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Vote of the week: Backwards or in the dark -- which coaster thrill do you prefer?

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Published: May 10, 2013 at 10:40 AM

We've long offered a couple nuggets of advice to people who say that they're afraid of riding roller coasters. First: Keep your eyes open and focused on the track in front of you. Imagine that you are "driving" the roller coaster and that the track in front of you is the road ahead. Often, that uncomfortable feeling that people get in their stomachs while on a roller coaster comes from feeling a loss of control. Imagining yourself driving the coaster can trick your mind into reclaiming that sense of control, allowing you to feel more at ease and able to enjoy the pure speed and the twists and flips that the coaster offers.


It's easier to imagine a coaster train as being a car you're driving when the coaster train is decorated to look likeā€¦ a car.

Our second nugget of advice flows from the first. Help yourself feel more comfortable on launch coasters by mashing your right foot down as the coaster takes off. Imagine that you're pressing hard on the gas pedal of your car, trying to get it to accelerate as fast as it can. Again, you're imaging yourself "driving" the coaster, trying to reestablish that mental sense of control that will put your nerves and your stomach at ease.

All that said, after you've become comfortable on roller coasters, if you're like many of the coaster fans here on Theme Park Insider, you'll reach the point where you don't want to feel comfortable on them anymore. You'll want to feel those nerves -- that sense of dread in your stomach and panic in your heart. You'll start craving that sense of not having control.

Raging Bull

Roller coaster designers have plenty of tricks that help them amp up the thrill level on their coasters. Two of their classic tricks eliminate the ability to see the track ahead of you, robbing you of that opportunity to reestablish mental "control" of the ride. How do they do that? They can build the coaster indoors and run it in the dark, or they can flip the train and run it backwards.


Here's a backward launch coaster for ya!

Yesterday, we heard from Theme Park Insider reader Anthony Murphy, who showed us Six Flags Great America's inverted coaster Batman: The Ride, which the Chicago-area park has started running backwards this season. Universal Studios Japan ran a backwards train on its Hollywood Dream coaster earlier this year and Kings Island visitors have for years had the option of riding that park's wooden Racer coaster frontwards or backwards.

Millions of theme park fans have enjoyed roller coasters in the dark, too, from Disneyland's relatively tame stateside Space Mountains to its head-rattling, multiple-inversion Space Mountain: Mission 2 at Disneyland Paris. Universal has used indoor roller coaster track to add thrills to dark rides, such as its Revenge of the Mummy rides and its upcoming Gringotts ride at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.

But when it comes to pure thrill, which way do you prefer to "ride blind"? Backwards, or in the dark? That's our vote of the week.


Tell us in the comments about your favorite (or least favorite) backwards or darkened roller coaster. And thank you, as always, for reading Theme Park Insider.

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Readers' Opinions

From Brandon Mendoza on May 10, 2013 at 10:54 AM
Space Mountain. Without the visual cues, you have no idea how fast you're really going. Backwards really doesn't do it for me.
From Dominick D on May 10, 2013 at 10:58 AM
In the dark, of course.
From 96.25.150.63 on May 10, 2013 at 11:09 AM
Doesn't Expedition Everest do both?
From 199.249.176.73 on May 10, 2013 at 11:13 AM
This is an easy one. In most cases, backwards coasters are not comfortable. This is really true in cases where the ride wasn't originally designed to go backwards. They once did this with the Screamin' Eagle at Six Flags St. Louis, but that was a bad idea. Coasters in the dark are almost always a good move. Space Mountain in Paris is a classic, and the WDW and DL rides are great too. Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and The Mummy are also nice examples.
From Michael Weissman on May 10, 2013 at 11:29 AM
This post just got me thinking for a type of coaster I haven't seen yet..
Something similar to X or X2, where the seats move as you ride, but instead of rotating up and down, they rotate sideways..
Imagine as you climb the first lift hill you are facing forward and then as it does it's final arc and slight descent your seats turns around to face you backwards as you watch yourself plummet down, and then through the first huge loop after the drop your seats turn back forwards midway through the loop.

It would be disorienting at it's best!

From Bryce McGibeny on May 10, 2013 at 11:31 AM
Roller coasters in the dark are my favorite kind.
From 173.73.84.247 on May 10, 2013 at 12:09 PM
Hmmm... when I think of a dark coaster, I think of Space Mountain. And while I can maybe ride that once when we go there, I really can't stomach it multiple times after that. But with that said, other "dark coasters" like Mummy or Rock'n'Roller Coaster are great and love to ride them. I guess my problem is REALLY REALLY dark with no no idea of what the coaster is doing AND the coaster decides to really moves you around a lot.

With that said, I actually like backward coasters. I love Sidewinder at Hershey. A number of coasters at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in CA are great. And I miss when they use to have the Rebel Yell at Kings Dominion go backwards.

From Don Neal on May 10, 2013 at 1:01 PM
Expedition Everest backwards in the dark for the WIN! Revenge of the Mummy also :)
From AJ Hummel on May 10, 2013 at 4:35 PM
Definitely dark coasters. Backwards rides are fun, but I find them much more nauseating than forward facing rides (example: I could ride SFMM's Colossus all day without ill effects (not that I'd want to), but one ride on backwards Colossus during Fright Fest left me somewhat dizzy and I would never want to do more than two rides in a whole day on it). With the exception of coasters with short, tame backwards sections, rides that run in reverse are a once per day attraction for me.

Dark coasters, on the other hand, I have no problem with, and even the most intense of them that I've experienced (Flight of Fear and Space Mountain: Mission 2) are rides I rode several times during my visits to the respective parks. I never once felt any ill effects. For thrill rides, I still strongly prefer outdoor rides where you can tell where you're going, but for relatively tame coasters being in the dark can add significantly to the experience (example: Disneyland's Space Mountain is a really good ride, but if the coaster was in the middle of an open field it would be a very boring ride).

From Daniel Etcheberry on May 11, 2013 at 8:07 AM
I'm not a coaster fan, but I like the Mummy; for this reason I choose "in the dark".
From Bobbie Butterfield on May 10, 2013 at 5:50 PM
Good article! But I think I'll leave the driving to someone else. I don't actually like riding backwards or riding in the dark but given a choice, I'd prefer to ride backwards because I like to see where I'm going. I skipped Flight of Fear when I went to Kings Dominion because I just couldn't get my head around the idea of being turned upside down in the dark; maybe next time. On the subject of riding backwards, there's something about it that I find disconcerting. I've done it on two coasters but would never do it on any other type of ride. I am reminded of a ride prevalent in theme parks and known by different names; it's designed to resemble a pirate ship and rocks backwards and forward, with the riders in the back getting the brunt of it when it's rocking backwards at its maximum height. Although I have no problem with being launched at 128mph up 460 feet or dropping 300 feet at an 80-degree angle, there is no way that I could handle the rocking boat. Help!
From Becky Lee on May 10, 2013 at 6:27 PM
The most scared I have been on a roller coaster was riding backwards.
From Melanie Howe on May 10, 2013 at 6:42 PM
I'll echo a couple previous comments.... I like both together on Everest and the Mummy. I just wish the Mummy's backwards section lasted longer :-).
From Mike Gallagher on May 10, 2013 at 11:33 PM
Tough call. I like both, but I went with Backwards. Exterminator and Rock and Roller are favorites of mine. But I loved riding the wood coasters in reverse. One of the best times I ever had at a park was at CoasterMania several years ago, closing down Racer in the early hours of the morning riding backwards.

I truly hope Great Adventure tries this experiment with its version of Batman (same as Great America's)...I'll be a willing lab rat.

From rick stevens on May 11, 2013 at 12:08 AM
Not a big fan of backwards, I prefer trying to see where I am going. This said I love Space Mountain and the thrill of not knowing when a turn is coming. I loved the old SM with the cookies and the darkness of the original. I think the current experience is very close to that, but seems less unexpected. Maybe just me, getting older.

If I was to try a backward ride, I think that Colossus at Magic Mountain during Halloween would be a different experience. They run it backwards, or at least they used to, I think the noise alone would be intimidating. Most of the backward rides are pretty much straight line or, like Boomerang, just redo what you have already experienced.

From Kelly Smith on May 12, 2013 at 9:31 AM
Backward coasters make me seriously motion sick.
From 121.223.228.213 on May 12, 2013 at 7:01 PM
Dark coasters are great. I would rate in order what I have been on 1st Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris,much better than the other Disney parks followed by Rock n Rollercoaster at Disney Hollywood Studios Florida it is better than the Paris version. Big Thunders Railroad in Paris last drop going back under the river is pitch black and very step a real suprise you do not expect. Space Fantasy at Universal studios Osaka is great as its Space Mountain on a Spinning Coaster carriage!

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