On May 24th, Karen and I and our daughters arrived in Sandusky Ohio. We were greeted by the "scent of Sandusky," that pungent burned sulphur smell that permeates the city. It can really claw at my throat at times, but it somehow always seems to avoid our destination: Cedar Point. We stayed at the Breakers Express, situated at the beginning of the park's causeway. It's a much more impressive hotel than I expected for the price. I really liked the huge photos at the entrance of various park rides. Our room was small and spartan, but tasteful and quiet. Every worker in the hotel seemed exceptionally friendly, and that set the tone for our next two days.

Across the street from our hotel was Cedar Point's new Castaway Bay resort. It looked like something that Disney himself would have been proud of, with beautiful buildings wrapped around a huge peaceful lake. It featured an indoor water park and an attached restaurant (in this case, TGI Friday's). That seems to be a new trend. On our way to Sandusky, we spotted two more complexes just like that. In Erie Pennsylvania there was the new (still under construction) Splash Lagoon, which had an attached Comfort Inn. And in Sandusky there was the Great Bear Lodge, a gigantic three-story log cabin complex with an indoor waterpark.

On the morning of the 25th we headed to Bob Evans for breakfast. I love the food at those restaurants and wish they'd build some up in New England. Then we drove into Cedar Point. The view of the park from the causeway was really impressive. Young children must have that memory burned into their heads for the rest of their lives; all those rides towering above a strip of land across the water would send goose-bumps through any kid. Our daughters, though, were there to work for the summer. Karen and I dropped them off for their orientation and then headed into the park. The last time I had been there was in 1996. One thing that impressed me was how little really had changed. The park has kept its personality while continually expanding.

Any guest of a Cedar Point hotel can get exclusive ride time on selected coasters before the park opens. On our first day the coasters were Millennium Force and Top Thrill Dragster. The morning was heavily overcast and severe thunderstorms were predicted for the whole day. We headed right for TTD. There was a line of about fifty people waiting outside the queue. We had seen the ride testing earlier, so we thought it would be running. It's hard *not* to see that ride. It completely dominated the Point's skyline not only because of its height but also because of its bright yellow structure rising up over 400 feet. After waiting a few minutes, the crowd was told the ride would not be running due to the threat of bad weather.

So Karen decided to look around the park a bit while I headed for Millennium Force. I've heard so much hype over this ride that I knew I would be disappointed. No ride could live up to the superlatives I've heard heaped on this thing. But I had to ride it for myself. The queue line barely reached out of the station. I'm not sure if I like CP's trend of building sparse industrial stations. They certainly can have an interesting look, like Gemini's or Corkscrew's. Or they can look slapdash, like Wicked Twister's: just a metal roof over a concrete porch. MF's station was somewhere in between. The red florescent light string that lit in a sequence before the train leaves the station was interesting. I was fascinated by the ride's unique cable lift system. A long set of metal bars sandwiched inside a steel trough glides under the train and locks with a click. I couldn't believe how fast it moves, pulling the train up to the top in about 30 seconds. Like Great Escape's Comet, the lift accelerated as it got near the top. And that lift hill is ridiculously steep!

I queued up for the third seat, but there was a single rider in the front so I got to hop in next to a kid who'd been on the ride a lot. He said how after TTD, this ride was nothing. The pulley engaged the train. And just as it began pulling us up the lift, the skies opened up and it began pouring. We relentlessly were dragged to the top of the 310 foot lift and pushed off down the 80-degree drop, which feels inverted.

The only other time I've felt such pain on a coaster was my first ride on The Beast many years ago, on an icy November day when it also rained. I returned to the station so numb I could barely move. It was a little warmer on MF, but I was also traveling over 90 mph. Those drops became vicious projectiles that seemed to pierce my skin as we raced through the course. Even though I had my glasses on, I could barely see what was happening. I remember three very brief and very mild moments of air time. I remember the welcome relief of the tunnels. But the rest was a blur of speeding around corners. I returned to the station looking as if I'd just gotten off Snake River Falls. I was drenched.

I was also slightly disappointed, as you might expect. I just couldn't understand what all the hype was about. Yes, the ride was fast. But so what? There was nothing else. I would have loved it if the ride hugged the north shore, just a gigantic out-and-back Intamin ride with their perfect parabolic hills. That would have been heaven. But this ride wasn't really a twister nor an out-and-backer. There seemed to be a lot of wasted energy. The tunnels were too short to be effective. The overbanked turns happened so fast that they couldn't be savored. My opinion might have been colored slightly by the fact that at the end of the ride my hands and face were stinging. But outside of the lift hill and first drop, nothing about this coaster interested me. One other point: the park had redesigned their seat belts in light of the Six Flags New England accident. They were quite short. I'm not that big a guy, but I struggled to connect the seat belt. And then the attendant kept yanking it tighter until 1 1/2 inches of belt showed next to the buckle. This is surely going to screen out a lot of riders...

After that ride, the rain let up. Karen and I met up with our girls and spent the next few hours helping them move in their dorm room. Then we all went back to the park. By that time, the clouds had dissipated and the sky was clear blue. It turned out to be a beautiful day. With the sun shining down, the many bright colors and newly-planted flowers in the park were on spectacular display. I was in awe of how colorful the park was. Even so, nothing clashed. All of the flags waving everywhere complemented the rides and buildings. It truly was festive and lifted my spirits. There was no asphalt either. Various shades and patterns of concrete made for a bright, cool surface to walk on. And the sheer number and variety of flowers rivaled Busch Gardens. I loved how so much spare room on the midway was taken up with planters. The footings of the Corkscrew were set into delightful long parallelograms radiating out like sunbeams that not only broke up the crowd flow but also contained various colorful fauna. The entire park was so pleasant to look at.

The first ride we headed for was Raptor. My memory of the ride was that it was okay, but not my cup of tea. There wasn't much of a line for the ride, and that held true for everything that day (except for TTD). So in short order we were all sitting in the front row. After a quick left turn out of the station, we were heading up the lift. Another swift left turn at the top sent us sailing down into the first inversion. The ride felt as smooth and comfortable as when it was new. I liked how the structure of the ride created a tunnel-like effect and made it feel as if we were going much faster than we were. The first heartline roll had quite a bit of lateral force to it. I didn't get the floating sensation that I get on Six Flags New England's Batman. We swung into the cobra roll, and my head lightly bounced against the restraints. The pacing on the ride was perfect, letting up a bit when I started to feel disoriented, then plunging me back into the mayhem. There was a surprising pop of airtime on a little hill just before the final helix. We swung through the final high-G helix and then hit that infamous snap into the break run. My head slammed into the restraints.

Outside of that infamous snap at the end (which was always a problem) I was amazed and delighted at how well Raptor has held up over the years. There are bigger and faster rides, but Raptor is still smooth and well-paced, thrilling but not punishing. Bolliger and Mabillard got it right with this one. Apollo's Chariot at Busch Gardens is still my favorite of their rides, but Raptor is a close second. (And that's saying a lot for someone who doesn't like looping coasters.)

Top Thrill Dragster was back in action, so I headed for that next. Karen and the girls passed on it. While in the queue for about 1/2 hour, I watched the ride over and over. The park was running an efficient 4-train operation, loading two trains at once, moving them into launch position and then bringing the other two in to load. The station was divided into two loading areas. The unloading platform was behind them on the curve back into the station. Two things that struck me: the water that continually circulated over the entire launch run and the thick waves of heat that rose up from the brake fins after a train returned to the station. This ride gets really hot.

It's so difficult to imagine what 120 mph looks like. A train would blast off and I would say it was going 50 or maybe 60 mph. I mean, how could I tell how fast it really was? Cedar Point tells me it's 120 mph, so I guess I believe them. But it's a matter of degree. I certainly can tell the ride is high. But why is that important, outside of simply breaking a record?

I queued up for the front seat and mentioned to one of the attendants that I was a single rider. In short time, he called me over to fill in the second seat of the front train. The sound system in the station was deafening, with that silly unintelligible song clip playing over and over. The seat belt was just like MF's, but longer. I had no trouble attaching it. Why modify the belts on the less extreme coaster? Maybe TTD's day is coming.... The lap bar was the standard Intamin style, just like on MF. We were cleared and slowly advanced to the launch position. The train sat there a while. I was surprised to see a cable and pulley similar to MF's. I had expected a LIM launch of just magnets and fins. A metal block attached to a cable slid under the train and locked with a click. Another loud soundtrack began playing, a sort of revving sound. A display of lights to the left flashed yellow, then green. A huge set of matching lights on the hill structure mimicked them. And we were off. The launch was surprisingly smooth. Unlike King's Dominion's Hypersonic, where I was plastered against the seat upon launch, TTD felt very comfortable. The train pointed its nose up to the sky and spun 90 degrees counterclockwise, then slowed as it crested the top of the 420-foot hill. My ears popped. I tried to get a look around the park and had just enough time to realize that yes, we were way up there. The train pointed its nose straight down and we spun 270 degrees diving perilously around the huge metal structure. Then we leveled off and Intamin's magnetic brakes brought us to a rapid and smooth stop.

People younger than I were getting off the ride whooping and cheering, so it must be good for the park. As with MF, I couldn't figure out what was so great about it. Someone described the ride as "life-changing." My only thought was, "Cedar Point spent $25 million for THAT?" I wish the ride did something else at the top, like make a slow circle around the structure before diving back down. That would at least give riders a chance to absorb the terrifying thought that they're 420 feet above the ground. But 17 seconds of ride didn't allow much time for anything, and the ride ended so quickly that my main reaction was, "Huh?" That doesn't seem to be the best use of such a huge financial investment. Maybe we're living in an age where statistics are all that matters. As I said, most other riders (almost exclusively young) loved it. The airtime at the top was okay but not spectacular. I did like the trip down. But as with MF, I didn't see what all the fuss was about.

Next we headed over for the venerable Iron Dragon, which sported a great new color scheme. The supports were bright orange and the track was blood red. It looked really good. Suspended coasters were one of Arrow's best ideas, and I wish they'd made more of them. I know that this ride has taken a beating from a lot of enthusiasts (who call it "Draggin' Iron"), but I really liked it. It was one of the few "family" coasters in the park, yet it packed plenty of thrills. I really enjoyed its leisurely beginning, gliding around the forested pond. Then after the second lift hill, it kicked into high gear and whipped around the misty pool near the Corkscrew. This coaster is a great example of how you don't need a lot of speed to create the *sensation* of speed. The ride probably only reached about 30 mph, but by weaving in and out of the trees and its own structure it felt much faster. On TTD, the track was wide open with nothing around it. So even if you went 500 mph, you'd have a hard time realizing it (except that your face might be torn apart by the wind).

Next we took a ride on the CP & Lake Erie railroad, one of the few steam engines still operating at a park. The northbound route followed the edge of Lake Erie, though the forest (and through swarms of bugs) and up to the north station near the Mean Streak. We stayed on for the ride back to the south station. I liked that stretch because of the animatronic scenes scattered along the way. It was relaxing and enjoyable. I was surprised that I was prohibited from videotaping any part of the ride. In fact, videotaping was prohibited in many areas including the Town Hall Museum. On the train, it wasn't like my camera would endanger anyone as it would on a coaster. They must have a reason, but it just seemed odd.

We took the Sky Ride back to the south end of the park. Like the train, it was a relaxing scenic trip. We then queued up for the Blue Streak, the oldest coaster in the park. There were no people in the station except for the attendants. The ride operator pathetically announced, "Welcome to the Blue Streak, the coaster that nobody rides." Karen and one of our daughters got in the front; our other daughter headed for the back. They returned all smiles. Karen said that on the turnaround one stubborn seagull sitting there nearly attacked them.

I remembered the ride as slow and boring. The track hadn't been greased in a long time; the train squealed loudly going around corners. I sat in the front and didn't expect much. But as always happens when I have low expectations, I was delighted. Every single hill produced sustained floating airtime. It was like a mini-Comet. There was that odd stretch of flat track, a John Allen trademark of sorts, on the outward trip. But I didn't really notice it when riding, just when watching the coaster. Overall this became my favorite coaster in the park. The station is tucked away in a hard-to-find section of the park. I'm sure as the season progresses the ride operator won't be so lonely.

I noticed that the old Pirate Ride building is still there, with the pirate illustrations still on the building. I had thought it was knocked down. I wonder what the building is used for now. It would make a great fun house....

We walked around the corner to eat at the colorful Midway Market. It was set up like a classy buffet, with all sorts of salads, pasta and meats to choose from. I had a good salad, delicious macaroni and cheese and some tasty stuffing. (No Atkins' Diet for me!) I wanted to save room for a cheese-on-a-stick. So after dinner we walked over by the Space Spiral observation tower, only to discover that the cheese-on-a-stick stand was shuttered. It was getting close to closing time (8 pm), so we took a ride on the Giant Wheel. I liked its new location, right on the beach. The breeze from Lake Erie was blowing strong, making our ride a bit chilly. We had a terrific view of Wicked Twister, which sat in the beach sand next to the Wheel. Then we said goodbye to our girls, who headed back to their dorms. We headed back to our hotel to rest up for our second day.

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