Cedar Point
July 24-26, 2015

copyright Jay Ducharme 2015

Another summer, another trip to Sandusky, Ohio. I once again took Amtrak out to meet up with Karen, who was there spending time with her daughter and grandkids. I arrived Friday morning.  Karen and I checked in to the quaint Maples Motel, down the street from the park.  That afternoon we visited the park with the whole family.  It was a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures in the 80s. There was a surprisingly light turnout for a Friday night, with the parking lot only about a quarter full.  Amusingly, the giant dinosaur out front (advertising the Dinosaurs Alive up charge exhibit) had become a seagull perch and was covered with seagull droppings.

After processing my season pass, we walked onto the colorfully landscaped midway.  I stopped at a nearby food concession for my annual cheese-on-a-stick.  As we were ordering, a float rolled by with a rock band on board.  It was so deafeningly loud, the food attendant couldn't hear our order, and we couldn't hear her responses.  Eventually it passed and we were in posession of our tasty treats.  We walked around the midway a bit more and met up with the rest of the family for dinner at the Midway Market near the front of the park.  As usual, the cafeteria-style food there was good. 

We then headed north. We didn't ride any rides; we just wandered through the midway.  We took a stroll through the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit, which was free with our Platinum passes. I had been through it a few years previously, but Karen hadn't seen it.  Nothing had changed since my last visit, except that many of the dinosaurs now were covered with spider webs. As before, the best part of the exhibit for me was the up-close view of the Millennium Force track that normally couldn't be seen.  After that, we parted company with the family and Karen and I headed back to the Maples to rest up.

On Saturday we avoided the park (which turned out to be mobbed) and instead explored some other local attractions. We first drove to the Huron Pier. It was a redevelopment project in the 1970s that reconfigured downtown Huron. It was a busy place. At one end were huge cargo ships. At the other were dozens of small privately owned boats. The inlet from Lake Erie had a non-stop procession of boats and jet skis entering and exiting. The pier also had a small amphitheater which later that evening would feature a Fleetwood Mac cover band.

Karen wanted to stroll on a beach, so I did a search for nearby public beaches.  My iPhone directed us to another pier nearby that had a lighthouse, but no beach. We could see beaches on other shorelines, but they were private. So from there we headed back toward our hotel. Along the way, Karen spotted the entrance for the Old Woman Creek Estuarine Reserve. We drove down the winding entrance road and arrived at the visitor's center. There were about a half-dozen other cars there.

The entrance to the center had a patio made of stones resembling the famous M.C. Escher watercolor of the interlocking lizards. Inside the building were the usual displays featuring wildlife you could expect to see, along with the native plants. The two women on staff were very pleasant and helpful. They gave us a map of the hiking trails. We picked the short estuary loop. The trails were well-marked.  It was a very peaceful walk that brought us to an overlook where the wide estuary was spread out before us. In the distance an egret stood like a statue in the water while three others flew above. We continued along the path and I spotted a pretty baby blue butterfly.  We eventually arrived back at the center.  I asked about the butterfly and they took some time searching, identifying it as a Spring Azure. It was a relaxing visit and helped to break up the busy weekend.

From there we headed back to Sandusky for dinner.  We stopped at Berardi's Family Kitchen, a local restaurant that was built from an old dining car. I ordered their Bavarian pretzel bite appetizer with beer cheese.  It was ridiculously delicious and could have been my whole meal. The pretzels' outsides were dark and crunchy, with soft flavorful dough inside.   Karen ordered their onion rings which were huge and tasty. I got a tuna melt for my meal, and Karen got haddock. Afterward, we went back to the Maples.  Karen went for a cooling swim in their pool, and then we retired for the evening.

One thing to mention about the Maples: probably its most famous feature is that it sits opposite an extremely busy railroad crossing.  About 75 trains a day pass by, blasting their horns.  For rail fans, it's an ideal location.  The trains run 24/7, so the horns provide a night-long serenade.

On Sunday, Karen was going to help get ready for a birthday party for the grandkids. So she dropped me off at Cedar Point at 9:30. My Platinum pass allowed me into the park before the general public.  A few coasters were already running so I took the opportunity to ride while the lines were short.

I first walked under the Raptor toward the old classic Blue Streak. Unfortunately it wasn't running that early. I noticed that the entrance to the Turnpike Cars on the right was now gone, replaced by a wooden wall in preparation for the construction of the park's new coaster. So I left that area and headed north.

One of my favorites, Iron Dragon, was a walk-on, so I made my way through the shortened queue and up into the station. One of the attendants noticed the Steel Force shirt I was wearing. He had just been to Dorney Park.  Another attendant asked which I liked better: Steel Force or Magnum (the Point's similar coaster). I replied, "Iron Dragon," to which the attendant gleefully responded, "Good answer!"

As always, the ride on Iron Dragon was enjoyable, with a gentle start followed by a manic finale.  From there I walked across the midway to the entrance of Millennium Force. Even though that coaster was fifteen years old, it still usually had the longest lines in the park.   At that early hour with limited access, it wasn't too bad. So I queued up behind two boys from North Carolina who had never before been to an amusement park.  They picked the right one for their first, and this was also their first roller coaster. I encouraged them to wait for the front seat.  Within about forty minutes I was seated and cruising up the giant lift hill. The ride was intense but smooth -- and thankfully bug-free.

I walked next door to watch Rougarou go through its paces. The park advertised this as their "new" coaster for this season. It was their just old intense stand-up looping coaster Mantis with new sit-down trains.  The ride was never one of my favorites, so I passed on it and instead got in line for the CP & LE steam train. Within a few minutes I was seated in the front car where the smell of burning coal permeated the air. We rolled out of the station and toward the far north end of the park, arriving in the western-themed section next to the giant Mean Streak wood coaster. It looked like that coaster had a lot of new track. And very few people were on it, probably because it simply wasn't a good ride. The queue line had been cut down to a fraction of its original size.

I made my way over to the nearby cheese-on-a-stick stand, but it was closed.  So I headed east toward the Gemini midway, passing by the giant new catapult ride that cost an extra (and outrageous) $45 to ride. I turned the corner and walked over to Gemini's entrance. The park was running four trains and they were actually racing. I knew there would be hardly any line, and sure enough there were just two people in ahead of me for the front seat of the left-hand train.  It's amazing to think that when it was built, Gemini was one of the largest roller coasters in the world. It was still pretty big, but had gotten dwarfed by most of the other rides in the park.  It was still eerie to see the trains glide so silently out of the station. The course featured a lot of air time punctuated by Arrow's typically rough transitions. It was still a fun ride, and seemed to be popular with guests. Families would split up into different trains to get the thrill of racing against one another.

After that, I hurried across the midway to The Happy Friar for my daily cheese-on-a-stick.  I really wish more parks would carry that delicacy. The Point was one of the few remaining parks to offer it. I've been seriously considering opening up my own cheese-on-a-stick stand when I retire and traveling with it to the local fairs.

After that nourishment, I walked the short distance over to the entrance for Magnum XL-200, the original hypercoaster.  This had the longest line I encountered that day, not bad for a ride that's a quarter century old. It took about forty-five minutes to get to the station.  I was going to simply take any seat that was open, to save time. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were only a few people waiting for the front. So just a few minutes later I was seated and riding up the typically noisy Arrow lift hill. Those bad Arrow transitions from the Gemini were only made worse on Magnum because of the higher speed. The triangular troughs drilled me into my seat and then the pointy hills slammed my thighs into the unforgiving lap bar. If I had answered the Iron Dragon attendant truthfully, Steel Force was a much better ride than Magnum.

I staggered off of that coaster and checked the time. I had only about an hour and a half until Karen was going to pick me up. I was also thirsty. So I went searching for the park's lone fresh lemonade stand. They used to have two, but they got rid of one and I couldn't quite remember where the other was.  I finally found the it on the opposite side of the Iron Dragon pond, and there was no line. I felt like a man in a desert coming upon an oasis. So I walked up to the stand and declared, "I'd like a lemonade!"  The clerk responded in broken English tinged with a thick Slavic accent:  "We no have. You come back ten minute."

I walked away crestfallen. Instead, I thought a milkshake might hit the spot. So I stopped at the nearby Johnny Rockets, but the line was out the door.  So I kept walking.  I passed by an odd new concession: funnel cake fries (basically, donut sticks). Then I stopped into the park's new shop, Sweet Spot. They created it from half of the Snoopy Boutique in an area that used to feature a little walk-thru Peanuts pumpkin patch. Sweet Spot wasn't as charming for children. But it had a lot more profit potential. And that, of course, appeared to be the driving concern for many modern parks. I tried one of their cashew cluster cookies. It was tasty, but at $3.99 (FOR A COOKIE!) wasn't much of a bargain. Fortunately, the clerk asked if I had a Platinum pass, which gave me a bit of a discount. That took a little sting off the price.

I moved on and finally ended up back by the entrance area to the Blue Streak. Hardly anyone was in line, so at the risk of dehydration I queued up. There were just two people ahead of me for the front seat. Right after I got in line, the station began filling up. They were running two trains, so in a couple of minutes I was seated and on my way.  I was glad that this coaster was still maintained well. Although it was now tiny by Cedar Point standards, it was still my favorite ride in the park, with an amazing amount of airtime. Some spots were a little rough, but not painfully so. The turnaround had really powerful lateral G forces, a rarity on most modern coasters.

From there I headed across the midway to Toft's Ice Cream Parlor. I wasn't a big fan of Toft's ice cream, though I was glad that The Point was featuring a local brand instead of all the national chains they had been bringing in.  Surprisingly, there were no customers there.  I ordered a vanilla milkshake. The attendant made it with six scoops (!) of ice cream and a shot of vanilla syrup. It turned out to be one of the best milkshakes I've ever had.

With just a little over a half-hour left, I decided to spend it in the arcade. The park had a decent collection of old electro-mechanical pinball machines. But on my last visit there, very few were functional. So I was presently surprised to discover that all but three were working. I first played the rare Hercules, the largest pinball table ever manufactured. It was somewhat functional, with a dead pop bumper and some non-functional rollovers. While I was playing, a girl came over to watch me. She looked to be about 12 and was holding two quarters. She then moved to a nearby table and began playing. When I finished playing Hercules, I moved to another table as well. A few more people stopped by for some games. But since the tables were relegated to the back of the arcade, kids wouldn't ordinarily find them.

While I was playing, an older man arrived with an assistant to collect one of the non-functional machines. I told him how glad I was that the park still had pinball. We talked for quite a while. He had been working on arcade machines since the '70s and was now semi-retired, but stayed at The Point mainly because of these pinball tables. He was concerned because the park chose to farm out the arcade to an outside company, a company that felt the pinball tables weren't making enough money and should be discarded. We both agreed that the reason they didn't make any money was that they were hidden away. If they were up front more (like what was done at Canobie Lake), people would probably play them more. He pointed out his favorite table, Travel Time. It was the last table the girl was playing before her mother came to get her.  He said he liked the table because the game wasn't regulated by the number of balls remaining; it had a timer, which you could increase by hitting certain targets. So in theory, you could keep playing forever. He pointed out that the girl still had 1:40 left on her game.   Pinball seems to be heading for a resurgence. It would be sad if the park got rid of their vintage tables without even bothering to promote them.  I had fun playing Travel Time for a bit and then had to go meet up with Karen.

Overall, I had another enjoyable time at Cedar Point. The prices were starting to get a bit steep (I mean, come on -- an extra $100 for a Fast Pass?), but people seem to keep paying them. The Platinum pass helped, but without it there weren't many deals; the milkshake was nearly $7 and the cheese-on-a-stick was $6 (though that's priceless). I got to ride more coasters than I usually would, one of the benefits of visiting early on a Sunday. As I left the park at 2:00, a lot of guests were streaming in. I was sad that yet another family ride -- the Cadillac Cars -- was being removed for a thrill ride (even if it is a coaster). But I guess that's the path of progress at America's Roller Coast

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