As a child, roller coasters terrified me. Blue Streak at Cedar Point was the only one I’d go on – pretty tame, in hindsight, though still a notch above the kiddie stuff. My fear was a common one: A first kids roller coaster ride can be the white-knuckling stuff of nightmares.
But then I grew up, worked at this amusement park for a few years and fell absolutely head-over-heels in love with them. In fact, I just hit my 150th roller coaster ride last summer and have my eye on six new parks this season.
Still, I pine for the years I lost being so afraid of them. That’s why, when my nieces came up to bat, I plopped them on Magnum – and told them it was Gemini.
Now, as teens, they thank me for it, because they don’t have a problem riding the bigger rides with their friends – though at the time they were not happy 205 feet in the air when they figured out that I lied.
Fear or apprehension of roller coasters is a real thing for kids. And considering the height, speed and inversions featured on coasters today, it’s really not shocking.
Still, considering that metro Detroit is somewhere between Michigan’s Adventure up north and Cedar Point in Ohio, it’s kind of a rite-of-passage for us to try out at least one coaster in our lives.
So, to help make your first kids roller coaster ride a little less terrifying, we spoke to Tony Clark, the director of communications at Cedar Point, to learn how to ease pint-sized minds for larger-than-life thrills.
Cedar Point and similar parks often offer great opportunities to get kids started on roller coasters, Clark notes. As a rule of thumb with roller coasters, he advises parents to start their kids off small.
“We have a wide range of coasters with different levels of excitement,” he says. “Woodstock Express and Wilderness Run are where most little riders start – these rides are not tall and aren’t intimidating, so they’re easy to experience.”
As kids get a little older, parents should start making themselves aware of height and other rider requirements. When the child meets said requirements, the family should then decide together what is appropriate for their family.
When kids are ready to move up from kiddie coasters, they can try slightly larger and faster transition coasters like Iron Dragon, Blue Streak and Mine Ride.
If these rides become too much, though, don’t be afraid to take a break. Many parks offer places to kick back or smaller rides to take the edge off. Cedar Point, for example, has a beach, water park, numerous shows and three areas made just for kids.
Moving on up
Once your child masters transition coasters, you may want to start taking him or her on larger and faster rides like Millennium Force, Top Thrill Dragster and the park’s newest ride, Steel Vengeance.
Sometimes though, kids may not be too keen going launching, dropping and flipping all around, so one tool parents can use to get them on board are other park guests.
“Observing other riders is always a great way to get comfortable,” Clark explains. “From my experience, my young nephew wasn’t sure about riding some of our bigger coasters, but once he observed others his age riding (and me letting him make the decision), he warmed up to it and decided to ride.”
Be aware, though: If your child is visibly not willing to ride, ride hosts may not let him or her go, regardless if you decide he or she is going.
“Our ride operators are always observing all situations while operating a ride,” Clark adds. “If any guest appears to be uneasy or not prepared to experience the attraction, they will not dispatch the ride and will have a conversation with (the child) to determine if they want to continue or exit.”
After all, “It’s supposed to be fun” he says, “not scary!”
Now that you know how to tackle the monster rides with kids, check out our list of the best family amusement parks in the United States (and Canada), including Cedar Point, and start planning your coaster-filled getaway.