El Toro

Six Flags Great Adventure Wood Coaster Ride Review

••• El Toro strikes a mighty pose alongside Great Adventure's lagoon. ©Arthur Levine, 2006. Licensed to About.com

A new breed of thrill machine, the exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping, airtime-filled, smooth-as-silk El Toro is among the best wood coasters on the planet -- except I'm not sure it's correct to characterize it as a wood coaster. Whatever El Toro is (or is not), there's no denying that it is an incredible achievement and a joyful rush to ride. Coaster fans will want to take this bull by the horns and scream, "ole!"

Up-Front Info

If the sight of El Toro's massive track wasn't enough of a clue, the actions of the ride operators in the loading station should have tipped me off about the ride's ensuing magnificent madness. They "stapled" (a wonderful term coaster freaks use to describe the overzealous tightening of safety restraints) me and my fellow riders to within an inch of cutting off our respiratory and circulatory functions. I think the extra precautions may have been due more to the new ride's balky sensor (which I'm sure the park will tweak), than sadistic ride ops.

But I didn't have much time to fret over my labored breathing, as the train departed the station, rounded a bend, latched onto the lift mechanism, and cruised up the 188-foot lift hill at a surprisingly fast clip.


Unlike all other wood coasters (and nearly all steel coasters), El Toro uses an elevator cable lift rather than a traditional lift chain.

Once the entire train was on the lift hill, the cable reved up to about 14 MPH without any of the hesitation or clattering clack-clicks of a lift chain. It was almost eerie how quickly and quietly the cable delivered the train to the ride's precipitous apex. The subsequent screams, however, promptly shattered the silence.

At 176 feet, El Toro's first drop is among the longest for a wood coaster in the U.S. (and the world, for that matter). Its 70-mph top speed makes it among the fastest wood coasters anywhere as well. At the time of its debut in 2006, its 76-degree angle of descent was the steepest for any wood coaster. Hence, the screams.

The first drop is immediately followed by three substantial hills of 112 feet, 100 feet, and 84 feet. This generated wild, prolonged, floater airtime (that giddy butterflies-in-your-stomach sensation that coaster fans crave). Even with my lap bar cinched tightly, the airtime was glorious.

Prefab Fabulousness

The train banked into the turnaround, navigated some bunny hills for more intoxicating airtime, then veered off towards Rolling Thunder (Great Adventure's other wood coaster, which looks puny by comparison--and sounds like a screeching subway train in its last gasps).

A fifth drop remained surprisingly potent, but delivered a spasm of ejector air, rather than the more gentle floater air of the initial drops. El Toro then mercilessly, yet somehow smoothly, tossed its passengers around with a series of extremely banked twisting elements before returning to the station.

I knew the stats. I even knew about the ride's unique prefabricated wood track. I was prepared for the height and speed, and anticipated some decent airtime. I was not, however, expecting El Toro's silky smoothness. It was unlike any wood coaster I've ridden. Rather than the rickety rough-and-tumble woodie sensation epitomized by the classic Cyclone at Coney Island (and bastardized by el crap-o coasters like Rolling Thunder), El Toro was as rock-solid as Great Adventure's wonderful Nitro or other stellar examples of steel coaster engineering.

Not that I'd recommend it, but I think a surgeon could safely perform a circumcision while riding El Toro.

On Track for Coaster Stardom

Why is the ride so smooth? Like two other thrill machines from Intamin of Switzerland (Balder at Liseberg in Sweden and the world's second-tallest wood coaster, the 196-foot Colossos at Heide-Park Soltau in Germany), the manufacturer laser cut the ride's track to exacting standards at its factory. Instead of nailing together pieces of wood like a conventional coaster, it bonded and laminated them to create the track sections. Rather than cutting and assembling wood timbers on site, the builders snapped the track sections together like puzzle pieces. Technically, the ride is still made out of wood, but I don't know if it's entirely accurate to call it a wood coaster.

By dialing down the characteristic rickety rumblings, El Toro is able to focus on its considerable strengths of speed and wigged-out airtime. The hybrid ride ranks up there--way up there--with any coaster, wood or steel, and that's no bull.

I include El Toro among my list of the best roller coasters. I also include it on my rundown of the 11 scariest coasters.