"Send it around and park it over there..."
Finally, it was the day I've been waiting seven months for: the day Cedar Point opens for the season. Lots of new stuff this season, starting with the most obvious addition, Wicked Twister.But I talked about that one a couple of days ago. There is far more to report.
I collected John and Carrie and we drove up to the park. The bad news here is that parking is up to $8 now. I ask you, in an environment where every person who pulls into the parking lot is going to come into the park on an admission ticket costing from $29-$150 depending on the admission plan, what is the point of bending that customer over before he even gets his car parked? Is it any wonder that on all those trips to amusement parks we took as kids, Dad was always in such a good mood by the time we got inside the park? Why not eliminate the parking tollbooth altogether and roll the parking fee into the admission price? Why start my day with a reminder that I'm going to be overcharged all day long? But I digress...
John and Carrie went to the Season Pass Center to get their passes processed, meanwhile I took advantage of my Joe Cool Club membership to join the early ERT already in progress. Not knowing for certain which rides that included, I went to Wicked Twister. It would be the last I saw of that pair until the Magnum platform at closing time.
Again, I talked about Wicked Twister a few days ago. I was a little surprised this time when I climbed into the seat and was able to fasten the safety belt myself with a minimum of trouble. I know I can't have changed that much in two days...but this was exactly as it had been for me in the test seat on Thursday. I was sitting on the right-hand side of Row 15, same place I sat for my last ride, possibly the best seat in the house. Thursday I needed help, today I didn't. Go figure.
It's still a neat ride, and by the time I got off, the front gate should have been open and the early mob should have come through. But that didn't translate to a big crowd at Wicked Twister. I decided to head for Millennium Force. I didn't make it. I noticed that contrary to the pavement markings I had seen last season, the Oceana gate has not been moved and re-angled. The two hidden rest rooms on the main midway (one behind the games building, another behind the taffy shop) have been closed off this year. I walked the path between Food Services and the Administration Building, past the Scrambler and the Matterhorn. As I was crossing the plaza, Scott Short appeared. I joined him in front of Coasters, and instead of proceeding to Millennium Force, we turned and headed for Magnum XL-200. We went to the head of the line so as to chat with the usual suspects at the queue entrance, a group including (but not limited to) Dan Haverlock, Jerry Fleming, Jeff Putz...just the people you would expect to find at the head of the Magnum queue. The telephone rang, so we adjourned to the end of the line. Then the ride failed to open. We waited a while, watching Millennium Force cycle over the lagoon, each train faster than the one before. Before long the line began to break up. We asked Dan if he knew what was up. He claimed it was some problem with the new gates. We bailed and opted to ride Gemini.
Across from the Magnum queue, where Dodgem I used to sit, is a big ugly grey box. The box is a somewhat irregular, mostly rectangular shape, about 8' tall, about twice the size of the Dodgem I building, maybe 75 feet on a side. The top of the box is open, and we figured that from the Gemini lift we ought to be able to get a peek inside. Gemini's blue trains were still warming up with weights...in fact they were just taking the weights out as we took our seats in the front of the blue train. Gemini was configured with four trains on the circuit, with the other two sitting on the transfer table. That's right, the sixth train, absent much of last season, has returned. When we got to the lift I got another surprise. Because the blue train was still having its weights removed, the trains were not racing. I was sitting on the inside, and as we started up the lift I looked over and saw that the blue side lift chain was moving very slowly. Just then the empty train was dispatched from the station and the other lift sped up to match our speed. That's right...Gemini has a couple of new variable-speed lift motors. Rumor has it that Gemini had lift motor problems last year (and that those troubles were part of the reason the one train was off). From the top of the lift we could see into the Big Grey Box. Inside there isn't much to see. The ground is denuded down to the bare dirt, and two concrete footers are visible, with rebar and anchor bolts sticking up and through a retaining ring. Something is sitting at the edge of the site, covered with a blue tarp.
Our Gemini ride was a nice configuration. The main trim brakes were off on the middle turnaround, but the trims hit fairly hard coming into the final helix, which is actually a GOOD thing because that helix is more than a little excessively violent when taken at top speed. It appears that in spite of the lift modification, the trains are still brought in and parked by hand. The people running the ride need just a little more practice so as to not stop the train on the safety brakes uptrack of the station. That all comes with practice, particularly once they go to 6-train operation.
Across from Gemini, the Snoopy Bounce has receieved a significant makeover. The big inflatable Snoopy is now supported by a metal frame, the bouncing space is open all the way around (covered with mesh) and an inflatable bounce cushion forms the floor, completely contained by the metal frame. This means Snoopy won't collapse every time the door is opened, it won't be nearly so hot inside, and there is no danger of the thing getting blown down the midway. I wonder how the bouncers are protected from banging against that steel frame now, but to me it looks like an improvement.
Working around the park perimeter, Mean Streak was our next stop. My response to this one is a little mixed. On the one hand, it is smoother and quieter than it has been in years. On the other hand, the first-drop trim brakes hit harder than ever, so it felt like the train was trying to go through a concrete wall in order to get down the first drop. As I exited, my comment was that it was running like a Kings Island wood coaster with a better train: fairly smooth, over-braked, and generally dull. Then I realized the big difference: This season, Kings Island got rid of the first-drop trim brakes on their big wooden coaster.
Leaving the Mean Streak Scott was first to notice the huge change back in Frontiertown. No, I don't mean the removal of Lusty Lil's name from the Palace Theater. I mean White Water Landing got a significant makeover. You may recall that last year parts of the artificial mountain near the railroad tracks had caved in. This year the problem has been corrected: The mountain is gone. The space previously occupied by the mountain has been carefully landscaped. I think one large fake rock remains, otherwise the trees and shrubs placed around that part of the ride have been done in such a way that if you didn't know the tunnel had been there, you'd never notice it was gone.
Mine Ride was next, and there isn't much to report here except that they seem to have tweaked up the station approach speed very slightly. Very slightly. It's still too darned slow coming into the station. That setting doesn't need a tweak or a nudge, it needs a wholesale kick!
By this time, Magnum was up and running, so we headed that way. I was planning to ride in my customary seat, the third seat back in the lead car. But that seat was roped off on at least one of the three trains, so I ended up settling for the fourth row, the front of the second car.
Magnum has a whole slew of changes. The platform queue rails have been completely redone and the extended railing for the front seat has been eliminated. New ASTM-compliant gates have been added up next to the platform; the crew opens these as the train stops and closes them once everybody gets through. That's the way platform gates should work, and so they should have no effect on the ride's operations. Unfortunately, that's not all they did. They also changed the ride signalling system and that change was causing all kinds of grief.
Let me back up a bit. Prior to 2002, Magnum had an operational dispatch interlock and a manual signalling system, For 2002, Magnum has an electrical interlock and an electrical signalling system. Previously, the operator in the doghouse would signal the co-dispatch operator on the platform that it was time to go by knocking twice on the doghouse window; the co-dispatch operator would, on that signal, verify that the train was ready and signal the controls operator by knocking twice on the window. The system worked very nicely. Now, the co-dispatch operator stands not directly in front of the doghouse, but rather on the opposide side of the track, at the opposite end of the train. The co-dispatch operator now signals that the train is ready to go by pushing the co-dispatch button on his control panel, but what is lacking now is the coordination of the old system. The co-dispatch operator has no way of knowing when the controls operator will be ready to send the train. The controls operator can chant "Readyready" over the platform PA, but in the chaos can that voice really be heard? The new interlock was causing a lot more grief than the new platform gates.
But worse than the interlock were the trains. Clearly somebody didn't do something right when the trains were put back together. Each of the three trains has 36 seats. By the end of the day I'm not sure there were a total of 36 working lap bars on all three trains! But more about that later. For the moment, I'll climb into one of the few working seats and take a ride...
...And what a ride! With 2/3 of the second car empty, the ride was unusually rough. But the ride was also fast, supplying all of the airtime Magnum is known for. I hope they get their problems with signals and lap bars worked out, because Magnum really is running quite well this season.
At this point it was a good opportunity to move back towards the front of the park. A ride on Corkscrew reminded me of why I didn't ride that thing much last season. For the 2001 season, Corkscrew got new shoulder bars which are wider than the old ones. The old ones were about as good as one can expect from a qnza shoulder bar. The new ones are absolutely horrid, as they leave no space at all between the bar and the outboard wall of the train, meaning there is no place to put your outboard arm. This also means that when the ride tries to dump you sideways in the Corkscrew, it is impossible to hold on to anything, a condition that amplifies headbanging and body wringing. I used to like this ride, but with the new shoulder bars it's practically unrideable. 8-(
It was getting very warm. Scott wanted to dump his jacket, and I needed to collect a videotape from my car to drop off at the marketing office. On the way out we opted for a front seat ride on Blue Streak. Scott had some trouble getting situated and bailed out (his action was premature; later he would ride with no trouble). I pulled the lap bar down to the third notch, which is just about right for me. I noted how refreshing it is to be able to do this; the first notch is considerably tighter than this on the Kings Island coasters. Much of the Blue Streak has been painted, including all of the track which is a deep blue contrasting with the sky blue of the structure. The train ascended the lift hill, then headed down the other side.
Oh. My. God. The train flew as it hasn't flown in a decade. It ran more smoothly than I can remember. It is running so incredibly well that even the crummy seatbacks can hardly detract from the ride. It barrelled through the turnaround literally without slowing down. WHAT HAS CEDAR POINT DONE TO THIS COASTER?!?!?!?! Cedar Point has never been known for the great care and fantastic ride of their wood coasters, but if Blue Streak keeps running like this, that's going to change this season. Blue Streak could rival the Kennywoodies for giving a good ride, and it's improved by Frank Hoover's layout. Mean Streak is running better than it has run in years, but it's nothing compared to what Blue Streak is doing. I don't know what Cedar Point did to Blue Streak, but I wish they would do the same thing to Mean Streak! Blue Streak was running like a bat out of hell. I told Scott he HAD to get on it later.
Returning to the park we were in for another surprise. We entered the queue for 12-E. The Disaster Transport queue has received a probably-cheap but total makeover. The entire queue except for the stairs is now illuminated with blacklight, and flourescent paint has been spread liberally throughout. In the "Repair Bay" a new electrical apparatus has been added to the middle of the room, and the queue has been re-routed so that it now goes past the service lift where robots are working on one of the vehicles. FRANC appears to be gone, though...although the word "FOREMAN" still appears over his old window. The flourescent paint job extends to the steaming apparatus above the ready brake, but out on the ride all the lighting and effects are turned off, replaced by patterns of white lights defocused just enough to show rainbow fringing projected all over the ceiling. At the queue entrance an attendant is selling cardboard glasses with diffraction-grating lenses. I didn't indulge, partly because I didn't see the point, partly because I generally find that my regular glasses are usually incompatible with add-on ones (Yeah, it makes 3D films kind of a pain...).
Disaster Transport is the same old ride, no longer accompanied by your friendly shipboard computer (which I usually refer to as "Eddie"). Upon exiting the ride we learned that what for years has been the coldest water fountain in the park, across from the Disaster Transport exit, is now rather lukewarm.
We took a ride on the Space Spiral which is not only still not air conditioned, I think it may have lost a few of its vents. Giant Wheel provided a great vantage point for watching Wicked Twister, and I studied the test seat a bit. Wicked Twister is turning away riders in droves, and one of the things I noticed about the test seat is that many riders who can't pull the bar down far enough to get the belt fastened actually have several inches of clearance between their bodies and the bottom of the shoulder bar. The problem is all in the top of the bar, because the pivot point is too low and the bar doesn't extend forward far enough before coming down. People who are simply overweight may have no problem at all riding Wicked Twister provided they are a little bit short. But people with large chests, tall people, and people with broad shoulders are going to have lots of trouble. Worst of all, if you can't ride Wicked Twister, losing weight isn't going to help. You may have to resort to extreme measures such as removing a couple of lumbar vertebrae as Wolf suggested some months ago. Or if we're lucky, perhaps Cedar Point will pitch a fit at Intamin and get the problem fixed.
Next to the test seat was a person whose name I will certainly butcher if I try to spell it here, so I won't...but she is a director of park operations and training. Recognizing me, she pointed out a sign at the ride entrance. In my Media Day trip report, I wrote, "...While the longer-than-ever cautionary signage at the ride entrance has the usual comments about potential lost items, nothing I have read anywhere indicates a strap requirement for eyeglasses...". She noted that the sign next to the test seat DOES indicate that eyeglasses need to be secured with a cord or strap. I pointed out that the sign didn't exist on Thursday. Well, the sign was there, but it didn't have any lettering on it yet. We had a pleasant chat, then Scott and I continued our tour of the park.
The general improvements to the coasters did not stop with the two wood coasters and Disaster Transport. I don't know what they did to Iron Dragon apart from repainting the station, but it did not seem to be doing the bounce-hunt-and-shuffle it is well known for. Lots of piles of dirt are visible under the ride, and from the first drop I could see that Mantis' third train was covered with plastic and sitting under the ride's transfer table.
Across from Iron Dragon, Wildcat's brakes have been adjusted at the end of the ride, as the car didn't pulse gently into the unload station, but rather came in to the traditional screeching halt. I like it better this way. 8-)
The wait for Millennium Force was unacceptably long due to the 2-train operation, so I skipped it. A train ride took us back to Frontiertown where I had some frozen custard. You can now get frozen custard in a chocolate chip cookie cone, which is good, but it is one of those things that sounds like a good idea, but doesn't quite work out. The custard is great, the cone is fine, and the combination is pretty good. The trouble with it is that where the chocolate chips are in the cone, the cone leaks like crazy, making the whole concoction a bit hard to handle. As the treat progresses, the melting custard starts to seep through the porous cone. It's a good idea, but from a practical standpoint, you're better off sticking with the waffle cone.
Let me see, what else. Visiting Cedar Point for the first time in the season is always kind of neat because I keep bumping into people I know, or who know me (which is always a little unnerving when I haven't a clue who they are). I never know where the next cry of, "Hi, Dave!" is going to come from, whether it's someone walking down the midway or from the far end of a ride platform. I learned from one of the "lifers" that Millennium Force should have its third train back Real Soon Now. Oh, and I should mention that Cedar Point is experimenting with a virtual queue system this season. Called "Freeway," which I presume to be a direct slap at the extra-cost "FastLane" program at <ahem> another park in the region, the optional, no-cost program is simple: Stop at a booth for a handstamp with your return hour; a maximum of 10% of the hourly capacity is given over to Freeway users. Right now it only applies to Millennium Force and Wicked Twister, and it didn't seem to be terribly popular. Which makes sense; Wicked Twister had a fairly short wait most of the day. The new ride is pulling people to that midway, and Schwabinchen may have carried more riders on opening day this season than it carried all last year. But people aren't running for it. The traffic pattern hasn't shifted too far from the main midway, so the Wicked Twister line eventually gets long, but builds much more slowly than you would expect for a new ride. Probably because everyone is waiting in line for Raptor early in the day.
Of course another major point that got a lot of attention were the price increases. Parking went up $1 to $8 per car, though the large vehicle rate remains unchanged at $13. More noticeable was the 50% hike in the price of bottled pop and bottled water, from $2 which was already outrageous to $3, which Jeff Putz described as "insulting." The pool is open to predict how long it will be before that price goes back to $2.
The day was winding down, and I wanted to finish on Magnum. By the time I got there, about a half-hour before closing, Magnum's trains were in sorry shape, with broken lap bars in every car. I prepared to ride in the front of the last car, skipping a train due to a malfunctioning lap bar. The red train entered the station, and the lap bars opened. All except one. The rider, in the middle of the last car, couldn't get her lap bar open. An attendant stomped on the manual release pedal. After a brief conference, the train was reloaded and sent around again, this rider still stuck. I suggested to one of the crew members that the train ought to be parked on the transfer table where it would be possible to reach under the running board and release the lap bar at the locking mechanism. I got my ride, and attempted to walk around to ride again, but the entrance had already been closed a few minutes early. I was pretty sure I knew why. The lap bar victim seemed to be enjoying her repeat rides on Magnum, but I'm sure she would have liked to get off. We learned that the Arrow Runaway Train lap bars are extremely secure, that they fail by not releasing. When the last train of riders went out, this girl was still stuck. Maintenance had arrived, and they tried to get her loose in the station, but ultimately had to send the train around to the transfer table where the train's components are a bit more accessible. I chatted with the victim's friends a bit, and we were joking about it being closing time and they'd just throw a tarp over her. Someone else was speculating that come Memorial Day she'd still be riding around. The Men In Blue were finally able to get her lap bar open. I was shooting video at the time, and her friend introduced her on camera as "Magnum Heather." I think it was Magnum Man Jerry who suggested we should introduce her to Magnum Dan Haverlock. Suddenly the conversation changed. "You know Magnum Dan?!" they asked. I commented that I was surprised he wasn't on those last few rides (turns out he was riding Wicked Twister). So Heather's ordeal was witnessed by a bunch of people whose sympathy for her plight was tempered by their regret that it didn't happen to them instead.
It's rare that I am so inspired, but in the grand tradition of rec.roller-coaster, I offer this tribute, The Ballad of Magnum Heather:
"The Ballad of Magnum Heather"
(tune: "The Ship that Never Returned")
by Dave Althoff, Jr., based on a true story
With a nod to the earlier parody by Steiner, Hawes, and Walter (not George!) O'Brien...
Let me tell you all the story
Of a gal named Heather
On a fateful Opening Day
She took a trip to Cedar Point
With her friends and family
She took a ride on the Magnum's red train
On a lovely Sunday evening
Heather boarded Magnum
And she pulled down her safety bar
But when the ride was over
The lap bar release failed
Heather couldn't get out of that car!
But did she ever return?
No, she never returned!
And her fate is still unlearned
She may ride forever o'er the hills of Magnum
She's the gal who never returned
Now all day long
Heather rides on the Magnum
Wondering how this all came to be
While in the station Jerry Fleming
Known for breaking the coaster
Claims, "I swear this time it wasn't me!"
Heather's Mom goes down
To the Magnum station
Every day in mid afternoon
And from the exit platform
She hands Heather a corn-dog
As the train comes rumbling through!
As the ride rolled on
The other riders were cheering
And the guys with the tool-belts came
When they got there they used wrenches
Hammers, chisels and prybars
To get Heather released from that train
Or she might never return
No, she'd never return
And her fate would be unlearned
She may ride forever on the hills of Magnum
She's the gal who never returned
So the season is off to what seems to be a pretty good start. My day ended with an uneventful dinner at a local restaurant, and now I'm ready to do it again next week.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
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