In our previous blog post about Central Florida’s Roller Coasters, Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa, authors of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, promised to reveal their 17 favorite Central Florida roller coasters. Without further ado, here they are!
- MANTA, SEAWORLD An inverted flying steel coaster, Manta gently lowers you into a suspended Superman position and you, well, fly. Many coaster fans consider the most memorable moments a sweeping loop in the first half of the ride and near-misses of a pond or rock wall (depending where you’re suspended) in the second half. Technically, Manta has it all. After a first drop of 113 feet, it zooms through a pretzel loop, a 360-degree incline roll, and two corkscrews while reaching a height of 140 feet and speeds of
- MAKO, SEAWORLD As the tallest, fastest, longest coaster in Florida, Mako makes a strong case for being number one. It all depends on what you like. Mako is a hypercoaster, meaning its sole purpose is to serve up air time—that weightless feeling on downhills that lifts you out of your seat. Mako has, count ’em, nine drops that induce this sensation of flying. At 4,760 feet long, Mako plunges from a soaring height of 200 feet and reaches a speed of
73 miles an hour. This combination of length, height, and speed translates into near continuous air time. There are no inversions, and the ride is downy-smooth—so smooth, in fact, that the only restraint is a lap bar.
- EXPEDITION EVEREST, DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM This coaster offers such a complete package, with something to dazzle each of the senses, that it overcomes its lack of loops and inversions. The segment where the train corkscrews downward in the dark may be the most unusual in roller-coaster annals. Though you begin the segment in reverse, you soon succumb to an almost disembodied and dreamlike state of drifting in a void, with an exhilarating sense of speed but with no certain sense of direction. When you can see, there’s plenty to look at: The mountain, with its caverns, cliffs, and crags, is a work of art; then there’s that pesky yeti who menaces you throughout the ride. And for those of you who hate rough coasters, Expedition Everest is oh-so-smooth.
- CHEETAH HUNT, BUSCH GARDENS With a 4,429-foot track, Cheetah Hunt is the second-longest coaster in Florida. The ride emulates the hunting style of the cheetah with sudden bursts of speed, accomplished with linear-synchronous-motor launches similar to the accelerated launch systems of The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal and Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster at DHS. With Cheetah Hunt, however, you’re launched three times—once at the start of the ride and twice more during the circuit. The layout includes a 130-foot drop into a shallow canyon, overbanked turns, parabolas, and a heartline-roll inversion. The linear out-and-back course allows more opportunity for viewing the animals than would the more common concentric, twisting layouts from which it’s almost impossible to take in your surroundings.
- MONTU, BUSCH GARDENS Montu has seven inversions—including loops of 104 and 60 feet and a 0-g roll—on a layout distinguished by very tight turns. With an initial drop of 128 feet, Montu posts top speeds of 60 mph and pulls 3.8 gs. Also inverted, Montu is intense and exhilarating but less visually interesting than (and not as smooth as) Cheetah Hunt.
- THE INCREDIBLE HULK COASTER, ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE No weak points here. A tire-propelled launch system takes you from 0 to 40 mph in 2 seconds up the first hill, hurling you into a twisting dive of 105 feet. From there, it’s two loops, two flat-spin corkscrews, a cobra roll, and a plunge through a 150-foot-long tunnel to the end. You hit speeds of 67 mph and pull as many as 4 gs. Unequivocally, the Hulk has the best start of all roller coasters in Central Florida.
- KUMBA, BUSCH GARDENS With a track of almost 4,000 feet, seven inversions, a 135-foot first drop, g-forces of 3.8, a top speed of 60 mph, and a very tight layout, Kumba can hold its own with any coaster. Features include a 114-foot-tall vertical loop, two rolls, and interlocking corkscrews, among others. We find Kumba a little rough, but sitting toward the back of the train mitigates the problem somewhat.
- KRAKEN, SEAWORLD The Kraken was a ferocious sea monster kept caged by Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. Much of this Kraken’s track is over water, and it takes a number of sweeping dives into subterranean caverns. A very fast coaster, Kraken hits speeds of 65 mph with one drop of 144 feet, and it boasts loops, rolls, and corkscrews for a total of seven inversions. Though not inverted, the cars are open-sided and floorless.
- SHEIKRA, BUSCH GARDENS SheiKra is pretty much one-dimensional—it drops like a rock straight down (a sheikra is an African hawk known for diving vertically on its prey). After scaling the 200-foot lift hill, the coaster descends over the lip of the first drop and brakes to a stop. There you’re suspended, dangling for a few anxious moments until the train is released. On the way down, you hit speeds of 70 mph and enjoy the best air time of any Florida coaster. Following a loop, the drill is repeated on a second, more modest drop. The cars on SheiKra seat eight people across in each of three rows. Accordingly, the track is very wide, making for a plodding, uninspired ride except during the two drops.
- HOLLYWOOD RIP RIDE ROCKIT, UNIVERSAL STUDIOS “The Triple R,” as some locals call it, opened in August 2009 as Universal’s second roller coaster. RRR trades full inversions for steep dives and tight corkscrew turns. The ride is a lot more jarring than we expected, with a fair amount of lateral shaking. The gimmick here is that you can select your own music to accompany the ride. Views from the top of the 167-foot lift hill are killer. The Triple R reaches top speeds of 65 mph.
- ROCK ’N’ ROLLER COASTER, DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster reaches a height of only 80 feet, lasts just 1 minute and 22 seconds, and incorporates just a couple of design elements, but that 0- to 57-mph launch in 2 seconds is totally sweet. Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster is a dark ride (that is, it’s indoors), and the story is that you’re on your way to an Aerosmith concert in a big stretch limousine. Speakers in each car blast a soundtrack of the group’s hits synchronized with myriad visuals that erupt out of the gloom. The ride is smooth. It’s no Mako or Manta, but it’ll put a big grin on your face every time.
- REVENGE OF THE MUMMY, UNIVERSAL STUDIOS If we were ranking attractions as opposed to coasters, this one would rank much higher. Revenge of the Mummy is a super-headliner hybrid, of which its coaster dimension is only one aspect. A full description of the attraction can be found starting on page 694; for the moment, however, we can tell you that it’s a dark ride full of tricks, surprises, and top-notch special effects, but you’re in roller-coaster mode for only about a third of the ride.
- MIND BLOWER, FUN SPOT AMERICA The only notable coaster to open in Central Florida in 2017, Mind Blower is a new take on Coney Island–style coasters of the past. Its best trick is a corkscrew inversion right over the loading station. The layout is 2,290 feet and includes a 115-degree overbanked curve. What it lacks in theming (that is to say, it has none) it makes up for in respectable drops and air time.
- SPACE MOUNTAIN, THE MAGIC KINGDOM When you strip away the theme of this beloved Disney favorite, you’re left with a souped-up version of the Wild Mouse, a midway staple with sharp turns and small, steep drops that runs with two- or four-passenger cars instead of trains. But when you put a Wild Mouse in the dark—where you can’t anticipate the turns and drops—it’s like feeding the mouse steroid-laced cheese. Space Mountain may be toward the bottom of our ranking, but in the hearts of many theme park guests, it remains number one.
- BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN RAILROAD, THE MAGIC KINGDOM With its runaway-mine-train storyline, Big Thunder is long on visuals but ranks as a very innocuous roller coaster: It offers no inversions and has a top speed of just 36 mph. Though many riders consider it jerky and rough, it’s a Rolls-Royce compared with the likes of Gwazi and Kumba at Busch Gardens. Unlike on Gwazi, you can ride with your arms in the air.
- HARRY POTTER AND THE ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS, UNIVERSAL STUDIOS This indoor coaster incorporates 3-D projection, detailed sets, and a storyline of the Potter Fab Three rumbling through the underground vaults of Gringotts Wizarding Bank as they try to escape archenemy Voldemort. There’s a load of action, some nifty track-switching, and a free-fall simulation, but the ride itself is tame: There’s one 27-foot drop and one big up-launch, with no change in track elevation in between.
- SEVEN DWARFS MINE TRAIN, THE MAGIC KINGDOM The mildest roller coaster on this list, Seven Dwarfs is designed to be the first or second roller-coaster experience for grade-schoolers. Its unique feature is that the ride vehicles swing slightly from side to side, which amplifies the turning sensation you feel in the ride’s tight curves. Like Big Thunder, Seven Dwarfs is a steel coaster with no inversions, and it has a top speed of around 34 mph. Because the track is much smoother than Big Thunder’s or Space Mountain’s, you may not feel as if you’re moving very fast.
For a full description of all the roller coasters and what there is to do when visiting the theme parks, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for our newsletter here.