Yeah, I know nobody really wants to deal with driving to Long Island but it really is worth it if you're in the area. It's a much nicer park than you would think.
Anyway, on to our Michigan Adventure to Michigan's Adventure!
For Labor Day weekend, we found ourselves in a pretty similar situation to Memorial Day weekend. We had an extra day off from work and we didn't want to waste it but we were on a budget (though not quite as tight of a budget) so we were looking into road trips that would allow us to book most of our hotels with points and (preferably) visit some parks we already had season passes to.
We played around with some options, but many of them involved visiting parks in the Northeast where the remnants of Hurricane Harvey would make for a rainy weekend so we decided to head to the midwest and take advantage of a picture perfect forecast and visit some new places. Our plan was to visit Michigan's Adventure on Friday, Six Flags Great America on Saturday, spend some time sightseeing in Chicago on Sunday and drive home on Monday (with a "possible" pit stop in Northern Ohio because I can't help myself
I wasn't exactly sure when we'd get out of work on Thursday, so I had spent some time playing around with the Choice app and found a few different potential hotels for Thursday night. We knew the further we got, the later we could wake up on Friday morning and luckily since it was a holiday weekend and completely dead at work for both of us, nobody really cared if we cut out of work a little early on Thursday and we were on the road by 2:00, headed to the Midwest.
Ideally I was hoping to make it to Lansing since it was only about an hour from the park and there was a Comfort Suites for an absurdly low amount of points. Comfort Suites is definitely splurging for us, and I generally don't like to stay there on points since they cost a ton of points and I'd rather just pay for them, earn 15 points per dollar on them and stretch those points I accumulate on tons of sh*tty 7,000 point Econo Lodges for our cheap A$$ road trips. This one was absurdly cheap though and I couldn't help myself.
Lucky for us, we did make it to Lansing (despite the fact that the Ohio Turnpike had it's customary 37 road construction zones and lane closures and ended up at one of the nicest hotel suites I've ever stayed in with 3 separate rooms, a wet bar and a great view for only 10,000 points... what the hell? I'm not complaining, but I'm confused. I guess nobody wants to stay in Lansing for some reason. Poor Lansing...
After getting a great nights sleep I woke up with the realization that being so far north, there was a possibility that we might have found ourselves in Timmie's territory. While I hate to turn down a good continental breakfast, a quick check of the Tim Horton's website confirmed that there was no way in hell I'd be dicking around with that dumb waffle maker downstairs because that glorious, glorious French Vanilla coffee was waiting for us right off the highway just a few minutes away in Grand Rapids. We hadn't even left the hotel room and this vacation was off to an amazing start.
I got up way before Brit (as I generally do), so after watching a little TV and getting up to speed on all the latest exciting news in Lansing Michigan (spoiler alert: nothing, literally jack sh*t going on in Lansing... you know, incase you were wondering) I got her up and we were on the road around 10:00 on our Michigan Adventure to Michigan's Adventure.
After getting our fill of that French Vanilla goodness, we were on our way to the bastard child of the Cedar Fair chain, Michigan's Adventure! I didn't really know what to expect from this place, I know it gets a lot of hate but Shivering Timbers definitely looked intriguing and I've never had a bad experience at a Cedar Fair park so I was actually pretty optimistic on our way to the park. I didn't expect Cedar Point or anything, but I was still excited to check this place out.
When we got off the highway we had a pretty long drive down some unassuming backroads. It definitely didn't feel like we were on the way to a major theme park, I was actually feeling pretty skeptical that there would be a theme park there at all. This place is absolutely in the middle of nowhere. After driving through the woods for a few more miles on a tiny 2 lane road, the trees broke and seemingly out of nowhere we were face to face with a gargantuan wooden beast.
Pictures do not do this thing justice, Shivering Timbers makes an amazing visual statement from the parking lot. The ride is absolutely huge and it seems to go on forever. I tried, but I was actually unable to fit the entire thing into one photo. After finally seeing it in person I was infinitely more hyped up about riding it than I had been before.
After being directed to our parking spot we made our way over to the gate, got through security in seconds (Cedar Fair is so much better at this than Six Flags), scanned our passes and were inside the gates of Cedar Fair's most bitched-about theme park!
After seeing Shivering Timber's from the parking lot, there was absolutely no question about where we were heading first. Strategically going there first was kind of stupid, but we hardly cared. We made a B Line for Michigan's coaster king and were greeted with a 2 train wait for the front row. I thought of heading for the middle of the train with no wait, but this was our first ride and we wanted to do it right.
To be honest, I didn't know what to expect from this ride. It looked amazing, and when it opened it was all the rage and found itself on TV coaster specials on an almost daily basis but because it's at Michigans Adventure it's rarely talked about any more. It's running PTC trains so I wouldn't have been at all surprised if it had gotten rough and beat itself to death. It's an out and back, and less turning is always good news for a coaster running PTCs so I was optimistic but as we ascended the lift I was really prepared for anything between "OMFG AMAZING" and "Wow, what a complete piece of sh*t. f*ck this ride, f*ck this state, f*ck Wolverines, f*ck Eminem, F*ck Kid Rock, let's go to Cedar Point".
Lucky for us, Shivering Timbers was actually pretty damn awesome. It's a great hands up ride that delivers plenty of airtime. It's been surpassed by Intamin and RMC, but I could see how this thing absolutely blew peoples minds when it opened as it must have been the best airtime on a wood coaster this side Elysburg, PA. Even now, it's a complete blast. It's highly re-rideable, it has tons of floater air with a few stronger moments mixed in and it delivers a really smooth ride. I don't think it'll make many top 10 lists, but this ride could hold it's own in any park's coaster lineup and we absolutely loved the thing.
We were tempted to ride again, but we decided it would be best to ride everything we wanted to ride first and then re-ride it later. Up next was Wolverine Wildcat, a coaster that you never hear anything about. Generally when that happens it means you're in for a pretty forgettable ride but we were open minded. Wolverine Wildcat only runs one train so it had a bit of a line built up. We waited about 20 minutes before finally boarding the middle row of the back car, ready for our Wolverine experience... or Wildcat experience... just pick one. Wolverine Wildcat is a terrible name. Alright, sorry... I got off on a tangent there.
A few minutes later we were given the all clear, rolled out of the station and made a right turn into a dark tunnel. As the tunnel went on, I couldn't help but notice that there was something... familiar about this experience. At the end of the tunnel we made a 180 degree turn and headed up the lift with the station immediately to our left. Strangely, I had a desire to reach out and slap someone's hand but it seems like this bizarro world ride didn't have the same time honored traditions as the ride it bears such strong resemblance to. As we ascended the lift some more, I noticed that we were about to drop down, then head back up into a 180 degree turn way up in the air and I came to the realization that I must be on some type of f*cked up, Bizarro world Phoenix.
Seriously... what is this thing? It feels like Michigan's Adventure wanted Phoenix but since they couldn't have it so they hired the Dinn Corporation to copy Knoebel's homework. Dinn? Seriously? That would be like if I went to New York and ordered a slice of pizza from Lombardi's, decided I wanted to offer that same pizza to the people of my hometown and got everyone at the Ellio's Pizza corporation to try to duplicate it. I see what you were going for, but you f*cked it up royally because you suck and everything you make sucks (except Mean Streak of course, Mean Streak was pure brilliance, RIP).
As for the ride, it was fine. I had fun, but most of the time I was riding it wondering if I had somehow entered the Twilight Zone and waiting for it to do Phoenix-y things that it was never going to do because Dinn built it. It provided no real airtime, and it was almost frustrating because they successfully copied so many elements of Phoenix but not a single one of it's killer airtime hills. I'm so confused... I don't know, just... back away slowly. Let's never speak of this again.
After that... whatever it was... we decided to hit the Mouse. Unfortunately for us the mouse was down and would be all day so we'd never get to ride it. No big loss there. As a consolation prize, we came across a cool little petting zoo area near the ride and Brit got to pet some some animals (which is always a major plus for her on any theme park trip
Once Brit got her animal fix we decided to wander around a bit more and see what else the park had to offer. One thing I noticed was that it was actually a really pretty park. The central lake is very nice, and in true Cedar Fair fashion everything in the park itself was vibrant, colorful and looked like it was just painted that morning.
They also had a solid collection of old school flat rides and all of them seemed to be quite popular. While it's no Busch Gardens Williamsburg, this is actually a much nicer, prettier park than people give it credit for.
After walking around a little bit more, taking advantage of Cedar Fair's awesome soda plan and waiting to see if the Mouse would open (spoiler alert: lol no), we decided it was time for a good screwing and reluctantly made our way over to the Arrow.
I don't know if it's because I'm so used to Six Flags parks, but the first thing I noticed about this ride was how nice it looked. I mean sure, they probably hired these guys
to do it but Cedar Fair doesn't mess around when it comes to making sure all of their rides look pristine. Between the brilliant paint job, great colors and Yankee Stadium style striped mowing job under the ride this was definitely the nicest presentation I had ever seen for a ride that was almost guaranteed to be a sh*t show.
The ride had a bit of a line, but it was kind of a cool queue setup since it went right by the lift and offered some brilliant chain lift porn for the eight people who are nerdy enough to care.
Once we entered the strangest looking station of all time, we were greeted with some ridiculously long lines for each row but noticed that the waits further back were totally manageable so we cut to the back and hopped in the line for the second to last row which was only about a 3 train wait. It was still about 15 minutes with one train operations, but we weren't in a hurry and the back of the station actually offers some nice views of the park and the lake so we didn't mind one bit.
As for the ride, yeah it was terrible. It beat the living sh*t out of us and (aside from it's appearance) had no redeeming qualities whatsoever but the locals seemed to love the thing as the train returned to cheers (and we joined in, because we weren't about to rain on these screw-happy people's parade).
Initially we had considered hitting the SLC after the Arrow, but after that rough screwing we were in no hurry to keep the pain party going so we decided to slow down a bit and hit Zach's Zoomer instead. I don't really make a habit or riding kids coasters, but I don't mind family coasters that seem semi-respectable and both family coasters at this park had ton of older teens and adults riding with no kids in sight so we figured we'd join in and ride them too. We found Big Dipper to be rough as sh*t and easily the worst ride in the entire park. Imagine that
, but we found Zach's Zoomer to be a nice little ride (we may have enjoyed it more than Wolverine Wildcat actually). I really enjoy smaller wood coasters and I really wonder why they're so rare.
Upon exiting Zach's Zoomer, we decided it was time to cave in and head back to the SLC. On the way we got a good look at the Water Park which was actually pretty busy despite the unseasonably cold 65 degree temperatures (on Labor Day weekend! WTF Michigan?). As you know, I'm all about riding theme park rides in the cold but the thought of going to a water park when it's in the mid 60's doesn't appeal to me at all. These people are hearty souls...Weather Channel:
"It's the coldest Labor Day weekend in years"Michiganders:
"b*tch please, hold my beer and hand me my tube".
Thunderhawk is definitely in a weird spot. The pathway around the lake doesn't really have much of anything on it unless you go back to the water park so I'd assume that on days when the water park is closed it's an absolute ghost town back there. Once you make your way around the lake (taking in the great views of the park along the way), you come across a few more rides in the back including a rapids ride (named Grand Rapids which is awesome), a splash boat ride, a train station, a SkyCoaster and of course, Thunderhawk.
I guess if you want to get technical, this isn't really my first time on this ride. When we were kids and I was just starting to get into coasters, my mom bought me and my brother 2 day tickets to Cedar Point for Christmas one year. On the way there we saw a sign for Six Flags off of some random exit in Ohio. We didn't even know the place existed, but since we couldn't go to Cedar Point until the next day anyway, we had Season Passes to Great Adventure and we had time to kill, we stopped to check out "Six Flags Worlds of Adventure", a park none of us had ever heard of.
The park was amazing (that was back in the "Wild Rides" and "Wild Life" days) and we absolutely loved it, but one of the craziest things about it was that their SLC "Serial Thriller" was actually really good. Once I got more and more into coasters I noticed that there were a lot of other people who took notice of the fact that Serial Thriller was a really good ride. It wasn't rough in any way and nobody really understood how it wasn't a piece of sh*t like all of it's counterparts.
Fast forward to now, the ride has since gone through a major relocation and over 15 more years of operation. Other SLCs have been retrofitted with new trains to try to alleviate headbanging and others have been entirely re-tracked but Serial Thriller (or Thunderhawk) is still rocking it's old train with no major modifications to speak of. The last SLC I had ridden was the Great Nor Easter, which is now probably the best out there and I was really curious (and a bit nervous) to see how Thunderhawk was riding these days.
Unfortunately, we'd have to wait a little longer than expected to find out since as soon as we got in line the ride went down for mechanical issues. A train had just cycled so we assumed it was nothing major and decided to wait it out. Luckily our assumptions were correct and a few minutes later (after a few test cycles) we hopped into a middle row.
The train started up the lift, offering some nice views of the lake, we said a few quick hail mary's to the SLC gods and a few seconds later we found ourselves dropping, flipping, twisting, thundering and hawking through the course. As the ride flew into the brakes, I realized that against all odds... this thing was still really, really good for some reason. I looked over at Brit and she completely agreed. After all these years, this statistical anomaly of a coaster was STILL delivering great rides. I don't get it. I really, really don't get it.
Still in a state of disbelief, we exited the ride and decided to walk over to the nearby train station. We had ridden all of the coasters at that point and it was getting late but we still wanted to hit a few more rides on the way out, mainly the Log Flume (surprise), the SeaDragon and Shivering Timbers and the train would be the perfect way to get over to all of those rides.
After waiting for a few minutes, talking to the ride operator who looked to be about 12 years old (who was ridiculously nice and doing an awesome job by the way... good for this kid) our train pulled up to take us back to the other side of the park.
I didn't expect much from this ride. The area between train stations seems to be a giant overgrown field with nothing noteworthy to look at so at most I expected a leisurely ride back to the other side of the park and maybe a nice of view of Wolverine Sh*tphoenix but the train route is actually pretty cool. They've planted a lot of tall bushes and trees right along the tracks that really do make the ride feel a lot more secluded and interesting and at one point the train even goes through a tunnel. While not the best train ride in the world, it's a lot better than it looks and definitely better than a lot of the train rides out there.
I felt as if I had been deprived long enough by the time we reached the other station so we decided to make the Log Flume our next stop. Unfortunately as we walked over we noticed a distinct lack of activity in the area and a sign out front saying that the ride was closed from 3:00 to 4:00. It's a pretty permanent looking sign, so apparently the park routinely closes their Log Flume for an hour during the hottest portion of the day. That's super weird for sure, and not something we expected from a Cedar Fair park but okay... whatever.
Up next on our hit list (while we awaited the triumphant return of the log flume) was the SeaDragon. I'm not normally someone who would make a swinging ship ride a priority but I make an exception for Chance Ships, and this one in particular has the best location for a swinging ship ride I've ever seen in my life. I'd also be lying if I didn't acknowledge the fact that growing up visiting Funland in Rehoboth Beach has made me love SeaDragon rides in particular so there was no way I was passing one up that was in this cool of a location.
We weren't sure what the park's policy was on waiting for the end seats so we waited for them to load the boat and close the gate before jumping into the queue and ensuring we were next to ride. While in line we watched it cycle a bit and were pleased to see that it was running a long cycle that delivered an impressive amount of floater air on the ends (as all good SeaDragons should). When the gates opened we bolted for the end seat on the right side and were treated to a great ride with a really cool view of the lake from the top and floater airtime all around. SeaDragon rides are the best.
By the time we got off of SeaDragon, the flume was testing so we hopped in line. It's a good thing we got there when we did as a few minutes later there were hundreds of people lined up behind us stretching all the way down the midway. As it was, we were on in about 5 minutes. Score!
As it turns out, this is a really nice flume. There's nothing terribly unique about it except for the fact that it spends the vast majority of the ride floating around way up in the air and the view from up there is honestly really great. The splash itself is perfect as it gets you wet but doesn't soak you. It's definately the perfect amount of wetness for a cool, fall-like day. I give it a thumbs up (though to be fair, I do that for every flume).
Unfortunately after the flume it was just about time to leave. We planned on heading up to Mears, Mi (at the recommendation of Dirk Funk) to check out Mack Woods Dune Rides but we wanted to end the day right with one final ride on the Timbers.
Once again, the ride was a walk-on and this time we decided to go for the back car. It was obvious that the ride had really sped up from earlier in the day and this time it delivered some seriously impressive airtime on the first few hills. Again, it's no El Toro or anything but this ride is really, really solid and it would be a tremendous addition to any park's lineup. Even if it delivered no airtime at all it would be pretty amazing just because of the imposing structure and unique ride experience of going out seemingly forever before finally heading back to the station (while still maintaining an impressive amount of speed) but when you factor in the impressive amount of airtime moments it really makes this a top notch coaster.
As I mentioned earlier, DirkFunk was definitely a big help in planning this trip. One thing he mentioned to me and has mentioned elsewhere on the site is that anyone visiting Michigans Adventure needs to go to Mears and check out Mac Woods Dune Rides. As I live nowhere near the Great Lakes, I didn't even know you could have Dunes on a lake, let alone some of the largest and most visually impressive dunes anywhere in America. I had checked the website a few days prior and they said that they had special Labor Day weekend hours until 7 PM and while I normally plan everything really carefully when we pulled up we saw that Friday night was not included in those hours and we had missed it by about 30 minutes. That's disappointing for sure, and it's a brain fart that's totally on me but I guess it gives us a reason to come back. You don't have to twist my arm, Michigan is awesome and I'd love to come back, ride Timbers again, go on the Dune rides and then head north to Mackinak island (which is also on my to-do list). Oh... and I'd hit that dumb Wild Mouse too. lol
Luckily, even without the Dune Rides it was still worth the trip up to Mears. Just seeing the dunes is amazing. At first glance, you swear that your eyes are playing tricks on you because they're so unbelievably massive. We knew we wanted to get on the dunes, and while vehicle rentals were prohibitively expensive we quickly found a park with access steps that would let you hike to the top.
We hike all the time, but hiking up these sand dunes (even with steps on the first half of the walk) was no easy feat. Without beachgrass, the dunes slide down almost as quickly as you can climb up so I don't recommend this to anyone that doesn't like strenuous exercise. Luckily once you reach the top you're treated to an amazing, almost alien landscape that's unlike anything I've ever seen before and is so incredibly massive that you no longer have any sense of spacial awareness whatsoever.
After about 45 minutes of walking around, sitting on the dunes and taking it all in we finally decided to head out. We screwed up on the Dune Ride thing, but we'll be back and even just hiking up those things was one of the cooler things I've ever done. Pictures don't do it justice, if you're at Michigan's Adventure, don't miss the dunes of Lake Michigan. They're absolutely stunning.
After a full (and great day), we got in the car and made the 3(ish) hour drive to our hotel in Hammond, IN. While Chicago (and the surrounding area) was the focal point of this trip, I couldn't help but feel like we underestimated how cool Western Michigan actually was. We'll absolutely be back (and next time I'll be more careful with the Mac Woods schedule), what an awesome day!
Up next: Six Flags Great America!