"This park is almost but not quite entirely unlike any other."
It isn't quite a tradition with me, but some years I decide to re-spell the 'end-of-summer' holiday by making a trip across the lake for "Labour Day". That usually means Canada's Wonderland on Sunday, and frequently a stop at Waldameer on the way home on Monday. When I last did this a couple of years ago, I visited Martin's Fantasy Island and had such a wonderful time there that I have absolutely no desire to return to that $#!+hole. This year I heard that the ride selection at the CNE is a bit less impressive than usual (although that comment did come from Iain, so... 8-) ), so rather than racing up to Toronto, I decided I'd return to MarineLand.
After all, everybody loves MarineLand, right?
MarineLand is probably the weirdest park I have ever visited. I guess they are particularly known for their marine shows, something which never particularly impressed me. But the park also has an assortment of amusement rides, some of them absolutely unique in North America. And then there is Dragon Mountain. But before I can experience that one again, I will have to find it first...
MarineLand looks like it was constructed in the late 1960's or early 1970's, and everything is done in the Amusement Park Tudor style, much like the section of Hersheypark between the parking lot and the front gate. Even the new construction continues the theme. The midways are broad...I'm talking wider than the ones at Cedar Point...and most are entirely paved with 6" trapezoidal paving stones. Just inside the gate is the most congested space in the park, with a grab joint across from the gate, a very large aquarium to the right, and a marine mammal stadium to the left. An enormous arcade wraps around the outside ("behind" from the midway) of the stadium, and the park's only open gift shop, the Whale Shop, which was filled mostly with smelly 18" inflatable whales, which gave the place that "new beach ball" smell.
A large swing protected against over-travel.
A Zierer Marienkäfer roller coaster. That's a particular model of Tivoli coaster.
This is a major midway at MarineLand. Notice how it features...NOTHING!
It doesn't look like it, but that tower ride is inside the same park as this midway!
On down past the stadium there is a fork in the path. To the left is a playground with swings for small children, medium children, and large children. The large swings got my attention as they are of a rigid construction and have a wire rope and extension spring attached between the back of the swing and the suspension frame to limit the travel distance. I should see if I can adapt that to my porch swing, which was once damaged by medium children forcing it to over-travel. This playground surrounds one side of a grab joint/restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating. In the outdoor seating area, a band was playing polka music on a small gazebo. Er, no, that's not quite what I mean. A band on a small gazebo was playing polka music; the most obvious performer was actually playing an accordion.
Past this area are the kiddie rides, all of which are designed to accommodate both adults and children. These include a dragon boat ride, a Zierer Marienkäfer (Ladybug) coaster, an unusual small Ferris wheel, and a Zamperla Video Telecombat ride. I went around the corner and down the long, wide midway. It is these midways that make the park so distinctive. They are long and winding, and along them you will find...NOTHING. On either side is dense forest and vegetation, but no sign of anything else. A sign points the way to more attractions. The Sky Screamer is visible, but it looks like it is so far away that it must be in a totally different park. I mean, that could be over in Maple Leaf Village or something, it's that far away [Footnote 1].
A Mack Seesturmbahn.
Note the pavers used in place of the usual metal deck plates.
The operator inserts a plug into the jack shown here to start the ride.
I followed the sign and came upon a Mack Seesturmbahn. The ride is sort of typical for a MarineLand ride installation. The queue house extends around the back of the ride, and the ride entrance is right next to the operator's station. Not really a doghouse in the usual sense, just a control stand in the queue house. The ride's central scenery panels are in place, as are the decorations on the tubs, but the outer scenery panels, the backstop panels, and the decking are all gone. Instead, the ground is sculpted around the base of the ride to match the track pattern, and the ubiquitous paving bricks are laid around the base of the ride to form the decking. Most of the flat rides are run by a single operator, and the park has devised an interesting system for keeping them honest. On almost every ride, there is a control box mounted diametrically opposite the control stand. The box has a little red light and a 1/4" hole. The operator has a 1/4" phone plug with some kind of shorting arrangement inside, and there is a matching 1/4" hole in the control stand. When the operator leaves his controls to check lap bars or whatever, he takes the plug with him. The ride cycle won't start unless the plug is plugged into the control stand. The ride also won't start unless he takes the plug around to the far side of the ride, plugs it in until the red light comes on, then returns to the control stand and plugs back in again. The net result is that in order to operate the ride, the operator has to walk at least half-way around the ride, and I suppose the idea is that if he's got to walk around anyway, he might at least glance at the ride vehicles and make sure nobody is standing in harm's way.
I had forgotten that MarineLand has a Zierer Fliegender Teppich (Flying Carpet), and in fact it's kind of easy to miss, surrounded as it is by dense tree cover, and concealed as it is by stucco towers. Unfortunately, it was, like the last one I saw (at Kennywood), not operating. Well, I got to watch it operate, then as the cycle ended and the brakes came on it made a horrible screeching noise [Footnote 2], and the mechanics went back to work on it some more. A couple of kids, having just watched the ride operate, ran past the, "Sorry Ride Temporarily Closed" sign to get in line even as the operators told them they couldn't ride yet.
"Test pilots," the mechanic remarked as he turned toward the ride with a lockout device in one hand and a can of spray lubricant in the other.
Now let me think a moment...that same corner of the park also contains a Zierer Wave Swinger, and a Huss Condor. I opted not to ride the Condor when I saw the length of the line of people waiting to ride. I like Condors, and this one runs very nicely and all, but it is positioned right next to a gigantic mountain (more about that later) which kind of detracts from the ride's visual impact. The Condor stands about 120' tall if I remember correctly, and the hill towers over it.
Not a great photo of MarineLand's Wave Swinger.
The Condor is more impressive in this photo.
Down another very long path there is a little dead-end off one side with a teacup-type ride. It appears to be mechanically identical to the one at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, so I'm going to guess this came from Morgan. I'm also going to guess it is a newer ride, as I don't remember it being there on my last visit some years ago. But then, my last visit to MarineLand was about six years ago. Funny, it seems the place hasn't changed much since then.
I finally came around to the Huss Magic. That's a one-of-a-kind-on-this-continent ride that can best be described as an inverted Eyerly Monster. This one has a poured concrete wall all the way around the ride center, and I couldn't resist peeking over the wall. As I expected, the ride is sitting on foundation pillars and is surrounded by a deep pit; clearly maintenance access is through some kind of subterranean passageway, probably from the restroom building/queue house that surrounds the back of the ride. The ride itself has six sweeps extending overhead from the center. At the end of each sweep is a rotating pod which holds three cars, each car suspended from a pivot which is not perpendicular to the sweep...that is, there is a high-side and low-side to the tub rotation, much as is the case with a Monster tub on the high side of the ride. Each car seats four riders in Tilt-A-Whirl style...actually more like Crazy Mouse style as there are sculpted seats and headrests for each rider, two riders on each side of the car centerline, each pair of riders secured by an overhead lap bar with the Huss finger-chopper latching mechanism [Footnote 3]. In action, the ride center rotates, the pods rotate, and a ring outboard of the main center counter-rotates and drops on one side. Lever arms riding on that ring pull the sweeps upward when the ring pulls them down, and push the sweeps down when the ring pushes them up. The combined action causes the ride tubs to rotate inertially. In all, it's a rather clever arrangement.
The entrance to the Deer Park.
Patrons and deer mix in the Deer Park.
In this view, you can kind of see why Mark called it 'Deerschwitz'.
Behind all of this fun is a grey stone castle wall, with a turret on the corner. In the middle of the wall is an opening with several openings equipped with open portcullis gates that look like they might have been built to be functional, then were pinned open. The associated building houses a set of rest rooms, and behind it a double row of self-closing steel gates leads into the deer park. Earlier this season, Mark Rosenzweig referred to the compound as "Deerschwitz," and it truly is an apt description. It's a mostly barren patch of ground surrounded by a stockade fence and filled with a whole bunch of hungry deer for the amusement of people who don't see enough of the damned things outside the park. Deer live well in suburban environments, and Ohio has a surplus overpopulation of them, and I usually see them as they are about to jump into traffic in an apparent attempt to reduce the overpopulation. I had seen enough. Where is Dragon Mountain, anyway?
The sculpted entrance to the Dragon Mountain station.
It's dark in the station!
From the top of the mountain you can almost see the upper part of Dragon Mountain's layout.
From the midway, you can see the end of the ride...the bowtie...
...and the straight run back to the curve around the hill and into the station.
Here it is. There is an unobtrusive gate on the midway, with a long path up the hill behind. From the midway, you can see where the brown steel track emerges from the mountain, goes through the world's only bowtie element (a Boomerang, except that the track comes out on the element going the same direction that it went in), goes through a long, almost graceful, almost flat dip and rise, a left-hand curve, and back into the mountain again. The entrance path goes up the hill behind the bowtie element, over the tunnel, and then into a sculpted dragon's mouth. It's really dark inside the throat of the beast, and a left-hand turn leads down into a deep, dark, but strangely enough, very warm and humid cave. The only truly useful light source is down at the bottom of the cave, where waist-level fluorescent lights illuminate the train boarding area. It reminds me a little of the...I think it's the Peachtree Center subway station in Atlanta, GA, the one that is a couple hundred feet deep and with a bare stone interior...and like this roller coaster station, the train exits the station into sunlight.
I took my first ride (well, my first ride in six years, anyway) near the back of the train. The ride starts with a trip up the ground-level split lift hill. The lift goes up the side of the mountain, staying close to the ground all the way up. Halfway up the lift there is a small shed containing both of the lift drive mechanisms. At the top, there is a sharp left-hand turn, and the train drops immediately into a pair of vertical loops. A quick right-hand turn leads to the secret back-side of the mountain. The train drops into a counter-clockwise downward helix similar to the one at the end of the Loch Ness Monster, but without the tunnel or the monster. There is a structure here, and I think I heard somewhere it was supposed to be a volcano, or a whirlpool, or something like that. It is interesting to look closely at the way the helix was built: it is a tight, gently-sloping curve until it gets almost all the way around, then there is a sudden drop of just a few feet to tuck in beneath the first turn. Then for the third turn, the pattern is repeated. After the helix, the track goes around another curve in a rectangular unfinished steel structure that I guess was supposed to be Niagara Falls. The extended left-hand curve finishes up by slowing on a set of trim brakes, then diving into a tunnel cut into the mountain. A very long tunnel cut into the mountain. A very, VERY long tunnel cut into the mountain. This tunnel is a reminder that everything that has come before...the two loops, the volcano, and the falls, are all positioned quite high in the air. In the dark tunnel the track demonstrates the trick that started here and later became, in my opinion, one of the more memorable features of the Tennessee Tornado: the angle changes slightly in the tunnel so that the Beast-like build-up of speed suddenly becomes a full-on burst of acceleration just as the train blows out of the tunnel and immediately into the final two inversions. Coming out of the bowtie the train is at its lowest point on the ride, and gives riders an opportunity to wave at the people on the midway. A left-hand turn takes the train back into the mountain and through the storage shed, where the third train sits idle. I think I counted seven sets of brakes, most of which are unused, and the ride was running with two trains, with a third on the storage track. I think it's blocked out for four.
Dragon Mountain is an unusual coaster, in an unusual park, and I don't think it gets the kind of attention it deserves. It's not that it is a particularly groundbreaking coaster...oh, wait a minute, that's a really poor choice of words for this one, given the man-made mountain...Okay, it's not that it's a particularly revolu...no, that doesn't work either, thanks to that 2-1/2 turn helix. Well, you know what I mean. There aren't a bunch of Dragon Mountain clones out there. On the other hand, major elements of the ride have been duplicated. Dueling Dragons at Islands of Adventure borrows the boarding cave. The whirlpool helix comes directly from the Loch Ness Monster. The high loops and the tunnel drop element both made it into Tennessee Tornado. And the never-realized theme elements have served as an example for Cedar Point, Kings Island and Six Flags.
I took a couple more rides on Dragon Mountain, then I hiked up the long, winding path to the highest point in the park. On top are three not-terribly-good S&S towers, but the plateau up there also provides a great view of the park. Or at least it would if there were anything to see from up there other than the dense tree cover. Tragically, the towers don't provide much reward for hiking up that hill. My legs ached by the time I got to the top. It was the best view I have ever had of Dragon Mountain, though. I have no idea how high the hill is, but it is significantly higher than the Condor, which is about 120 feet if I remember right. Putting the towers up there is a great idea, but not providing an easier way to get to the top is a lousy idea.
The sun was beginning to set, and the park was beginning to close. I made my way back to the front gate, and prepared to make the long drive to Toronto, where I had a room booked for the night.
Next: Paramount's Canada's Wonderland
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: Never mind that Maple Leaf Village closed years ago, and would have been in the opposite direction...[Return to text]
Footnote 2: Not to be confused with the horrible whirring, grinding, and banging noises that are perfectly normal for that ride...[Return to text]
Footnote 3: There is a row of holes in the inside of the outboard wall of the tub, with a flange on either side. The end of the lap bar has a round disc that fits between the flanges, and a pin in the center of the disc which engages with the holes. It doesn't take much imagination to see how that disc can become a guillotine cutter.[Return to text]
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