Home » GIGA: The Elite Class of 300-Foot Coasters… And Where the Next Is Rumored to Appear….

GIGA: The Elite Class of 300-Foot Coasters… And Where the Next Is Rumored to Appear….

Image: Joel A. Rogers, CoasterGallery.com (Used with permission)

Roller coasters have been around for a very, very long time. But in the last 50 years especially, the Second Golden Age of the Roller Coaster has seen steel stretch into the sky. Year after year, decade after decade, the unthinkable continuously becomes real. Inversions. Launches. Switch tracks. Drop tracks. Racing coasters; suspended; inverted; flying; stand-up; dive; wing… When it comes to the creativity of roller coaster manufacturers, it can feel like the sky’s the limit.

It all started when the unthinkable happened: the first roller coaster to break the 100-foot height barrior. A generation of so-called “mega-coasters” dotted the amusement park landscape throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Then came the 200-foot barrier with a generation of “hypercoasters.” 

But when it comes to the world’s most extraordinary rides, it’s hard to beat the very small family of 300-foot rides you’ll find across three countries. Epic, staggering, and spectacular, the “gigacoaster” is a growing icon of thrillseeking… yet still a rarity around the world. Today, just six rides reside in the “giga” level – between 300 and 399 foot drops – each with its own story, elements, and personality… Join us as we explore the evolution of the “giga” through its six iterations, and look to where a 300 foot thrill machine may arise next… 

Honorary Mention: Superman – Escape from Kryption (1997)

Location: Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, California)
Opened: 1997
Height / drop: 415 / 328 ft.
Manufacturer: Intamin

When fabled coaster park Six Flags Magic Mountain opened Superman: The Escape in 1997, the ride was unlike anything seen before. Coming just a year after the launch (pun intended) of electromagnetic linear induction motor (LIM) technology first launched coasters without troublesome, friction-filled catapult or flywheel systems, Superman used linear synchronous motors (LSM) to do the same.

Superman’s two parallel tracks each housed one single four-row, 15-seat ride vehicle with a single goal: to rapidly accelerate from 0 to 100 miles per hour in about 7 seconds, tearing down an 800 foot straightaway before rapidly angling straight upward. Superman’s vehicles made it about 328 feet up the vertical tower, staring straight up at an anti-gravity Superman for over 6 seconds of sustained weightlessness, before plummeting back down. (In 2011, the cars’ directions were reversed, leading to the backwards Superman: Escape from Krypton you’ll see in the official POV below.)

Technically Superman: The Escape was the first coaster with a drop of over 300 feet… but in the world of coaster records, “shuttle coasters” (coasters that reverse somewhere along their course and return to the start point) tend to get an asterisk. Because it isn’t a “full circuit” roller coaster, Superman isn’t considered a “gigacoaster.” At least according to that caveat, the first true giga coaster debuted three years later…

1. Millennium Force (2000)

Location: Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio)
Opened: May 2000
Height / drop: 310 / 300
Manufacturer: Intamin

Famously the first park to break the 100-foot (Gemini), 200-foot (Magnum XL-200), and eventually, 400-foot (Top Thrill Dragster) full circuit height barrier, there could be no park but Ohio’s Cedar Point to open the world’s first gigacoaster. Easily one of the most legendary and iconic roller coasters on Earth, Millennium Force was indeed a harbinger of the 21st century, with its blazing blue track and its parabolic hills set against Lake Erie.

For coaster enthusiasts, Millennium Force is a “bucket list” experience; a landmark coaster worth traveling for. Even twenty years later, it’s also one-of-a-kind. (Intamin has only built one other gigacoaster, and it’s a whole different breed.) The ride is forceful, yet graceful. It’s sleek and stunning, arcing over airtime hills, weaving through curving tunnels, and blasting across “Millennium Island.” By time Millennium Force races past queueing guests, travels through a final banked turn, and aligns with the brakes, it feels like it hasn’t lost even a hint of its 93 mile per hour top speed.

Typical for manufacturer Intamin, there’s also something innovative (and more to the point, temperamental) about Millennium Force: in lieu of a traditional chain lift with its clicking anti-rollbacks providing a leisurely climb, the ride uses an elevator cable-based lift. The cable latches onto the train while it’s in the station and pulls it up the lift hill in a brisk 30 seconds (that’s 10 feet per second), providing riders a view of Canada across the lake on a clear day before pulling them right over the top without a moment to sweat it out.

2. Steel Dragon 2000 (2000)

Image: Joel A. Rogers, CoasterGallery.com (Used with permission)

Location: Nagashima Spa Land (Mei, Japan)
Opened: August 2000
Height / drop: 318 / 306
Manufacturer: Morgan

Literally opened just a few months after Millennium Force, the world’s second full-circuit gigacoaster opened at Nagashima Spa Land in Japan in August 2000 – the “Year of the Dragon.” Steel Dragon 2000 was manufactured by Morgan, a coaster manufacturer whose modest 8-coaster collection includes a number of “megacoasters” (100 – 199 feet) and “hypercoasters” (200 – 299 feet). 

To that end, Steel Dragon 2000 looks and feels like a Morgan or Arrow hypercoaster – think, Steel Force at Dorney Park, Steel Eel at SeaWorld San Antonio, or the Big One at Black Pool Pleasure Beach in the U.K. Ironically, the ride looks like a sister of Cedar Point’s own Magnum XL-200. 

That makes it a very interesting study for coaster enthusiasts, since it reaches a distinctly 21st century height, but with a predominantly late ’80s / early ’90s coaster manufacturer at the helm. And given that its two-chain lift hill takes nearly three times as long as Millennium Force’s, it also shows the operational bonus provided by the elevator lift system! With elements of an “out and back,” bunny-hill hyper design and swooping turns, its layout comes in at a whopping 8,133 feet – the longest roller coaster in the world, and it isn’t even close.

3. Intimidator 305 (2010)

Location: Kings Dominion (Doswell, Virginia)
Opened: 2010
Height / drop: 305 / 300
Manufacturer: Intamin

After Cedar Fair (thrill-focused owners of Cedar Point) acquired the five Paramount Parks in 2007, they quickly swept away any lingering movie references, then set out to rebuild the parks in their own image: namely, coasters. At most of the former Paramount Parks, that took the form of an army of tried-and-true hypercoasters by reliable Swiss manufacturer B&M, with their easy-going, crowd-pleasing, out-and-back layouts of joyful airtime hills (see, Diamonback at Kings Island, Behemoth at Canada’s Wonderland, and Intimidator – named for NASCAR racing legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. – at Carowinds). 

For whatever reason, Kings Dominion in Virginia skipped right over the high-capacity, medium-intensity splendor of B&M and headed right for the big guns. Intimidator 305 was the second (and to date, final) of Intamin’s gigacoaster era that began with Millennium Force. But quite unlike its powerful-yet-graceful Ohio sister, Intimidator is often cited as among the most intense roller coasters on Earth. Best understood by coaster aficionados as a fusion of Millennium Force and Cedar Point’s bucking, weaving, slaloming Maverick, Intimidator is a force to be reckoned with… literally.

Though the coaster’s first hill and 300 foot drop look a lot like Millennium’s, instead of then rising into an overbanked turn and burning off some of that tremendous speed in a course of airtime hills and rising turns, Intimidator infamously accelerates into a gargantuan, ground-level helix, hops over a single airtime hill, then sticks low, charging at tear-jerking speed through wild, twisting, ground-level turns.

So incredibly forceful was the ride that even the most thrill-tested guests experienced “gray-outs” from the G-force, with frequent outright blackouts cited. We’re talking about a ride that was ultra-intense. So much so that shortly after it opened, magnetic brakes were installed down the length of its signature first drop, pulling back on the train and reducing its top speed by a reported 20 miles per hour just to reduce the intensity of the first turnaround, with staggered magnetic brakes through the rest of the ride’s track to lower its gravity.

Over the ride’s first off-season (the winter of 2010 – 2011), that initial helix was completely reprofiled into a more gradual rising turn. Still, the ride’s low elevation, high-speed course of dramatic movements and unexpected directional changes makes it one of the most intense coaster experiences to this day, leaving even the hungriest of thrill seekers with butterflies before boarding.

(Intamin’s boundary-pushing similarly saw an entire section of Maverick’s track removed and replaced before the ride’s opening due to higher-than-anticipated forces. In 2010 – the same year Intimidator opened – an Intamin-made water ride at Cedar Point malfunctioned, trapping seven passengers underwater, upside down, in over-the-shoulder restraints. Surely it’s not a coincidence that Cedar Fair hasn’t worked with the company since. Even for Cedar Point, breaking records isn’t worth it…)

4. Leviathan (2012)

Location: Canada’s Wonderland
Opened: 2012
Height / drop: 306 / 306
Manufacturer: Bolliger & Mabillard

Remember those three B&M hypercoasters gifted to the former Paramount Parks – Canada’s Wonderland, King Island, and Carowinds? The installation at Canada’s Wonderland had been the 230-foot tall Behemoth – named for a Biblical beast holding dominion over the land – living up to its name by towering over the park with almost-poetic parabolic airtime hills in its out-and-back layout. Like all B&Ms – but especially their crowd-pleasing, inversion-free hypercoasters – Behemoth was a fitting “big” coaster for any self-respecting thrill park. (Despite feeling ubiquitous, 200+ foot tall coasters are still a relative rarity, and serve as very good “anchor” attractions for thrill parks.)

So you can understand the shock and awe when Cedar Fair announced that despite just having gotten Behemoth in 2008, Wonderland’s 2012 season would introduce its sister: Leviathan, Biblical monster of the seas. Leviathan would be a gigacoaster – only the fourth on Earth, mind you! – but not just any gigacoaster. It would be the first 300-foot beast built by B&M.

By most any account, Leviathan is a legend. In keeping with B&M “tradition,” its four-across trains and soaring layout are butter smooth, high-capacity, and incredibly beautiful. 

If there’s a complaint to be had (which, of course, only coaster snobs would bother having), it’s that Leviathan is… well… not much different than Behemoth. Sure, it’s 70 feet taller – which is nothing to sneeze at – but ultimately, B&M’s gigacoaster feels… a lot like its hypercoaster: soaring airtime hills, perfect parabolas, and giant, sweeping turns. It’s a whole lot of fun, and certainly a bigger ride than its sister… but not a fundamentally different one. 

And therein lies the trade-off, right? B&M is tried-and-true; trustworthy; reliable; generally appealing. Operationally, any park would want a B&M over a risky Intamin with its snapped elevator cables, exclusionary intensity, reprofiling, and infamous downtime. But does a park with a B&M hyper need a B&M giga? We’ll let you decide, but Cedar Fair certainly has… After all…

5. Fury 325 (2015)

Location: Carowinds
Opened: 2015
Height / drop: 325 / 320
Manufacturer: Bolliger & Mabillard

In the 2010s, Cedar Fair started to get serious about Carowinds – a former-Paramount Park that straddles the border between North and South Carolina. Time and time again, then-CEO Matt Ouimet referred to the park as a “Cedar Point of the South” waiting to be developed – a park low on competitors and high on potential. Its own NASCAR-themed B&M hyper (plain-old “Intimidator,” no 305) opened in 2010 as the beginning of that investment.

And just like Canada’s Wonderland, five years later, Cedar Fair announced an even larger follow-up. Named in homage to the Charlotte Hornets NBA team, Fury 325 at least feels like a bit more of an experiment for B&M, and a divergence from the hypercoaster model. Fury tests out some unorthodox maneuvers that feel drawn from the Intamin and even RMC playbook! 

Technically both the world’s tallest (325 feet) and fastest (95 mph) gigacoaster, its first half isn’t continuous, parabolic airtime hills, but low-to-the-ground twists, speed straightaways, and unusual banking. Even the turnaround of its out-and-back layout skips the traditional hammerhead turn or overbanked turn common on B&M hypers in favor of a rising treble clef, and the return trip of the 6,602 foot long ride keeps up the personality. Fury feels different! It’s a very, very good coaster, and a great omen for B&M gigacoasters going forward! Including…

6. Orion (2020)

Location: Kings Island
Opened: 2020
Height / drop: 287 / 300
Manufacturer: Bolliger & Mabillard

Once more, Cedar Fair returned to the home of one of its B&M hypers for a giga-sized encore… but this one took a while. In the gulf between 2009’s Diamondback and its 2020 giga follow-up, Kings Island did add a B&M inverted coaster (2014’s Banshee) and a GCI woodie (2017’s Mystic Timbers) leaving fans guessing that – for one reason or another – they simply weren’t going to follow Wonderland and Carowind’s hyper-giga pattern.

However, the 2018 retirement of Firehawk (a Vekoma flying coaster salvaged from Geauga Lake) opened a beautiful plot of land in the park’s sci-fi-themed zone, and after leveling some of the forest that surrounds the park, the blazing blue Orion arose. 

Arguably, Diamondback & Orion share the same kind of relationship as Behemoth & Leviathan in that they come across as a little “same-y” – same trains, same out-and-back skeleton, same airtime hills, etc. such that even casual guests could probably note their relationship. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – just an odd thing, and for some, a testament to the need for for custom coasters packed with personality over B&M’s beautiful-if-bland creations.

Obviously, Orion is an immense thrill with a breathtaking first drop and a unique helix finale… but it’s also the shortest of the gigacoasters (and actually, shorter than several hypercoasters). In fact, its iconic first drop leads to a unique, 174-foot tall banked airtime hill (very cool!), which is then immediately followed by the ride’s turnaround to head on back toward the station – an odd use of the park’s limitless forested space. Despite it all, make no mistake: Orion is a triumph, and one of the most amazing coasters on Earth… so far…

But the story isn’t over… and you may be surprised where the next gigacoaster – only the seventh in the entire world – is rumored to be heading… 

Between Cedar Fair’s legacy thrill parks (Cedar Point, Dorney Park, Valleyfair, Worlds of Fun, Valleyfair, and Michigan’s Adventure) and purchased Paramount Parks (Kings Island, Kings Dominion, Carowinds, Canada’s Wonderland, and Great America), it’s easy to forget that Cedar Fair also owns one of the most famous theme parks on Earth – Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California (literally just a few blocks from Disneyland).

To be sure, Cedar Fair’s ownership of Knott’s hasn’t come without controversy. Before Cedar Fair’s purchase of the park in 1997, the Knott’s family operated the park as a charmingly-historic theme park focused on California’s history. True to form, Cedar Fair spent most of the late ’90s and 2000s pumping the park full of bare, steel coasters that detracted from the park’s historic origin at best, and fundamentally misunderstood what made Knott’s special at worst.

The park has 10 coasters (which is a lot for most parks, but not for a Cedar Fair park) including a few significant stand-outs: 1998’s iconic GhostRider woodie, 2002’s Intamin Xcelerator (somewhat like a mini Top Thrill Dragster), 2004’s B&M inverted Silver Bullet dominating the park’s entry, and 2018’s Boardwalk-set HangTime. But at least for the last decade, the park’s coaster count took second place to a refreshingly retro priority…

Under the guidance of then-Cedar-Fair-CEO Matt Ouimet (formerly President of Disneyland), Knott’s spent the 2010s in clean-up mode. That included a complete rebirth of two of the park’s historic dark rides – the Calico Mine Train and the Timber Mountain Log Flume – as well as a new dark ride serving as an homage to another – Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair.

Still, in the “bigger picture” of Knott’s unique positioning as a hybrid of thrills and theme, there’s no doubt whatsoever what’s missing. For literally decades, rumors have swirled that one day – some day – Knott’s would finally receive a B&M hyper of its own – a sleek, stylish, quality, and crowd-pleasing coaster that’ll officially put the park on the Southern California thrill park map. 

Turns out those waiting for a hyper will need to wait a little longer… but if you’re thinking a ilittle bigger, Knott’s may have something great in store…

7. ??? (2023?)

According to reportedly leaked documents, Knott’s Berry Farm may have something very, very big on the horizon. The supposed but unconfirmed site plans (which would have to be filed with local authorities prior to a construction permit being issued) display Cedar Fair’s filing for not just a hypercoaster, but a giga – reportedly, with a 325-foot height and an incredible 347-foot drop (which, if true, would make Knott’s ride the tallest giga on Earth, and the third tallest coaster, period). 

Like Disney California Adventure, Knott’s is an urban, landlocked park that largely fills its square-block. According to the supposedly-filed plans, the massive coaster would depart from near Knott’s historic Ghost Town, tearing along the park’s perimeter and diving into at least one tunnel along the course.

Enterprising fans have even interpretated the plans into a 3D model, hazarding what’s likely a fairly good guess at the coaster’s actual size, elements, and statistics based on the filing. If the B&M giga lives up to the implied stats, it would easily be among the most spectacular coasters on Earth… a “lucky number seven” for gigacoasters, and hopefully an embodiment of all that B&M has learned across Leviathan, Fury, and Orion.

Knott’s hasn’t officially confirmed that anything is on the horizon for 2023 or beyond, and certainly, plans can and do change. But if everything lines up the way these filing suggest, we may not just get the world’s seventh gigacoaster, but potentially, its most ambitious… 

The Giga Effect

Beginning with 2000’s Millennium Force, the idea of a gigacoaster was revolutionary. Shattering the once-unthinkable 300-foot height barrier and embodied in Millennium, “gigacoaster” came to mean the best of the best; the most sensational, perfectly-paced, and incredibly forceful coasters on Earth. (They’ve only been bested by two 400-foot “stratocoasters,” both of which come in at less than 30 seconds from start to stop, making “gigacoasters” the best balance of stats and experience.)

Even still, it wasn’t for a full decade post-Millennium that the gigacoaster entered the coaster catalogue, spreading beyond its once-limited installations in Ohio and Japan. Today – more than two decades after the 300-foot record was broken – Intamin, Morgan, and B&M have each thrown their hat in the ring of 300-foot thrill machines, adding their extreme, classic, and comfortable personalities.

Six “gigas” exist across the globe – five at North American Cedar Fair parks. So as the era of the gigacoaster continues and these record-breaking rides spread, we’ve got to wonder: does the continued spread of gigas lessen their individual impact and “specialness”? Which manufacturer takes the genre in the best direction? And where do you hope a giga pops up next?