Roller coasters are a fascinating invention. Designed to incite our greatest dreams and our worst fears at the same time, they are without a doubt the most fun aspect of an amusement park (and not to mention, arguably the safest). But they’re not for everyone: not all enjoy the soaring heights or the intense G-forces experienced during those intense drops and corkscrews.
While I find them to be quite enjoyable, I actually was pretty petrified of even daring to ride a roller coaster until very recently. However, once I rode one and overcame this feeling (less of a fear and more of a “nah, let’s just skip it”), I developed a sort-of inclination toward riding as many as I can, when I can. And I must say, Coney Island was the perfect place for me to start this journey.
My very first “real” roller coaster (not counting those small baby ones you would ride with Mom at the kiddie park) was the Thunderbolt in Coney Island. I’ve written multiple articles and pieces about Coney Island over the years, and now, I have ridden the six main roller coasters Coney Island has to offer. Growing up so close to Coney Island, I would often visit frequently, but it wasn’t until this year that I ever gave the roller coasters a try. And wow, am I glad I did.
As mentioned earlier, it was a good place to start, as the roller coasters present here aren’t too intense, but aren’t too tame either. They each offer their own unique elements and features, and now, I’m here to rank all six from worst to best. If you love roller coasters and are ever in Coney Island, I definitely recommend riding all six (which will run you about $45, which isn’t too bad).
6. The Tickler
The Tickler is a spinning roller coaster located towards the front entrance of Luna Park, just behind the Surf Avenue gates. It’s a “wild mouse” coaster, which is a term for a roller coaster featuring spinning circular cars and a bunch of sharp turns, producing G-forces. The Tickler starts with a not-so-steep ascent up a hill, and then gradually begins to descent via sharp turns. Following the four primary turns, you’ll descend down a hill (probably backwards), then experience more turns, and the ride will finally be over.
In case you haven’t noticed, this coaster’s main emphasis is on turns. Sharp turns. Turns that will give you whiplash and bang you around the car without mercy. And it seats four in a very tight space, so if you’ve got company next to you, your legs will be squashed. I will say, it’s pretty fun to go down a hill backwards, especially since the hill isn’t tall or steep, but it’s not for everyone.
At six credits (or $6), it’s the cheapest coaster on this list, and the least intense (and also the most nauseating, and thus the lowest on this list). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ride it, you definitely should, especially if you’re with family, as it’s certainly more of a family coaster. But if you’re a thrill-seeker, there won’t be much thrill with this one.
Unlike the previous coaster, Steeplechase is one whose focus is speed and acceleration. You’ll begin your journey by climbing onto the horse-shaped car, at which point the ride operator will adjust the back cushion, pushing it so far into your back that it will squeeze you into your seat. At least you’re firm, but it’ll be at the expense of your organs slowly being crushed from within. Or at least that’s what it felt like for my friends and I when we rode this coaster.
The train will slowly move forward and stop at the launch pad, where a stoplight will count down from red to yellow to green, and when it hits green, be prepared for takeoff. Steeplechase is an acceleration coaster, so its primary element is its fast acceleration right at the start. Once this occurs, you’ll be launched forward up the white tracks, and around a few banked turns, and before you know it, that’s it. The ride’s over.
Steeplechase costs seven credits, or $7, and it’s not a bad ride. If you like fast speeds and breakneck turns, it’s for you. But its short duration and the tight nature of the seat which you ride in leads to a pretty uncomfortable experience, leading to it ranking fifth on this list. Again, it’s certainly a good ride, and I definitely recommend you ride it, but it’s not for everyone.
Phoenix is Coney Island’s newest coaster, opened in the summer of 2021. Its bright red and yellow paint scheme make it hard to miss, but it’s easy to miss because it’s not actually part of Luna Park, but rather Deno’s Amusement Park. You see, Coney Island is split into two parks, per se: Luna Park, and Deno’s. All of the other coasters on this list are part of Luna Park and require credits from a Luna Park card, but Phoenix is technically part of Deno’s and thus requires a separate Deno’s card.
And this inconvenience hurts the coaster, as many will not be willing to purchase a completely separate card for one or two rides, and will be more inclined to skip this coaster. However, I do recommend you ride all the coasters on this list, as they’re all great and have something special to offer, and Phoenix is certainly not exempt from that. Being a Vekoma Suspended Family Coaster, its main feature is its inverted, suspended nature, as riders seem to be “hanging” from the track and ride underneath it, rather than the traditional nature of riding in a car which itself rides above the tracks. This sets it apart from the other coasters in Coney Island.
Phoenix is another family coaster, but is definitely more intense than The Tickler. While not extreme like Steeplechase, it contains a good balance of thrill and tameness, not featuring a high speed or any steep drops, but is not shy on twists and inversions. If that’s more your cup of tea, Phoenix will certainly satisfy you.
3. Soarin’ Eagle
Soarin’ Eagle is one of those coasters where the anticipation and build up is probably more intense than the ride itself, but it’s nonetheless a fantastic experience. This coaster features you lying forward, stepping into the car and placing your arms through the bars, and then, when the ride operator lowers the back of the car into place, it feels as though they didn’t make it tight enough and you’re bound to fall out. And it’s this that made me the most nervous, but it’s actually designed like that so you feel more “air time”, and thus amplifying the ride experience.
Once the car starts to move, you’ll be taken up to the top via a few twists, and then comes a very small drop and some sharp turns. At some points, the turns are so sharp and come close to nearby buildings that you feel like you’re gonna crash into them, and no amount of holding onto the bars is gonna help. But before you know it, the ride is over. Soarin’ Eagle looks so intimidating from the ground, or from a distance, or from wherever you’re looking at it. It’s even more intimidating when you start that initial climb, but the journey itself is, in my opinion, a bit of a letdown compared to all the hype and intimidation. Nonetheless, it’s certainly a thrilling coaster and a great ride.
The Thunderbolt is probably the most intimidating roller coaster in Coney Island. Opened in 2014, Thunderbolt’s main feature is its 115-foot drop from a completely vertical lift. Following its intense drop which produces about five G’s of force, you’ll enter a large loop, multiple turns and corkscrews, and then finally end your experience on the Thunderbolt.
The Thunderbolt is one of those coasters that doesn’t last very long, but feels like an eternity — and that’s just the way I and many other thrill-seekers want it. From the very top of the ascent, you’ll be able to grab a quick glance of the Manhattan skyline, but before you can focus on any one building, you’ll already be plummeting 115 feet straight down. It’s absolutely insane and the fact that this was my very first roller coaster (yes, I started with this one!) makes it even better for me, personally. I’ve ridden this one three times, including once in the front row (do it!) and, for $10, it’s certainly worth it.
Alright, there’s no other way around it. You knew this was going to be number one, but it’s not *just* because it’s the almighty Cyclone. It’s because it’s genuinely the most fun experience in Coney Island, without a doubt. Opened in 1927, it’s still to this day just as intense as it was during a time when alcohol was illegal.
The Cyclone is a mixed bag, not in terms of experience, but in terms of intimidation. To thrill-seekers who have already ridden roller coasters, the Cyclone will look like a definite ride. But to those who haven’t ridden a coaster or aren’t thrill-seekers, the Cyclone is the most intimidating thing they’ve ever seen. But it’s universally accepted that once you ride it, you’ll want to ride it again. And again. And again.
You’re only held down in the car by a single bar that feels like it’s gonna rise up during the ride and make you fall right out. But you’re actually extremely safe, for the gravity experienced during the ride’s drops helps to keep the bar down, or at least that’s what the teenage ride operator told me (shrugs). Regardless, the Cyclone features numerous steep drops, sharp turns and dark, menacing tunnels which the train whips through at impressive speeds for an almost-century-old coaster. And you’re really getting your money’s worth, because it’s the longest coaster in the park at almost three minutes, making its $10 price (or, erm, 10 “credits”) totally worth it.
And let’s not forget the absolutely undeniable character, charm and charisma of the Cyclone that makes it not only a staple of Coney Island, but of Brooklyn, of New York City, and of amusement in general. All of the roller coasters in Coney Island are great, but the Cyclone is a must ride for anyone looking to have some genuine fun.
Chris is a writer and publisher who travels America, and loves doing it. He also loves pizza, video games, and sports, and can tell you a thing or two about each. Follow him on Medium to be informed of new articles.