Cedar Point
August 12-13, 2016

copyright Jay Ducharme 2016

Another summer, another visit to Ohio's Cedar Point.  Karen as usual left over a week before I did to spend some quality time with her daughter, son-in-law and grandkids.  I followed via my usual route, Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited.  This time, extensive track work meant I had to take a bus to Albany and then pick up the train there.  But even with that minor inconvenience, this was the smoothest ride I ever had on Amtrak.  We were right on time until just after Cleveland, then we had to wait for the freighters to pass.  But even so, we got into Sandusky only about a half-hour late.  That was far better than in the past, when we ran several hours behind schedule.

The plan this year was to stay a few nights at the South Shore Inn, just a stone's throw from the park entrance.  It was a pleasant hotel with a huge bathroom that held a jacuzzi.  In an interesting twist, Karen had reserved two nights on hotels.com and wanted to add an extra night.  So they gave her a refund of $38 dollars.  Not a bad deal, getting paid to stay an extra night!  This trip was also a change of pace for us.  Rather than our usual agenda of visiting park, it was a chance for two grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren.  The kids were finally old enough to ride together.  So the trips wasn't so much for us to experience parks as it was for us to watch the kids experiencing the parks.

The weather was brutally hot, with temperatures in the 90s and a dewpoint so high we couldn't even sweat.  There were supposed to be rain showers, but they never materialized.  Karen and I started the day with our usual breakfast at Bob Evans and then drove over to the park.  We could see the impressive skyline as we traveled over the causeway, and it had a new addition this season: the park added the awkwardly-named Valravn, a B&M dive coaster similar to Griffon at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  For a Friday, the parking lot was suprisingly empty, perhaps 1/4 full.  We parked near the Blue Streak turnaround and walked over to Season Pass Processing to get our passes.  Then we headed through the entrance gates.  There were no security personnel and no bag checks (not that we were carrying any bags).  That was a refreshing change from the overly-cautious pat-downs we've received at many other parks before entering.

Something I noticed as we entered was on the long LED screen above the entrance: a notice reading "Mean Streak is closing for good."  That was the first I had heard of it.  I wasn't upset, since I hadn't bothered riding that massive wood coaster in years.  It was too big for its own good and gave a rough ride with no air time and no lateral Gs.  It was basically a shaky train ride through piles of lumber.  There were rumors that Cedar Point was going to hire Rocky Mountain Construction to turn Mean Streak into a steel coaster, much as RMC did with Mean Streak's older sibling, the Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas and the Cyclone at Six Flags New England.  Although I never was a fan of losing wooden coasters, in this case that kind of transformation would be welcomed.

We entered the park and walked past the big beautiful Midway Carousel designed by Daniel Mueller.  To our left was the classic steel coaster Raptor, sporting a gleaming new paint job.  And just beyond that was Valravn, which was painted a gleaming ... dark brown.  The color didn't exactly say, "exciting new coaster".  And with so many massive steel rides in the park, the rides were beginning to lose a proper sense of scale.  Even though Valravn was over 200 feet high, it occupied the same skyline as Power Tower which was 300 feet high, Millennium Force which topped out at over 300 feet and Top Thrill Dragster which was over 400 feet tall.  The combination of so many gargantuan rides began to make their giant sizes appear to be the norm, not the exception.  And because of that, they no longer seemed so large.  The only sense of scale came when trying to see the riders, who were reduced to specks against the massive contraptions.

Karen's daughter Heather brought the grandkids and met up with us near Kiddie Kingdom.   The kids were 2 and 3 years old, the perfect target audience for that area of the park.  They gladly took spins on the various auto car rides.  Then we headed over to the nearby Peanuts-themed kiddie section.  Along the way, a group of high school marching bands paraded down the midway and we stopped to watch them.  We walked into the mercifully air-conditioned Snoopy Boutique and then out the back door, emerging in the second of three kiddie areas in the park.  We walked through an artificial tunnel to watch a waterfall there.    In front of the waterfall, the colorfully dressed Cedar Point Beach Band appeared and regaled us with a wide range of energetically performed tunes, including an impressive version of the Super Mario Brothers theme.  After that, Isabelle, the three-year-old, felt brave enough to ride the Kite Eating Tree for the first time.  It was a small mild drop tower, and she enjoyed it.  Next we took them on Snoopy's Express Railroad.  It was a tight fit for us grandparents, but the kids had a good time traveling around the short circuit.  Then nana took them on the Peanuts Road Rally, a kiddie monster truck ride.  Each truck was themed to a different Peanuts character.  They ended up in Pig Pen's truck.

By then it was lunch time, so Heather led us along the beach-side walkway and over to Perkin's Restaurant, which was located in the newly remodeled Hotel Breakers.   Just sitting in the air conditioned room was envigorating.  The heat hadn't exactly whetted my appetite, so I had a just bowl of tomato basil soup and a salad, plus a tall cool glass of lemonade.  We stayed there close to an hour, and then parted company so the kids could go home for a nap.

Karen and I walked back out onto the midway and headed over to Valravn.  I had no intention of riding it, but instead wanted to get a better look at it.  As is customary for Cedar Point, the paths around the ride gave you an in-your-face view of the track.  I liked how they finally were able to open up the dead end that used to exist there and connect the Blue Streak area with the rest of the park.  The back end of Raptor was also finally visible.  (Previously, that area was occupied by one of the auto car rides.)  Also as is customary, there was really no theming for the ride.  There was a sort of medieval wall that was constructed near the ride's midpoint.  But that was it.  The wall had a sign on it advertising various social media options the park offered, plus some windows that looked out over the track.  The back turn of the ride offered some of that sense of scale that I was talking about.  On Raptor, the trains and passengers always seemed dominant.  But on Valravn, the trains and passengers were hardly visible; mainly what drew my attention were the sinuous lines of the track.

After that we took a ride on the Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad.  The station was still sporting the ride's 50th anniversary sign from three years ago.  We traveled to the north end of the park and checked out some gift shops there.  They were offering impressive laser-cut steel recreations of some of their coasters.  We then walked over to the nearby and shady Antique Cars and took a relaxing trip through the grove.  But even the shade couldn't dissipate the oppressive heat.  So when that ride was over, we sought shelter in the nearby Town Hall Museum, which was air conditioned.  Karen paused for a photo op on Gemini.  We browsed the many displays, including the spectacular scale model of the gone-but-not-forgotten White Water Landing flume ride. A museum attendant asked me if I had any questions about the park.  We chatted for a while, and I told him I was surprised that Mean Streak was finally closing.  He said, "If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on RMC."

We had cooled down enough to brave the outside again.  We walked past Snake River Falls, the park's shoot-the-chutes ride, which surprisingly didn't have much of a line.  We checked out the glass blowing shop which had some beautiful hand-made pieces for sale.  We strolled through the park's only themed section, the rustic and shady Frontier Trail.  Then we boarded the Sky Ride back to the front of the park, giving us impressive views of Valravn.  When we returned to our car, the parking lot still wasn't even half full.  Perhaps the constant threat of rain was keeping people away.  Of course, Cedar Point was so huge that a half-filled parking lot there would overflow many other parks.

The next day was slightly cooler after an evening rain, and there was once again a threat of rain during the day.  But given how dry it had been, we decided to chance another visit.  This time Karen and I went to the park by ourselves.  The parking lot was slightly more filled than the previous day, but for a Saturday the crowds were light.  The sky looked threatening, but there was a nice breeze blowing.  We parked in almost the same spot.  Seagulls were perched on cars, and I'm not sure what they were waiting for.  It wasn't like fish were going to jump up out of the pavement.

The first order of business was one of Cedar Point's rare delights: cheese-on-a-stick.  I bought myself a cheese-on-a-stick maker for home use, but it couldn't compare with the real deal.  These were freshly made and mouthwateringly delicious.  I could have had another, but I didn't want to overdo a good thing.  From there we walked through the Valravn area again.  The ride queue spilled out toward Raptor.  Evidently, the park had made a good investment.

We hopped another ride on the railroad.  I wanted to take one last look at the dense forest of Mean Streak, even though I had no interest in riding it.  I was at the park the year it opened, and I remember that interminable snaking queue line through the entire inner area of the ride (since replaced by a big storage building).  And at the time, the ride was mildly fun.  It was mainly about speed, but it was fairly smooth.  And just the sheer size of it was awe-inspiring.  But after a few years, the ride ran rougher and rougher and the park couldn't seem to return it to an enjoyable experience.  I watched the trains run through their circuits.  The renovation was a long time coming, and I was eager to see what new form the ride was going to take.

Karen and I re-boarded the train.  The wind began picking up force.  We traveled through the humorous ghost town section and as we arrived back at the south station, it was as if someone from on high opened up a giant firehose.  Sudden torrential rain pelted the train, accompanied by thunder and lightning.  As the train stopped, attendants were yelling at passengers to get off the ride.  No one wanted to, because we had a nice cozy shelter in the roofed train cars.  And the attendants wouldn't even let anyone stay under the cover of the station.  So people fled out onto the midway.  Karen and I ducked into the nearby restrooms, which were packed with people who had the same idea.  The nearest shelter besides that would have been either the Panda Express or the much more distant Pagoda gift shop.  So we stayed put, hoping for the rain to let up.

It didn't.  We waited in the bathrooms for about 20 minutes.  The rain passed from torrential to steady, and that was probably about the best we could get at that point.  So we slogged our way back to our car.  Guests were fleeing the park in droves.  When we finally got to our car, there wasn't really anywhere to go.  Traffic was gridlocked getting out of the park.  Ironically, we could have walked back to our hotel faster.  But the park had traffic personnel throughout the parking lot and eventually things began moving smoothly.

The Point still is an impressive amusement facility, balancing an old-style turn-of-the-century midway design with state-of-the-art rides and some nice theming and architecture.  Although Karen and I didn't experience very many rides on this trip, there was still plenty for us to do if we wanted to.  The park's true family rides still vastly outnumber that of most other parks.  In fact, the number of family rides alone is greater the total ride count of many parks.  We still love the Blue Streak, and I still enjoy Magnum and Millennium Force.  And it looks like next year, the park will have another new attraction that will draw me back to America's Roller Coast.

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