Day 11 -- Cedar Point (Day Two | Second Half)Friday, August 9, 2013Pull up a chair, this is gonna be a long one...Lesson of the Day: Don't mind the small expenses.
These trips aren't cheap, I admit, and I'd never advocate being a spendthrift. However, it seems funny to worry about the cost of a small souvenir when it's such a tiny fraction of the cost of the entire tour. For me, it boils down to this, as I thought to myself while enjoying a double-dip cone at Toft's on Saturday night: you may not remember the $6 you spent on ice cream, but you may remember the ice cream.Artifacts:Scorecard:
Iron Dragon (#1)GateKeeper Tour
Sky Ride (To Back)
Magnum XL-200 (#2)
Jr. Gemini (#3)
Top Thrill Dragster [Front] (#4)
Mean Streak (#7)
Cedar Creek Mine Ride (#8)
Gemini (Blue) (#9)
Woodstock Express (#10)
Blue Streak (#11)
Raptor [Back] (#12)
GateKeeper [Back] (#13)
WindSeeker-- Final Group Dinner --
Gemini (Red) (#14)
Wicked Twister [Front] (#16)
Millennium Force (x13) (#17)Day 11 -- Cedar Point (Day Two)
Cedar Point is my home park. I grew up in the metro-Detroit area, and visited Cedar Point about an average of once a year (at least) from the mid 90s onward. I'd been to the park about 15 times, I would guess. However, after moving to southwestern Ohio, I went an abnormally long time between visits. Before the TPR trip, I hadn't been to America's (Rockin') Roller Coast
since May of 2008. Five years later, I'd finally get another chance to visit the park, armed with a three-day ticket and a good camera. My top priorities for the visit were photography, TPR's special events, and getting rides in on some of my favorite coasters in the world. In the back of my mind, though, I knew I had the opportunity to go for a remarkable coaster achievement on Friday -- a day I'll call the coaster-est
of my life.
After 11 days with TPR, 12 including Schlitterbahn, and 14 on my vacation in total, my energy level was starting to wane. Although TPR had use of hotel guest ERT, I didn't feel like waiting in the huge line just to get into the park, and didn't enter until about 9:15. I ran into Doug on my way in, and as we noticed that Iron Dragon was part of morning ERT but not on Fast Lane, we opted to open our day with a quick ride (with the line just barely on the steps). After that, it was almost time to meet up with about 15-20 other TPR members for a backstage photo tour of GateKeeper. Photos from the tour, which ran from about 1000 AM to 1030 AM, were included as part of my last update.
I walked over to Wicked Twister and found the line a little long for my liking. At the time, the ride was not on Fast Lane. I had my camera and equipment with me, so I wasn't allowed to get in line for GateKeeper, which has a partial ban on loose articles. That convinced me to make my way back toward the hotel and drop off my camera, so that I could make a run of coasters without being weighed down. I decided to make another northbound trip on the Sky Ride, taking some pictures along the way.
It was almost 1130 AM, and I had all of one coaster credit on the day. As I passed Top Thrill Dragster, I made a quick swing over toward Jr. Gemini to see if anyone from TPR was around, but I found nobody there. I rode Magnum on my way out, returning to the hotel to rest for a few minutes before heading back into the park. Without a clear path to getting a spin on Jr. Gemini, I thought the dream of coaster completion was fading quickly. I took a seat in my hotel room and opened up my computer...
...when, at 1158 AM, I saw this tweet
come in from the TPR account. There's Victor, my Q-Bot teammate, picking up the elusive Jr. Gemini credit! I shut down my computer and sped out the door as fast as I could, hoping I'd get there in time to meet up with Elissa and Kristen. I barely made it. With Elissa's permission, I jumped in line, as Yin was just getting on for his lap. After one time through, Yin swapped out for me, and I picked up my third coaster of the day on the toughest credit in the park. It only took me 15-ish visits to get a ride in!
Just 50 minutes after the first picture went out, TPR's next tweet
included me with the rest of those who rode with KidTums for the rare Jr. Gemini (now Wilderness Run) experience. Kristen's services were compensated with a few tries on the rope ladder game just across from the coaster -- she's a heck of a lot better at it than I would be.
Suddenly, my goal to ride every coaster in the park seemed within reach, even though I still had 14 more to go. The credit run continued with a group of TPR members who had been at Jr. Gemini, including Yin, Bas, and Marcel. We went straight to Top Thrill Dragster for a front-row ride
(photo credit: some person with Marcel's phone). It was a good thing that we got our TTD credit when we did -- the ride broke down later in the afternoon, and did not re-open until Saturday. We worked quickly through Corkscrew, Mantis, Mean Streak, Cedar Creek Mine Ride, and Gemini Blue. Right after our ride on Gemini Blue, we hit a road block -- just one or two cycles after we had finished, Gemini Red stalled out. Just two days after almost missing out on American Eagle Red at Six Flags Great America, the curse of the red train struck again. I honestly can't remember exactly where it occurred, but I do remember that guests had to evacuate the red train from a location other than the station. I'd have to come back later in the day to see if it was open again.
I split from the group and met up with a couple other TPR members for a ride on Woodstock Express. This was another new credit for me, and brought my total for the day up to double digits. I headed up to the front of the park on my own, getting rides in on Blue Streak, Raptor, and twice on GateKeeper. GateKeeper was also a new coaster for me, and was my last new credit of the trip. I finished out 2013 with 154 coaster credits, and I'll enter the 2014 trip with 155 (thanks to Banshee Media Day at Kings Island).
With only four credits left to go, it seemed like I'd have plenty of time in the evening to finish my coaster run. As the time was approaching 5 PM, I decided to head back to the hotel to prepare for our farewell dinner. I got in one ride on WindSeeker, and walked over to Hotel Breakers to pick up my camera again. I spent some time doing pictures of the hotel, which were posted in the last update. We met up at 6 PM for dinner, which lasted about 70 minutes. The whole "TPR is summer camp for adults" thing really took off, as several members with white tour shirts got them signed by the rest of the participants. Those may be some of the best keepsakes on the entire trip!
After dinner was done, I didn't feel like heading right back into the park, so I went for a long walk to the north end of the peninsula. For a long time, I've wanted to stroll the length of the beach and the nearby paths around Soak City, Magnum, and Sandcastle Suites. Some of the scenery is very nice, especially with the sun starting to set over Sandusky Bay. I don't think very many park photographers make it all the way around the north end of the property, so there's a few rare views in the photo set that I'm pretty happy to share.
I re-entered the park at 750 PM, with four credits to go and just over two hours with which to get them. I went straight to Gemini and was thrilled to find the red side back in operation -- I gave that a ride, then boarded a blue train to race with a few other TPR members. From there, I went to Maverick -- a ride I'd just been on 11 times the previous night. Honestly, and perhaps blasphemously, if not for my mission I would have been OK to skip it. Though the Fast Lane queue sign advertised 45 minutes, I was on in about 20 -- that was still one of the longest waits of the day, comparable to Woodstock Express and likely only bested by TTD.
I now had only two credits to go, with about an hour before the park was set to close. That gave me some time for some night photography -- first along the Frontier Trail, and then near the entrance to the park. I made sure to get a ride in on Wicked Twister, which was down to about a 5 minute queue. I waited an extra 5 minutes for the front row, and was out by 930 PM, with plenty of time to shoot some scenes of the Giant Wheel and Luminosity.
I couldn't have picked a better way to end it -- my final credit of the day was our evening ERT on Millennium Force, my #1 favorite coaster. All of TPR gathered in front of the entrance just after 10 PM, but we could tell it would be a little while before we could board, as there was still about a 45 minute wait at closing time. As we congregated near the Millennium Force storage devices, Bas revealed an awesome surprise for the last ERT session of the trip -- wrist-sized glow sticks
! What better way to ride Millennium force than with colorful glowing bracelets on our arms
? Once the line had cleared, we made our way up the ramp to the familiar theme music of one of Intamin's best creations.
With glow sticks around our wrists, the first Millennium Force ERT trains climbed the lift at about 1050 PM. With one circuit in the books, I had completed my coaster achievement -- all 17 Cedar Point coaster credits in one day!
I would suspect that there aren't a lot of people who can lay claim to this, thanks primarily to the difficulty of getting on Jr. Gemini. In addition to that, I had the good fortune of riding Dragster early in the day (before the breakdown), having Gemini Red fixed up in just a few hours, and running into perfect operations everywhere else. 17 unique coasters is a record for me for one day, but my total coaster ride count of 31 is also (as far as I can remember) my greatest one-day total. Fast Lane makes it a little easier, but there's still an element of good fortune in making it through 17 unique coasters in one day at the park.
One Millennium Force ride certainly wasn't enough, though, and I ended the our 65-minute ERT session with 13 laps. It was really awesome to be able to try out all the different seats on the ride, especially with how well Millennium Force was running. I can hardly begin to describe the mood of the ERT, but it was all-out energy that may have even topped the Maverick session from the night before. I'll let some of TPR's Vines tell the story: clapping and cheering
, hand-slapping through the station
, and all-out insanity on the last train of the night
. This event -- the last official TPR event of the trip -- was a perfect way to bring the tour to a close.
Our interesting night wasn't quite done yet. Just after midnight, as we made our way toward the resort gate, we found the large door to Top Thrill Dragster's engine room wide open. The ride had been down for the second half of the day, but Cedar Point's maintenance staff was hard at work trying to get it ready for a busy Saturday -- which they did. The crew was extremely accommodating to our curiosity, telling us about the huge hydraulic motor and allowing us to take pictures. I only wish I could remember what they had said. That's a "lesson of the day" I didn't get to -- when learning awesome things from park employees, write it all down as soon as possible!
Upon exiting the park, a huge portion of the TPR group retreated to TGI Friday's
, as per tradition. There are lots of different people on these trips -- some who go out late at night rather frequently, and others who keep things quiet after a long day at a park. Late night trips to Friday's at Cedar Point were different -- not just for the bar crowd, but really as a final gathering spot for everybody
. I'm not going to sing the praises of the restaurant -- honestly, the service was so-so and the cuisine isn't exactly Epcot -- but it's more about the atmosphere and the group. It probably wasn't until 130 AM that I finally turned in for the night. It was easily my second favorite day of the trip, and bested only very
slightly by our long day at Silver Dollar City. Although about half of the TPR group was staying for an extra day, it was clear that this was the high water mark. This was the top of the mountain, and we rode back down with our hands up.
--------------------------------------------A Review of Cedar Point:
It's hard to put together an objective review of Cedar Point, a park I've been to so many times before, and always had a high opinion of. However, what really helped was having immediate points of comparison with so many other parks. There were one or two duds, but we visited several good parks, and a couple that were very impressive. Ultimately, only Silver Dollar City's incredible theme and atmosphere could match up in overall enjoyment with the huge scope and outstanding rides at Cedar Point. Simply put, Cedar Point is the best pure amusement park I've yet to visit.
I'll start with park operations, which are frequently heralded at Cedar Point, and for good reason. This was easily the most striking difference between Cedar Point and most of the other parks we visited. Cedar Point's ride ops are far and away the most enthusiastic, funny, engaging, and efficient ride ops of any park I've ever been to. I may give the slight edge in family-friendliness to Silver Dollar City and the Disney parks, but Cedar Point's ride ops are the complete package, and add so much to making a day at the park as entertaining as possible. They tell stories, they add their own riffs to the typical spiels, they find ways to interact with the guests, and they do it all while moving people through the rides with a speed I've never seen any park come close to matching
. I noticed this immediately on Thursday night, having just spent the past two days at a major Six Flags park and a Wisconsin death-trap, and it was unbelievably refreshing. Congrats to Cedar Point for whatever they do to keep their employees so motivated.
The park's overall atmosphere is also unmatched, at least among properties without a cohesive theme. There's a vibrant energy that fills the peninsula, with non-stop action just about everywhere. However, no place on the point is ever too far from the quiet of the Frontier Trail, or the serenity along the Lake Erie beach. It's a place that just feels fun
, and genuinely so -- without the corporate blandness of the Six Flags chain, or even some of the other Cedar Fair parks. Cedar Point has one other huge advantage over most parks -- a beautiful setting, almost completely surrounded by water. Every coaster has a view of something awesome -- the open expanse of Lake Erie to the east, the Marblehead Peninsula to the north, Sandusky Bay and downtown Sandusky to the west and southwest, and world-class rides in just about every direction.
As a photographer, I ran out of time before I ran out of options for things to shoot. I really didn't even miss my zoom lens (left behind in St. Louis) -- there was plenty
to take pictures of without it, and I still have some vantage points and rides (including the Giant Wheel) that I didn't get to. Doing some night photography at Cedar Point was also a goal of mine, as my usual trips to the park typically involved nothing but coasters during the final hour of operations. On these three days, I had plenty of time to set up some long-exposure views. I do have to admit that I missed Space Spiral, as the park is now lacking an observation deck. In a perfect world, Cedar Point would put in another tower in the next few years, but with so many other tall rides I doubt the park sees that as a priority.
This was also my first time using Fast Lane, which didn't yet exist when I last visited in 2008. I've always timed my trips to the park on days with manageable crowds -- usually weekdays in June or Sundays during HalloWeekend -- so this was my first trip in a while during the busy heat of summer. Fast Lane seemed almost a necessity for making the trip enjoyable. On Friday, in terms of the crowds, Fast Lane turned "pretty bad" into quite manageable. As I'll touch on in my next post, Saturday was horrendously busy -- Fast Lane was needed just to get the lines down to the normal queue levels I was used to. I liked the simplicity of Fast Lane, which worked as easily as just getting in line for an attraction. What I didn't like was that it wasn't as effective as a Q-Bot in actually cutting down on wait times, with a few early merge points and occasional lengthy waits in the Fast Lane queue. For anyone who isn't planning to visit the park multiple times, I really do think it's a good purchase overall, as it may be the best way to ensure multiple rides on the three big Intamins (even on a day with only moderate crowds).
I could only find three minor things that I wasn't as enthused about during our visit. First, the dining options are still a little on the sub-par side for a park of this size. There are a lot of the typical amusement park options, and an increasing chain presence too. In Cedar Point's case, the chains aren't necessarily a bad thing -- it would be a different story if the park had their own unique (and high-quality) offerings, like Silver Dollar City or Epcot. Ultimately, I know that Cedar Point's focus probably aligns closest with sticking to the basics. The best options are probably the restaurants just outside the park's east and west gates -- TGI Friday's and Famous Dave's. Second, the loose article policy on GateKeeper was being inconsistently enforced. Unlike Millennium Force and TTD, which clearly allow nothing
on the station platform, GateKeeper allowed certain small items. Unfortunately, this introduces judgment calls into the line operator's decisions. Perhaps an all-or-nothing policy would keep things more simple. Third, I had intended to take some pictures from the platform near the bridge over Snake River Falls, but was denied access without first having gone on the ride. Obviously, that wasn't an option with camera equipment and street clothes. Most parks allow anybody to access overpass areas near the big splash boat rides, and you'll frequently see kids standing around waiting for the next big wave. I can't see how that would hurt for Cedar Point -- perhaps just to make the bridge a public space, and move the controlled exit gate to the side near the ride platform.
So, after five years away from Cedar Point, I was very happy to find that the park still provided the same experience I had grown to love. For good reason, Cedar Point is at the head of the amusement park class -- executing operations and atmosphere like it's second nature. Those are the hallmarks of what makes for a good day at a theme park...
...and I have yet to say anything about the rides
--------------------------------------------Reviews of the attractions at Cedar Point:Millennium Force
: MF survived a very tough challenge from Outlaw Run, but it remains my #1 favorite coaster overall. It's certainly been surpassed in intensity, and other rides (including Maverick) cram more action into a smaller plot, but I have yet to find anything that can beat MF in terms of overall fun and the sensation of speed. After 13 rides in just over an hour, I can definitely say that MF was running great, delivering air over all of the hills (at least floater, with borderline ejector in the back of the train on the way off the island. The first drop in the back feels like a freefall, especially when not quite stapled. However, the view from the front is really something special, given the coaster's location -- and it's even worth acting as a windshield to disgusting clouds of mosquitoes and other flying insects. Millennium Force is simply a pinnacle for me as a coaster fan, and though I know the popular enthusiast opinion usually bumps this ride a few spots down the list, I'll keep it up at the top of mineMaverick
: Amazing what an awesome ERT session can do for a ride! I'd only ever been on Maverick two or three times in 2007 and 2008, and I can't say that I immediately loved it. After this trip, I figured out why it's so highly ranked, and I bumped it all the way up to #4 on my steel coaster rankings. It's fun, action-packed, and quite varied in terms of ride elements. Maverick pretty much throws the book at riders in terms of forces, which are quite strong in just about every direction. Taking the first drop from the back row may be my favorite part of the ride -- it's a remarkable out-of-control feeling. Also, any ride that re-brands itself as MaveShark for TPR deserves some extra credit points! For the record, I do
miss White Water Landing -- I love flumes, and that one was better than average. Maverick, however, is clearly a superior replacement by leaps and bounds.Top Thrill Dragster
: TTD is the last of the three Intamin coasters at Cedar Point that made their way into my top ten steel coaster list -- I have it ranked at #6. I know it's a short ride, and I know it's a kind of a gimmick, but it sure does a heck of a job of pulling it off! Those brief moments at the top of the tower are almost like an out-of-body experience. There isn't enough time to truly process the view, but there's just enough to realize that towering over Millennium Force by over 100 feet is rather incredible. I also have to give Cedar Point credit for the detailed, but self-contained theming -- it's exactly what an amusement park should be shooting for. They pulled off the drag racing motif quite well, and with a fair degree of authenticity. The "Christmas tree" lights on the tower are one of my favorite icons from the entire park.GateKeeper
: If I'm going to put three Cedar Point coasters in my overall top ten, I guess I should to be honest when I have to go in the other direction. I love how GateKeeper has revitalized the front of the park, and it's a photogenic beauty. Unfortunately, it just wasn't all that fun to ride. I only found the first drop and Immelmann forceful, and the rest of the course just seemed to progress too slowly for the size of the elements. I also don't think that the freedom of the winged seats is worth their inevitable roughness. At the time of our visit, the vest restraints were still locking, which affected me significantly and led to uncomfortable rides. After comfortable rides on Banshee, which opened with the vest issue corrected, I have some optimism that a future ride on GateKeeper might be more pleasant. I know my opinion on GateKeeper is shared among a decent portion of the enthusiast community, but I'm a little worried that it wasn't a huge hit for Cedar Point in general. During our three days at the park, I can't ever recall seeing GateKeeper with a line of over an hour, even as the three big Intamins (and even Raptor at times) were well into the 60-120 minute range. I just can't see GateKeeper as one of the major "destination" coasters at Cedar Point, and I'd bet that most of the public agrees.Raptor
: After factoring in Banshee, Raptor still sits at #13 on my steel list. It's my third-favorite invert, with Banshee and Montu coming in just ahead of it. It's a fun and disorienting ride, and it keeps up its intensity through the entire circuit -- the helix is one of the best coaster endings at Cedar Point. Where Raptor loses points (and ranks behind Montu and Banshee) is the darned cobra roll. I'm not a fan of that jerky element at all.Mantis
: Most people seem to dislike Mantis because of the uncomfortable restraints (or the stand-up gimmick as a whole). I dislike Mantis because the second half is plodding and boring. The first half almost makes up for it -- the first drop and vertical loop are a lot of fun, and I'm a big fan of the inclined loop as well. Unfortunately, the rest of the layout just isn't very inspired. It's not one of my least favorite coasters in the world, but it's in the bottom half of my steel coaster rankings.Magnum XL-200
: When I was growing up, Magnum was Cedar Point's signature attraction. It was the ride you dared people to go on in elementary school, and it was the ride you lied about conquering to try to impress your friends. So, for me, Magnum is always going to have a bit of that mythical aura around it. I do like the ride, and I respect its place in coaster history, but I truly think that B&M has improved markedly on the hypercoaster concept. I admit that I struggle with the return leg -- the restraints are simply not ideal for repeated bouts of ejector air. The floater hill going into the turnaround is probably my favorite part of the ride, and the beach view is outstanding.Mean Streak
: I know that there are a lot of people who really believe that Mean Streak is one of the worst and roughest wooden coasters on the planet, but I suspect that most of them haven't been to too many other amusement parks. I was just a few days removed from riding The Boss and Hades 360, which made Mean Streak feel quite tame by comparison. The two rides I had on Thursday night before our Maverick ERT were, quite honestly, rather enjoyable. My ride on Friday was in the far back row (Yin's idea, not mine) and it was admittedly a little more rough. Overall, though, I don't think Mean Streak's that awful. The layout doesn't do nearly as much as it should with such a huge structure, but from that, I think it follows that Mean Streak's offense is more being bland
than being bad
. I have it right in the middle of my wood coaster rankings.Blue Streak
: Blue Streak is a classic, and it was running quite well during our stay at Cedar Point. There was air to be found on the hills, and just enough of a rickety "old wooden coaster" feeling, without being painful or jarring.Wicked Twister
: I love Wicked Twister's beach-side location, and I love the ride experience in the far front or back. It's fun to hit the twists at maximum speed. In one case, a rider ends up with the entire train spinning around below them, facing straight down to the ground (over 200 feet below). In the other case, a rider spirals up into the sky, seeing nothing but the furthest tip of the track structure. With short waits in the late afternoon and evening, this is a coaster I have no problem riding multiple times.Gemini
: The quality of a Gemini ride is not measured by its height or by its speed, but rather by the number of hands slapped on the big turns. I guess I got lucky, as most of my rides on Gemini were accompanied by enthusiastic groups on both trains. This racing classic is a ton of fun. The layout is admittedly awkward -- unfathomable for a new coaster in 2014 -- but somehow it works!Corkscrew
: Corkscrew isn't a great ride, but with such a small footprint, I can't envision this coaster (and its iconic inversions) disappearing from Cedar Point any time soon. I got my lone credit on Corkscrew during the Friday run, but it's hard to justify giving it any more than that. Iron Dragon
: Iron Dragon just isn't that great of a ride. Yes, it's part of a dying class of coaster, and it's one of Cedar Point's classics. It's also credit #1 for me, as the first coaster I remember riding. Despite the nostalgia, I think it's a weakness in the park's lineup. It would be great to have a modern, creative family coaster in its place -- as long as it keeps the finale over the pond.Cedar Creek Mine Ride
: The last of a plethora of Arrow mine train coasters on the trip, Cedar Creek Mine Ride isn't one of the best. It certainly can't stand up to Roadrunner Express (SFFT) or Thunderation (SDC). Woodstock Express
: A standard small Vekoma coaster, though still big enough to scare a few of the kids in the queue.Jr. Gemini
: So short that I barely even remember the ride -- just that I finally got the credit!Power Tower
: I always enjoy riding the Space Shot tower a few times, since lines are short and the views are fantastic.Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad
: Cedar Point's railroad offers good views of several coasters, including the first drop of Millennium Force and most of Maverick. Some of the show-pieces could use a refresher, but others still worked well.WindSeeker
: I prefer the openness of the Funtime Star Flyers, but WindSeeker (its maintenance faults aside) is almost as good. I never looked at this as a thrill ride at all -- it's more of a huge, spinning observation deck.
Semi-major attractions skipped during the three-day visit: Skyhawk (inop), Shoot the Rapids (inop), Thunder Canyon, Snake River Falls, Maxair, Giant Wheel.