Batwing (Six Flags America, DC)
The good news is that this ride is truly exquisite, with g-forces unlike anything I've ever experienced. The bad news is that Six Flags America is truly horrid when it comes to providing a reliable coastergoing experience. I only made it on the thing three times in more than two dozen trips to the park over a three-month span specifically to ride Batwing.
It opened in mid-June, a month late. They only managed to get a single car operational the entire summer -- but kept the ride closed until mid-afternoon for at least the first month after it "opened" under the pretext that they were trying to get a second car on the track. They repeatedly closed the line an hour or more before the close of the park. The line was inevitably at least one to two hours' wait.
I'm also chronically underwhelmed by the ride motif itself. Did we really need a third Batman coaster in the same park?
Apollo's Chariot (Busch Gardens Williamsburg, VA)
I hate to say it, but one of the reasons why this coaster gets to put up drapes and move in at the top of my list is simply because it's got all of the benefits of a modern coaster (as smooth as glass, as fast as lightning) with none of the liabilities (neither whiplash- inducing multi-g inversions nor the horrid neck restraints such rides require).*
Apollo's Chariot, on the other hand, is the most comfortable roller coaster of recent memory, while compromising not a whit on the adrenaline factor. One simple Flash-Gordon-rocket-cycle-like restraint, at the waist, is all that stands between you and being catapulted into the river.
With the opening of Apollo's Chariot, going down to spend the weekend at Busch Gardens became a rite of summer (and spring, and fall) all on its own for me. Caveat: I didn't get down there at all during the summer of 2001 (it was a rather hectic, resource-strained couple of months). I've still got fingers crossed to make it down there before the season ends in October.
Nitro (Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey)
Horrid line design (like Medusa, you have to climb several flights of stairs to reach the station itself -- and the line for the front car frequently blocks the access to the station for riders trying to reach the queues for the other cars) but a simply splendid ride experience. Its hills and valleys are actually more pleasant, in some ways, than AC: if it was overlooking a Virginia river instead of a New Jersey swamp it might indeed have placed above its older sibling.
Millennium Force (Cedar Point, Ohio)
Three hundred feet. Three hundred sodding feet. Dear God. This is a terrific ride, well worth the several hours of wait time (I got to ride it twice when I was in the park in May of 2001, which was apparently a rare thing according to folks who visited later in the season). It isn't just the fact that the first drop will still be going on after you've run out of breath to scream. It's the fact that the coaster's on the edge of Lake Ontario, so all you can see to your left is water. It's the fact that the coaster is so smooth and so freakin' fast. If it was just a little closer than eight hours' drive away, I'd be in line for it right now.
Superman: Ultimate Escape (Six Flags World Of Adventure, Ohio)
Heh. This is one hell of a ride. It manages to be much scarier when you're in line for it than when you're actually riding it. It's a vertical spiraling suspended-track coaster with a frighteningly spartan amount of support at the base of the front spire. Linear-induction speeds propel you both forwards and backwards up to 70 miles an hour, spiraling around the top of a single twisted metal support, back and forth at 90 degrees face up (and 90 degrees face down the counterpart spire at the back of the ride, which somehow feels less stable in spite of the fact that it has more support and doesn't spiral like the front spire). The crossbeams end at the lower third of the front spire, so you get to see the spire rocking in the wind as you wait in line to board it. A true mind-bender.
Medusa (Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey)
In some ways Medusa is simply an Apollo's Chariot that goes upside down. In fact, if all of B&M's later designs are as good as these two, I may simply eschew any brand loyalty (Six Flags vs. Paramount vs. Busch) and start picking my road trips based on the quantity of B&M coasters at a particular park. Smooth, fast, and gentle, this ride proves that you can have inversions without attendant chiropractic bills (see Fire, Drachen). Its design is fundamentally similar to Cedar Point's Mantis, but with an innovative floorless seat design which provides a nicer overall experience.
Unfortunately, all of the things which make the total Busch Gardens experience a worthy and infinitely repeatable jaunt seem to be matched by intrinsic liabilities with the notion of going to New Jersey in general (toll booth costs to get to the other side of Virginia: $0) and SFGA in particular (the parking, the crowds, and the overall park ambience just feels several times worse). So the dozen times I've been to Busch Gardens in the past two years is counterpointed by the three times I've made it to Great Adventure.
Roar (Six Flags America, DC)
Ah, Roar. With the construction of no less than four new coasters since Six Flags transformed Adventure World into Six Flags America, the lines for Roar are now much shorter than they used to be. Which suits me fine, because for my money Roar is better than any of the three newer kids on the block. I don't really hold it up against Batwing in any true comparative analysis; let it suffice to say that the past three times I've been to SFA, they're the only two rides I've cared about riding.
Unfortunately, as also mentioned above, the ride's overall experience has dimmed in the wake of the construction of Superman: Ride Of Steel, as there's now half as many trees surrounding the coaster as there used to be. It's not a juggernaut like the Beast or the Texas Giant, but it's got all of the punch that a really good wooden coaster should have. And, because it's close, I get to ride it several dozen times a year.
Lightning Racer (Hersheypark, PA)
Wow. We've seen racing coasters before, and we've seen wooden coasters before, but we've never seen the two brought together in quite such a riotous blend until now. This ride is just terrific fun. The racing lights at the station give it major style points, and the sheer number of crisscrosses and switchbacks between the two different trains are fun even if you don't have friends on the other train. Plus, because the coaster loads two cars at once, the line moves twice as fast as it might otherwise take.
The Great Bear (Hersheypark, PA)
I'm not entirely sure whether this is equal to Alpengeist (there's no station trappings like the SkiHaus motif of BG's suspended track, so the Mountain Ghost gets a few more style points) but it is a hell of a ride. Like its Busch Gardens cousin, it's additionally impressive for how much engineering went into building the supports for its multi-tiered columns; Hersheypark's landscape isn't exactly forgiving when it comes to providing flat terrain or solid ground to build upon.
[Rides which have proven to be major disappointments]
Joker's Jinx (Six Flags America)
Batman And Robin: The Chiller (Six Flags Great Adventure)
These two are tied for Most Annoying G-Forces, and are also the reason why I simply don't like linear-induction rides very much at all. In order to provide the head restraints necessary for the multi-g inversions, the headrests are made of stiff plastic. It's an endurance test: can you hold your head straight so your neck doesn't seize up from your head getting pummeled against the headrest? Can you hold your jaw relaxed so you don't end up banging your teeth together? Can you actually make it through the entire ride without a single incident of major pain? I keep trying them once every season or so to see if they've somehow gotten better with time (there were minor adjustments in the Joker's Jinx headrests mid-season during its first year, but not enough to redeem it), and they just don't. I ought to like Joker's Jinx much more than I do, seeing how it's a clone of Outer Limits: Flight Of Fear and all, but when the ride is removed from its impressive pre-boarding queue experience and placed in daylight instead of darkness it really fails to be very much fun at all.
The good news is that Flight Of Fear (which has lost the Outer Limits moniker, possibly due to a rights dispute) has already jettisoned the horse collar restraints in favor of lap belts, and Joker's Jinx is slated to get lap bars in 2002.
* Yes, it's true: I may simply be getting too old for the linear-induction rides, at least the early out-of-the-cannon models. The thrill just isn't worth the attendant pain. I think the problem is simply an overall matter of design: the technology of the rest of the ride hasn't scaled to catch up with the engineering feat of the opening launch.
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