Luna Park, Thrill Machine

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

Electro Spin. Photo: Ofer Wolberger for New York Magazine

10. Electro Spin
Riders face out in a circle atop an enormous red-and-purple disk, which slides along a half-pipe track, rapidly gaining speed as it spins from end to end. Kind of like a Tilt-A-Whirl, but with no tilting and more whirling.
Brandon: “Really fun! Somehow the spin made the drop seem less steep.”
Dad: “What’s that in the back of my throat? Oh—breakfast.”
Kids: 8.5
Parent: 8.5

Air Race. Photo: Ofer Wolberger for New York Magazine

11. Air Race
The park’s star attraction. Riders sit in stripped-down propeller planes that “fly” fast in a circle, then swing sideways, either stopping short of the apex, passing the apex for a full roll, or pausing upside down at the top.
Dad: “I’ll watch with the girls.”
Jack: “Ohhh! I could feel all the blood in my face! It was kind of like being in a washing machine!”
Kids: 10
Parent: N/A

12–15. The Kiddie Rides
These include the Big Top Express (12), Speed Boat (13), Tea Party (14), and Balloon Expedition (15). All fine for the 5-and-under (minimum 36 inches) set.
Lila: “Definitely for little kids.”
Kids: 5.2
Parent: N/A

16. Beach Shack
A beachy structure gets caught in a mechanical tornado, lifts about ten feet, then wobbles and spins.
Lila: “It felt like a barn out to sea.”
Dad: “The cumulative gyrations are starting to pile up.”
Kids: 6
Parent: 6.5

17. Happy Swing
Two six-seat swings pendulum back and forth, not too high, not too fast.
Brandon: “I can’t even look at anything else that spins.”
Dad: “Me neither.”
Kids: 4
Parent: 5

18. The Tickler
A fun, if mysteriously named, combination roller coaster and teacup ride. There’s no tickling, but there are steep climbs and fierce drops, plus the nagging sense that you could fly off into one of the neighboring decrepit buildings at any time.
Phoebe: “It helped to close my eyes.”
Dad: “Woo-hoo! We’re finished!”
Kids: 9.3
Parent: 8.8

Luna Park, Thrill Machine