As the holiday season draws near some people think of giving, others look forward to time off with family, a few days off from work, but I am going to be selfish. I want to make a Christmas list for the some of the parks that I frequent the most. Even though the park would be the recipient, let's be real these are for me. Even though we know what is in the works for 2019, and in some cases 2020 I will make some picks that works around what we collectively already know.
I’ll be giving to Busch Gardens Tampa first, and this is an easy one, FIX GWAZI! I know there has been rumors that RMC will be giving Gwazi the Iron Horse treatment, but since it is still a leak or rumor I still consider it unofficial. I would like to see the two tracks remain separate and for the near head on collisions to be retained. Unlike Twisted Colossus where the original layout was a simple racer this layout already has a dueling element, and it could run four trains with the two tracks separated. This high capacity set up would be great for this busy destination park since their next addition will be a low capacity Skyrocket II model. Busch Gardens Tampa is also a twelve month park they could, in theory keep one side open during maintenance cycles by alternating to allow the attraction to remain open more.
The next park I’m putting on my gift list is Dorney Park, Santa has passed them over so many times. They also have two newly vacated adjacent areas to possibly build their next attraction. I know the consensus pick there is a GCI woody, but think that they could be part of a new trend. Dorney park has a variety of different experiences, but none of their roller coasters have a great first drop. I think Dorney should get a B&M dive coaster; it is a compact layout with a big feel, and a great first drop. This would be sure to add to the skyline and deliver a very unique experience for the region. It would be totally different from anything at at nearby Hersheypark, Kennywood, or Six Flags Great Adventure.
The last park up for a new coaster is Lake Compounce. This small park in Connecticut has room to grow, as they have plenty of undeveloped land to build new attractions. This park needs to finally install a signature steel coaster. The best place to build a station, I think could be by the former sky ride. A lift hill could run along the cliff face heading away from Boulder Dash’s turnaround. It would be cool to use the natural terrain for support, and to use the mountain to both reduce cost and add excitement. This shouldn’t be a steel Boulder Dash, I think the layout should include at least three inversions, a drop of over 150 feet, and at least 70 MPH. I think a ride like that could expand their footprint of passholders and draw people from a bit further away to check them out.
I could keep going, but hopefully Santa will put me on the nice list for not overdoing it. I will be sending my list first class so it will be delivered to the North Pole in time. If you see him at the mall in the meantime please put in a good word for me.
It is now November, and suddenly I feel low. At this point most regional parks have closed their doors to guests and roller coaster season has come to a close. I know some parks do holiday events, but this is fairly hit and miss. Some parks are partially open running some rides while others are just purely open for the ambiance, but not offering thrills. Even though I was buzzing about the 2019 season in August, right now it seems even further away than ever. If you live in Florida or Southern California I don't want to hear about your never-ending theme park season right now.
As the weather turns cold the planning, scheming, and adding up vacation days begins. I am sure many of us will refuse to call in sick so we have good attendance for when theme parks reopen. It is a tough pill to swallow that I have to wait so long before I head back out, but I want to put together a game plan. Should I be going where the new roller coasters are being installed or should I be looking for new parks? Maybe I should be driving to Kennywood or Canada’s Wonderland. Do you think Lightning Rod will work next year? Nah, probably not. I haven’t been to a few localish places in quite a while, in some cases over a decade, should I revisit? Should I buy too much hair gel and glittery T-shirts and head down the jersey shore? I can’t help it, making a plan even if I don’t follow it later makes me feel like I am getting closer to pulling down that restraint and rolling out of the station.
Luckily I can always reflect and then turn to fantasy. Next week the Ride Warrior Choice Awards will be kicking off and I can put my stupid, uniformed, and personal opinions out there just like everyone else. Maybe you all will finally get it right this year and vote El Toro number one. Then opinions turn to prediction for the Thrilling 32, that will keep me excited and looking forward to the conclusion. Even if El Toro loses again, a tragic crime, when the contest ends it will be spring and I will surely be on my way to the next park.
For many years I have enjoyed visiting theme parks in the fall. I love the cool temperatures, early sunset, and the ambiance of the leaves changing color. There is one aspect of the fall season I have never experienced, the haunt mazes that have become very popular at parks in all regions. The fall haunt season has become a more popular time to visit than the summer at many parks. I feel many people think of July/August as peak season, but the popularity of these haunt events has shifted the attendance to October. So for many years I have gone in and enjoyed the decorations, but stuck with only the roller coasters. So this year I decided to enter the haunt mazes and scare zones to see what I have been missing that draws so many people to the park.
I am not a horror movie fan, so suspense and gore do not usually find their way into my entertainment. I made travel plans, packed an extra set of underwear (just in case), and met up with a few haunt veterans for my first experience. I decided to let them choose my fate so our hauntoverse host Andy and his friend Dason met me down at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. We did not visit all of the mazes, and I didn’t get to see the haunt themed shows, but I think I got a good idea of what was offered. The event did start before sunset so we chose to try an indoor haunt first. At first I was just sort of wandering around looking about , and I kept expecting to be surprised by a trap door opening. However most of the staff were hiding in plain sight like statues, and then they would spring to life. The first actor who caught me off guard was holding a large ax, and he swung it at my head. It came so close, as a reflex I grabbed it. The actor froze, and I started to laugh and put up my hand to high five him. He grabbed my hand, and we stood there for an awkward moment. Then I moved on. As soon as I rounded the corner Dason whispered to me don’t touch them or we are going to get ejected. Oops.
We moved onto the next zone called Buzzsaw. It was outside, but it wasn’t really dark yet. It really would have benefited from being in the dark. This one looked so cheesy without the cover of darkness that everything looked very fake and the actors effort was very lack luster because they knew they were not going to take anyone by surprise. Some of the other haunt mazes were staffed better than others. Some of the actors hid behind different transition areas and door frames, jumping out after you passed by. I started to get the idea of what to expect. I would easily find the hiding spots. I knew where people should be but they must have been on break. The two haunts inside of The Curse of Darkastle were the ones that I thought were the most well done. The scenery was more detailed, the actors were more into their roles, and they had the added benefit of a large dark building.
I think the park did a great job with adding the haunt ambiance to the midways and large public areas, the costumes of the actors wandering around and interacting with the guests were the best outside of the haunt mazes ironically. They even had a guy on a bungee cord at the entrance to Canada scaring people, and he got the best reactions I saw all night. While I was not disappointed with the haunts I wasn’t impressed either. I feel the potential for a fun unique experience was there, but the execution was just not enough for me. I am glad I tried it out and I would consider going somewhere else next fall to compare experiences, but it does not give the same thrill and excitement I get from the roller coasters. I don’t feel like I have been missing out, but maybe I do need to be more open to try new attractions and not sprint from coaster to coaster and call it a day.
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?
The only thing more exciting than riding a new ride is learning about a new ride. The end of August has been Six Flags’ time as they typically lump all of their future plans into one giant announcement. For the most part, they followed that format, well within a 24 hour period. To add to the excitement, Carowinds jumped on the day as well and between the huge amounts of info and the range of emotions in response, it is fair to say some of you have lost your shit. So let me take a moment to help you; roller coasters are fun and that is our starting point.
It is only natural to rank or compare these rides to each other, and that is fun too (don't forget to put your money where your mouth is in the Ride Warrior Choice Awards). However, I feel like I need to point out that one ride being more exciting than another doesn't make the second ride less fun. Could you imagine how crazy someone would have sounded last year if they said Twisted Timbers would have been better if Steel Vengeance didn't exist? If that is how you feel, then stay home, shorter lines for me.
I am not going to explore the entire announcement for all Six Flags Parks but just focus on the roller coasters. There is a lot to look forward to with this new round of announcements, and I want to weigh in on some things that jumped out to me, as well as things I have heard from friends and on social media. First, hats off to California, for the second year in a row the west coast will receive two new roller coasters. West Coast Racers for Magic Mountain - don’t worry I’ll take a second lap on this one, and Batman: The Ride at Discovery Kingdom.
I think Six Flags Great America won the day with an exciting ride that fits well within their collection and adds something that is sure to be a hit. The biggest feature that sets Maxx Force apart from the other two launch coasters we just learned about is that the launch will be the focus. Marketing a new ride often comes up with silly records, but Maxx Force will be the fastest accelerating coaster in North America, and that is a significant record. It also highlights the focus, the launch. I personally love the hydraulic launch coasters, so I have high hopes for the pneumatically launch, too. These rides have a catapult feel to them because of the catch car, while LSM/LIM feel like a motorized acceleration and generally don’t have the same impact, but have the added flexibility of multiple launches.
Copperhead Strike, the highly anticipated Mack multi launch, jumped in the water with Six Flags this year and pushed many enthusiasts into information overload. The comparison between Copperhead Strike and West Coast Racers was inevitable. Two flagship parks on opposite coasts both introducing multi launch coasters on the same day, the keyboards were aflame! The talk immediately turned to speed; I think the expectation for both rides was high, maybe too high to overcome the desire for something that would become a landmark. I feel both rides will need to prove themselves, and they aren’t built to fulfill that larger than life role that Superman: Escape From Krypton & Fury 325 were able to achieve.
The speed argument is laughably not being applied equally, as is to be expected, but I’m not concerned about speed for these two rides. On Copperhead Strike, the elements are jam packed in there, so no matter what speed the ride launches with, it is constantly losing and gaining energy as it winds around the corse. I also feel slow inversions lead to great hangtime; this is a personal feel, and when I watched the announcement that was my first thought. I expect Copperhead Strike to hang riders on the roll out of the station, the two vertical loops and the cutback. The expectation was that North America was getting a Bluefire or a Helix, so I am not surprised that many were left scratching their heads. Bluefire does have a faster launch, but it only has one to make it around a similar length track. Helix has the second launch, but it has about an extra quarter mile to cover and taller elements.
Speaking of quarter miles, that brings us back to West Coast Racers, the other ride that left many scratching their heads. I think the reason that I am not worried about speed on this ride is that I am expecting the launches to be closer together. Magic Mountain did not give a full circuit length, but it is safe to say it isn’t going to be 6500 feet. This ride focuses on longer drawn out elements that I think will make the speed feel more present, and maybe even fool riders into thinking that the are going faster than they actually are. The elephant in the park is that Twisted Colossus has a dueling mobius layout with the same signature elements. Was this coaster made too similar? I’m seeing the argument, but I feel like they are different enough to give different experiences. While West Coast Racers features some of the same elements, it appears to deliver them in a different way drawn out and graceful, while Twisted Colossus has those snappy, crazy, RMC changes in direction and airtime. Copperhead Strike is going into a park full of roller coasters with loops and corkscrews, but that isn’t a reason to not enjoy it.
The reality is we really don’t know what to expect until we give them all a shot. How many times have you been surprised by the difference between the reality and the expectation of a new ride? That, my friends, is the fun part, so take a breath, and don’t declare a winner or a loser. Just figure out where you are going to go visit first.
You have been patiently waiting, staring at the challenge in front of you studying every inch that you can get a vantage point of. Your pulse quickens as you climb the stairs and enter the station, time to choose your row. It is finally your turn you take your seat pull down the restraints, the staff checks the train and they all give you the thumbs up. You smile and breathe deeply as the train drops out of the station and brings you to the lift. Click, click, click comes the familiar sound of the anti-roll-back and you feel the excitement and anticipation come rushing forward. Your mind races, but the ascent seems to slow, almost purposefully to tease you. You reach the top, and the chain dog releases. There is nothing else to do or think about, no worries, no obligations, and also no turning back.
Happy national roller coaster day! Not that we need a day to remember there are multi-million dollar machines created for the silliest reason possible...for fun. This day is about you though not the machine, today is your day to rally with others who have the same desire to fling themselves around as many laps as possible on as many different roller coasters as possible. Have you been watching POV videos all winter, have you been following local news stories about amusement parks that you are not a local of, have you been on the internet screaming into the void, “I TOLD YOU KING’S ISLAND WAS GETTING A GIGA”? Then this day is for you!
I have been doing a bit of reflection recently and I started to think about my early influences, so here is a first 20. These are not my favorite rides, but they set me on my way and some hold a major bit of sentimental affection, in some cases only viewed through rose colored glasses. I am going to omit all kiddy coasters, and I will be combining some into a single category just so we have more variety of interesting roller coasters to talk about:
20. Galaxy at Adventureland: This will be the placeholder for all Galaxi models many parks I visited as a kid had one, they were like the wild mouse of the 70’s. Adventureland was my first park and Galaxi was my first, from my point of view as probably a five or six year old, big coaster.
19. Hurricane at Adventureland: This roller coaster replaced the Galaxi and was the first and only roller coaster I road with my little sister, I was only able to get her to go on one other thrill ride with me, a log flume, both rides produced a lot of tears.
18. Big Thunder Mountain at Disney World: I am going to use this as a stand in for all mine trains. This is the first time I saw a themed ride where the roller coaster interacted with scenery, and really took you on a journey. It was so much fun I didn’t even mind the three lift hills. Even as an adult I appreciated the nice ride that is designed for literally everyone, perfect roller coaster for a full family to enjoy together.
17. Space Mountain at Disney World: This was probably the first time I waited a seriously long amount of time for a roller coaster, not really a surprise at Disney, this was such an anticipated ride my level of excitement was off the chart and I freaked out over it. This ride was revisited as an adult and was such a let down I wish I had only rode it as a young child.
16. Steamin’ Demon at The Great Escape: This was my first Arrow, the first roller coaster I saw get stuck, and the first time I went on a roller coaster with inversions. I think this is probably also the first roller coaster I went on by myself. On family vacations for a while my Dad was the one who would ride with me, but at the time I didn’t know he was scared to death of heights.
15. The Comet at The Great Escape: This was my first wooden roller coaster, and what a fun one. This was really my best introduction to airtime and I remember being really excited by this coaster.
14. The Great American Scream Machine at Great Adventure: Holy Shit, this was a whole new level of roller coaster, a former record holder. This was a rite of passage for many kids from my area because it was such a dynamic and iconic ride at the time. I still remember my first ride on it, with my Dad, when we went over that main drop and started to curve and drop I heard my Dad scream and curse for the first time in my life and I just laughed and laughed the whole time. That was one of the last roller coaster rides he ever went on and I think his only ride on The Great American Scream Machine.
13. Lightning Loops at Great Adventure: This was after the interlocking loop was removed, so maybe it should have been named Lightning Loop. This ride was one of two Arrow shuttle loops that I got a chance to ride, the other would come later at Riverside Park called Black Widow. This was before launched coasters so the push you got off the edge was the first roller coaster I rode where it got energy from more than simply gravity and what a cool sensation. Since it was a shuttle coaster, this was also my first chance to go backwards on a roller coaster too.
12. Stuntman’s Freefall at Great Adventure: This might be controversial, but in 1991 when I first went to Great Adventure I considered it a roller coaster. At that point a drop tower wasn’t really a thing so for this purpose we will call it a roller coaster, if you don’t like that then we can discuss it on a Larson Loop or a Disco. This ride was another rite of passage ride, and part of the ritual was to place a penny on your knee at the top before the car was released and to watch it hover for a moment as you drop. I would have never done that every time I ever rode the thing since it was against park rules, and safety for myself and other riders was a top concern. At least that is how I’m remembering it.
11. Rolling Thunder at Great Adventure: Well after the Great American Scream Machine this was a big let down and left me saying, “Wood coasters suck!” At least until the following summer. I gave Rolling Thunder many chances over the years, and it was generally a boring ride and it never delivered airtime, the way I expected after riding The Comet.
10. Shockwave at Great Adventure: The first coaster I ever hated, nuf said.
9. Laser at Dorney Park: My first Schwarzkof, I remember the double loop on this thing being just pure fun. I really appreciate how well the other Schwarzkof coaster I have ridden just feel well put together and thoughtfully designed. I wish I could get another shot a Laser, and even though back at the begining of my coaster riding GASM was the big boy, I can admit while I also miss it it did not give good rides at the end of its useful life.
8.Thunderhawk at Dorney Park: This might not be a big coaster but it is really fun. If anyone thinks redoing a ride’s layout is a new trend I always point at Thunderhawk a very old survivor in a state littered with fun wooden roller coasters. It was originally designed as an out and back, but it was turned into a figure eight with a twister section. The layout is fun, the ride feels faster than it really is going, and it had buzz bars. What else could you ask for?
7. Hercules at Dorney Park: My faith in wooden roller coasters had been restored! I am the last fan of Hercules, the main drop was so good and the turn ripped out over the lake and was just so fast and crazy at the time. This is the ride that I know I am viewing through rose colored glasses, since it was nicknamed by many, “Hurt-Your-Knees” . It had the record for the longest drop on a wooden roller coaster at a time when hypers didn’t exist and it went 65, a fast speed for a modern wooden roller coaster. I have to admit I never rode this coaster towards the end before it was dismantled, so my memory of this ride was while it was on top. Dorney became the goto park in the 90s for me because of Hercules and I took countless laps on this larger than life coaster.
6. Batman at Great Adventure: This was such a dynamic shift it was totally insane. I remember the line was over two hours long and when I stepped off I got right back on line, I probably spent most of my time on this visit back in the summer of 1993 on line for Batman. This was my introduction to B&M and first invert. If you are reading this you have most likely ridden a Batman no matter where you live. The ride quality was so different from everything else, and the ROAR! That sound that the box beam under the track and ride vehicle created was shocking and different. Before I road it waiting in the highly themed queue that sound was dare I say it, intimidating. Unfortunately most of the queue scenery has been removed, but thankfully the ride quality has really maintained for so many years. I can hop on that ride 25 years later and have a great time.
5. The Comet at Hershypark: I remember that on my first trip to Hersheypark this was the first coaster I went on, it is also the first coaster you pass when entering the park. It was the last coaster I went on, and the star of the trip. At this point my Dad would typically keep me company in the queue and then send me off on the coaster solo, but on one of the many rides I took I convinced him to ride it, I still didn’t know he was scared of heights. I think this ride still holds up as a classic coaster, while it isn’t a favorite it is a fun ride. I have never been to Hersheypark and skipped this ride.
4. Sidewinder at Hersheypark: Did you think we could make it through this without a boomerang? While I don’t look forward to hopping on a boomerang, and I typically do skip Sidewinder when I visit Hersheypark one of my favorite places to go, this was a thrill and a half the first time I was confronted with it. I was about 13 or 14 when we first visited and I remember going home and telling my friends about how cool Sidewinder was, times have changed.
3. Sooperdooperlooper at Hersheypark: This ride is a fun ride but my first impressions of it were a bit of a let down. In my mind I was thinking about Great American Scream Machine & Laser and this didn’t have the same first impression as those two. I have come to appreciate Sooperdooperlooper as a landmark for the park and region, and it is also another ride I never skip when I visit Hersheypark.
2. Thunderbolt at Riverside Park: This ride has the best ride entrance sign, an awesome neon giant throwback to the past. Unfortunately the sign is actually the best part of the ride, when I was a kid I remember thinking it was boring, and as an adult I find it surprisingly rough.
1. Riverside Cyclone at Riverside Park: I am ashamed to admit as a proud NY’er I rode this cyclone before I rode THE cyclone as in the Coney Island Cyclone. This ride was great, on my first visit to Riverside park I went with a summer camp group, and it steadily rained starting a few hours after the park opened. The park promptly emptied and our group of barely supervised kids went nuts riding everything in the rain. It was a blast and I think the poor weather made it even more exciting! I remember doing laps between Black Widow and Cyclone and just having a such a great time totally soaked to the bone. We had such a run of the place the staff let us go on waterslides fully clothed wearing sneakers! I am happy that I still have a very similar game plan when I visit now Six Flags New England. I typically do laps trying to get as many rides as possible on now Wicked Cyclone, and the big steel coaster, now Superman: The Ride.
If you are still reading take a walk down memory lane and tell COASTER-net what your early influences were in the forums or on Facebook.
Let’s start with a gift! We have created a desktop wallpaper to celebrate COASTER-net’s 20th Anniversary. Our Patreons get regular digital gifts like desktop and mobile wallpapers, but this month we wanted the whole community to share in the fun. The ride that we picked to use is Volcano: The Blast Coaster at Kings Dominion, the staff considers this ride as our launching point or blast off. Why? Well, keep reading.
On August 1st, 1998, what you know as COASTER-net began as a text only website. This humble attempt by site founder Devin Olsen was inspired by a ride on his home park’s newest and most intense record breaking roller coaster. The site launched with a basic ride gallery, that would expand to cover major attractions worldwide. The site had a trivia section as the sole means of interaction; we now have forums & a social media presence on Facebook, Patreon, Twitter, YouTube, and Discord. But the most forward looking section of the site was construction photos for 1999 attractions. This combo of history, news, interaction, and enthusiasm was the winning formula that has made this community grow. It has been a meeting place for enthusiasts, where I have been able to learn about new parks and be an ambassador for my own. Over time as the site grew and expanded both in content and membership, it naturally created a great place for like-minded people to share their common interest in new ways. We have reached out to everyone from every group who loves roller coasters to let their voices be heard in our Ride Warrior Choice Awards. They have a part in discovering the results during The Thrilling 32, you can’t help but actually root and cheer for your favorite roller coasters. And every year El Toro doesn’t win, I’m sad.
The site’s founder originally drew me in with his From Dreams to Screams documentary series. It was different than just stock footage of the ride - it helped create a story and gave both the ride and riders a voice, and the great production value didn’t hurt either. I checked out the site and joined the forum just as COASTER-net TV started on YouTube. I did not listen to coasterradio, and was not aware of COASTER-net alumni Clint Novak’s In The Loop yet, so Uncut became my introduction to a coaster podcast/VLOG. Listening to Danny and Andy spar over different ideas, and gush over their favorite coasters and parks was a new fun experience. I was suddenly like, there are tons of nerds out there (I mean that in the best possible way) that go crazy over roller coasters just like me. Eventually, I joined the staff and contributed where I could and dove into the hobby deeper and deeper. A big heartfelt thank you to all current and past staff for keeping this place running and improving it with your unique skills. Also to all members who post on the forums, comment sections, and on social media without you we would not have a growing community that makes COASTER-net feel special. So grab a seat, pull down that restraint, and hold on… 3, 2, 1 BLAST OFF!
Safety in the amusement industry is an ever moving target. There are many factors at play like rides pushing new thrilling boundaries, new technologies, and guests behavior. Last year parks like Universal and Six Flags started requiring locker rentals for lose articles on select rides and enforced it in their own ways. In the past it was up to the rider's discretion on how to store loose articles. These new policies were met with sarcasm and many people acted as though it was an annoyance, with little regard for the goal of these rules. Recently Cedar Fair has joined in with similar rules on select rides and this time the reaction was anger. Many people’s initial reaction was to call this policy a way to increase guest spending, and sarcastically called these attractions up charges because of the locker policy. But there is a hint of truth to this complaint.
Before I discuss the merits and pitfalls of these new safety rules I wanted to go back for perspective. First if theme parks weren't safe they couldn't remain fun. No one is going to say this would be more fun if it were less safe. However I was thinking about how parks have changed over my lifetime and many things I experienced in the past would not fly today, but at the time they didn't trigger a warning for me.
I am going to try and not sound like old man roller coaster here, but I recall a time before air gates that separated guests from the boarding area. The safety device at the time was a line painted on the floor and for the most part guest obeyed the line without instructions. This is a foreign concept today, but it's addition didn't really impact my experience as a guest. I also remember ride ops hyping up the train by running past it giving high fives while the train was moving. Again this would be crazy today, and ride ops have specific places they need to stand, with foot pedals or buttons to ensure they are following safety procedures. Again this just disappeared and didn't really affect me. Then there is Action Park, what would they have said about safety back in the day?, hold my beer. They were the actual case study in safety vs. fun, and was extremely popular almost a right of passage at the time. How was safety implemented at Action Park? Where to begin; attractions that were controlled by guests, designed by amateurs, and allowed people to bring in their own alcohol. This place would have made any insurance adjuster have a panic attack. And there is the real driving force, insurance premiums.
That brings us full circle back to lockers and loose articles. If state regulations don't keep up with safety or change as fast as needed the fear of liability is a driving force. And here is where the disconnect between the parks goal of safety and the guests perception of being squeezed for more money come together. The parks want to add safety procedures, but have not invested in making the experience safer, and at the same time added a cost for their guests. But the most important issue would be that it is doomed to fail. It actually encourages guests to not comply with a safety rules and could negativity impact other park rules. If a guest is trained to ignore or circumvent one rule it probably will trickle down to others.
The main issue here is implementation, in the future it might seem as crazy to ride a roller coaster with something in your pocket as it would be for ride ops running next to moving trains high fiving guests. The problem is everyone is in love with their phone, and lines are long. Ironically parks are making Wi-Fi free and have good coverage, but they are taking the device away to help you use it to pass the time. There is another motivation for guests to not comply that needs to be addressed by the park. There are many groups of kids/teens from; school groups, camps, and locals who are dropped off. Typically unaccompanied minors don't have credit cards, and the ride locker systems are increasingly cashless. I know responsible teen is an oxymoron, but if one was in line with me they might not have the ability to use the required lockers. They have probably also been instructed by their parents or supervision to keep their phone on them to check in. This is a major demographic of roller coaster riders. This policy of no loose articles is designed for my safety, but since it isn't implemented in away that guests like it will frustrate many and be ignored by others. This just leaves guest in danger of being struck by falling objects, as I know firsthand, and frustrated. So who wins? Right now the parks as they will get more revenue from locker rentals, and lower insurance premiums. How can we all win? Many suggestions are swirling around, and I have heard many good ideas. I won't weigh in on the best solution, but I know the only way parks are going to get guests on board is to share in the solution not just point us to a pay service they already have. Please find a way to work in changes in infrastructure with these new policies to make guest want to follow safety rules, and don't take away my phone while waiting, just while riding.