"Five is a magic number!"
It is no secret that Holiwood Nights is an event that has been nearly three years in the making. For us it has been three years of agonizing, arguing, re-hashing, discussing, talking about, and not talking about the last event. For the park, it's also been three years of planning and construction. Not only was Holiday World bringing back an all-enthusiasts coaster event, they were doing it with a brand-new wood coaster. I was prepared for a very interesting couple of days. I collected John Peck and Dave Bowers at their respective homes, and we were off to Santa Claus.
Interesting might not be quite the right word. I arrived at the park right around 5:00pm on Friday evening. That was an hour before park close, after the time when the park would let us event attendees into the park. I decided to begin my visit with a ride on The Raven. It's the ride closest to the park gate, and from everything I have heard so far about the new ride, I figured I had better start up here while I still could. After only a short wait, I was seated in the back seat of the Raven's older train. I fastened the seat belt, pulled the lap bar down to the third notch, and away we went. With only the one train running, The Raven cruises up the lift hill, and starts into its famous series:
Yup, that's the Raven, and the nasty "potholes" that decorated the lake turnaround last fall have been repaired. The ride is running much like it did shortly after it opened, albeit now it is nicely broken in. This has long been my favorite of Holiday World's wood coasters. I'm an airtime nut of the first degree, and a huge fan of Shivering Timbers. So The Raven is really my kind of ride.
From The Raven I proceeded to The Legend. While The Raven was in top form, The Legend was not. I was happy to hear that the howling and the "Don't Look Back" audio has returned to the top of the lift. The ride is running smoothly enough, but at the top of the second hill it felt like it hit a skid brake or something. It didn't, it just felt like it, like perhaps there is a spot up there where the track gauge is off or something. The spiral drop is still a favorite, but for me, it's the top of the hill just past the waterpark where I go flying and the train does not, that is my favorite spot on The Legend. It's feeling a little pokey through the helix, but that doesn't mean it isn't still a wild ride. If anything, it means that the end of the ride, what Dave Sandborg called, "The Four Corners of Death" is a little easier to take than it has been in the past. But the ride isn't quite up to its usual wild standard. Let me be clear here: It isn't that The Legend is a bad ride, or even that it is running poorly. On the contrary, it is running quite well. It just isn't delivering quite the wild experience that I know from experience it is able to supply. It's still better than most wood coasters its size. It just isn't living up to its own standard. Complaining about the way The Legend is running on this occasion is a bit like the parent of an honor student looking at the student's score of 795 [Footnote 1] on the SAT and asking what went wrong.
There wasn't a lot of time left, but I had to get a ride on the new coaster. Trouble is, we were just a little bit too late. The queue had already been closed, so my first ride would have to wait for the evening's ERT session.
There was still some time left before I had to join the HoliWood Nights group for the obligatory opening session in the picnic grove. John and Dave suggested a ride on the Gobbler Getaway before the park closed. The ride uses 4-passenger cars equipped with "turkey calls" that make a gobbling noise when you fire them. I'm afraid that in my one ride I didn't quite "get" the storyline, but that was at least in part because I was marvelling at the amazingly accurate pumpkin pie smell in the first couple of rooms. I also remember that at the end of the ride, once the targets run out and all of the turkeys come to roost in what looks to be a gigantic HoliWood-style song-and-dance number, Dave and I both started in on the Hershey's Chocolate World theme.
We proceeded to the picnic grove, begrudgingly followed by the hordes of enthusiasts who had collected in the Thanksgiving plaza. I can kind of understand their collective reluctance. Thanksgiving is located at the lowest part of the park (aside from the waterpark), actually slightly below the picnic grove. To get from one to the other requires a long, winding walk up the hill into Fourth of July, then up the hilll through Fourth of July, then down another hill into the picnic pavilions. If you were to look at an aerial photo of Holiday World [Footnote 2] you would see that Thanksgiving and the picnic pavilions are not far apart, but it is a long walk between them.
While we waited for all the normal people to leave the park, the Holiday World staff welcomed us to the event. Paula Werne and Will Koch went over some of the specifics of the park's expectations of us for the event, and Will talked about how he worked with the Gravity Group to come up with his latest masterpiece. Pat Koch welcomed us all to the park, and opened the festivitites with...well...Rev. Koch [Footnote 3] called it a prayer, but she constructed it in such a way that it might be more appropriate to call it an invocation or a benediction. It is perhaps the most skillful construction of a prayer for all religions that I have heard in a long time. Finally, the radio call came through, and we were able to go ride the coasters for a few hours.
I made a beeline for The Voyage, eager to take my first ride. At this point, I didn't even care where. I just wanted to be on one of those trains. I entered the queue house, just as an attendant dropped a chain on the right hand side and put one up on the left, so that instead of entering the building, turning left and going up the stairs to the loading platform, we had to go down the stairs into the queue house, then back up the stairs on the other side. It's a good thing that this event wasn't a week earlier; I would never have been able to handle all of those steps. For my first ride, I looked at the long lines for the front and back seats, and opted for a seat in Car #6., near, but not quite in, the back of the train. My turn came, so I sat in the train, fastened the seat belt, pulled the lap bar down to the...hey, this is different!...pulled the lap bar down to the sixth notch which put it right where I normally want it, and in short order the ride was off.
The Voyage starts with a no-nonsense S-curve directly out to the lift hill. The 163 foot lift hill that is taller than Mean Streak. I've been saying for the past fifteen months that this was going to be the ride to prove that a 160-foot wood coaster doesn't have to suck. At the top of the lift, along with the customary Holiday World colored banners, the ride doesn't mess around. It rolls over immediately into the 66-degree, 154-foot first drop. To put that into perspective, that's steeper than Magnum XL-200 and about as tall as Mean Streak. WITHOUT any brakes on the drop. Instead, the train rolls over the peak and generates just enough airtime to get us all out of our seats, then floats in near-total weightlessness almost all the way down the hill. At the bottom, the pull-out is amazingly gentle. The weightlessness on the second hill starts about halfway up, but the all-important 'pop' doesn't happen until the peak, so the first few seconds of air on the second hill can be easy to miss. So far, the ride feels a whole lot like Shivering Timbers. It's amazing how qiuckly the train crests the top of the second hill, given how tall it appears to be. That appearance is largely an illusion, as the second drop is about 50' shorter than the first. Again, this is another effect from Shivering Timbers. The third drop gets the ride underground, and the fourth hill is almost like a speed bump, paced faster than the first three hills, but blending in the same style. When Will Koch posted his impressions of the ride to the park's blog, he expressed some disappointment in this moment, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. Perhaps because it doesn't have quite the airtime of the first three hills. Anyway, the fourth drop is followed by the fifth drop, and because this is Holiday World, we all know what happens on the fifth drop.
All hell breaks loose, of course.
The fifth drop is an airtime-laden drop through a tunnel which supplies the necessary momentum to carry the train through the turnaround. The turnaround is...well, it almost defies description. It's constructed in a 60-foot-deep bowl and it follows a half-cloverleaf pattern reminiscent of the Magnum XL-200, though more complicated, perhaps more like the island section of Millennium Force. But while that ride uses a couple of tall hills with curves banked well past 90 degrees, The Voyage takes a different approach, incorporating two curves that are banked at 90 degrees. Those two spots yield some interesting visual effects as the walkboard handrails become effective head-choppers. One of the curves is immediately preceeded by a reverse-banked curve, actually an underbank where the curve banking is actually in the wrong direction for the curve. This produces something that feels a little like sideways airtime just before the train catches you in the big turn. The turnaround section finishes up with a leap onto the mid-course brake run. The train takes a little bit of a break here, but it's because this is 106 feet above the station...meaning it is only 57 feet below the top of the lift. Without any losses, the train would sail through there at about 41 MPH, but remember this is after five major drops, a couple of thousand feet of track, and the entire turnaround sequence. Oh, the train goes through at a respectable clip, but remember also that this is the one spot on the ride that is nearly level for the full length of a 7-car train. I figure that to be about 70 feet of running length, making it the longest hill peak on the ride. The only reason the ride seems to slow down there is because the hill peak at that point is stretched out so much. But it only lasts a couple of seconds. The next thing that happens is that the train dives into another tunnel in a triple-down that has a healthy kick to the left. The whole thing doesn't deliver the explosive airtime of, say, the Kennywood Jack Rabbit, but it does kind of remind me of the first drop sequence on The Boss. From here, things start to get really confusing as the train zig-zags through the outbound structure, building speed the whole way, flying through another 90-degree bank, the entrance to which is really the only rough spot on the ride. The last big move is a flying leap over the base of the lift-hill, and then the real insanity begins. The train dives through the open tunnel, the one that goes under the ride entrance and past the queue house, and you can see that as it comes out the train leaps up to a twisting turn into the safety brake.
Except for that isn't the safety brake.
Instead, the train crosses the station entrance and dives deep again, this time burrowing under the midway leading into Thanksgiving and cruising at about 50 MPH around a half-helix before finally hitting the safety brake. On a discussion group,one correspondent noted that The Voyage "starts with a bang and ends with an explosion." That's a pretty good description of it. Once the train returned to the station, we all wondered what had just happened, and I was ready to try it in the back seat.
Recorded October 23, 2005
It is no surprise that most of the action for the evening was in the Thanksgiving section of the park. Lines for The Voyage routinely extended into the queue house. All evening long, the ride kept picking up speed, kept kicking enthusiasts around and showing them who was boss. The Voyage consistently delivered the kind of performance that most of us have only read about. We all thought The Raven was a pretty amazing ride. And it is. It continues to deliver fantastic rides worthy of its status as an industry-changing ride. But The Voyage goes several steps beyond, proving itself to be more than worthy of all the hype it has received and then some. What is the opposite of "anticipointment"? Because this is a ride that we all eagerly awaited, only to have all of our expectations and all of our anticipation completely blown away because the ride doesn't just meet expectations. It completely obliterates them. Nothing can quite prepare you for the experience The Voyage delivers. I got my back-seat ride, and it was even more amazing than my earlier ride, producing ferocious, panic-inducing airtime throughout the course. The ride is darned near perfect. I don't much like the new-style seat dividers that PTC is now using, and I'm not real happy with the queue house, but within the confines of what was reasonable, Holiday World came up with a fantastic coaster. About eight months ago, I went on the record saying that, should someone ask me, "If we could build you a coaster, what would it look like? You know, [The Voyage] may be pretty close." That was my impression back when the ride was under construction. Now that I have ridden it, I think the prediction still holds.
As much as I would have liked to, I didn't spend the whole evening riding The Voyage. When it was almost too late to do so, I went to Kringle's for dinner, and all night long I talked with people I had not seen in years. In fact I think it was Buck himself who remarked that EVERYBODY seemed to be at Holiday World for the event. Come to think of it, when was the last time I saw Buck at an event? Or Rastus, for crying out loud! Obviously this event was a Big Deal. After dinner, I rode some more, and when the line for The Voyage was cut, I took my last rides of the night on The Raven. Then I waited a good long time for Dave and John to finally be among the last people to come up the hill from The Voyage. I guess Dave was on the last train of the night. I consoled myself with the knowledge that by taking my last ride of the night on The Raven I managed to avoid walking up a particularly nasty hill.
Our hotel was in Evansville, almost an hour away. For that reason, I rather appreciated the early end on Friday night. That would not be repeated on Saturday. Hotel choice is one of the areas in which I have become a little more selective in recent years, as Internet connectivity is practically a requirement for me nowadays. So we stayed a little further out than in the past to get a better room at a better price.
Saturday morning came far too quickly. I still don't fully appreciate why Dave and John both wanted to partake in the waterpark ERT on Saturday morning, knowing that not only would we all have to get up early, they would also have to give up a full hour of coaster riding waiting for Holiday World to let us out of the waterpark. It wasn't quite as bad as it was a few years ago, but I don't understand why Holiday World insists on holding us in the waterpark until the waterpark opens. I would think that from a traffic control perspective it would be better to get the coaster nuts out just before the waterpark officially opens, or to provide an alternate exit from the waterpark for us to get out as the mob of "normal people" is coming in. You know, I'll bet it would be fairly easy to open a gate to get an ad-hoc path from the waterpark service gate, under the Voyage, and directly onto the "Thanksgiving" midway down near the new restaurant now under construction...
I got a ride or two on The Voyage, including one in the front seat. I noticed that lines had been marked on the gravel beneath the ride, and I saw that there was already a photo tour in progress for the people who had been deputized to help out with crowd control later. I took the opportunity to stroll through the park. Dave Bowers complained that he was denied a ride on the Eagle's Flight due to an unpublished "no single riders" rule, but I am pleased to report that when I rode, I rode solo with no difficulty at all. I was a little disappointed in the ride action, but hardly surprised at that. The day was extremely hot and extremely humid, so I moved from ride to drink station most of the day. I did have a serving of the deep fried Oreo cookies (highly recommended!). I confess that this is my first visit to Holiday World since it was installed that I did not bother to ride the Howler. In fact, owing largely to the heat and humidity, I didn't ride a whole lot apart from the three wood coasters. Holiday World has a respectable ride collection, including a set of cute-but-typically-disappointing bumper cars, a Double Shot, and the second-best-running Spider in the region. I did manage rides on the HallowSwings and almost managed to ride the Scrambler before it was time to meet for the photo walk-back.
For the photo walk-back, we were directed out past the new restaurant, under the coaster, and along the now-famous white gravel road which runs along the waterpark side of The Voyage. For those who had not been out there before, the trip offered a good impression of just how steep of a hill the ride actually sits on. I've talked about it at length already, but it's really a long way up to the brake run, and climbing the hill is a good way to get a feel for it. For the walkback, the park actually allowed us to stand on the tunnel at the top of the hill, and then to walk part of the way down towards the turnaround. While we were back there, we could also see how the mid-course brakes were operating: as the train came up the hill from the turnaround, we could hear the brakes open. As the train dove into the tunnel, we could hear them close again. That's exactly the way a mid-course brake should work, staying closed for safety until the train approaches, then opening completely while the train goes through. Pity there is no vantage point above the brake run where you can actually see the calipers function.
I was one of the last back into the park at the end of the walkback. A few more rides and it was time for dinner. This time it was a more traditional 'enthusiast buffet' meal than Friday night, basically a hot dog supper. Along with dinner, Holiday World also set up a 'straight sale' for some of their more common
junkcollectible items, and a silent auction for some larger, less common stuff. A lot of people got their (worn-out) bearings at the sale, and I was surprised at the number of worn-out wheels from both of the older coasters. In fact I asked about it, as I remember talking with maintenance people at Kings Island several years ago and learning that the Racer was running on some wheels that were nearly 30 years old. The Raven is not nearly so old, and yet many of its wheels were being disposed of, still with plenty of surface left on them. One of the maintenance guys present explained that most of them are probably either cracked, or would need resurfacing, and as they beat up their wheels they prefer to simply replace them. Remembering how much airtime the Raven has compared to the Racer I can understand how the wheels might not last as long. Some of the auction items were kind of interesting, including car divider panels, a couple of old lap bars, and the old pre-computer control stand from the Raven. A lot of people seemed to think I should have bought that one, but to be honest with you, I don't think it would fit in the car, particularly given the amount of luggage that John and Dave brought along. Now, if they were selling off one of the original Raven handlebars, that I might have gone for. I wonder if those are still around somewhere [Footnote 4].
The evening ERT, as you can imagine, sent most of us into absolute coaster overload. Holiday World "pulled out all the stops" to show us a good time on the three wood coasters. After working on the train all day long, they managed to run The Voyage with all three trains, I understand for the first time with actual people on board. The coasters got faster and faster, and the more I rode The Voyage the more I really liked it. I did try to get a second ride on the Gobbler Getaway, but the ride broke down just as I entered the building. I was one of the people who volunteered to walk through the ride, perhaps even pushing the ride vehicle, but instead they walked out the people who were riding already, and we went out for more rides on The Voyage. At the end of the evening, I took a back-seat ride on The Legend and found out that almost nobody was riding the thing. Then I was careful to get to The Raven in time to not have to walk up the hill. In fact, I got a back-seat ride, then a quick re-ride in the second or third car. In fact, a quick quadruple re-ride, someting I'm not sure if I would want to do on The Voyage.
What am I saying? Of course I would LOVE to do that on The Voyage.
Of course we would all have loved to keep riding all night long. But the evening had to come to an end. And it's a good thing, too, since we were all exhausted by this time. We were all just happy to be there, happy to be at Holiday World, happy to be riding three of the greatest wood coasters ever built. Thank you, Holiday World. Thank you for having us. Thank you for holding another event. And thank you for building what might be the very best wood coaster around. How appropriate that it anchors the Thanksgiving section of the park, as it gives us all so much to be thankful for.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: (out of a possible 800. My score, 18 years ago, was 590) [Return to text]
Footnote 2: Sorry, don't waste the effort. As of this writing, high-resolution aerial photographs of Holiday World are not available through the usual sources. [Return to text]
Footnote 3: Pat Koch earned her M. Div. degree from Loyola some years ago. [Return to text]
Footnote 4: A cynic might suggest that they got used in the train for Cornball Express. I am not such a cynic, though. [Return to text]
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