The Heart of America - In search of...the ultimate rollercoaster park

When one ride just isn't enough, head for Cedar Point in Ohio.

In the great pantheon of theme park entertainment, the rollercoaster is king. Aficionados talk dreamily of individual rides like rare works of art, and new coasters are anticipated with all the wide-eyed eagerness of a hundred Christmases at once. The debates rage - is it the gargantuan "X" at Six Flags, Valencia, California, that holds the crown of top ride, or Alpengeist at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg? Or perhaps the vertiginous Superman: Ride of Steel at Six Flags, Darien Lake, in Buffalo?

However, when it comes to which park boasts the ultimate rollercoaster experience, most devotees agree - it is none of the above. Instead it is Cedar Point in Ohio, about two hours' drive from Cleveland, and one of the great undiscovered gems of America. The park is situated on the southern shore of Lake Erie, its 364-acre spread suspended in wintry isolation for up to five months a year - it does not emerge from its near-frozen state until May. And yet, every season (which lasts until the end of October), this behemoth stirs back to life with another new ride-related string to its bow, another way in which to thrill its zealous regulars and those discovering its high-energy charms for the first time.

Over the last 15 years, owners Cedar Fair LP have established this Ohio outpost as Adrenalin Central by adding the biggest and baddest collection of rides, which deliver the most concentrated assault on the senses of any park on the planet. Their latest, soon-to-be-unveiled (on 7 May) masterpiece is maXair, a variation on the fairground chair-a-plane ride. The Cedar Point high-thrill quotient is achieved by lifting riders up to 140ft off the ground and subjecting them to a rotating pendulum motion at 70mph. Whether this appeals to the coaster fanatics remains to be seen, but they are hardly short-changed by the rest of the park's line-up of 67 rides, which includes no less than 16 genuine coasters.

Magnum XL-200 established their modern reputation in 1989. A towering red colossus, it takes riders on a two-minute screamfest at 72mph with an initial drop of 195ft. The next few years saw three more contenders for the coaster Hall of Fame: Mean Streak (then the world's largest wooden rollercoaster at 161ft high and 5,427ft long); Raptor (a green menace featuring six inversions) and Mantis (the park's first stand-up ride, with the novelty of four of those upside-down moments).

But all those rides paled into relative insignificance when the park unwrapped its 2003 brute, Top Thrill Dragster - a 120mph slingshot (in the first four seconds) which blasts riders up a 420ft corkscrewing tower, crests a narrow apex and then plunges the full 420ft straight back down. It is all over in 15 heart-stopping seconds - "too fast even to scream", insisted one shaken enthusiast - but the sheer lunacy lingers long in the mind.

Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, can be reached by easy drive from either Cleveland or Detroit, both of which are served with direct flights from the UK. Day admission costs $44.95 (pounds 25) for ages three and up. It also has four hotels, a campground, cosy water-front cottages, a host of restaurants and two water parks, one of which is indoors and open year-round.

For more information - and some excellent photo and video evidence of the park's feature rides - go to www.cedarpoint.com

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