Dear Coaster Friends,
The amusement industry is a competitive place, and even though many regional parks stand alone geographically they don’t. The name of the game is to expand that radius of where people may travel from to visit ever wider and wider. There has been many hotel brands jumping on board with this idea and building closer and closer to amusement parks. Some parks are even partnering with these hotels to offer a bit of synergy since their guests overlap. Other destination brands like Disney and Universal are building new resort options, and even Hersheypark has included more lodging options for their 2020 expansion. So what will draw in people from further away to visit these parks and fill all of these rooms? The trend has been theming, and choosing exciting intellectual properties.
Disney and Universal are the obvious trailblazers in this game, themed areas and rides are what they are best known for. Their contributions are widely praised and their future plans for the next few years are very impressive. However the regional parks have been succeeding and failing to capture this magic too. The reason that they are trying to reinvent this experience for their own brand is simple. People travel to Disney and Universal Parks because they know they are in for a unique experience. Not only that, the emotion and anticipation starts long before guests arrive at the parks because they already like the idea of stepping into Toy Story, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, or whatever familiar story that is offered. Fans of these franchises both casual and fanatic are going to want that experience, in fact they are going to be easy to please and hard to disappoint because they already have that emotional connection.
Building the biggest, fastest, and most intense rides are not moving the numbers like they used to, since most regional parks are established enough that the surrounding area is already familiar with what they have to offer. Big rides will make the passholder base happy and sell extra tickets, because it is exciting. However it is not enticing people into planning a special family vacation like Disney and Universal do, because people outside the area simply will not know about this new ride. The ironic part is that the regional parks that are trying to step up the theming to draw people in are still stuck on their local market for the most part. These new additions will add an extra quality of life layer since new “themed” rides often spill out into the surrounding area so dining, scenery, park facilities often benefit from an upgrade too. However in my opinion these themes should capture the imagination of guests outside of the local radius, and especially those who don’t typically visit an amusement park for entertainment.
I feel like it is tough to really theme a roller coaster and create an immersive experience, but in a few months I think Universal is going to make me eat those words once their newest roller coaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure opens. But what are the regional parks up to this year and will it have the desired effect? Copperhead Strike at Carowinds was the first to open this year and it is themed to moonshine. It appeals to the region and draws on their history. The area around the ride is really nice, there is a paver plaza complete with a giant outdoor fireplace. There is also a small stage for a musical act that features a band playing what appears to be makeshift instruments made out of broken car parts. The new restaurant offers new choices for the park guests, and all of the buildings look nice. The sign for Copperhead Strike is very cool, but when you visit you will be surprised to see it isn’t really at the entrance for the ride. The sign points you down a path that brings you into the infield, so you get to queue up under the ride and get a great vantage point to see the roller coaster go through its paces. The queue itself is littered with scenery to give guests something to look at as they make their way up to the station. Most of the scenery is related to a hidden moonshine distillery. There are lots of hand made signs that offer caution about snakes, and are designed to discourage outsiders from exploring further. There are plenty of copper tubes and other vessels that look like they would be useful in a moonshine operation. There is evidence of the amature operation as some of the equipment looks like its was thrown out because of explosions. Everything on the farm looks very old and abandon, there is a very rural feel and the overarching message is that they want to be left alone.
Once you make it up to the station it is time to think about the ride. The trains that great you in the station are fantastic, front to back. The front cars have functional headlights and look like a hotrod pickup truck from the 40’s. The rear car has tail lights that look like the back of an early 60’s corvette. All three trains are painted gloss black and feature very comfortable seats with lap bars. The trains roll out of the station on copper colored rails and into a very slow jo-jo roll. This first element hangs you out of your seat and gives a bit of a preview about what is coming up. The trains turns to the right and into the barn where they stop. There is a show to your left and scenery all over the barn complete with lighting effects. The screen is behind a pane of glass that has been distressed so it isn’t visually clear, and the dialogue is a bit hard to catch, and panicked. It feels like you are the witness to an event and not a participant. The launch kicks in without much warning and sends you directly into a vertical loop. This loop gives a few seconds of hang time and was my favorite element on the ride. Following the loop you scream into an ejector airtime hill that really delivers. The train maneuvers through the corkscrew and then twists through an S bend. A small hill conceals the second launch, but this is where my ride hit the breaks. I was only able to get one lap on Copperhead Strike because we got E-stopped on the second launch. I attempted to go back on the ride but it was really down all day from that point on. I feel like I didn’t get the experience I should have for the second launch since we were basically stationary for about 10 minutes until maintenance came to help us complete the circuit. I’ll explain for all you super nerds at the end what I observed.
The second launch features an airtime hill in the middle of the LIM, so it looks to have the potential to give a really unique experience. I look forward to revisit Carowinds someday to get a better impression of the second half of the ride. The second launch sends you into a step up and then the cutback. The track banks around and lines you up for the final inversion a second vertical loop. All of the inversions on Copperhead Strike give hangtime but the two vertical loops offer the best sensation in my opinion. The track does an overbank turn through the first loop and then drops low as the rest of the course twists and turns just above the ground. There is even a very quick snappy turn that reminds me of a tamer version of like a Skyrush or I-305 twist. Even though the ride isn’t very tall or fast the low maneuvers and tight layout really make the most of what you have. The ride is fun and is a good addition to the parks lineup. Carowinds has two sensational rides in Fury 325 and Intimidator, and a really solid invert in Afterburn. A launch coaster with quick transitions is a good compliment to what they do have.
Now how about that theme? Nobody was expecting the type of experience or storytelling you get at a Disney or Universal park, but how about compared to other regional parks? The theme is moonshine, so it does fit the regional history and Carowind fans will probably identify it as something that is their own. This regional appeal will not excite those from outside the area, nor is it going to bring in moonshine fans who don't already regularly visit the park. So I feel like it checks one column but not the other. The level of detail in the scenery in the queue and barn is awesome, probably the best in Cedar Fair. However I feel it is too easy to ignore. What is the story? If you never read the park literature and marketing materials and just went through the queue and ride I think you would have a hard time retelling the story to someone else. I was impressed with the ambiance and scenery, but I feel like that is what the area had. I think that the catch 22 of creating their own theme and story as Cedar Fair does is that it only excites their existing fans. While I enjoy the rides they have been creating it doesn't create a draw for outsiders, I suspect Kennywood and Magic Mountain will fall into the same category as they will surely satisfy their fans and passholder, but will not create excitement outside of their own turf.
P.S. I know that I went a bit long so as promised I will explain my observations of the E-Stop issue that has caused downtime over at least the first two weekends.
Copperhead Strike has three trains and five blocks. A block is a safety zone that only one train can occupy at a time. If a train fails to clear the block there is a way to stop the following train from entering that occupied block. The launches can be used as brakes as well as launches. The first block is the station, then the first launch, followed by the second launch, then the brake run, and last is the transfer track. If train one is dispatched from the station and the other two trains are stacked behind it they both need to move forward one block to make room for the train on the course to clear the second launch. The barn is the time buffer that allows the crew to move both trains forward to clear the brake run. When I hit the second launch the brakes engaged. It was tough to see but I don't think the last train was still on the brake run. I hypothesize that either it did not clear the block in the time limit, or the sensors did not register that it did move forward. To me this could be caused by three things. Hardware, the sensors on the train or tracks are only partially aligned and the system is getting a conflicted signal or wrong information. Software, the program is not allowing the trains to be in the right place at the right time and is triggering a safety system under normal circumstances. Ride Ops, they are still learning how to run the ride and were simply not hitting their performance times. As an outsider who is a nerd I can only offer my impressions and not concrete information. If you made it this far then you are a nerd too, I'm glad to be in good company.