In their never-ending quest to outdo one another, roller coaster designers are constantly pushing the boundaries of science. Each and every new ride is an endeavor to surpass previous accomplishments, thereby becoming the new benchmark for industry excellence.
Few succeed in their attempts. The science and the underlying physics of ride design are such that finite limits stand between a creator and potential record-breaking coasters. The math can be stretched only so far, forcing ambitious engineers to wait on new technologies to become viable.
These constraints have a positive in that they reinforce the hallmark achievements in roller coaster creation. In 2000 and again in 2003, a single theme park raised the bar for everyone. First with Millennium Force and later with Top Thrill Dragster, Cedar Point introduced coaster fanatics to the concepts of giga coasters and strata coasters.
The former rides are built to heights of between 300 and 399 feet, the equivalent of 30-39 floors high. Strata coasters soar even higher, starting at 400 feet and topping out at 499 feet, the equivalent of 40-49 floors high. Imagine riding straight down the side of a 40 story building, and you will instantly understand the potential thrills in such a coaster design. Understandably, there are only half a dozen such rides in existence today. Theme Park Tourist is here to provide you the ranking of the half dozen most exciting roller coasters in the world.
6. Top Thrill Dragster (Cedar Point)
When it debuted in 2003 at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, Top Thrill Dragster became the world’s tallest coaster. Its selling point was straightforward. Top Thrill Dragster promises extreme velocity facilitated by taking the user high into the sky then sending them almost straight down. In order to accomplish this feat, it provides a full 90 degree descent from a peak of 420 feet in the air. During the peak of descent, a person travels at 120 miles per hour, a faster speed than any non-racer will ever achieve driving a car.
Top Thrill Dragster represents a triumph in engineering. In terms of delivering a great ride, it falls short of top marks. The entire experience lasts less than 18 seconds, and it is not an experience that is repeatable in a meaningful way. Once a person rides it once, they know what it is. The positive sensation diminishes upon repeated trips. It is a brilliant design much more than a brilliant ride.
5. Kingda Ka (Six Flags Great Adventure)
Located at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey is Kingda Ka, the other strata coaster in the world. It offers a similar but enhanced ride experience to Top Thrill Dragster. Debuting in 2005, this ride’s designers enjoyed enough time after the debut of the Cedar Point ride to learn how to improve it. Their choices even centered upon being higher, faster and better.
Kingda Ka stands 456 feet tall, 8.6% higher than Top Thrill Dragster. Due to the added ascension, it also tops out at a higher speed of 128 miles per hour. The best part of the ride, however, is that Kingda Ka features much more added track. Top Thrill Dragster stops the journey almost immediately after vertical descent. Kingda Ka pushes the boundary further by including another hill that takes advantage of the maximum velocity. The end result is only 10 more seconds of ride time. Still, that is almost 60% more ride experience, most of which occurs at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Kingda Ka improves on the original in all the key ways.
4. Intimidator 305 (Kings Dominion)
Like everyone else in the world, amusement ride designers fall victim to unreasonable desires. Perhaps there is no better recent example than Intimidator 305, which debuted four years ago at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia. This steel coaster soars 305 feet into the air, and was built to reach a top speed of 94 miles per hour. There was just one little problem.
Intimimator 305 proved well named as the ride experience proved to be too intense for initial riders. Some experienced gray-outs or even black-outs. Complaints were so significant that the ride had to be shut down long enough for slowing brakes to be added, thereby reducing the velocity from 94 miles per hour to 79 miles per hour. Later adjustments were made to restore Intimidator 305 to its original glory, but it remains too much ride for many people. Even the most hardened coaster enthusiasts across the globe have found this particular strata coaster too…well, you know.
3. Leviathan (Canada's Wonderland)
Canada’s Wonderland is home to one of the top three giga coasters in the world. Situated in the Medieval Faire section of the park in Vaughan, Ontario is a 306 foot high steel coaster. The Leviathan reaches a top speed of 92 miles per hour during its journey, but it provides the user with more than simple velocity. Clocking in at 3:30, it is the second longest ride listed here. What this means for a rider is that they have sustained momentum for an extended period of time. Leviathan is the ultimate crowd pleaser, as indicated by its status as the best steel coaster in Canada per 2013 Golden Ticket Awards voting. It was also listed as the 15th best overall in the world.
2. Steel Dragon 2000 (Nagashima Spa Land)
The only giga coaster in the Eastern Hemisphere checks in as the second best of the bunch. Steel Dragon 2000 is located at Nagashima Spa Land amusement park in Mie Prefecture. This technological marvel is an exercise in superlatives. At various points since its inception, it has held the record for highest, fastest and longest roller coaster. At a peak velocity of 97 miles per hour and a height of 318 feet, it has since been surpassed in both of those categories.
Fourteen years after its debut, however, it remains the longest roller coaster in the world in terms of tracks. It features 8,133 feet of them, the equivalent of over 1.5 miles. The proof is in the pudding as Steel Dragon 2000 provides the longest ride time of any giga/strata coaster, offering four full minutes of maximum speed. Frankly, it is a shame that Steel Dragon 2000 does not get more acclaim. Alas, it stands in the shadows of a ride that debuted only three months before it…
1. Millennium Force (Cedar Point)
Millennium Force is the apex predator of amusement park rides. It has been imitated, it has been virtually duplicated and all of its statistics have been surpassed. At 93 miles per hour and 310 feet high, it was almost immediately surpassed by Steel Dragon 2000. That was 14 years ago. Why then does it continue to dominate all the major theme park awards?
The answer lies within the ride experience. Millennium Force is a perfect example of how design elements are as important as technological ones. When the two are blended in tandem, the sum is greater than the parts. Situated right beside Lake Erie, this Cedar Point attraction maximizes its locality. The rider is treated to a lake view as they are methodically lifted over 300 feet in the air, Then, a panoramic view of the park, Lake Erie, and the immediate area beneath is on full display. The rider has a moment that can feel like an eternity to relish the view or panic over the imminent drop before gravity does its thing. No ride in the world does a better job accentuating its strengths via visualization. Two minutes and 20 seconds later, a person has been transported on a smooth, powerful trip through 6,595 feet of coaster track.
The combination of the view, the velocity and the verve differentiates Millennium Force from the dozens of rides that have tried to supplant it since 2000. The afore-mentioned Golden Ticket Awards have held 14 votes since the inception of the most famous ride at Cedar Point. On eight of those occasions, it was chosen as THE best ride in the world. The other six times, it finished second. The people have spoken on this matter, and there can be no dispute. Millennium Force is not only the best giga/strata coaster in the world but arguably THE best ride overall.