Dear Coaster Friends,
I have been riding roller coasters since I hit the height requirement, all without encouragement. My parents and my sister hate roller coasters, so no help there. Roller coasters, especially while on vacation, were a big part of my youth and I love that they have become a major interest of mine as I navigate each stage of my life. Even though there are plenty of old roller coasters out there the riders are mostly teenagers, but I am not. I’m actually not even close but I’m in pretty good company I was born the same year Gemini at Cedar Point, Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and Shockwave at Six Flags Over Texas were introduced. My age has let me experience different rides that aren’t easy to find anymore like Dinn woodies, Arrow shuttle loops, and some of the first true launch coasters. In total I have ridden about 20 defunct coasters that were either scrapped or have been reimagined by RMC. Even though roller coasters will eventually get to a point where they will break down, I don’t want to suffer the same fate.
When you get older you see your friends fade away sometimes; I have written about some of my favorites in the past like Hercules, The Great American Scream Machine, and Batman & Robin: The Chiller. However the rides aren’t the only thing getting rough I am too, I even have had to have spare parts installed. While rides like Batman: The Ride seems to never age other coasters once loved you find yourself bracing yourself for now, like the Predator. I have to be an adult, but I want to have carefree fun like when I was a kid. How do I strike a balance? A little planning and self control can help you really enjoy the day, but as you get older these might become more and more of a necessity. So if you used to charge up the steps into the station and now you pull yourself up asking your riding partners, “Did it always have this many stairs?” this is for you.
The first thing I learned was the sun is strong, stronger than anyone young or old. The longer you sit out and fry in it the earlier in the day you are going to run out of energy. Wearing a hat is a simple way to fight back against the sun, but the best way is to stay hydrated. I know many of us have a souvenir cup for soda, but that isn’t really helping us. You need to drink water, staying hydrated will obviously give you more energy and prevent heat exhaustion. Most parks have a policy that if you ask for water at a location that sells food they will give you a small free cup of water, take advantage of this policy. If you are prone to headaches or feeling nauseous the problem could be dehydration or heat exhaustion. Sipping a nice cold drink out of the sun is a great way to recharge. I also personally like to ride attractions that create their own shade around 2:30 when the sun is really strong. So maybe hop on the train for a lap, ferris wheels with covered seats, and skyrides often offer a nice breeze and a shady seat too.
Be active, not just at the park, just be active. If you sit around wearing an ass groove into your couch all year and expect to pop up and spend a majority of the day on your feet walking around that isn’t a realistic expectation. My wife and I wear fitness trackers so I have a general idea of how far I walk per day, but when we spend a day at an amusement park we add a lot of steps compared to the norm. So instead of listening to that podcast about roller coasters on your couch pop on a pair of headphones and take a walk, it won’t be a shock to the system if it is a regular part of your life. Most parks have a normal traffic flow but if you do a walk from one side to the other you could be going about a mile, if you navigate that path a few times those miles will add up. I know that we typically walk three to four times the distance of a normal full day in just a few hours at a park.
Always be prepared, ok I got that from the Boy Scouts but it applies. Know the locations of water fountains, dress in comfortable clothes for the time of year, have shoes that are easy to walk in. I know this seems like common sense, but sometimes it's best to not assume. Visiting the parks as you get older isn’t a chore or an endurance trial unless you make it one. Visiting the parks when you are older is a treat and the best treat is being the host and sharing the experience.
We have already established that we are no longer teenages, so you might be the parent. Some of that planning ahead may need to be aimed at the kids no matter what their age. Make sure they are following the same advice and that you are setting them up for success. Otherwise your lack of a plan will end with you dragging a half dead walking zombie of a child back to the car. Hopefully they haven’t puked on themselves or you. Motion sickness isn’t a problem that develops when you are old, in fact the people who are most affected by surprise motion sickness fall between the ages of 2 and 12. I have a toddler and I get really excited at the parks to ride the roller coasters, but when I am taking a young child I need to slow down to their speed. The day is really their day to have the experience, and you may not be able to do your normal thing marathoning your favorite rides. I also have a niece that I take to the park and she is a teen, and the park is really built for her so my task is to step it up and keep up with her. Sometimes you have to know yourself and suck it up and wait on line with the kid and help them get pumped only to step through to not over do it and end their day. As the adult you may take a bit longer to recover from the dip, turns, and inversions compared to a teenager.
There are advantages to not being a teenager, you can decide the budget. I know the fast lane systems are sometimes a controversial topic, but they are widely available at different parks across the country. They do all work differently but the idea is the same, pay for the experience you want to have. I enjoy having the option to buy fast pass because it allows me more time to be leisurely, I don’t skip taking care of myself, and most importantly I am not stuck in a cramped uncomfortable queue. While you have that credit card out think about booking a hotel close to the park so you can take a break in the middle of the day, or just not have to travel home. Bonus points if you book one with a hot tub, that is my favorite way to unwind and recover after a day at the park. The goal is always longevity for me personally, and that doesn’t matter if we are talking about the day, the season, or my lifetime. I said at the beginning I was happy to have roller coasters in every stage of life and that is what I am looking forward to. Heading out to the parks with my daughter when she is ready for thrill rides. Enjoying the flexibility of retirement and choosing the best time to visit. And, dare I say it? Bringing grandchildren to the park?
EDITOR'S NOTE: The author of this article is a community member and not a member of the site staff. We encourage all members of our community to submit similar op-ed pieces by e-mailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org for review by our editorial staff.
A few days ago an enthusiast posted a comment to Tony Clark of Cedar point via Twitter. Her statement was “Someone just told me that, Steel Vengeance is overrated…” Tony’s response really got me to thinking about amusement parks, roller coasters, and enthusiasts. Tony replied, “You know, I think we should all go to parks and enjoy them as a place of fun and happiness. So much nasty out there.”
I wondered, “Have enthusiast become our own worst enemy? Have “we” taken the fun out of amusement parks and roller coasters?” To me this is a double-edged sword. On one hand I think that there is fun to be had by riding, evaluating, and ranking the quality of the attraction. On the other hand, I look back fondly to my days as a non-enthusiast. Those days where I went to a park, rode the rides, and enjoyed the total package that was an amusement park without the distraction of being an enthusiast.
To give this some perspective, I am a middle-aged male with only about 65 credits. Those credits I have collected over the course of the last 30 years of my life, and most are now defunct. Until very recently I was that dreaded “GP guy”. Over the course of the last few years, I began giving in to this desire to think more in-depth about what I had experienced. Like the rest of the community I began comparing and contrasting these rides with other coasters I had been on and then ranking them accordingly. Along with this typical enthusiast behavior, I also joined several online coaster groups and began attempting to more finely tune my love of roller coasters and connecting with more “experienced” enthusiasts. This attempt was both frustrating and fulfilling. I found it fun and enjoyable when I could find an enthusiast that didn’t look down his/her nose at my low coaster count. I also found this attempt at broadening my knowledge and friend base to be very frustrating. I felt defeated and scorned by some who felt that they were above talking to someone with less knowledge and experience.
My experiences in the enthusiast community has been mostly positive. Apart from a few elitist enthusiasts, most have been very welcoming and open to the opinion of others. However, It became obvious to me early on that the community at large tends to eat its young. Honestly, if it wasn’t for persistence in seeking out a group that was open to all thoughts, opinion, and differences in personalities, I would have probably given up. It makes me wonder how many budding enthusiasts have been run off. We forget that we all are an enthusiast because of a common enjoyment of the experience. It should not matter if you have ridden 1 or 1,000+ coasters. Something the elitist should remember is we all love them the same, and all started with 1 credit.
I see an alarming trend in the enthusiast community. With all the coaster related activities such as ranking lists, coaster counts, YouTube content, near constant speculation of the newest and greatest to come, coaster and park awards, forums, Discord servers, and enthusiast groups, I think we are losing sight of what brought us all together in the first place. The love of a fun and exciting ride. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that other stuff too. To me, it adds to the experience. However, there is the danger of becoming so wrapped up in which coaster is better than another coaster for varying reasons that we lose the innocence of just enjoying the ride. I have heard some imply if a coaster isn’t a top 10 coaster that it isn’t worth their time. This is bunk! Coasters are FUN, whether they are elite rides or more common fare they are fun. At other times, I feel we get so lost in what is next that we fail to enjoy the great ride that is right in front of us. I think when we do this we risk forgetting why we all fell in love with amusement parks and roller coasters to begin with.
THE FUN OF IT ALL!!
To answer the question posed in the title. The answer is a mixed bag. At the moment the answer is “No,” I feel enthusiasts enhance the coasterverse. However, If we aren’t careful, if we don’t consider our behavior and the consequences it can have, then the answer could very well be “Yes.”
Gone, But Not Forgotten
Dear Coaster Friends,
There is a familiar phrase that elicits a strong reaction from coaster enthusiasts, and it is always a version of this: “Regrettably _________ has reached the end of its useful service life.” The message is often delivered in a somber tone because parks know that whatever is coming next their guests and fans are going to mourn the ride. A great attraction will develop a character and feel that people connect with, and even though it is just an inanimate object that connection is difficult to say goodbye to. Many defunct rides fade into history and others become legends where their memory and influence seem to persist. When we hear, “Reached the end of its useful service life.” We often go through the same stages of grief we do with a friend or family member leave us.
The first stage is denial, typically this is a short stage but people will often post fictional accounts on how the park came to their decision. You may see unrealistic petitions and calls for reconsideration. The next stage is anger, some people stew to themselves, and other burst forth with impressive displays of profanity. “REACHED THE END OF ITS USEFUL SERVICE LIFE! THAT’S WHAT THEY WILL CARVE ON YOUR TOMBSTONE!” The next step is depression, this stage may sometimes last until there is a closure. “CLOSURE! CLOSURE! YOU MEAN WITH A WRECKING BALL?!” It is true some people relapse back between steps but generally we work through it. The fourth stage is bargaining, and for a coaster enthusiast this is often where healing begins because we start to think creatively again. The bargain may be a feeling that the attraction could return in a different form, or a new attraction will pay homage to it. (Calm down Kings Island Fanboys, I’m not talking about Son of Beast.) The final stage is acceptance, and this brings us back to thinking about the future and hopefully optimism towards the future.
Just today we found out that Universal has an opening date for their newest roller coaster based on Hagrid and it is located on the space previously occupied by Dragon Challenge. It is unknown if this new ride will replace the place in our hearts that those two B&M inverts left. It does look like it will be one of the most immersive and themed high thrill roller coaster ever built. Hopefully it will be a great addition and offer a brand new experience. Plus two B&Ms for one Intamin might be a fair trade.
For me I have two sentimental defunct coasters that have not lived on into legend, but I am still short of acceptance. The first is Hercules, formally at Dorney Park. I view Hercules through rose colored glasses. I rode the coaster when it was new many times and those earliest memories are the ones that persist. The part of the ride that many feel were the roughest part held the most vivid positive memories for me. That was the drop and sweeping curve over the water, the part of me that is stuck in the regret just keeps wondering what if it could have survived long enough to be RMC’d? The plot of land is currently occupied by Hydra: The Revenge, the name of the ride pays homage to Hercules, but it hasn’t filled the hole in my heart. The other is The Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Great Adventure. The GASM felt like a right of passage for me when I was younger, I did ride it in its opening and closing year and many time in between. For a long time this ride seemed like the biggest ride you could ever conquer, for me that really lasted until Nitro was built. The plot of land is currently occupied by Green Lantern, but I still won't dignify that with an answer.
The most recent coaster to join the ranks of legend is Volcano: The Blast Coaster. This ride captured my imagination many years before I finally rode it. The fact is I feel fortunate because I just made it. My first ride on Volcano was at the passholder preview day last spring for the 2018 season. My last ride was the very next day when the park officially open for the season. I loved it and even though it was hyped up by friends it totally lived up to the hype. Those of us that got a chance to ride this one of a kind attraction know that this is a significant loss. It is unknown at this time what will take its place or if the Volcano itself will remain after the roller coaster is removed. I hope for a deserving replacement as the park will for a time feel incomplete as their fans and guests mourn the loss of this landmark attraction. For many of us we are still on the bargaining stage and not quite ready for acceptance.
This brings us to the next coaster to become defunct, Green Lantern at Six Flags Great Adventure. Hey I know that the park hasn’t said that it has reached the end of its useful service life but I can dream right? Green Lantern killed The Great American Scream Machine! I’ll dance on your grave Green Lantern, watch your back...
Records Were Made To Be Broken
Arms down, head back, hold on….AHHHHHHH! Amusement Park operators are always looking for the biggest, fastest, and most intense experiences for their guests. Many enthusiasts will point to Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point for kicking off a golden age of construction, By starting a roller coaster war where record setting attractions was every park’s ammunition. Magnum XL-200 opened in 1989, as the first hyper coaster breaking the 200 foot barrier, and forever changing the skyline of amusement parks around the world. Previously parks were asking for manufacturers to add more inversions, but the success of Magnum XL-200 showed how ditching the inversions for height and speed records could widen the audience and ultimately be better for the park’s business. In the US the inversion record up till now stalled at seven right as Magnum XL-200 changed the dynamics of success in 1989. While Asia and Europe kept increasing inversions the North American coasters were growing bigger and faster.
Eventually these records became harder and harder to capture as the complex task of building bigger and faster became cost prohibitive. However at the same time the capacity to build more dynamic rides became increasingly profitable. The manufacturers started to change the roller coaster itself to change the experience. They created new chassis that created new ride positions, created motion on the train itself as the coaster traversed the track, and experimented with different technologies for a more immersive experience. Instead of pushing the limits of height and speed designers were enclosing coasters, adding special effects, drop tracks, scenery, and even adding VR to existing coasters to change the experience. The coaster wars may have slowed, or stopped depending on who you talk to but another effect of this shift was marketing.
The public was enthralled with the record breaking and innovations that were being introduced. They got used to hearing that every new roller coaster installation was a superlative or a first to use a specific chassis or technology. This expectation, devolved into a laundry list of records that were released with each new thrill coaster. I would say for about the last decade the amount of silly, region specific, and the narrowness of the records has made many of them insignificant. When a park has to qualify each record by limiting its scope to exclude all of the other roller coasters that exceed the record they should be looking at marketing the ride in a way that appeals to their core customer base, their pass holders.
I don’t want to say the only room for innovation in the last decade is deceptive marketing. Better manufacturing techniques have allowed ride manufacturers to give us new experiences and a variety of new elements. While new elements alone don’t break records, just like the new chassis designs they create new experiences. From the snappy low to the ground twists of Maverick we got rides like Intimidator 305 & Skyrush. When RMC started converting old wooden coasters into steel hybrids parks had a new experience to provide for their guests, and a new category to set records in. Wooden coaster manufacturers weren’t left out as old technology, they showed that they can still be innovative. The modern wooden roller coaster has been successfully reinvented as they started installing wooden coasters with inversions, another new record and innovation.
So where is the future leading us? Hopefully into another large building boom, but let’s take a step back first to take a look. Last year Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point opened with a marketing campaign with ten world records. Nine of those records were conditional on the hybrid style of the ride, but one was a really big deal and something of extreme significance. This roller coaster offered 27.2 seconds of airtime, a new world record worth keeping track of, bragging about, and breaking in the future. The 2019 season will have a few records of note being toppled as well. Kennywood will be introducing Steel Curtain, a coaster by S&S themed to their local football team the Steelers. Kennywood is of course offering a slew of local and regional records to help market this coaster but they are grabbing two solid records for the park. Steel Curtain will have the most inversions in North America at nine, and it will have the tallest inversion in the world at 197 feet. Six Flags Great America is also claiming some records in 2019 with Maxx Force. Maxx Force will launch 0-70 in under 2 seconds making it the fastest acceleration on any coaster in the world. It will also maneuver through the fastest inversion in the world too. There is also a new kid on the block, in the under construction American Dream Mall, where Nickelodeon Universe will be installing the world’s steepest coaster called TMNT Shellraiser.
With all these records being broken in North America next year there are a few that are seemingly out of reach. Speed is the most obvious, Formula Rossa at Ferrari World has a top speed of 149.1 MPH and took the record from Kingda Ka(128 MPH) at Six Flags Great Adventure in 2010. However Kingda Ka is still the tallest roller coaster in the world at 456 feet since 2005. Speed and height often go together and to build a roller coaster that can exceed 150 MPH is difficult to imagine, but that record could one day fall to another launched coaster as the speed Formula Rossa achieved is hard to imagine even today. There has been plans and concepts to shatter the height record with what most are calling a polercoaster, a roller coaster built onto an observation tower that can provide a structure that is cost feasible to break the 500 foot barrier. This project is stalled in the planning stage right now, and no schedules have been revealed to start construction.
The real question going forward, is the war back on? I say it doesn’t matter, because a new building boom and period of investment is on. Many theme and amusement park operators are signaling that investments are planned for years to come. This a great indicator that we have a lot to look forward to. The pace of news and the length of time into the future we are able to see is an indicator that the plans are becoming more ambitious, the major manufacturers have been busy, and maybe even Dorney could be getting a new coaster. The time when it was all B&M or Intamin in North America is over. B&M and Intamin will continue to build great coasters moving forward for sure. They will have to continue to innovate and offer riders and parks something they want because competition is the new coaster war. Mack has a growing footprint in the US market branching off from their smaller scale rides, and building larger thrill rides. RMC has been a rising star that is offering new products for wood and steel. RMC might be best known for their Iron Horse conversions, but they are pivoting to new installations and their influence is beginning to be emulated by the “old guard”. S&S is stepping up to the plate with two large installations this year that will grab a few records. S&S has been working hard in Asia, but their work in North America has been smaller, however they are now creating signature attractions. There are plenty of other players who are hard at work too with rides opening this year in North America like; Chance, Gerstlauer, Premier Rides, Gravity Group, SBF Visa, Zamperla, Zierer, Skyline Attractions, and Larson? With so much variety on our plate the future should be powered by competition and good luck to all the players, when you do well we all win.
Love Is In The Airtime
Dear Coaster Friends,
Living in a long distance relationship is tough, but at times it is necessary. My wife and I lived in two different cities for a period of time while we were still dating. Long drives, different time zones, and separate lives can all be difficult to deal with and can cause strain, but it makes being reunited even sweeter. During this off season while you are separated from your number one, how do you deal? Do you think about the good times in the past? Are you worried and jealous she is out there giving rides to others?!
Will you think about opening day? Many parks have already published their 2019 calendar, it is already marked on my calendar when we can can be reunited again. Have you been thinking of her sitting out in the cold, alone, maybe even rusting? Is she getting ready for you with a fresh coat of paint, rebuilt trains, or some trackwork to bring out those curves?
Do not let your mind wander to warmer ports. You could go to Florida to be with Montu, or California to be with X2… But they aren’t your number one. Every year there are new roller coasters tempting you to fall in love with them, and it is tempting. Steel Vengeance was out there collecting numbers last season, changing people’s hearts. Maybe I should look her up. There is just about a month and a half before it will be time to slide into that train once more and finally be reunited with my number one, El Toro.
P.S. Please don’t tell my wife I compared our relationship to a roller coaster.