Ranking the Roller Coasters of New York’s Coney Island

Growing up as a young coaster enthusiast in the pre-to-early internet era, I would try to get my hands on any form of roller coaster media that I could – those usually were coffee table books from the sale section at Barnes & Noble. Inevitably, those roller coaster books featured at least one photo (and usually more) of arguably one of the United States’ most iconic roller coasters, the Cyclone, located at Brooklyn’s Coney Island. The more I saw, the more I had aspirations of traveling to New York to ride it, however, being a child in Florida and later North Carolina, it wasn’t the easiest bucket list coaster to visit.

What many roller coaster enthusiasts might not realize is that there is far more to Coney Island’s amusement park history than just the Cyclone. Amusement Parks have been a part of Coney Island’s lore since the late 1800s, and over the years, the peninsular tourist destination has been home to parks like Steeplechase Park (1897-1964), the original Luna Park (1903-1944), the original Dreamland (1904-1911), and Astroland, which operated on the site of the original Luna Park from 1962-2008.

Today, there are just two currently operating amusement parks on Coney Island — the current generation of Luna Park, which opened in 2010 and is currently operated by Zamperla Rides, and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, a family-owned park that has continued to expand around the iconic Wonder Wheel that originally opened in 1920. Interestingly enough, though the two parks are independently operated, Deno’s is nearly completely surrounded by Luna Park, which borders it on two sides.

In total, more than 50 roller coasters have called Coney Island home over the years, and currently, between Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel, there are 11 roller coaster credits located inside of just about 17 acres worth of amusements. On a recent (and my first, after two-plus decades of coaster enthusiast-dom!) visit to Coney Island, which could best be described as a “coaster credit speed run,” I rode 10 of these eleven roller coasters in just about two hours. In case you’re planning a visit to Coney Island any time soon, we’ve decided to give you a quick rundown of the eleven roller coasters you might encounter during your visit.

Kiddie Coasters

11. Skyflyer (Deno’s Wonder Wheel)

The one roller coaster I didn’t actually experience during my visit was one that I had technically experienced already, as it was a floor model at the 2019 IAAPA Expo. Featuring just 91′ of track, it might take longer to read these two sentences than it does to traverse the entire “Micro Coaster” track from SBF-Visa. It’s definitely a kiddie coaster, meant to be experienced almost exclusively by small children — I didn’t ask if adults could ride it at Deno’s Wonder Wheel or not.

10. Mini Mouse (Luna Park)

No Shame in the Credit Counting Game.

Over at Luna Park, one of their coaster credits that’s definitely targeted more towards children is the Mini Mouse, which, like Skyflyer, opened in 2021. However, it’s not the first appearance for this coaster in one of the five boroughs of New York City, as Mini Mouse operated seasonally at Central Park’s Victorian Gardens from 2003-2019. It’s a very meandering coaster experience that does take on the 262′ of track twice, but at just 8′ tall, is shorter than a basketball hoop. If you’re not a child, you might get a questionable look from passerby, but they had no issue letting me ride.

9. Sea Serpent (Deno’s Wonder Wheel)

The term “Dragon Wagon” is definitely a term that’s thrown around a lot in coaster enthusiast circles, and the E&F Miler Family Coaster Sea Serpent is a perfect example of the Dragon Wagon. Before I boarded, the ride-operator gave me the advice that while Sea Serpent may seem unassuming, but some of its hills and turns pack a little bit of a punch. I can’t tell if he was trying to upsell me or not, as a seasoned dragon wagon rider, to me, it felt exactly like it was supposed to — a step-up from Skyflyer or Mini-Mouse, but nothing out of the ordinary. I did circle the track three times, though!

8. Circus Coaster (Luna Park)

One of just two “Speedy” Coaster models from Zamperla in the United States and the first of its kind, Luna Park’s Circus Coaster opened in 2010. Compared to the first three roller coasters on this list, Circus Coaster towers over the competition, standing nearly 30′ tall. Like Mini Mouse and Sea Serpent, riders are treated to more than one lap around the 574′ of track, and there are no crazy drops or curves, but it’s a very enjoyable ride.

Non-Kiddie Coasters

Yes, now we’ll get into the coasters that are designed for riders who aren’t exclusively children or credit-counting enthusiasts.

7. Soarin’ Eagle (Luna Park)

With its spiral lift and unique ride vehicles that you board face first, Soarin’ Eagle (formerly known as Flying Coaster at Colorado’s Elitch Gardens from 2002-2007) was the first ever “Volare” flying coaster model from Zamperla. In past podcast interviews with Zamperla’s Roller Coaster Sales & Marketing Director Adam Sandy, he’s noted/joked that “Zamperla’s Coaster division is now more than just Volare’s,” and to be perfectly honest, we’re glad that’s the case. The first half of the ride was pretty enjoyable, but there were some transitions that clearly had seen better days, and were a little jarring. In all, it’s a coaster experience, but definitely one that I was good with just one ride.

6. Tickler (Luna Park)

Taking its name from an original Luna Park attraction, the Tickler is a Zamperla Twister coaster, which is a fancy way of saying a “Spinning Wild Mouse”-style coaster. During my one ride, I had a solo ride, and situated myself on one of the “outer” seats. If you’re familiar with these types of coasters, you’ll know that a significant portion of the ride experience is dependent on the weight distribution inside the 4-passenger vehicle. With no one else in the car to counter balance my weight, the free-spinning nature of the ride resulted in a little more spinning than I personally would have liked, but that’s as much on my seat selection and inability to brace my weight to reduce the spinning as it is anything. I will say, the name and accompanying imagery from this coaster makes it one of the creepiest roller coasters I’ve ever ridden.

5. Tony’s Express (Luna Park)

Luna Park’s newest roller coaster, Tony’s Express opened on the western-most side of Luna Park in September of 2022. While Tony’s Express won’t break any records with its statistics, standing 50′ above the midway below, its incredibly smooth ride experience and surrounding scenery are worth bumping it into the top half of roller coasters on Coney Island. Tony’s Express interacts and intertwines with Leti’s Treasure, a Zamperla junior log flume, giving the park two exciting rides in one compact footprint. While I visited on a cloudy and grey day, I can only imagine the interactions of the coaster and log flume riders in the crossovers on a warm summer day!

4. Thunderbolt (Luna Park)

Another prototype coaster from Zamperla that opened at Luna Park in 2014, Thunderbolt pays homage to a former wooden coaster of the same name that operated in the space from 1925-1982, and stood for another 18 years before being demolished in 2000. With unique 9-passenger trains, Thunderbolt packs a lot into a very compact and narrow (less than 50′ wide!) space, including a vertical lift hill, vertical drop, four inversions and an over-banked turn. Like the Cyclone, it’s definitely been a roller coaster that’s been on my radar to experience for a while, and it was the first coaster I rode during my visit. While the ride definitely had a few rough spots, Zamperla’s next-generation Lightning trains, designed to be a successor to the prototype Thunderbolt trains currently on the Coney Island coaster, promise an improved ride for future generations of similar coasters!

3. Cyclone (Luna Park)

Often imitated, never duplicated. There’s a reason that the Coney Island Cyclone is one of just a handful of roller coasters on the United States’ National Registry of Historic Places (it was placed on the list in 1991.). Situated on the far east side of Coney Island’s amusements, the Cyclone has its own dedicated plot of land, and Luna Park assumed operation of the coaster in 2011. Standing 75′ above the ground below, you first witness the Cyclone’s age with its trains, which still have a single position lap bar that encompasses multiple rows in the train. You then feel its age, despite multiple restorations over the years, ascending the lift hill, when the ride turns into the pure fun of a classic wooden coaster. During our ride, I was seated in front of an older gentleman who was riding with his grandson. While he was first annoyed that he couldn’t choose his own row, he got off the ride with an ear-to-ear grin, just as I’m sure the Cyclone has given countless riders over the better part of the past century.

2. Steeplechase (Luna Park)

To put it bluntly, I wasn’t expecting Steeplechase to be anywhere near the top of my list when I was planning my trip, but I was incredibly surprised by how much I enjoyed this coaster. Another coaster that honors Coney Island’s past — Steeplechase Park was home to a 4-lane Steeplechase Coaster from 1908-1964 – the Zamperla moto-coaster begins with a surprisingly forceful 0-37mph flywheel launch that takes the horse-themed trains through a smooth and winding layout. While the coaster isn’t particularly long at just under 1,200′, the Steeplechase ride experience was the most enjoyable I experienced at Luna Park, and I really wish that Zamperla’s moto-coasters were a far more common model, especially in the United States, where there are only three currently operating.

1. Phoenix (Deno’s Wonder Wheel)

Originally scheduled to open in 2020 to coincide with Deno’s Wonder Wheel’s 100th anniversary, the Vourderis family had to wait a year to open Phoenix. It was entirely worth the wait. A suspended family coaster from Vekoma, Phoenix offers an extremely smooth ride in both the front and back row, and I got off the coaster with a huge smile on my face, because it was the most purely “fun” coaster I’d ridden that day. I’ve ridden a number of these Vekoma Family coasters in the past, and this layout made the best use of its footprint and layout.

The best element of any roller coaster at Coney Island proved to be a swinging beyond-horizontal over-banked turn about midway through the coaster’s course — for a ride that’s designed to be “family” coaster, it truly was a “wow” moment for me. It might be the location, but I truly feel that Phoenix is a coaster that isn’t talked about enough by the enthusiast community at large. (If I had any “negative” about Phoenix, it’s that I didn’t get to “Push the Buttons” like our good friend, Arthur Levine did! — aka, there were no real negatives!)

For more information about Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel, be sure to visit the park’s respective websites!

How does our ranking compare to your rankings of the coasters of Coney Island? Let us know in the comments below!