Strapped in, face down with the track above us, we ascend the first hill. As the ground gets further away, I clutch the harness around my shoulders and shut my eyes. My inner child is cringing: This is no way to behave in an amusement park. The guy sitting next to me cheerfully describes what I refuse to look at: “We’ve got to be a good 100 feet up and there’s nothing between us and the ground except some steel and plastic.”
I open my eyes, turn my head and look – out, not down. I see Atlanta’s skyline, but not for long. The car reaches the top of the hill and we descend in a blur of yellow, chased by screams and laughter. Another hill and we’re facing the track. For a second, I get the vague sense of what a bug sees before hitting a windshield. But we don’t hit. We’re launched headlong into a loop. More screams, more laughter. I realize the laughter is mine and the screams are coming from the seat next to me. My arms are extended. I’m flying on Superman’s Ultimate Flight at Six Flags Over Georgia.
Summertime trips to amusement parks are an American family tradition – as much as picnics, baseball games and road trips. Jim, from the Superman ride, said he visited Six Flags every year when his family came from Birmingham to see relatives in Georgia. The entire family attended; once his grandfather lost his glasses on one of the roller coasters. Throughout the park you’ll see dads carrying enormous stuffed animals, moms leading the troops to a show, and kids measuring themselves against the “You Must Be This Tall” signs.
Roller coasters are a rite of passage. Ask anyone about their first roller coaster and they’ll tell you the name of the coaster, how old they were, where they sat, who was with them, and if they’re honest, how scared they were.
Jim’s first coaster was the Dahlonega Mine Train. “I rode it with my dad, he said. “And i was terrified. My dad knew this, so he started acting scared, too. When I saw that my dad was scared, I felt better and it wasn’t so bad.”
The Dahlonega Mine Train is Six Flag’s first steel roller coaster (it was built in 1967). It’s a good transition from the kiddie rides and a great first coaster ride – or an excellent choice if you’re afraid of heights. It’s quick, but not too fast (top speed is 29 mph), and the dips and turns are friendly.
Six Flags has all the usual amusement park rides: double-loop roller coasters, water rides, train rides, sky buckets and the terrifying pendulum ride. (For the record, the pendulum is not my favorite ride.) The draw is the non-prototype rides: Batman, the Georgia Scorcher, Superman, DeJa Vu, Acrophobia and the two wooden roller coasters, the Georgia Cyclone and the American Scream Machine.
Not such a good idea for your first roller coaster (yet very similar to my first experience) is the Georgia Cyclone. Tall, steep, wooden and fast, this roller coaster was built in homage to the Coney Island Cyclone. It’s thrilling to look at and even more fun to ride, but do yourself a favor: Don’t bother with the middle seats. If you can, sit in the first car. The first hill will have you screaming before the car descends and it takes half the ride to get over it. The last car is a good place, too. The visual isn’t quit the same, but the speed is more intense.
Then there’s the Georgia Scorcher. The Georgia Scorcher is one of the tallest and fastest stand-up (yes, stand-up) coasters in the Southeast. Wondering how you’ll get through the loops and spirals? On your feet. If you can’t get in the first or last car, grab an outside place to stand. The train sways with the track and the person on the outside of the car has the sensation of being dangled over the edge.
Riding the Great American Scream Machine is mandatory. Built as a monument to modern roller coasters and their designers, this wooden roller coaster stretches 3,800 feet along the Chattahooche River and in 1973, was the tallest, longest and biggest roller coaster in the world (105 feet). The ride is fast (top speed is 57 mph), the hills are steep, and the view from the top is impressive (I even saw a hawk circling near our car). Many roller coaster enthusiasts still consider this as one the greatest roller coasters.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to fly like a bat, you’ll find out on Batman the Ride. Batman the Ride is a suspended coaster with two vertical loops, two single corkscrews and a heartline spin that creates the feeling of weightlessness (if you even it notice it while you’re screaming). This ride is fast (50 mph) and the loops and twists are continual. The ride goes something like this: “There’s the parking lot. There’s the sky. There’s the parking lot. There’s the sky. Parking lot. Sky. Parking lot. Sky.” Don’t be so quick to laugh at the dizzy riders after the ride ends. Chances are, you aren’t walking straight either.
Get your bearings – it’s time to fly like Superman. Superman’s Ultimate Flight is the South’s only flying roller coaster. Before you get in line, take a good look at the track. The first loop is in the shape of a pretzel. Now wrap your adrenaline-soaked mind around this: You’re going to take that loop from under the track, head on. On this ride, you see what’s coming, and before you figure out how it can be done, it’s over. High-banked curves, spirals and a 360-degree roll – this is how Superman flies when he wants to show off. After the ride ends, stop at the counter of the gift shop (you have to walk through it) and look at your picture. Then, go out and get back in line.
A friend of mine described DeJa Vu: “It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done – I loved it.” DeJa Vu is the park’s only boomerang roller coaster. It is also the tallest and fastest of its kind. Here’s how it works: When the ride leaves the main tunnel, the train ascends a 90-degree tower backwards, and stops (the cars are suspended below the track). Then the train drops down the tower, through the tunnel, makes a series of flips, spins, loops and turns, goes up another 90-degree tower, and stops. But it’s not over – the train drops again and you go through the ride in reverse.
Then there’s Acrophobia, a free-fall drop from 200 feet in the air. The idea is simple: Strap yourself into the circular car and don’t look down. At the top, the car rotates and tilts forward (it’s hard not to look down at this point), and when you least expect it, you drop. A couple hints: One, try to get a seat on the southeast side of the ride. This way, you can look at Atlanta before the fall. Two, if you’re nervous about this ride, ride the Great Gasp first. The Great Gasp is probably passed over by many thrill seekers because it looks nostalgic, but note this: It’s higher than Acrophobia. Bench seats equipped with parachutes are suspended in the air (you can see Atlanta from here, too) and then gently dropped. There are mothers with small children on this ride. And if a six-year old can ride the Great Gasp, you can ride Acrophobia.
The summer issue of Travel Georgia featured amusement parks. I was dispatched to Six Flags Over Georgia and rode every thrill-seeker’s ride (that was open). I wanted to create an article that strayed from dry, historical reporting of the rides, so I wrote it in the first person to give the reader a sense of what to expect on the rides.