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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rip Ride Rockit: The roller coaster that'll make you lose your lunch as well as your lunch money

Universal Studios in Orlando was supposed to open its new roller coaster, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, back in May. But the effort was so technologically complicated that it couldn't cut the ribbon until around Labor Day.

The resulting thrill ride may be behind schedule, but it's ahead of the times. It's the first one that's equipped to capture your every move as you ride it -- cameras at every row, plus more on the tracks -- and combine that feature with the ability to choose the song you want to hear while you ride it using a personal touch-screen that you program before you leave the station.

The result, which steps up the ongoing theme park wars in Orlando, produces a new kind of theme park souvenir: a video of your ride that you'll have the rights to take home and share online. Some coasters (SheiKra at Busch Gardens in Tampa, for one) have recorded elements of a ride for sale, but this is the first to combine that pervasive video coverage with a custom-selected song.

The coaster still doesn't sell you every second of your ride -- more like selected highlights, set to your song choice and some canned animation -- but it's a step toward a new way of seeing theme parks. In the future, you won't be finishing paying after you park and buy your entry ticket. You'll be dishing out another $25 or more for a video keepsake of your screams.