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.
When to Go: The park hosts close to 2 million visitors annually, so there's always a crowd. But your best bet for short lines and relatively uncrowded wave pools is first thing in the morning (9 or 10 a.m., depending on the season), especially on midweek days like Tuesday and Wednesday. tickets $48.98 for adults, $42.60 for kids three to nine, disneyworld.com
The World's Oldest Operating Roller Coaster: Leap-the-Dips, in Lakemont Park, Altoona, Pa.
Leap-the-Dips is not just a ride; it's a piece of history. In fact, this wooden coaster was named a National Historic Landmark in 1996. Built in 1902, the coaster—with a top operating speed of just 10 mph and a peak of 41 feet—stood idle during the late 1980s and into the late 1990s, reopening to its original glory on Memorial Day, 1999. The Park: Situated on Lake Altoona, Lakemont Park opened in 1894 as a trolley park and ranks as the eighth oldest amusement park in the country. (For the record, Lake Compounce, in Bristol, Conn., opened in 1846 and stands as North America's oldest continually operating amusement park.) The charming, old-fashioned family park features a few dozen rides and attractions, including a miniature golf course, paddleboats, go-karts, arcade games, and a water park.
When to Go: The park can get crowded on weekends, but with its small selection of rides, guests tend to stay at the park for less time, meaning a much greater turnover than the bigger theme parks. Every Thursday night from July to August, the park hosts Wing Offs, as local restaurants compete for the title of best wings (wings $4.00 per dozen, beer $3.50). tickets $5 for adults and children on weekdays, $9.95 for adults and children on weekends, additional tickets required for some rides (from $2.50 per ride), lakemontparkfun.com
America's Largest Collection of Coasters (for now!): Cedar Point amusement park and resort, Sandusky, Ohio
For now, iconic Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, holds the record for the largest collection of roller coasters in the country, with 17—two wooden and 15 steel. From the fastest double-twisting impulse coaster (the Wicked Twister, with a top speed of 72 mph) to the first coaster in the world to top 200 feet (the Magnum XL-200, which opened in 1989), there's always an off-kilter view of the park and Lake Erie available from the high perches of the coasters. Note: Cedar Point loses its record this year, when Six Flags Magic Mountain reopens its 17th coaster (Road Runner Express) and debuts its 18th roller coaster, Green Lantern: First Light, on Memorial Day. The 4-D coaster will feature a never-before-seen vertical zigzag pattern track, with eight riders sitting back-to-back in an independently rotating passenger vehicle. The Park: Cedar Point opened in 1870, with the first coaster debuting in 1892. Since then, the park has been considered the destination for coaster enthusiasts from across the globe, thanks to its great variety of thrill rides and gorgeous lakefront setting. There are also a number of stomach-churning alternatives to coasters, including the Power Tower, which drops at speeds faster than free fall.
When to Go: To avoid crowds, stick to weekdays in summer and spring, and nights and Sundays during the fall. If you don't mind massive crowds, head to Cedar Point during the annual Wheels of Thunder weekend (August 9 to 11). Famous NASCAR drivers like John Sauter and Matt Crafton motor over to the park for racing-themed fun, like race car simulators and driver memorabilia. tickets $46.99 for adults, $21 for guests under 48 inches tall or over the age of 62 (children two and under are free), but guests who stay at one of the resort hotels—like the beachfront Hotel Breakers (from $99 per night for up to four people) receive a discounted rate of $29.99, cedarpoint.com
America's First Looping Waterslide: Scorpion's Tail, Noah's Ark Waterpark, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
The designers of this watery thrill decided it wasn't enough to simply send riders hurtling through an enclosed plastic tube. No, they designed a capsule-like entrance where the rider steps in, the attendant closes the door, and then the floor drops out, plunging the rider down the long, curving tube. Oh, and it all starts 10 stories up. The stomach-lurching ride runs 400 feet over the course of five to seven seconds (exact time depends on the weight of the passengers—the heavier you are, the faster you fall) and includes a nearly vertical, coaster-style loop—the first of its kind in the States. The Park: Noah's Ark is the country's largest water park, covering 70 acres in Wisconsin Dells. The area is home to the largest number of water parks in the country, at nearly two dozen. Two huge wave pools and 49 water rides are just the start of the park's attractions, which also include four children's splash areas, a 4-D movie theater, a mini golf course, bumper boats, arcade games, and even a spooky haunted cavern.