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A guide to the rides


When I was growing up, my family and I used to go to local theme parks every summer. I looked forward to it as a time to spend with family — and because, as I grew taller, there were more and more rides that would spin me, flip me, and in some cases, make me puke. Surviving the summer became a rite of passage.

But it has been more than a decade since I had been to Darien Lake, and a lot has changed — both at the park and with me. So on a recent, not-so-summery day, I took on the "challenge" of riding the rides to find the hits and misses: the rides that will make your heart explode, and the ones that will put you to sleep.

Here's your guide on what to ride and what to avoid this summer.

Think we got this wrong? Know where the best rollercoasters are in Western New York? Let us know in the comments below this article.


My friends and I started our day off easy with one of the first rides you can spot in the park. The gentle blue and red gondolas lift you into the air and then go in a circle for what seems like an eternity. The views are so-so at best (unless you count the top of the ice cream stand as a "killer view").This one might be ideal for kids, but anyone over 13 should save their time.

Thrill Level: Basement-level low

Puke Factor: Nonexistent

Napability: Nearly comatose

Hair Hold-Up: A few fly-aways

Date Factor: Perfect for snuggling up

Silver Bullet

Right next to the Haymaker is a ride that kicks things up a notch. But the Silver Bullet isn't for anyone who is claustrophobic. After getting locked in a silver cage — sans-seatbelt — you're whirred around and around until you're good and dizzy, before a level raises you in the air, causing you to loop upside-down. As a kid, I remember riding this one over and over (with a break for cotton candy in there somewhere) and not getting sick. And while grown-up me didn't puke, I definitely stumbled off like I was drunk.

Thrill Level: Moderate

Puke Factor: Easy queasy, but not overwhelming

Napability: No dozing off here

Hair Hold-Up: Didn't put a dent in it

Date Factor: Cuddle up (you can put up to 2 riders per "bullet") or comfort your potentially green-faced date after the fact



This was my favorite rollercoaster at the park in my teen years. I'm not a big fan of the big plunge, but I love loops and flips. And this (aptly-named) snake-like coaster fits the bill perfectly. It was the first rollercoaster in the world with five inversions. After a medium-sized drop, you're instantly thrust into a seemingly endless series of twists, turns, loops, and corkscrews. The roller coaster has aged a bit (it's celebrating its 35th anniversary at the park this year), and it shows. The ride isn't as smooth as I remember, but it's a thrill nonetheless that's sure to get your heart pumping (and your stomach turning).

Thrill Level: Not for the faint of heart (or stomach)

Puke Factor: Be prepared to locate the nearest trash bin

Napability: Woke

Hair Hold-Up: Like you were in a head-banging contest

Date Factor: Try this one before sharing a pretzel

Sleigh Ride

After back-to-back gut-busters, my cohorts and I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and try the Sleigh Ride. We all remembered the wavy, round-and-round ride as fun and easy. Turns out our memories failed us (or we had much stronger stomachs as kids), because we were all green by the end. Forwards, backwards; it didn't matter — this one was way more brutal than it looked.

Thrill Level: Moderate

Puke Factor: Clean up, aisle four

Napability: Only if you pass out from dizziness

Hair Hold-Up: A few wisps out of place

Date Factor: Good to get close, until you need the barf bag

Corn Popper

This wasn't one near the top of my list, but the kids on board seemed to be having fun. That should have been the first red flag that this one maybe wasn't for me. The Corn Popper, like the Haymaker, puts passengers in cars and rotates them in a circle. But this time, the cars are on levers that move in and out, creating a bizarre mix of motions that would turn even the strongest of stomachs. Maybe leave this one to the kids.

Thrill Level: Moderate

Puke Factor: Keep a paper bag handy

Napability: No dozing off here

Hair Hold-Up: Everywhere

Date Factor: Don't take your date on this one, unless you want to get rid of them


Bumper Cars

After two disastrous rides, we fell back on a classic: bumper cars. It was the longest line we had encountered so far (although it was early May and the park was largely empty), but worth it. With four of us in the group, it was perfect to get our pent-up frustrations out on each other and unsuspecting strangers — although I was quickly reminded of how dreadful my driving skills are.

Thrill Level: Gets your blood pumpin'

Puke Factor: Low, unless you have a target on your back

Napability: Good luck

Hair Hold-Up: A few strands out of place

Date Factor: Perfect for couples, groups, and vindictive bitches



True to its name, this is a rollercoaster that goes forward and backwards. The Boomerang was one of the newer attractions the last time I was at the park (it opened in 1998) and one I had been looking forward to. The most nerve-wracking part of it all is getting pulled back like you're in a slingshot up the "launch hill" — staring straight down. Just as the anticipation has gnawed a hole in your gut, you jettison down, through the loading pad, up a loop, a twist, and another loop. The second you catch your breath, you realize you're being pulled up another hill, but this time, you're launched backwards through the same series of loops and twists.

Thrill level: Adrenaline shot to the chest a la "Pulp Fiction"

Puke Factor: Extremely likely for anyone who doesn't like flips

Napability: Don't count on it

Hair Hold-Up: Grab the 80's-strength hairspray to keep your hair intact

Date Factor: Only if both are thrill-seekers

Tin Lizzy's

After lunch, we thought riding in a loop in old-timey cars would be the perfect thing to settle our stomachs. It wasn't as enjoyable as we thought it would be. The line appeared short, but because of a small number of cars it moved at a glacial pace. Once aboard, we quickly breathed in the lovely diesel fumes and had our butts vibrated into numbness. With only one pedal (gas), a hand brake, and a steering wheel on a guided track, none of us thought it would be a challenge. We were wrong. Steering was a nightmare, with each car naturally veering one way or another. I felt like a drunk driver (I wasn't), and seemed to go on forever (I'm pretty sure a snail lapped me). This required way more thought and skill than I ever wanted in a theme park ride.

Thrill Level: Mild (depending on your driving skills)

Puke Factor: Maybe if the fumes get to you

Napability: If you're riding in the passenger seat

Hair Hold-Up: Perfectly intact

Date Factor: Not great. The cars may seat two, but not comfortably (unless you're tiny)


Ah, a classic. This wooden coaster has towered over the park since 1990, and it's the tallest of its kind in the state. I remember this one being a bit shaky as a kid, but still fun. Either the coaster has aged or I have. The classic big drop gives way to a series of sharp turns and smaller hills that slam riders into the car in every direction. My legs were actually (mildly) bruised by the end of it all. As my cohorts and I agreed, we felt like Murtaugh from "Lethal Weapon": "We're too old for this shit."

Thrill Level: Perfect for sadists

Puke Factor: Odds are good

Napability: Rude awakening

Hair Hold-Up: Like a dog after sticking its head out a car window

Date Factor: Not the way you want to get all shook up

Rolling Thunder

Another of the newer attractions, this was one that actually piqued my interest. It's a giant purple-and-neon-green loop. That's it. Like a roller coaster without the drop. "Perfect," I thought. Not so much. After rocking back and forth a bit, riders are held at increasingly steep angles for what seems like an eternity. Before you know it, you're being held upside-down and every possible scenario that could result in your death runs through your mind. My husband — sitting across from me — didn't mind the ride. Although he was more amused by my less-than-enthusiastic reaction.

Thrill Level: Extreme thrill-seekers only

Puke Factor: I made a beeline for the bathroom after surviving this one

Napability: Only if you count the amount of time I had my eyes squeezed shut

Hair Hold-Up: Cousin Itt

Date Factor: Not recommended


Blast Off

I was quite skeptical of this one (especially after Rolling Thunder). After being strapped into a seat, riders are hoisted up about 20 feet into the air. After sitting there for a moment, thinking "this isn't so bad," you're suddenly launched straight up, about another hundred feet. Once your organs catch up to you, you can take in a really great view of the park itself and surrounding area. I actually wish I had my camera. You get a few more up and downs (not nearly enough), before returning to the ground. Despite my initial hesitation, this ended up being one of my favorites of the day.

Thrill Level: Future NASA astronauts and thrill-seekers only

Puke Factor: If you do, it's a long way down ...

Napability: Only if you pass out on the way up

Hair Hold-Up: I looked like I stuck my tongue in an electrical socket afterwards

Date Factor: Romantic for adrenaline junkies

Grande Carousel

We decided to end the day with an old standby. Carousels are pretty straightforward no matter where you go. This one may not be so grand, but there was a small girl (about 5 years old) who practically lapped us to get back on after finishing the ride. Maybe not the most exciting, but it's hard to argue with a classic.

Thrill Level: Nonexistent

Puke Factor: Only if you get dizzy

Napability: Zzzzzz...

Hair Hold-Up: You'd never know I'd been on a ride

Date Factor: Charmingly retro

Rides We Missed:

Motocoaster: Between a slow turnover and a long line, this was one we didn't get to. After hopping on motorcycle-style seats, the coaster launches riders from 0 to 40 miles per hour in a matter of seconds — sending them through a lightning-fast series of twists and turns — before throwing on the brakes.

Ride of Steel: Easily one of the biggest attractions at the park, it's still the tallest coaster in the state (208 feet) and is among the fastest, topping out at 72 miles per hour. Sadly, it was closed when we went, but from all accounts, this one isn't for the faint of heart (or stomach).

Twister: One of the park's newer attractions, this was also closed. Riders are loaded into a giant car and seated in rows, before being lifted into the air and spun in two directions at once — like a vertical gyro-sphere. Best to do this one before grabbing an ice cream.

Mind Eraser: This too was sadly closed, although I have ridden it before. The steel suspended coaster drops riders 120 feet before sending them through a dizzying array of loops and twists. This one is sure to make your head spin.

Thunder Rapids and Shipwreck Falls: Two other favorites that were closed (all of the water attractions were). The log flume and chute style rides are classics, but be sure to bring a change of clothes; you will get wet.

Grizzly Run: Another water ride we were sad to see closed. Riders roughly traverse a series of rapids and waterfalls in a round boat.

In This Guide...