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Disney/Theme Parks: Coasters Offer Hi-Tech Thrills

To all those theme park vacationers out there, I must confess that I have never taken my kids on a roller coaster. Put us on horses and take us trotting down through the trees; sail us out to a reef where we jump down to swim with the sting rays; take me to the top of an icy mountain even and send me barelling down for the first time on a snowboard. But suggest that I try the or the with the kids and even the thought of looping around upside down at 80 km per hour turns me green.

It doesn't matter that the rib-racking V at Crystal Beach, Port Erie has been taken out of service (the only roller coaster with its own nurse on call). Or that Richard Bonner, managing director of the Coaster Enthusiasts of Canada tells me how to cure motion sickness: never ride on an empty stomach, don't drink coffee or pop beforehand, don't lean your head sidewaise (oh, sure), and, if feeling queasy, draw in large amounts of air through your mouth and hold for two seconds. I still cannot fathom the idea of hurtling through space at a G-force stronger than space shuttle lift-off.

Nevertheless, my three kids have ridden coasters from California to Niagara Falls and love to compare the twists, turns and thrills. It gets harder every year as amusement parks compete to install the world's tallest, the planet's fastest, history's longest, most stomach-churning ride. The And what's with this devilish Swiss engineering firm, whose scientists continue to devise increasingly complicated coasters based on the laws of physics, gravity and just sheer terror?

For those travellers whose summer vacations inevitably include amusement parks, here's where to find some crazy (according to me, not the kids) loopy fun:

CEDAR POINT, SANDUSKY, OHIO: About a five hour drive from Toronto, this amusement park on the shore of Lake Erie has been called the roller coaster capital of the world. Some 12 coasters have been erected here since the first was introduced more than one hundred years ago. Two of the planet's most fearsome live here-the Mantis, a 12 million dollar extravaganza that takes riders standing up through a 119-ft loop and flips them four times, and the Raptor, which takes ski lift-style chairs through loops, corkscrews and a cobra roll. Still, visitors can recuperate on one of the tallest ferris wheels in the world. Younger kids will enjoy meeting Mama, Papa, Sister and Brother at Berenstain Bear Country.

BUSCH GARDENS, WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA: A great break from all the history at nearby Colonial Williamsburg and the Jamestown Settlement, this amusement park offers 40 rides in the hilly setting of Old World Europe. Thousands of readers surveyed by Family Fun magazine voted this park as their favorite in the U.S. after Disney. The Loch Ness Monster coaster has been called "absolutely terrifying," taking the riders on a double loop and then dropping them 114 ft in 5 seconds. The Alpengeist is an upside down sensation with the world's largest inverted vertical loop.

SIX FLAGS MAGIC MOUNTAIN, VALENCIA, CALIFORNIA: About 30 minutes drive north of Hollywood, this park featured as Walley World in National Lampoon's Vacation. Its Revolution wooden double-track coaster consistently rates in the top ten, while the Viper bills itself as the "most frightening ride on Earth." The brand new Riddler's Revenge takes visitors standing up through tortuous acrobatics-up the tallest lift hill, then flipping six times at the fastest speed yet. Little ones can visit Bugs Bunny World to mingle with the Looney Tunes characters.

KENNYWOOD, WEST MIFFLIN, PENNSYLVANIA: About 18 miles from Pittsburgh, this park is known for its fabulous French fries and its wooden coasters. Listed as a National Historic Landmark, the park still features its 1901 tunnel-of-love ride. Then time travel forward to the Thunderbolt, the "woodie" famous for its finish-two near-100-ft. drops or the 1922 Jack Rabbit, one of only two coasters that features a "double dip" (two drops in a row). The Steel Phantom ties for the world's longest drop and fastest continuous speed.

HERSHEYPARK, HERSHEY, PENNSYLVANIA: Built as a picnic spot for Hershey Chocolate employees, this park has just introduced the Great Bear coaster. From 90 feet, the ride spirals down 124 feet reaching a speed of almost 60 mph. Recupe with cold Hershey bars from the vending machines. Pets can spend the day at their own "Barking Lot."

Those who get excited about roller coasters, and even those who don't, should rush to the current exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre which lets kids build their own coasters, and adults reach coaster g-force by riding around a loop upside down on a bicycle. On Sept. 4 and 5, The also profiles famous coasters such as and lets you ride virtually on the twists of The Amusement Park Guide (Globe Pequot Press) by fanatic Tim O'Brien will also help you choose your thrills. Who knows? Maybe one of your own household coaster-crazy fanatics will do as he did-get their Master's degree by documenting amusement rides.





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