|On a bright Tuesday afternoon I set out by Amtrak
to meet up with Karen at our daughter’s home in Ohio. A friend brought
me to Union Station in Springfield which had just reopened after nearly
40 years of planned renovations. The station looked fabulous,
with gleaming white stone and Romanesque arches. A tunnel lead under
the loading platform over to the lobby that had been the default
entrance while Union Station was closed. When I arrived up top,
it was the same dilapidated loading platform. Renovations on that
portion of the project hadn't yet begun.
While I waited for Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited to arrive, I watched work being done on the track. There was a set of tie spikers, 17,000 pound robots that rolled along the track, one behind another, and secured the track rails onto the ties. They were controlled by a worker in another vehicle behind them. Two workers followed the robots and made sure they performed correctly. Occasionally one of the robots would jam and they'd have to fiddle with it to get it working again. Since the robots and the operator were all in a row on the same track, a non-functioning robot was not an option.
The train arrived on time and soon we were rolling west. As usual on this leg of the journey, I had purchased a sleeperette. Unlike in the past, it was ready for me in Springfield (instead of having to transfer to it in Albany). After a few hours we pulled into the Albany/Rensselaer Station, which itself had just been renovated and expanded. After additional cars were attached and a new engine hooked up, we continued westward.
The dining car opened at 7:00. Normally I didn't like eating late at night. But since I got a free meal, I took advantage of it. I was seated with two gentlemen from Russia and a former dancer. I ordered my favorite Amtrak treat, their black bean veggie burger. The Russian gentlemen ordered chicken dinners and vodka. One of the men had immigrated to the U.S. three decades ago and spoke fluent English. The other man was a friend of his visiting from Russia. We chatted about life in America and their lives in St. Petersburg. After the good food and good conversation, I turned in for the night.
I arrived in Sandusky at about 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Karen picked me up and we went to our daughter’s to say hi to the grandkids. In the year since I had seen them, they had become much more talkative, though often their sentences sounded more like the gibberish spouted by the Minions in the Despicable Me movies. Interestingly, the two of them seemed to understand each other just fine. I had brought a mini Spirograph for Isabelle and they played with that for a while, entranced by the patterns they were making.
Then we went with their father to the Sandusky Public Library where there was a storytelling session. The kids occupied themselves in the play areas until the session began. Several other children were there. The storyteller alternately read from children's books and played songs off CDs where she guided the kids through movements, like waving streamers.
After that we parted ways. Karen and I checked into our hotel and then headed off to Cedar Point. Riding across the causeway, we could see that the park’s familiar skyline hadn't changed much since our last visit. We arrived to find the parking lot about half filled. We were able to find a parking space close to the entrance gates. The giant T-Rex at the front (advertising the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit) looked especially absurd this year, sporting a brightly colored shirt and sunglasses.
The Point was in full swing, with Gatekeeper twisting above the entry gates. As was becoming common at other parks, the security checkpoints had been moved to a position before the ticket booths, which in theory could make the lines of guests move quicker. With our season passes in hand, we passed through the gates and emerged onto the midway.
We hadn't eaten in a while so the first stop was the nearby cheese-on-a-stick concession. The Point was now one of the only places to get that delicacy. The cost continued to climb; with our season pass discounts they were $5.75 each. After that delicious treat, Karen decided to head back to the hotel and leave me to wander about the park. There were thunderstorms predicted for the next few days, so I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather.
The primary object of my curiosity on this trip was Mean Streak, the park’s giant wooden roller coaster that had been decommissioned at the end of the previous season. The park had remained quiet on what it was doing with the ride. In fact, on the park’s map the image of the ride had been replaced by an image of bulldozers. Even so, I had been following its progress online and wanted to see it in person.
But Mean Streak was all the way at the opposite end of the park. Before I made my way there, I opted to take a ride nearby on the last wooden coaster in the park (and one of the oldest rides remaining at Cedar Point), Blue Streak. Its statistics seemed mild by the park’s modern standards: 70 feet tall and about 40 mph. But bigger isn't always better and Blue Streak always delivered a fun ride. The spacious plaza in which it was located used to be a dead end but had been opened up by the addition of the awkwardly-named coaster Valravn the previous season. As a result, the coaster, with its signature cupola on top of the lift hill, seemed to be a bit busier. Even so, the line wasn't too long and within a few minutes I was queued up for the front seat. The park was running both trains and it didn't take long to settle into the heavily padded seat. We rolled out of the station, dipping slightly below ground, and curved around left up to the lift. Even though the drop was “small” it still packed a punch. We flew up over the second hill with sustained air time. The third hill was the same, and then there was designer John Allen’s curious signature of a long flat run of track at ground level. We rose up into the left-hand turnaround with strong lateral G forces. Then it was one bunny hop after another back to the station. The Blue Streak was a textbook out-and-back coaster and proved how that formula never aged.
I took the path between Raptor, the venerable and deafening suspended looping coaster, and Valravn. Both coasters were cycling non-stop. Although the queue lines weren't full, there was a steady stream of guests to fill each train. I was going to take a ride on Iron Dragon across the midway, but the queuing seemed to be really slow, with trains hanging in the brake run for long periods of time. It turned out that this season the park converted that coaster into the latest trend, “virtual reality” — but only for a few hours each day (from 4:00 to 8:00). I liked the coaster, but I had no interest in the VR gimmick.
So instead I hopped aboard the Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad, the big coal-fired rail system that had the distinction of being the highest capacity ride in the park. It would take me right over to the Mean Streak. There weren't many people in line when I arrived, but within a few minutes the queue was packed. When the train arrived, it was full. Most of the passengers disembarked and we piled on for a quick trip to the north end of the park. As we approached the north station, I could glimpse sections of the Mean Streak’s new track. A large crane was next to the wooden structure, hoisting steel track sections into place. When I got off the train, I noticed that the normal paths of egress were blocked off because of the construction. The crane was being lowered and put to rest for the day. I could see some of the extensive track work. The new steel box beam track was dark red and twisted in extreme and unusual ways. It wound its way in and out of the tall dense wood structure. Near the bottom, hidden inside the wood, I could see small undulating bunny hops. There were even two bunny hops coming out of the station and over to the lift hill, which was still under construction and looked as if it would end up being much taller than the original. From there, a very steep drop plunged down to the ground, over a bunny hop and then up to the first huge camelback hill, which turned 90 degrees to the right. The track plunged back to the ground and then the tall third hill had a bizarre outward-banked camelback that curved 90 degrees to the right. Another plunge to the ground was followed by a double-up that culminated in a high barrel roll. After that I couldn't follow the progression. But from what I could see, when that ride opened the following season it was going to be the best ride in the park.
I strolled down the Gemini midway, passing the spin-and-barf Pipe Scream ride. The 400-foot yellow tower of Top Thrill Dragster loomed over the area, with the repeated whoosh of the launched trains heard across the park. By the time I made it back to the center area of the park I was hot and thirsty. So I stopped into the Coasters diner for a milkshake. There was a line stretching out the door, but I thought it would move quickly. When I got inside the place there was a large confusing touch screen that suggested I wanted a hamburg and fries. Luckily an attendant was there who clicked through a bewildering assortment of menus before finding a shake. The screen spit out a receipt with a number on it. I proceeded into the queue and waited. There were seven people behind the food counter, all but two standing around idly. I waited about ten minutes and finally left empty-handed. Fortunately I didn't have to pay for that useless piece of paper.
Instead I walked toward the front of the park to the Toft’s ice cream parlor. I got a milkshake there, a real one (Coasters was McDonald-style) that was larger for less money. And it was delicious. I sat at a cafe table outside the nearby Starbucks and quietly sipped it, watching the activity on the midway. When I finished with that refreshing drink, I embarked on another walk-thru video. I had made one a few years earlier, but enough had changed in the park that it warranted a new one. I walked at a quick pace, but even so it took me over 40 minutes to cover the entire park. When I finished, I called it a day and had Karen come pick me up, leaving the park as the late afternoon sun was setting.
On Thursday Karen and I spent the morning making Play-Doh sculptures with the grandkids. I would create an animal, Isabelle would cut it with a knife and then ask Karen to make a bandaid and a blanket. I would make a pillow. Isabelle would put the bandaid over the cut and put the animal to bed. Then the whole process would start over. Maybe she'll grow up to be a surgeon....
In the afternoon we made another trip the park, this time with our other daughter Liz (who traveled to Ohio with Karen) in tow. They weren't much in the mood for rides. Karen mainly wanted to take a look at the progress on Mean Streak. We naturally first stopped for a cheese-on-a-stick. Then we walked past the giant rides on the midway and over to the train for a relaxing trip to the far north end. Karen was amazed at the work being done on Mean Streak. We stayed on the train and rode it back to the main midway, past the humorous animatronic skeleton scenes. From there we walked over to the east end of the park to ride the Giant Wheel. There were quite a few people in the queue, but fortunately the ride operators were filling every seat on the ride. So in a few minutes we were seated and lifted high above the midway. It was interesting to see how the coasters on the midway had evolved. In the distance was Blue Streak, which looked more like a kiddie ride. Next to it was Raptor, at one time one of the tallest coasters at the park. But both of them were dwarfed near Valravn, which towered over everything on the main midway. As we circled around, a Mardi Gras-ish float rolled past on the midway below. It was surrounded by singers, dancers and acrobats who were giving mini performances to promote the big laser light show that happened just before the park closed for the night. After that ride, we headed back for our hotel.
Friday initially was supposed to be a washout. We spent the morning once again entertaining the grandkids. Karen suggested I head off to the park again. Up till then, I had ridden only one coaster. So I went back to our hotel to get my hat, and as I entered our room there was a torrential downpour. So I waited there for a while, hoping it would soon stop. After about a half-hour, the rain let up and the sun peeked out. So I headed over to the park. When I arrived, the parking lot seemed nearly empty (unusual for a Friday). The first order of business was another cheese-on-a-stick. The wind was whipping hard, and that shut down several rides including Top Thrill Dragster and the Sky Ride. I headed into the nearby Coliseum, the huge central building that housed park offices, security and first aid. It also had a gargantuan and cavernous arcade. At the very back was a row of vintage pinball machines. On one of my previous visits to the park, I met a man there who maintained the pins, and he told me that the park was planning to farm out the arcade operation to a separate company. Apparently, that company was having a challenging go of it; over half the machines were out of order. They did have the classic Fireball table. The flippers were a bit weak but it otherwise ran well. It was encouraging to see quite a few families playing the tables.
Since Iron Dragon would be shifting to a "virtual reality" ride at 4:00, I decided to get a ride while it was still an unadulterated coaster. I was surprised to find another long line there. The park had three trains running, though, so the line moved fairly quickly. Within a half-hour I was in the station waiting for the front seat. I still think this was one of the more underrated coasters in the park. The unique thing about the increasingly rare Arrow suspended coasters was how they swing out on turns. That whipping motion was really exhilarating. In short order I was seated and clacking up the lift hill. The first drop seemed surprisingly long and created a lot of speed. The train then curved left up into a banked hill then dropped and flew into a wide right-hand turn, a left-hand helix and then into the second lift hill. That was followed by a curving drop over the pond next to Corkscrew, then a pretzel-like knot of track and finally a sharp turn back into the station that sent the cars violently rocking from side to side. It was a lot of fun, and from the cheers of the riders I'd say most people agreed.
From there I walked across the midway to Millennium Force, the 300-plus-foot "gigacoaster". The queue was about a quarter filled. Even though three trains were running it took over an hour to reach the station. Along the way, there were billboards advertising the "Battle for Cedar Point". There was an app that could be downloaded onto your smartphone. Once installed and the smartphone was pointed at the billboard, it supposedly generated an augmented reality game. The app's file size was so large, it would have taken the rest of my visit to download it with my poor connection. (And The Point's free WiFi didn't help.)
The coaster's return track was right up against the station, and trains would blast by with deafening and alarming speed. There was a long line for the front seat. So instead I opted for the third seat (sometimes referred to as the Schmeck seat after the PTC coaster designer famous for his airtime hills). One train later, I was seated and rapidly was pulled up the unnervingly tall and narrow lift. Looking down would begin to induce vertigo so I kept focused on the track and the expanse of Lake Erie ahead. We plunged down the insanely steep drop and raced up into the first turn at 93 miles per hour. Then we dove down and curved through a long tunnel and then over to the second hill, a giant camelback that produced powerful and sustained airtime. We then roared through the huge pretzel turn on the island in the middle of the park, over another camelback, through another tunnel and then emerged next to the station. We blasted through the final turn and smoothly hit the brakes. Everyone in the train was applauding. After 17 years, this was still an amazing rollercoaster. I still thought that Superman at Six Flags New England (built the same year) was a better overall coaster with a more interesting layout. But there weren't many coasters that could maintain such an intense sense of speed like Millennium Force.
I then walked past Rougarou, the former Mantis stand-up looping coaster that was now a sit-down coaster. But it was still too intense for me. I headed over toward the east end of the park and paid $5.25 for a small cup of fresh-squeezed lemonade. It was good if pricey. I drank it while watching the Corkscrew twist its way over my head. Then I followed the midway north toward the entrance of Magnum XL-200, the first rollercoaster to break the 200-foot barrier. Before that ride, there were some engineers who thought the human body wouldn't be able to withstand the forces on a coaster that big. But Magmum proved them wrong. (Top Thrill Dragster, on the other hand, at over 400 feet, was probably close to that limit.) Along the way I passed a billboard that was advertising an addition that was being added to the massive Breakers Hotel. The Breakers itself had recently undergone a ground-up restoration. The addtion appeared to be nearly the size of the original building.
The queue for Magnum was nearly empty and I walked right up into the station and in line for the front seat. I liked the timing of how one train would pop out of the tunnel in front of the brakes just as another train was climbing the lift next to it. Within a few minutes I was in the front seat. I had forgotten how Arrow had simply modified their stock mine train cars for the Magnum, which made the seating a bit tight. Even so, the trains had a cool sort of retro-sci-fi look to them. We rolled out of the station, down the usual Arrow dip out of the station and then around to the right, engaging the typically noisy Arrow lift. After Millennium Force, the Magnum lift felt extremely slow. But I actually liked lift hills that way; it gave me more time to look around and appriciate how high up I was. The view of Lake Erie was spectacular. Although the first drop wasn't nearly as steep as Millennium's, it still felt perilous. We rose up into a tall hill filled with airtime, then curved left and dropped down along the beachside. We blasted through a short tunnel and then into the pretzel-shaped turnaround. (The park seemed to have a lot of those.) At that point the train began hunting, vibrating wildly as it bounced along the track. We started the return run, a series of diabolical bunny hops shaped like triangles that caused violent airtime that was nearly gut-busting. The run back was punctuated by a series of short tunnels. We popped out of that last one and slowly curved around to the left on the meandering stretch of track that led to the brakes. The track was still banked even though we were going slowly, and it felt like I was going to tip out of my seat. Then we cruised back into the station. If it weren't for the violent shaking and painful airtime, Magnum would be one of my favorite rides in the park.
I was near the exit into Cedar Point Shores, the rebranded waterpark area. So I got my hand stamped and rather than head toward the waterpark, I walked alongside Gemini toward the norhwest end of the peninsula. From there I was able to get a good look at the back end of the Mean Streak construction, two mountains of wood with a valley between them. The hill on the left looked as if it had structure to accommodate more track, but I couldn't see how a train could make a return trip over that hill. There was also an extremely long run of straight track between the hills. That used to be a trim brake on Mean Streak. I assumed it would have the same function on the new ride, but it seemed too expansive for that use.
I walked back into the park and headed south toward the main midway. I passed by the big stage where the laser light show would take place. There was a loud performance of "Peanuts Perfect Day" in progress, an incongrous mix of Peanuts characters and modern pop music. I was getting a bit hungry so I stopped by the nearby Subway and got a six-inch Veggie Delight sub with chips and water. That ran me about $20. While I sat at the nearby cafe tables to eat, the Mardis Gras float rolled by again. After my meal I queued up for the Cadillac Motors antique car ride. In front of me was a mother with her two children. They were arguing about where they were going to sit and who was going to drive. I was seated in a car directly behind them as they continued arguing. Finally the mother yanked the kids out, with the little girl bawling her eyes out, and they exited. A small boy took their place. He was given instructions and set off. I followed, nearly getting whiplash from the car's abrupt acceleration. The boy for some reason kept turning around and looking back at me. Then he'd take his foot off the accelerator and come to a complete stop. So I had to stop as well. Then he'd step on the gas and haltingly move forward, not really steering. His car would bounce from side to side off the track rail. As a result, I had to keep riding the gas pedal, just barely moving through the entire circuit. I was glad when the ride ended.
Next I went across the midway to the Sweet Spot. I had gotten a tasty white chocolate pretzel there, but this year there was no such treat. Most everything was dark chocolate, which I couldn't eat. So instead I went next door to the Pagoda Gift shop, which always had interesting souvenirs. Not that I needed any more t-shirts, but they had a wall of them that were nostalgic, depicting some rides the park no longer had (like the Wildcat coaster). I spotted a really nice retro design of the Blue Streak, so I bought it.
I went back across the midway to get a ride on the rare Cedar Downs racing derby, one of only three left in the world. Basically it was a huge carousel with a twist: the horses, in rows of four, actually seemed to race one another, moving back and forth along a track in addition to moving up and down. The ride turned with surprising speed. Over the PA system, a recording played of a track announcer calling the race. That added another layer of fun and excitement to the ride.
With heavy clouds hanging overhead, I decided to bid the park farewell. I assumed that would be my last visit for the year, so I looked around one last time at the beautiful landscaping and the monstrous rides. Then I headed back to the hotel for the night.
Saturday there was a birthday party for the grandkids, so Karen and I went there in the morning to help set up. A sizeable crowd trickled in. We had sandwiches and chips. Presents were opened and cake was eaten. Interestingly, the kids (3 and 4 years old) seemed more interested in the birthday cards they received than the presents. We left around 2:30 and headed back to our hotel. We were going to make it an early night since I had to get up at 3:00 to catch the train back home. But the daughter called Karen and said she wanted to take the kids to The Point and then go out to eat.
So back we went to the park. This time, the parking lot was filled to overflowing. The sky was a crystal blue and the weekend crowds had descended. We were able to find an empty parking space closer to the entrance. We met up with the rest of the family in the Planet Snoopy section. We strolled through the Snoopy Boutique. I would have loved that place when I was a kid. There weren't many Peanuts collectibles back then, but I had all the books. The Boutique had anything to do with the Peanuts strip you could imagine, from Charlie Brown shirts to mugs to figurines.
We were going to take the train to the north end of the park, but it was leaving just as we approached. So we walked through the shady Frontier Trail with the kids. The trail for years had a large petting zoo. But the park added something even more interactive for the kids: pony rides (for an extra $5). Also, the park had moved their Skycoaster (now called Professor Delbert's Frontier Fling) to the area previously occupied by the short-lived Shoot the Rapids water ride. In a nice bit of nostalgia, they even rescued the old animatronic Delbert from the defunct Paddlewheel Excursions boat ride.
We eventually came to the Camp Snoopy area. We hung around while the kids went on the kiddie rides. Karen and I spent much of the time sitting in the shade of the nearby stage. When the kids had their fill of rides, we walked toward the gate by Magnum and headed out toward the Shores section. There was a new set of waterslides there. We followed the walkway along the side of the Breakers Hotel, an impressive collection of modern buildings that looked turn-of-the-century. As we entered the Breakers, heading for the Perkins Restaurant there, Charlie Brown and Linus were greeting kids in the lobby. Ben ran up and gave Charlie Brown a big hug.
The restaurant wasn't very busy. I wasn't very hungry after the party, so I just got a slice of caramel apple pie a la mode. Our waiter was really friendly but not very efficient; it took quite a while for us to get our orders. Eventually everyone was noshing away. After dinner we walked back out along the lakeshore, which was busy with people sunbathing and playing volleyball. In the past, the beach would have been nearly deserted. But Cedar Point was making a concerted effort to market one of its best assets, and it seemed to be paying off. We followed the sidewalk south beneath the towering Windseeker swing ride. We re-entered the park at the gate there and headed over to the Sweet Spot where Liz wanted to buy some "buck eyes". Then we bid farewell and headed our separate ways.
There still was no other park quite like Cedar Point. If you wanted intense in-your-face excitement, it was there. If you wanted more relaxed family entertainment, you could find that too. Best of all, the park still knew what it was, basically a giant county fair, and displayed that with pride. As many times as we visited this park, I never got tired of it. Cedar Point was still the ultimate amusement park.
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