What’s the Best Arrow Looper Left?
With Vortex at King’s Island officially retired last month, I’ve been thinking about Arrow looping coasters. These days they’re generally regarded as pretty rough, and the popularity of the older coasters has dwindled. As they age it also gets harder for parks to maintain them, so they close them down. But they’re also important rides in the history of roller coasters, and I’m pretty sure there are still some out there worth riding.
I decided to poll the Coaster101 team about the best ones left in North America, and the results were pretty clear. Here’s our ranking of the best Arrow Loopers in North America still operating. Tell us what you think and vote in this poll about your favorites!
5. Dragon Mountain at Marineland
This one is a bit obscure, and only one of us has actually ridden it. But, Nick thought highly enough during his overall mixed visit to Marineland in Niagra Falls, Canada that I thought we needed to include it. The ride is actually one of the longest steel coasters in the world at 5500 feet, and has a whopping 186 foot elevation change as it hugs the hilly terrain.
From Nick’s write-up of Marineland, he described Dragon Mountain as “an Arrow-Huss looper and mine train combined into one ride.” He also called it “better than Vortex, but worse than Tennessee Tornado.” That’s enough for us to consider it one of the better loopers out there.
4. Demon at Six Flags Great America
Demon at Six Flags Great America is next on our list (with an honorable mention to the California’s Great America sister ride). One of the earliest Arrow looping coasters, this is a little bit of a nostalgia pick. It originally opened as Turn of the Century 1976 without the now iconic double loops. The back to back vertical loops were then added for the 1980 season, and the ride rethemed to Demon. One of the reasons it’s on the list is we still love that solid Demon theming.
It’s not quite as good as originally, but the giant fake rocks the train around then loops and the multiple tunnels with light and sound effects will always be fun. I loved what California’s Great America did to the demon for Halloween Haunt a few years ago, adding new projection mapping and fire effects as well as coloring the waterfall blood red.
The ride is definitely rough, although the Six Flags Great America version of the ride has newer trains (we think the old Great American Scream Machine and/or Shockwave trains) that make it a little less painful than the originals. Our feeling is, like with many loopers, if you sit towards the front and brace yourself, it’s not overly painful. The combination of nostalgia for the nearly 40 year old ride(s) and the fun theming put it on our list.
3. Viper at Six Flags Magic Mountain
I don’t think anyone would say that Viper is smooth or comfortable, but as the last of the Arrow “Seven Looper” coasters, it’s still an impressive ride. When it opened in 1990 it was the tallest and fastest looping coaster. Even today, it remains one of the fastest looping coasters, and the first loop is still one of the highest. Viper might be rough, but it’s one of the last of its kind, and the giant layout can still be fun if you’re prepared for getting banged around a little.
It’s also just such an impressive coaster to look at. When John and I rated every coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain, John pointed out that “it looks so majestic standing tall above the park.”
How could anyone not want to ride that when they see it over the hills? There are also always rumors it might go away sooner rather than later like its sister coasters did, so it’s worth taking a ride while you can.
2. Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
There was a big gap between the previous three coasters and the top two coasters. These were pretty much unanimously the best two coasters among our team. I’m putting Loch Ness Monster at #2 on our list, but a couple of us thought it was the best one out there. Pretty impressive for a coaster that celebrated it’s 40th anniversary recently!
In our discussion last year about the best coasters at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Kyle even made a compelling argument that Loch Ness Monster isn’t just a good Arrow Looper, but the best coaster at BGW. In his words, “I love the experience of riding the Loch Ness Monster and history of the ride. For an old Arrow looper, it is remarkably smooth and well-kept. The interlocking loops over the Rhine River are something you simply can’t get anywhere else.” I personally love the enclosed helix tunnel, too.
1. Tennessee Tornado at Dollywood
Finally we get to our favorite Arrow Looper. Tennesee Tornado stands above the rest. One of the big reasons is that Tennessee Tornado is, by a wide margin, the newest of them. It was one of the last coasters Arrow ever made. While Loch Ness Monster celebrated its 40th birthday last year, Tennessee Tornado celebrated just its 20th this year.
The coaster does an amazing job using Dollywoods wooded terrain to its advantage, with most of the track hidden from view. It combines favorite coaster elements like a drop into a tunnel with the largest inversion on any Arrow coaster and clever theming around the front of the ride. But what really sets Tennessee Tornado apart is that over the years is that it hasn’t aged poorly at all. It transitions in and out of elements more smoothly than most old Arrow loopers, and over 20 years the experience has stayed comfortable enough. A testament to both the design and to Dollywood’s maintenance team.
As our own Dollywood expert John Stevenson said, “While many Arrow coasters have become significantly more rough over time, Tennessee Tornado has aged more gracefully. Now, a trip to Dollywood doesn’t feel complete without at least one ride on the Tornado.”
It’s also worth noting that Tennessee Tornado was designed by arguably the premier roller coaster designer around today, Alan Schilke. Schilke eventually went on to work for Rocky Moutanin Construction, designing some of the best new roller coasters of the last few years.
Check out John’s recent 20th anniversary article about the coaster for a ton more detail on Tennessee Tornado, and our collection of rare photos from its construction.
Those are our votes, but we’re really curious what you think. I know we haven’t all been on all of the Arrow looping coasters out there. So whether you agree or not with us, take our survey below and let us know your top 3 Arrow loopers!
Also, let us know if the comments below why you think we’re right or wrong!
Finally, if you want to know more about Arrow and their coasters, I suggest checking out the excellent documentary from ACE, “The Legacy of Arrow Development”