The Thunderbolt roller coaster stormed into the People’s Playground over the weekend, sending riders through hair-rasing twists and turns nearly 30 times an hour since its official opening on June 14. We sent our intrepid Adventure Correspondent Max Jaeger to take the first ride and bring back the lowdown on this high-flying new beast of the Boardwalk.
Coney Island’s brand-new roller coaster is named for an iconic coaster that stood nearby until it was demolished in 2000, but Luna Park’s Thunderbolt — with its towering vertical loop — is really more of an homage to an even older Coney thrill ride, the Loop-the-Loop. There was no looping ride in the People’s Playground from the time that coaster was torn down shortly after World War I until the new Thunderbolt opened this month.
If the thought of 115-foot drops and vertical loops has you shaking in your boots, rest assured that you won’t be facing them alone. Eight other adrenaline junkies are right there with you trying not to soil the coaster’s brand new seats. Take off your cap and sunglasses, secure your wallet, and hold on tight, because once the staff straps you in, there’s no turning back.
A 90-degree climb straight up the first hill will get your heart pumping even before the first drop.
“It’s like you’re in a rocket ship,” said Najee Jenkins, a member of a local youth organization who took the first plunge on the coaster.
The view climbing the 11-story tower was of a calm blue sky — until you look sideways and realized how high you have risen above the Boardwalk. At this point, take one last wistful look at the trains pulling into Stillwell Avenue and steel your nerves.
At the top of the tower, you’ll get a view of Coney Island few have seen since the Parachute Jump folded in the mid-1960s, but don’t blink because when you open your eyes, you’ll be flying like greased lightning — straight toward the ground.
After the 115-foot vertical drop, the ride rumbles into the first of several acrobatic inversions. The initial loop may be the most visually striking feature of the Thunderbolt, but the contortions that come next really define the ride. A winding maze of barrel rolls give the feeling of weightless without the sinking feeling of a free-fall.
“All those loops, it makes you feel incredible,” said Erik Knapp, known as Mr. Cyclone for his dedication to the iconic coaster.
Halfway through the ride, the “there-and-back” coaster reverses course with one last contortionist U-turn before taking riders on a series of bunny hills leading back to the station. The ride’s second half is far tamer than the initial rush and lets riders get their stomachs back in place after an electrifying tryst with the sky.
Like a bolt out of the blue, the ride traverses 2,200 feet of track in a matter of seconds, but for all the sound and fury, it is actually a pretty smooth ride. The Thunderbolt is far less clackety than its Coney cousin the Cyclone, and despite at times hitting riders with five times the force of gravity, the whole storm is about as discomfiting as a summer shower — but far more exhilarating.
— Max Jaeger