I got into roller coasters as a hobby later in life, not because of a lack of love for roller coasters, but simply it never occured to me that it was a thing. I always enjoyed going to theme parks as a kid and throughout my life. I grew up asking my parents to include going to parks as park of family vacations, and sometimes I was indulged and other times it wasn’t in the cards. The desire to be hurled around a circuit of wood or steel was my love and it was not shared by my family, so I was the lone voice begging to ride one more when the day was over.
When I became a teen I attended a summer camp that brought us to amusement parks, and it became my first job too. So a few outings a summer to amusement parks were a welcome perk. Then when that first summer of work was over I needed to find a year round after school job and my priorities shifted to work and school. I still had fun and went to parks with friends, but because of the cost of paying my own way it became less frequent. Then I became a college student and almost all of my free time was about working for extra money, so I could socialize with my friends, and not eat Cup-O-Noodles for every meal. After several years with no amusement parks I started going to Great Adventure at least once a year with friends, and my girlfriend who later became my wife. I was working on my career, but it still never occured to me that I should be branching out and seeking new experiences.
Then all of a sudden it clicked when my wife and I were in Los Angeles attending a family wedding. We realized we had an extra day to visit and we were on our way to Magic Mountain with my cousin and his wife. They ran out of steam after a few hours but we kept on riding and enjoying our day at the park. On the drive back to LA we were like, “Why aren’t we doing this more regularly?” So we started making a spring and fall trip every year to Great Adventure, and every time we were out of town with the opportunity we visited a new park. Then the sickness really kicked in and I was like let's plan road trips to parks too! We gradually started making our travels a bit further and more frequent, we started visiting lesser well know and sometimes out of the way parks too.
Age starts to creep up on you and things change, responsibilities expand, and life happens. One year I injured myself and I couldn’t ride roller coasters for a year, I was devastated. I even had to face the possibility that I could be done, at the risk of ruining myself physically. Thankfully I healed and hit the ground running again. Then came the biggest change, my wife was pregnant and our family would be expanding. This was a welcome change that was both scary and exciting. It did however change my thinking on the future and family time.
I now have a daughter who is about to turn three and I have gone from adrenaline junkie to coaster dad. As soon as my daughter was the right height I brought her to Adventureland, the first park I went to as a kid. Instead of waiting on line for the roller coaster I was folding myself in half to fit into the kiddy rides with her. My wife and I will still go to parks without her when we are lucky to have a babysitter and enjoy that time. However the conversations have changed from, “Do you think we can find a time to visit Cedar Point this year?” to “How long before we can all go to Storyland/Great Escapes/Disney?”
I was never the enthusiast who would ride kiddy coasters without a kid. No judgement if you want to I just felt like I would rather be going on something I enjoyed more or I felt self conscious and silly. But last spring when visiting Kings Dominion with Daniel Westfall I jumped on Woodstock Express solo. I told Daniel I wanted more wood credits so El Toro would be number one in the Ride Warrior Choice Awards, but really I wanted to feel a kids roller coaster to see how long before I thought my daughter could ride something like it. I even got mad and upset at the thought a kiddy ride could get removed before we have outgrown it. I did get to ride with my daughter on her first roller coaster a few months later in the summer back at Adventureland. I really hope it is the beginning of a family pastime. So does this mean I need to slow down? NO! I WILL BE GOING FASTER AND HIGHER THAN YOU ON KINGDA KA! But now every time I ride I am doing mental math, how long before my daughter can ride this too?
Roller coaster enthusiasts were treated to a varied list of new for 2019 attractions in North America this summer from a varied group of manufacturers. However the most surprising and ambitious plans came from S&S. At this time parks have announced three roller coasters being built by S&S. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is building Batman: The Ride, a Wing Freespin model that has been a staple of Six Flags ride announcements for the last several years. However the other two are a bit more ambitious. Maxx Force will be built at Six Flags Great America, and Steel Curtain will be built at Kennywood. While the layouts and ride types have not much in common these two additions stand out because they are going for some serious records.
Let us take a step back though and take a look at more recent work by S&S in the North American market. They have been knocking out the Freeflys at Six Flags park across the chain, partnering with RMC for track manufacturing. These coasters all have the same layout and they are fun, they are no doubt a home run for S&S. These off the shelf models have sold well since 2015 and there are currently seven of them out there with the eighth on the way for next season. The two custom coasters that were designed for Dutch Wonderland & Playland’s Castaway Cove have had a different, but similar narrative to each other.
Dutch Wonderland has an S&S family suspended coaster that opened in 2018, however it was intended to open in 2017. There was not a lot of public information about what caused the delay, but many people talked about rumors of clearance issues. The park issued vague statements on social media but did not offer an explanation as to the delay, and reassured their followers that it would open when completed. It is difficult to assign blame to the delay since there are no official statements from the park, manufacture, or any subcontractor. It is worrying that a fairly standard, and tame ride had delays that spanned an entire year.
Playland’s Castaway Cove installed GaleForce, a triple launched coaster that opened in 2017, however it was intended to be opened in 2016. There was again no information shared with the public addressing the delay and both GaleForce and Merlin’s Mayhem shared these quiet mysteries. However there was an additional issue with GaleForce, you would think the launch system was temperamental as many launch coasters have teething pains, but this was not the case. Many riders were reporting this brand new coaster was rough, and had a very distinct rattle. A trait that is not confidence inspiring for a brand new roller coaster. The plot thickens because during the winter between the 2017 and 2018 season the entire track was dismantled and replace to solve the issue. Again it is difficult to assign blame as all of the parties involved kept fairly quiet while the problem was being fixed.
So that brings us to the uncomfortable comparison; the parks are different, the installers hired were different, but both rides were developed by S&S. Neither one of these ride stood out as technically difficult or particularly ambitious, but Maxx Force and Steel Curtain do. Marketing of new roller coasters often gets silly tacking on records that are so specific they don’t apply to other coasters that they may be compared to. Maxx Force will be pneumatically launched and have the fastest acceleration in North America, and the fastest inversion in the world. Those are two ambitious and interesting records. Steel Curtain will be introduced with the most inversions in North America, and the tallest inversion in the world. Again two serious records, and shows a level of ambition we haven’t seem from S&S in recent years. I will also say both rides have layouts that look exciting and fun regardless of their superlatives.
There has been one big change since these problem coasters were built and the ambitious record breakers were announced. S&S has purchased Dutch roller coaster manufacture Vekoma. I am very aware Vekoma has not gotten a lot of love for their coaster in North America from enthusiasts, but those rides are old. Vekoma has, not unlike coaster enthusiast darling Mack, being doing a lot of interesting work in Europe. This new modern Vekoma might have something to offer S&S and these new coasters could represent a collaboration, or at the very least a shared set of technologies to build something new with. For the last decade or so coaster enthusiast have looked at Intamin vs B&M as Coke vs Pepsi. Other manufactures have tried to jump in and give them a run for their money, but it is difficult to dethrone these two powerhouses. The real question is, with these ambitious plans can S&S? Or are we just looking at another RC Cola? I will be anxiously waiting for 2019 for these two rides to open an find out, or will it be 2020?