Cedar Point
May 2005
(Part 1)

On May 22nd, Karen and I left with our two girls and a tightly packed car for Cedar Point. Our daughters were beginning their second summer of work there, and it gave us a good excuse to re-visit the "amazement park." We left slightly after 5 in the morning. It was cool and rainy, not my favorite weather for traveling. Just like last year, we followed New York's Southern Tier Expressway, Routes 88 and 86. Not only was it a bit shorter than following Interstate 90, it was also much less traveled and saved us $10 in tolls. Unfortunately, quite a bit of the expressway was in rough shape. Over many stretches it felt as if I were driving the car down a flight of stairs. So we paid for in pain what we saved in cash.

As we moved west, the skies cleared up a bit. We stopped for lunch at a Friendly's restaurant near Jamestown, NY. We generally like those restaurants but this particular one had terrible service. We sat there for nearly a half-hour before a waitress came over. We were back on the road at 2:00. That set us about an hour behind. The rest of the trip was uneventful. I always marvel at that bizarre and dangerous 90-degree turn that Interstate 90 takes through Cleveland. What highway engineers though that one up? Traffic has to slow to 35mph in order to make it through safely.

We made it to Sandusky at about 5:30pm. I was pleased to find that the infamous "stench of Sandusky" wasn't noticeable. We checked in to our room at the Breaker's Express and collapsed for the night.

The next morning we woke bright and early and walked across the street from the hotel to a McDonald's for breakfast. Cedar Point's new Castaway Bay resort loomed imposingly across the pond there. That place was gargantuan. There was no clue that an indoor waterpark was on the inside. It just looked like an expansive hotel and marina complex. Indoor waterparks appeared to be a growing Sandusky feature. On nearby Route 250, there was the Great Wolf Lodge, another absolutely massive log-cabin-style hotel/waterpark built last year. And just opened about a mile down the road from that was the Kalihari waterpark resort and convention center, equally as massive. I didn't understand how Sandusky's tourist business could support so many huge ventures. I guess business must be very good indeed.

The McDonald's was nicely landscaped, with a winding walkway along the edge of the pond. What used to be a waterfall was filled in with dirt and plants. Dozens upon dozens of geese and their goslings were making the area their home. While we were ordering our food, we met a guy who was sort of a budding coaster enthusiast. He traveled here with his family and was heading down to King's Island the next day. I wished him luck trying to see all of Cedar Point in so short a time. He asked if Kennywood was worth visiting, and we began chatting a bit about other smaller parks in Pennsylvania, including Knoebel's and Waldameer. It turned out he grew up near Knoebel's but never visited it.

After breakfast, we brought the girls to Cedar Point's Human Resources office for processing. As always, the park's skyline was awe-inspiring with most of their sixteen rollercoasters clearly visible. We dropped the girls off and waited for them by walking out along the park's pier. The wind was pretty strong, but there were patches of sun that helped warm us. Most of the marina docks were empty. We stopped into the marina's gift shop, which was almost deserted.

We met up with the girls about an hour later. We took them shopping for supplies they needed and then moved them into their dorm room for the summer. The girls then had to go back into the park for training. Karen and I had gotten two-day passes from the hotel, which came to about $28 per person each day. That was about half the price of a regular ticket. It also included Soak City (the waterpark), which wasn't scheduled to open for another week. Only the first few rows of the front parking lot were filled. A few buses were parked there as well.

The park entrance hadn't changed, except for the blue awning in the center that usually advertised the newest coaster. I expected MaxAir, the new flat ride, to be featured. But instead it boasted how the park was voted best in the world for the seventh straight year.

The gorgeous floral displays Cedar Point was famous for were just being planted. Some areas were fresh-tilled dirt and some had a grid placed on them where flowers were going to be. There were some odd baroque sculptures in the center of some of the floral displays. I didn't remember seeing them before. They were a weathered bronze color and sort of looked like big goblets with cherubs and gargoyle heads attached to them. They didn't quite seem to fit in. There were also some interesting multi-unit birdhouses that were fully occupied.

To start our day, we headed for the classic Racing Derby. I was still amazed at the impressive size of that ride. Karen noticed some kids talking about calculating various forces and surmised that it was probably a physics day of some sort. I was glad Cedar Point kept the Racing Derby in good shape. Not only was it a rarity, it was still quite a fun and thrilling experience. And what a complicated piece of machinery!

From there we headed to our favorite CP coaster, Blue Streak. We walked by the imposing structure of Raptor, possibly the best-placed ride at any amusement park. We passed the long-closed pirate dark ride. I miss it; it was a lot of fun. I was surprised the building has sat there idle for so long. The least the park could have done was spruce up the outside to make it look less abandoned.

Blue Streak was running two trains, and there was no line. We queued up for the front seat. The track was bone-dry, not a drop of grease in sight. With the weather being so cool, I wasn't expecting much. But the ride delivered a terrific punch, with heaping doses of airtime throughout the entire course, even on the turnaround. The ride really is the park's hidden gem, with more excitement per linear foot than any other coaster there. Sadly, most patrons are more impressed by size than performance.

Next to Blue Streak was a ride that we always overlooked on my previous visits, the Cadillac Cars. They ran on a convoluted track next to their big cousins, the Antique Cars. The loading station was hidden away near Raptor's Cobra Roll. Once again, there was no waiting for this ride. I liked the layout more than the Antique Cars. For some reason, it felt more like I was on a country road rather than a track. There was a lot of nice landscaping. There were also many different styles and colors of cars (most of which were sitting idle). The cars were a bit of a tight fit, more like a kiddie ride. But it was a lot of fun anyway.

Walking back out to the main midway underneath Raptor, MaxAir's bright orange and blue structure was obvious. It fit well at that end of the park, right next to the observation tower and in front of the entrance to the Disaster Transport toboggan. It was a lot smaller than I expected. But that's not saying much in a park with some of the biggest amusement devices ever created. The thick tubular A-frame supports were 84 feet high. They held basically a giant pendulum. The base of the pendulum was a ring of 50 seats (facing outward), held to the pendulum by cross bracing. I had never seen a Huss Giant Frisbee before (the generic name for MaxAir), but to me it was obviously made by Huss. That company has a way of making rides that look like giant steel muscles. There's nothing really graceful about their designs; they're all about brute force. Unfortunately, that force wasn't in view. The ride appeared to be sitting idle. I didn't see it run all day.

The park did a great job remodeling that whole section of midway. Where MaxAir was positioned used to be an assortment of kiddie rides and game booths. That whole area facing Raptor was opened up so that Raptor's loop was clearly visible. The games had been moved around the corner and looked quite nice in their new home. As is fitting an amusement park, everything was painted in dazzling bright colors.

We headed north along the midway. Top Thrill Dragster was running steadily. I had my fill of that ride last season. We stopped to admire Iron Dragon's eye-catching colors. The misters and fountain were running in the pond under the coaster's knot of track and made for a nice picture. Mantis, possibly the loudest coaster ever created, roared around to our left along with Millennium Force and the Wildcat. Directly behind us was the Corkscrew. In front of us was TTD. We were also surrounded by the giant Power Tower, Matterhorn, Scrambler, Dodgems and the Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad. One spot on the Cedar Point midway contained more major rides than some entire parks.

We didn't have much time to ride anything, though. Thick black clouds rapidly moved in from over Lake Erie and rain began beating down. Karen and I took cover under some large trees nearby and stood there shivering as a cool wind steadily blew. The park basically came to a standstill. Most rides stopped. Vendors took in their merchandise.

After a few minutes, the rain let up. So we hurried over to the Happy Friar next to Gemini. We both ordered a regular cheese-on-a-stick. Karen's ended up being jalapeno. Mine wasn't cooked all the way through. The rain began coming down again. We saw the guy we had chatted with at McDonald's. He had just ridden Top Thrill Dragster and agreed with me that there wasn't much to that ride. There was a good launch, and then you blinked and you were back to the station.

Karen and I started making our way around the Frontier Trail, ducking into gift shops to avoid the rain (and to try to keep warm). We hopped a ride on the train back to the main midway. The rain let up so we headed to our car to get our jackets. Karen felt like eating a gourmet pretzel, so we walked over to that stand. The pretzel (with cheese) was quite delicious. We then checked out the Pagoda gift shop for any new items the park had. We didn't notice too many, but there were a couple of new posters featuring Top Thrill Dragster. Then we went to the Park Plaza gift shop to check in with our girls. They still had about an hour before they finished up. So Karen and I took a ride on the nearby Antique Cars and wandered through the Snoopy Boutique. I'm glad that the Peanuts branding has worked out for Cedar Point. It's a cheery well-known icon that has given the impression of a family-friendly park and has separated their offerings from more thrill-oriented parks like Six Flags. I was impressed and overwhelmed by the amount of Peanuts merchandise for sale. When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts. But at the time there were very few related items for sale except for books and a few poorly made toys. The toy characters never quite resembled the images in the comics. But the quality of the toys at Snoopy Boutique was very impressive, the best recreations of the characters that I've seen.

We met up with the girls at the Carousel at 2:30. We took them out to eat at Sandusky's Olive Garden restaurant and had a terrific meal. Then we finished shopping for them and brought them back to their dorm room. They were in the same building as last year, but up one flight and in a bigger room. The dorm was conveniently located in the center of the park, hidden from the view of guests.

As dusk approached, Karen and I went back to the Hotel Breakers. Kids – probably the ones who were part of Physics Day -- were running through the halls, yelling and slamming doors. We went to bed early.

At 10:30 at night, we were awakened by a shrill buzzing. Karen jumped up, startled. I was still groggy and mumbled, "Don't worry. It's just the fire alarm." Karen was nervous, but I said it was probably one of the kids playing a middle school prank. A minute later there was a loud banging on our door and some yelling. So I got up reluctantly. I didn't want to open the door in my pajamas, so I threw on my shorts and a T-shirt. I opened the door and a hotel employee spotted me.

"I'm sorry sir. There's a fire in the building. You'll have to step outside."

Karen threw a jacket on over her pajamas. I threw my jacket on, grabbed our key and walked down the hall and outside. A bitterly cold wind was blowing. The hotel wasn't too crowded, and most of the guests were huddled under the side entrance where there was some protection from the wind. After a few minutes, we could hear sirens. The fire trucks (which were located directly next door to the hotel) pulled up next to us. Hotel personnel ordered us to get back beyond the parking lot. As we moved, the strong wind whipped around us. We stood there for a few minutes and began shivering. No one came over to update us on what was happening. I wished I had grabbed my car keys; at least then we could have gotten in our car and kept warm. But I figured this was a false alarm and we'd be let back in soon. And then it began to rain.

After about fifteen minutes, at Karen's urging, I asked one of the hotel employees how long we were going to be out there. They had no information. To her credit, one of the employees offered me her jacket, saying that it would probably only be a couple more minutes. I politely declined. Karen and I huddled together to keep warm. Then some hotel personnel approached with a box, asking if anyone wanted blankets. I grabbed one and Karen and I wrapped ourselves in it. It was one of the stock thin hotel blankets, but it helped a little. Then right as we started to warm up, they let us back in. Someone in a south room had started a fire. Everyone who had a room in the south section had to be moved to a different room. Luckily Karen and I were in the north section. We shivered our way back to our warm room and crashed for the night at 11:30.

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