How COVID inspired Coney Island’s new Phoenix roller coaster

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Move over, Cyclone — there’s a new stomach-churning star ­attraction at Coney Island.

The Phoenix roller coaster makes its official debut on July 4th weekend at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. According to DJ Vourderis, whose family owns and operates the park, it’s a high-speed love letter to New York City.

“We wanted to do something that would sit under the Wonder Wheel [the iconic Ferris wheel] and be worthy of it — and be worthy of Coney Island. We didn’t want a cookie-cutter coaster,” said DJ.

The Phoenix is a suspended ride accelerating to speeds of 34 mph and a height of 68 feet. And while the Cyclone at neighboring Luna Park goes faster and higher, the Phoenix — a suspended coaster that leaves riders’ legs dangling — packs a serious G-force that twists passengers up to 115 degrees.

I haven’t seen tight turns like this in a family coaster, ever,” said DJ, noting that “it feels a lot faster than 34 miles per hour, with all the near-misses” — including hurtling riders right under the Wonder Wheel.

It also won’t make you lose your lunch.

“It’s proven — you can have a Nathan’s hot dog before or after the ride without, um, giving it back,” DJ said of the 67-second thrill.

Reportedly costing $6 million, Phoenix is “the most expensive investment we ever made,”  added DJ. It was inspired by the Dragonflier roller coaster at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and the family hired the same concept engineer, Tonny Schonewille of Dutch amusement-ride manufacturer Vekoma.

The Vourderis family decided to call it “The Phoenix” in the wake of the worst pandemic in a century.

“This is [a] place for us to heal,” he said of the park, noting that the 101-year-old Wonder Wheel was built on the heels of the Spanish Flu. “There was a lot of risk back then, too, to build during a pandemic, but [people] believed in Coney Island . . . This is going to be the start of our Roaring ’20s.”

Inclined Loop

Inclined loop
Inclined loop
Coney Island

Among The Phoenix’s most exciting moments: a near-miss with the Wonder Wheel. “It’s definitely by design,” said Schonewille of the curve, which packs a 3.4G downforce. “ You feel you’ll collide with the Wonder Wheel — it’s that tight.”


Twisted Bunny Hop

Twisted bunny hop
Twisted bunny hop
Coney Island

“This a low hill you go through at high speeds,” said Schonewille. “It’s also twisted. You’re banking from side to side — a right side curve into a left side curve . . . so you’re given that extra punch. It’s a weightless sensation.”


Twisted Speed Loop

Twisted speed loop
Twisted speed loop
Coney Island

“You’re very close to the ground and you really feel the intensity of the speed. In the end, the sensation of speed isn’t about the number, it’s about the experience,” designer Tonny Schonewille explained of The Phoenix coaster. “With everything flying past you, the sensation of speed feels much higher than it actually is.”


24.6-Foot Drop

24.6-foot drop
24.6-foot drop
Coney Island

“The first drop is almost 25 feet — you feel the G-force. You feel the weightlessness,” said Schonewille. The horseshoe-shaped track also packs what’s known as a “feet chopper effect”: “On suspended rides, [that’s] when passengers have the feeling their feet will hit the track below them.” Going up to the drop, “You’re facing the sea, and it’s miles of amazing views.”

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