A new attraction at Six Flags Great America is about to turn life upside down for all who step aboard.
The ride, dubbed Mardi Gras Hangover, opens Memorial Day weekend at the Gurnee, Illinois, theme park near Chicago and sends 32 thrill-seekers up and around the inside of a 100-foot-tall loop at speeds of up to 30 mph (48 kph).
Passengers complete six loops in every 90-second session, and spend a few seconds suspended motionless at the top of the loop each time they go around.
Unlike other thrill rides on which people all face the same way, Mardi Gras Hangover has face-to-face seating like riders would find on a passenger train. This means people get to watch their friends and siblings (or complete strangers, for that matter) contort their expressions as the experience unfolds.
Cars circle the loop forward and backward during each run, so every rider gets to experience both directions. The upside-down view from the top isn't too bad, either, says park spokesperson Tess Claussen.
"If you can manage to look around, the perspective from 100 feet in the air is amazing," she says.
Is it really a roller coaster?
Still, the new ride is not without controversy.
In marketing materials and press interviews, park officials have touted the ride as the park's 15th roller coaster overall, and "the world's largest loop coaster."
This phrasing has rankled members of the theme park community -- many of whom allege the description is both factually inaccurate and intentionally misleading.
Some experts have gone so far as to question designating the ride as a roller coaster in the first place.
Eric Stumpf, a reviewer for the website CoasterCritic, claims that the ride is nothing more than a variation of the "Ring of Fire"-style ride from neighborhood and street festivals around the country.
"Loop ride, yes; roller coaster, no," Stumpf tells CNN Travel.
"It does not have a lift hill or launch (which is required for it to be a roller coaster), and it operates in a single plane. Also, the controlled back-and-forth motion means it does not fall into the classification we all know as a true 'coaster.'"
Super-geeky 'inside baseball'
Arthur Levine, another theme park expert, agrees, adding that because the train is connected to motorized tires that impel it forward and backward, it effectively is disqualified as a coaster completely.
"This is super-geeky, way 'inside baseball' and probably of no interest to the average person going to a park, but roller coasters are generally acknowledged to be trains that, at least at some point during the ride, rely on gravity to coast along tracks," says Levine, a travel writer who specializes in the amusement industry.
"This is really more similar to swinging 'flat rides' such as pirate ships found at parks and carnivals."
Furthermore, the top 10 tallest roller coasters in the world all exceed 300 feet, according to RCDB.com, the online encyclopedia of roller coasters worldwide.
When presented with these criticisms, Six Flags officials doubled down on their claims.
"It may look like a simple ride from afar, but it really packs a punch," Claussen insists. "The fact it has six inversions and [that it] rolls on a track makes it a roller coaster to us."
One outfit that could settle the argument: Larson International, an amusement ride manufacturer in Plainview, Texas, made Mardi Gras Hangover and specializes in a number of these loop-style attractions. (In the theme park world, they're known as "Larson Loops.")
However, Jeff Novotny, the company's president, did not respond to interview requests.
Whatever experts want to call the Mardi Gras Hangover, it's sure to spike your heart rate and make you scream.
Because Six Flags Great America can get crowded in summer, go early to avoid the throngs. It also may be worth considering eating light the day you go -- because the ride goes upside-down so frequently in such a short stretch of time, it's probably unwise to eat before you give it a try.
Six Flags Great America, 542 N. Route 21, Gurnee, IL 60031; +1 (847) 249-1776. Single-day tickets are $74.99 for adults and $54.99 for children. Guests can save up to $20 by booking at sixflags.com.
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