Amusement park season is upon us in its crowded, noisy glory. Navigating one is no easy task. How can you find the shortest lines? What clothes should you wear for the most comfortable experience? And if you're a thrill-seeker, what foods should you chow down — or avoid — to ride as many roller-coasters as possible without getting sick?
To guide you through a quintessential amusement park experience, we visited Six Flags Great Adventure, known for having some of the gnarliest roller-coasters in the country. We rode all 12, ranked them, and put together the best tips on conquering your favorite rides — including a few pointers to keep in mind if you don't want to end up on your knees in a bathroom stall.
Beauty regimen: Ladies, don't plan for a good hair day. Choose a hairstyle that won't tangle into a million knots or get caught in your harness — gasp! If you're trying to take that cute photo for Instagram, do that before your first coaster.
Footwear: One word: sneakers. Comfort and walkability are the only two measurements to be concerned with when choosing footwear.
Sunscreen: Even on cloudy days, it's easy to burn at an amusement park. Besides, no one wants to bear a T-shirt tan for the rest of the summer.
Motion sickness: One of us — you can guess who — learned to never to ride a roller-coaster if you don't feel 100 percent. If you feel sick, try eating a soft pretzel or white rice to settle your stomach. Keep in mind that just because your friends are fine doesn't mean you'll be OK, too.
Company: Roller-coasters are more fun with friends, so bring people who will have fun riding with you. To conquer rides at a faster pace, go with a smaller group, and, remember: It's OK to take a break.
According to Theresa Shank, a nutritionist who founded Philly Dietitian, and Bret Ulozas, the New Jersey regional representative for American Coaster Enthusiasts, what you eat can make or break your amusement park experience.
"One of the most important things to remember is that you should never ride a roller-coaster on an empty stomach," Ulozas said. "But you can't be too full either. Don't overstuff yourself."
Shank recommended roller-coaster riders stay away from fried foods and dairy, (though not an easy task in amusement parks.) "If you're looking for a snack, a soft pretzel is a good choice because it has carbs and is easier to digest," she said.
An ideal meal at Great Adventure, according to Shank, is a whole-grain turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes. For a quick sugar fix, she recommended apples or grapes. Water is just as important.
"You should never forget to hydrate," Shank said, "It's especially important on really hot days when you're outside under the sun."
Bethany: If you come to Six Flags and skip the tallest roller-coaster in the world, is it even worth the trip? I'd argue no. Kingda Ka is different from other roller-coasters in the park because it uses a hydraulic launch system to go from 0 to 128 miles per hour in three seconds. I didn't think it was possible for me to breathe a sigh of relief as we ascended the 456-foot-tall hill, but that's how scary those three seconds were. All that being said, riders looking for that stomach-dropping feeling may be disappointed. You don't really get that here, despite coming down at a 90-degree angle.
Claire: This ride goes by so fast you don't have time to scream. (But, somehow I still managed to). Like Bethany, I agree that no Six Flags trip is complete without a ride on the world's tallest coaster, so it's in your best interest to suck it up and strap in. If you need some motivation: The 6-year-old who was three seats in front of me was having a blast.
A few tips: Kingda Ka breaks down a lot, so riding this roller-coaster first thing in the morning is a good idea. According to Ulozas, you should also try to keep from clenching your teeth as to not hurt your jaw. If you open your mouth, you might also swallow an unsuspecting bug. Also, don't freak out — easier said than done, we know — if your coaster rolls down backward without making it over the hill. The ride is designed to relaunch if that happens!
😱😱😱😱😱 (5 out of 5 screams)
😣😣😣(3 out of 5 sick faces)
How the ride works: You stand on a platform, confined in a chest harness fully equipped with side bars around your upper body (and ears). There is a small seat — almost like a bike seat — positioned high enough so that an average-sized woman could squat but not fully sit down.
Claire: When I go to an amusement park, I cherish sitting down. Thanks to long lines and spread-out attractions, this almost exclusively happens on the roller-coaster itself. Unless you're riding a stand-up coaster. Second, this ride rattled my head so hard I actually regretted my super cute cartilage piercing. That being said, Green Lantern wasn't exactly my cup of tea — or extremely large Six Flags soda.
Bethany: Oh, Green Lantern. I don't want to blame you for making me sick. I know that I shouldn't have eaten those five blueberries before getting strapped in, but the truth is that you just weren't the smoothest roller-coaster! Like Claire, I prefer sitting down when I'm careening through the air at 70 miles per hour, and standing up just made the whole experience more disorienting. If you don't do well with twists and loops, skip this one.
😱😱😱(3 out of 5 screams)
😣😣😣😣(4 out of 5 sick faces)
Claire: It goes without saying that any ride after Kingda Ka is a bit of a letdown. This ride was unique because you lie on your stomach (like a flying Superman) while twirling around usual loops and turns. However, it didn't move super fast and left my neck feeling stiff and funky.
Bethany: I was fooled by the seemingly slow speed of this roller-coaster — the drops and turns on this one felt faster than they probably were because, for so much of the ride, you're plummeting toward the ground, face-first. Again, if you're prone to motion sickness, you probably won't like the feeling of "lying down" on this ride. It left me feeling quite dizzy.
😱😱(two out of five screams)
😣😣😣(three out of five sick faces)
Claire: Another ear banger — that damn cartilage piercing — but nonetheless a solid ride. Batman is faster than Superman and Green Lantern, and the seats hang underneath the rails, which I always consider a pristine touch. This allows the roller-coaster to swing fluidly through its loops and turns.
😱😱😱(three out of five screams)
😣(1 out of five sick faces)
Bethany: Wooden roller-coasters have faded from the limelight in recent years, but don't sleep on El Toro — it's one of the scariest rides at the whole park. It also runs on steel tracks, making it much smoother than your average boardwalk wooden coaster.
"I actually think riding in the last seat of El Toro is the scariest thing you can do at Six Flags," Ulozas said. "It's like falling off a cliff, and you go down the hills even faster because the cars before you pull you down."
Because El Toro is full of hills, expect to go through plenty of g-force — what you feel when you're falling. The most unnerving part? Some of the wooden beams in the ride's structure are so low that it seems like they can take your head off while you're zipping through. (Ulozas said that contact is actually impossible, but the designers of the ride wanted to give riders a real scare.)
Bethany: Do you have little ones itching to try a "real" roller-coaster? Take them on this one. It has plenty of small hills that give you a taste of what that stomach-dropping feeling is like and fast turns, but it's still manageable. It's a little old, so the ride can be jerky for older folks, and the cars were definitely designed for kids because the lap bar felt extremely snug. Overall, skip if you're only there for the big thrills, but if you need something more family-friendly, this is a safe pick.
Claire: Nitro gets a high rating in my book. Riders only have a lap bar to cling onto which makes it intimidating in an "Oh my god am I actually going to fly out of this coaster" kind of way — but all in all contributes to a thrilling experience.
If you're like me — meaning that you've put off squats all summer — then you'll probably find yourself levitating over your seat on some of the hills. Sounds scary, and it is, but it's also fun.
The one negative about Nitro is that it looks out over the Six Flags' parking lot and a strange construction site. The first drop caught me off guard because I was busy searching for my car. I'd advise looking forward and holding on tight.
Claire: Bizarro is a floorless roller-coaster with plenty of twists. It was exciting, ranking in my top three, along with Nitro and Batman.
I rode with some cool strangers on this one (again) because Bethany had taken a break after throwing up after Green Lantern. They advised that I find better friends to actually ride the coasters with me. Subtweet.
Bethany: I loved Space Mountain as much as any kid who grew up going to Disney World, but Skull Mountain just wasn't as much fun. There are plenty of tight turns and small drops that you can't see coming, but overall, this ride was forgettable in comparison to all the steel roller-coasters. But if you're looking for a breather in the middle of the day when it gets hot out, Skull Mountain is a great pick because it's completely indoors.
Claire: If you've ever been on the classic "mousetrap" ride — a small roller-coaster on which riders whip around a squiggly track in four-person-sized carts — featured at parks such as Hersheypark, Dorney, and Jersey Shore boardwalks, this is pretty similar. The only difference is that the Dark Knight is in a dimly lit enclosure rather than outdoors, making the iconic jolts and turns all the more, well, jolty. I would definitely not recommend this to anyone who is prone to whiplash or has a fear of the dark. The ride itself wasn't terrifying, however, because there were no upside-down loops or extreme vertical drops.
(0 out of 5 😣)
Claire: This one was so funny I forgot to laugh. And, I can honestly say I wouldn't do it again. "Why so serious?" — well, here's why: This ride is the worst. Not only does it start out with a slow, 90-degree pulse to the peak, it also has the audacity to launch you down steep drops while your body somersaults around an axle of the roller-coaster car.
Side note: this coaster runs on two tracks — the green track and the purple track. The operator recommended I go on the green because it "usually has more spins," and, unable to swallow my pride, I obliged. Turns out, the extra spins were the last thing I was looking for. I was so disoriented after riding the Joker that I almost went into shock in fear that it would start up again. But, hey, don't let me deter you from trying it out yourself.
Claire: OK, Six Flags, I'll be honest, the most noise your big reveal got out of me was a slight giggle — when I realized my shoelace was untied. Cyborg, Six Flag's newest thrill ride, isn't your traditional "loop-de-loop" coaster. Rather than running along a track, Cyborg levitates above a platform and then spins and twirls through the air. Without a track, the drops and flips are unexpected — a slight thrill factor. Granted, I had already ridden multiple other coasters, and it was opening day, so the park may not have wanted guests puking off the bat — possibly a wise idea.
We'll have to check back later in the season to see if things speed up.