by Andrew Rybarczyk
We all love roller coasters. I'm pretty sure that if you are reading this blog that it also means that you love amusement parks as well. No one wants to see an amusement park close or a classic roller coaster torn down. Sometimes though we allow this passion to cloud our judgment and allow memories to influence the decisions we make today. I've heard and read some pretty heated discussions about what the fate of Conneaut Lake Park should be. After attending the park on Saturday, I sadly have to declare that I truly believe it is best to allow the park to close.
A few years back I can remember voting in the Pepsi Refresh Project to help find a way to save a classic roller coaster. Now, I didn't know much about the ride or even the park for that matter, I simply did not want to see a roller coaster with so much history just disappear. After winning $50,000, I thought that the coaster would be in good hands and have a chance at sticking around for generations to come. However, this was not the case.
Much has been discussed as of late about Conneaut Lake Park with the financial situation worsening by the day. Last weekend, I decided to take a trip out to the park to experience it myself and get my first and presumably last ride on Blue Streak. I did not have high expectations for the park given many of the stories I've heard coming out of the park over the last few months, but when I got there it was worse than I could have imagined. Upon arriving an hour after the scheduled opening time, the weather was a bit gloomy and misty. A very light rain had fallen as we drove into the area, but behind it was sunny skies for miles. We arrived and found a near ghost town. A few workers were walking around seemingly packing up for the day. I asked one if the park was open to which she replied that they were closed for "weather" and "lack of attendance." To say I was upset would be an understatement. The hours were clearly listed on the website. Numerous calls went unanswered both during the week and day of the trip to try to decipher the exact operating schedule. To top it off, we had driven an extra 1.5 hours to attend the park. She did say though that they will be reopening the next day to which I replied that I would never be coming back. After the exchange, I decided to walk around the shuttered park and found a number of families milling about trying to figure out what to do for the day now that their plans had been dashed. I find it absolutely ridiculous that a business who is in such dire straits would close with paying customers in park. Even if that is not financially possible, a business should be able to figure out what their operating hours are and be able to communicate those to their patrons. To blame the weather is equally ridiculous because anyone with a smart phone could easily see that within twenty minutes the gloomy skies would open up into a bright and sunny day. From the reports I've heard the park has remained open with only a few guests present as well. My final conclusion is that the park has either given up or simply does not care.
The issue of not caring is also one that I've seen expressed from numerous people visiting the park throughout this season. Operating hours that are shifting is just one example. Bad attitudes and lack of gratitude to me is inexcusable. Once again, if a park is in such dire need, they should making a much greater effort to try to get people not only to come but to return. This issue of caring can also be seen in the condition that the park is in. Rides that haven't been operated in years litter the area such as a few flat rides and their Toboggan coaster. These rides should have been removed, hidden or scrapped long ago. What patron wants to walk a midway and see skeletons of formers rides that are rusting out? General maintenance also seemed to be poor overall. Very few signs directed people where to park or where to go. I felt that the operators of the park wanted to keep me out rather than invite me in every way imaginable. Its disappointing especially since this same park begs for money at every turn to try to keep itself alive.
Conneaut's current problem stems from back taxes that total over $900,000. We also don't know how many more creditors are out there that are also owed money. The local governing bodies want to confiscate the property and sell it off to recoup some of these lost monies. Taxes in general are paid to support the public good. These back taxes could be going to a number of different places including the financially strapped school districts that populate the same area. With this in mind, my own experience this weekend, and the experiences of many others throughout the year, I believe it best if we as coaster enthusiast simply stopped pushing to keep this park open. First, it is unlikely that any financial plan the park comes up with will actually save the park. Even after filing chapter 11 bankruptcy, the park may alleviate its debt but would have no money to actually fix the park. Getting new credit would be extremely difficult and it's safe to say that its current attendance issues will not miraculously be changed because of less debt. It may be able to stay open for a few more season but a very real possibility is that it will close soon after. It may even create a hostile environment towards the park from those who believe the government should be able to recoup some of its losses right away with a sheriff's sale.
It also makes enthusiasts look bad as well. By heavily supporting the park and pushing for it to remain open, many are only looking at one side. In doing so, it makes us look almost foolish. Ignoring the real financial issues that plague this park and why they are there to begin with makes us look bad. Every time we put up a status about "saving the park" and a new person goes to check it out and has an unfavorable experience, it hurts our credibility. It also makes it look as if we are insensitive to the needs of the community to who almost one million dollars is owed. In short, Conneaut does not deserve our support. However, coaster enthusiasts are some of the most genuine people I've ever met. Our efforts and money can go to saving rides and parks that truly deserve our support. Go spend your time and money at another park who appreciates it. There are plenty of parks out there who have aging rides or just simply need the money for upkeep or additions.
Conneaut's problem is that they are always looking for the next way to stay open tomorrow. Fundraising drives, reality TV shows, and bankruptcy are just a few, but the real issue is that they aren't concerned about today. Giving guests a memorable day today will bring them back tomorrow or in the future. Unfortunately, it is quite clear to me that under the current management, the sun will soon fail to rise on the tomorrow that the park is always looking for.
by Danny Miller
Saturday evening, the 2014 Golden Ticket Awards (GTAs) ceremony was held at Sea World San Diego in California. The GTAs have always been a talking point for coaster enthusiasts, as many believe they are “inaccurate” and that they “never change.” While this is not the point of this discussion, I will state up front that this is simply not true, and I encourage anyone who disagrees with me to look back at previous GTAs and take a look at how winners have slowly changed over time. Like most things, the “best” of something (or in this case “favorite”), does not change overnight. It is a long process. See one of my blogs from earlier this summer for a description for what the fundamental differences are between “best” and “favorite.”
I have always been a strong believer in the GTAs being an awards ceremony for “favorites” and not “bests.” I think the awards are simply mislabeled, and calling something the best is simply not possible in an industry where personal preference plays such a huge role in who wins. Also take into account the fact that there is no objective scale used to “grade” theme park attractions. That being said, it doesn’t stop folks from constantly criticizing the GTAs on a yearly basis. While I do not agree with every single award given, I will also say that when you look at it from category to category, for the most part, the awards do make some sense, and I find it difficult to pick out any category where the winner is a bad choice. Did Knoebels really have the best food for any park in the world for years? Probably not, depending on your preference, but to say that Knoebels doesn’t have great food (and a variety of options for that matter) is an opinion not shared by many. On that note, Dollywood also has amazing food, and I personally would put Dollywood near the top of my list along with the Busch/Sea World parks, and the Disney parks, then Knoebels.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises, and likewise the biggest criticism of the 2014 GTAs was the “Best New Ride” category. Most people had penciled in Banshee from Kings Island as the winner back in April when the ride opened. Media Day even saw park personnel dubbing it as “YOUR best new ride of 2014!” Indeed it was. I’ve ridden several of the “New for 2014” rides (Banshee, Firechaser Express, and Wonder Mountain’s Guardian among others), and none came close to Banshee. Even most of those who rode Goliath at Six Flags Great America said the ride had little chance against B&M’s latest inverted monster. It was a sure thing that Banshee would take the award in a landslide victory.
But then it didn’t. Flying Turns, the coaster that has become a punchline over the last eight years, the coaster that didn’t even debut in 2014 (it opened for a few weekends in 2013), took the crown as “Best New Ride” for 2014. How could this be? It’s small, not that fast, and frankly, not an extreme coaster in any sense of the word. It has a short ride time, and took forever to open. So how in the world could Flying Turns be given an award that Banshee absolutely should have won? Simply put, Knoebels deserved it.
I say many controversial things regarding theme parks and their attractions, but this may be the most controversial idea yet. Kings Island created a monstrous, intense, world-beating steel coaster that brought back the intensity that early B&M coasters were packed with. Flying Turns was a wooden bobsled that didn’t even hit 25 MPH. It has poor capacity. It frustrated enthusiasts for years as the park struggled to get it open. Enthusiasts joked that if it ever did open, it would be the greatest thing ever. The thing is, when it did open in October 2013, it kind of felt like it was.
Knoebels has poured their heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into this ride. They have pushed through all the issues, from massive floods to problems with the trains. More than once people speculated whether Knoebels would even finish the ride, saying that it was a lost cause after numerous failed attempts to get trains that would track correctly without tearing themselves apart. A good chunk of land that the ride took up could be used for something that would actually operate. The main brake run and storage area had even been completely rebuilt, and re-tracking was done before the ride ever made one circuit with guests. Well, just in time for Phoenix Phall Phunfest 2013, Flying Turns opened. Some may call it coincidence that the ride followed in the footsteps of the nearby Black Diamond by opening just in time for all of the enthusiasts to ride it, but I say it was a brilliantly executed plan on the part of the park.
When you think about it, so many of the folks that for for the GTAs are older enthusiasts that are very well-traveled. They have to be in order to keep the U.S. bias down (although it is impossible to eliminate). For those people, nostalgia plays a big part in the success of Flying Turns. A handful of folks riding Flying Turns in 2014 had the pleasure of riding some of the original “Flying Turns” rides, like the Euclid Beach Flying Turns near Cleveland (the tallest ever built) and the Riverview Park Flying Turns, a ride that is nearly a mirror image of the Knoebels version. It’s a blast to the past for not only seasoned enthusiasts, but also for younger, budding enthusiasts like myself and my sister that never had the chance to experience Flying Turns in its “Golden Age” form.
While it did not open in 2014, only a hand full of people got to ride in 2013, and it did open after the ceremony for the 2013 GTAs, let alone the actually voting period, which ends long before the ceremony. This is a point most people get, because it honestly would not be fair to deprive a ride of a chance to win just because it opened late. Some people say that Flying Turns winning the awards was predictable and a “typical publicity stunt” pulled by the GTAs. Ok, so maybe we did see this coming. After all, we did say that if it did ever open it would automatically be “the greatest thing ever.” Is it the best ride ever built? Of course not. But the ride opening is a long-awaited event that was welcomed with open (and raised) arms.
To wrap up, let’s get one thing straight. To call an attraction world-class, it has to be special; there is no doubt about that. In my opinion though, it doesn’t have to be one of the best rides in the world to be world-class, it just has to be very special. Millennium Force is world-class because it’s great. Boulder Dash is world-class because it’s great, and they both are very special. Flying Turns may not be the tallest, fastest, or greatest ride every built, but only a fool would say it isn’t special. It may not be the most thrilling ride that was up for consideration for the “Best New Ride” award, but it was certainly the most unique, because there is only one Flying Turns. Honestly, I hope that Knoebels gets to keep that honor, because I don’t know if anyone would have the guts to try and go through everything Knoebels did to make Flying Turns come to life.
This Thursday, you can join Andy Rybarczyk and me on COASTER-net Uncut and discuss your thoughts with us. Until then, I’ll leave you with this thought: Flying Turns may not have opened in 2014, and it may not be as thrilling as Banshee, Goliath, or even Lightning Run, but through all of the trials and tribulations, through all of the failed test runs, through all the naysayers comments, Knoebels prevailed, and made Flying Turns a reality. Congratulations to Flying Turns and the entire Knoebels staff. In my book, you guys deserve this award.
by Andrew Rybarczyk
I can remember back to March when Tony Clark said that next year's Winter Chill would not want to be missed. Immediately my mind began racing as to what that meant for 2015 and beyond. Since then, we've been treated to a number of different clues, pictures, and teasers that deal with what possible attraction could be added to Cedar Point in 2015. Sadly though, I am no closer to having a definitive answer than I was back during the winter. However, some options have clearly become front runners amongst many online communities. So for your viewing pleasure, I have compiled a list of possibilities along with what I believe the likelihood of them becoming reality actually is.
Aquatrax - The running joke of the coaster community has been the installation of a 500 foot looping Aquatrax that usually takes it beneath water. Obviously, that won't happen, but what if the team at CP wasn't being dishonest when they've come out multiple times and said an Aquatrax was being installed? We all know the problems that have plagued Shoot the Rapids both with operation and reception from some guests. Would it be too farfetched to think that it could be retrofitted to be made into more of a coaster with splash down elements? Another idea would be to create a whole new Aquatrax styled coaster alongside StR that starts somewhere on Frontier Trail and uses parts of the giant StR pool as part of its splash down elements. This is a long shot for a reason because its extremely unlikely that we will see this come to pass.
Large Coaster Installation - Back in the winter, I thought this was more of a possibility than now. My thoughts centered around the CP five year plan and GateKeeper. It was said in our From Dreams to Screams: GateKeeper documentary that GateKeeper was not planned. In fact Matt Ouimet asked for the CP brass to scour the IAAPA floor to find a ground breaking new ride to add for CP. If you believe this story, you have to wonder what was planned for not only 2013 but also for the next few years. We know most parks have a five year plan and it seems GateKeeper wasn't a part of that. It would stand to reason that maybe 2015 was scheduled to be the next big coaster installation after Maverick in 2007 and not the 2013 season. There's plenty of speculation regarding the movement of Challenege Park elsewhere. Some believe that Ripcord will be moving to where the current Point Pavillions stand (This is further backed up by the removal of Fear Faire for this year's Halloweekends lineup). Skyscraper, the go-karts and the mini-golf course would also be removed. This opens up a huge tract of land for a possible shifting of the Soak City parking lot, which could open up a bunch of new land for a coaster starting on Frontier Trail and shooting out towards the parking lot.
Waterpark Expansion: A long with the previous line of thinking, it could just as easily mean a waterpark expansion is on the way. Now I believe this will happen eventually, but I question if it will be in 2015. Soak City is in need of some new attractions. The water slides being painted vibrant colors a few seasons ago gave it a new look and feel and new slides could make it even more of an attractive option for resort guests and park goers. We all know, the waterpark does pretty well as is, but hasn't been given much love. A racer slide was added in 2012 but the previous new slide was added in 1997. I'd guess that many of you reading this now didn't even know how to read back then! The point is that the park could use a new section added and the removal of Challenge Park could allow for that to happen. The removal of the Bon Aire section of Beakers could also allow the addition to be placed where the current mini-golf stands as well. The biggest question is will this happen in 2015? Probably not, but I would be watching for this to happen in the next 5 years for sure.
Mean Streak Iron Horse - This week CP has played up tomorrow's announcement as being at "high noon." For me this has revived speculation on the proposed Iron Horsing of Mean Streak. I wouldn't be shocking anyone if I said Mean Streak isn't on the favorite list of many enthusiasts. I would respectfully disagree under the right conditions though. Last October, staffer Steven and I had an amazing night ride on Mean Streak with a full train of people that just happened to have the first hill's trims turned off. This ride can pack a punch but is being held back by the park's concern that the ride could tear itself apart if allowed to run free. RMC could fix that with creating an iron horse layout that would take the problems areas and convert them into airtime elements. Texas Giant and Mean Streak were both designed by Curtis D. Sommers and had very similar layouts with only slight variations that changed the direction of the train at two points. People also herald New Texas Giant as one of the best steel coasters in the world. RMC has also experimented and learned a lot since their first creation in NTG. Cedar Point could add a new world class steel coaster while mostly retaining the beauty that Mean Streak offers. I also think that this is a possibility for 2015 because earlier in the year many people were pointing out that RMC was expanding their business with both factories and workers. Despite this assertion, RMC is currently on the docket for only two conversion projects which I believe seem less than the one conversion, one completely new construction project they have completed for the last two years. So where are all of these new resources going that RMC supposedly has? Maybe Steel Streak is the answer.
Mantis Conversion - The most unappealing option to me being heavily discussed is the conversion of Mantis into a floorless coaster. Now, I am in no way saying that Mantis shouldn't be converted because in its current state it can be very uncomfortable or even painful to many riders. My point is why spend the money? The ride has a decent enough ridership though lower than many of the park's other coasters but a conversion to floorless wouldn't simply be putting new trains on the track. The entire station would most likely have to be torn down to accommodate the moving floor and equipment needed to make the ride "floorless." Another option, would to simply put a B&M sitdown train on the track (ex: Kumba or Wildfire) and maybe give the ride a new theme and paintjob. This would be cheaper because the train in theory could just be added without any major station modifications. Another bigger idea would be to change to the new trains and add an event house after the MCBR to give the ride some more excitement. In any of these cases, I think the end result would be taking a below average ride and making it simply an average ride at best. Take that money and spend it on ANY of the previous things mentioned in this blog and you'd be better off.
Dark Ride - For two years we have heard talk of a dark ride being added to CP. With the great success of Wonder Mountain's Guardian at Canada's Wonderland, I am shocked we haven't heard of a similar ride being added to another Cedar fair park yet. This style of ride has a great many benefits. First it has a very small footprint. Although Guardian is big, the footprint it uses in the mountain is very small meaning that it could be placed almost anywhere at CP. The old Pirate Ride building comes to mind. Maybe even the spot across from Snake River Falls on Millennium Island could work. There are even a number of buildings in Frontier Town that could be re-purposed and expanded to fit the ride. Second, the ride fills that gap left by the removal of Disaster Transport and Paddlewheel Excursions where families can experienced a ride together. Third, as we've seen at Canada's Wonderland, the ride can be re-purposed with new themes and stories for different seasons. Guardian for Halloween Haunt has become a zombie shooter and I could totally see Cedar point going a similar route with their dark ride.
So folks, there you have it. What's funny is there is still a good possibility that its none of these options and something that no one has really even considered. As we march towards the parks 150th anniversary in 2020, I think we are in for some great rides and surprises and hopefully 2015 will start us off on this great trek! Join us tomorrow as we cover the announcement and discuss it in our forums!