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John A. Weeks III
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Photo Tours, Travelogues, And Random Topics

A Photo Tour Of

Las Vegas Roller Coasters

I recently had an opportunity to ride and review all of the roller coasters in the Las Vegas area. Here are my findings, along with a rating for each coaster. The coasters in Las Vegas are associated with hotels and casinos rather than traditional amusement parks. This results in some unusual roller coaster configurations, each with its own unique ride profile. If you have any interest at all in roller coasters, Las Vegas is good place to get started.

Canyon Blaster Roller Coaster
Canyon Blaster
Adventuredome, Circus Circus Casino & Hotel

The Canyon Blaster is located at the Circus Circus casino on the center of the Las Vegas strip. Being indoors, having a relatively modest speed of 45 miles per hour, a relatively modest height of 94 feet, and a relatively short 2,423 feet of track, one might first think that this is a rather tame ride. But in this case, statistics do not tell the whole story. The Canyon Blaster in fact delivers a fantastic punch with two full loops and a double cork screw, the only roller coaster in the world to have two of each feature.

The ride starts with a sharp 90-degree turn. From there, you slowly climb the initial hill to a height of 94 feet. The first drop is slightly more than 95 feet, taking you underground at the top speed of 45 miles per hour. You pop up, do two loops, take a quick corner, then hit the double cork screw. The ride then slows down as it wanders over, under, and around the log flume and through the mini-golf course, with a tight helix turn just before the end.

The blaster is a real blast. While the ride is quick, it is unexpectedly intense. It features a very smooth ride, and the cars use over-head restraints. The minute long ride costs $5, with day passes being available. The Blaster is indoors, so weather is not a factor.

My rating = 7 screams.

Speed, The Ride Roller Coaster
Speed, The Ride
NASCAR Cafe, Sahara Casino & Hotel

Speed, The Ride, is located at the Sahara Casino on the center of the Las Vegas strip. Speed is not a traditional coaster that runs in a loop. Rather, it is an out and back ride, which runs forward to the end of the 1400 feet of track, then reverses to do the ride backwards. When they say Speed, they mean it. The ride kicks you out of the chute at 55 miles per hour, and you hit 70 before the ride ends. This is the only ride I have seen that starts out at speed, rather than having to be towed up a steep hill to start off. In addition to this initial kick out of the starting gate, Speed uses linear induction motors (motors that are built in a straight line rather than in a circle) to give the ride an additional boost along the way.

Speed starts on the street level just inside of the sidewalk on Sahara Avenue. You blast off out of the gate at 55 miles per hour and head up a 2-story hill. At the apex of the hill, you twist sideways, and make a 90-degree turn to head down Las Vegas Boulevard. After turning the corner, you dive 25 feet below street level, accelerate to 70 miles per hour, then pop up above the sidewalk into a full loop. Coming out of the loop, you pass over the entrance roadway, then fly through the giant Sahara casino sign, and onto the top of the parking ramp. Once on top of the parking ramp, the ride makes a 90 degree vertical turn. It climbs 224 feet straight up. You hang there momentarily, only to realize in terror that you are going to go backwards over the exact same path, starting with this 224-foot vertical drop.

While Speed is real gas, and has an intense, fast, smooth ride, it is over all too quickly. The entire ride is 22 seconds out, and 22 seconds back. All that for $7. You will want to get the day pass and ride this thing a few times. The faint of heart may want to stop at the bar in the NASCAR Cafe and purchase a bit of courage prior to their first run. Speed uses state of the art over-head restraints. Speed is mostly outdoors, it is closed during bad weather or high winds.

Note—as of May, 2011, Speed is no more. It was shut down just prior to the Sahara Casino shutting down at the end of May, 2011. The Sahara fell victim to the economic downturn that has impacted several other properties at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip.

My rating = 6 screams.

The Manhattan Express Roller Coaster
The Manhattan Express
New York, New York Casino And Hotel

On paper, The Manhattan Express looks like a world-class roller coaster. Wrapped around a recreation of the New York City skyline, the Express runs on 4,777 feet of track at speeds up to 67 miles per hour. In reality, this is a rough, bumpy ride that more painful than thrilling. Most riders commented about bumping their heads on the over-head restraints, and several said that they lost interest in the ride and just wanted to get it over without banging their head and ears anymore.

The Manhattan Express starts out in the 3rd level arcade above the main casino. Once loaded up, you slowly climb up a 203-foot hill. The hill has a small flat area on top, which gives you a few extra seconds to contemplate the sheer terror that awaits you. The first drop is 72 feet, where you then climb back up and drop a second time, this time, 144 feet. This arrangement of hills is designed so that your stomach is at the top of the hill when you hit the bottom, and when your stomach catches up to you at the bottom, you are already at the top of the next hill. At the bottom of this second drop is a sharp highly banked turn. You then take several more hills giving you lots of positive and negative G's. Once you are done with the hills, the track moves to the front of the complex high over Las Vegas Boulevard. You go through a number of zigzags and sharp turns while you descend the maze of tracks. At the bottom, a one and a half turn horizontal helix awaits you. You enter it sideways, and the turn keeps getting tighter and tighter to keep the speed up, while your stomach drops further and further towards the floor of the car. After the helix, you slow down and re-enter the arcade to end the ride.

At 2 minutes and 45 seconds, this is a relatively good value for $12, with re-rides at $5. It is just too bad that it is such a rough ride. And despite the high height of 203 feet, the ride never uses this height to its full advantage since the entire structure is above the 3-story casino building. The Express is mostly outdoors, it is closed during bad weather or high winds.

My rating = 4 screams.

Desperado Roller Coaster
Buffalo Bill's Hotel And Casino

Desperado is a true world-class roller coaster. When it opened in 1993, it was the tallest (209 feet), fastest (80 miles per hour), longest (5843 feet of track), and highest drop (225 feet) of any steel roller coaster in the world. It was the first coaster to be called a hypercoaster. After a decade in operation, Desperado is still on many of the top 10 lists, including the 8th largest drop, 5th longest track, 9th tallest, and only 2 miles per hour shy of being the 10th fastest roller coaster.

Desperado is located in Primm, Nevada, which is about 25 miles south of the Las Vegas strip on I-15, right on the Nevada-California state line. This is the first place that gambling is legal for those making the trip from LA to Las Vegas. Buffalo Bill's wanted to give travelers a reason to stop, and Desperado will certainly give you pause to think...whether or not you actually intend to ride it.

The ride starts in the arcade area on the east side of the casino. As the ride starts, it begins the climb up the massive 209-foot hill. Casino gamblers get a view of the ride as it starts the climb before you exit the roof of the casino. You continue to climb past the hotel tower. At some point along the climb, you realize that you are above the roof of the hotel tower, which is something like 20 stories tall. The slow steady climb takes a long time, giving you plenty of time to look over the city of Primm, the mountains, and your life as it flashes in front of your eyes. As you crest the hill, you cannot see the track in front of you since it is so steep. This gives the impression that you are truly falling out of control. About half way down, if you have the courage to open your eyes, you see that the track disappears into a hole in the roof of the casino. Within a split second or two, the ride plunges through this hole, eventually going underground under the hotel lobby. Folks who are waiting in line to check into the hotel get a good view of the action through a window in the lobby. Next you climb another incredibly tall hill, and again plunge nearly 200 feet a second time. At the top of the second drop, the ride makes a turn, and heads to a series of smaller hills that run across the parking lot, through the huge casino sign, and over to what looks like a rock formation. In reality, the rock formation is the structure for the log flume ride, and the roller coaster uses it to good advantage first making a 360 degree high speed helix turn inside of the rock formation, then making a second 360 degree high speed helix turn outside of the rock formation. The ride is nearly over, but it has to return back to the starting point on the back of the casino building. In doing this, the ride stops before entering the building. As it enters, it makes a 90 degree turn. This turn is highly banked, and the coaster runs through it very slowly. The feeling is that if you relax your grip, you will fall down onto the parking lot. Since the coaster makes this turn at a dead crawl, this feeling of falling stays with you far longer than I was ready to handle at the time.

As the description suggests, Desperado is tremendous thrill. It delivered the promised punch, ran long enough to produce an incredible adrenaline rush, and left me fully mentally numb—100% in my happy zone. The ride itself was smooth, with only one unexpected jerk at the top of the 2nd drop. It had plenty of positive and negative G's, hitting 4-G's at one point, and for riders in front, a lot of air-hang time. It used its speed and height to full advantage, and the double helix was a very nice touch near the end. Desperado costs $8 to ride, with day passes being available. The only shortcoming is that the ride uses waist restraints and seat belts. This makes the negative G's a bit unsettling, and does not work well for big people. All in all, it is well worth the trip out to Primm to ride this beast. Desperado is mostly outdoors, it is closed during bad weather or high winds.

My rating = 9 screams.

High Roller Roller Coaster
High Roller
Stratosphere Hotel And Casino

The High Roller is unique in that it is the only roller coaster built on a tower. In this case, the High Roller is bolted to the side of the Stratosphere tower just above the observation deck. The coaster makes three circles around the building, navigating 30-foot vertical drops and 32 degree banks at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. Normally, those statistics would call for a rather lame roller coaster. But consider that this thing is 909 feet above the ground, and you have a real thrill ride. Those that are not afraid of heights will find the high roller to be lame, while those who are afraid of heights will find this to be the second coming of hell. Just getting on the High Roller is an event. You have to take a special elevator to the 108th floor of the Stratosphere, then go through a glass door outside of the building and onto a metal deck. The coaster sits on the edge of this deck, and you have to cross a small gap between the deck and the cars. This half inch wide gap allows you to see straight down. And on the other side of the cars is air, again, 909 feet of air.

Once the High Roller gets running, all there is are a few ups and downs and a few tilts toward the tower. By coaster standards, this is very pedestrian. Some even call it lame. You get to make 3 circles around the tower over 865 feet of track in about 2 minutes. It costs something like $8 to enter the Stratosphere tower, then $8 for the roller coaster. The best deal is the $25 day pass which gives you all-access to the tower and thrill rides. The High Roller is outside, so it is subject to closing in bad weather and high winds.

Note—as of early 2006, High Roller is no more. It was shut down and removed from the Stratosphere. The ride was getting old enough that it would need renovation. The Stratosphere owners felt that the renovation money would be better spent developing a new ride.

My rating = 3 screams.

X-Scream Roller Coaster
Stratosphere Hotel And Casino

The X-Scream is the newest ride in Las Vegas, having just opened in late 2003. It was bolted onto the side of the Stratosphere tower at the 866-foot level. The X-Scream is built like a balance beam, with a single 8-passenger car that rides on top of the 69-foot beam. The beam tilts back and forth to move the car at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The seating on the car is 2 across in 4 rows. Those that sit in the front get a far more intense ride than the remaining 6 riders in the back. That is because the beam hangs 29 feet over the edge of the Stratosphere tower, and there is nothing at all between the front riders and the ground some 800 feet below.

The ride starts with the entry ramp being retracted. The beam then tilts forward, with the car traveling to the end of the beam. They let you hang over the edge for what seems like forever, but actually is about 10 seconds. You then tilt back, with the car going to the full back position and stopping. You then tilt forward a second time, and again hang there for about 10 seconds. Next, you tilt back, but just before the car hits the back of the beam, it tilts forward again. This leaves the car rolling backwards, stopping, and rolling forwards while the beam is titled towards the ground. This time, as you hang there looking fearfully at the ground, they tilt the beam even further down. This leaves you hanging in the restraints high over a most excellent view of the Las Vegas strip, a view that most are too terrified to enjoy. The beam then tilts back one final time, bringing the riders back from the brink of death.

This is not a conventional roller coaster. In fact, at a track length of 69 feet, it can hardly be called a roller coaster at all. But it is a thrill ride of the first class. While this ride would be nothing if it were at ground level, it is one step beyond terrifying given that it is bolted to the side of one of the tallest buildings in the world almost 900 feet in the air. Those who are not afraid of heights will love this ride. Those who are afraid of heights will simply not be able to get on the ride—their survival instinct will kick in and not allow them to try it. That goes double it you watch the ride running from the outside observation deck before getting on. If you are the least bit iffy about this, don't watch the ride before getting on, and don't ride in the front seats unless you know you can handle it. It may also be a good idea to ride the High Roller first to help you get used to the heights.

It costs something like $8 to enter the Stratosphere tower, then $8 for the X-Scream. The best deal is the $25 day pass which gives you all-access to the tower and thrill rides. The X-Scream is outside, so it is subject to closing in bad weather and high winds. The X-Scream is especially good at night since the vast sea of city lights seems to make the tower appear to be all that much higher.

My rating = 7 screams.

Coasters That Were Not Reviewed:

Dragon, Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix (kid's ride)
Miner Mike, Adventuredome (kid's ride)
Lightning Bolt, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino (closed in 2000, ran for special events until it was removed to make room for a condo project.)

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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