"Where the hell is the entrance?"
We pulled into the parking lot at about 8:00 on Saturday night. Someone was in the parking toll booth, but she waved us right on through. Parking fee this season is $6, so I was happy to not pay it. After some difficulty finding the (far) right turnstile, we presented our Kentucky Kingdom passes for immediate admittance.Viper:
Instead of heading straight for Superman, we headed to Viper. Viper is a classic 5-loop Arrow multi-element coaster. I think the car bodies and shoulder bars may be new this season; what I do know for sure is that this ride has been painted. When I visited last year, the track and columns were Funtime Looper Black...except that the lower 8' or so of the columns had been painted white, and one tiny bit of track outside the station was bright green. Well, now the columns are all black, and the track is all green. We took our first ride in the front of the last car. The ride seems a little rougher than I remember from last year, but it is still one of the better loopers out there. It is gratifying, after so many rides on the PKI Vortex, to go flying through a mid-course brake run and barely feel the brakes hit...and to go through a corkscrew without falling out of the seat. Also, I had completely forgotten about the tunnel on the final helix. The biggest problem with Viper is that it tends to be difficult to find. Every time I got off of Viper and returned to the midway under the gigantic sign that reads, "VIPER EXIT," I heard people standing around saying, "Where is the entrance?"Mind Eraser:
When I visited Darien Lake last season, it was during the Great Premier SLC Shutdown of 1998. So I didn't get to ride the Mind Eraser. Darien Lake's version of this ride looks an awful lot like the one at Geauga Lake, including a lot of ominous mist around the far end of the ride. But on this one, the mist is right inline with the track, so depending on where you sit, you may get wet on this ride. This Mind Eraser runs well, not quite as well as the one at Geauga Lake (1998), but better than the ones at Adventure World (1997) and Canada's Wonderland (1998) [Footnote 1]. It also seems that the armrest/grab handle loops on the sides of the seats are a little higher and in the center of the car closer together than on the other SLCs I have ridden; I find this makes them less useful as hand-holds, and may explain why this ride seems a little rougher than the one at Geauga Lake.
By this time it was just before 9:30pm. Knowing the park closed at 10:00, we raced over to Superman: Ride of Steel. Only to find that theline had been cut early and the coaster was only running one train. Cuss! Cuss! Cuss!
Since we were right there, we went for Predator instead.Predator:
Predator desperately wants to be a great coaster. It wants to deliver enormous quantities of airtime on almost every hill...and it has a lot of hills. It also has largely unbanked turnarounds which should produce good lateral forces. That's the good part.
The bad part is that it moves too slowly to do its thing really well because of the brake on the first drop. The ride has been slowed down because it shakes and rattles so much. Worse, the train has individual lap bars with no return springs...once set to lock, these bars will simply crash down into your lap unbidden. I'm guessing that these trains were among the very first to get the electric-control ratcheting lap bars. And while the seats are nicely upholstered, are the high seat-backs really necessary? While that is all unpleasant, the worst part becomes obvious on the turn from the station to the base of the lift. You see, the Predator uses a PTC trailered train. To quote myself from "How Roller Coaster Cars Work (or don't)":
|What PTC did was to balance the trailered car on its own axle. As noted, this is well and good, and there are good reasons for doing that. But they also mounted the hitch point to the very back of the car, providing a point for the next trailer to rest on. The trouble with that arrangement is that when the car pivots on its axle to go around a corner, the hitch point, instead of remaining in the center of the track, slides sideways. If the car turns to the left, for instance, the hitch ball gets pushed to the right. This, in turn, drags the tongue for the next car to the right, causing it to become misaligned with the track. It can only go so far, though, before its wheels hit the side of the track, causing it to try and realign with the track. This tends to pull the tongue back the other way, taking the hitch ball with it, and causing the leading car to misalign. Add to this action additional cars trailered in back, each one going through this oscillating motion, and you can see that the whole train is going to shake back and forth all the way through the curve.|
That's right, the Predator, like Raging Wolf Bobs at sister park Geauga Lake, uses those trailered PTC cars. Unlike Raging Wolf Bobs, the Predator has curves which are not banked sufficiently to compensate for the mistracking of the trailers. Predator is basically a double out and back ride, but whole ride wraps around a gentle curve, which adds some interest to the ride. There are a couple of places where the train bounces up and down a bit, but those spots really are not bad...and the sawhorses and lumber sitting in the coaster's infield near the worst spot suggests that trackwork is underway. It is the almost constant back-and-forth shuffling that provides most of the unnecessary roughness on this ride, and the only solution to that problem is to fix the trains. If the trains were fixed, Darien Lake could probably relieve the Predator of the trim brake on its first drop. Unlike the brakes on Mean Streak or Mantis:TCFKAB or The Beast, Predator's drop trim is light, so it is more heard than felt. But it does have an effect, and it still shouldn't be there.
After our ride on Predator, John wanted to try the Raging Seas, the Mack Seesturmbahn with the longest line of any flat ride in the park. The fact that something like five of the tubs was out of service didn't help matters any. I don't think it is a bad ride, but it isn't a favorite. The action is a bit like an Eyerly "Bulgy the Whale" kiddie ride, but on this the tubs also rotate. On this particular ride they rotate almost continuously, oscillating back and forth throughout the ride. I could have done without that part.
We found a place to spend the night in Batavia, and returned to the park Sunday morning.
Sunday morning, we arrived shortly after the park opened. We joined the large, unfriendly mob waiting just inside the main gate for the park to fully open. It seems that Darien Lake has adopted a bad habit from Six Flags, allowing people to enter the park, but not allowing them to proceed beyond a certain point. Why do parks do this? In my opinion, it is at best annoying, and at worst dangerous...for, as soon as the rope was dropped, an extremely large mob of people began running towards Superman: Ride of Steel. The large and dangerous mob quickly went from "annoyed" to "angry" when it collectively realized that people waiting at the campground entrance had been inadvertenty given a two-minute head start. Things really got ugly when the mob reached Superman: Ride of Steel and found out the ride wasn't yet ready to go.
I do not understand why parks do this. Why not open the entire park with the gate, so that the crowd can circulate through the park, get to know the layout, browse through early-bird shops, that kind of thing. When the park has a hyper-popular ride such as Superman, people will end up in a growing queue for that ride as they arrive in the park, rather than trampling each other in a mass stampede when the rope drops. When the park has several major attractions, allowing people to circulate before the rides open will tend to spread the early load between the favorite rides. Particularly in parks designed with the Duell-style looped layout...getting the early crowd distributed through the park will reduce the problem of a huge crowd of people moving through the park together, creating a roving "rush hour" and making everyone think the park is busier...as in more crowded and with longer waits...than it really is. Considering that Darien Lake was a FunTime park, and that FunTime was run by ex-Cedar Point people, you would think that Darien Lake would understand this (Cedar Point, of course, does not practice midway-roping when the park opens).
Of course, we were in that large, unfriendly mob and took our first ride of the day on Superman: Ride of Steel.Superman: Ride of Steel
We boarded a random row, the front row of a car. The cars are really lacking in leg-room, but apart from that the seats give me very little to complain about. I have mixed feelings about the stadium seating, though...while it is good for the people in the back seats, the people in the front seats (except the pilot car) have their view blocked by the elevated back seats ahead of them.
The train pulls out of the station and starts quietly up the lift. The lift kicks into high gear and the train zooms quietly up the lift. "Where's the clicky-clicky bit?" I wonder aloud. Moments later we are cresting the top of the hill. You know, on Magnum XL-200, you can watch the top of the second hill. On Superman: Ride of Steel, there is no second hill to watch. So instead your attention is directed downward.
WAY downward. It's better than 200 feet to the bottom. And when I left the seat at the crest, I knew this ride would be unlike anything else I had ever ridden. Airtime on the FIRST DROP?
It's really steep, and there is no pull-out at the bottom. Instead, the train races into a ground level 90-degree turn that seems to take forever even at 75 mph. I was on the left, so I was the one mere inches from the gravel on the inside of the curve. The curve banking is done well enough that there is no lateral force on the curve, which is actually a good thing, since strong laterals would kick an airborne rider right out of the train. We shot up the second hill and back down the other side, floating all the way down.
This was followed by the enormous helix. It is probably the weakest part of the ride because the train takes a long time to go around and there is very little variation in the forces through it. The exit from the helix is a long low flat stretch of the type that usually inspires derision from riders (anyone remember the Boblo Island Sky Streak?), but in this case the train is going so fast that there isn't time to be bored by it. Instead, it is a nearly-perfect set-up for the next two hills, both loaded with airtime, one with a twist at the top to head back to the station. Seconds later, the train buzzes to a smooth but very sudden halt outside the station. Whew!
"So, Dave, what do you think?"
First of all, Superman does not compare to Magnum XL-200. It is a very different ride. Where Magnum focuses on kick-in-the-pants wrap-around-the-lap-bar hold-on-for-dear-life airtime, Superman is all about speed. It probably has the highest average speed of any coaster I have ever ridden. It's faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound...or would be if there were any tall buildings nearby. Superman is an incredible ride, and I liked it a lot more than Apollo's Chariot...a ride which is much more Magnum-like. For the moment, after a few rides on Superman including rides in the front and back seats, I still prefer Magnum. Part of that is certainly because of its location...105 miles vs. 365 miles one way. Mostly, though, I think I prefer Magnum's slower pacing and more violent airtime to Superman's sustained speed, which makes for a shorter ride with less action, and in this case much less violent (though still potent!) airtime. While Magnum is, for me, a front-car ride, Superman is very much a back-seat ride. And I find Magnum to have a more comfortable train; I never expected to find a modern coaster with less legroom than Magnum! I think a lot of it has to do with the lap bar mechanism on the Intamin train.
The bottom line? Superman: Ride of Steel is an amazing ride, an incredible ride, an extremely good ride. I still prefer Magnum XL-200, but only because Magnum is such a good ride...not because there is anything wrong with Superman.
From Superman: Ride of Steel we visited the remainder of the park, taking more rides on all of the coasters. Our first stop was Boomerang: Coast to Coaster.Boomerang: Coast to Coaster
Our visit to Darien Lake was after the Marine World Boomerang incident, but either that incident has been fully investigated or Six Flags considers it a freak incident, as Darien Lake's ride was fully functional. We took a ride in the front seat of a middle car. As it turned out we were right behind a chain dog, so we got a rough ride up the second lift. But apart from that, it was one of the better Boomerang rides I have taken. Who is it who keeps complaining about the condition of Darien Lake's Boomerang? You need to get to Kentucky Kingdom. Vampire is in far worse shape than Darien's ride, and even Vampire isn't too bad...
We learned that Darien Lake has a strict "no adults" policy on the Brain Teaser (a Zierer Ladybug coaster), so even renting kids wouldn't get us that last coaster credit. We rode the Ferris wheel, I actually found the entrance to that elusive antique car ride (It wasn't that I wanted to ride it so much as I wanted to find out where the entrance was!). We noted that Darien Lake has unusual European (Heinz Fahtz) versions of the Paratrooper and Enterprise, and they have a really crummy carousel...without working band organ as is typical for major amusement parks these days...from, surprisingly enough, International Amusement Devices. It seems the CP Huntington train is gone now, but considering that Superman runs in its place I don't think that's such a big loss. But I wonder where it will now end up. And of course, I compiled a ride list--
|Superman: Ride of Steel||Intamin||Mega Roller Coaster|
|Tin Lizzys||Arrow||Antique Sport Cars|
|Bear Valley Bumper Buggys||Duce||Bumper Cars|
|Giant Wheel||Vekoma||40-tub 45m wheel|
|Haymaker||Heinz Fahtz||Twister (like a Paratrooper)|
|Silver Bullet||Heinz Fahtz||#2 Enterprise/16|
|Grizzly Run||Intamin||Rapid River Ride|
|Rodeo Round Up||Huss||Swing Around|
|Thunder Rapids Logging Co.||Arrow?||Flume|
|(Loony Tunes Seaport)|
|Bugs Carrot Cans||Zamperla||Kid tubs|
|Pepe's Rafts of Romance||Zamperla||Mini-Jet 6|
|Daffy's Divers||Zamperla||Crazy Submarine|
|Michigan J. Frog's Ferris Wheel||Zamperla||Sun Moon Wheel|
|Yosemite Sam's Rabbit Transit||Zamperla||Rio Grande|
|Typhoon Taz||Zamperla||Kid Swing 20|
|Foghorn's Coastal Delivery||Zamperla||4x4|
|Seaport Weather Balloons||Zamperla||Samba Balloon|
|Speedy's Speeders||Alter Entp.||Crank-N-Roll|
|Dodgem's||Bertazzon||Kid bumper cars|
|BMX Motocross||Hampton||Jump Cycle|
|Brain Teaser||Zierer||Ladybug coaster|
Darien Lake is one of the most recent additions to the Six Flags product line. I've avoided commenting much on that changeover as the only other Six Flags park I have visited is Kentucky Kingdom, which is also a recent conversion. Of course, Darien Lake was an obvious choice for Six Flags conversion, as it has always been laid out as a theme park (I have no idea what the themes were, however), and it even has a coaster named Viper. The conversion has mostly been cosmetic changes. The new coaster has a DC Comics theme; the Nightmare coaster has been replaced with a Batman themed show, Popeye's Seaport has been re-themed to the Looney Tunes, and Six Flags logos have replaced Darien Lake logos on all of the trash cans. Apart from that, the visible changes to the park have been limited. This is in sharp contrast to Kentucky Kingdom, where dramatic changes to the park were made right away. I wonder if this has anything to do with how the park has performed with the local clientele, given that Kentucky Kingdom had image problems which Six Flags needed to address. On the other hand, Darien Lake has been a good local park for years, so as Six Flags, it is the same old Darien Lake, but now bigger, faster, and just as close...and with six flags flying out front--Iriquois Nation
Okay, so that last one is stretching just a bit. They did come up with six flags, though. Anyway, Darien Lake has a nice package to begin with, and from everything I have seen should fit well into the Six Flags group. I generally enjoyed myself, I just wish it wasn't six hours away.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: The years listed indicate the last time I rode those coasters. [Return to text]
Footnote 2: From "How Coaster Cars Work (or don't)" posted to rec.roller-coaster on 08/25/1999 and available from Google Groups. Or better yet, click on the article title link and see the Web version on this very web site! [Return to text]
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