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Luna Park, Thrill Machine

The writer and a posse of kids assess Coney Island’s new adrenaline factory.


Illustration by Bryan Christie

“Finally your job is paying off!” Lila says. When you are 8 years old, the fact that Dad’s job provides the rent money is a distant abstraction—what’s important is that he has to personally test every ride at Luna Park, the three-acre, $15-million fun zone that debuted over Memorial Day weekend in Coney Island. To get the full kid perspective, I was joined by Lila and her 14-year-old brother, Jack, and their pals Phoebe (also 8) and Brandon (also 14). Starting an hour before opening time on a Friday (the park’s operator gave us a head start to avoid lines), we collectively rode all eighteen rides (a nineteenth, the Wild River flume, opens the July 4 weekend), with our smallest members sitting out the scarier attractions and me and the teenagers bypassing the kiddie rides. We graded each ride on a 1-to-10 scale, with 1 representing utter lameness and 10 signifying outright exhilaration.

1. Eclipse
A circle of seats facing out from a central pole; you’re strapped down and then swung, pendulum-style, in ever-widening arcs, until you rise about 50 feet in the air … while also spinning in a circle.
Lila and Phoebe: “No, thanks. Too scary.”
Jack: “I loved the feeling of g-forces against my face.”
Dad: “Great view of the boardwalk and ocean, until everything starts spinning sideways and plummeting. There must have been easier places to start.”
Kids: 8.5
Parent: 8.5

2. Hang Glider
You lie down on a sledlike plastic surface, which is suspended by cables from a tower. The sled rotates, lifting and dipping at random intervals.
Lila: “Like piloting your own magical flying ship!”
Jack: “It was okay. I don’t think I’ve ever been on my stomach on a ride before.”
Dad: “Lying on my stomach after that first ride now seems like a really bad idea.”
Kids: 6.4
Parent: 5

3. Coney Island Sound
A series of high-backed seats attached to a central pole glide in a circle, pretty fast, then bounce up and down unpredictably.
Jack: “Kind of like being in a car with uncontrollable hydraulics.”
Dad: “A nice, moderate pace and spin, though not exactly exciting.”
Kids: 7.5
Parent: 6

4. Circus Coaster
A mini–roller coaster with a satisfying but not scary initial drop, then a series of fairly sharp turns.
Lila and Phoebe: “Let’s do it again!”
Kids: 8.4
Parent: 7

5. Mermaid Parade
An oval flume ride with a single “hill” that sends the “log” into a gentle splash. Only for the youngest and the lightest—there’s a rider weight limit of 50 pounds.
Phoebe: [Yawns.] “Well, my pants got really wet.”
Kids: 1
Parent: N/A

6. Surf’s Up
No water, but a serious wavelike experience. Riders stand with their backs to half-size longboards, atop a 30-foot surfboard attached to a curving metal track. The board glides horizontally, then builds speed and throws in a few 360-degree spins.
Lila: “Awesome!”
Dad: “Seemed less like surfing and more like being on the SS Minnow.” [Blank stares.]
Kids: 7.3
Parent: 7.5

7. Coney Tower
A smaller version of the amusement-park staple: You’re seated in a circle that rises slowly, then drops without warning; rises some more, drops faster; rises …
Jack: “Kind of disappointing. I kept waiting for that one really big drop. Didn’t happen.”
Kids: 6.6
Parent: 5

8. Lynn’s Trapeze
Small bucket seats that swing out in increasingly wider circles as you’re lifted up about twenty feet.
Lila: “I felt like I was flying with my own jet-pack!”
Jack: “Dad, you look like you’re gonna barf.”
Dad: “I tried focusing my eyes on a fixed point. Didn’t help.”
Kids: 7.3
Parent: 7

9. Brooklyn Flyer
A much larger version of Lynn’s Trapeze. The red plastic bucket seats rise about 100 feet in the air as they’re flung out into an orbit big enough to circle a skyscraper.
Lila and Phoebe: “No way.”
Jack: “My favorite so far. It was really cold up that high, and you could see forever.”
Dad: “Maybe I should have taken two Dramamines instead of one.”
Kids: 9.5
Parent: 9

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