Travel

The Tallest, Fastest, and Craziest Spinning Roller Coaster Just Opened

Time Traveler
Silver Dollar City

“So, you’re going all the way back to Missouri to... ride a roller coaster?” a travel writer friend asked me over a Saturday night plate of kebabs in Morocco. We had nearly the same schedule in early March; a week in Africa followed by St. Paddy’s Day in Dublin the following weekend. She was choosing to explore the desert with her four days in between. But I knew that Branson, Missouri was the place to be on Tuesday, for the opening of the Time Traveler roller coaster.

“It’s the tallest, fastest, steepest spinning coaster in the world!” I told her like an overly excited fifth-grader. “It’s nuts. It starts with this 10-story drop, then it goes into a dive loop, a vertical loop, a zero-G roll. Goes from like zero-to-45 in three seconds.”

“Sounds like flying across an ocean to puke up my lunch,” she said as she helped herself to some couscous. “Have fun with that.”

Clearly she didn’t get it. Or more to the point, she didn’t quite appreciate how groundbreaking Silver Dollar City’s newest coaster was. The $26 million attraction from German thrill ride magnates Mack Rides is like nothing anyone’s ridden before, a tall spinning coaster that sends you careening around the Ozarks at Interstate speeds, with flips. So it reasoned to fly from Africa to middle America to check out the greatest spinning roller coaster ever created.

Time Traveler
Silver Dollar City

What exactly is a spinning roller coaster? And why's this one so great?

A spinning roller coaster is pretty much like other steel-track coasters, except instead of the cars facing forward the entire time, they spin 360-degrees. It’s not like the Disney teacups, where people control the spin themselves and stay flat. Nor is it like the Mouse Trap rides at your local county fair, where the car just twirls around however it likes. Time Traveler’s spin in controlled via a magnetic brake, which ensures smooth, controlled rotations.

That control is important when cars are moving forward at 50 mph, the fastest of any spinning coaster. Compared to the 128 mph speeds on Kingda Ka, the world’s fastest coaster, it sounds manageable. But think about spinning out your car while going the speed limit on a highway versus accelerating up over 120 on a drag strip, and you’ll get why Time Traveler is a special kind of rush.

It’s also the tallest spinning coaster in the world at 95 feet. That’s still about one-fifth the height of Kingda Ka and 140 feet shorter than Magic Mountain Goliath. But imagine it like jackknifing straight off a cliff in Negril vs doing a backflip off the high dive, and you understand how the spinning makes the distance seem longer. It uses this height to create two of the more stomach-dropping features on the ride: First, a 10-story, 90-degree drop right out of the starting gate, then later a vertical loop at the very top of the ride, the highest vertical loop on any spinning coaster.

Spinning makes every ride different

To give you an idea of why the spinning makes the Time Traveler such a different kind of ride, let’s walk through the full two-minute experience, which is literally different every time.

Time Traveler tells the story of an 1880s clockmaker and his daughter, who decide to dabble into time travel. The waiting area is themed to look like his workshop, from which a couple flights of stairs lead up to the ride’s loading area.

The cars have two seats facing forward, and two facing back, with four cars in a train. Once they’re loaded two gates open, and as the cars begin to spin one by one, they’re dropped 10 stories straight to the bottom. Depending on which way you’re facing, you might watch the ground hurtling towards you, you might watch the loading area speed off into the distance, or you might have a nice panoramic view of the Ozarks.

From there it’s straight into a full roll and a sharp curve before coming to a complete stop. Catch your breath, make some small talk with the car behind you as you face each other, then get ready to have your face peeled back. From a dead stop, you’re thrust to 47 mph in three seconds, which if you’re facing forward feels sticking your head out a sunroof on the freeway. Seated backward, it feels a little like takeoff on one of those old lounge-seating Southwest Airlines planes.

Once you’ve been sufficiently catapulted, it’s onto three inversions: a dive loop, a zero-G roll, and the vertical loop. The first holds the cars upside down while going through a full loop, making a blur of sky, mountain, and steel track as you spin. The second corkscrews the cars around the track while going up a hill. If you’re facing forward, it’s a dizzying look at the sky and horizon. Facing back, depending on where you are in the car, you get to see all your fellow riders with their hair flying in all directions, speeding through zero-gravity. The final is a scenic loop at the very top of the ride, where the spins allow a 360-degree view of Silver Dollar City and Branson beyond.

To finish, you’ll hit a second launch: this one from 30 to 45 mph in 3.7 seconds, making it the only spinning coaster with two launches. Compare this to Kingda Ka -- which shoots from 0-128 mph in 3.5 seconds -- and it seems like racing a bicycle against a Ferrari. But the beauty of a spinning coaster is that the ride is literally different every time, so breakneck speeds aren’t the only attraction.

All the fun, none of the nausea

Despite the spinning, the drops, the inversions, and the launches the Time Traveler isn’t even a little bit nauseating. I was able to knock back a couple of fried chicken sandwiches and the special Time Traveler ice cream and not once did I feel it on the ride. The chairs are more comfortable than most airplane seats and hold you in place remarkably well the entire time. But perhaps the most important thing to know about Time Traveler is that it’s just fun, and you’ll find yourself screaming through a giant grin that’s impossible to wipe off until the ride stops.

Silver Dollar City

Again, each ride is different, but after several trips, I’ll suggest the front row of the last car as the prime real estate. It allows for the most unobstructed views (most middle cars have you looking at the nice couple from Tulsa riding a row back) and felt like it got a little more whipped around than the front. The very front row can be disappointing; it rotates back almost immediately after loading so it’s not at all like Dueling Dragons, where waiting for a front seat pays off.

The ride clocks in at a minute and 57 seconds, which feels a lot shorter while you’re on the track, but is also about enough. The lines don’t exactly fly, though, with 3,020 feet of track and two trains of 16 people going at a time. If you go during a summer weekend, definitely plan accordingly.

Four days later in Dublin, my writer friend asked me if it was worth crossing the Atlantic three times in a week to ride “that roller coaster in Michigan or wherever.” I told her it was the highlight of my month.

“You do realize you’re in Dublin -- on St. Patrick’s Day -- right?” she asked while sipping a Guinness at a bar somewhere along the parade route.

“Absolutely,” I said back as I stood in my shamrock suit looking a the green-clad revelers out in the snow. “But, you know, this is cool and Morocco is exotic and Europe is historic or whatever. But you wanna talk about pure, unbridled, nothing-in-the-world-matters-for-the-next-two-minutes fun? Nobody does that like Branson.”

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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer to Thrillist who is aware there are no casinos in Branson. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.