A summer of new thrills

May 19, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

From ground level your eyes travel up 188 feet of crisscrossed wooden beams to the crest of a gravity-defying drop. At speeds as fast as 70 mph the country's second tallest wooden roller coaster is sure to elicit screams from even the most daring coaster riders.

That's the impression El Toro is giving to thrill seekers as one of America's newest wooden roller coasters nears completion, says Kristin Siebeneicher, spokeswoman for Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., where El Toro is making its home.

The coaster is set to break the world record for the steepest drop of any wooden roller coaster, Siebeneicher says. El Toro riders will experience a 76-degree plunge on their ride.

While there are some finishing touches left before El Toro will open to the public, the wooden coaster is just one of the new attractions thrill seekers can expect to find this summer at regional amusement parks.


An indoor ride with laser shooting, and a giant swing generating speeds greater than 50 mph are a few of the attractions opening this season.

New attractions, big new rides and park renovations have become annual must-haves for theme parks, Siebeneicher says.

"The theme-park industry is highly competitive," she says. "Guests can very easily choose to visit a competitor or use their recreational time to see a movie or take in a show."

Parks want to make sure they keep providing new and exciting attractions to keep visitors coming back for more.

Here's a look at some of the new attractions offered at amusement parks within a six-hour drive of the Tri-State region.

· Six Flags Great Adventure, Wild Safari and Hurricane Harbor

Location: Jackson, N.J.

Approximate driving distance from Hagerstown: 3 1/2 hours

One-day admission price: $59.99 per person 54 inches and taller; $29.99 for children under 54 inches; free, children 3 and younger. Discounted tickets are available online.

What's new: The park's 14th roller coaster, El Toro, is expected to open to the public in the coming weeks. The latest coaster will be a record-setting wooden coaster, set in a new theme area in the park.

With a 76-degree drop, El Toro will have the steepest drop of any wooden roller coaster in the world, says Kristin Siebeneicher, spokeswoman for Six Flags Great Adventure. The coaster also will be the second tallest and tied as the second fastest wooden coaster in the U.S., she says. The Son of Beast coaster in Paramount's Kings Island in Ohio holds the record for fastest and tallest wooden coaster.

"It's pretty intimidating looking when you stand next to it and check it out," Siebeneicher says of El Toro.

El Toro is expected to offer an unconventional wooden roller coaster experience, she adds. While the coaster's body is an all-wood design, trains will be made of fiberglass with composite wheels. That construction should minimize the jerky, bumpy ride typical of most wooden coasters, Siebeneicher says.

Six Flags also unveiled a new children's area several weeks ago. Bugs Bunny National Park is a wilderness-themed area with new rides, interactive water play and the Looney Tunes characters.

"It's beautiful. It's right on the lake," Siebeneicher says of the new attraction area. "Many of the rides do accommodate parents so everyone can ride together."

Park facts: Six Flags Great Adventure features 14 roller coasters, including Kingda Ka, the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world; three children's areas and a 350-acre drive-through safari. There is a separate water park, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, with multiple water slides, a wave pool and other water attractions.

· Hersheypark

Location: Hershey, Pa.

Approximate driving distance from Hagerstown: 1 1/2 hours

One-day admission price: $41.95 ages 9 to 54; $24.95 ages 3 to 8 and 55 to 69; and $17.95 for ages 70 and older. Children 2 and younger, free.

What's new: On Saturday, May 27, Hersheypark plans to unveil a new ride, Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge. Riders are divided into two teams, chocolate and peanut butter, and compete against each other to rack up points. Points are scored as riders shoot laser beams at targets throughout the ride. Riders travel through "competition zones" featuring extreme sports events, according to Kathy Burrows, Hersheypark spokeswoman.

Park facts: Hersheypark includes 10 roller coasters; six water rides and more than 20 rides specifically for children. The nearby ZooAmerica features exhibits of animals native to North America and a bear habitat with a giant swimming pool for the bears. Visitors can learn how Hershey's chocolate is made at Hershey's Chocolate World, right outside Hersheypark. Chocolate World includes a chocolate-making tour ride and a 3D show.

· Kennywood

Location: West Mifflin, Pa.

Approximate driving distance from Hagerstown: 3 hours

One-day admission price: $28.95, adults; $18, children under 46 inches tall; $14.95, seniors 55 and older. Reduced price evening admission is available.

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