From the highway, the StarFlyer looks like a peaceful — if high-flying — throwback to earlier times, to playful schoolyard moments, to carefree defying of gravity.
From the foot of the StarFlyer, the view is more alarming. Blame part of that feeling on the signage: "America's Only Carousel on Steroids."
The ride is part of Magical Midway, a small attraction near the bend of International Drive, a few blocks south of Wet 'n Wild and across the street from Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar. StarFlyer resembles an overgrown maypole with dangling chains and seats instead of ribbons.
Two passengers can sit side-by-side at the ends of 12 sets of those chains. The loading platform itself is about 20 feet above the ground. The design of the seats is akin to baby seats on a regular swing set. A bar slides down in front. A seatbelt goes over the lap and another strap clips between the legs.
All riders rise straight up from the platform for a few feet, then the rotation begins and builds speed. The ring around the main support pole slides up and down, thus moving passengers up and down and around and around. It's about two minutes, round-trip, for $7.
"I don't think I can ride that," says my friend —not what I expected to hear from my roller-coaster buddy. Gulp.
It would have to be a solo trip for me, and not just because he chose to remain grounded. As fate would have it, I would be the only passenger at all aboard the StarFlyer. So much for strength in numbers.
Here's the lowdown: It's faster than it looks. It's higher than I thought. And two minutes is a long time to be dangling.
The best word to describe the experience is "exposed" — mainly because I don't think "semi-petrifying" is a real word. The exposure led to the petrification. Unlike many of our thrill rides, there are no over-the-shoulder harnesses or protective siding.
I like roller coasters, but I'm a gripper, not the kind of guy with his hands up in the air while coming down the big hill. On StarFlyer, I had my best death grip where the chain meets the seat and held my breath for a rotation or two.
I kept my eyes open. The scenery was a colorful mishmash of hotels, Interstate 4, billboards, downtown Orlando and parking lots, all whipping by. It probably was an illusion, but it felt that I was as high as the top of the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, the one with the globe on top.
I told myself that the velocity was an illusion as well, despite the wind-tunnel effect blowing in my ears. When StarFlyer opened in 2006, it was said it reached speeds up to 54 mph. I'm glad I didn't know that before boarding. ( SeaWorld Orlando's Manta goes 56 mph and Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom goes 50 mph, according to the Roller Coaster Database.)
Two minutes allows time for disastrous thoughts. What if I drop my sunglasses? What if I throw up? What if a bird hits me? Is that hotel out of business? What would the headline be if I were flung from here?
The descent was smooth. I was unlatched and stood up steadily. I was simultaneously happy to have ridden and happy it was over.
You can go for a second go-round for $5. I didn't have five bucks of bravery left.
See for yourself
Where: Magical Midway, 7001 International Drive, Orlando.
When: 2 p.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Tuesday; 2 p.m.-midnight, Wednesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-midnight, Saturday-Sunday.
Cost: StarFlyer is $7 ($5 for a second ride). Admission to Magical Midway is free.
Online: magicalmidway.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun