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The Fun Part 

Montu at Busch Gardens Tampa
Image: Busch Gardens

I’ll always remember something my mom said to me after a trip to Busch Gardens Tampa: they make the smoothest coasters. Was she right? Well, yes and no. While it is true that Busch Gardens Tampa’s lineup is quite smooth, it’s not really that simple.

The most common belief for casual park goers is that parks build their rides. It would make sense, right? Of course amusement parks should be the ones making their rides, the same way that clothing stores make their clothes, or restaurants prepare their own food. While this can be the case, such as Lagoon’s in-house creation Cannibal, a good 95% of coasters are designed by third-party manufacturers. That means once a park can objectively agree on its gaps and limitations, it’s time to start shopping.

Cannibal at Lagoon
Image: Lagoon

Why does Busch Gardens have the smoothest coasters, then? Because for a while, most of their coasters were manufactured by Bolliger and Mabillard, a Swiss manufacturer known for their reliability, capacity, and…smoothness. Think Diamondback at King’s Island, Griffon at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, or Hulk at Universal Studios.

If a park wants a more innovative and thrilling experience, however, they may swing for a manufacturer like Intamin Amusement, known for their launch coasters and refusal to stick to the status quo. Granted, they’re also known for their downtime, so it’s a give and take. Intamin attractions include first-of-its-kind Gigacoaster Millennium Force and, another first-of-its-kind, Stratacoaster Top Thrill Dragster (a Stratacoaster is a roller coaster which exceeds 400 feet).

Decisions, Decisions… 

Gerstlauer train on New Texas Giant
Image: Gerstlauer

There are plenty of other steel manufacturers to choose from: the aforementioned Premier Rides, an American company that specializes in their launch coasters, S&S - Sansei, the manufacturer that absorbed trailblazer Arrow Development which is now known for its air-compressed launch coasters and adaptability, or Vekoma, a manufacturer with a rocky past but a bright future, working closely with Disney on rides such as Rock ’n' Roller Coaster or Tron. Rocky Mountain Construction is the newest shiny toy in the amusement industry, their hybrid coasters like Steel Vengeance making quite a splash on the landscape of roller coasters.

As far as wooden coasters go, parks can hire Intamin or Rocky Mountain Construction, two manufacturers with a good bit of range in their offerings, or go for more classical offerings like Great Coasters International, Custom Coasters International, or the Gravity Group. There are plenty of other both up-and-coming and long-standing manufacturers to work with, all with their own set of pros and cons for parks to examine. Certain park chains may have better relationships with certain manufacturers, creating a relationship that makes it easy to go back for products again and again. As stated prior, Disney loves working with Vekoma on newer projects due to their flexibility and cost efficiency. On the other side of the coin, you may find some burned bridges, like how Six Flags has never worked with German manufacturer Gerstlauer again since the tragic accident that happened on New Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas, which Gerstlauer provided the trains for. 

Regardless of relationships, though, decisions have to be made. Which manufacturer is best for the park? Which is best for the specific ride in need? Which is the best bang for your buck? This is where you could go back to gaps and limitations, the two in tandem acting as a goal post for scoring the perfect coaster.

The Little Details 

Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure still
Image: Universal

After agreeing upon a coaster model and manufacturer, parks can get down to the nitty gritty of what they want the ride experience to look like. This means working with the manufacturer to create one cohesive product. Six Flags parks and even the majority of Cedar Fair attractions are known for their lack of theming, their focus set on thrills over frills. Parks based in intellectual properties, however, are far more interested in the story, from the ride entrance, to the queue, to the pre-show, to the ride experience. Perhaps the best example of a themed roller coaster is Universal Orlando’s latest, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. With an even focus on ride experience and theming, this attraction is a trailblazer in the territory of themed roller coasters.

Theming elements, unlike the coasters themselves, are more often than not dreamt up and devised in-house by park creative teams.

The actual building of coasters is usually contracted out by the manufacturers and can take anywhere from a few weeks to multiple years, depending upon how extensive the theming and track work of the project is. Bear in mind that this step doesn’t even happen until months of planning has already taken place.

Can You Guess the Next Coaster? 

Manta at Sea World San Diego
Image: Sea World

Park goers and coaster enthusiasts enjoy taking their guesses as to what their favorite park has up their sleeve next, as park plans are often shrouded in secrecy. Plenty of work, planning, and thought goes into the production of new roller coasters at parks. And though it’s far from a simple process for park executives, it is relatively easy to narrow down what may be coming next at your park by following these guiding questions:

  1. Where’s the gap?
  2. What are the limitations? Space? Money? Permits?
  3. Who’s the best manufacturer for this?

The next time you catch an announcement for a new roller coaster at a park, try to recognize the careful work and selection that has gone into the creation of the ride. Every choice has a consequence and a purpose. That purpose? To create a park that you and I go to...over and over again.

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