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Cheap Thrills: Nine of the Best Roller Coasters in the US

Flickr/Patrick McGarvey
By AAA Travel Editors
August 22, 2019
There’s no better legal way to get a thrill than riding a great roller coaster. With better engineering than ever and a healthy competition to build the biggest, fastest, longest track, theme parks across the country are taking riders on adventures like never before.
Montu and SheiKra roller coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa in Florida
Wikimedia Commons/Jeremy Thompson
Busch Gardens Tampa
Tampa, Florida
(888) 800-5447
These floorless roller coasters will tie your tummy in knots. Montu whisks you into a corkscrew roll, drops, loops, seven inversions and an Immelmann loop. SheiKra climbs 200 feet, dangles you at the edge of a vertical drop, then it plunges in an Immelmann loop, a second drop and a tunnel underground, ending in a splashdown. After your stomach knots untie themselves, eat a hearty meal in Ybor City at AAA Three Diamond Columbia Restaurant, purportedly the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
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Griffon roller coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia
Flickr/Patrick McGarvey
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Williamsburg, Virginia
(757) 229-4386
Your heart will pound before boarding Griffon, as you’ll be anticipating a 205-foot free fall—right after a cruel cliffhanger stop. Two Immelmann loops (a half loop and half twist, exiting in the reverse direction) and another vertical drop lead to a splashdown, dowsing nearby spectators. After drying off, head to the AAA Two Diamond Shields Tavern, where costumed waitstaff serve American fare while musicians entertain—don’t hesitate to sing-along.
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Fury 325 roller coaster ride at Carowinds Amusement and Water Park in Charlotte North Carolina
Courtesy of Carowinds Amusement and Water Park
Carowinds Amusement and Water Park
Charlotte, North Carolina
(704) 588-2600
Located on the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, this high-adrenaline theme park boasts a whopping 14 roller coasters, including two of the tallest steel coasters in North America. With a peak height of 325 feet, aptly named Fury 325 is by far the most popular; prepare for more than 3 minutes of heart-pumping action as you reach speeds of up to 95 mph on one of the longest steel tracks in the world. The Intimidator is another favorite—the Dale Earnhardt-inspired coaster features seven drops and speeds up to 80 mph.
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Valravn roller coaster at at Cedar Point in Sandusky Ohio
flickr/daveynin
Cedar Point
Sandusky, Ohio
(419) 627-2350
Valravn is a fast, long and tall dive roller coaster that will make you feel like you’re flying. After climbing 223 feet, you hang over the top of the fall for four long seconds before plunging 214 feet. Next, you’ll soar into a giant Immelmann maneuver, another dive, a loop, a roll and a brief airtime before landing back on solid ground. Cedar Point has 17 more roller coasters that are just as exciting, including Millennium Force (which reaches speeds up to 93 mph) and Steel Vengeance (a steel and wood hybrid coaster).
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Sign for the Lightning Rod roller coaster at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge Tennessee
flickr/Martin Lewison
Dollywood
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
(865) 428-9488
Resembling a bright red 1950s hot rod painted with flames, the Lightning Rod wooden coaster will feed your need for speed. Feel adrenaline course through your veins as you’re launched 20 stories to a brief airtime (rising out of your seat as you crest a hill), followed by twin airtime summits and a tortuous, 165-foot drop. Nine more airtime elements, as well as banked turns, twists and loops will take you cruisin’ through Dollywood’s surrounding hills and trees.
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Banshee and the Beast Kings Island roller coaster in Mason Ohio
Wikimedia Commons/Jeremy Thompson
Kings Island
Mason, Ohio
(513) 754-5700
Kings Island, a AAA GEM® attraction, claims to have the world’s longest wooden and steel inverted roller coasters. You can almost hear The Beast’s wooden track roar as you hurtle at speeds up to 65 mph through tunnels and banked turns in the surrounding forest. And if you’re not already hoarse from screaming after The Beast, you’ll shriek like a banshee through seven loop and roll inversions (where you’re turned upside down) at a maximum speed of 68 mph on Banshee’s steel track. The park is also home to Mystic Timbers, a thrilling wooden coaster with more than a dozen hills and drops that will have your stomach doing flip-flops.
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Mako roller coaster at SeaWorld Orlando in Florida
flickr/traveljunction
SeaWorld Orlando
Orlando, Florida
(888) 800-5447
Ascend 200 feet to a brief, spectacular view. Mimicking the fastest-known shark, Mako propels you as fast as 73 mph through nine airtime hills and banked turns. For more thrills, ride the floorless Kraken and face-down Manta roller coasters. After walking around the park all day, pamper your aching feet at the full-service spa at AAA Four Diamond Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld. Beat the heat at the hotel’s water park.
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Kingda Ka Rollercoaster at Six Flags
flickr/Chun Yip So
Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari
Jackson, New Jersey
(732) 928-2000
Ready to ride what is reputedly the tallest steel roller coaster in the world and the fastest steel coaster in North America? Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari’s Kingda Ka is nicknamed “The King” for a reason. You’ll reach speeds of 128 mph in just under 4 seconds, climbing to a height of 45 stories before dropping back down in a 270-degree spiral. Another crowd favorite is El Toro; one of the fastest wooden coasters in the world, it includes a 176-foot drop at a 76-degree angle.
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The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando
Haxortech/iStockphoto.com
Universal's Islands of Adventure™
Orlando, Florida
(407) 363-8000
Blast off into a spiffy, special effects-enhanced tunnel while rock music blasts and speeds reach 67 mph. The Incredible Hulk Coaster® twists you and turns you through upside down, weightless rolls. Avoid Orlando’s traffic jams by staying on property at the AAA Four Diamond, Italian Riviera-inspired Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando™.
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