The third season of "Insane Coaster Wars" takes viewers on another virtual world tour aboard 28 roller coasters in Europe, Asia, Central America and the United States.
While the 2014 lineup is somewhat less prestigious than the first two seasons, the seven-episode series on the Travel Channel more than makes up for the diminishing star power with a slate of lesser-known gems.
The drop-off in marquee names was inevitable after knocking off 50-plus rides in the freshman and sophomore seasons, with a roster that included El Toro, Millennium Force, Kingda Ka, Formula Rossa, X2 and The Beast. Indeed, the first two seasons read like the top 25 of the Amusement Today and Mitch Hawker polls, the two most respected annual rankings by coaster enthusiasts.
The third season focuses on record-setting rides known for height, length and inversions as well as the latest theme park craze: looping wooden coasters.
During the first season, "Coaster Wars" producers grouped similar coasters together in each episode, allowing for the sort of side-by-side comparisons favored by coaster purists. The second season mixed up disparate ride types in each episode, making for more difficult head-to-head assessments but more compelling shows.
The producers wisely decided to forgo the viewer voting aspect of "Coaster Wars," which was really nothing more than a reality show gimmick. I've always been more interested in the fantasy travel component of the show that takes ride enthusiasts on the ultimate roller coaster road trip – albeit via your television.
Also changing: Theme Park Review's Robb Alvey will move from his former on-camera presenter role to a behind-the-scenes consultant on season three.
Being a bit more of purist, I'm going to break the 28 rides in the third season into five categories: height, length, inversions, wood and a catchall I'm calling unique and obscure. I'll include a full schedule at the end with a ride-by-ride breakdown by episode along with broadcast dates and times.
Looping wooden coasters
A stellar lineup of new wooden coasters is by far the highlight of the third season of "Coaster Wars," which features three of the latest looping wooden coasters, long the Holy Grail of ride enthusiasts.
Debuting in 2013, Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City was the first of the new breed of wooden loopers and is clearly the class of "Coaster Wars" season three. Voted the best new ride of 2013 by Amusement Today, the $10-million triple inversion Outlaw Run features a 68 mph top speed and a 81-degree first drop of 162 feet.
Voted the second best new ride of 2013 by Amusement Today, the Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas underwent a massive renovation that turned the 1992 wooden coaster into a looping hybrid coaster. The remade ride with a steel track on wood supports features a barrel roll inversion and a series of beyond-vertical banked turns.
Originally built in 2000, the Medusa wooden coaster at Six Flags Mexico is currently undergoing a similar transformation by Idaho-based Rocky Mountain Construction, which built Outlaw Run and rehabbed Iron Rattler. The hybrid wood-steel Medusa Steel Coaster is scheduled to open this summer with a trio of zero-g rolls. The show features the old ride and does not mention the upcoming changes, which should be complete by the broadcast.
Built in 1991, the oldest ride in this category is still the king. The 228-foot second drop on Phantom's Revenge at Pennsylvania's Kennywood is still one of the tallest in the world. The fan favorite has been ranked in the top 15 of Amusement Today's steel coaster poll since 2002.
Billed as the tallest, fastest and longest winged coaster with the highest inversion of any coaster in the world, the 170-foot-tall Gatekeeper flies over Cedar Point's front entrance as the new icon of the Ohio amusement park.
Goliath at Six Flags Magic Mountain was briefly recognized as having the longest drop (225 feet) and fastest speed (85 mph) of any closed-circuit roller coaster in the world when it debuted in 2000. A few months later, those titles both transferred to Cedar Point's Millennium Force, widely considered to be one of the best coasters in the world. Goliath still remains one of my favorite rides at the Roller Coaster Capital of the World.
The other Goliath in "Coaster Wars" hails from Canada's La Ronde amusement park. Unlike the trajectory of most coasters, the 2006 out-and-back hyper has steadily climbed in the Amusement Today poll to reach the top 25. The 4,000-foot-long steel coaster features 10 hills ranging in height from 175 to 43 feet.
The Full Throttle launch coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain features the world's tallest vertical loop (160 feet), with riders traversing the loop twice - once on the inside and again on the outside over a top hat element. Reaching 70 mph, the ride includes three launches - two forward and one backward out of a special effects tunnel.
The 2012 Wodan Timbur at Germany's Europa Park is among the tallest (131 feet) and fastest (62 mph) wooden coasters in the world. Themed to Norse mythology, the coaster queue features fire, mist and water effects while the indoor sections of the ride include projection mapping, smoke screens and moving ceilings.
The extremely long coaster has fallen out of favor in recent years as theme parks cram more elements into smaller packages – which saves space and cuts costs. It should come as no surprise then that none of the rides in this category are ranked in the top 50 of the Amusement Today and Mitch Hawker polls.
That said, the third season of "Coaster Wars" does feature the world's longest coaster – the 8,133-foot-long Steel Dragon 2000 at Japan's Nagashima Spa Land. Built in 2000, the year of the dragon, the $50 million behemoth is also one of the fastest (95 mph) and tallest (318 feet) coasters in the world.
Nagashima Spa Land is also home to the third longest wooden coaster the world: the 5,577-foot-long White Cyclone, one of only four wooden coasters in Japan. The 1994 out-and-back White Cyclone is also one of the fastest (63 mph) and tallest (139 feet) wooden coasters in the world.
Similarly, The Boss terrain twister at Six Flags St. Louis is one of the longest (5,051 feet) and fastest (66 mph) wooden coasters in the world with one of the longest drops (150 feet).
Rounding out the category are four out-and-back hyper coasters that are among the longest steel coasters in the world: Silver Star (5,315 feet) at Germany's Europa Park, Mamba (5,600 feet) at Missouri's Worlds of Fun, Big One (5,497 feet) at England's Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Superman: Ultimate Escape (5,577 feet) at Six Flags Mexico.
Most of the coasters in this category hail from more than a decade ago when record-setting rides featured six, seven or even eight inversions. Today, the record holders all boast inversions in the double digits. Unfortunately, none of those looping leviathans are featured in season three of "Coaster Wars." In fact, none of the rides in this category crack the Amusement Today or Mick Hatcher top 25, a testament to the strength of the show's first two seasons.
The twin leaders in this category both hail from two decades ago: the 1993 Kumba (7 inversions) at Florida's Busch Gardens with a rare vertical loop around the lift hill and the 1994 Raptor (6 inversions) at Ohio's Cedar Point which set records when it opened as the world's tallest, fastest and longest inverted roller coaster.
Next up are a pair of Superman-themed floorless coasters each featuring zero-g roll, cobra roll and interlocking corkscrew elements: Superman Krypton (6 inversions) at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Superman: Ride of Steel (7 inversions) at Spain's Parque Warner Madrid.
The 2008 Fahrenheit vertical lift hill coaster at Pennsylvania's Hersheypark features a beyond vertical 97-degree first drop and 6 inversions, including a cobra roll, double corkscrew and a Norwegian loop.
Rounding out the category is a unique coaster at an obscure Guatemala theme park that easily could have landed in our next and final category. But with 8 inversions and a rare triple heart-line roll, the 2002 Avalancha at Xetulul theme park features more inversions than all but a handful of coasters in the world.
Unique and obscure
Cheetah Hunt isn't particularly tall (102 feet), long (4,429 feet) or have many inversions (1). It even has a terrible name. But that doesn't stop it from being a truly unique ride. The triple launch coaster at Florida's Busch Gardens features a distinctive figure 8 element at the top of first hill and a themed queue that includes a cheetah exhibit. It was also Amusement Today's second best new ride of 2011.
By far the most unique ride in "Coaster Wars" season three is the one-of-a-kind Gravity Max at Taiwan's obscure Lihpao Land Discovery World. The 2002 tilt coaster features a horizontal platform at the top of the lift hill that tips forward 90 degrees before releasing the train into a tunnel.
In 2012, Six Flags St. Louis flipped the trains around to launch riders backward on the rechristened Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast. The change pumped new life into an already innovative 1998 shuttle coaster with a vertical spike track terminus and a 150-foot-tall inside top hat element.
With trains that hang below the track, Ednor L'Attaque inverted coaster at Canada's La Ronde theme park features five inversions, including a sidewinder and double inline twist. The twice-relocated ride built atop a lake is named for a fictional sea monster (Ronde spelled backwards).
The 2001 Insane Speed floorless coaster at Taiwan's Janfusun Fancyworld amusement park features four inversions, , including a dive loop and an interlocking corkscrew. Sometimes referred to as Crazy Coaster on the park's website, the Taiwanese name literally translates to "Bright Insane Speeding Car."
One of only four wooden coasters in Spain, the 2002 Coaster Express at Parque Warner Madrid features a pair of 590 degree and 520 degree helixes.
"Insane Coaster Wars" on the Travel Channel
Ride-by-ride breakdown by episode of with broadcast dates and times:
Episode 1: Tilting Terror
Saturday, June 29, 7 p.m.
Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas
Gravity Max at Taiwan's Lihpao Land Discovery World
Mamba at Missouri's Worlds of Fun
Superman: Ride of Steel at Spain's Parque Warner Madrid
Episode 2: Inverted Woodie
Saturday, June 29, 7:30 p.m.
Outlaw Run at Missouri's Silver Dollar City
Avalancha at Guatemala's Xetulul
Phantom's Revenge at Pennsylvania's Kennywood
Insane Speed at Taiwan's Janfusun Fancyworld
Episode 3: World's Tallest Loop
Saturday, July 6, 7 p.m.
Full Throttle at California's Six Flags Magic Mountain
Goliath at Canada's La Ronde
Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast at Six Flags St. Louis
Wodan Timbur Coaster at Germany's Europa Park
Episode 4: 318-Foot Scream Machine
Saturday, July 6, 7:30 p.m.
Gatekeeper at Ohio's Cedar Point
Steel Dragon 2000 at Japan's Nagashima Spa Land
Cheetah Hunt at Florida's Busch Gardens
Coaster Express at Spain's Parque Warner Madrid
Episode 5: Beyond Vertical Drop
Saturday, July 13, 7 p.m.
Fahrenheit at Pennsylvania's Hersheypark
White Cyclone at Japan's Nagashima Spa Land
Kumba at Florida's Busch Gardens
Silver Star at Germany's Europa Park
Episode 6: 255-Foot Plunge
Saturday, July 13, 7:30 p.m.
Goliath at California's Six Flags Magic Mountain
Ednor L'Attaque at Canada's La Ronde
Raptor at Ohio's Cedar Point
Superman Ultimate Escape at Six Flags Mexico
Episode 7: 21-Story Free Fall
Saturday, July 20, 7 p.m.
The Boss at Six Flags St. Louis
Big One at England's Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Superman Krypton at Six Flags Fiesta Texas
Medusa at Six Flags Mexico