Review of Kingda Ka

The World's Tallest Coaster

Kingda-Ka.jpg
••• Kingda Ka's tower pierces the Six Flags skyline. © Arthur Levine.

Less a roller coaster and more a thrill machine designed for bragging rights, Kingda Ka is, in my opinion, a one-trick pony. Granted, it's a heckuva trick and a once-in-a-lifetime rush. But, for me, once is enough. The launch scared me silly -- and I'm a fairly seasoned coaster vet. But, in the end, despite its record-breaking 456-foot tower, Kingda Ka left me flat.

Up-Front Info

  • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 10
    I can't imagine a more thrilling ride. Insane acceleration, speed, height, and drop.

"I'm going up and down...THAT?"

The anticipation is unnerving. As riders board Kingda Ka's trains in its dual-loading platforms, and the trains stack up at one end of the horizontal launch track, the ominous 456-foot top hat tower looms at the other end. The tower can be seen virtually everywhere throughout the park, and it looks incredibly tall.

But staring at it head on from the vantage point of a locked and loaded train, it looks beyond nuts. All I could think was, "I'm going up and down...THAT?"

Every few minutes a train takes off, adding to the pre-ride jitters. It barrels down the launch track at a brain-scrambling 128 mph, and then goes straight up the tower.

(If you are curious about how the ride accomplishes its tremendous speed, read my feature, "How Kingda Ka Works.") As it climbs 456 feet, it decelerates and appears to barely have enough oomph to make it over the top. In rare instances Kingda Ka and other rocket coasters do, in fact, peter out and slide backwards down the tower. The rides are designed to handle the anomaly.

Kingda Ka then plummets straight down the other side and enters into a 270-degree vertical spiral. Racing back to the station, it climbs a relatively puny 129-foot hill for a spurt of airtime. No matter how many times I watched the trains cycle through the ride, nothing prepared me for the actual ride.

Yeeeee-ahhhhhh!

As with most launched coasters, the brakes release just before Kingda takes off and leave the train briefly free-floating in neutral. Then, yeeeee-ahhhhhh!, it's impelled with a staggering burst of energy down the track. Traveling 128 mph in an open vehicle is an unearthly sensation.

After zooming up the tower, the few seconds of quasi-hesitation -- are we gonna make it? -- is unsettling. The view at the crest of the tower, if riders can peel their eyes open, is impressive. Up to that point, and we're talking maybe 10 seconds, Kingda Ka is wild.

Anticlimactic

Coming down the tower, however, there were some unexpected rough spots as the train shuddered a bit. The vertical spiral was disorienting and detracted from the ride's sheer height and speed. And the 129-foot airtime hill was anticlimactic and mostly lame. With that much pent-up energy, I thought there'd be an explosive burst of airtime. (For airtime nirvana, head over to Great Adventure's premier coasters, El Toro and Nitro.)

Returning to the station, I was a bit shell-shocked from the launch and extreme height. But I was also a bit let down. After all that anticipation, the ride is over in a blink.

I tip my top hat to Intamin, the ride's manufacturer, and Six Flags for having the audacity to build the record-breaking Kingda Ka. But, breaking records doesn't necessarily translate into a dazzling ride experience.

Instead of the symphony of thrills -- the crescendos, the releases, the peaks, the bridges -- that a great roller coaster delivers, Kingda Ka was a sustained, single-note, heavy-metal roar.

When Kingda Ka opened in 2005, it was one of a handful of hydraulic launch rocket coasters. Its relatively new technology was being pushed to the limits. As such, it experienced many delays before it opened. You can read about a major incident in my article, "Kingda Wah: Kinda Ka Malfunctions."

About those World Records...

Sure, Kingda Ka busted height and speed records when it opened. Is it still the king of the coaster jungle? See the latest stats and the current record holders in my rundown of the world's 10 fastest roller coasters and the world's 10 tallest coasters.