Traveler Editor Describes New Style of Roller Coasters

National Geographic Today
May 11, 2001

Tom Foreman, co-anchor of the TV news show National Geographic Today, talked with Traveler magazine editor Keith Bellows about what's new in theme parks.

With summer almost here, millions of people are making plans to visit theme parks all around the country. A guide to the hottest trends is available in National Geographic Traveler. This month's "Smart Traveler" features the latest on machines that make you scream.

Keith, you say these are "dream parks" and "extreme parks" that are being developed now. What does that mean?

Well, the dream parks are the sort of faux experiences, such as Busch Gardens at Williamsburg, which re-creates the whole idea of being in Ireland. But the real meat and potatoes in the theme park explosion is in the extremes, and that's the roller-coasters. You're getting now way, way past the traditional roller-coasters, the wooden roller-coasters—the things that were at least within the realm of sanity—and going right out on the edge.

Now these don't even seem to me to be roller coasters because they do so many things unlike normal roller-coasters.

They really do, and I think the key to success is excess. So you take a roller coaster, for instance, like the XLC in Virginia, you go from 0 to 80 in 1.8 seconds—as well as 200 feet up—you're almost back before you leave. It's a 45-second experience.

Are these things really safe, because so many people get on them year after year and the illusion is certainly one of danger?

Well, the illusion is of danger. Statistically, they are safe, and actually they're a lot safer than some of the earlier roller-coasters that seem really a bit more pedestrian.

Is there any end in sight to the development of these, because it does seem that this is just a competition between designers to make it scarier, faster and higher.

Well, you're exactly right. There's one now called the "Bat Wing," which essentially mimics being in a supersonic aircraft. Spins around, upside down, twists you around in a pretzel sort of logic. So yes, there's real competition to come up with the next greatest, fastest, scariest thing.

There certainly seems to be a market for this. I don't see a let-up—particularly in the number of teenagers that want to go to these places.

Continued on Next Page >>




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