Thursday, July 3, 2003

Roller coaster craze never-ending cycle


Thrill rides abound in Tristate

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Now it begins - peak season in the neon world of amusement parks. With it comes the busiest time of the year for roller coasters.

TRISTATE COASTER TOUR
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Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, is the world's tallest (420 feet) and fastest (120 mph).
Ride along with columnist Jim Knippenberg, who hit 46 coasters at six Tristate amusement parks in six days.
Rate and review the coasters: Are you a coaster maven? Tell us what you think and see how others rate them.
Read Knippenberg's report on his tour
Map & information about the coaster parks (PDF)
Paramount's Kings Island estimates 50,000 visitors on an average weekend. But this Fourth of July weekend, it's bracing for 100,000 visitors who will take 504,000 roller coaster rides.

Ohio is home to 51 coasters, second only to California's 70. Toss Indiana and Kentucky into the mix and you have 72 coasters within a four-hour drive of Greater Cincinnati, something no other region can boast.

Overall, there are 627 roller coasters in the United States, according to the Roller Coaster Data Base (www.rcdb.com). That means Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are home to more than 10 percent of the nation's population, including:

• The park holding the record for the most roller coasters anyplace on earth. Cedar Point, with 16 coasters, has the title and refers to itself as America's Roller Coast, because of its location on Lake Erie.

• The world's tallest and fastest coaster - Cedar Point's 42-story, 120 mph Top Thrill Dragster.

• The world's tallest, fastest and only looping wooden coaster - Paramount's Kings Island's Son of Beast, 7,032 feet and 92 mph.

• The world's longest coaster ride - PKI's Beast at 4 minutes, 30 seconds.

• The coaster credited with beginning the current coaster craze - PKI's Racer, built in 1972 after an industry slump that began in the late 1930s.

Clearly, we live in a coaster epicenter. Why that's so isn't so clear.

"I think it's because it's just ingrained in people - like it's in their blood or something," says Tim O'Brien, senior editor of Amusement Business. "Coney Island and Cedar Point have been around more than 100 years, and parents have been taking their kids that long. Kids who grew up going then take their kids.

"It's a cycle that has taken on a life of its own by now. One of the things that keeps the cycle going is a new roller coaster that's bigger, better and faster. The parks know that and play to it."

Dennis Speigel, owner of Cincinnati's International Theme Park Services, agrees but goes further.

"It's born out of our geography," he said. "We have no beaches, and the mountains are too far for a day trip. So Ohio invented its own fun, and that was the amusement park.

"As these parks evolved, they found that the coaster is king. It's what brings people out. It especially brings out the teen market, and that's an extremely rich one in terms of disposable income.

"So, we just keep building more coasters."

And yes, if you build it, they will come. The nation's 263 amusement parks this summer will get an estimated 320 million visits (not people, visits).

O'Brien estimates that more than half of those visits will involve coaster riding. According to Speigel, 17 percent to 20 percent will go only to ride coasters.

Safety concerns will not slow them.

"Look at the statistics," Speigel says. "The industry rate is one accident per 3 million visits. And understand that an accident can be anything, even a stubbed toe or a splinter from a bench."

E-mail jknippenberg@enquirer.com

RATE AND REVIEW THE 46 COASTERS
The tour: 46 coasters, 3 states, 6 days
Map & information about the coaster parks




TRISTATE ROLLER COASTER TOUR
Roller coaster craze a never-ending cycle
The tour: 46 coasters, 3 states, 6 days
RATE AND REVIEW THE 46 COASTERS
Map & information about the coaster parks

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