A new era of towering thrill rides debuting over the next few years promises to alter the skylines of theme parks around the world.
Free-fall drop towers and skyrocketing space shots have been part of the theme park landscape for decades, but the next generation of sky-scraping attractions will significantly ramp up pulse rates while reaching once unimagined heights.
Not too long ago, 300 feet was considered tall in the theme park universe. Now ride manufacturers are rocketing past 400 feet on the way to 500 feet and beyond.
A recent spate of soaring thrill ride additions at Six Flags and Cedar Fair amusement parks seems to have triggered the current skyward expansion.
Since 2011, Six Flags has introduced SkyScreamer tower swings in the 150- to 250-foot range at several of its parks, including Six Flags St. Louis, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, La Ronde, Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Six Flags Over Georgia.
A 400-foot-tall SkyScreamer introduced this year at Six Flags Over Texas is expected to be topped in 2014 by a slightly taller swing tower at Six Flags New England.
During the same period, Cedar Fair debuted a series of 301-foot-tall Windseeker swing towers at Canada's Wonderland, Carowinds, Cedar Point, Kings Dominion and Kings Island.
During the 2012 season, a flurry of incidents that left riders stranded high in the air for hours forced Cedar Fair to close all the Windseeker rides until an appropriate evacuation system could be fabricated. Since then, all the swing towers have reopened except for the Windseeker ride at Knott's Berry Farm, which will be dismantled and relocated to Missouri's Worlds of Fun as SteelHawk in 2014.
For 2014, Busch Gardens Tampa in Florida will add the 335-foot-tall Falcon's Fury, which introduces a unique twist to the traditional drop tower experience.
After reaching the top, the seats of Falcon's Fury will tilt forward 90 degrees for a face-down descent at 60 mph. Magnetic brakes will halt the fall a few inches from the ground.
Also coming in 2014, Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey will introduce the 415-foot-tall Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom -- a free-fall drop ride attached to the side of the 456-foot-tall Kingda Ka, the world's tallest roller coaster and one of the fastest at 128 mph.
The Zumanjaro ride is remarkably simple: After a 30-second ascent and a brief pause at the top, riders will drop at 90 mph in a free-fall descent lasting 10 seconds before an abrupt deceleration.
If the timing is just right, the Kingda Ka train and the Zumanjaro gondola will reach the top of the tower at exactly the same time -- and that's when the shaking starts. The gondola seats will rumble violently as the coaster climbs the track, causing the tower to sway several feet.
Six Flags Magic Mountain similarly mounted the 400-foot-tall Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom onto the Superman: Escape from Krypton shuttle coaster in 2012.
Warner Bros. Movie World in Australia has proposed a 475-foot-tall Doomsday tower that would super size the spinning thrill rides common at many amusement parks.
The Spinning Star attraction built by Swiss-based Intamin would feature arms with spinning rings of outward-facing suspended seats that themselves would rotate around a central tower while ascending and descending.
As proposed in visitor surveys, Doomsday would offer a slower family-friendly option as well as a high-speed mode similar to a Huss Condor thrill ride, according to Screamscape.
U.S. Thrill Rides has announced plans to build a 520-foot-tall Polercoaster in Florida in 2016. The Florida-based company has also proposed a 650-foot-tall Polercoaster attraction at the Tropicana casino in Las Vegas.
Billed as the tallest roller coaster in the world, the prototype tower ride would combine an observation deck reached by a central bank of elevators with a coaster track wrapping around the tower exterior. The coaster cars, built by S&S Power, would reach the top via a spiral lift before departing on a wild and fast descent.
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