Looping, boomeranging, dizzyingly high -- roller coasters continue to capture theme park fans' imaginations as the summer of 2012 roars in.
Among locals looking forward to a good shake, rattle and roll: John Hunt, 49, of Coram. Hunt has ridden 600 coasters around the country and even builds miniature replicas of his favorites. But his all-time fave is just across the city line: the venerable Cyclone at Coney Island's Luna Park, which has all of Hunt's favorite things: "the rush, the sound of the roller coaster, and the people screaming."
A number of new roller coasters will be bringing fresh ups and downs to metro area parks, including the new "winged" variety. Here's what's new for 2012 at eight theme parks within a few hours' ride of New York.
ADMISSION Entrance to the park is free; $3-$25 a ride.
ABOUT Luna Park first opened in 1903 and was reborn in the summer of 2010 with 19 rides, food kiosks and games. You can stroll in off the Boardwalk and load credits on a Luna Card -- a kind of MetroCard for thrill riders.
NEW FOR 2012 Two new rides in The Scream Zone, which debuted last spring in an attempt to recapture the glory days of Luna Park's past. The Boardwalk Flight SkyCoaster mimics skydiving -- you pull a cord and drop 60 feet over the famous strand. Coney Island Raceway's 900 feet of track includes switchback and hairpin curves.
DISTANCE FROM NYC 165 miles
ADMISSION $56.95 ages 9-54; $35.95, ages 3-8 and 55-69; and $22.95, 70 plus; children 2 and younger free
ABOUT The park synonymous with that beloved chocolate features more than 65 rides -- including 12 roller coasters and 20 rides for kids. The Boardwalk at Hersheypark has nine water attractions and is open Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. And, of course, no visit is complete without filling up at Hershey's Chocolate World.
SIGNATURE RIDE The wooden Comet Coaster was introduced in 1946 and has been updated over the years. Fahrenheit, built in 2008, is a vertical-launch roller coaster, with a 120-foot, 97-degree negative drop.
NEW FOR 2012 Skyrush, a "mega-hyper" roller coaster, introduces winged seating to the park. The seats jut out from either side of the track, giving riders the sensation of soaring through the air. The outer seat has a 270-degree panoramic view.
DEAL Through July 2, stay at Hershey Lodge or Hotel Hershey (one night, family of four, $395-$499 plus taxes) and get free park admission for the family and breakfast for kids 17 and younger.
DISTANCE FROM NYC 77 miles
ABOUT Sesame Street characters such as Elmo and Cookie Monster roam the park and also lend their names to rides. A daily Neighborhood Street Party parade features 11 floats and the familiar TV characters and sing-a-longs to classic tunes.
SIGNATURE RIDE Rub-a-dub-dub-dub, six riders in a raft glide under an 8-foot rubber ducky and other oversized toys. The Sky Splash water ride finishes with a pool plunge. Or you can introduce the youngsters to steel roller coasters -- and stay dry -- on the kid-friendly Vapor Trail.
NEW FOR 2012 Kids learn about the joys of playing with little buddies in a new interactive show, "Let's Play Together!" It's at Abby's Paradise Theater and features Sesame Street regulars.
DEAL The $57.95 price is good for any two days -- be they consecutive or nonconsecutive.
DORNEY PARK and WILDWATER KINGDOM
DISTANCE FROM NYC 97 miles
ABOUT The sight of Dorney Park's roller coasters as you approach on Interstate 78 should start your heart racing. The younger ones find thrills and laughs at Planet Snoopy, with its 16 rides and an amphitheater for Charlie Brown's Jungle Journey show. A ticket to Dorney Park includes access to the Wildwater Kingdom's slides, pools, rivers and water play areas.
SIGNATURE RIDE Steel Force was the first roller coaster in the East to rise more than 200 feet with its 205-foot drop. It's still the tallest in the park.
NEW FOR 2012 Stinger: The Scorpion Coaster. Pairs of riders face each other on a suspended, inverted steel roller coaster, which takes you forward, then boomerangs backward over the same track.
ALSO Dinosaurs Alive, a 3-acre park with 32 life-size animatronic dinosaurs -- including a T-Rex, of course. The largest prehistoric monster measures 72 feet long and 30 feet high. Admission: $5.
DEAL Purchase tickets online, for $39.99 -- $9 off the gate price.
DISTANCE FROM NYC 73 miles
ADMISSION $61.99; less than 54 inches tall, $39.99; 2 and younger free
ABOUT The largest Six Flags theme park in the country has always been a favorite of Long Island day-trippers. In business for more than 50 years, with its rubber-faced pitchman, Mr. Six, recognizable from TV commercials, Six Flags calls itself "the world's largest regional theme park company with $1 billion in revenue and 19 parks across the United States, Mexico and Canada."
SIGNATURE RIDE Roller coasters rule at Six Flags, including the wooden El Toro (76-degree drop), Kingda Ka, at 45 stories the tallest coaster in the world (and at 128 mph the second-fastest after the Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi) and the steel Nitro, with seven hills that give you that weightless feeling.
NEW FOR 2012 Four new rides include the 24-story-high SkyScreamer with its green and yellow tower and hurtling swings. It spins riders at speeds up to 40 mph. Get your motor vehicle frustrations out on the Fender Benders bumper cars, opening in July.
DEAL Buy a day pass online, three days before your visit, for $36.99; same-day online tickets cost $41.99.
DISTANCE FROM NYC 154 miles
ADMISSION $35.99 ages 3-59; $30.99 ages 60-69; $23.99 age 70 and older
ABOUT Opened in 1963, the 43-acre park dubbed "A Kingdom for Kids" features more than 30 rides, a water-play zone and a miniature golf course. Imaginary dignitaries Princess Brooke, Duke the Dragon and the Dutch Wonderland Knight stroll around greeting guests. Live shows star storybook characters.
SIGNATURE RIDE In its 20th season, The Kingdom Coaster (originally called Sky Princess Roller Coaster) is popular as a starter coaster for families with youngsters.
NEW FOR 2012 At Merlin's, a new full-service, sit-down theme restaurant, the wise old magician performs feats of prestidigitation. New shows at Celebration Theatre include Superstar Funfest with Special Guest Stars Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog, and a Garfield the Great and Friends magic show.
DEAL Come three hours before closing and admission is free with the purchase of a next-day park ticket.
DISTANCE FROM NYC 28 miles
ADMISSION $30 ($20 for children less than 48 inches tall, free 2 and younger)
ABOUT Located off I-95 (Exit 19), this Westchester County-owned park is nestled against Long Island Sound. It opened in 1929 and still features some of the original rides. Riding the Gondola Ferris wheel offers scenic views of the Sound and the New York City skyline.
SIGNATURE RIDE The 3,400-foot wooden Dragon Coaster dates to the park's first year of operation.
NEW FOR 2012 The Jolly Caterpillar, a train ride that first opened in the 1950s, was renovated over the winter. It's now a "retro" attraction in Kiddieland, making its big circle on wobbly wheels. Also: new musical revue shows and strolling entertainment in Kiddieland.
DEAL Come with a group of 20 friends and admission is only $20 a person.
DISTANCE FROM NYC 105 miles
ADMISSION $36.99 ($26.99 less than 52 inches; $18.99 for seniors; ages 3 and younger free)
ABOUT Opened in 1845, Lake Compounce is the oldest continuously operating amusement park in North America. Its 400 acres in central Connecticut encompass picturesque forests, hills and its large namesake lake. Its award-winning roller coaster, Boulder Dash, is built on the side of a mountain.
SIGNATURE RIDE Boulder Dash races at speeds up to 60 mph, around trees and over boulders.
NEW FOR 2012 Riptide Racer is a high-speed water slide, one of 20 attractions in Crocodile Cove water park. It starts with tubes, then a vertical drop to four curving chutes and a straightaway finale.
DEAL After 5 p.m., admission drops to $18.99.