Six Flags Great Adventure, in Jackson, N.J., has three fairly spectacular offerings. The Nitro offers a stomach-churning 215-foot drop (the Cyclone's biggest drop is 85 feet) and speeds approaching 80 miles per hour. The Medusa is a "floorless coaster," meaning there'll be nothing but air beneath your feet as you plunge thirteen stories and go around ten turns—some of them upside-down. Then there's Superman—The Ultimate Flight. We asked Steven Urbanowicz, the author of The Roller Coaster Lover’s Companion and a man who has ridden no less than 866 coasters on three continents, including 25 times on Superman, for his assessment. The verdict: Flying along a four-foot-wide, half-mile-long track that reaches heights of 115 feet at up to 60 miles per hour while strapped by the chest and ankles in the prone position is indeed super. The double pretzel loop is particularly terror-inducing, says Urbanowicz. At the peak, “you’re suddenly upside down with 78 feet between your forehead and the ground.” Um, up and away.
Route 537, Jackson, NJ; 732-928-1821, sixflags.com.
There are two schools of coaster aficionado: those who think there are plenty of great roller coasters and those who know there's just one: The Cyclone, at Coney Island's Astroland. "All the other roller coasters in the world are just carbon copies," insists Colleen Whyte of the American Coaster Enthusiasts. The 1927 landmark, once described by Charles Lindbergh as "scarier than flying solo across the Atlantic," evokes a combination of nostalgia and fierce territorial pride from most New Yorkers. "I'm always amazed by these people who leave New York City to go to Six Flags," says Bill Galvin, a member of Coaster Zombies. "They've got the best thing just a subway ride away."
Astroland Amusement Park, Brooklyn; 718-265-2100, astroland.com.
The Dragon Coaster at Rye Playland is another antique gem—a 75-year-old wooden coaster that features a 128-foot drop into the mouth of a dragon. Connoisseurs describe it as relatively tame, but love the scenic views of the Long Island Sound. The park itself, opened in 1928, wins praise for its lovely Art Deco design immortalized in Big.
Rye Playland, Playland Parkway, Rye, N.Y.; 914-813-7000, ryeplayland.org.
If you think you've seen it all, you'll want to drive the two hours to Lake Compounce Theme Park in Bristol, Connecticut, to test out the Boulder Dash. This $6 million coaster is built onto the side of a mountain overlooking a lake. It was once voted Best Wooden Coaster in the World by the National Amusement Park Historical Association, but most riders prefer to describe it simply as "awesome."
Lake Compounce Theme Park, 822 Lake Avenue, Bristol, CT: 860-583-3300, lakecompounce.com.