Theme Park Rides You Won't Believe Are Real

Since the days of tame wooden roller coasters, relaxing log rides and gently spinning teacups, theme park rides have become extremely robust and terrifying. Not only are they towering in height, but they like to feature upside-down loops and sudden drops that occur at lightning speeds. Of course, there's always little warning and zero time to mentally prepare. And yet, people pay money to experience such terrors. Judging by the fact that theme parks are a huge attraction in cities all over the world, people genuinely enjoy the feeling of being on the edge of their seat. From record-breaking roller coasters to giant swings, the rides you're about to encounter all have the wow factor. As in, "Wow, am I glad to experience this thrill from the safety of my home!"


This is a short roller coaster-like ride in Las Vegas, but don't let the length fool you. Sitting in a little car that resembles a futuristic jet ski, riders on the X-Scream are propelled forward and backward ... while hanging off the edge of Stratosphere Tower, almost 900 feet in the air. Sure, the view of the Strip would be pretty magical from up there, but that extreme height is unsettling. Imagine sitting in the front seat! It would feel like you're leaping off the building headfirst. Despite how shocking it looks, X-Scream continues to be a popular way for visitors to sight-see and thrill-seek at the same time. You can kill two birds with one stone, just as long as you don't try to fly.

Nothin' But Net

 Ever wanted to go bungee jumping, but too afraid of the real deal? Well, the Nothin' but Net free fall ride at Zero Gravity park in Dallas provides a similar thrill. You get to fall from 16 stories — with no parachute or other equipment — and land in a safety net. The drop is 130 feet. Now the name isn't a joke; there's literally nothing but a net. It's kind of scarier than bungee jumping because you're not attached to a rope, and if you were to miss the net and hit the scaffolding beside it or the ground below, well, that would probably be the end. 

Bungee jumps are popular at theme parks, but they don't come without risk. In August 2017, three people were on a ride that malfunctioned at the Ventura County Fair in California. One guy was hanging by his ankles and had to be rescued by firefighters. Rides that simulate extreme sports are often just as extreme.

Gravity Max

There are many gravity-defying roller coasters in the world, but the Gravity Max in Taiwan is something else. It features a section of track that lifts from a horizontal to vertical position and realigns itself on the track before plunging you downward. In case that wasn't clear, it disassembles itself while riders are on board, suspended in midair with nothing to do but pray to the engineering gods. Quick question, is this even legal? It's definitely questionable. 

There's a lot at stake if the rails don't line up, obviously. This ride was designed by Dutch company Vekoma, which is responsible for numerous looping coasters that push every conceivable limit. Gravity Max has become known as "Tilt-Coaster" or "Cliffhanger," which seems appropriate. Even the video is enough to summon mild nausea. 

High Tide WavePool

Although it appears tame at first, the High Tide WavePool at Mountain Creek in New Jersey is anything but. After three people died in the 1980s, it earned the nickname "Grave Pool." With a depth of 8 feet, waves reaching 40 inches in height, and an eye-popping capacity of 1,000 people, 20 lifeguards had to be on duty at all times. Because of how unsafe that was, the WavePool was redesigned to be shallower and safety measures have surely improved. But still, a pool full of frantic, over-excited children is scary. It might be easier to just go swimming at a beach where there's more visibility. Also, it's easier to determine where the water gets deeper. For those of us who aren't Michael Phelps, that's important. 

The Smiler

Plenty of roller coasters have loops, but The Smiler in the U.K. has 14 loops. Yes, that is a world first. Basically, you're upside-down the entire time. The coaster only opened in 2013, but it's already had a major crash. In 2015, a carriage full of people collided with an empty carriage that wasn't supposed to be there, severely injuring five people. Two teenage women lost a leg.

As for the coaster, it survived the crash and the bad press. Oddly enough, it made headlines again in 2017 after a rider pulled the alarm toward the end of the ride. (There were no injuries.) Strangely, no matter how many accidents happen at theme parks, people keep going to them. 


Apparently they do things differently in New Zealand because the Shweeb looks like something out of a futuristic sci-fi movie. It's a series of pods hanging from high railings, which you lie down in and cycle with foot pedals. Sounds relaxing, except it's the world's first human-powered monorail racetrack. Key word: racetrack. The track goes for 200 meters and a race is three rounds, which must be utterly exhausting. And you're essentially jammed in the capsule, unable to really see anything. The ride certainly isn't good for anyone with claustrophobia. And as the speed increases, the pods swing from left to right. There are corners. There are shifts in height. There are multiple bike gears to choose from. Sounds like work.

Formula Rossa

As the name suggests, the Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi is designed after Formula 1 racetracks. It goes 150 mph, which secures its place as the fastest roller coaster in the world. In fact, it's so fast that people need protective goggles to ride it. Shouldn't that be a sign it's too fast? 

Apart from the insatiable speed, the thing looks monstrous at 171 feet high. Naturally there's a sharp drop, over 160 feet. (Make sure your goggles are strapped on tight.) To top it all off, the whole ride doesn't take much more than a minute. Shock to the system? Indeed. It's the closest most people will ever come to driving a racecar, so that's enticing. And it's pretty spectacular to look at.


This ride appears like a gentle commute your grandfather would take, but it's no less terrifying than the other entries. The SkyCycle at the Okayama Prefecture amusement park in Japan is a track that stands 50 feet above ground, allowing two people to sit in a contraption and pedal forward as they would a bicycle. Except, all that's keeping them from dropping to their deaths is a seatbelt. No railings. No safety harness just in case. No precautions at all. And then there's the risk of colliding with other drivers. Sure the view is impressive, but for goodness sake, don't look down! It takes about three minutes to complete the SkyCycle track, another reason why it's scary. Most theme park rides are over in the blink of an eye. This is a slow burn. 

The Vanish

If you thought roller coasters had reached their limits of design and ingenuity, think again. The Vanish is a coaster at Cosmo Land in Yokohama, Japan, that boasts a very unusual feature. At one point in the ride, the carriage plunges (sorry, vanishes) into a dark hole that appears to be a giant pool of water. It's a long tunnel that was built underwater, which is both impressive and completely terrifying. Watching the above video can also summon a mild case of anxiety because the coaster doesn't reappear after disappearing into the abyss. How long until you come back up for air? Either way, anyone with a fear of water should probably be mindful. Props for creativity, though. Japan certainly seems to be leading the pack when it comes to theme parks. 

Giant Canyon Swing

No biggie, it's just a swing ... 1,300 feet above the Colorado River. For those who want to feel what it's like to fly, the Giant Canyon Swing lets you soar through the air at 50 mph. It's one of the most stunning views ever, but how do you have time to process that when you're holding on for dear life? It's basically like a pirate ship ride where you swing from side to side, only way higher. You're going over the canyon and everything. And there are only two people per side, so the contraption feels very slight. You know, like a swing.

They say Coloradoans are known for their sense of adventure, and this proves it. The TERROR-Dactyl ride is also one of theirs, and it involves dangling off the edge of a 200-foot cliff and being launched into the canyon at 100 mph. Wait, why do people do this? Oh yeah, for fun. 

Zumanjaro Drop of Doom

Welcome to the tallest and fastest drop tower in the world. Zumanjaro at Six Flags in New Jersey is a simple ride where you rise up in a gondola at 415 feet and get pulled down to the ground ... at a whopping 90 mph, enough force to feel some serious whiplash and disorienting weightlessness. They don't call it the Drop of Doom for nothing. 

This ride was lucky to already have a preexisting audience when it opened, as it was attached to the existing Kingda Ka roller coaster. The Kingda Ka is known for being the world's tallest roller coaster, and also for being the site where a boy was slammed in the face by a bird. On theme park rides, you have to be ready for all kinds of adventure.

Giant Discovery 40

The Giant Discovery is a ride from Zamperla, a company that's operated for 50 years. (That's enough to know what they're doing, not that it's any consolation.) It resembles a huge Frisbee, and swings back and forth like a pendulum. While spinning in circles. Feeling a little queasy just reading this? No shame. These types of spin-and-swing rides are nothing new, but this particular one looks totally unruly. It swings 68 mph, and you're 147 feet above ground. Your legs just ... dangle in the air. There's also a version called Black Widow at Kennywood in Pennsylvania. When the whole thing gets to be too much, at least there are 40 other riders sitting together in the circle. You know, moral support in the trenches. 


Ultimately, the scariest theme park rides are roller coasters. And the Takabisha coaster in Japan's Fuji-Q Highland theme park may be the most terrifying of all. This roller coaster has the steepest drop in the world at a 121-degree angle. It's straight down. What's more, the ride has seven inversions, so you're upside-down for a good chunk. Combine all that with the fact that the track is 3,280 feet long, and you've got a recipe for blowing chunks.

You have to admire an ambitious project, even if you're secretly glad not to be riding a contraption like this right now. Yeah, let's keep our feet firmly planted on the ground. It feels so good.