Join us on a whirlwind photo tour of the most scream-worthy thrill machines in the U.S.
YOUNG AT HEART
8 Record-Breaking Theme Park Thrills
They’re fast, they’re furious…and they all hold a special spot in the record books. From wet and wild waterslides to robotic roller coasters, these shriek-inducing rides will get you in gear for summer.
Longest. Fastest. Tallest. Steepest. As theme parks across the U.S. throw open the gates for the 2011 summer of fun, these thrill-makers dare us to climb aboard and test our mettle (and the strength of our stomachs). We scoured American theme parks big and small to find the wildest adventures. The question is: Are you ready for the challenges they offer?
The World's First Robotic "Coaster": Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando Resort, Fla.
Opened in June 2010, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the first attraction to use what they're calling "robo-coaster" technology. Riders sit in a pod-like capsule mounted on a robotic arm that twists, pivots, and fully immerses the rider in the animation: flying around Hogwarts, coming face-to-face with evil Dementors, and even getting caught up in a Quidditch match. The robotic arm machinery, developed by German engineering firm KUKA, has been used in other theme park attractions (not to mention automobile manufacturing plants), but it has always been stationary. The difference here is that the Forbidden Journey robots move along a track, giving riders a never-before-experienced sensation of flying. The Park: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened last June inside Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando Resort. The land brings the world of J.K. Rowling's books to magical life: Hogwarts Castle; Potter-inspired rides, like the Dragon Challenge coaster and the Flight of the Hippogriff.
When to Go: When planning a visit, think early and midweek; Tuesday and Wednesday first thing in the morning (8 or 9 a.m., depending on the season) is the best bet for the shortest queues. tickets $82 for adults, $74 for children three through nine, universalorlando.com
The World's Tallest Roller Coaster: Kingda Ka, Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, N.J.
A double-whammy entry in the record books, Kingda Ka is not only the tallest roller coaster in the world; it's also the fastest in North America. At 45 stories, or 456 feet at its highest point, the ride is taller than London's famed Big Ben and only a few feet shorter than the Great Pyramid at Giza! Riders zoom from zero to 128 mph in just over three seconds on launch and then fly over camel humps (briefly experiencing weightlessness), dip, turn, and finally come to a rest in what can only be described as a breathless 59 seconds. Yes, that was your life flashing before your eyes. The Park: Six Flags Great Adventure is comprised of three parks (though each charges separate entrance fees): the main park, a 350-acre animal park called Wild Safari, and the Hurricane Harbor Water Park. Bugs Bunny and other Looney Toons characters can be seen both in person and on the rides throughout Six Flags, and there are countless options for the younger set: spinning teacups, a carousel, and a 15-story Ferris wheel.
When to Go: The least-crowded times at Six Flags are weekdays during the summer and any of the regularly scheduled days during the shoulder season in April, May, June, and September. In late June, you can play in the park and do some good at the same time, as Great Adventure hosts the Walk in the Park fundraiser for the Children's Miracle Network. Raise $50 and park admittance that day is free. tickets $36.99 for adults, $29.99 for guests under 54 inches (rates reflect purchases made online), sixflags.com/greatadventure
America's Tallest Free-Fall Waterslide: Summit Plummet, Blizzard Beach, Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The ski-lift-themed Summit Plummet, complete with mounds of fake snow, makes you wonder if it's really a smart idea to slide down the slopes in just your bathing suit. But don't worry: The waters here are heated year-round to a bath-like 80 degrees. Free-fall waterslides, like this one, are designed to make the rider feel like they're dropping without any restraint (essentially falling at an extremely steep angle at top speeds). The tallest in the country—and second tallest in the world, after Brazil's Insano—plunges the brave down a 120-foot slide. That's 12 stories, or twice the size of the presidential heads on Mount Rushmore. Travel through a dark tunnel and a 360-foot flume at speeds of up to 60 mph, and make sure to check the digital readout at the end—which shows your exact speed—for bragging rights. The Park: Blizzard Beach is part of the Walt Disney World complex and was the third of their on-site water parks to open. The theme is a ski resort with no powder—this is Florida, after all—so expect to see chairlifts leading to bare slopes.