Vote of the week: Getting over a fear of roller coasters?

September 20, 2013, 11:02 AM · As a parent and a theme park fan, I love going on thrill rides with my kids. But the feeling hasn't always been mutual. Okay, before you jump to any conclusions about my relationship with my kids, it was the thrill rides that my children didn't always like, not me. (At least, that's what they're telling me….)

These days, my kids are teenagers and they demand extreme thrill rides that make even me raise my eyebrows when we get to the queue. But I've met many Theme Park Insider readers over the years whose kids haven't yet gotten over their fear of big roller coasters and other thrill rides. Heck, I've met plenty of adults who still won't get on a coaster with inversions, huge drops or even high-speed turns. Earlier this week, our Bobbie Butterfield wrote about how she overcame her fear and skepticism of coasters, as an adult.

Full Throttle at Six Flags Magic Mountain

How do you feel about extreme roller coasters and thrill rides? Are you game for anything a theme or amusement park can throw at you? Or would you rather not take a ride in the jiggle box or on the runaway train when you're on vacation? Were you once scared of big thrill rides, and eventually overcame that? If so, how did you do that? What helped you make that switch in attitude?

Limitations in engineering, budgeting and even human endurance have slowed the Coaster Wars that once seemed to bring a new "world's tallest" or "world's fastest" roller coaster in the United States every year or so. But creative roller coaster designers, such as Switzerland's Bolliger & Mabillard, continue to devise new combinations of track elements, seating arrangements and train configurations that deliver original thrill experiences — for people will to give them a try, that is.

Some people just never have cared about thrill rides. They come to parks for the story, the music, the setting — something other than physical thrills. And some fans couldn't imagine anything other than simply loving big thrill rides, from even before the time they were bid enough to ride the. But plenty of theme park fans have had to confront their own, or their children's, fear of roller coasters and thrill rides. They want to go, but that height, those speeds, something, intimidates them and keeps them from getting on board.

What then? It's one thing to force yourself to confront a fear, but would you force a child to ride? Some parents do that, and their kids embrace the experience, becoming lifelong thrill fans. Others? Well, if you thought theme park tickets were expensive, try therapy bills.

I've tried to let my children decide what to ride, on their own terms, not mine. I'd explain the ride, make a case if I thought they'd enjoy it, but then tried to be quiet and accept their decision if they said no. Yet I understand the longing that many parents have to share one of their favorite experiences with their children, and the frustration that ensues when the kids don't want to do it. Heck, some kids do seem to respond best when they're told what to do. It's an individual judgment call.

Got a good story about overcoming a fear of roller coasters? Please share your thoughts about extreme thrill rides, in the comments.


Replies (15)

September 20, 2013 at 11:17 AM · I was never afraid of going in roller coasters because I remember being small and watching my parents going, and I couldn't go because I didn't have the mininum height. So ever since I was tall enough to go, I've been going to roller coasters. And the same thing happened to my young sister, so I think wanting to go in a roller coaster overpowered any fear I might have had.
September 20, 2013 at 11:17 AM · As I get older (58), I see myself cutting back. I no longer can do 0-120. 0-70 is my max now. Going backwards and going through a helix is now bothersome. Don't you hate getting old :(
September 20, 2013 at 12:33 PM · When I was young my family would take a yearly trip to Busch Gardens Europe and I was scared to ride the coasters. I would always sit on the sidelines with my mother. I attributed to a fear of heights. Finally when I was around 16 I got up the courage to ride Loch Ness Monster, Big Bad Wolf and Drachen Fire. Although I enjoyed Big Bad Wolf I still wasn't fond of coasters. Now that I have a young baby (1 year old) I think about all the parks I want to take her too that I've been too. You see around 5 years ago my wife and I were invited to Hersheypark. I manned up and rode a few of the coasters but not all of them that day. The next year I wanted to take my wife to Busch Gardens. There was a big debate on whether we should go or not from the drive all the way to the exit to the park. I decided to take the exit and my wife and I held hands and just walked without stopping to think to the entrance of Apollo's Chariot. After riding AC I was completely hooked on coasters. I think my wife gave me the strength and courage to face that fear. I am in my mid thirties so I am a pretty new coaster junkie. Since then my wife and I have traveled to many parks and rode a lot of coasters (Cedar Point, Kings Island, Kings Dominion and many many others). What really breaks my heart now is that my father always wanted me to ride with him and I never did. I was always too scared. I think one thing that would have helped alleviate my fear would have been the knowledge that most coasters have multiple restraints, i.e. a seat belt and OTSR. I also think the best approach is to just do it. Just walk straight thru the entrance and on the coaster. It helps if there is no line and you can get on without thinking too much about it. Nowadays I can ride them with my eyes closed and am even bored with some rides but I Love em!!!
September 20, 2013 at 12:41 PM · I remember sitting on the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney-MGM Studios with my mom when I was seven, and crying. The ride broke down right before the launch, so we sat there for what seemed like forever. I was literally in tears, then it launched unexpectedly and I threw my arms up and screamed "YEAAHHH!". I loved it, and I loved roller coasters after that. Well, not all of them.

I remember always thinking to myself when I went to Universal's IOA that I would NEVER ride the Hulk. I would rather have died that rode it. It terrified me. However, on a 5th grade field trip to IOA, I forced myself on it and then it easily became my favorite roller coaster.

Then it just moved on to a fear of big drops, (not curving drops, but large, steep ones) which formed when my mom tricked me on IOA's Jurassic Park River Adventure. I wouldn't ride anything that had a steep drop, like Kraken. I was even scared of Splash Mountain and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls. The feeling in my stomach bothered me a ton. I would still ride them, but I dreaded the drop. However, with the help of Mystery Mine, Tower of Terror and Sheikra (my true testament), I began to love giant, steep drops. And the "stomach feeling". But now I'm used to that stomach feeling, and I don't really get it anymore... :(

September 20, 2013 at 12:56 PM · I have always loved roller coasters of all shapes and sizes (growing up in Tampa meant there were a lot of pretty good close options), but I have to say that the only time I was truly scared to ride an attraction was when I rode Big Shot in Las Vegas. I usually feel completely safe even on the most extreme roller coasters, but something about being on top of a 1000-foot tower and then being shot upward and then pulled down was a lot to take in for me. I know it's not technically a roller coaster, but it sure was thrilling and easily the scariest riding experience I have ever had.
September 20, 2013 at 1:11 PM · Since I started getting seriously into coasters in my early 20's (mid-1980's) I've never really been scared of any type of roller coaster.

Except one.

I had never ridden a Flyer, regardless of manufacturer, until my first visit to SF America. Probably late 90's, early 2K's. I had seen footage of and read about Stealth, the first Vekoma flyer, and it held a lot of appeal to me. It seemed a really cool concept.

Then I got on the damn thing. Batwing at SFA, to be specific. I was shaking while riding, sweating, scared half to death. When I got off the ride I was disoriented, shaking..I really felt like the ride had done a number on me not only physically, but psychologically as well. I felt..well, I felt broken. I had to sit down for a half hour before I could get my legs under me. I've only felt that way on one other coaster since...another Vekoma flyer, X-Flight at Geauga Lake. That was a few years later, and my reactions were exactly the same.

In 2007, I was gonna make a trip to the midwest to visit a number of parks and meet a woman who was a coaster enthusiast. I didn't want her to see me in that state, so before I went to meet her and share a ride on FireHawk at Kings Island (which WAS, in fact X-Flight's new existence)...I made myself do a half-dozen rides on the B&M flyer at Great Adventure (Superman: Ultimate Flight.) I got through those rides, enjoyed FireHawk a lot more than I enjoyed the company of the person I was with, and I like flyers now. I hear Manta and Tatsu are among the best, but I haven't been on those. I won't always ride flyers because of the horrendously, excruciatingly slow loading procedure. But I certainly don't have those reactions anymore when I do ride.

September 20, 2013 at 1:18 PM · This was a great article. You pretty much captured how I feel. The one thing I will add is that as your body gets older your feeling towards the coasters changes. I am 39 and about to turn 40 in a few months. My stomach, back, neck, and head cannot take the jostling of rides like they used to. Some of the more extreme rides are just painful for me now. But, ten years ago I would have had no problems and twenty years ago I would have thought they were the best rides ever.

Psychologically, my attitude towards coasters and big thrill rides has changed over time, especially having kids who depend on me. Before I was married and had kids, I would take a lot of risks that give me pause now. When my boys were really little, I was super careful with everything so nothing could ever happen to me because then the kids would not have a mom. I know rationally and logically the coasters are safe because the parks would not stay in business if they weren't...but I did not want to take even a one in a million chance of being taken out of the picture when my boys were little.

My older son is now 12 and my younger one is 9 and I am starting to get over some of this fear. They are testing the waters on riding coasters, but my husband takes them on the junior versions. I think maybe when my boys are in their teens and I've ridden some of the little coasters with them that as a family we might all graduate to the real thrilling coasters.

But I need baby steps to get there. It's fun thinking of myself at 60 and being a grandmamma who has white hair and rides all the big coasters in a leather jacket or something. That's a fun future to imagine 20 years from now for me.

September 20, 2013 at 5:04 PM · You need a 4th selection in the poll.

"I liked them before, but not now."

Roller coasters seem to have lost their way. I do not see a reason to try them anymore. Instead of being fun or thrilling, most are BLAH. Boring.

1. Too nauseating. They drain the rider with constant looping, drops, and spirals. Each one trying to top another.

2. What might be consider thrilling isn't really. They scare the heck out of me. Or maybe they just go much too fast for me to notice.

3. Many don't take advantage of their height or speed. They don't work with the environment for emphasize the vistas and the land or hills.

4. They focus on stats that are meaningless. If one more theme park brags on a slightly higher, faster, or number of loops, number of drops or something else, I guess I will just have to roll my eyes.

5. Many rides are hard to experience with the uncomfortable seat belts and lap bars. Lets try passenger comfort for at least one time folks.

6. One place that roller coaster makers haven't mastered is the length of time on a ride. Let's try a roller coaster that lasts at least 5 minutes.

7. Ride theming is another problem waiting to be solved. Can we take it to the next level? Maybe Universal will do it with Diagon Alley. I'm less hopeful with Disney's Dwarf coaster.

Roller coasters should be fun. It should not be a fearful ride. It's a stereotype that needs to be fixed for good.

September 20, 2013 at 6:12 PM · I've encouraged my children to try age-appropriate rides and roller coasters at our local theme parks (Disneyland, Legoland, Knott's Berry Farm). The height limits usually act as a good guide. As they've gotten older, they have tried rides like Big Thunder Mtn, the Dragon, and Space Mountain and generally enjoyed them.

The older one doesn't like rides with big drops, including flume rides like Splash Mountain or the Timber Mountain Log Ride, but is willing to ride them together as a family. 90 percent of the time when I encourage them to try something new, they end up liking it a lot. Next up will be Indiana Jones at Disneyland.

Right now they would not ride anything that has an inversion ("goes upside down") or looks too extreme, like Xcelerator or Ghost Rider, even if they could. I'm going to let them decide when they are ready for those kinds of thrill rides. I probably used more persuasion on the classic Disneyland thrill rides like Space Mountain or Splash Mountain because I wanted our family to enjoy the ride together (so far, no signs of need for therapy).

September 20, 2013 at 9:15 PM · Always loved thrill rides, but the rough ones are just unpleasant for me. My problem is with the rattlers, those metallic or wooden monsters that shake your body and cranium at high speed. After several years of operation, some coasters have become just too rough, and need to be refurbished. The Incredible Hulk at IOA is a prime example for me. Great coaster, but it makes me feel like I boxed with the big green guy himself.
September 20, 2013 at 9:58 PM · There needs to be a 4th option..... I use to like them, but now not so much.

I liked thrill rides as a teenager but now in my thirties I don't enjoy being slung around and seeing how much I can push my limits so much. I still love theme parks, but I appreciate parks like Walt Disney World a lot more now that are not totally focused on what is the highest and fastest thing we can build.

September 21, 2013 at 1:31 AM · I have always loved roller coasters but I find now I am into my 6th decade (52 this year) that my love is tempered by the ride. I now rate smoothness over everything else so, for example, last November I adored Manta at Orlando, despite it being very intense, but found that one ride on The Incredible Hulk was more than enough.
September 21, 2013 at 11:56 AM · I've always loved visiting theme parks, but when I was younger I did not like thrill rides at all. Even only moderately intense rides like the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Splash Mountain scared me up until I was in 4th or 5th grade. However, there is one ride I credit with converting me into a roller coaster junkie: GhostRider. Despite what it may be today, back when it opened GhostRider was one of the best rides in the world, and after riding it once I was hooked on thrill rides. Of course, I didn't immediately go on everything, but I started trying larger and more intense rides and after a few years I finally got to the point where I felt like trying X2 (then the original X). I don't think I've been scared of any ride since then.
September 21, 2013 at 6:36 PM · Being too persuasive (pushy) to get your kids to ride a thrill ride can sometimes look like a mild form of child abuse. Don't do it. I hate seeing crying kids being made to ride something before they are old enough or have the desire to because it is what the parent wants. It also creates an uncomfortable scene for others around (to see someone drag a child kicking and screaming on to something that they will then possibly cry for the duration of).
If the child does not want to go on Pirates of the Caribbean or whatever, dragging him on their kicking on screaming is probably not going to have the desired results unless you are just wanting to see your child have an emotional scar that possibly makes them hate going to amusement parks. Given time, if it will be something they are interested in, after enough conversation and curiosity, most will make a decision to venture out and ride what they are comfortable with without having to be shoved.
September 24, 2013 at 12:03 AM · Yeah, I used to like roller coasters. I still like the idea of liking rollies - but my body is betraying me. Dang you, body!

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