollers coasters in the world... made possible by two lift hills. The first lift hill drops you 135 ft into a heavily wooded series of hills and turns, and the second lift hill features a 141 ft drop into a 540 degree "helix tunnel."
- Superman (Magic Mountain, Velencia, California, 1997, Intamin AG). Superman isn't really a roller coaster... per se. Instead, it is a "coaster" that launches you from 0 to 100 mph in 7 seconds (yes... 100 mph!!!) straight up into the air using the new, space-aged, linear induction motor technology. After reaching a height of 415 feet, you then fall backwards and roll back to the starting point. Entire time of ride: about 30 seconds. It's short... but whoooaaaaa, what a heart-stopping blast off!
- Giant Dipper (Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California, 1924, Arthur Looff). Built in 1924, this venerable classic "woodie" has thrilled over 40 million riders through the decades. Although somewhat small and slow, compared to today's monsters, this is still a great ride -- made even more so by its history. Many a parent has proudly taken their sons or daughters on this ride that they earlier experienced in their own youth. The first drop is 65 ft, to 55 mph. The initial ride into a pitch dark tunnel is a fond memory of everyone who has ridden it.
- Mean Streak (Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, 1991, Dinn Corporation). The massive "mountain of wood" structure of this coaster makes an impressive sight, in a park filled with impressive roller coasters. Although sometimes overlooked in the Roller Coaster Capital of the World, don't miss it. It has a maximum drop of 155 ft, to a speed of 65 mph. With a bouncing, sometimes jarring ride, and lots of "air time", it lives up to its name.
OTHER HIGHLY RATED COASTERS I'VE RIDDEN
- Batman, the Ride (Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Illinios, 1992, Bolliger & Mabillard)
- Desparado (Buffalo Bill's Casino, Stateline, Nevada, 1994, Arrow Dynamics)
- Magnum XL-200 (Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, 1989, Arrow Dynamics)
- Manhattan Express (New York New York Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1997, TOGO)
- Medusa (Six Flags Marine World, Vallejo, California, 2000, Bolliger & Mabillard)
- Mr. Freeze (Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington, Texas, 1998, Premier Rides)
- Outer Limits (Paramount's Kings Island, Kings Island, Ohio, 1996, Premier Rides)
- Phoenix (Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, Pennsylvania, 1985, Charles Dinn)
- Raptor (Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, 1994, Bolliger & Mabillard)
- Riddler's Revenge (Magic Mountain, Valencia, California, 1998, Bolliger & Mabillard)
- Roar (Six Flags Marine World, Vallejo, California, 1999, Great Coasters International, Inc.)
- Steel Phantom (Kennywood Park, West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, 1991, Arrow Dynamics)
- Thunder Bolt (Kennywood Park, West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, 1924, Miller/Vettel)
- Timber Wolf (Worlds of Fun, Kansas City, Missouri, 1989, Dinn Corporation)
- Viper (Magic Mountain, Valencia, California, 1990, Arrow Dynamics).