My Top 20 Debuts To Make
The Biggest Impact

 

In the decades (yes, 2 point something now) I've been visiting theme and amusement parks, and reading about them I've come across a lot of rides and concepts hoping to be the next big thing. Some have ended up remaining unique, some have had a lot of influence, and some have been real game changers. Here I'm looking at the 20 debuts I think had the most influence in later years and made the biggest impact.

 

20) The Tunnel of Love:
Coney Island

The first entry is one where picking the right ride to call the debut is difficult. The first dark ride where you moved around via mechanical means. I'm plumping for the Tunnel of Love at Coney Island, but stand to be corrected.
The ride inspired quite a few other rides, including the River Caves at Blackpool, although it wasn't until later innovations that dark rides became a more varied and notable part of a parks ride line up. For starting out the path that has led to numerous different rides today this gets a place on the list.

 

19) Masken:
Parken Zoo

The next ride is the oldest big apple coaster I could find on the roller coaster database, opening in Sweden in 1977. I'm sure for most people this is just a young kids ride, a bonus coaster count at most. It is a kids ride, but it's also the most used coaster layout in existence. For a small kids park or family attraction looking for their first coaster, or a bigger park looking for a kids ride it's always been a dependable choice. Even Alton Towers used to have one which you can still ride at it's new location at Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach. Admittedly it hasn't had a huge impact on the design on other rides, only inspiring a rare few custom versions, but it's had an impact on the ride line up of hundreds of parks, earning it a place here.

 

18) Ghost Train:
Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Like the Tunnel of Love at number 20 this is a hard one to pinpoint the debut ride. I've given it to Blackpool, although I'm certain American versions existed previously, as it was the UK's first one, and the first one to use the name Ghost Train.
Even today the ghost train is the dark ride of choice for both travelling and permanent fairgrounds, coming in  various shapes and sizes. They've also impacted outside fairgrounds with many theme and amusement parks choosing a ghost train as their first dark ride, and being an influence for larger rides like the Haunted House at Alton Towers.

 

17) Rockin' Tug:
Wicksteed Park

This was the UK's first Rockin' Tug, and one of the world's first as this ride first appeared here, and at other parks in 2003. It definitely made an impact with numerous parks following their example, and getting their own example of the ride. A bigger impact though was made by this and the frog hopper rides in the world of the kiddie ride. When I was young my choices were the adventure playground, a roundabout/carrousel or a roundabout with planes that slowly went up and down. Now there's a much larger range of kids rides, with many even providing a mild level of thrills for kids. This is now a continuously expanding area of the market, that has really started to come in to it's own thanks to rides like the Rockin' Tug.

 

16) Spinning Coaster Maihime:
Tokyo Dome City

When Maurer debuted their first spinning coaster in 2000 I couldn't have predicted how much of an impact it would have, both in ride numbers and the list of my favourite coasters. Numerous examples have consequently debuted across the world. They've been both signature attractions for mid sized and large parks, and great support rides to the signature coaster at other parks. There's even been some compact versions to make appearances at fairgrounds. This has included numerous great coasters, with several examples ranking among my all time favourite coasters.
The success of these rides has also influenced other manufactures to make their own variant on the spinning coaster, and with new spinning coasters regularly being built, their impact is still ongoing.

 

15) Crazy Mouse:
Dinosaur Beach

Next it's another spinning coaster, the world's first spinning mouse that debuted at Wildwood, New Jersey in 1997. It was close between the 2 spinning coasters, but I put this one slightly ahead, as I believe the success of this one was a big influence on the design of the first Maurer spinner, before that was developed into more custom models.
Influencing the Maurer spinner wasn't the only impact this has made though. It has had a huge impact on the ride line up of small amusement parks and larger fairgrounds. Thanks to the novelty of the ride it's become the must have ride for many smaller amusement parks, replacing many older coaster designs. It's also gone on to find it's way into larger parks as a support ride, but it's biggest impact is the numerous examples found at small parks around the world.

 

14) The London Eye:
Of course there were other observation wheels to be found many years before the London Eye, but this was one of the first observation wheels to be built as a stand alone ride in a tourist area. Since then the idea has been copied numerous times at other tourist locations in the UK, and in major cities across the world. It's impact on theme parks has been more limited, stopping it getting higher on this list, but it earns a place thanks to the many imitators it's inspired.

 

13) Colossos:
Heide Park

In 2001 Intamin debuted their first wooden coaster using prefabricated track, where the wooden track is made off site into prefabricated pieces and assembled on site, rather than being built from the ground up. Sadly the impact on the industry itself has been limited. Only 4 have been built, and they've had limited impact on other coasters.
Where the impact has really been felt is in enthusiasts lists of favourite coasters. My all time favourite ride Balder is an Intamin prefab, and other examples from around have frequently ranked highly in enthusiast polls. A recent world wide poll of wooden coasters had the Intamin prefabs placed 1st, 2nd, 8th and 16th. This is what earns this ride a place on the list.

 

12) Apache Whirlwind:
Frontier City

In 1976 the first Mack powered coaster premiered. Today it's not as major a ride as it used to be, but in the 80's and even the early 90's they became a notable ride, being the first roller coaster Tussauds built at Chessington, and the second (after the Thunder Looper) they built after purchasing Alton Towers. At that time most mid sized parks got their own powered coaster, be it a Mack or an often inferior imitation. Most went for compact themed models, but a few parks like Alton Towers and Bobbejaanland took the concept further.

 

11) Vild-Svinet:
Bonbon-Land

I first rode this ride shortly after it opened, and to be honest I wasn't blown away by it. it struck me as a forgettable looping coaster, other than the novel vertical hill lift, followed by a beyond vertical drop. I wouldn't have predicted it would become such a major ride, with parks putting themselves on the map with rides like Rage and Speed, and major parks building rides like Saw and The Smiler, and that's just the UK. There's now plenty of other examples across the world. Of course a lot of this has to do with the great design of the tracks as a whole, but there's no denying the novel hill lift has offered a crowd drawing attraction at a reasonable price.

 

10) Huss Top Spin:
German Fairs

In 1990 the Huss top spin debuted, and it sparked what would be a new generation of thrill rides. There was a time when the selection of thrill rides was much more limited than it is now. Then simply going upside down made it a major thrill ride. Today you have rides that fly through the air at multiple angles, flipping you numerous times. It was the Top Spin that kick started this, and paved the way for numerous examples of a new generation of thrill rides that followed.

 

9) Thorpe Park Fright Nights, 2002:
It wasn't that long ago that I looked over to America with much envy during the Halloween season. Now it seems like most medium to large UK parks put on an event during the Halloween season, plus there are numerous smaller attractions putting on special seasonal events. This trend is spreading even further with large parks across Europe and even further afield putting on Halloween events to boost visitor numbers. Much of this is thanks to the success of Thorpe Park, one of the first to copy America, and still one of the best Halloween eventys in the country today.

 

=8) Boomerang:
Rafaela Padilla
=8) El Condor:
Walibi Holland

I've put 2 coasters on the list here. The first ever boomerang, built in 1984, and the coaster from the same manufacturer that took over the boomerangs job, the first suspended looping coaster built in 1994.
Both are rides that have received a lot of criticism from enthusiasts. These rides aren't always well maintained in terms of track smoothness, meaning they get rough and uncomfortable to ride. To be fair the smoother examples I've done have been very good rides. There's no denying they've made an impact though, and they are still a popular choice for a park looking to install a major new crowd drawer without forking out for an elite level coaster. Whether as a new ride for a large park, or an investment for a smaller park wanting to step up a level they've always been a popular choice with park owners, even if not always with enthusiasts.

 

7) Top Thrill Dragster:
Cedar Point

This ride debuted as the world's first coaster to top the 400 foot level in 2003, although that isn't the main reason for it's legacy, with only one other 400 foot plus coaster in the world (barring current rumours coming to fruition) at the time of writing.
It's real impact though is the re-emergence of the power launched coaster. Not that long before the ride debuted it seemed like the power launch was a gimmick of the past. This wasn't quite the first of the new generation of launched rides, (that was Xcelarator at Knott's Berry Farm in 2002) but it's the one that got people to sit up to notice. Many other parks have consequently chosen a launched coaster as their next major ride, such as Rita and Stealth.
Based on this success other manufacturers have opted to create their own launched rides based on the success of the original rides. Thanks to Top Thrill Dragster what was once a dieing novelty is a highly rated attraction for parks considering their next ride.

 

6) Snow White's Adventure:
Disneyland

There were quite a few dark rides that debuted when Disneyland first opened in 1955. Surprisingly though a number of Disney's most famous rides didn't appear until later. Of the ones that were there on the debut day I've put Snow White's Adventure on the list. There had been dark rides before, but they'd been of a much more limited scale and scope. Disney premiered some of the first dark rides to implement really immersive story telling, that could be more than a support ride to the roller coasters, but a major crowd drawer in their own right. Since then many rides have taken influence, or just blatantly ripped off the Disney classics. They're still a major influence on many dark rides built today.

 

5) Batman The Ride:
Six Flags Great America

B+M are widely considered one of the greatest constructors of steel coasters ever, so it's almost inevitable that one of their early coasters would be here, just due to the impact made by the company as a whole. They started out with a couple of good stand up coasters, but they really made an impact in 1992 when they debuted their first ever looping inverted coaster. There had been inverted rides before that, like The Vampire at Chessington, but they only had a limited amount of impact. Thanks to Batman the Joker never took over Gotham City, but thanks to Batman the Ride and rides that followed such as Nemesis the inverted coaster has become many parks set out to acquire, be it a world class attraction from B+M or a crowd drawer from another manufacturer. We wouldn't currently have numerous rides across the world if Batman the Ride hadn't led the way.

 

4) The Museum of America:
New York City

If  you were asked to name the world's first great amusement park you'd probably say Coney Island, or more accurately Luna Park at Coney Island. If you include the proviso that rides had to be part of the line up you wouldn't argue against that answer. If though you were to allow amusement in the form of entertaining exhibits and theatre you could go even further back to the dime museums of entertainment that predated it. The most successful of which was P.T.Barnums Museum of America. It was one of the first places to successfully provide affordable entertainment for the masses, and established many of the philosophies still used at parks today. For being the forerunner of things to come this earns a place on the list.

 

3) The Revolution:
Six Flags Magic Mountain

This is another one that was impactful for two reasons. It was one of the the first major designs for Schwarzkopf. Prior to this they had mostly specialised in compact fairground coasters, but this was then they started to branch out and went on to design some of the greatest coasters of the 80's and early 90's.
That alone would get it on this list, but it earns a much higher position thanks to the fact it was the first steel coaster to feature an inversion. This led to numerous other looping coasters from both Schwarzkopf and other manufactures that dominated the new rides line up for many years, and did the ground work for the many steel coaster innovations that still continue today.

 

2) Gravity Pleasure Switch Back Railway:
Coney Island

What was the world's first roller coaster will always be a controversial question. It depends what exactly you count as a coaster, plus records from that hard back can be hard to clarify. One of the first roller coaster style rides ever was this one that opened at Coney Island in 1884. It was a basic ride, with 2 parallel tracks side by side. A train started at the top of one track and meandered it's way down an undulating slope. When it reached the bottom it was hoisted to the top of the parallel track where it would meander down that side. A simple tame ride it may have been, but it was a big hit with the public, and paved the way for every roller coaster that was to follow.

 

1) Matterhorn Bobsled:
Disneyland

We finally reach the number one on the list, with another ride that made a big impact for several reasons. It opened in Disneyland in 1955 and was the first roller coaster to be set in a themed immersive environment. Since then many rides have adapted the idea, with many rides being conceived or improved thanks to this.
What made an even bigger impact though was this was the first ever steel coaster to use tubular steel track. Up until then all major coasters had been constructed out of wood. The introduction of steel rides led to rides like the Revolution and the many great designs and gimmicks that have resulted in steel coasters dominating the market like they do today. For this reason this makes the top of the list.