The Scariest Summer

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Lee

Parks are upping the fear factor this year with new coasters, flight simulators, and full-on vertical drops. (Bring your Pepto-Bismol.)

Nothing says summer like being whipped through the air at 60 miles per hour while screaming at the top of your lungs. With the onset of the hottest months and kids out of school, 110 new thrill rides have opened up in more than 70 parks across the country: flight simulators, elevated windjammers, vertical whirligigs, and good old-fashioned roller coasters. A sampling of America's newest, most hair-raising, and--put down that chili dog!--potentially nausea-inducing thrill-park offerings.

CHEETAH HUNT

Busch Gardens, Tampa, Fla.

THRILL FACTOR:

WILD ANIMALS

This "mega-attraction" joins two seemingly disparate experiences: a crazy-fast roller coaster and an animal park. Along 4,429 feet of track, riders rocket through twists and dives, experiencing weightlessness thanks to an upside-down "airtime parabola," and crest a 102-foot summit before plunging into a series of subterranean trenches. If that's not enough to whiten your knuckles, check out the 13 actual cheetahs who often sprint within sight of the track. "Both the coaster and the cheetahs run at 60 miles per hour," points out Jeff Hornick, Busch Gardens' director of design and engineering.

DARE

DEVIL DIVE

Six Flags Over Georgia, Atlanta

THRILL FACTOR:

95-FOOT DROP

No branding tie-ins here. No special effects and no meta-narrative backstory. Just a nerve-racking, 95-foot vertical takeoff, followed by its namesake dive. The drop eventually levels out into high-speed corkscrew inversions known as "rings of fire." According to Phil Hettema, a ride designer and theme-park planner, the roller-coaster industry may have nearly exhausted its arsenal. "We're probably not far from pushing the limit in terms of ways you can experience G-forces," he says. "But there will always be a market for the biggest, baddest, best thrill ride. …