Looking For Amusement?

The tripadvisor website has come out with its ranking of the best amusement parks in the world.  Universal Studios Islands of Adventure — a park that the kids and I hit multiple times back in the ’90s, a few decades and no doubt a number of new attractions ago — got the number 1 ranking, and the Disney parks, both in the United States and abroad, fared well.

5e4b37fa-c64b-4b58-8521-659e3ee4bc00-large16x9_cedarpointnewcoasterBut as I scanned the list, I couldn’t help but notice an obvious omission:  Cedar Point, on the north coast of Ohio.  It’s not only not in the top 10, it’s not in the list of the top 25 parks in the world at all.  To find Cedar Point, you have to go to the ranking of parks just in the United States and click down to find “the Point” coming in at number 18.  It ranks behind parks I’ve never heard of, like “Santa’s Village” in Jefferson, New Hampshire, “Knoebels Amusement Resort” in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, and “Bay Beach Amusement Park” in Green Bay, Wisconsin — none of which look all that exciting, frankly, from the photos that accompany the rankings.

For most amusement park aficionados, and particularly roller coaster buffs, Cedar Point is one of the premier destinations in the world.  In fact, some people say it’s got the best collection of roller coasters and other thrill rides, anywhere.  If you go to Cedar Point on a fine, blue-sky summer day — and if you love coasters, it’s basically a requirement — you’ll see cars and RVs from across the country in the parking lot and hear every kind of language being spoken by visitors.  And many of those visitors will come back, year after year.  Can “Santa’s Village” say the same?

It all goes to show you that you should take rankings with a grain of salt, and exercise your own judgment based on your own interests.  Want to hang with elves?  “Santa’s Village” no doubt is right up your alley.  Want to experience the “It’s a Small World After All” ride until the annoying theme song is permanently seared into your brain?  Go the Disney route.  But if you want to go somewhere where there are great roller coasters, old and new, at every turn, and get your adrenaline supercharged as you rush along at 60 m.p.h. and do loops and circles and deal with serious g forces?  That’s where I’d go, and that means getting to the Point.

Getting To The Point

IMG_2667We spent Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday at Cedar Point and had a wonderful time.  Cedar Point, located on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio, is one of America’s premier amusement parks and a must-visit destination for any roller coaster fan.  The weather was flawless, too.

A few observations after experiencing thrill rides for the first time in a few years:

IMG_2666If you don’t think America is still a melting pot, you need to get to Cedar Point.  The park is popular with people of every imaginable race, ethnicity, gender, age, and — judging from t-shirt statements, at least — religious and political viewpoint.   And yet, somehow, even on a hot, sunny day in which people are waiting in line for hours, everybody got along famously.  It was somehow affirming to see that, for all of the reports of divisiveness in the U.S. of A., Americans can get together at a classic American venue like an amusement park and have fun.  It makes me think, again, that reports of a bitterly divided country at a fundamental level really are overblown.

Cedar Point has added some excellent rides since the last time I was there.  I particularly liked Gatekeeper, a top rail coaster that sends you swooping through gates like a bird of prey, and Valravn, an eight-across coaster that first dangles you over a sheer drop and then sends you plunging on a rapid-fire series of loops and curves.  We got the first row on both of these rides, thanks to the early admission you get from staying at The Breakers, and they are great additions to the Cedar Point roster of coasters.  Their rides are amazingly smooth compared to the old-time coasters.  I also liked Maverick, which is new since the last time I hit the Point.  Of course, we also rode the tried and true Millennium Force, which has that breath-taking first hill, awesome speed and massive g-forces, the Magnum, the Raptor, and the Gemini, among others.  The Millennium Force at night is an experience not to be missed.

IMG_2707They say that with age comes wisdom.  I’m not sure about that, but with age clearly comes some sense of self-preservation and an honest assessment of your physical capabilities and likely tolerances.  I skipped the Top Thrill Dragster, reasoning that going on any ride that shoots you like a bullet from a gun and sends you on a 90-degree incline probably isn’t a smart move for an aging guy with a grouchy lower back, and the Mean Streak, an old-time wooden coaster that will be retired after this year and that is, in the lexicon of the Webner family, a “head-banger” because of its rough, jerky ride, for the same reason.  I also discovered, while dangling far above the park at the top of the Power Tower and WindSeeker rides, that I get somewhat anxious at being launched to the sky and being separated from a plummet to my demise by only lap and harness restraints.

But I’m glad I went.  Cedar Point is a bright, clean, colorful place, and coasters are a blast.  And when you can see funny things — like a guy losing his ball cap on the Raptor, or a kid losing what appeared to be his retainer on the Magnum — it’s bound to be a a laugh-filled time.  Amusement parks also are a people-watching opportunity unlike any other.  Who knew that so many people had so many tattoos?

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Dawn At The Breakers

Hey!  It’s Labor Day weekend!  What else to do but get the family together, go to an amusement park, and stand in line with thousands of other sweaty, oft-tattooed people on the verge of sunstroke?

That’s right — we’re up on Ohio’s North Coast at Cedar Point, the best roller coaster park in the world.  And after giving the park a workout last night we stayed at The Breakers, the sprawling old hotel on the sandy shores of Lake Erie that dates back to the Boardwalk Empire era.  It’s an interesting place, and Cedar Point remains a destination visit for anyone who loves to don a safety belt, shoulder harness, and lap bar and get rolled, tilted, and thrown upside down, all while careening at speeds approaching the sound barrier.

It may be September according to the calendar, but it’s still summer in our hearts.

Crashing The Gatekeeper

Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, has a new roller coaster — and it looks awesome!

It’s called Gatekeeper, and it’s the first new roller coaster at the Point since 2007.  It uses a winged, center rail approach that is supposed to give riders a sense of flying as they plunge, twist, and turn at speeds of almost 70 miles per hour — which is faster than you can legally drive on most Ohio highways.  The video above shows the coaster during its early testing phase, when it was running at significantly reduced speed, and it still looks like a fantastic ride.  The story linked above includes a video showing the Gatekeeper today, when it was opened to some lucky members of the public for a sneak peek.

I’d be willing to wait in line for an hour or more for a chance to take a crack at this one.

Cousin Jeff’s Big Day

IMG_3675Today is Cousin Jeff’s birthday.  I’m not permitted to say how old he is, so I will only observe that his calendar age is irrelevant because he maintains an eternally youthful attitude about things.

Speaking of youthful, Kish recently found this wonderful, slightly blurred Kodak picture of her (at the far right), her sister Heidi (in the classic sailor suit with carefully knotted kerchief) and Cousin Jeff (somehow maintaining his ultra-cool persona despite wearing a short-sleeved rugby shirt buttoned to the collar on a hot summer’s day).  It was taken at Cedar Point on a family outing at some point in the distant past, but the day lives on in memory.

Happy birthday, Jeffrey!  May you have many more!

An American Scene

Amusement parks are a big part of the American summer.  Every year, millions of children of all ages travel to these asphalt-topped celebrations of speed and thrills to eat ice cream and cotton candy and cheeseburgers and then scream like banshees as we are flipped, twisted, turned, dropped, and soaked on the fastest roller coasters, the tallest Demon Drops, and wettest water rides. We’re Americans — it’s just what we do.

This photo was taken in the line for the Millenium Force at Cedar Point.

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

Booze Cruise 2011

Last night was Booze Cruise night at the Webner family reunion.  Each year the Captain and friendly crew of the Sawmill Explorer take us out for a voyage on Lake Erie in a boat filled with food, cold beer, and some other summer drinks.

This year, the weather threw us a curveball.  A huge, violent storm rolled in during the afternoon, lashing the area with high winds and torrential rain.  There were all kinds of boating warnings in effect.  As a result, we couldn’t have the Booze Cruise at its traditional, pre-dinner time, and instead could only go out on the water after our meal, at around 8 p.m. 

That turned out to be a delightful change, however.  The storm cooled things off and knocked all of the biting flies out of the air, and when we were out on the water enjoying our adult beverages and some excellent steel-drum music we cruised all the way past Cedar Point and witnessed a fine Lake Erie sunset.

Hot Point

Yesterday the Webners went to Cedar Point.  It was by far the hottest day of the year– until today, that is.  It was brain-fryingly, stunningly, breathtakingly, ridiculously hot.

How hot was it?

It was so hot that even the coolest, skinniest people were bathed in that red-faced, sweaty glow that the more corpulent among us know so well.

It was so hot that a teenage girl waiting for Top Thrill Dragster collapsed from dehydration, causing friendly people in line to pass her their water bottles so she could try to rehydrate.

It was so hot that every shirt on every visitor was dappled with salt stains and sweat was running freely down people’s legs.

It was so hot that, even in the America where people crowd up to make sure they maintain their place in line, people hung back to avoid the portions of the ride lines that were in direct sunlight, allowing big gaps to form — without anyone complaining or trying to cut in line.

It was so hot that the cold water that was selling for the outrageous price of more than $3 a bottle seemed like a bargain.

It was so hot that even the misting machines didn’t do much other than add a layer of warm water atop the layer of sweat covering every inch of skin.

It was so hot that, after four hours and only three rides, we just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to hit the road — and felt good about the decision.

We got to ride the Millennium Force, the Gemini, and the Magnum, and had some terrible luck when, after waiting in line for more than an hour, the Top Thrill Dragster ride broke down just as we were on the ramp to the loading zone.  We waited for 15 minutes in the broiling direct sunlight, without getting any indication about how long the repair work might take, and then decided to throw in the (sweat-soaked) towel and get the heck out of there. 

I like sunshine, but a temperature of around 100 degrees coupled with extreme mugginess is no fun.

Getting To the Point

On Wednesday the annual Webner family reunion gets underway.  To start the reunion off with a bang, a bunch of us will go up to Cedar Point.

If you’ve never been there, Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, is one of the premier amusement parks in the world.  It is a destination trip for roller coaster afficionados because it has more than a dozen roller coasters that variously take you 310 feet into the air, blast you from a dead stop to 120 miles per hour in a split second, and corkscrew you head over heels at high speeds.  In addition to roller coasters, Cedar Point also has water rides and other thrill rides.  This year’s new ride is called Windseeker, which is a like the old swing ride found at many amusement parks — except on heavy steroids.  Windseeker takes riders 300 feet into the air, far above the Lake Erie shoreline, and rips them around at 30 miles per hour.

I’m looking forward to the visit because I haven’t been to Cedar Point in a while, and it is always fun to test your nerve on the new rides and the old favorites.  The best ride at the Point, in my book, remains Millennium Force, which is one of the highest, fastest roller coasters in the world.  The official point of view video gives you a sense — but only a dim sense — of what it is like to ride this monster:

We Are Not Amused

Here’s a sure sign that people have been and are continuing to be tight with their money:  Cedar Fair, the company that operates the Cedar Point amusement park near Sandusky, Ohio and the King’s Island park near Cincinnati, has announced that it had 1.2 million fewer visitors at its 18 amusement and water parks this year than last year.  It will not pay a dividend to investors in 2010.

You would expect that, when families tighten their belts during tough economic times, trips to high-end amusement parks would be among the first luxuries to go.  Some people had theorized, however, that people would exercise the “step-down phenomenon” and, instead, of forsaking all travel and vacations, would take “staycations” to nearby locations within reasonable driving distances.  Cedar Point would seem to fit that bill — but any “staycations” did not compensate for the general decline in attendance by cost-conscious Americans.

We’ll know when we are out of this recession when the million people who elected not to go to Cedar Point this year return for days of coaster-riding, junk food, and sunburns.