by Danny Miller
Christmas in July has come and gone, and Holiday World has announced Thunderbird for the 2015 season. Thunderbird will be the first launched wing coaster from B&M, and will also be the first coaster that B&M has done their own launch system for. Enthusiasts will note that B&M did not do the launch system on Incredible Hulk. Nearly 3,000 viewers tuned in to the online feed that built up the hype leading up to the announcement around 9:30PM on Thursday evening. Several fans of the park were on site to witness the reveal in person.
The last few days of teasers and hints were pretty good at giving us an idea of what we would see. Several folks had come to the decision to guess it would be a wing coaster with some sort of bird theme. Less people however, picked up on the reference to Mammoth, which hinted at the launch concept. I thought it made sense from the moment we heard “truly unique” and the “first of its kind” come out. Thunderbird will be truly unique (at least when it opens), and maybe technically the first of its kind. Don’t forget that Spain is home to Furius Baco, an Intamin launched coaster with wing seats, but that ride is not well-liked and is very short. Thunderbird is expected to be well-liked and a slightly longer experience.
So let’s focus on Thunderbird. What does it mean for B&M? More importantly, what does it mean for Holiday World? Let’s start with B&M. For the popular steel coaster manufacturer, Thunderbird represents a step in a new direction. As their first launch coaster (with a launch made by them of course), Thunderbird will forever be a milestone in coaster history. We don’t know how much B&M was persuaded (if they needed to be in the first place), but if Thunderbird can have the reliability that other B&M coasters have, then I would think that more launch coasters may be on the way. I don’t expect them to come in bunches, but the possibility is now on the table for future projects.
Second, it shows that B&M is all in with the wing coaster concept. Just four years ago, it was a new thing, and we wondered how popular it would be. After 2012, I predicted that it would be bigger than the stand-up coaster, and we would eventually see more wing coasters that the floorless coasters. While we haven’t gotten to the later point yet, the fact that a small park has invested in the wing coaster concept is proof that B&M is sticking with it and that more are coming in the near future.
For one, I’m excited. I am a reasonably big fan of the wing coaster. I usually do not go for the gimmicky rides, but the wing coasters have the ability to do special things (like keyholes and fly-throughs) that other train styles can’t pull off. I don’t think the wing coasters built thus far have been gimmicky; they have been good rides that, when properly themed and surrounded with nice scenery, can be made even better. That holds true to just about any coaster type. Raptor (Gardaland), X-Flight, Gatekeeper, and Swarm are great coasters not because they are gimmicks, but because they are overall solid rides made better by theming and scenery that enhances the ride experience.
Thunderbird is a big step for B&M, but it’s an even bigger step for Holiday World. The late Will Koch had a vision for his park, and throughout his much too short time with us, he saw Holiday World grow and become not only a hometown favorite, but a destination for coaster enthusiasts across the globe. Not one, not two, but three spectacular wooden coasters made this enthusiast paradise, but he always knew there was something missing, and once Voyage succeeded, the idea of a major steel coaster was on the table. The discussions of bringing a steel coaster to Santa Claus have been going on for several years, and B&M seems to have always been the company slated to do it. Good call.
So Holiday World is finally getting their steel coaster, and it’s a culmination of an idea dreamt up by Will Koch many years ago and the execution of it by his friends and family that have continued to keep the park as brilliant as ever. Thunderbird will fill the void that only a steel coaster like this could fill, and it also brings in the idea of a launch, something that will really make this a stand-out attraction. The theming should be right on par with other Holiday World attractions, as it mixes together some Thanksgiving theming with Native American theming (do some searching for Thunderbird on Google to find out more), but also represents the farming that the heartland of America is known for.
Most importantly though, Thunderbird is a sign, a “shot across the bow” if you will. What do I mean by that? Well, a few years ago when Kentucky Kingdom closed, the Koch’s tried to open it as Bluegrass Boardwalk. The plan would put two parks near each other and create two parks to make money in instead of just one. However, after struggles, the deal did not get done, and now Ed Hart has re-opened Kentucky Kingdom under his own banner once again. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, Kentucky Kingdom exists once again in one of Holiday World’s major markets.
The early praise for Lightning Run has caught the attention of enthusiasts and locals that are flocking to Kentucky Kingdom. With the promise of a revamped T2 (soon to be T3) for 2015, and the unknown plans for Twisted Twins waiting for 2016, Kentucky Kingdom has a five-year plan to come back with a vengeance, and they’re doing it. By installing Thunderbird, Holiday World steps into a bit of uncharted waters (no pun intended). They all of a sudden have a big steel coaster to compete, check that, knock the socks off of Lightning Run and T3. By adding a big steel coaster, Holiday World is showing that they aren’t afraid to venture into the territory of the big parks, and they are up to the challenge and ready to compete for every guest that will come through the gates.
As for the coaster, I love it. It seems a few people are confused about the name and theme. Remember what I said earlier. It is a nice mix of Thanksgiving, Native Americans, and American culture. If you need more help, do some digging about what a thunderbird is in Native American culture. A few others have expressed concern of the length. I say it looks good to me, especially for a launch coaster, specifically a prototype. Its length beats X-Flight slightly, and a launch instead of a lift adds a thrill. The action time is not lengthy, but few launch coasters are. I for one am very excited for the ride and hope it is as great as the teaser campaign.
All in all, Holiday World played a perfect hand with all of this, and now they are the most talked about park in the country (at least until another announcement comes). It’s great to see a small park do something that says, “Hey, we can play this game too.” And boy, can they ever? Thunderbird will be an icon for years to come, and it is the culmination of a dream by Will Koch that was executed to perfection after he sadly left us much too soon. When you ride Thunderbird next season, look at the “Will Power” sign that will adorn the flywheel building that helps the launch, and remember that even though this is just another coaster to some, to others, it really means so much more.
by Danny Miller
After a two-month campaign that has taken us through 66 days at sea, it’s nearly time for Holiday World to announce what they are adding to the park for the 2015 season. All kinds of theories exist, but honestly, nobody is really sure at this point what exactly to expect. The park has done a tremendous job of teasing us, giving us clues, and worst of all, throwing out red herrings trying to throw us off. Today, I’m going to re-cap some of the hints we’ve gotten and try to narrow down the options ahead of the big unveil on Thursday evening.
WHAT WE KNOW – We know that the ride is going to be a part of the Thanksgiving section of the park in the general area of where Pilgrim’s Plunge (later Giraffica) used to stand near Hyena Falls. There is a clearing near that area in the same vicinity as Voyage’s track. We also know that this will be the largest investment in the park’s history, and we recently learned that the total dollar amount is right around $22 million. The significance of knowing the number comes in next.
Previously, the largest investment was roughly $14 million when the Thanksgiving section opened in 2006. $8.5 million of that was put into Voyage. Until a few days ago, all we knew is that it was more than that. Now, we know the exact amount. Also surfacing recently thanks to a hint from the park is that the new attraction is exactly that: one attraction. Unless they are pulling a fast one, this will not be a new section or a new collection of rides, but rather, as they put it, “One. Big. Thing.” Those two clues are key because that really starts to narrow down what exactly we may see. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at what we can and cannot expect on Thursday night.
WHAT IT PROBABLY IS NOT – You’ll notice I used the word “probably” because, like I said, nobody except the higher-ups at the park knows exactly what’s going on at this point. Like Kings Island’s Banshee campaign, very little has leaked. Any leaks that have come out have been put out there by the park, like the shredded engineering drawings that EB from Coasterradio.com found back at the beginning of the campaign. That still is our only real handle to grab in terms of guessing that this may be a steel coaster, but I digress.
With a $22 million price tag, we can almost surely eliminate any type of wooden coaster unless it is so massive or so outrageous that nobody would believe it even if the park straight-up told us what it was. Ignoring the change in dollar value since 2006, this new ride would cost nearly three times as much as Voyage did. To put it another way, Outlaw Run cost Silver Dollar City $10 million just two years ago. Also, the footers placed so far are very much indicative of a steel coaster. Unless we see something crazy like a launched wooden coaster or an inverted wooden coaster that is extremely large, I would think it’s reasonably safe to cross off the wooden coaster possibility.
The other thing we can eliminate is what I will call a “standard” steel coaster. A recent post on the Holiblog mentions that what they are building will be “truly unique” and “the first of its kind.” Those two phrases have lost much of their meeting in recent years as parks have stretched the meaning of “unique” and “one-of-a-kind” quite a bit in order to gain an edge in marketing. Holiday World has never been one for gimmicks, and hearing these terms from them truly makes me think they mean it.
What that means is that we aren’t going to see a moderately-sized looping coaster with four or five inversions. If the ride itself is of a moderate size, there will probably be fairly extensive scenery and an elaborate story to go with it that makes it unique. The question from there becomes, “does that eat up $22 million?” I’m not so sure it does. Banshee and Gatekeeper came in at $24 million and $25 million the last two years, so if it is a steel coaster, expect it to be on the same order of magnitude as those two if there is not extensive scenery and theme elements or something brand new.
WHAT IT COULD BE – This is a bit tougher because there are a lot of options. Let’s start with what I think is less likely: a highly-themed, indoor coaster. Construction thus far hasn’t really suggested that we will see a large building. A decade ago, Revenge Of The Mummy in Orlando cost around $40 million, so a ride with an extensive theme like that is out of the discussion. Perhaps we could see something less extensive with scenery similar to Maverick, but maybe it will not be much of a coaster, rather a dark ride/coaster combo like Wonder Mountain’s Guardian. For the record, that ride cost $10 million to open for this season.
There are plenty of other possibilities, but the “truly unique” and “first of its kind” words are really throwing me. There has to be something unique about it. Day 65 of the teaser site talks about a creature appearing with giant wings. This could hint at a wing coaster, perhaps maybe even a 4-D coaster. B&M has been rumored to e developing one for some time, and it would certainly be the first B&M 4-D coaster. Perhaps the cars are free spinning even. S&S is working on a model of that type, but none exist currently. Either of those options would indeed be unique and firsts.
Another guess may be the first B&M launching coaster. This one would only be on a technicality because B&M did not do the launch system on Incredible Hulk, but again, they have supposedly been developing a system for some time. If they are, we’re going to see it eventually. If it is indeed a launch coaster from B&M, they the possibilities remain large because I would assume it could be used on many of their designs. After all, if it is brand new, we can’t really put any limitations on it. Most of B&M’s vehicles run off the same general chassis design, so using a system similar to their magnetic braking system would theoretically work just fine for a launch system.
I think the above three options are most likely, but there is a small possibility that it’s something completely new and innovative. Maybe it’s a new vehicle type or a new seating configuration. Maybe the seats face sideways like the old scenic railway coasters. Maybe it’s a brand new type of track style. Maybe it’s even two coasters in one and some sort of special racing/dueling coaster. Whatever the result is, we’re only hours away now, and it’s sure to be exciting and the talk of the industry for at least a few days (until another park makes their announcement). What are your predictions?
by Danny Miller
All too often, we hear someone say, “Maverick is the best ride,” or “Voyage is the best wooden coaster.” The ride mentioned may change, but the statement of confidence claiming that a ride is the best is common among coaster enthusiasts. Among the message boards, several websites have threads specifically for discussing the best rides, including us here at COASTER-net in our Official Coaster Ranking Thread.
The trouble with calling any ride the best, is that the word “best” implies that there is a correct answer. Over time, there seems to have been the development of correct answers, with rides like Bizarro, Millennium Force, and El Toro topping their respective categories in most polls. While these are indeed spectacular rides, and several people rank them highly, the fuss that is created over ranking coasters in not a science. It is not a math problem. There is not a correct answer, and therefore, no such thing as the “best” coaster, but rather the more proper label of a “favorite” coaster.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with trying to do both. For a long time, people have questioned how I rank rides and what I consider my favorite rides, or sometimes, they ask me what the best ride is. Over the last few years, I’ve developed a two-tiered system, separating my list of favorite coasters and a list of what I think are the best coasters. My favorite list is pretty simple. I say to myself, “If I had one ride, what ride would I choose to ride?” I do that until I subjectively “rank” every coaster in that manner.
Deciding on what coasters are “best” is more difficult, because as mentioned, there is no correct answer. To start, all rides must be put on a level playing field and graded on the same scale, which is especially difficult for steel coasters considering there are so many different types and styles. Grading wooden coasters against one another is a fairly simplified process because generally speaking, they have many similarities amongst them, such as rider position, style of restraint (lap bar and sometimes seatbelt), and feel during the ride.
To grade rides against others on a common scale, I use eight categories. The first is smoothness, usually the smoothness of the track or train traversing the course. This may include ride violence in some cases. Next is forces, usually quality or intensity and the quantity of forces throughout the ride. Next is the pace/speed category. This includes both the sense of speed and the pacing of the ride because some rides that have great speed do not pace very well (Raging Bull due to trims), but small rides with lower speeds have excellent pacing (Gold Striker and Thunderhead come to mind). Fourth is drop/launch, which grades the first or main drops for coasters with lifts, and the main launch of a launched ride. Rides like Maverick and Verbolten get good scores for having both features and/or multiple launches.
The fifth category is re-rideability. This category combines not only the comfort of the ride and sustainability, but also the desire to re-ride. Extremely intense rides like Intimidator 305 are smooth, but the intensity may make it hard to re-ride for some, while kiddie coasters are easy to re-ride, but the desire to do so is quite low. Layout is the next category, and this accounts for continuity and flow in a ride layout along with the originality. A strong layout that is cloned may lose a point or two due to lack of originality (like the Batman clones), while unique layout that may come off as somewhat boring may also suffer here (one that comes to mind may be Thunder Dolphin in Japan).
Seventh is ride atmosphere. This category favors rides that may not be as intense as others, but are heavy on a theme or surrounding scenery. This does not have to necessarily be a theme directly related to the ride; it can also just be a nice location, such as the Beast, which is totally hidden on the woods. Highly themed rides like Expedition Everest, Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, and Verbolten score well here. Lastly, ride length is a category by itself. This is self-explanatory, simply grading the length of action or track during a ride. Rides like the Banshee, Voyage, and Gatekeeper score well here, as their ride times are rather long, while other coasters like Outlaw Run, Volcano, and Iron Rattler, while incredibly thrilling, score slightly lower as the ride is over quickly.
As of this writing, my subjective top ten looks like this from #1 to #10: Manta (SWO), Bizarro (SFNE), Maverick, Intimidator 305, Millennium Force, Apollo’s Chariot, Leviathan, Banshee, Diamondback, Behemoth. My graded top ten looks pretty similar: Bizarro (SFNE), Maverick, Millennium Force, Apollo’s Chariot, Banshee, Diamondback, Manta (SWO), Leviathan, Behemoth, Nitro. What is interesting is when I combine the two lists, making each of them count as half of the total list. The result is: Bizarro (SFNE), Maverick, Manta (SWO), Millennium Force, Apollo’s Chariot, Banshee, Diamondback, Leviathan, Intimidator 305, Behemoth.
It’s an interesting process that I’ve started to use in the last year or two to try and settle the debate of the difference between “best” and “favorite.” It actually makes some sense too, because while Apollo’s Chariot may be my favorite B&M hyper, others disagree. Manta is my “favorite” steel coaster, but based on my grading system, Bizarro is the “best” steel coaster. Andy’s favorite coaster is Raptor, and it probably always will be, but he would likely make the case that Maverick is the “best” steel coaster.
So what do you think? Is this something you agree with? Would you like the spreadsheet that I use to do this? It’s actually pretty interesting to try it out. I also have columns for the park, the style of ride, the manufacturer, and the year that it was built. This is useful when try to figure out which manufacturer you like best or what style of ride is your favorite. Check it out!
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...