by Andrew Rybarczyk
Four years ago I started on a journey that would take me places I could never have imagined. Today as I write this, a major goal of the journey stands completed. But instead of jumping to the end, let's start at the beginning. Four years ago, I sat in a hotel room with my wife in Springfield, MO. She was on a business trip and I was tagging along. We had a lot of downtime and so it was decided that we would take a trip to Worlds of Fun and spend the day there. Now I had been to multiple major theme parks growing up such as both Busch Gardens, Great America, Disney, and of course Cedar Point. I enjoyed theme parks but I was of the mindset that Cedar Point was the best, so why devote time to going anywhere else. Something changed though at Worlds of Fun and idea dawned on me. Experiencing the rides at Worlds of Fun especially Prowler opened my eyes to the fact that maybe it was worth attending other parks to experience a different set of coasters. It also so happened that a family trip had already been scheduled for Kings Island which gave me an opportunity to experience even more variety. A this point another idea dawned on me. Why not begin counting the rides I've been on? And so the coaster quest began.
My goal at the quest was never to achieve a certain number or to be in competition with others. Sorry to say it, but just because you've ridden more rides does not make your opinion better than someone who's ridden fewer. It's funny that many of the rides I loved even before I started the quest still remain high on my favorites rankings. Granted many new rides have populated that list but still the old favorites remain. Another observation I have made is that the more I ride, the more I understand what I like. For instance, this summer solidified my opinion that I am not a wooden coaster fan. Sorry, but steel is my ride of choice and woodies that ride like steel are my favorite wooden coasters. This quest has also opened my eyes to parks that I would probably never have attended. Two that stand out are Six Flags Fiesta Texas, which may have some of the greatest backdrops of any amusement park in the world and Hersheypark that really took me by surprise because of its layout, rides and architecture.
Another important aspect to the quest was the gaining of new friends. I can say with certainty that if that decision to go to Worlds of Fun was not made, I would not be writing this today. I have made so many new friends through both COASTER-net, Coasting for Kids, and attending club events. I've also grown a lot closer to my sister who has become my ride warrior partner for long trips. Camaraderie makes riding coasters so much more fun. Obviously attending parks with friends and family is the best, but having the ability to discuss and debate can be just as fun.
Down below this article, you'll find a vlog that I created that chronicled my #299 and #300 roller coasters. Some of you may be surprised at my choice of #300 but I think the story contained within will clear some of that up. I could sit here and list everyone that helped make this personal achievement a possibility but it would be too long. Instead I'd just like to thank everyone who has ever attended a park with me, ridden a coaster with me or even listened to my endless coaster talk. It's because of you that this was made possible. Now on to #300...
by Danny Miller
As the prospector says prior to departing the station, “You’re about to experience the rush of striking gold!” Are you ever! California’s Great America had been stagnant for a long time. They hadn’t had a major attraction added in quite some time, and the most notable coaster activity had been ride removals, even under Paramount, like the transplant of rides like Stealth (now Nighthawk at Carowinds), and Invertigo (now Stinger at Dorney Park). By all means, when Gold Striker was announced, it had to be good, or else the park may never recover.
Gold Striker actually dates back to the mid-2000s. When Cedar Fair first acquired the park (along with the other Paramount parks), Great America was expected to get the third of the three Great Coasters International rides to go to the chain in a deal with the wooden coaster maker. After Renegade at Valleyfair opened in 2007, and Prowler opened at Worlds of Fun in 2009, it seemed that Great America was the logical spot for the last coaster. After all, the park lacked both the quantity and quality of wooden coasters that other parks already had. But wait, the uncertainty of whether or not Cedar Fair would keep the park or not, and the slight speculation that the San Francisco 49ers new football stadium could close the park, Cedar Fair balked and didn’t invest in a new ride.
Fast forward to 2013, the issues were resolved, and the stadium and park no co-exist with Cedar Fair still in possession of the park. The plans that had been public for a long time could finally proceed, and thankfully they did. Although I didn’t get to ride it in 2013, if I could jump in a time machine, my vote for “Best New Ride” of 2013 would easily go to Gold Striker. It is flat-out a better coaster than Outlaw Run in just about every way except that it doesn’t really break new ground. It doesn’t have to though, as it is just an all-around fun coaster. Its length is surprisingly (in a good way) long for a coaster of moderate size, and the forces are all over the charts (again, in a good way).
The ride starts with a quick little jaunt through some tight turns and a little bit of air even before the lift. Immediately you can tell this is going to be a wild ride. At the top of the drop, the already deafening chain is magnified by the tunnel designed to reduce the sound heard by nearby buildings. What results, however, is a more thrilling drop, with head-choppers all the way down, especially in the back row where you are jettisoned from your seat at the apex. The tunnels and side-walls along the entire course follow this theme as well, heightening the sense of speed and danger from start to finish.
In the blink of an eye, you’re nearly on your side, wrapping around the Star Tower. You quickly cut through the queue area and hit an airtime hill beside the station, with wood cross-beams seemingly inches from your head above. After this, it is several instances of GCI’s mastery of combining vertical and lateral forces. As you bank sharply, you also crest a hill, giving you ejector air and lateral forces together, and there are probably at least half a dozen instances of this throughout the course. A few spots connect these twisted turnarounds with small speed hills that violently (once again in a good way) throw you out of your seat and to the side.
Despite its length, and a ride time of two and a half minutes, Gold Striker speeds into the brake run. This is a credit to how perfectly GCI is able to slowly make elements smaller as the ride goes on, offsetting the speed that diminishes by keeping the sense of speed and force the same. This is truly what few coasters do well. Some seem to hit the brakes too early, while other fizzle out and tend to struggle to finish the course. Gold Striker finishes the course strong; it is a long ride that avoids slow elements at the end. Every element of the ride is thrilling, the ending just as much so as the beginning. From the Star Tower, one can really appreciate the tangled mess of timber that makes up this incredible coaster.
If nothing else, California’s Great America finally has a signature attraction that everyone can get excited about. Flight Deck is still a phenomenal inverted coaster, especially with the sharp new red and silver paint job. The 1993 product was one of B&M’s first coasters, and it still performs on the level of coasters like Raptor, Talon, and the Batman clones. It couldn’t be the sole anchor of the park however, as it isn’t new enough anymore, and isn’t ground-breaking enough. With Gold Striker present, Flight Deck is the king of the steel coasters here, but is no longer forced to anchor the entire collection. Gold Striker is a perfect compliment.
Flight Deck's signature finale over the lake pops a bit more with a fresh coat of paint.
The park was packed, which bodes well for the future of the park. There still seems to be something missing, as it’s not quite a full-day park just yet, but the addition of one more major attraction in the coming years could make this park a force to be reckon with once again, and would make it the definitive park to go to in Northern California. The staff was friendly, and the access to nearby restaurants gives you options if you prefer not to eat park food.
Lastly, as I mentioned two years ago, there is truly something for everyone at this park. There are two distinct kids area, offering plenty to do for tikes, while a good collection of “tweener” rides are scattered about the park. Finally, the heavy thrills like Flight Deck, Vortex, and Gold Striker are evenly spaced about the park, rather than cramming them all in one part of the park. The result is almost a correct order to experience the park, and the flow of guests can go around the park’s circular layout in either direction, meaning you will rarely hit a giant mob of people at any one attraction.
Overall, I was very happy with my second-ever visit to California’s Great America, and it was definitely my favorite park of the trip. Gold Striker is fabulous, and the signs that proclaim it as “California’s Best Wooden Coaster” could not make more of an understatement. It is a top five wooden coaster even for the most seasoned enthusiasts. It is just one reason that people should finally start planning a specific visit to California’s Great America.
by Caine Donis
After many delays, and having media day pushed back, June 18, 2014 finally came, and the time to ride the much anticipated Goliath was now. Andy and I were ready conquer Six Flags' newest coaster creation, Goliath. As with most media days, our day started in the dark at 3:45 a.m. in the Great America parking lot, waiting to check in. As we walked into the dark and empty park Andy was like a little kid knowing that he got a new bike for Christmas. A line had already started, and dispatch after dispatch we waited. Because Goliath's second train was set to be certified later that day, the media day only had one train running during the whole day which made for long stretches of time for rabidly waiting riders. As the dark turned slowly turned into light, the time was soon upon us to board the coaster that we've discussing for almost a year.
As for the ride itself, Goliath definitely has many experiences that cannot be found elsewhere. The first drop is absolutely amazing. The force is so great, I had my arms up and as we dropped they went down. I tried to bring them back up but there was too much force to do so. The rest is a blur for the first ride, but with this ride you'll see something new every time you ride. The elements that RMC puts into the ride are just pure enjoyment. Overall is doesn't make my top ten list, but that is only because I don't have a top ten list. Like with X-Flight, I'll say this, it's fun. Fun is what a ride is supposed to be about. If we go and nitpick at every little nuance such as "it's too short, it not wood, it's not this or that" you lose out on the fun. I'm not saying you have to love it, but I think you should give it a chance and ride it before making an opinion on it.
After our first ride we set out into the park to take a break. First we decided to take some pictures of Trojan Bugs Bunny who was entertaining the crowds of roller coaster enthusiasts and media. We next went to search for food. The spread laid out was a bit underwhelming featuring the standard muffins, donuts, and Coca-Cola products. Determined to press on, we decided to take photos of the completed Goliath before the official ribbon cutting to Goliath. Before the ceremony the two of us were able to sneak on a second ride on Goliath. Next up was the official opening ceremony for Goliath. As the park president Hank Salemi started to talk about the wonders of Goliath, the skies became angry and dark ominous clouds began to appear. Despite this, a horde of gladiators rushed to Salemi's side to usher in the opening of the new ride. After a few words, the train of gladiators went out on their maiden voyage, and Goliath was officially open.
As hinted at, the media day itself did have a number of different setbacks including maintenance issues and weather. First the weather was not cooperative at all for the opening of Goliath. After the ribbon cutting ceremony, the rain then came and was so furious that Andy and I took cover under the nearby covered bridge. In addition, the ride experienced some technical difficulties. I'm not going to say much about the down time caused by media trying to get shots for news coverage because we all know that will happen with media days. In addition a wheel ended up breaking, and maintenance quickly got it fixed. Luckily, nobody was serious injured when that happened either. Even though these technical issues happened, as time passed into the late morning the ride reopened, and we got a few more rides in. Especially exciting, we were able to get three rides in a row plus our reverse POV. I ended up with a total of 8 rides on Six Flags' newest creation for the day.
I do want to thank Six Flags Great America for having Andy and myself there representing COASTER-net.com. They have truly changed not only the skyline of a great America, but the way people look at this park from now on.
by Danny Miller
Most of us keep a list of some sort of all the roller coaster we have ridden, and some of us like to have rankings and compare them to determine which ones are best. Lost in the mix of doing this is talking about those rides that are now gone and can no longer be ridden. There are far too many of them to count, but there are several iconic ones that come to mind. Today I’ve picked five coasters that I never rode before they went to the big scrap heap in the sky to highlight in a list of notable defunct coasters.
HERCULES @ DORNEY PARK – It’s not a topic that I bring up often, because frankly, I don’t like to mention that I never rode Hercules. It may surprise you, but despite living just fifteen minutes from Dorney Park, Hercules is a coaster I never rode. My first real trip to Dorney Park was in 2005 during Hydra’s debut year with my 8th grade class. I had gone to Dorney once prior as a kid, but was too small and probably wasn’t at the age where I would have wanted to ride even if I could. I remember going to my grandparent’s house and driving by Hercules. We would sometimes even stop at the side of the road to watch it. But all those years as a tot admiring the once record-breaking drop, I never rode it.
Time and reprofiling weren’t kind to Hercules, and it was unceremoniously demolished at the end of 2003 in favor of a new B&M floorless coaster that, while a good ride, lacks the pop and pizzazz I imagine Hercules must have had. The park paid a nice tribute to Hercules by laying in the back-story to Hydra, but it doesn’t ease the pain. Park employees actually call the basement of Hydra’s station “The Herc,” usually used as a meeting place for supervisors. I have ridden hundreds of coasters, but this is one that my dad, aunt, and late grandfather will always have that I won’t.
DRACHEN FIRE @ BUSCH GARDENS WILLIAMSBURG – Almost in the same category as Hercules, Drachen Fire is one of those coasters that is well-known largely because it wasn’t a favorite. Drachen Fire was birthed after B&M backed out of the project, allowing Arrow to come in and build the already-designed layout. The unique maneuvers are what made Drachen Fire so sought-after, but also led to its undoing. A new style of train that failed to relieve the roughness gained much criticism, and the park even removed one of the inversions a few years in to try and improve the ride experience. Combine all of this with poor placement in the park, and Drachen Fire was a recipe for disaster from the start. It may not have been a great ride, but Drachen Fire is one of those rides like Son Of Beast. Even if it’s a bad ride, I want to be able to say it was a bad ride for myself.
AIRPLANE COASTER @ RYE PLAYLAND – In the glory days of Rye Playland, they had what is considered by many to be one of the greatest coasters ever built. The Airplane Coaster, built by Fred Church, was the star attraction in Rye for nearly thirty years until 1957. It was high, fast, and incredibly thrilling, and it’s considered by historians to be one of the last great coasters to be built in the Golden Age of coasters in the 1920s. Rye Playland still exists today in a state of disrepair, but the also-popular Dragon Coaster still operates there to this day. Many locals believe that the rebirth of the Airplane Coaster could spark a comeback for Rye Playland, and there is even a Facebook page dedicated to demanding its return. I would certainly enjoy seeing this ride come back, as I would get a chance to experience what could have been one of the greatest coaster of all time.
CYCLONE RACER @ LONG BEACH PIKE – I’ve mentioned this ride a couple of times over the years, but the Cyclone Racer could also be put in the category of one of the greatest coaster ever to have been built. Fred Church’s only racer design ever, the Harry Traver built wooden twin stood proudly above the Pacific Ocean, pursued by everyone in the area. Dubbed “The World’s Greatest Ride,” Cyclone Racer appeared in many different ways over the years, from a glossy white, to an awesome natural wood color in its final years of operation. Several pages and websites call for the return of this historic coaster, and recently, there have been discussions that the ride may find a way to return to Southern California. Whatever the result is, I’m sure most of us wish we could have had just one ride on the “World’s Greatest Ride.”
TRAVER TRIPLETS – So I may be cheating here by squeezing three coasters in to one, but the infamous “Traver Triplets” are undisputedly the three most intense coasters ever built. The Crystal Beach Cyclone (the most famous of the three), the Palisades Park Cyclone, and the Revere Beach Lightning all were nearly identical in design, and were Harry Traver’s most dubious creations. They each had nurses on duty at the exit, as riders often got off the ride with neck/back pain, headaches, nose bleeds, and even broken bones. On Lightning’s second day of operation, a rider was actually thrown from the train and killed. After a while, the trio scared riders so much, it became a spectator sport, and the rides were torn down. Lucky for us, the Crystal Beach Cyclone was used to give rise to the Comet, another fabulous coaster that we can still enjoy today at Great Escape in Lake George, New York. I don’t know about you, but I would have died to ride one of these three coasters, and depending on my luck, it may have almost been a reality!
So there is my list of five defunct coasters that I never rode that I wish I could have. Do any of these rides make your own list? Would you make a special trip to ride if any of these rides came back in another form? Leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts!
by Danny Miller
You know, it’s not too often that I come to COASTER-net to express my complaints. Most of the time I write to tell you about how awesome a trip was, how much I liked a new ride or something along those lines. After a brief leave of absence from writing, I’m coming back to the blogs from my apartment near my summer job back in Buffalo, New York. Last week I talked about Darien Lake, its lack of new rides, and its declining attendance. While I may have given the park a slap on the wrist, I did my best to put a positive spin on, as I am hopeful that another down year may mean something that much bigger in the near future.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I woke up this morning, looked at my phone, and saw that it was June, I had to stop and think about it for a minute. We are now in the heart of the three-month peak season for theme parks, and more than a few parks still have yet to open their signature attractions they’ve been hyping up all winter. Sure, the anticipation gets higher, but with that comes increased expectations, and thus, and much more likely case of “anticipointment” as the hosts of the Coasterradio.com podcast have talked about so brilliantly in the past.
I’ve referred to the term before, but for those of you who may be puzzled, “anticipointment” is the combinations of high expectations that result in disappointment. This doesn’t mean the ride is bad. In fact, the ride still may be great, but if it doesn’t meet your expectations, it may not seem to be as great as it is. So why all the talk about high expectations? Remember Firechaser Express at Dollywood? That opened this year. How about Banshee at Kings Island? That’s a new-for-2014 ride too. It seems like forever ago that these rides opened. More recently, Story Land, Canada’s Wonderland, and Walt Disney World all opened signature rides on or around Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kick-off of summer. Kudos to these parks for making sure their new rides were ready for one of the biggest weekends of the season.
But hold the phone. Other big-box parks have big attractions still under construction, and some aren’t close to opening. I’m going to look at three of them in particular. Let’s start close to my home at Six Flags Great Adventure. Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom is the highly-anticipated, world-record-breaking drop ride that is being attached to the Kingda Ka tower. Now I understand that it’s not as simple as this, but literally three 420 foot-long pieces of track are being bolted to the tower.
Now the winter on the east coast was harsh, and it’s not easy to do construction that high up with rain, snow, and wind. You also have to consider the construction to get back there and the new path, but they were nowhere near being ready for this ride to open a few weeks ago when I visited the park. I’m sorry Six Flags, but if Cedar Point can build a record-breaking coaster AND redo their entire main entrance plaza with their geography and have it ready ahead of schedule, you can certainly do better than June for a ride that requires minimal construction efforts.
Elsewhere in the Six Flags chain, Goliath at Six Flags Great America, the highly-anticipated wooden coaster from Rocky Mountain Construction, limps along, finally entering initial testing this past weekend. The media event (open to coaster clubs) was initially planned for Memorial Day Weekend, and then was pushed back a week after crews were behind schedule. Now, the park has said that event may not even take place, as they are so far behind that they just need to get it opened. The real problem is that the ride didn’t even go vertical until around the time Banshee’s track was COMPLETE down in Cincinnati.
In an area with bad weather like Chicago, failing to get a jump on construction was a big mistake, and it’s costing them dearly. With testing in the earliest stages, it’s still a couple weeks until it opens, and that’s pushing July, nearly halfway through their season. Aside from the delay, this is a ride getting hyped because of the success of Outlaw Run. The thing most people don’t realize is that this is not going to be Outlaw Run. It isn’t a terrain coaster, there is considerably less spots of airtime (or so it appears), and some are questioning whether the inversions will be as thrilling as Outlaw Run’s. The course is short too, something that kept Outlaw Run from being higher on my personal list. I am going to make every effort to ride it this year, but I’m keeping expectations mild at best to avoid the “anticipointment” I fear several people may experience.
Not to make this all about Six Flags, Busch Gardens Tampa is having their fair share of problems too. Falcon’s Fury, the ground-breaking drop tower in the middle of the park, is redefining the skyline of the park, but guests are currently just standing there watching. To be fair, those guests usually do a double-take, take a video, and ask, “Did it really just do that?” Yes it did. Falcon’s Fury looks pretty impressive, much like the other two rides, although I do wish the seats stayed facing the ground just a bit longer, but that’s another topic for discussion after the ride opens. Like the others, the intended opening date is being missed, and delays keep pushing the debut back. The good thing for Busch Gardens that they are a year-round park, so they don’t rely as much on the summer months. I just hope Falcon’s Fury doesn’t become another Mach Tower because I love the Busch parks and would really hate to see them miss with a ride as unique as this.
So after taking into consideration what we’ve talked about, I’d like to get your thoughts on this. Which of the above three rides has the most inexcusable delays? Is it Zumanjaro, the drop ride that requires very little construction, Goliath, the coaster that started construction very late, or Falcon’s Fury, the first-of-its-kind drop tower that just can’t seem to finish up its testing?
by Danny Miller
Often times, our discussions about the parks can be split into two different categories: large, corporate parks, and small, hometown, family-owned parks. Not so often do we talk about the parks that mysteriously disappear somewhere in between these groups. Parks like Elitch Gardens, Wild Adventures, and Darien Lake seem doomed to always be in this category, in some cases due to their former ownership by a large company (Six Flags in Darien Lake’s case) and failure to remain a player in the amusement industry.
As Darien Lake opened its gates for the 2014 season this past weekend, it did so without the debut of a signature attraction yet again. Last season, the park opened Blast Off, an S&S launch tower that is a welcomed addition with the absence of a drop ride, but is not the headliner that will boost (no pun intended) attendance significantly. The year before, it was a new kids area that saw three new rides come in, but again, no major attractions were added. Since the Six Flags days, the focus has been primarily the waterpark. You have to go back to 2008, the second season removed from the Six Flags era, to find the most recent coaster installation, MotoCoaster. At the time, this ride was actually running in Italy as a prototype as Zamperla’s first try at the style. Regardless, it is hardly a headliner despite being the second-best coaster in the park arguably.
Prior to MotoCoaster, you actually have to go all the way back prior to the turn of the century in 1999 when Superman: Ride of Steel (now just Ride of Steel) came to the park as the first-ever Intamin hyper coaster. It marked the fourth coaster in four years for the park under Six Flags (Premier Parks at the time). It’s hard to believe that the second-oldest coaster in the park is celebrating its sixteenth season this year, but it’s reflective of the slim number of additions the park has seen in the last decade. I’m not sure if the park owns it still, and if so it’s probably not in good enough shape to assemble anyway, but the Intamin stand-up coaster from Six Flags AstroWorld still sits across the street in a pile as it has since 2006. Even assembling that ride somewhere in the park would be a nice change of pace.
Regardless of how good the existing rides are, the park just has an overall stagnant feel to it. I first visited the park in 2011, and despite being just twenty minutes away last summer, I could count on one hand how many times I visited, while I made three trips to Cedar Point and three to Knoebels, parks considerably farther from my home away from home in Buffalo. It actually reminds me much of Universal’s Islands of Adventure up until the Harry Potter additions. The park literally stayed almost exactly the same for over a decade prior to the Wizarding World coming. If Darien Lake has something along those lines planned, then maybe it won’t be so bad.
But believe it or not, I write today not to bash the park, but actually to encourage fans of the park and locals that may feel the same way I do about the lack of excitement when it comes to adding new things. Most people are aware of the fact that Predator, the park’s lone wooden coaster, is not exactly the smoothest ride in the world. While I enjoy it and it is far from the worst coaster I’ve ever ridden, there are more complaints than complements heard when getting off the ride. That combined with the success of Rocky Mountain Construction’s looping wooden coasters (at least so far) and surveys sent out last season have fans pointing at Predator as the next candidate for a refurbishment, but maybe instead of transformation to a steel coaster, as a major overhaul to a wood coaster with inversions. The aforementioned survey sent to season pass holders (myself included), mentioned that the new ride may be called Lake Monster.
Whether it is Rocky Mountain, Great Coasters, or The Gravity Group that would be summoned for the project remains to be seen, but with Herschend still running the park for now, it would make sense for them to team up with Rocky Mountain again after the hit that was Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City. There are two new fads in the industry right now: wing coasters, and looping wooden coasters, and all signs point to the latter spreading like Wildfire (yes that’s a nod to Silver Dollar City and the new RMC coaster coming to Sweden). But as 2014 has arrived with not even so much as a whisper about the project, eager fans are left wondering if it is dead, or perhaps on the 2015 agenda.
It’s easy to see why 2015 would make sense. 2014 would have made it a last-minute scramble to put the project together, and with the talks of Herschend leaving the park, it may have been shelved until things were set more in stone. I think we could see it happen, and there are three good reasons why. First, Herschend loves Rocky Mountain Construction, and if they continue to operating Darien Lake, RMC would likely be a go-to company, especially for a wooden coaster. Second, Herschend likes to cycle through where the capital goes, and Darien Lake is certainly due for some major capital investment. Third, the park has an old, beat-up wooden coaster that many people don’t enjoy, so there is a need to fix it. It would not only be a major headlining attraction for the park to advertise for locals, but it would finally give enthusiasts a reason to go back to Western New York for something more than a credit run on their way to or from other parks.
It’s far from a done deal as far as I know, and until we hear more, I’m going to assume it’s not going to happen. After all, we’ve been down these roads before in other places where rumors just seem to never come to fruition and we’re all left disappointed. Be forewarned though, that if Darien Lake has something up their sleeves for 2015, they may just have some sort of creature lurking in the near future that will make quite a splash in the amusement industry.
by Caine Donis
As the sun rises at the Walt Disney Resort, the light of day shines upon an area that has been left to rot and wither away, allowing mother nature to reclaim what was hers to begin with. At one time, the Walt Disney World had three water parks, and it was its first that eventually got lost in the shuffle. Disney River Country started out something big, but ended up being just a memory.
With Disney River Country you could go back in time to the days of the old swimming hole, and a simpler way. Opening on June 20,1976 as one of the first themed water parks in the country, it was also Disney's first water park built on the shores of Bay Lake. The park had some unique slides built throughout. Some looked like you were sliding down a rocky cliff into a cool refreshing pool. There were tire swings abound and inter tubes rushing down a raging river. River country had a variety of things to do for guests of all ages. Even though it was a small sized park by today's standards, this was an irrelevant fact as it had what all Disney parks have, theming. River Country was a way of just going down to the good old fashioned watering hole and spending a day with friends and family. As they say, all good things come to an end, and there was a gloomy cloud of uncertainty looming over of the once happy River Country.
There are many theories as to why River Country closed. Two big reasons were the addition of Typhoon Lagoon in 1989 and Blizzard Beach in 1995. Both were larger water parks that could hold a higher guest capacity and provided more thrills which and took away from River Country. Various websites say that new Florida laws require water parks to use water from municipal water systems, and they could no longer filter water from natural sources. This issue could have very well put a damper on the fun times that guest could have. I personally feel that it was just showing it's age, and The Walt Disney Resort didn't find it justifiable to continue to operate the park.
As the sun sets on the Walt Disney World Resort, a erie occurrence can be seen and heard at River Country, as the lights turn on and the music continues to play. It's as if the park feels that it is still alive. You can imagine listening to guest screams as they come down the slides and splash around in the wave pool, waiting for families to end their day. River Country is gone, but it will definitely never be forgotten.
by Danny Miller
In early 2013, coaster enthusiasts across the world rejoiced when Cedar Point made it known that any card-holding member of a major coaster club could attend the Media Day for Gatekeeper with a few simple clicks of a mouse. Thousands of coaster fans flooded Sandusky, Ohio on Media Day and Opening Weekend 2013 to experience the park’s latest record-breaker. Gatekeeper received good reviews overall, with the occasional rider who did not care for it. It was clear that the park had enjoyed the event though, as all of the enthusiasts quickly hyped up the ride and shared their opinions via social media.
Fast-forward to this past Thursday to find Kings Island ready to open up their largest investment in park history to coaster enthusiasts. There may not be another ride that has had more anticipation among enthusiasts in recent years. As I mentioned last week, Banshee was not just trying to live up to eight months of hype, it also had to make up for nearly a decade of disappointment that came from its predecessor, Son Of Beast. Simply put, Banshee was everything that we could have hoped for, and probably even a little bit more. The ride is intense, smooth, enjoyable, and the new restraints make it extremely easy to re-ride (that is, if your body doesn’t need a break from the intensity). You can read early reviews everywhere, and it is clear that news has spread that this ride is indeed a winner.
The weekend started with Media Day on Thursday, and ended with a three-day Opening Weekend, of which we (my aunt Swerky and I), attended three days ( Thursday, Friday and Saturday). Our decision to make the trek to Mason was focused around the opening of Banshee, but the result was much more than simply riding a new roller coaster. As the weekend begin, it quickly became less about just going to ride Banshee, but also to meet new friends and catch up with old ones. The entire crowd met up with friends, old and new, and provided what is essentially free marketing for the park as everyone raved about Banshee as the sun rose on Thursday morning.
Looking back at the Gatekeeper event, several folks that we interviewed for the Screamin’ Horseshoe Queue Podcast became acquaintances, like Jenny and Matt, Ethan and Katherine, and the lovable ACE duo of Peggy and Eugene from Ohio. We also met Andy from COASTER-net for the first time, as well as Devin Olson and his entire crew. Opening Weekend also provided more opportunities to come across new friends, including a Saturday evening encounter with a truck driver that specifically plans his routes to take him near the newest coasters in the country. Oddly enough, one of his favorite Cedar Point rides is Mean Streak, as he will often marathon the back seat.
Banshee Media Day and Opening Weekend for Kings Island this past weekend presented similar opportunities to not only meet new friends (or some on Facebook that we have not met in person), but also a chance to catch up with those that we had met before. A deeper friendship with people like Jenny, Matt, Ethan, Katherine, Peggy, and Eugene were all established, as each of them were in attendance for Media Day and Opening Weekend. In fact, we luckily got to ride Banshee multiple times with Peggy and Eugene, who seemingly gallivant across the country at a rate similar to us. It was also neat to run into Jes from admissions, a gentleman I have worked with at Dorney Park during previous seasons.
Also among the group of folks we had met before was Andy (The HSBR), who had actually made a trip to Six Flags Great America last May to meet up with us as well. Strangely enough, the “Mean Streak Guy” as we call him, was also found running up the Fast Lane entrance to Banshee throughout the day on Saturday. He recognized us as “the blogger/aunt from the coaster site” and mentioned his goal was to get in at least 40 cycles on the ride that day. When we rode it around 5:30PM, one operator had asked him how many time he had ridden, to which he responded “43 and still going!”
Among the new faces that we finally got to meet was Alex, a local of the Dayton area who calls Kings Island his home park. Alex was very vocal on Facebook and Twitter during the weeks leading up to Banshee opening, and little was more enjoyable than watching the reactions on the faces of locals like Alex, which basically said that they couldn’t believe this was their ride and that they were riding it after a miserable winter in the Midwest.
Also among folks we met for the first time was fellow COASTER-net personnel, CoasterRoyalty. Like Andy, CoasterRoyalty was in attendance for Media Day as well as Opening Day. We shared a few rides with them on both days, including Andy’s first night ride on the Beast (which I think he liked despite not admitting it). Also shared with the pair was a hilarious session of people-watching, which included my favorite activity of yelling “Walk!” at teenage kids who are running down the midway (but in such a way that they don’t know who said it). The result is often several confused teenagers turning around in search of a park employee.
Also for the first time, we met up with Mason native Adam, who is quite well known in the area amongst both coaster enthusiasts and park personnel. We had the opportunity to share stories as well as get some interesting opinions regarding future rides. Likewise, my nickname as “Dan the T-shirt Guy” was out there as well, as the gentlemen representing the CoasterRadio.com podcast recognized me, and we had a nice chat. A shout-out goes to Jon and Kevin for that. On Saturday night, we rode Banshee in the front row with a guy who definitely knew his coasters. After some discussion following the ride, he learned who I was, and immediately wanted a picture together. Hopefully, Isaiah makes his way over to COASTER-net as a brand new fan.
Banshee Media Day and Kings Island Opening Weekend started off being about the coasters, and in particular, the newest one, but it sure didn’t end up just being about the rides. Too often, we focus on the parks or the rides and don’t stop to recognize the comradery that is formed amongst coaster fans, even when they have never met. So many times a conversation starts in line just because someone is wearing a t-shirt of a ride they have never heard of. The brilliance of it all is that by inviting enthusiasts, the park gets all sorts of free marketing just prior to the public riding a new ride. If the trend of inviting these folks to Media Day continues, it will only heighten the hype for new rides. Anyone excited for that giga-coaster coming to Carowinds in 2015 yet?
Whether it was someone we had met before and known for a long time, or someone we spontaneously came across for the very first time, Opening Weekend at Kings Island ended up being about so much more than traveling a long distance to ride a new coaster. It became a weekend filled with meeting friends, both old and new, and together, we all enjoyed what brings us together in the first place, roller coasters.
by Danny Miller
Over the last several years, the amusement park experience has evolved in several ways. New ride designs, new vehicles, new technologies, and new manufacturers have all come and gone since the turn of the millennium. One of the most controversial topics in the industry has been to topic of upcharge systems that allow you to cut or skip lines for some of the major attractions. Various parks have used a wide range of systems, including Disney’s FastPass and now FastPass+, Six Flags’s The Flash Pass, and Cedar Fair’s Fast Lane. Today, I want to discuss each of these systems a little bit, and what each of them has done, and may do in the future to the amusement industry.
WALT DISNEY WORLD/DISNEYLAND – Up until recently, the Disney parks had a very simple, easy way to skip lines. In a sense, you weren’t actually skipping the line. The original idea of the FastPass was to use it on the more popular attractions that built long lines. It allowed guests to use their park ticket to be given another ticket that allowed them to return to the ride later in the day and ride after a short wait in the FastPass line. It worked because only a certain number of tickets were given out each day, so the later you got your FastPass, the later your return time would be. The major drawback was some new attractions would “sell out” their FastPass tickets within a few minutes of the park opening on crowded days.
While Disneyland in California is using this system still (for now), the Florida parks have done away with the paper system, and have now implemented a new model in the form of FastPass+. Essentially, it is a similar system where guests can get an RFID (radio frequency identification) wristband (or simply build it into your park ticket card) that will allow them to make reservations on three of the most popular attractions. As of this morning, reports are that the three-ride limit is no longer. Various parks have different rides available. These passes must be obtained at the park unless guests are staying on site, or are a member of the Disney Vacation Club to the best of my knowledge. These guests have early access to the system, where they can reserve ride times up to 60 days in advance of their visit. Annual pass holders may do the same, and may hold as many as seven days of FastPass+ privileges at any time.
What this means, however, is that people like me, who might go to Disney for a day or two as part of a week-long Florida trip, are now put at a disadvantage because they are not staying on site or an annual pass holder. It has been reported that the system will eventually allow all guests to book ahead of time, but personally, I probably won’t be going to Disney in Florida until that happens. Folks like me are now faced with the option of getting leftover rides or ride times, or not having any option at all to skip lines. I’m not afraid to admit that at a popular place like Disney, being put into a less-privileged tier of guests is not what I like.
SIX FLAGS – Six Flags, in my mind, has a much similar system to the original FastPass method, but using a bit of technology to execute it. The system has not changed much with the exception of adding various levels of access. The Flash Pass system offers riders the opportunity to reserve one ride time at a time, waiting just as long as the current wait time (or shorter if you pay more), but without standing in line. It allows you to essentially wait in two lines at once, one with the Flash Pass, another with your person. Once you get off one ride, you go to your Flash Pass ride and ride without waiting in the regular line.
I’ve always enjoyed this system for the most part because it gives you options. You are not nailed down to riding certain rides at certain times because you make your schedule as you go. The new Disney system basically requires you to make a schedule, while Six Flags offers a bit more freedom with how you can do things. While it is pricey, I usually spend the money to be sure I have the best experience possible and ride all of the rides I want to ride as many times as I want during the day.
CEDAR FAIR – Probably the newest system with the exception of FastPass+ is the Cedar Fair Fast Lane system. Newly implemented across the chain for 2012, Fast Lane is comparable in price to Flash Pass, but is not a ride reservation system. Instead, you simply go to the Fast Lane entrance and flash your wristband, allowing you to join in a (hopefully) much smaller line. To appreciate the effect, one must purchase this pass at Cedar Point. The higher level (Fast Lane Plus), usually includes the rides that are newest or typically have the longest lines, which at Cedar Point are currently Top Thrill Dragster and Gatekeeper. As I mentioned, this system is my favorite because it is not a reservation system. You don’t make a schedule ahead of time, and you don’t have to return to a ride later that you reserved earlier in the day.
Fast Lane allows you to smell the roses and experience the park without pinning you down to do certain things at certain times, while also giving you access to the rides you wants with minimal waits. More popular rides at Cedar Point like Maverick and Millennium Force may still have roughly a 30 minute wait, but when the normal line is over two hours, I’m taking that shorter wait all day. The best thing about both Flash Pass and Fast Lane is that it is a choice. At Disney, right now, I couldn’t go for a day and get all the same options a pass holder could. At Cedar Point, I could by a Fast Lane pass (as long as they don’t sell out), and enjoy all the benefits of anyone else who has it, whether they got it that day, or two months ago.
We live in a world where many people are willing to pay extra to ensure that things happen the way they want them to, and I am one of those people. Amusement parks are very much about a ratio nowadays. It is a ratio of dollars spent to amount of fun had, and this day in age, I’m willing to spend money to have an excellent experience rather than not spend as much to have a not so great time. The parks are about having fun, and that’s what I plan on doing. Just about every time I have used one of these system, I’ve been happy with the decision, and I will keep doing it.
The industry is always evolving, and perhaps Disney is just taking the next step to show that they are different and unlike any other park in the world. The experiences are different, the atmosphere is different, and sure enough, the benefits of staying nearby are reaching an all-time high. Cedar Fair and Six Flags give all guests a chance to purchase their systems and take advantage of their perks. I’m not a Disney fanatic, but I do love Disney, I just don’t know that my next Florida trip will include a stop there if I can’t at least be given the chance to enjoy the luxuries other guests get to enjoy.
by Caine Donis
I.B Crow and Cornball Jones are in mourning as well as the whole state of Indiana and the coaster enthusiast community. Thomas Spackman, the son of Indiana Beach founder Earl Spackman passed away at the age of 100, on November 11, 2013. Even though Tom was originally born in Michigan, he will always be a beloved, and missed Hoosier. Indiana Beach might not be the biggest, or have the most rides but it has heart. Mr. Spackman knew this, and went all out to make a park in the middle of Indiana a place that everyone would want to come and visit. Originally he took over Indiana Beach, located in Monticello, IN from his father in 1945. In 1952, Spackman changed the name of the park from Ideal Beach to Indiana Beach which proved to be only the beginning of changes he brought to the park.
I never personally had the opportunity to meet Mr. Spackman, but the millions of people that have and that I have known all say that he was dedicated to families having a great time together. Mr. Spackman was a great man that loved and was beyond dedicated to his family, his state, and his park. We are all grateful for what be brought into the amusement park industry, great coasters and rides. True class something I feel is lacking in the industry today, Mr. Spackman always made sure Indiana Beach fit that criteria. I say as a fellow Hoosier and on behalf of everybody else thank you, and we'll miss you. Caw Caw.