"They have been busy over the winter!"
It has been a busy spring for me, and my park visits have started in earnest while I still don't have time to write about them. I've already been to Cedar Point twice, and I have hardly mentioned that fact in discussions, and I'm getting inquiries asking when I will ever updae my web page. And here I didn't even know anybody ever read it.
So this time around, I'm going to economize. I visited the park twice, on consecutive Sundays with nearly identical weather, and did many of the same things on both visits. Here's what I noticed; or rather, here is what I remember noticing.
As usual, I parked behind the Gemini. One of the first things I noticed was that Magnum's track has been repainted in the customary deep orange-red, and it looks fantastic. The parts of the structure visible from the parking lot have not been completed yet, and a ride revealed that there are a few sections, including the turnaround and the track in the tunnels, that have not been repainted yet. Once I entered the park, I noticed that while they are doing a great job with painting the track, the supports are another story. The few that are actually located inside the park are freshly painted. They are freshly painted GRAY! What manner of incompetence is this? Millennium Force has gray supports, sure. But not Magnum. Magnum's supports are supposed to be SILVER, which is a very different color. What are they thinking? I guess I can be happy they didn't go with orange and pink...
Up on the platform there are some minor changes this year. Between cars, which is to say, behind the posts, the railings have been reconfigured a little to create little wedge-shaped spaces, presumably so that the attendants can stand behind the yellow line while the trains are moving. It looks like another dubious safety measure dreamed up by somebody who doesn't have a clue about ride operations. It, like Magnum's poorly implemented co-dispatch panel, probably looked great on the blueprint, but doesn't really accomplish much in practice. Out on the ride, Magnum is Magnum, though it feels a little pokey. I'm guessing that's because the new paint isn't broken in yet. Lightly loaded trains could have something to do with it as well; for my last ride on Magnum on the 8th, there was only one other person on the train.
On down in the park, I noticed that the climbing wall has morphed into a High-Striker game relocated from the Oceana midway. The game seems to get more traffic than the climbing wall did. First it is slightly cheaper, and second, it is somewhat more aproachable, not carrying with it the distinct possibility of injury or humiliation. The Monster has new fence, and new magnetic locks on the exit gates. And the rides in the Gemini Childrens Area all have new fences now.
Gemini seems unchanged from last year, which is a bit of a surprise given that it has been slated to get a control computer every year for the past decade. Instead, it retains the old manual controls. Oh, yeah. That is a change from last season: on both visits, the ride was being expertly operated, with trains flying into the station and with lap bars and seat belts checked with seemingly minutes to spare. If they could run the ride like this all of the time they could return to 6-train operation. By comparison, last year they couldn't seem to manage four trains without stacking.
Efficiency was far from the order of the day over in Camp Snoopy. There, Woodstock Express had a line disproportionately long for the size of the crowd in the park. Part of the problem is that the ride was being operated by one operator, but the more serious problem is that someone decided that since the ride is in a kids ride section of the park, it should be equipped with kiddie ride seat belts: standard seat belts with standard push-button buckles, with a decidedly non-standard plastic plate glued over the push-button so that a small, round, pointed object is needed to release the buckle. The practical upshot of this is that the lone operator has to individually release each rider in a dreadfully slow process. I predict that if past history is any guide, this will last perhaps through the first week of June before the park decides that the new buckles are a mistake on this particular ride.
Back at Mean Streak, there is good news, and there is bad news. The good news is that in spite of the excessive Tooth-Chipper-style braking on the first drop, the ride is running smoother and faster than it has in years. The bad news is that the butt cushions in the trains have been replaced with high density foam. It's a little softer than the back and side cushions, but not by much. With a known rough ride, why are they making the exact opposite modification to what the ride truly needs?
The Antique Cars and White Water Landing both got new fences this year. No, that isn't quite right. Antique Cars got a new fence; White Water Landing got a 4" galvanized wire mesh attached to the existing fence. This is all fine and good in terms of bringing the rides into compliance with the current fence standards, but I suspect the new fences may annoy the Canada geese who live in the Antique Cars infield. Yes, the geese are still there.
Next door, the Cedar Creek Mine Ride hasn't changed a bit, which is unfortunate, as the too-thick, hard-as-concrete seat pads installed a couple of years ago are still in place,which makes it a really tight fit even for average-size people. It also causes you to sit in a precarious-feeling position, perched on the front edge of the seat, a particularly unsettling position when the lap bar fails mid-ride. Which it did for my first ride of the season. Whoops! There's something you don't get to do every day!
Millennium Force has had some more chnges this year, and they are not good. On the 8th, I met up with Scott and Howard just as they were approaching Millennium Force, and opted to join them for a ride. Scott had ridden the day before and earlier the same day; for me it would be my first ride of the season. It was a short line, but it was a line that barely moved. Capacity on the ride has gone from "poor" in its opening seasons to "abysmal" with the seat belt changes last year, to downright "nightmarish" this season. What we learned is that the safety belts on the ride are a mess. They are all dfferent lengths (as evidenced by Scott's inability to take a second ride) and none of them seem to bear any resemblance to the one on the test seat. The current belt routing makes the belts exceptionally awkward to fasten, and the buckle design, which prevents adjustment once fastened just adds to the difficulty. So once you wait an hour in a short line, fight for a couple of minutes with the seat belt, then fnally get a steel bar rammed hard into your crotch by an understandably indifferent (if not downright surly) platform attendant, you finally get to ride. Here I thought the girth I lost over the winter would make it easy for me to ride Millennium Force; instead I find it makes it so I barely fit. The ride takes off from the station...and I swear it felt SLOW. The overall experience was one of extreme aggravation resulting in a stunningly mediocre ride. The park has serious problems with Millennium Force simply because paranoia has replaced safety, and both ride operations and customer experience are suffering as a result. I'm sure I am not the only one who is sick of hearing the usual excuse that they are complying with the manufacturer's requirements. This s a case where the manufacturer has proven itself to be both ignorant and asinine with regard to its own product. In my opinion, it is time that Cedar Point brought in an engineer who understands how lap bars are supposed to work to do an analysis of the ride, fix the problems they appear to have with the seat depth, lap bar design (it should hit the lap before it hits the crotch!) and seat belt, get the state to +sign off on it, and tell Intamin to pound sand. As the moment, the ride is really an operational nightmare and a public relations embarassment, and I can hardly believe the park has let the situation persist this long.
On down the midway, Wildcat has received a new entrance gate on the platform, which seems to work remarkably well for controlling the boarding passenger traffic. Apart from that, Wildcat is its old self, giving rides that are far more interesting than those available on a ride six times its size.
Across the way, Iron Dragon was having problems on the 8th with its shoulder bars failing to open on selected seats. By the 15th, though, they seemed to have those issues worked out. I do wish I could figure out why this one rides the way it does. But then, I imagine Cedar Point wonders the same thing, otherwise they would have corrected it by now.
Down the main midway, the Cedar Downs Racing Derby got a new booth around the control stand, and magnetic locks on the exit gates leading to the midway. Now if they would remove the slam-latches from the gates up by the ride, they'd have the access situation all taken care of. There are also some subtle changes to the fence surrounding the ride.
Blue Streak received some off-season attention as usual. The train is still a pretty wretched example of what can happen to a PTC train, but when I sat down and pulled the lap bar down three clicks and could still breathe, I was reminded of how much nicer its trains are than the ones on Racer and The Beast. It's a short ride, but it is running insanely great. Significant airtime on every hill, running fast and smooth...apart from a decent train, what more could I want?
Raptor is its usual self, right down to the ugly snap as the train comes into the final brakes. I like Raptor, but I'm not a huge fan of the thing; something about the seats being too close together, the four-across seating (which I don't like at all), and B&M's annoying shoulder bar. I can ride Raptor a couple of times, but then it is time for something else.
Unfortunately that "something else" in this case had people lined up well down the midway towards Ocean Motion. I'm referring, of course, to maXair, the new Huss Giant Frisbee. When the ride is operating, it is literally the first thing you notice when driving down the Causeway, not because it is the biggest thing there (far from it!) but because it swings through such a large arc. The ride is positioned parallel to the games building in such a way that it looks like it could take out Disaster Transport on the back-swing. There are some obvious refinements from Kings Island's installation, most obviously a loading floor that is NOT made out of that punched metal cheese-grater stuff, and "OK" indicator lights below each seat. The ride is elevated a few feet to accommodate Cedar Point's incredibly high water table, and there are two large exit gates to speed the unloading process. The ride has flood lights and strobes on it, and on the front (main midway) side there is a gigantic "maXair" sign that really showcases the ride very nicely. The installation looks great, but I didn't ride it on either of these two visits, so I can't say yet how it runs.
The entire games building has been renovated. Well, the exterior of the entire games building has been renovated. It has a somewhat classic look to it, with a red LED strip light on the awning standing in for a neon light. I am a little concerned because the entire decorated facade...the vertical facade above the awning, and the vertical towers set at intervals along the facade...all appear to be not painted nor vacuformed, but rather ink-jet printed onto gigantic decals, as the park uses for the ubiquitous [Footnote 1] ride safety signs. Right now it looks great, but I can't help but wonder how well it is going to hold up.
To make up for the four game joints that were removed to make room for maXair, four new game joints were constructed on the main midway side of the games building. Like the main games building, these joints are decorated with LED strip lights. In all, it really looks good.
Disaster Transport gained an entrance gate this year, otherwise it is pretty much the same ride as always. I was surprised to learn that my mobile phone has service in the queue house. I had always assumed that the steel building would serve as an effective Faraday cage, which would make it almost RF-tight. Apparently that is not the case.
That leaves only one area of the park still unexplored, that long stretch of midway between the Matterhorn and Magnum XL-200. I did ride Corkscrew once, and came off wishing I hadn't, because of the changes they made some years ago. Dragster was down for parts of both days, and I never managed a ride on it.
All in all, it was a couple of good days at Cedar Point. maXair is visually spectacular, and I am looking forward to finally getting a ride on it. Operationally there are some issues of concern that I hope they are going to address. I am confident that sensible, safe operations will replace some of the new "safety" measures of dubious value (such as Magnum's new operator stations, or Woodstock's new seat belts), and I hope they can work out a solution to the current nightmare on Millennium Force. In the end, though, it is the full package, with a special emphasis on Magnum XL-200, that keeps bringing me back to this Lake Erie peninsula. They claim to be the best park on the planet, and while I am not certain that I completely agree, they seem to come pretty close. I'll be back again for CoasterMania in June.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: Not to mention "mostly useless"... [Return to text]
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