Cedar Point
July 27-28, 2021

copyright Jay Ducharme 2021

We arrived in Ohio late on July 26 after a six hour drive from New York. For this trip, Karen arranged for us to stay down the road on Route 6 in Vermillion at the Plaz Vilka, a quaint collection of retro cottages on the edge of Lake Erie. Our suite featured two double beds and a small kitchen. There was a nicely landscaped yard with a gazebo and a steep walkway down to a stone pier on the lake. It was very peaceful. One of the walls was decorated with two small portraits that looked to be from the early 1900s. One was of a boy and one of a girl. We nicknamed them Donnie and Marie so that they wouldn’t creep us out.

On Tuesday Karen and I went down the street to a little restaurant called the Nest. I ordered pecan pancakes and the restaurant’s “special” home fries that were made with onions and cheese. Those were absolutely incredible. The pancakes were good. Karen liked her scrambled eggs and regular home fries. After fueling up, we ventured out to Cedar Point at about noon. It was a pretty humid day and the temperature was in the 90s, not exactly ideal especially for Karen. The first thing we noticed were new parking gates. There were no more attendants; the whole process was automated. You simply scanned your parking pass (purchased online) or your season pass and the gate opened. The vast parking lot was already about 1/3 full. After a disastrous 2020 season, the Point was roaring back with big crowds. We were told that on Monday, usually a really slow day for parks, the midway was packed.

Not much had changed at the park entrance. The Dinosaurs Alive exhibit had been retired, along with the large T-Rex out front. In its place were topiaries representing Peanuts comic strip characters. The baggage check was still placed before the entrance, but this time (as with other parks) you didn’t have to empty your pockets. We just walked on through. Gatekeeper still flew over the entrance. There were just a couple of differences we noticed after we scanned our passes and entered: there was a large "150" sculpture in front of the carousel, commemorating Cedar Point’s 150th anniversary (which was actually in 2020). And over on the left was a new eatery, French Quarter Confections, styled to look like a building you might find in New Orleans. Inside they served up pastries, donuts, funnel cakes, ice cream and something called funnel cake fries, which were basically straight pieces of funnel cake.

I immediately noticed that the carousel’s Wurlitzer band organ was working and it sounded great. We continued down the midway. There were a few more concession changes. Over to the east side of the midway, next to Toft’s Ice Cream, was Mac Snack, which served all manner of macaroni and cheese items. The former Midway Market that used to offer decent all-you-can-eat buffets was now Hugo’s, an Italian-American food concession. A little further up the midway was a new addition for the 150th anniversary. Where once there was a little spray park for kids was now "4ever Bricks", basically a park fundraiser. You could buy a brick and have a message engraved. Of course I did, and I found our brick among the hundreds of others. It was placed in a high traffic area and was already wearing out. So much for the "4ever" part.

After finding our brick we boarded the Sky Ride for a relaxing trip high above the midway. The park created a giant "150 years" design out of flowers that could be seen only from the air. The Sky Ride dropped us off near the station for the Lake Erie and Cedar Point railroad. It looked like a crowded queue, but the train had the highest capacity of any ride in the park. In a short time, we were seated and were rolling along the tracks. Karen noticed a new addition on the other side of the train station, in the turnaround of Millennium Force: the VIP Experience. You had to pay extra to get into it (thus the “VIP” designation). It was nothing but a white tent with some lounge chairs under it and a bar. The bartender looked pretty lonely; the place was completely empty. As we passed the queue of Millennium Force, it was packed with people creating probably a one-and-a-half hour wait.

The train let us off in Frontier Town next to Steel Vengeance. We took a peek into the gift shop there. The park was selling a nearly full-size wood replica of the Maverick coaster train car ... for $4000. You could get smaller replicas for $150. I spotted a really nice Steel Vengeance t-shirt that I hadn’t seen before, so I picked it up. (Season pass holders got a modest discount.) We left the gift shop and stopped by the nearby cheese-on-a-stick stand, which had been given a facelift. The last time we were at the Point, CoaSt was $7.99. The price had jumped three bucks, but they were offering a special of 2 for $14.99, making it about the same price. Karen wanted one, so it worked out. And I got to have one of my favorite delicacies at the only remaining park that served it. And it was one of the best I’ve ever had!

When we finished our snacks, I wanted to try the new boat ride. Decades ago, the Point offered Paddlewheel Excursions, a leisurely ride around the park’s lagoon featuring humorous animatronic figures positioned on the shore, plus bad jokes from the ship’s captain. That ride was taken out to make room for the dinosaur exhibit. Now the dinosaurs were removed to make way for Snake River Expedition. I thought the ride entrance was located in the Forbidden Frontier section of the park. The map was a bit ambiguous about it. So we got back on the train and rode it to the south station, then walked down the Frontier Trail area, where the dense shade brought some relief to the oppressive heat that was bearing down. We got to the Forbidden Frontier section but there was no sign of the Snake River Expedition. We did find a new food concession, Wild Turnip, which served vegan and gluten-free fare. I finally asked a park employee where it was. He told me it was at the opposite end of the park (from where we had just come), right where the Dinosaurs Alive entrance used to be. Karen wasn’t too happy about that. We trudged along through Frontier Town once again and onto the Gemini midway. But Karen was losing steam so we decided to call it a day. By that point, the crowd in the park was nearly shoulder-to-shoulder.

On Wednesday we made ourselves breakfast in our little kitchen and then headed out to meet up with our daughter and grandkids. We headed to the park at 9:30 and were able to park right near the front. The weather was slightly cooler (in the upper 80s) and there was a light breeze, so it felt much less oppressive. The first thing Ben wanted to do was ride Millennium Force. Ben had just turned 7 years old and was excited that he was now tall enough to ride most of the coasters in the park. The line wasn’t very long, so I suggested we queue up for the front seat. He was more interested in just riding and moving on, but I convinced him it was worth it. While we were in line, someone returning to the station threw up. So it took the crew a while to clean that up. Eventually we made it into the front seat and were rapidly being pulled up the 305-foot-high lift hill. We tore through the first drop. The ride was noticeably rougher than in past years, but it was still tolerable. When we returned to the station, Ben exclaimed, "My eyes were watering and drool was coming out of my mouth!" I guess that’s the way to judge a great ride experience, particularly if you’re traveling at 93 miles per hour.

We all then strolled down through the Frontier Trail section, following it into Frontier Town where we queued up for the Antique Cars. Ben piloted our vehicle for a relaxing trip around the green. We were next door to the venerable Cedar Creek Mine Ride, so we queued up for that. Ben and I rode together. Although the coaster was the largest of its kind and had cutting-edge technology when it was built in 1969, it seemed so quaint compared with the more modern towering rides surrounding it. But it still seemed popular.

We headed around the corner to the Gemini midway. For this anniversary year, the park had placed plaques in various locations highlighting past achievements. I always liked it when parks honored their past. We were all getting a little thirsty by then. Since we were next to the Happy Friar, it was as good a time as any for cheese-on-a-stick. Unfortunately, everything else at the concession was open except for that. It wouldn’t open for another hour. So we just got some drinks and relaxed in a new little area called Twin Arrow Acres, which featured little wooden teepees and some large wooden chairs. It replaced the giant Snoopy bounce house. Across the midway, Gemini, once the largest roller coaster in the world, carried its passengers over its giant hills. In the 1990s, the amusement industry got caught up in the “bigger is better” mentality, creating one record breaking coaster after another. That didn’t mean the rides were necessarily any good; just that the park had bragging rights until the next year when someone created a bigger version. I’ve always preferred a good ride, regardless of its size. To me, Gemini was still a fun coaster. After resting up, we headed into the nearby Camp Snoopy The kids queued up first for the KIDDIE COASTER and took a few rides. Next they queued up for Woodstock Express, the slightly bigger kiddie coaster. Karen and I joined them for that.

The queue line for the nearby Snake River Expedition was pretty long, but I figured it would move pretty fast with four boats in operation. So Ben and I queued up. The line moved really really slowly. I wasn’t sure why. But at least the queue building (formerly the Dinosaurs Alive gift shop) was air conditioned. It was also really nicely themed and had copious signs warning about snakes. Ben and I chatted while we waited. Eventually we reached the end of the queue. The attendant there apologized, explaining that they only had two boats running (another victim of the employee shortage). When the attendant let us through, we had to stand on numbered squares painted on the dock. The attendant then came out and explained that we had been recruited for a special mission for Trapper Dan and were going to be given the details by one of his assistants. We were led into another building, sort of like a barn, where another performer took over and explained our mission — to safely get a shipment of gold to Trapper Dan. The script made the mission seem not only dangerous but a bit shady as well, with reference to smuggling. And snakes. Lots of reference to snakes. Two children were each given a bag of gold and were told to hold onto it. They were then escorted to the front of our boat, a really nicely themed natural wood structure. Ben and I sat near the back of the boat. On board were a captain who piloted the boat and his assistant who would handle most of the narrating duties. The assistant explained that he had just gotten out of therapy and was having emotional problems but we would all be fine. He was in therapy because on every trip, all of his passengers died. But he reiterated that we would all be fine. He took one of the bags from one of the kids. "This is dynamite! Why did they give you dynamite!?" He stowed away the bag.

The boat pulled out of the dock and we sailed on our way. The experience was similar to the old Paddlewheel trip: lots of silly animatronics and lots of bad jokes. There were quite a few more live performers along the way, though. Without giving anything away, everyone returned safely to the dock where the assistant ended our trip with a string of bad pirate jokes. All of the passengers seemed to enjoy it and applauded the performers at the end.

The Happy Friar was now fully opened, so I got my daily cheese-on-a-stick. This one was a bit overcooked, but it was still good. Then Ben really wanted to ride Power Tower, the park’s 300-foot-tall S&S Power Shot combo tower. There were four separate towers; two blasted you up and two blasted you down. Ben wanted to get blasted up, so we entered that queue line. There were two teen boys in front of us. One of them (probably noticing my Millennium Force shirt) asked me if I knew what the towers did; it was their first time at the park. So I told them which tower did what. They said they had just ridden Raptor. One of the boys had liked it; the other didn’t, claiming he didn’t like loops (which are plainly visible over the midway). So I told them both to head over to Millennium Force after riding the Tower. In yet another sign of the help shortage, there was just one attendant managing the queues for three towers. But in a few minutes, Ben and I were seated facing west (right into the sun). I appreciated how the ride operator gave us a countdown so that I could prepare for the acceleration. With a rush of compressed air, we shot skyward to about 280 feet, then dropped, bounced gently and touched back down. It was a lot more comfortable than I expected.

We walked back toward the front of the park and stopped into Pagoda Gifts and looked over the merchandise. The park had produced a massive coffee table book about the history of the park. It was going for $150, so I passed on it. We then went over to the classic Cedar Downs Racing Derby, a mechanical marvel and one of only two left in the world. The huge carousel-like ride has horses four-abreast and each horse can seat two riders. Using an ingenious track and pulley system, the horses appear to race each other, moving back and forth through slots in the ride deck as the whole carousel spins at pretty high speed. Karen sat behind Isabelle and was struggling to hang on due to the high centrifugal forces. It was a long and fun ride, with a recorded voice calling a fictional horse race.

By that point we had been in the park over five hours and decided to call it a day. Just like the day before, the park was getting really crowded. I’m glad that Cedar Point has rebounded so strongly from the previous year (which was disastrous for all parks). Cars in the parking lot had license plates from all over the country. So the park was still a big draw and not just to coaster enthusiasts. After 150 years, the roller coaster capital of the world seems to keep getting better. And as long as they have cheese-on-a-stick, I’ll keep coming back.

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