Park rule number one: Never coerce people (including yourself) to ride a roller coaster or other thrill ride against their will. Amusement and theme parks are supposed to be about fun, shared experiences, not lessons in intimidation and agony.
Having said that, at least half the fun of thrill rides is--well, the thrill. The best roller coasters turn knuckles white and induce screams. The trick is to acclimate slowly. If you've never been on a major roller coaster, or it's been some time since you last rode the rails, it's probably not a good idea to immediately tackle a 200-foot plus, 80 mph hypercoaster. Instead, test your mettle on the more tame family coasters found at most parks. I'm not talking about kiddie coasters; these are more robust coasters that can accommodate people of all sizes. Here are some examples of family coasters:
- Space Mountain at Disneyland, Anaheim, CA, and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, FL. The special "space" effects are great, and because it is indoors and dark, the anticipation adds to the psychological drama. However, for all of its hype, Space Mountain is really just a tame steel coaster that pokes along at 29 mph. It has no steep drops, no inversions and mostly just twists and turns.
- Flight of the Hippogriff at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando, FL. This is a typical family coaster. The biggest drop is 30 feet and the top speed is 28 mph.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland, Anaheim, CA, and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, FL. The outdoor mine train ride gets up to 30 mph and, like Space Mountain, has no steep drops. The popular attraction has inspired similar mine train rides (minus the great Disney effects) at many other parks.
- Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, Anaheim, CA. The world's first steel tracked coaster climbs 80 feet, but does not have any steep drops and maintains relatively slow speeds.
- Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster at Universal Studios Florida. If Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain seem too daunting, you could start with this very tame ride that is barely a notch above a kiddie coaster. The steepest drop is 20 feet and the top speed is 22 mph. Similar coasters include Goofy's Barnstormer at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Florida, and Gadget's Go Coaster at Disneyland in California.
Once you've braved the family coasters, move up to coasters that go a bit higher and faster but don't include any inversions. Examples include:
- Runaway Mountain at Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington, TX. This indoor steel coaster drops 30 feet and reaches speeds up to 40 mph.
- Comet at Hersheypark, Hershey, PA. A great, classic wood coaster, this ride has a 78-foot drop and reaches a top speed of 50 mph.
After you're somewhat comfortable with intermediate coasters, check out progressively bigger ones, but save the hypercoasters and ones with wacky features (flying, compressed air launch, etc.) until you feel you are ready. Once you've battled your demons, chances are you'll be hooked for life, and your kids/significant other/friends will be prying you away from roller coasters.
For more information, check out the excellent article at the Coaster Enthusiasts of Canada site. It also includes helpful info about battling motion sickness.