While you can trace the history of the roller coaster back to 18th century St Petersburg, the switchback railway at Coney Island is generally regarded as the first “modern” coaster.
Since then, theme parks around the world have developed taller, faster, and more exhilarating rides. The Kingda Ka at Six Flags in New Jersey is the tallest, the Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi is the fastest (reaching a staggering 149 mph), and the Steel Dragon in Japan is the longest at almost 2.5 kilometres.
Whether you’re a coaster freak like me, or you prefer the gentler excitement of the Grand National at Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, there’s a ride for everyone.
So, to celebrate this August’s National Roller Coaster Day, here’s a personal selection of the five best coasters I’ve been lucky enough to ride.
1. Dragon Khan, PortAventura, Spain
Nestling inside the world’s top 10 coasters for “inversions” (that’s turning you upside down and then returning you to an upright position), the magnificent Dragon Khan is one of the best coasters in Europe.
This 1.3-kilometre ride opened at the PortAventura park in Salou and Vilaseca in 1995, and it held the world record for inversions (eight) for seven years.
Reaching speeds of 65 miles per hour, this almost two-minute ride is based on Chinese mythology: the dragon Khan was the reincarnated spirit of the evil Prince Hu of Beijing whose fury was unleashed each time a human dared to climb atop his back.
It’s the jewel in the crown of a terrific family theme park – well worth a visit for thrill seekers and those who like their action more gently paced.
2. Expedition Everest, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, USA
As you might expect from a family theme park, Expedition Everest is by no means the fastest, steepest, or scariest coaster in Florida.
What it does boast, however, is terrific theming.
From the moment you join the queue, you walk through a beautifully designed Himalayan-themed museum with ancient artefacts, notebooks, and photographs tracing the search for the legendary Yeti.
What Disney get right with a lot of its rides is their immersive nature. Even once you’ve boarded the car (and without giving away any spoilers) this “runaway mine cart” style ride feels as if it has genuinely transported you to the Himalayas.
On our visit, we were lucky to arrive at the ride just after a major rainstorm that had cleared the park. So, we got to spend hours enjoying this terrific ride, running back to the front of the queue, and going again and again.
3. Kumali, Flamingo Land Resort, North Yorkshire
I vividly remember driving past a sign for Flamingo Land on a trip to Scarborough a few years ago. We decided to turn off the road and pay it a visit, expecting a quaint Victorian-style attraction with a nice big lake, tea rooms, and a flock of flamingos.
Flamingo Land is not that. It’s a brilliant cross between Alton Towers and Whipsnade Zoo, mixing thrill rides with lions, tigers, rhinos and more.
The pick of the excellent selection of rides is Kumali – one of those looping suspended coasters where your legs dangle in thin air as you grab hold of your shoulder harness for dear life.
Named after the head of the park’s own pride of lions, you experience up to 4.7g, an 87-foot-tall loop, a 55-foot zero-gravity roll, and the Cobra Roll, which suspends you over one of the park’s lakes at a height of 75 feet.
4. The Big Apple Coaster, New York New York Hotel, Las Vegas
The lobby of a major hotel might not seem like the usual place to board a fantastic thrill ride, but this is Las Vegas – a city where almost anything is possible.
Located on Las Vegas Boulevard, this terrific coaster weaves its way through both the grounds and, for one heart-stopping moment, the hotel itself. Hitting 67 mph, it was the first coaster in the world to feature a 180-degree “heartline” twist and dive manoeuvre and 203-foot drop, and has been enjoyed by more than 1.4 million riders.
If you fancy something slower and less frenetic, and you don’t have a problem with heights, you could also pop down the other end of the Vegas Strip and try the X-Scream coaster at the Strat.
Here, you’ll be propelled 27 feet over the edge of the tower, 866 feet above the Las Vegas skyline, in a unique and vertigo-inducing experience.
Having enjoyed/endured both, I prefer the thrill of a fast ride, myself.
5. Magic Mouse, your local travelling fair across the UK
Sometimes, when the local travelling fair rolls into town – in Nottingham, it’s the historic annual Goose Fair – you just want a nice night out with the family. Candy floss, a few goes on the Donkey Derby, hook-a-duck, a toffee apple…and a whizz on the Magic Mouse ride.
If you’ve not enjoyed the hysteria of a Magic Mouse, you’ll likely have seen one in action. Essentially, it’s a cross between a gentle coaster, the teacups ride, and the waltzers, in that you board a car on tracks but end up spinning around like a maniac while also navigating humps and bumps.
I don’t think I have ever ridden a Magic Mouse without finding myself laughing uproariously. It’s just such a totally silly experience – perfect for a family day out.
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