In the past two decades or so, roller coaster manufacturing has seen many technological advances. Back in the 1980s, the idea of having a roller coaster where the trains were underneath the track or having a launched roller coaster was about as technologically superior as the industry has reached. The first 'suspended' coaster, 'The Bat' at Kings Island in America, opening in 1981, only to close two years later due to being highly temperamental, whilst the first launched coaster, 'King Kobra' at Kings Dominion opened in 1977, though the model was inefficient and nowhere near the type of launches commonly used in today's roller coasters (although clones of King Kobra do still operate today!).
However, in the past two decades, we have seen many technological advances. 21 years ago saw the introduction of the first 'inverted' roller coaster (not to be confused with a suspended coaster), which was the first roller coaster to have trains underneath the track, yet act like one where the trains were above the track. In 1998, the world's first vertical drop roller coaster opening, with Oblivion at Alton Towers. Though this may not sound impressive, it is indeed a technological advancement in the way the train's wheels are designed, so that the trains are able to stay on the track. We have also seen the introduction of many other styles of roller coasters, such as flying roller coasters, winged roller coasters, beyond-vertical drop roller coasters and so much more.
So, what is this 'vanilla roller coaster' I speak of in the title? It's not a technical term when designing a roller coaster, not is it something said to market one; it is probably a term I've made up.. Well, it's a plain and simple roller coaster - the train sits above the track, you sit down in the train, get strapped in, and away you go. There's no bits of 'trick track' (whereby the track itself moves to create an additional effect, such as track dropping vertically like a drop tower). There's no gimmicky elements to the track, such as ridiculously steep drops (vertical and beyond). There's no launches or anything like that. So basically, the plainest of the plain roller coasters (much like the flavour vanilla).
Silver Star is an example of what I would call a 'Vanilla Coaster'. (Photo taken from CoasterForce).
Saw - The Ride is not what I would call a Vanilla Coaster, due to the gimmicky 100 degrees 'beyond-vertical' drop it features.
Hopefully that gives a clear enough definition of what I define to be a Vanilla Coaster. Of course, many may disagree that vanilla coasters are something which should be defined, or that what I class as vanilla coasters is incorrect, but more on this later.
But, are vanilla coasters now dying in the current coaster market? There's a plethora of ride types available, all of which are capable of doing something vanilla coasters cannot, so they will add an extra dimension to any park's line up - give something for parks to scream and shout about. The addition of a gimmick or something different brings in crowds, so, what's not to like?
Now seems like a nice time for a little analogy - what would you prefer: a rich, creamy Madagascar Vanilla ice cream full of proper vanilla flavour, or some Tesco Everyday Value chocolate ice cream? Coming from someone who prefers chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream, I'd still go for the former of the two options. And the same goes for roller coasters - I'd much rather be riding a excellent roller coaster which does nothing but go round a track with no gimmicks, than ride an okay coaster that has some gimmick(s) to it.
So then, are vanilla coasters actually a dying concept? Well, in my opinion, yes, they are. Let's that UK theme parks for an example. Since 2003, the only vanilla coaster I can vaguely think of being introduced in the UK is 'Kiddi Koaster' at Adventure Island in 2011. So, out of at least fifteen new coasters added in the UK in the past 10 years (there's no doubt more, but this is just a quick search from major theme parks), one of them has been my so-called vanilla coaster. So, in my opinion, it's safe to say that vanilla coasters are dying in the UK, and no doubt worldwide. Why exactly they are dying is likely down to what I explained earlier - that other coasters can offer things vanilla coasters cannot. If a park gets something different, something unique, and it is in itself a good ride, then of course such a coaster is going to be seen as a better option than a vanilla coaster. To go back to the earlier analogy - given the choice of a rich, creamy Madagascar Vanilla ice cream or a 500ml tub of Ben & Jerry's, you're pretty much in a win-win situation, and it comes down to personal taste. The same applies here; given the choice of a great vanilla coaster or a great non-vanilla coaster, the choice just comes down to what is preferred - and that almost always is the non-vanilla option, because of the large variety of choice.
So, on that note, we can see that if the concept of the vanilla coaster is dying, it's not a bad thing. But maybe, it's not dying, and the concept of a vanilla coaster is fluid - perhaps what defines 'vanilla' changes as coaster manufacturing improves. For example, launches are a very common feature these days on rides, and are incorporated a lot more naturally than they used to be. It is far from unusual to see launches used on coasters with lift hills, and the launch is not as much as a gimmick 'one hit feature' of a ride (unlike with, say, Stealth, where the launch pretty much is the ride). So maybe vanilla coasters have naturally developed to include launches, thus greatly expanding what defines one. Maybe the gimmick of vertical or beyond vertical drops is not really that much of a gimmick, and just an extra feature available due to advancements in technology. Really and truly, is it just picky of me to call Gerstlauer Eurofighters such as Saw a non-vanilla coaster? Probably. So, again, that expands the rides defined by a vanilla coaster. With inclusions such as these, the concept of a vanilla coaster is most certainly not dying. Even rides inverted coasters are pretty common these days, though to call it a type of vanilla coaster in my eyes would be rather extreme in my opinion, it is perhaps a 'chocolate coaster', in that it is common, but not the most basic.
One final point to finish - maybe all of this just doesn't matter. So what if a certain type of roller coaster design is becoming less commonly built? There's still plenty of good coasters types out there, and plenty of good coasters to be ridden. Some types of roller coasters have bitten the dust in the past, such as 'pipeline coasters', and some types never really caught on, such as backwards in the dark. Other types never rethinking / extra work done to them before they catch, as can sort of be seen with 'Winged roller coasters'. Maybe the concept of a vanilla coaster dying is in no way a bad thing; it just shows a natural development in the roller coaster industry, and for all we know, they could come back into fashion before we know it..
So, that's it really. I had no idea where this would be going, so no idea if the trail of thought of this seems logical in any way. To be honest, even though this is finished, and this was a 'topic' I've thought about for a long time, I don't even have an idea of what I've concluded. I've argued it is possible that vanilla coasters are dying, but in the Golden Ticket 2012 Awards (one of the more reliable roller coaster rankings I've seen), the Top 10 steel roller coasters all fit my original definition of a vanilla coaster. So, maybe, even those aren't dying? But who knows? I guess what I finish off with saying is that the roller coaster industry is developing in so many ways that sometimes it is forgotten that all is need when it comes to the actual roller coaster is trains on a well-designed, fun track layout.