Great America's best coaster? It's a matter of preference

  • Robb Alvey with Theme Park Review of Valencia, Calif., said the Viper and Raging Bull are his favorite coasters at Six Flags in Gurnee.

      Robb Alvey with Theme Park Review of Valencia, Calif., said the Viper and Raging Bull are his favorite coasters at Six Flags in Gurnee. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • The Viper is routinely named one of the top five roller coasters at Six Flags Great America.

      The Viper is routinely named one of the top five roller coasters at Six Flags Great America. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Raging Bull remains a crowd favorite at Six Flags.

      Raging Bull remains a crowd favorite at Six Flags. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Daily Herald Reporter Lee Filas tests the Viper after some experts felt it was one of the top 10 coasters in the U.S.

      Daily Herald Reporter Lee Filas tests the Viper after some experts felt it was one of the top 10 coasters in the U.S. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • The Viper at Six Flags Great America Friday.

      The Viper at Six Flags Great America Friday. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Sally Zimmerman, left, of Barrington and Dyan Cooper of Cary give their impressions of the Viper at Six Flags in Gurnee Friday.

      Sally Zimmerman, left, of Barrington and Dyan Cooper of Cary give their impressions of the Viper at Six Flags in Gurnee Friday. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • The Viper is one of the top 10 coasters in the U.S. but many attending Six Flags on Friday disagreed.

      The Viper is one of the top 10 coasters in the U.S. but many attending Six Flags on Friday disagreed. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Deciding which coaster is the best at Six Flags Great America is all subject to interpretation.

      Deciding which coaster is the best at Six Flags Great America is all subject to interpretation. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • The Viper.

      The Viper. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Is the Viper one of your favorite roller coasters? Opinions vary among those polled Friday.

      Is the Viper one of your favorite roller coasters? Opinions vary among those polled Friday. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Raging Bull runs next to the Viper at Six Flags in Gurnee.

      Raging Bull runs next to the Viper at Six Flags in Gurnee. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Raging Bull runs next to the Viper at Six Flags in Gurnee.

      Raging Bull runs next to the Viper at Six Flags in Gurnee. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/14/2010 1:44 PM

When I was assigned to find the best roller coaster at Six Flags Great America, I knew it wouldn't be easy. Determining the best of 14 coasters in the Gurnee amusement park is as subjective as arguing Ford or Chevy, and Cubs or White Sox. Mostly, it involves personal preference. I needed help.

Enter Robb Alvey of Valencia, Calif. He's the owner and creator of Theme Park Review, a band of coaster lovers who visited Great America on Friday as part of their Middle America Tour that will hit 17 theme parks in 15 days.

 

Alvey is a true roller coaster lover who said he has logged time on more than 1,300 roller coasters around the world.

If anyone could name the top five coasters at Great America, it would be Alvey, right?

"It really depends on who you ask," he said. "My top five will not be the same as everyone else's because I like different things about coasters than other people do."

Among theme parks nationwide, Alvey said, Great America ranks high for roller coasters, specifically for a park catering to regional customers.

"This park is right up there near the top," he said. "When you start getting into the Disneys and what not, Great America slips down the scale a little because Disney caters to a more nationwide audience. But for a regional park like this and against other Six Flags parks, this one is right up there."

To him, the criterion for coaster quality is the ride's negative-G force, or the feeling of weightlessness it provides. He also factors in its history and how much fun he had on it.

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Tied for his favorite coaster in the park is the Viper.

"If you like wooden roller coasters, Viper is ranked right up there as one of the best in America," Alvey said. "The Whizzer is another that people really like, but mostly because of its sentimental appeal because it was here when the park opened in 1976."

The Viper is smooth, has multiple hills giving people the feeling of weightlessness, and doesn't knock you around like other wooden coasters.

"The Coney Island Coaster, which is similar to the Viper, is a rough ride that knocks you around a lot," he said. "But this one doesn't. It's just a great, fun ride."

But the Viper is the perfect example of how opinions can differ.

It was routinely ranked as the fourth or fifth best in Gurnee by more than a dozen people polled Friday.

Even two friends riding next to each other on the same ride had completely opposite opinions.

"I really liked it," said Sally Zimmerman, 22, of Barrington. "I liked how fast it went, but at the same time, I was able to throw my hands up and enjoy the ride. It was a lot of fun."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But friend Dyan Cooper, 23, of Cary said the Viper was only "OK."

"I mean, it's all right for an older coaster," she said. "But, it's not one of my favorites, and definitely not one of the best in the park."

Other coaster riders had different thoughts.

Two other experts from Theme Park Review, six area residents, six out-of-state tourists and I pick Raging Bull. And that is Alvey's other first-place choice.

Built in 1999, the hyper-twisting Raging Bull is 208 feet tall, reaches speeds of 73 mph and forces people to wind through 5,057 feet of track. Those figures make it the highest, longest and fastest roller coaster in the park.

But the best reason to pick the Bull came from Addison Weeks. The 9-year-old from Crystal Lake, who has been on every coaster in the park, declared it "better than the rest."

"You can see the whole park from the top of the hill," she said. "Then, you go real fast."

And, that's good enough for me.


What's the best roller coaster?

Robb Alvey, creator and founder of Theme Park Review who has been on more than 1,300 roller coasters.

1) Raging Bull

1) (tie) The Viper

3) Batman

4) V2

5) Little Dipper

Sally Zimmerman, roller coaster rider who said she has been on all coasters at the park at least once.

1) Superman

2) Raging Bull

3) Viper

4) Iron Wolf

5) Batman

Addison Weeks, a 9-year-old girl who got help on this list from her father, Dave.

1) Raging Bull

2) The American Eagle

3) The Viper

4) Superman

5) The Demon

Lee Filas, reporter, who has been on about 50 coasters but is too scared to go on the Giant Drop.

1) Raging Bull

2) The American Eagle (but only when it goes backward)

3) Superman

4) Batman

5) The Viper

Source: Daily Herald interviews

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