ROLLER COASTER REVIEWS

Friday, July 4, 2014

DEMON - SIX FLAGS GREAT AMERICA

This Arrow Dynamics looper dates back to 1976 and remains in pretty good condition for its age.  Consisting of six cars seating two across in rows of two for a total capacity of 24 riders, the train leaves the loading station, travels through a short tunnel, ascends  a 103.7-foot lift hill, veers left and drops 90 feet.  It then goes through two consecutive vertical loops before entering a tunnel with special lighting effects.  From there it rises, negotiates a left turn and enters a second tunnel, finishing with a double corkscrew before returning to the station.

The ride experience is enjoyable for the first three quarters of the ride.  Although some

may disagree with me,  I found the double corkscrew brutally rough and consequently had no inclination to re-ride.  Demon is OK if you don’t mind getting banged up a bit.  2 ½ out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Six Flags Great America,  visit www.sixflags.com/greatamerica



AMERICAN EAGLE

A wooden racing coaster with an out and back layout, American Eagle bears the distinction of being the first wooden coaster designed by Intamin.   It probably holds a record for longest entryway to a ride, as it’s necessary to go up and down a number of ramps and flights of stairs to get to the loading station.  There are four trains – two red and two blue – each of which accommodates 30 riders (five cars seating two across in rows of three).   Upon leaving the station, the blue train makes a left turn and the red train makes a right turn before ascending a 127-foot lift hill.  Both trains then drop 147 feet on a straight course – but not at the same time – then travel over a couple of airtime hills and hit a set of trim brakes before entering a left-banked 560-degree helix, in which the red train has the inside track.   This is followed by more airtime hills and a second helix.  The red and blue trains are not always on the same course or going through the same elements until they hit the brake run and it’s a matter of which one crosses the finish line first.


The ride experience is excellent, not nearly as rough as would be expected for a coaster that’s been operating since 1981.  A 147-foot drop is remarkable for a wooden racing coaster; that’s 57 feet more than Hersheypark’s Lightning Racer, another outstanding wooden racing coaster!  The only thing I didn’t like about it is that it is SOOOO slow right before entering the first helix.   Otherwise it’s fine.   American Eagle is simply a delight.  4 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Six Flags Great America,  visit www.sixflags.com/greatamerica


VIPER - SIX FLAGS GREAT AMERICA

A wooden coaster featuring a layout modeled after the Coney Island Cyclone, Viper takes it riders through a rollicking series of turns and airtime hills.   With five cars seating two across in rows of three for a total capacity of 30 riders, the train makes two left turns from the loading station and ascends a 100-foot lift hill, dropping 80 feet sharply to the left before going up into a right-banked turn followed by two consecutive drops.  It turns left and travels over two airtime hills through headchoppers, once again turning left with a double down.  Continuing its course over a series of small hills, it never lets up until hitting the brake run. 


The ride experience is, in a word, super.  Although patterned after the Cyclone, Viper has none of the Cyclone’s punishing roughness.  It is a little rough but not uncomfortably so.   I was fine sitting in the back, something I would never do on the Cyclone.    The ride features a couple of very, very good airtime hills and while the top speed is 50 mph, it gives the impression of going along at a pretty good clip.   In an age of modern wooden coasters with staggering drops, this relatively small coaster can hold its own.  Viper is a gem.  5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Six Flags Great America, visit www.sixflags.com/greatamerica


RAGING BULL

This Bolliger and Mabillard “hyper-twister” coaster contains many of the same elements as other B&M hyper coasters but with a different layout.  (The restraints consists of lap bars similar to those on other B&M hypers.) Seating four across in nine rows for a total capacity of 36, the train makes a left turn from the station, dips (like B&M’s Nitro) and ascends a 202-foot lift hill.  Upon reaching the top, it makes a pre-drop before plummeting 208 feet into a tunnel at 73 mph and going up into the first of two hammerhead turns.   Coming off the hammerhead turn, the train slows perceptibly in ascending the second hill.  This is because trim brakes were added since the ride first opened.   After dropping 128 feet the train passes under the lift hill and ascends to the second hammerhead turn.  The ride features a number of twists and unlike other B&M hyper coasters I’ve ridden, this one has a helix AFTER the brake run, not before.   The helix is followed by several turns and some bunny hills.


The ride experience is enjoyable and at 2 minutes 30 seconds, you get a lot of ride for your money.   The pre-drop at the top of the lift hill is fun because riders get the impression that they are about to take off, only to discover that this was just a teaser.  (Pre-drops are common – B&M’s Apollo’s Chariot has one – and designed to ease the tension on the chain pulling the train up the lift hill.)  One thing I didn’t like about the ride was the trim brakes, as I felt that they detracted from the overall ride experience and created the impression that the train was about to lose power.   All in all, however, Raging Bull gives you a ride which is definitely above average.  4 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Six Flags Great America, visit www.sixflags.com/greatamerica

X-FLIGHT

An aviation-themed wing coaster, X-Flight soars through multiple inversions on 3000 feet of steel track.  Seating two across in eight rows on opposite sides of the track for a total capacity of 32 riders, the train loads from a station designed to resemble an airplane hangar.   After ascending a 120-foot lift hill, it goes into a 120-foot dive drop, reaching its maximum speed of 55mph.  This is followed by a zero-g roll, Immelmann loop, turn over water and second zero-g roll.  After that comes the most thrilling element of the ride, an in-line twist through a “keyhole” in a very real air control tower acquired from Chicago’s O’Hare airport.  A couple of turns later the ride is over.

 The ride is nicely themed, down to the ride ops in their flight suits.  The ride experience itself is intense from start to finish, particularly so at the point at which the train passes through the control tower.  Riders have the perception of a near collision.   I found this to be especially true when riding on the right side, because of the way the train rolls over.   It was a feeling of omigod, we’re going to hit that tower!  Even after multiple rides, I felt the same way.  X-Flight is a well-designed and highly entertaining coaster.  4 ½ out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Six Flags Great America, visit www.sixflags.com/greatamerica



GOLIATH - SIX FLAGS GREAT AMERICA

Hailed as the tallest, fastest and steepest wooden coaster in existence as of 2014, Goliath is the second record-breaking woodie built by Rocky Mountain Construction to open in two consecutive years.  (Outlaw Run was the first.)   This massive structure features 3100 feet of track contained within a fairly compact area.   Consisting of six cars seating two across in rows of two for a total capacity of 24 riders, the train makes a left turn from the loading station and ascends a 45-degree, 165-foot lift hill.   It then drops 180 feet at an 85-degree angle into a tunnel, reaching its maximum speed of 72 mph, goes up into an overbanked turn and drops again.  This is followed by a dive loop and zero-g stall.   The track is full of twists and turns and during the latter part of the ride the train travels through a second tunnel.


The ride experience is nothing short of amazing.   The first drop is spectacular, the dive loop insanely good and the zero-g stall awesome.   This is the first wooden coaster to feature a dive loop and zero-g stall.  It’s the second one from Rocky Mountain Construction to feature inversions without an overhead harness.  The restraints consist of a combination lap bar and shin guard, with nothing to hold onto, contributing to the sense of vulnerability.  I loved the restraints and everything else about this coaster.   Goliath is a marvel of engineering and an absolute delight.  5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Six Flags Great America, visit www.sixflags.com/greatamerica



Saturday, June 28, 2014

WILD BEAST - CANADA'S WONDERLAND

Wild Beast is the smaller of the two wooden coasters at Canada’s Wonderland manufactured by Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters.   Seating 28 riders (7 cars seating two across in two rows), the train makes a left turn out of the station, veers slightly right and ascends an 82-foot lift hill.  It then drops 78 feet to the left, traverses a small hill, makes a left turn, goes over another small hill, turns right for a couple of small hills, then left for more small hills before heading back to the station.   What struck me most about this coaster is the lateral motion.  It’s a rough ride, and the experience of repeatedly being thrown from side to side reminded me of the Coney Island Cyclone at its worst – although this is not nearly as good or thrilling a ride as the Cyclone.  2 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Canada’s Wonderland, visit www.canadaswonderland.com

MIGHTY CANADIAN MINEBUSTER - CANADA'S WONDERLAND

This wooden coaster built by  Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters dates back to the opening of Canada’s Wonderland in 1981.  Consisting of five cars seating two across in rows of three, the train makes a left turn out of the station and ascends a 90-foot lift hill, making a dip before turning right and dropping 87 feet, reaching a maximum speed of 55.9 mph.  It then traverses a succession of small hills, turns right and drops.   After more small hills the train banks left and enters a tunnel.  Upon exiting the tunnel it makes a left turn and returns to the station.  The ride is just OK for negative-g forces but what a bumpy ride!  I found myself bouncing up and down to the point at which it felt uncomfortable.   Mighty Canadian Minebuster feels every bit as old as its 33 years. 2 ½ out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Canada’s Wonderland, visit www.canadaswonderland.com

Thursday, June 26, 2014

DRAGON FIRE

This Arrow Dynamics looping coaster is classified as “extreme” by Roller Coaster Database.  The stats are not particularly impressive but the ride could be said to be extreme in terms of its intensity.  With seven cars seating two across and accommodating four riders for a total capacity of twenty eight, the train makes a left turn out of the station and ascends a 78-foot lift hill, drops 78 feet and travels through two consecutive loops.  At a maximum speed of 50 mph, it turns left and goes through a double corkscrew.   This is followed by a right turn, after which the train enters a helix before returning to the station.   What makes this coaster somewhat unique is that it’s the only Arrow Dynamics coaster on which the riders go through the corkscrew element in a counterclockwise direction.  Unique or not, this ride is, in my opinion, torturous.   At 1 minute 30 seconds, it’s mercifully short – mercifully because it’s rough to the point of being painful.   I got such an ear-boxing that nothing would tempt me to ride it again.   Dragon Fire is by no means uninteresting but I found it unenjoyable in the extreme.  2 out of 5 stars.   Photograph courtesy of Canada’s Wonderland.  For more information about rides at Canada’s Wonderland, visit www.canadaswonderland.com

VORTEX

Although I’d ridden a number of inverted coasters, I’d never ridden a suspended coaster, so that this was a new experience.   Built by Arrow Dynamics, Vortex is one of several coasters configured around Canada’s Wonderland’s Wonder Mountain.  Consisting of six cars seating two across in rows of two,  the train proceeds directly from the loading station up a 91-foot lift hill, reaching the centre of the mountain, before making a right turn and dropping 85 feet.  It negotiates a series of sweeping sideways turns, flying over the grass and at one point swooping just over the water.   What makes this ride especially dynamic is that the cars swing freely from side to side, resulting in lateral g forces.    I found, however, that the swinging motion also contributes to the ride’s being a bit rough in spots.   Given the coaster’s design, the restraints are, not surprisingly, harnesses.  With a speed of 55 mph, Vortex is the fastest coaster of this type in operation as of 2014.  3 out of 5 stars.    For more information about rides at Canada’s Wonderland visit www.canadaswonderland.com 

BACKLOT STUNT COASTER

A linear induction motor launch coaster, Backlot Stunt Coaster is themed after the chase scene at the end of the film Italian Job.  The train consists of three cars, each seating four riders, two across, that look like exactly that – cars.   From the station the train is launched in 3 seconds from 0 to 40 mph and enters a right upward helix before dropping, veering right and going through several mainly left-banked turns.  While this is happening, it passes police cars and highway signs.  It comes to a stop and there is a second launch into a tunnel.  In total darkness the train twists around several times before emerging into daylight, banking left and heading back to the station.   As originally designed by Premier Rides, the coaster featured numerous special effects but most of these have been removed.  I actually rode this coaster by accident, thinking that I had entered the queue for a completely different coaster, but found the ride to be highly entertaining.  Backlot Stunt Coaster gets 3 out of 5 stars.  Photo courtesy of Canada’s Wonderland. For more information about rides at Canada’s Wonderland, visit www.canadaswonderland.com

FLIGHT DECK - CANADA'S WONDERLAND

Formerly known as Top Gun and nicely themed after the film of that name,  Flight Deck is a Vekoma extreme inverted coaster featuring five inversions including a roll over, sidewinder and double in-line twist.  Please see my review of Mind Eraser; as far as I can determine, Flight Deck is essentially the same ride.  The stats and elements are identical.  And so is the roughness of the ride, the only difference being that whereas Mind Eraser was equally rough on the head, neck and shoulders, Flight Deck was primarily rough on the shoulders – so brutally rough that a day after riding it my shoulders were still sore.  2 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Canada’s Wonderland, visit www.canadaswonderland.com


BEHEMOTH

This B&M hypercoaster is noteworthy for both the height and length of the ride.  Seating only two across in eight rows staggered so that in the first row the seats are side by side and in the second spaced apart, the train makes a right turn from the station before ascending a 230-foot lift hill.   It then drops 215 feet at a 75-degree angle, drops again and goes up into a hammerhead turn.   From the front row, the hang time over the initial drop is absolutely mind-blowing, more intense than that on any other coaster I’d ridden.  It was equivalent to experiencing ejector airtime before the train even dropped.  After the hammerhead turn are three consecutive airtime-filled drops – the last of which is over a lake - followed by a brake run.  The train then enters a helix and navigates several bunny hills before returning to the station.  Unlike other B&M coasters of roughly similar design, on which the restraints consist of only lap bars, this one has both lap bars and seat belts.  This towering monster is aptly named.  Smooth, fast and powerful, Behemoth is a coaster well worth riding.  And with a ride duration of 3 minutes 10 seconds, you get a lot of ride for your money.  5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Canada’s Wonderland, visit www.canadaswonderland.com

LEVIATHAN

One of only four giga coasters (full-circuit coasters between 300 and 399 feet in height) in existence as of 2014, Leviathan is the tallest coaster manufactured by Bolliger & Mabillard and a sight to behold.  Seating four across in eight rows, the train makes a right turn from the loading station before ascending a 306-foot chain lift hill.  The chain lift is impressively fast.  Once at the top, the train drops a precipitous 306 feet at an 80-degree angle into a tunnel, and what a drop!  It was breathtaking.  The initial drop is followed by an overbanked right turn and second drop (location of the on-ride camera), after which the train turns sharply left.  The left turn comes as a complete surprise and provides some good ejector airtime.   Another drop and the train shoots up into a camelback.  At one point it crosses the track.  There is no brake run until the conclusion of the ride, as the train is returning to the station. With multiple airtime hills (lots of floater airtime) hammerhead turn and maximum speed of 92 mph, the ride is first class from start to finish.  Leviathan is smooth, fast, furious and fun. 5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Canada’s Wonderland, visit www.canadaswonderland.com



Friday, January 10, 2014

AVALANCHE

     
      Kings Dominion

This Mack bobsled coaster – the only one operating in the USA at the time of writing – was quite a departure from anything I’d ridden previously, as I’d never ridden a coaster without tracks.  So this proved to be a refreshing change.  From the 69-foot lift hill, the train drops a mere 12 feet before negotiating a series of chutes.  While hardly an aggressive thrill ride, it affords reasonably good lateral G-forces.  The sinuous motion results in an out of control feeling.  Avalanche is nicely themed, with 7 cars per train designed to look like Olympic bobsleds from different countries.  This was a fun ride.  2 1/2 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Kings Dominion, visit https://www.kingsdominion.com/

Thursday, November 21, 2013

BLUE STREAK CEDAR POINT

In operation since 1964, Blue Streak is one of the first coasters park guests see upon entering Cedar Point.   It’s a traditional out and back woodie and something of a classic, harking back to the days when building a roller coaster didn’t require a huge investment.  (This one was built for a modest $200,000.)  From the loading area, the train makes a left turn and ascends a 78-foot lift hill before dropping 72 feet.   It then proceeds over several consecutive hills, negotiates a left-banked turn and traverses a further series of hills before hitting the brake run.   The ride is somewhat bumpy in spots – you can feel that you’re riding a pretty old coaster - but not to the point of being rough, and there are some nice moments of airtime.  Having just ridden Millennium Force after waiting 2 ½ hours to get on it, I was delighted to discover that there was no wait at all to get on Blue Streak.   OK, so it’s not in the same league as MF or some of the other big coasters at Cedar Point, but Blue Streak can still give a good ride and a fun one.  3 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Cedar Point, visit www.cedarpoint.com. Photo courtesy of COASTERIMAGE.COM

Friday, November 1, 2013

ROLLING THUNDER

A wooden duelling coaster about to be dismantled, Rolling Thunder opened in 1979 and closed in September of 2013.   With two tracks accessed by separate entrances, it did not always operate as a racing coaster; on many of my visits to the park, the trains on only one track were up and running.  The two tracks featured different layouts, the one common element being an initial drop of 85 feet.  Each track featured a number of hills and turns.   When the ride first opened, the restraints were buzz bars;  seat dividers and seat belts were added later.

This coaster has been much maligned and while I would have to say that it was showing its age, it wasn’t nearly as bad as some would have you believe.  True, it felt somewhat rickety, but was still rideable and from the back it offered some nice pops of airtime.  It wasn’t as rough as some other old or aging wooden coasters I’ve ridden – most notably the Coney Island Cyclone, Mean Streak at Cedar Point and Grizzly at Kings Dominion.   It was a good coaster for those who could or would not ride El Toro.   My last ride on Rolling Thunder was with a 72-year-old woman who had no inclination whatsoever to ride El Toro.   So with Rolling Thunder about to become history, the park will no longer have an intermediate wooden coaster. 

In a way it’s sad to see this coaster go.  And it was a lot of fun to cross over its tracks while on El Toro.  Rolling Thunder may not have been any great shakes but it was an integral part of the park and served a purpose.  2 ½ out of 5 stars.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

DORNEY PARK AND WILDWATER KINGDOM

Located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, slightly over an hour from Philadelphia, Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom is the home of numerous flat rides, three water rides and eight roller coasters.  Steel Force was the first roller coaster on the east coast to break the 200-foot barrier and Thunderhawk, built in 1923, is one of the oldest operating coasters in the USA.   Talon the Grip of Fear is arguably one of the best inverted coasters to be found anywhere.

The water park is included in the main park and features White Water Landing, a real soaker for which guests familiar with the ride come prepared with swimsuits.   Thunder Creek Mountain is a traditional log flume ride which breaks down a lot. 

The park contains numerous rides suitable for families, including the Woodstock Express roller coaster.    Many of the rides are classics, such as Tilt-a-Whirl and Scrambler.   Demon Drop, a freefall ride which elevates and then drops riders, landing them flat on their backs, was imported from Cedar Point.  This makes sense, as both Cedar Point and Dorney Park are owned by Cedar Fair.  Dinosaurs Alive is a walk-through attraction involving a minimal upcharge ($5.00).

The park is nicely laid out and if you know where to go, you can stroll along a quiet path away from the crowds.   One of the best paths is the one that can be accessed by making a left turn from the exit of Steel Force and walking along the side of Thunderhawk.  The only real drawback in the layout of the park is the difficult in locating restrooms.

Dining options are plentiful and much as could be expected at a theme park.  The park does have a Chickie’s and Pete’s sports bar.

The park offers Fast Lane access to rides for an upcharge but whether this would be cost-effective is debatable.  When the author visited Dorney (twice), most rides were a walk-on, the exceptions being the water rides.  The longest waits were for Talon and Hydra, and only ten or fifteen minutes at most.  Although the park was heavily populated, it was possible to get in fourteen roller coaster rides in the space of four or five hours without having to resort to Fast Lane.  For more information about Dorney Park, visit https://www.dorneypark.com/‎  Photograph courtesy of coasterimage.com.


Dorney Park is a pleasant theme park with some good rides.  None of them are blockbusters but they are more than adequate. 4 ½ out of 5 stars.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

THE HURLER KINGS DOMINION


This coaster is fairly unremarkable by today’s standards.  It’s a classic woodie with all that that implies.   After ascending the 83-foot lift hill, the train makes a turn before arriving at the first drop. The  80-foot drop is nothing to write home about and the rest of the ride is about the same, with a banked turn and series of drops most notable for their bumpiness.  The maximum speed is only 50mph.   I found it to be a fun ride with some pops of airtime but a rough one.  It was rough even in the front row so I can only imagine how rough it must be in the back.   2 ½ out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Kings Dominion, go to www.kingsdominion.com/

Sunday, September 8, 2013

THEME PARK REVIEWS - ALPHABETICALLY


BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA

Approximately 25 minutes away from Tampa International Airport by automobile, Busch Gardens Tampa is an African-themed theme park operated by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.    One of the first things park guests see after entering is a colourful flock of flamingos and this is a precursor of things to come.  This park is the home of numerous forms of wildlife including zebra, giraffes, cheetahs and ostriches.  It’s also the home of eight roller coasters, including the daunting dive coaster SheiKra (sister to Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Griffon), the launch coaster Cheetah Hunt and the awesome Montu, arguably one of the best inverts ever built.

Among the animal exhibits are Cheetah Run, Edge of Africa walking safari and Jungala, featuring Bengal tigers, orangutans and a zip line.   The Serengeti Plain can be toured in an open air vehicle for an upcharge (as of 2013, $19.00 to $39.00.)

The rides range from intense coasters to Congo River Rapids to a sky ride.  For kids there’s a Sesame Street Safari of Fun and the Serengeti Railway among other attractions.  Unlike Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Busch Gardens Tampa actually has a wooden coaster.  Gwazi used to be a duelling coaster with Lion and Tiger sides but the Tiger side was closed, so now only the Lion side operates.

There are numerous dining options and an all-day dining deal is available for $32.99.  Tickets are somewhat pricey at $89.00 although as of September 2013 the park was offering admission plus all-day dining for that price.  At this time weekday admission tickets were available for $50.00.  The park also offers entertainment in the form of shows.

Busch Gardens Tampa is an exceptionally beautiful and well-landscaped theme park.  5 out of 5 stars.   For more information about Busch Gardens Tampa, visit seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-tampa‎  Photo courtesy of coasterimage.com


BUSCH GARDENS WILLIAMSBURG   
           
Located three miles outside of Williamsburg, Virginia, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is easily accessible from three airports: Richmond, Norfolk and Newport NewsNewport News is by far the closest; it’s about a half hour drive and a straight shot from this airport to the theme park.   This park ranks among the most beautifully themed and landscaped parks in existence.  It’s the home of Apollo’s Chariot, consistently ranked among the top ten steel coasters in the USA, Alpengeist, a highly rated inverted coaster, and Griffon, an awe-inspiring dive coaster which hangs the riders over a precipice at 205 feet in the air before dropping them abruptly at a 90-degree angle.

The park is divided into sections themed to represent different areas of Europe and features over 50 rides and attractions.  In Festa Italia, you can ride Apollo’s Chariot, raft ride Roman Rapids, the bobsled ride Elephant Run and a couple of others.   In Rhineland is Alpengeist, themed to resemble a ski lodge or chalet, a carousel and a Ferris wheel.   In Aquitaine is the amazing Griffon.   Heatherdowns is the home of the Loch Ness Monster, the first coaster with interlocking loops, while Oktoberfest is the location of the park’s newest coaster, Verbolten.  These are just a few areas of the park, which also features a sky ride and numerous flat rides.

Dining options at this park are among the most eclectic to be found at any theme park, with restaurants featuring English, Scottish, Irish, German, French and Italian type fare.   A food and wine festival takes place during a limited part of the operating season. Also on the menu is live entertainment, most notably IllumiNights, a show featuring performances and fireworks, and multiple shopping options.  Park guests can also get close to Clydesdales and collies.

As of 2013, Quick Queue access to selected rides is available at two levels.  $30.00 will get you one-time priority access to rides but for unlimited access the price goes up to $55.00. 

Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a gorgeous and imaginatively designed theme park.  5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about the park, visit seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-williamsburg 

Photo courtesy of coasterimage.com


CEDAR POINT

The “Roller Coaster Capital of the World,” with sixteen coasters, Cedar Point is located in Sanduksy, Ohio, an hour drive from Cleveland.    Encompassing 364 acres and incorporating the Soak City water park, Cedar Point is the second oldest continuously operating theme park in the country.  It opened in 1870 and grew to be a mecca for coaster enthusiasts.

On a Lake Erie peninsula, the park is beautifully scenic.  With the addition of Gatekeeper in 2013, it has taken on a new appearance, as part of this coaster overhangs the entrance.   Cedar Point features some extreme thrill rides, most notably Millennium Force, one of only two Intamin giga coasters in existence as of 2013.   (Although worldwide there are four full circuit coasters with a drop of at least 300 feet, the other manufacturers do not use this terminology.) Millennium Force offers a breathtaking view of Lake Erie on the left from the 310-foot cable lift hill and an even more breathtaking initial drop of 300 feet at an 80-degree angle.   Other notable coasters are the wild and crazy Maverick, the 420-foot tall launch coaster Top Thrill Dragster which accelerates to 120mph in 4 seconds,  the delightful inverted coaster Raptor and Magnum X-L 200, the first coaster to break the 200-foot barrier.  For park guests who prefer something less extreme, there are a number of rides suitable for families and children.

This theme park also features live entertainment and a wide selection of restaurants and food concessions, including those that cater to special dietary needs.   It also offers Fast Lane access to rides for an upcharge and V.I.P tours with a personal guide and immediate access to rides, for a pretty hefty upcharge ($395 as of 2013).

Those planning to visit Cedar Point should be aware that this park is heavily patronised and therefore almost invariably crowded.   A wait time of anywhere from an hour to two hours to get on the most popular rides is not uncommon, especially toward the end of the operating season when Halloween festivities take place.  Nevertheless, a visit to Cedar Point is an experience worth having.  From the point of view of theme park aficionados, if you haven’t been to Cedar Point, you haven’t been anywhere.  5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about the park, visit https://www.cedarpoint.com/‎  Photo courtesy of www.coasterimage.com




DOLLYWOOD

In Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, an hour’s drive from McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Dollywood is a theme park in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.   It’s the site of numerous rides and attractions including Wild Eagle, the country’s first wing coaster (winner of the Golden Ticket award for best new attraction of 2012), and Thunderhead, consistently ranked among the top ten wooden coasters in the USA.  Mystery Mine is one of the most innovative and unusual coasters to be found anywhere, while Tennessee Tornado is a wonderful looper with video cameras in the first three rows, enabling riders to view their videos and upload them onto YouTube.

Among the many rides are Daredevil Falls (log flume), SkyZip (zip line), Rockin’ Roadway and Wonder Wheel, to name just a few.   There is also a dual launch family coaster and kiddie coaster.  Other attractions include a bald eagle sanctuary and museum containing exhibits from Dolly Parton’s illustrious career.

For a minimal upcharge, park guests can avail themselves of the Q2Q electronic device, commonly known as the Q-bot, which waits in the ride queue for them so that they don’t have to physically wait in the queue.

Dining options are plentiful, with an emphasis on southern cooking.   The park also features entertainment with an emphasis on live performances.   Auditions are held periodically.

As of 2013, a one-day admission ticket cost $57.00 but Dollywood does offer a very good deal in that guests who enter the park after 3pm can return the next day for no additional charge.  Parking is reasonably priced at $10.00 and unlike many parks, Dollywood offers rain checks.  The adjacent water park, Dollywood’s Splash Country, is not included in the price of admission to the main park.

Dollywood is a friendly and scenic theme park which makes excellent use of its mountainous terrain.  (This is especially evident with Wild Eagle.)  5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about Dollywood, visit www.dollywood.com/


 HERSHEYPARK

“The sweetest place on earth,” Hersheypark is located in – where else? – Hershey, PA,  about two hours northwest of Philadelphia by automobile.   This theme park is beautifully laid out, to the point of being picturesque.  It features an outstanding lineup of roller coasters, most notable of which are the tall launch coaster Storm Runner, the somewhat daunting Fahrenheit with its vertical lift hill, the double-tracked dueling coaster Lightning Racer and the breathtaking Skyrush (the park’s newest coaster, opened in May of 2012).  There are more than 65 rides and attractions, including eleven coasters, a cable car sky ride and a monorail.   The park has an abundance of family and kiddie rides along with a boardwalk water park.

Hersheypark offers live entertainment, including concerts on Sundays from May to the end of September.   It also offers multiple dining options, from full service dining to food concessions tempting park guests with anything from pizza to falafel to pierogies.  As of 2013, park guests could buy a meal ticket which includes a 32-ounce souvenir cup with 99-cent refills for $13.75.  Kosher, gluten-free, dairy free and vegetarian meals are among the many choices.  On the subject of comestibles, it’s worth mentioning that the legendary Chocolate World is located just outside the theme park.  Many of Hershey’s chocolate products and other confections are available for purchase within the park itself.    Hershey’s fudge is especially delectable.

Fast Track access to rides is available for an upcharge.   This includes 9 coasters and Skyrush is not one of them.   The downside of the program is that on a number of rides, certain rows are reserved for Fast Track and these rows often end up empty, so that other park guests end up waiting longer to get on.

This is a popular park and wait times for some rides is significantly longer than for others.  Those who want to ride Fahrenheit are in for a longer wait because the trains accommodate only 12 riders whereas the trains on Skyrush accommodate 32.

The staff at Hersheypark is extremely courteous and helpful, one more reason why a visit to the park will usually prove to be a fun and rewarding experience.  5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about rides at Hersheypark, visit www.hersheypark.com/

HOLIDAY WORLD

Located in Santa Claus, Indiana, about a 45-minute drive from Evansville Regional Airport, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari is a family-owned and operated theme and water park.   It is very much family-oriented, with a down home feel that you don’t get at most theme parks.   It is also the home of The Voyage, arguably one of the best wooden coasters ever built and recipient of the Golden Ticket Award for #1 wooden coaster for five consecutive years.    The second longest woodie in the world, The Voyage is legendary for its first drop, succession of overbanked turns, tunnels, ride duration and scenery.

Unlike most theme parks, Holiday World does not have any steel hypercoasters.  What it does have is three outstanding wooden coasters, a steel family coaster and the two longest water coasters in the world.   The park features numerous family and kid rides along with a wide array of  food options catering to most dietary needs (veggie burgers are available); the Holiday World website even includes nutritional information for all food items sold at the park.  It also features live shows.

Another amenity offered by this park is free soft drinks at drink stations scattered throughout the park.   As most theme parks charge close to $4.00 for a soda, access to free refreshments is a great perk and a real blessing on a hot day.

Ticket prices are structured in such a way as to afford discounted admission for a two-day  visit.  As of 2013, general admission is $44.95 at the gate ($39.95 online), with a next day admission ticket priced at $27.00.  It’s not clear, however, whether the lower price for a second day is available with an online ticket purchase.  Either way, purchasing a two-day ticket will result in a saving of at least $8.00.

Park guests should be prepared to walk up and down a number of hills.

The staff at Holiday World is among the friendliest to be found at any theme park.   They will go out of their way to be helpful, assisting park guests with anything from navigating the park to getting driving directions to and from the park.  5 out of 5 stars.   For more information about Holiday World, visit www.holidayworld.com/  Photo of The Voyage courtesy of www.coasterimage.com

KINGS DOMINION

In Doswell, Virginia, 20 miles north of Richmond and 75 miles south of Washington, D.C., Kings Dominion is one of the many spectacular theme parks owned by Cedar Fair.  It’s easily accessible by I-95.   Featuring a superabundance of attractions, including fourteen roller coasters, this park has something for everyone.   Among the most noteworthy coasters is the redoubtable Intimidator 305, themed for the late race car driver Dale Earnhardt, with its awesome 300-foot drop and staggering twists in the track.   Volcano The Blast Coaster, an inverted launch coaster, until recently held the record for the longest inversion on any coaster, with a rollout at 155 feet.  Flight of Fear, another launch coaster, takes the riders through four inversions in the dark.  The park has a number of family rides and for kids, there are multiple options in the Planet Snoopy section.  It also has the WaterWorks water park.

Kings Dominion offers live entertainment in the form of a musical extravaganza, light show and karaoke, to name just a few attractions.  Not all of these attractions are open throughout the operating season; some are available only through September 1.

Due to the popularity of this park, ride queues often tend to be long, so the best option for getting in as many rides as possible is Fast Lane.  In order to have access to Intimidator 305, it is necessary to upgrade to Fast Lane Plus, $70 as of 2013.   Fast Lane Plus customers do not have access to the front row on I-305.

The staff is congenial and the park provides storage for loose articles which cannot be taken on rides.  On Volcano, a staff member actually wheels a cart through the loading station in order to collect any items that cannot not go along for the ride.

With shopping, multiple dining options (including an array of choices for vegetarians or others with special dietary needs) and some of the best rides to be had anywhere, Kings Dominion is a theme park in which park guests will not be disappointed.  5 out of 5 stars. For more information about Kings Dominion, visit https://www.kingsdominion.com/‎  Photo courtesy of www.coasterimage.com, a great website for coaster pix.


KINGS ISLAND
Located in Mason, Ohio, approximately equidistant from Cincinnati and Dayton, Kings Island is one of the premier theme parks in the Cedar Fair chain.  It’s one of only two parks in the USA – the other one being Six Flags Great Adventure – which has both a steel coaster (Diamondback) and wooden coaster (The Beast) outstanding enough to make the top ten for the Golden Ticket Awards.  The park features a total of 13 roller coasters, soon to be 14 with the addition of the eagerly anticipated Banshee in 2014.

There are enough rides and attractions to appeal to any taste and age group.   The non-coaster rides range from the White Water Canyon rafting ride, a 5-minute-long soaker, to a steam locomotive ride to traditional rides such as Dodgems and Scrambler.   The park has consistently won the Golden Ticket Award for “Best Kids Area.”  Soak City water park is included in the price of admission.  Dining options are fairly standard in terms of typical park fare.

This is a very popular park  - the second most visited in the USA after Cedar Point – and park guests should be prepared for long queues.   When the author visited Kings Island, it took almost half an hour to find a parking space, another half hour to get something to eat and a lot longer to get on a roller coaster.  The wait to get on Diamondback was 2 hours and the wait to get on The Beast was slightly over 2 hours.  In order to maximize a day at the park, guests would be well advised to purchase Fast Lane or Fast Lane Plus.  Diamondback is accessible by Fast Lane but The Beast requires Fast Lane Plus.  As of 2013, the price for Fast Lane online was $40.00 and for Fast Lane Plus, $60.00.

Kings Island is a pretty amazing park but because it’s almost invariably a mob scene, I cannot give it the 5 stars which it would otherwise deserve.  4 out of 5 stars.  For more information about attractions at Kings Island, visit https://www.visitkingsisland.com/‎  Photograph courtesy of COASTERIMAGE.COM




KNOEBELS AMUSEMENT RESORT

Located in rural Elysburg Pennsylvania, way off the beaten path (nearly 3 hours from Philadelphia by automobile) in the middle of nowhere, Knoebels is a family owned and operated amusement park, picnic grove and campground.   Whether Knoebels actually qualifies as a theme park is debatable, as there is no discernible theme.  However, it certain deserves a mention for its roller coasters and other attractions. Its primary claim to fame is the widely known Phoenix, consistently ranked among the top ten wooden roller coasters in the USA.   Described by someone as “the only standup wooden coaster,” this is an accurate description of a coaster which will have you bouncing out of your seat.

The park features over 60 rides, including the lesser known and aptly named Twister, another wooden coaster.    Other attractions include but are by no means limited to a 148-foot drop tower, haunted coal mine, swinging pirate ship, log flume and carousel dating back to 1913.

This park is very nicely laid out with bridges leading from one section to another.   Dining options are plentiful, ranging from waffle ice cream sandwiches to pierogies to burgers and similar fare.  Lacto-vegetarians can actually get a grilled cheese sandwich (a rare offering at parks) or a plate of mixed veggies.  The park also has a picnic area and adjacent campground.

One of the wonderful things about Knoebels is that admission is free!  So is parking.   Whereas most parks charge a moderate to hefty entry fee, Knoebels charges only by the ride.   Rides range in price from $.075 to $3.00 (scenic sky ride).  As of 2013, the cost of a ride on Phoenix was $2.50 and that is a bargain. 

Knoebels is a charming and very affordable place to visit.  5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about Knoebels, visit www.knoebels.com/  Photo courtesy of Coasterimage.com



MICHIGAN’S ADVENTURE

Located between Muskegon and Whitehall, Michigan’s Adventure describes itself as an amusement and water park rather than a theme park.  Even so, it’s owned by Cedar Fair and deserves to be included in the list of parks operated by that company.  Sprawling over 250 acres, Michigan’s Adventure is the home of some 53 rides including 7 roller coasters, most notable of which is Shivering Timbers.   Shivering Timbers, featuring six consecutive drops (probably a record) and phenomenal ejector airtime, has been consistently ranked among the top ten wooden coasters in the USA - and for devotees of woodies is worth the trip.

Otherwise the ride lineup at the park is less than stellar.   After Shivering Timbers, the best ride is undoubtedly Thunderhawk, an invert.   There are two kiddie coasters, a nice touch because it makes the park very family friendly.  Other rides include but are by no means limited to Bumper Boats, Flying Trapeze, (a swing ride), a Ferris wheel, scrambler and Tilt-A-Whirl.  The water park features wave pools, tubes, rafts and slides.

Dining options are primarily barbecue, burgers, hot dogs/corn dogs and chicken fingers.  The park does have an outdoor family grill and offers ice cream sundaes along with the funnel cake omnipresent at theme parks.   They also offer freshly cooked chips.

As of 2013, Fast Lane, allowing almost immediate access to rides, is available for as little as $35.00 when purchased online.  This is a bargain, as equivalent programs at other parks usually involve an investment of $50.00 and up.

Michigan’s Adventure is a nice park, perfect for anyone not looking for extreme thrill rides.  4 out of 5 stars.  For more information about Michigan’s Adventure, visit https://www.miadventure.com/


SILVER DOLLAR CITY

Located in BransonMissouri at the site of the historic Marvel Cave, Silver Dollar City is an 1880’s-themed theme park featuring multiple attractions including rides, shows, arts & crafts and a petting zoo.   It’s the home of Outlaw Run, one of the most exciting coasters to open in 2013, with the steepest drop of any wooden coaster in the USA and a unique double barrel roll.  Other notable rides include the launch coaster Powder Keg, powered by compressed air, and the B&M looper Wildfire.

The park has a distinct old west flavour which extends to the wardrobe of the staff.  Even the loading stations of the rides are filled with artifacts that revert to an earlier era and summon images of the old mining town over which the park was built.    A prime example of the d├ęcor is the stagecoach replica outside Outlaw Run.  There are so many things to do and see that a single day at this park is hardly sufficient.    Park guests can watch leatherworking, glass blowing, pottery and baking demonstrations among others.  An hour-long tour of the Marvel Cave, a national landmark in the Ozarks, is available but recommended only for those in good physical shape, as it involves walking up 600 steps.   There are a number of shows and music is heard throughout the park.  As to the rides, there are plenty for everyone.  Those who don’t dare to take on Outlaw Run or one of the other bigger rides can ride anything from a float trip to an indoor family coaster to a steam train to a kiddie coaster.

As of 2013, a Trailblazer pass affording priority access for up to 8 rides (those using this for Outlaw Run are limited to one) was available for $32.50.  At $58.00, admission tickets are in the mid price range for theme parks and seniors get only a $2.00 discount.

Dining options are plentiful with an emphasis on country cooking.


Silver Dollar City is a charming, friendly and utterly delightful theme park. 5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about Silver Dollar City, visit www.silverdollarcity.com/‎  Photo courtesy of coasterimage.com


SIX FLAGS FIESTA TEXAS

Located 15 minutes from downtown San Antonio in a beautiful setting, Six Flags Fiesta Texas is a 224-acre theme park featuring 49 rides including 8 roller coasters.   It’s the home of the exceptional Superman: Krypton Coaster, built over the side of a quarry, and the cutting edge Iron Rattler, one of the most exciting new coasters to open in 2013.

The park has rides for every age and inclination.  Those seeking high thrills can ride the 20-storey tall Sky Screamer while the little ones can ride Kiddie Koaster along the water.  Whistle Stop offers a railway tour of the park.    A water park separate from but bordering the main park offers additional attractions including a wave pool carved into the shape of the state of Texas.

Dining options are plentiful and range from ice cream on freshly baked waffle cones to turkey legs and sausage to nachos and chicken strips to Chinese food.   Beer and margaritas are available.   For entertainment the park features several shows including one with a live band.

Like all Six Flags parks, this one offers the Flash Pass for an upcharge, enabling guests to reserve rides without having to wait in line.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas is a scenic theme park with some good rides and a friendlier staff than can be found at some of the Six Flags parks in the eastern part of the USA.  5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about the park, visit www.sixflags.com/fiestatexas/




SIX FLAGS GREAT ADVENTURE

Opened in 1974 and located in JacksonNew Jersey, between New York and Philadelphia (about an hour drive from either city), Six Flags Great Adventure is the world’s largest theme park with 510 acres.    It boasts numerous rides and attractions, including thirteen roller coasters, the Hurricane Harbor water park and a newly opened (as of May, 2013) Safari Off Road Adventure.    The fact that one of these coasters won the 2012 Golden Ticket award for #1 wooden coaster and another won the 2012 Golden Ticket award for #3 steel coaster is something for the park to boast about.   There aren’t many theme parks that have both a wooden and steel coaster good enough to be in the top ten; with El Toro and Nitro, Six Flags Great Adventure offers two of  the best thrill rides to be had anywhere.  Those seeking an extra rush of adrenaline can be launched 456 feet in the air at 128mph on Kingda Ka.  The Sky Screamer, a flying swing ride, affords a spectacular view of the park 243 feet above the ground and the Dare Devil Dive, an upcharge attraction, allows park guests to experience a 15-storey freefall at 60mph.  The park also has plenty of rides suitable for families and children.

Historically, the park featured a drive-through safari.  With the institution of the Safari Off Road Adventure, park guests can travel through the animal preserve in a safari style vehicle with a knowledgeable tour guide.

Throughout the operating season, Six Flags Great Adventure features concerts and animal shows.  It also features a variety of restaurants and food concessions which cater to almost every taste.   Costumed characters are in abundance.  One of the add-ons available at this park is the Flash Pass, an electronic device that enables park guests to reserve rides without having to wait in line.  At the lowest level, the Flash Pass  involves a wait equal to the actual wait time of a ride, the only advantage being that this makes it possible to be off doing something else while waiting for the device to go off and flash “You can ride now” on the screen.  At the highest level, platinum (rather pricey at $115 as of 2013), the wait time is cut by 90% and consecutive riding is permitted.  Season pass holders get a $10 discount on the Flash Pass. Although more and more parks now offer Fast Lane access to rides for an upcharge, the Flash Pass system is unique to Six Flags parks.

One thing this park, unlike most, does not offer is discounted admission for seniors.  Another thing it doesn’t offer is storage bins for loose articles in the loading stations.  However, it does periodically run promotions that enable visitors to obtain tickets inexpensively.   A recent promotion offered one-day admission tickets for $39.99 with three-day advance purchase online.

With nice landscaping, easy accessibility from I-195 and a stellar ride lineup, Six Flags Great Adventure is a theme park worth visiting.   5 out of 5 stars.  For more information about the park, visit www.sixflags.com/greatadventure

SIX FLAGS NEW ENGLAND

Located in Agawam, Massachusetts, 17.2 miles from Hartford’s Bradley International Airport, Six Flags New England opened as Riverside Amusement Park in 1870 and continued to operate under that name until the end of the 1999 season, when it officially became a Six Flags park.    This park features a variety of attractions, including a water park which shares the name Hurricane Harbor with Six Flags Great Adventure.   There are eleven roller coasters, the most noteworthy of which are the awesome Bizarro (winner of the 2011 and 2012 Golden Ticket award for #2 steel coaster in the world) and Goliath, a giant inverted boomerang that’s frightening just to look at.   On the whole, the other coasters are not of the same calibre as those at Six Flags Great Adventure but they’re fun rides and there are approximately twenty rides designed specifically for kids, so families have a number of options.

Like all Six Flags parks, this theme park offers the Flash Pass, an electronic device that enables park guests to reserve a ride without having to wait in line, for an upcharge.   The Flash Pass is available at three levels – regular, gold and platinum, with platinum significantly cutting the wait time and permitting consecutive riding.

There are multiple dining options, and like other Six Flags parks, this park offers a season dining pass.  As of 2013, the pass cost $74.99 and included two meals on each visit to the park.   For season pass holders who visit frequently, the dining pass is an option which represents a significant savings over buying individual meals.

For entertainment, the park has a repertoire of shows and also hosts local entertainers who perform live.  It’s easily accessible to residents of both Massachusetts and Connecticut.  4 1/2 out of 5 stars.  For more information about Six Flags New England, visit www.sixflags.com/NEWENGLAND/  Photo courtesy of www.coasterimage.com