The concept of a drop-tower ride is simple: Vehicles carrying nerve-wracked passengers rise high in the air, pause for a few anxious moments and then — cue the screams — plummet to the ground.
Perhaps the most famous drop tower ride is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Walt Disney World, which has been wracking the nerves of visitors since 1994. (A similar Twilight Zone attraction opened at Disney California Adventure in 2004, but Imagineers changed it a couple of years ago for a “Guardians of the Galaxy” theme.) Its faster-than-freefall drop, which, according to Disney lore, plunges 13 stories in its 199-foot tower, is plenty thrilling.
But there are attractions at other parks that tower above the Twilight Zone — way above. Let‘s run down the tallest drop tower rides at parks in North America. If you are deathly afraid of heights, you’ll surely want to steer clear of these contraptions, all of which soar so high into the airspace the Federal Aviation Administration requires them to be outfitted with warning beacons. You’ve been warned.
Valleyfair in Minnesota has a 250-foot drop
We begin our tower tour at Valleyfair near Minneapolis where the Power Tower ominously looms 275 feet in the skyline. Built by ride manufacturer S&S, the three-tower attraction combines two of the company’s models, both of which use compressed air launch technology.
Two of the towers are Turbo Drops, which slowly ascend the tower, momentarily hesitate at the top, and then drop. On the third tower, known as a Space Shot, passengers shoot from the bottom to the top of the tower and then drop and bounce a couple of times before the ride mercifully ends.
“Our ride gives visitors the opportunity to try both experiences,” says Raul Rehnborg, vice president and general manager for Valleyfair. “Whether you are on the bottom waiting to be shot up or at the top waiting to drop, there is this overwhelming anticipation of not knowing when it’s going to happen.”
When the rides do happen, passengers experience -1Gs of unsettling weightlessness on the Turbo Drop, while the Space Shot delivers up to 4Gs of crushing forces, according to Rehnborg. He adds that the attractions offer a unique rider perspective. As compared to roller coasters, on which passengers are in enclosed cars and proceed along a track, drop tower riders sit in stripped-down, outward-facing seats with their legs dangling and have unencumbered views.
The wham-bam experience is over in a brisk few seconds. While the tower rises 275 feet into the sky, the actual length of the drop is 250 feet. There is a similar Power Tower at sister park Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. That tower is also 275 feet tall, but its drop is a bit shorter at 240 feet.
Kings Dominion in Virginia has a soaring 272-foot drop
The other major manufacturer building crazy-tall tower rides is Intamin. Its Gyro Drop model features a ring of outward-facing seats that gently spins as it slowly climbs to the top of the tower. It then freefalls down to the ground until magnetic brakes kick in. Drop Tower at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia, ascends a 305-foot tower and drops 272 feet, while Drop Tower at Kings Island in Kings Mills, Ohio, rises up a 315-foot tower and falls 264 feet.
Six Flags in Texas boasts a free fall of 300 feet
Look! Up in the air! It’s Superman: Tower of Power at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. The three-tower S&S attraction combines the Space Shot and Turbo Drop experiences into one ride. Passengers get blasted up the 325-foot tower, plummet about halfway down, and then slowly rise to the top again. After a few knee-knocking moments checking out the Dallas skyline in the distance, they free fall down 300 feet to the bottom, followed by an airtime-filled bounce halfway back up.
Marineland at Niagara Falls has triple towers
Moving up north to Niagara Falls in Canada, Sky Screamer at Marineland also drops a whopping 300 feet. But its triple towers, which are capped by a long extension, measure a total of 450 feet. Located high on a hill within the park, the ride seems all the more imposing. Sky Screamer can be seen a few miles away by spectators on both the Canadian and American sides of Niagara Falls.
Busch Gardens in Florida terrifies riders with tilting seats
As if climbing a 335-foot tower and free falling 310 feet isn’t wacky enough, Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens Tampa in Florida adds a downright sadistic twist. After slowly climbing the tower and stopping at the top, the seats tilt down 95 degrees so that passengers face the ground. Perched precariously high in the sky, riders mull their fate for a few seconds until the attraction unleashes its fury. Accelerating to 59 mph, the seats return to upright positions about halfway down the tower.
Six Flags in California has a five-second free fall
The first drop tower in the world to crack the 400-foot mark is on the same tower as a record-breaking coaster, Superman: Escape from Krypton at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California. Named after Superman’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom slowly climbs to the top of the 415-foot tower, hangs there to allow pulses to go haywire in anticipation, and then drops to give riders a five-second free fall experience that seems like an eternity. The ride is even more intense when the coaster launches and rattles the tower at the same time. Superman was the country’s first coaster to hit 100 mph. Lex Luthor reaches a potent 85 mph on its descent to terra firma.
Six Flags’ drop in New Jersey hits 90 mph
The world’s tallest drop tower ride shares the same tower as the world’s tallest coaster. Like the Superman coaster, Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, is launched at a ferocious speed. But Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom takes its poky time as it climbs its 456-foot tower. Business picks up considerably on the free fall down when the drop tower’s riders hit 90 mph.
As we crisscross the country in search of the deepest dives, let’s give a shout-out to a couple of unusual drop tower rides that merit honorable mentions.
The drop at Glenwood Caverns in Colorado sits goes underground
At 7,160 feet above sea level and perched atop Iron Mountain some 1,300 feet above the Colorado River, the Haunted Mine Drop at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, is the country’s highest-elevation drop tower ride. But what makes it truly unique is that it is the only drop ride in the world that goes underground. Embedded in a shaft drilled into the mountain and hidden from view, passengers enter the ride vehicle and free fall in darkness into the ground. The ride includes show scenes and effects to embellish its haunted mine story.
Las Vegas Strip boasts a drop on top of a tower — at 900 feet
Instead of inky blackness, passengers aboard the Big Shot blast up amid the iconic bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip. Compared to the record-breaking drop tower rides, it features a relatively puny 160-foot tower. But — and it’s a pretty big but — the Big Shot is situated on top of the Stratosphere Tower, and riders begin their journey at the 900-foot level. Pulling major Gs at more than 1,000 feet above Sin City would freak out even the most hardened thrill junkie.
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