I'm up and down on this whole roller coaster thing...
February 28, 2013 9:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to go on a much needed vacation and am heading to California. While there, I'm planning on hitting the Disney parks and am contemplating experiencing my very first roller coaster. I also have problems with anxiety and nervousness. Is it possible for me to enjoy this (terrifying) experience?

I love Disney World and have been there several times. I have never, though, ridden any of the coasters or "drop" style rides. I'm much more a Haunted Mansion kinda guy. However, the opportunity to go to Disneyland and California Adventure has presented itself and I'm gonna jump at it. My partner is fearless - he's a coaster lover and a Tower of Terror maniac and I'd like to be able to enjoy those things with him...as much as a 40 year old, terrified, anxiety-riddled bundle of nerves can.

Are there tips and tricks to combating the anxiety that the very idea of riding these things induces in me? I've gone on YouTube and watched videos of Space Mountain and Tower of Terror and get a little nervous just watching them.

I also have high blood pressure that is controlled through medication. Would this be a deterrent to riding something like this?
posted by BrianJ to Health & Fitness (27 answers total)
Best answer: I would check with a medical professional about your blood pressure.

I have anxiety and a major fear of heights. I love roller coasters, though I have to practice my deep breathing on the first major hill climb. (The other climbs go so fast that it's not nearly as bad for me.) I feel exhilarated afterward, much like after strenuous exercise.

I would never in a million years do any of those drop-style rides, but that's more due to my fear of heights than my general anxiety.

So there are people with anxiety who like roller coasters. And there are people without anxiety who do not like roller coasters. And there are people with anxiety who do not like roller coasters.

I wouldn't worry so much about any sort of general nervousness or anxiety, I guess, unless it's a real specific phobia about roller coasters or likely to result in a panic attack. That's a separate category, I think.
posted by jaguar at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You mean Disneyland, in Anaheim? I'd suggest trying something easy first. Splash Mountain is very mild. There is just one big drop at the end, and it is over in seconds. Why not try that and see how you do? Remind yourself -- this is mild, not big deal, over in seconds. And if your high blood pressure is controlled by meds, no worries.

If you don't like Splash Mountain, don't do the more intense rides. If you do, try the next mildest.

I love and yet have sometimes feared coasters. One thing that always works for me to control fear when I've felt it is to remind myself these rides are both very safe and quite short.

I also have a roller coaster rule -- I don't do upside down or spinning rides. This keeps the fear at the fun but not terrifying level for me.
posted by bearwife at 9:26 AM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

That people with high blood pressure shouldn't ride a roller coaster is one of the boilerplate warnings at any park. That said, whether the warning is for a genuine medical concern or for protecting themselves in litigation -- who knows? But it's worth checking out with your doctor, particularly for the drop rides (which are more intense).

Assuming it's fine, and that you don't want to use your blood pressure as an excuse to bail -- the excitement of a roller coaster is precisely in the terror of it -- experiencing terror within a safe set of confines.

If I were you, I'd go in baby steps, and do one of the kiddie coasters first. You get a fine sampling of what you would experience on the regular coasters. You won't know if you personally would get the usual enjoyment of fake danger or if you would just be terrified with no enjoyment, until you actually get on one.

But yeah. Check out the medical angle.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:28 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try a short one (bearwife's suggestion is good) and see whether you can stand it. If not, there's no shame in waiting in the lines and seeing all the cool stuff and chatting with people and then simply... stepping aside. When your partner gets on the ride, ask the attendant to direct you to the exit. They see dozens of people a day change their minds, and they'll be happy to point you to somewhere that you can wait for your partner to zoom through the coaster.
posted by Etrigan at 9:29 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I used to like roller coasters, now, due to injuries, I can't do them.

Start with the easy roller coasters first. Big Thunder Mountain. Matterhorn is old, and a bit jerky. Space Mountain is 100% dark and increases the freak out factor.

You know, they aren't for everyone. I sit on the bench with everyone's stuff (in the shade if I can get it) and kick back with a beverage.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:29 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Roller coasters are usually very, very short in duration. Like, you wait in this really long line, get all excited, get all hyped up about this big fun exciting thing, and then it's over in like 80 seconds.

Maybe look up the duration of the rides, and find something with a high thrill level that doesn't last very long (while the actual fun part of Splash Mountain is over in no time, there's a lot of anticipation/buildup that might not do so well for you). Perhaps that way you can get the YAY ROLLERCOASTER button hit, while at the same time rationalizing to yourself that hey, this is going to be over very, very soon.
posted by phunniemee at 9:30 AM on February 28, 2013

Hard data helps me when I'm afraid of something.

How Roller Coasters Work

Roller Coaster Safety (Wikipedia)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:35 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If your high blood pressure is not controlled, that would be a contraindication for coasters. But yours seems to be in check, so you should be okay. Please consult your doctor if you have any questions beyond that.

So, you want to ride a Disney coaster? Well, they're not all built the same. So, let's take a look at the coasters currently in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Space Mountain- The most popular. It's not a particularly scary ride on its own, but it is in the dark, so it can psych people out. It's experience is a lot like "Wild Mouse" rides you see at carnivals, quick drops and changes in direction. No loops.

Matterhorn Bobsleds- This one has a few drops, but because it's a steel coaster (as all Disney coasters are), it's a smooth ride, even though it's the oldest coaster at Disneyland.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad- Currently closed for most of this year, this one is my favorite. It's mostly just a quick series of turns and stuff, but there are no loops. The theming on the ride is top notch. It's the fastest in Disneyland.

Gadget's Go Coaster- This is a very short (under a minute) ride that is primarily for children. If you're not too large, you'll fit and it is a great experience to get your feet wet.

California Screamin'- This is the one odd duck. Unlike the other coasters Disney has in California, this one has a loop. It's built to look like a classic wooden coaster, but it is steel and has one

Goofy's Sky School- Basically this ride is Space Mountain in without the dark element. It's a lot of fun with twists and turns and a few dips.

So, go with Goofy's Sky School if you're at all concerned with Space Mountain. Avoid California Screamin' (which is an amazing ride btw) if you want to skip loops. The Matterhorn might be your peak. ;)
posted by inturnaround at 9:37 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

OK, inturnaround just said everything I was gonna ;) Except this: Tower of Terror is truly terrifying and I would advise you to skip it if, for example, space mountain is your limit (like me).
posted by thatone at 9:47 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In your case I would probably skip Tower of Terror. It's an awesome ride, but you're in the car for a long ride before the big drop. That long wait would give your anxiety time to ramp up. I think it would be an unpleasant ride for you.

Tower of Terror is, however, a very well done attraction. If people in your party are going to ride it you can go for the intro stuff all the way up to getting in the car itself. That's worth doing if the line isn't incredibly long.
posted by 26.2 at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2013

So not a roller coaster but Radiator Springs Racers at Disney's California Adventure does put you in a vehicle that "races" along a road and does travel at speeds approaching 40 mph. I haven't been on it so I can't say for sure but it won't have lots and lots of scary drops.
posted by mmascolino at 10:12 AM on February 28, 2013

I would try splash mountain first. It has a big drop but you know its coming (big lift hill before it). If you don't like that then don't try the other coasters.

California screamin his a launched start. This should be your last coaster since its the most intense that Disneyland has.

The launch is kinda like being in a sports car when the person puts the gas to the floor and goes as fast as they can. The loop isn't bad. Its nothing like say batman the ride at any of the six flags parks.
posted by majortom1981 at 10:29 AM on February 28, 2013

Best answer: Former theme park employee here. I'll nth everyone above who says if you're concerned about your blood pressure, talk to your doctor. It is a pretty standard warning on rides, but if your doctor can assuage your concerns, then that's one less thing to worry about.

What is it you don't like about roller coasters? Speed? Sudden drops? Going upside down? If you can figure out what element(s) bother you, you'll have a much easier time figuring out what rides might work for you.

Then, talk to the attendants at the front of the ride, or at the park's Guest Relations desk. They should be able to tell you in detail about the relative intensity of each ride, whether there are any drops/spins/what have you, and what the best way for you to ride is given your concerns. (For instance, some rides are much less intense if you sit in the middle. Motion simulators are less scary if you close your eyes.) In my experience, a lot of guests were concerned about the unknown of the ride, but if I gave them a detailed rundown so they knew what to expect, they usually enjoyed it.

And you can always go through the line with your partner and bail out at the last minute if you change your mind. It happens all the time. Just plan with your partner where to meet and enjoy the people-watching. Have fun!
posted by serialcomma at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Roller coasters scare the living hell out of me and I'd rather fall into a box of spiders then go on one of the big ones with the loops at Six Flags. Having said that I've been on most of the rides at Disney and they're pretty tame Splash mtn was a good start and Space mtn was downright fun.

I wouldn't ride Tower of Terror for a thousand bucks though.
posted by fshgrl at 11:03 AM on February 28, 2013

Best answer: I get motion sick easily and used to be terrified of coasters/rides.

I worked up to it by just closing my eyes. I discovered with my eyes closed, thus no visual cues as to orientation, rides only ever feel like mild to medium jiggling and shifting.

Then once you're comfortable with the jiggling, start opening your eyes. The first time I opened my eyes I was upside-down, about 80 feet off the ground, looking out over rural Illinois.

Honestly, screaming makes it a little better, too, once your eyes are open.

Last summer I went on some awful Centripetal Octopus of Doom spinning carnival ride and almost immediately felt like I had to vomit and was having intense hallucinations. As soon as I closed my eyes it was 90% better and just felt like wind blowing past my face.

So close your eyes!
posted by MonsieurBon at 11:18 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm terrified of roller coasters (I refuse to go on Space Mountain, Tower of Terror, etc.), but I actually like flume rides like Splash Mountain. I do close my eyes tight, but I can deal with the drop because I know it's just gravity and that when it ends that's it, unlike roller coasters that propel you toward the next gut-wrenching twist.

Be forewarned -- Splash Mountain has a few smaller drops before the big one, so it might be a bit more than you can handle at first. I'd actually suggest trying Pirates of the Caribbean as your first flume ride -- it has one drop in the beginning, and although it's in the dark, it's pretty tame in comparison to Splash Mountain.

Have fun! :) And don't be afraid to chicken out. There are tons of us chickens out there.
posted by phatkitten at 11:39 AM on February 28, 2013

Go to your doctor and ask about your high blood pressure. Meanwhile, discuss your anxiety. Doctors are fairly open about prescribing anti-anxiety medication these days.

You're not going to reason yourself out of a situation you didn't reason yourself into, especially on such short notice.
posted by deanc at 12:16 PM on February 28, 2013

Thunder Mountain Railroad is my favorite roller coaster because it feels fast but it doesn't go high or have any loops or anything like that. It is just good, exciting fun.

I don't like the "going up" parts of roller coasters, the down is fine but I have a hard time handling the up.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:59 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

One other thing to keep in mind is that most of the roller coasters have a single rider line for this exact reason. So if you get to the entrance of California Screamin and you're just not ready yet, but your partner still wants to ride it, they can go in that line. It's usually much shorter. They may or may not have to sit next to a stranger though.
posted by book 'em dano at 1:29 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm unusually terrified of heights. My vestibular system is really crap.

I went on Big Thunder Mountain, it is not scary at all, it's great fun.

I also went on a 90-degree roller coaster that flings you up into space with astronaut-level G-force. It was a deeply unpleasant experience, but I kept my eyes shut so that afterwards I was only saying "that was a deeply unpleasant experience" instead of being rendered speechless and disoriented for several weeks.

Start with Big Thunder Mountain and use it as your benchmark. You should be able to judge how scary other roller coasters will be from that one.
posted by tel3path at 2:29 PM on February 28, 2013

Best answer: I am the scare-dest scaredy cat. When they take those pictures of people on the rides? I am the one with my face in my husband's armpit, begging for my life. I get anxious hearing others screaming on a rollercoaster. I love the speed of a good ride, but hate the stomach-churning drops. The last one he was able to convince me to go on was Tower of Terror. Never. Again.

Having said that, I do enjoy a ton of Disney rides.

Start with Pirates. The drop is actually a lot steeper than the one in Florida. It is a great warm up.
I found Space Mountain actually fun because of the music and not seeing what was in front of me to psych me out (much like the pirate drop)
The Matterhorn & Big Thunder drops are a walk in the park if you enjoy Space Mountain. They both are more fast than dropping/stomach plummeting.
I did not like Splash Mountain- again- it is the anxiety of seeing the drop & knowing it's huge and coming soon.
Also- ride Indiana Jones- it is a fun time!
posted by haplesschild at 2:57 PM on February 28, 2013

If you do end up deciding to go on any or all of the rollercoasters, one thing to remember is to keep your body relaxed. In stressful situations, your body tends to tense up; locking your muscles or death-gripping the safety bar will make for a pretty jarring ride that you will not enjoy.

So, once you have decided to ride, when you're in the car make sure to breathe deeply and keep yourself as relaxed as possible; exhaling slowly will help this. Try to do this throughout the ride. If you are able to keep your body loose, you'll have a much more enjoyable ride that will feel much better.

Good luck - roller coasters are fun, and I hope you get to a place where you can enjoy them.
posted by pdb at 3:31 PM on February 28, 2013

I'll add in, for the first one, try to find a line that isn't too long. I like roller coasters, but in the past watching it over and over, listening to the screaming for half an hour in line would freak me out a bit.
posted by abitha! at 5:02 PM on February 28, 2013

Best answer: As someone who was phobic about coasters for years and at Disneyland in particular: Your adventurous SO will have to go on most of these things alone, seriously. If this is your first time tackling coaster fear ever, you need to break this in gently. Don't hop on Space Mountain and have a meltdown and spend the rest of the day crying on a bench--that's no fun for anyone. Also remember that you'll probably be in line for like an hour before every coaster, feeling sick to your stomach and scared before you get on it. I think that adds to the dread.

This is what I'd recommend starting out with. Disclaimer: I haven't been to Cars Land, no clue there.

Tier One, Just Starting:
(a) Pirates
(b) The kiddie-type coaster-y stuff in Fantasyland. I don't really like the rides in Fantasyland overall that much so there's nothing there I'd really recommend, but just go on these things and see if you can handle them. As a kid, I would have a freaking meltdown in fear of going on Pirates, which my parents dragged me on every year anyway.
(c) Gadget's Go-Coaster

If you can handle those rides... let's go to the "some drops, some jostles" stuff.

Tier Two, Medium Fear:
(a) Indiana Jones--though this one is broken like every single day at some point and has hours of wait--you probably won't even get on it unless it's the first ride you hit all day.
(b) Big Thunder (wow, they're closed all year? fuckadoodle, that sucks)
(c) Splash Mountain. Yeah, the big drop is a wigger-outer and you will be soaked ALL DAY in March, so maybe you don't want to do that one. But even I can handle that.
(d) Goofy's Sky School is probably what I'd plug you to do this time. Somewhat scary for a wimp, but you can get off of it feeling like you survived and achieved something.
(e) On the non-coaster side, there's Star Tours and Soarin'. They make my easily-nauseated mother sick, but everyone else seems to be able to handle them. More along the lines of virtual jostling.
(f) Grizzly River Run-- though this is another "gets ya wet" one.

Tier Three: Hard Fear
(a) Matterhorn. I'm proud of myself for conquering that one. I still haven't done the rest of what should be on this list, though...

I am mostly over the coaster phobia, but I still won't go on Space Mountain or Tower of Terror. NUH-UH TO THOSE. Ditto the giant freaking coasters in the back end of California Adventure.

Just go on different rides while he's in line for the fear shakers and someone texts the other when they're done. I looooove Toy Story's ride like mad.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:04 PM on February 28, 2013

If you want to actually go on them and not find a way to gracefully skip it, it helps to remember that you are not going to get hurt in any way. You think they would let you on that thing if it was risky? Hell no.

Modern coasters (Disney parks, etc.) don't even let you have the illusion of danger anymore, what with their seat-belt harnesses and strong shoulder-bar restraints. Not like, say, the Big Dipper at Santa Cruz, which seemed just rickety enough, and the cheesy lap-bar that didn't really restrain you at all, for you to maybe possibly die horribly (in your imagination.)

But no. It's just a fast ride around a track.
posted by ctmf at 6:30 PM on February 28, 2013

Best answer: I am also afraid of roller coasters, but have ridden everything at Disneyland multiple times (except for California Screamin which I will NEVER EVER EVER set foot on again, even with peer pressure.)

It is good to remember that, despite the fact that you feel like you're going a million miles an hour, these coasters are actually only going somewhere between 25-30 miles per hour. Sometimes they'll crank Space Mountain up a little fast when the lines are really long, but I think its top speed is around 30.

And yes, Tower of Terror is REALLY scary and if you have a fear of heights/falling you're really not going to like that one.
posted by OolooKitty at 9:42 PM on February 28, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments, everyone! Just got back last week from my trip and I had a blast.

Before we hit Disneyland, we made a side trip to Universal Studios. I really, really wanted to ride The Simpsons ride, but was terrified. I finally made it on, though, and after riding it about nine times, learned to open my eyes and just enjoy it. I tried The Mummy and nearly lost it - absolutely terrifying and I just knew that I was going to be either flung from the ride or have a heart attack during it. The best (worst?) part - a little elderly woman sitting beside me who laughed maniacally every time I screamed like a little girl. After riding that, we were both pretty sure that I'm just not a roller coaster kinda guy.

When we finally made it to Disneyland, we hit the kiddie rides (my favorite things) and tried working up to the bigger stuff. I wasn't even a fan of the tiny drops in Pirates of the Caribbean, but I made it through.

I'm like Ruthless Bunny - I'm more than happy to sit and sip a cool drink while I hold on to everyone's stuff as THEY ride the scary things. Gives me more time for shopping and shows.

Thanks again, everyone!
posted by BrianJ at 7:02 AM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

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