A day at the amusement park once meant a family stroll down the midway to play games and win prizes, a thrilling spin on the Ferris wheel, or a dizzying one on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Fueled by popcorn and spun sugar, the day would end in sunburns and candy-colored memories. These days, the simple rides loved by our grandparents have evolved into adrenaline-charged, super-caffeinated extreme versions. Even the spark-flinging bumper car has been juiced up by a Top Gear mechanic to achieve speeds of 100 mph on its undersized wheels. If you want to get in on the fun, board one of these record-breaking amusement park attractions and get ready for the ride.
Longest Roller Coaster: Steel Dragon 2000 at Nagashima Spa Land (Mie, Japan)
Japan’s Steel Dragon 2000 roller coaster was named for the year it opened: 2000 was the year of the dragon on the lunar calendar, and of course, much of the structure is built from steel. The Steel Dragon’s out-and-back run is 8,133 feet long — more than 1.5 miles — making it the longest roller coaster in the world. The cars reach heights up to 307 feet on several climbs and, after a nerve-wracking second of hesitation at the top of each rise, they plunge passengers back earthward at speeds that top 95 mph.
Oldest Carousel in the U.S.: Flying Horses Carousel (Oak Bluff, Massachusetts)
The oldest carousel in the world, built in 1780, still exists but is locked behind a gate in a park pavilion in Hanau, Germany. But America’s oldest merry-go-round, made in 1876, is still spinning, full of happy children mounted on painted wooden horses that go around and around all summer long in Martha’s Vineyard. The Flying Horses Carousel began its run as one of 25 carousels in operation on the Coney Island boardwalk in the 1870s, before being relocated to the summer resort area of Oak Bluff in 1884. Since then, its horses — with real horsehair tails, real leather stirrups, and glass eyes — have been a popular fixture in their island home.
Tallest Ferris Wheel: Ain Dubai (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
The original Ferris wheel, which debuted in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, measured 250 feet tall and was a hit with riders. But it was less than half the size of the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, Ain Dubai, which began spinning on the waterfront in Dubai in October 2021. Ain Dubai soars 820 feet high, and riders can enjoy the air-conditioned 38-minute ride in a few different ways — by riding in one of the regular cabins, renting a private cabin, or buying a ticket for the Skybar, a pod that includes a full bar, a bartender, and music. The wheel, whose name translates to "the Dubai Eye," rises twice as high as the famous London Eye.
Steepest Log Flume Ride: Chiapas - DIE Wasserbahn at Phantasialand (Brühl, Germany)
Log-flume rides — modeled after historic lumber-cutting operations, in which logs are floated downriver to sawmills — are a surefire hit on hot summer days. Passengers ride in hollowed-out “logs” on submerged tracks that run along watery paths, usually through artificial caves and mountains, slowly climbing uphill until a speedy and steep descent brings the ride to its splashy conclusion. Phantasialand’s Chiapas breaks convention in a few ways: Instead of a logging operation vibe, it has an elaborate theme based on an archaeological dig of Maya ruins, complete with an orchestrated soundtrack. In the course of its six-minute run, passengers experience three steep drops (including one from 66 feet, the steepest drop in the log-flume world). Adding to the unique design of Chiapas, at different points of the ride, the log vehicle moves forward and backward.
Slowest Roller Coaster: Tiger and Turtle Magic Mountain (Duisberg, Germany)
Perched atop the grassy dome of a former slag heap, the Tiger and Turtle looks like a normal roller coaster from a distance. It has extensive and shiny tracks that loop and turn back on themselves, and it soars as high as 69 feet above the hill. Upon closer examination, however, you notice the silence — there’s no clacking of cog wheels climbing the tracks, nor is there the moving doppler effect of passenger screams as the cars whip past. That’s because instead of being a roller coaster, the Tiger and Turtle is a human-powered stroller coaster: an elevated metal walking track, conceived and created by artists Heike Mutter and Ulrich Genth. Don’t be scared to take a walk along the ride’s twists and turns, though. It’s perfectly safe and free, the views along the Rhine River are expansive, and the quiet is pretty refreshing.
Tallest Freefall Water Slide: Kilimanjaro at Aldeia das Aguas Park Resort (Barra do Pirai, Brazil)
First-time visitors to water parks may be startled to discover that they are the ride. With little more than a rubber mat or an inner tube — and sometimes without even those — your body is the vehicle that careens down slides, slips around chutes, and bobs along “lazy rivers.” Some water parks up the excitement even further with slides that drop you down nearly vertical chutes, cushioned only by a cascade of water and the sound of your own scream. On the tallest of these freefall waterslides, located in a water park outside Rio de Janeiro and aptly named Kilimanjaro, you’ll begin at the top of an enclosed slide, so you cannot yet see the drop ahead. When you slip down into the tunnel and see light ahead, you have just enough time to notice that the bottom part of the tunnel drops away at a 60-degree angle, and then suddenly, so do you — until you bob to the surface of a frothing pool, 164 feet below.