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Niles: It’s a golden age for roller coaster fans

Like many theme park fans, I have loved roller coasters for a long time. But what many parks are doing with coasters right now is helping me love these thrill rides even more.

Years ago, parks gave up trying to build coasters that were ever taller and faster than others. Drops over 400 feet and speeds over 140 miles per hour pushed the limits that an average human being can stand. So parks and coaster manufacturers pivoted toward more innovative ways to capture the public’s attention.

We are seeing the results of that shift today in a golden era for roller coaster design. Ten years ago, Six Flags Over Texas opened the first IBox coaster from Rocky Mountain Construction, kicking off a trend for parks to reinvent their rough old wooden coasters as smooth, steel-tracked speed machines. That has given fans new favorites such as Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Twisted Colossus and Cedar Point’s Steel Vengeance.

Other parks are reinventing coasters as narrative-driven attractions. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal Orlando includes as many animatronic characters and show scenes as a traditional dark ride, amplified with the thrill of more high-speed launches than any other roller coaster in the state. Soon, rival Walt Disney World will open Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot, which Disney is calling a “storytelling coaster.” The indoor coaster will feature unique cars that rotate to focus riders’ attention on passing show scenes.

But even outdoor steel coasters are getting better. I just got back from Universal Orlando, which this month opened its Jurassic World VelociCoaster, a double-launched, 70-mph Intamin coaster with a 155-foot Top Hat and a barrel roll that skims the surface of the park’s central lagoon.

Riders go upside down while aboard the Jurassic World Velocicoaster in Jurassic Park at Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando. (Courtesy of Universal Orlando)

The best thing about VelociCoaster might be what it lacks rather than any element it includes. Nowhere on the ride will you find the scourge of a roller coaster fan’s enjoyment — the mid-course block brake.

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