The Roller Coasters of Adventureland Resort, Ranked by a First-Time Visitor
Living in North Carolina, I typically find the amusement parks of the midwest as places that are best described as “inconvenient to travel to.” Of course, that makes me want to visit them even more, and when I found myself in Iowa recently for a work trip, I knew that part of that trip had to be spent at Adventureland, “Home of Iowa’s Best Thrills.” Outside of the Gerstlauer Infinity Coaster, Monster, which I primarily knew about from interviewing Andy Versluys from KCL Engineering, I knew very little about Adventureland’s seven coaster lineup, which I set out to experience in its entirety during my visit.
In case Adventureland is in your coaster plans for the future, here’s a quick ranking of Adventureland’s seven roller coasters, from a first-time visitor. In order to build suspense, we’re going to go in reverse order.
(A quick note: The Underground, Adventureland’s wooden coaster/dark ride hybrid has been closed during the 2023 season as the ride’s trains are being rebuilt. It won’t appear in this ranking, but if I had to guess based on YouTube videos, it would be seventh.)
Phoenix, a Maurer spinning coaster tucked into a corner of Adventureland’s eastern border, is an “off-the-shelf” model that can also be found at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (Undertow), Waldameer (Spinning Dragons), and Hersheypark (Laff Trakk). Standing 50′ tall with a top speed of just over 37 miles per hour, guests careen around the nearly 1,500′ of track like a pinball as the four-passenger trains spin throughout the ride’s course. Unfortunately, with just three or four single-car four passenger trains on the track at a time, the lines for Phoenix can build pretty quickly, but move pretty slowly. Unfortunately for me, after about a 45-minute wait during our visit, the park shut Phoenix down and dumped the queue due to some issues the coaster was having, and I didn’t get to ride. That said, I’ve ridden this model before, and spinning isn’t my favorite, which is why I have it firmly in the 6 slot.
5. Dragon Slayer
For nearly 30 years, Adventureland was home to a roller coaster named Dragon, a multi-looping sit down coaster built by OD Hopkins. After the coaster closed in 2019, Adventureland built the spiritual successor to Dragon in its former location, and cheekily named it Dragon Slayer. Originally scheduled to open in 2020, the S&S 4-D Free Spin eventually opened in 2021, and was the first “smaller” free-spin model built by S&S. This is another coaster that can be considered “off-the-shelf,” but each ride experience on a S&S Freespin is unique due to weight distribution in the ride vehicles and magnets located along the track. Given the short track length, you spend more time wondering which way is up on Dragon Slayer as you flip and spin through the 770′ of track.
I will say, after having ridden the “smaller” free-spin model, I enjoy these more than their larger counterparts mainly found at countless Six Flags parks because the ride is over a little quicker and you’re not subject to as many random flips with the shorter track. I’m getting old and my equilibrium isn’t what it used to be, okay?!
4. Flying Viking
Adventureland’s newest coaster, Flying Viking, could honestly be considered two attractions at once, as it shares a queue/station area with Drakken Falls, which also opened in 2023. Part of what Zamperla calls an “integrated” ride package, where two attractions share the same footprint, Flying Viking is a perfect roller coaster for families and/or those who want the thrill of a roller coaster, but don’t necessarily want to deal with the height, forces, and speed that come with a larger roller coaster. With less than 1,500′ of track, a height of 50′ tall, and a top speed that wouldn’t get you a ticket in most residential neighborhoods, Flying Viking isn’t breaking any records, but a seat in the back row subjects riders to a decent bit of lateral forces, especially in the ride’s two 450-degree helices. With its newness, it’s still an incredibly smooth ride, and one that can be enjoyed by all ages.
At 45 years old, Tornado is far and away Adventureland’s oldest roller coaster. But for an older “out-and-back” style wooden coaster, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed taking a spin on Tornado. Riding in the front row, you’re able to see and feel the pitching and yawing of the old wooden track in the pre-lift section, which made me nervous for an uncomfortable ride. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as the ride was one of the smoother (relatively, it’s a 45 year old wooden coaster after all) wooden coasters I’ve ever ridden at that age. Sometimes it’s better to be simple, with camelback hills and a turnaround to come back to the station. Having only ridden in the front row, I can’t speak to other rows on the train, but if you’re lucky enough to get blessed with a front row ride — you’re going to have a great experience!
(And if the guy I talked to in line for Tornado about all things Des Moines and Coaster101 happens to read this, I hope you’re satisfied with the rankings!)
Slightly more modern (opened in 1993), and tucked away from much of Adventureland in an area in the back corner of the park near Adventure Bay, the Custom Coasters International-designed Outlaw feels like a good pre-cursor to the current generation wooden coaster. Featuring a quick bunny hop in the pre-lift section, riders are treated to a sprawling curved drop before the Outlaw takes on the rest of its 2,800′ of track. Rarely do I ride a wooden coaster and think, “this is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.” There’s drops, banked curves, and your thrown around in your seat the perfect amount. As one of CCI’s earliest built (and first “large-scale”) coasters, it’s clear to see that inspirations could have been taken from Outlaw and used in the design of other roller coasters in their portfolio. For turning 30 years old this year, Outlaw is a ton of fun, and I’m glad to see that Adventureland is keeping it running just like it should be!
There are a number of reasons why I think Monster is far and away the best roller coaster at Adventureland, and it’s not just because it was my 300th coaster credit. The first Infinity Coaster from Gerstlauer to open in the United States, Monster really does everything right. Following it’s 90-degree vertical lift into a 101-degree beyond vertical drop, Monster is perfectly paced through its 5 inversions, creating several moments of “hangtime” throughout the attraction. When you’re not being thrown upside down through the inversions at a speed that feels just a bit too slow to make it through without rolling back , the coaster has several incredible pops of airtime, and continues to double-back over itself multiple times, cramming just under half a mile of track into a fairly compact footprint. The only thing that would have made my experience better is if I had gotten to ride the coaster at night and gotten to experience the “light show” from KCL Engineering! But for being at a relatively small park in Iowa, Monster outkicks its coverage every time.
For more information about Adventureland, be sure to visit the park’s website!