Holiday World
August, 2001

This was the third year that Karen, the kids and I combined camping with amusement parking. The weather in the northeast had been brutally hot and humid. And unfortunately, that weather followed us. We packed up our two cars at dawn on August 6 and headed west for our first destination, Holiday World. Karen rode with the girls in her car and I rode with our son Mike in mine. We used CBs to keep in touch. I knew that we'd never make it there in one day so I had reserved a site at Green Acres Lake Camp in Lake Milton, Ohio. When we checked in, a guy behind the desk asked me what state I was from. I told him. He then asked, "Say, do you know a guy named Ray?" He couldn't recall the last name.... We not-so-affectionately came to refer to this place as "Green Sewage Lake Camp." Our tent site was on a grassy patch abutting a small pond behind us, a row of overflowing dumpsters (which were emptied at 2:30 in the morning) in front of us and a sewage treatment facility to our right. This set the tone for our trip.

The next day (after a great breakfast at Bob Evans) we traveled ten hours and arrived at Camp Rudolph at about 4:00 in the afternoon. The air was so thick and hot, it was hard to breathe. There were two cars in line at the check-in booth. I sat there in my car for about fifteen minutes before an elderly gentleman in a golf cart pulled up to the first car in line. After exchanging money and information, the gentleman hopped back in his golf cart and said, "Follow me," and proceeded to guide the first car off to their campsite. That left the other car and us waiting another fifteen minutes until he returned. This process continued with the car in front of us. I was getting really frustrated. It was almost an hour before the gentleman got to us. When he drove us to our campsite, he took us the wrong way down one-way streets. So we ended up having no idea of how to really get there. That was really frustrating. We didn't bother setting up camp right away. I had heard so many good things about the park, I was eager to show the place to the family. Plus--there were free drinks! So we hopped on the Camp Rudolph shuttle (a cramped minivan with faulty air conditioning) and headed for the entrance.

It's difficult to describe my first thoughts as we approached the ticket gates. The lift hill of the Raven was to the left, with a large sign proclaiming it as "the #1 coaster in the world." The entrance looked so sterile and unfestive. I expected it to have more personality, or at least have something about it that was vaguely holiday-like. Instead it appeared to be exactly what it was: a collection of ticket booths. I paid for our entry tickets and we walked in. There before us was a small generic circular fountain. There were a few people milling about, but the park didn't seem too crowded. I didn't quite know what to make of the buildings. They had a Tudor look to them, as if William Shakespeare lived there. To the right set into rocks on the ground were small red wooden letters that read "Holiday World." A fiberglass statue of Santa Claus was to the left along with a bronze plaque commemorating the park's founders. I had expected fake snow, or red and green buildings...anything that felt like Christmas. But instead I felt as if I were in a small park that could have been anywhere. The plain narrow asphalt midway had large cracks in many places. And the air was so oppressively hot....

Well this was the moment I had waited for, the chance to finally ride the coaster that everyone had been "raven" about for so many years. We walked down the sloping path toward the Halloween section. The only reason I knew that we were in the Halloween section was because there were some thin orange banners there that said "Halloween." There was no spooky music, no change of theming and no new look to the midway. It was like a nice idea that was never fully executed.

The station looked much smaller than I thought it would. I really liked the dark corridor leading up to the loading area. I also really liked the intense fan inside the corridor that brought a welcome breeze to our sweaty faces. In a few minutes we were queued up for the front seat. I noticed that the ride's photo booth had been shut down. It was interesting to watch the train vanish up the lift, only to re-appear near the brake run.

While we were standing in the station, the ride operators were having a grand old time. One of them kept hopping back and forth across the station tracks, trying to impress a girl in line. He was almost taken out by the incoming train. All three ride ops didn't seem too concerned with their job. They were laughing it up and generally not appearing to pay much attention to what was going on. (Mike later went to guest relations to voice his concern about the ride op who almost got hit, and the person behind the counter merely gave him a postcard to fill out and mail back in with his comments.)

Mike and I got in the comfortable front seat of the PTC train and off we went. The first drop into the tunnel was nice, and there was a slight pop of air time at the top of the second hill. But the ride certainly wasn't as smooth as I expected. The train shook badly, especially at the bottom of hills. Raven maintained a good sense of speed diving around Lake Rudolph and winding its way back to the station. In no time at all we hit the brakes and I thought, "That's it? That's what everyone has been gaagaa about?" I thought it was an okay ride, a bit too rough for my taste. It certainly performed well for a coaster of its size. I applauded CCI for designing such a brash coaster in such a tiny footprint. I guess I just had a big problem with the roughness and shaking. A ride on that scale shouldn't track that poorly.

We wandered out of the Raven area. I could see the structure of Legend, the park's newest coaster that was getting raves, in the distance, so I figured I'd give that a shot. Maybe that would impress me. The queue line overlooked the picturesque flume ride and featured deafeningly loud music (ex: "Time Warp" from Rocky Horror) played over tiny speakers that had long ago outlived their usefulness. The music basically came across as painfully loud and garbled noise. It's a shame, too, because that music was one of the only things that made you feel like you were in a Halloween area. The train barreled back around the queue line on that weirdly banked track and then hit the brakes so hard that the entire station shook. What was it with the mosquito netting covering every inch of return track on this ride? The dreaded Gerstlauer trains looked great and seemed to track well. The design of the queue wasn't too exciting: back and forth and back and forth then up a flight of stairs.

Karen and I sat in the front seat and Mike sat behind us. The molded fiberglass cars reminded me of the old Morgans on Riverside Park's Cyclone. In short order, we were on our way. I don't think I'd ever seen so many flags on a lift hill before.... We plummeted down the first drop, and I immediately knew I wasn't going to like this ride. It was as if someone had set the train on top of a jackhammer. There were really impressive violent changes of direction, and the only rival to the tunneled helix was The Beast. But Karen and I were in pain when we got off the ride. I cursed the miserable Gerstlauer trains. Mike thought he ruptured something and had a massive headache the rest of the evening. I knew this ride would be much more enjoyable with GCI or PTC rolling stock. As it was, though, I considered this coaster unrideable. And I'd be willing to bet that track maintenance would be pretty taxing for the park. One thing I did like: the bell that tolled every time a train left the station.

We decided to chill out on the flume ride, which had a fun tunnel. It was a welcome peaceful moment. We wandered to the other end of the park. That took all of four minutes. There really wasn't much area to cover. I liked how the park was structured in tiers on the side of a hill. I'd never seen anything like that before. We passed through the Fourth of July section. (The banners told me so.) There was a small re-creation of the Alamo. I did like the theming of the bumper cars in Teddy Roosevelt's RoughRiders. They were buffaloes. That was about the only ride that really seemed to fit into its section. (Come to think of it, I don't remember any rides in the Christmas section....) One amusing anecdote there: I was wearing my Superman Ride of Steel shirt that proclaimed the ride as the "#1 coaster on the planet." Karen wore her Boulder Dash shirt emblazoned with "#1 wood coaster in the world." Mike said that when we exited the bumper car ride, the attendant looked at us and just shook his head. Maybe he was wondering how many #1 coasters there really were....

We tried out the bumper boats. I had never ridden one before. They were fun if a bit slow. We visited Holidog's playground. It had the first "jumping waters" I'd ever seen. We took a ride on the old claustrophobic train through storybook land. Mike and I rode the forgettable Zamperla "Howler" kiddie coaster. Thank goodness for the free drinks and the misters scattered throughout the park! That was about the only way to cool down.

We went into the air conditioned Kringle Haus for something to eat. I felt more like I was in a waiting room at a medical office. There was nothing festive about this place. It had white walls with an absurdly high white ceiling that made every sound reverberate. There were some large pictures of Santa on one of the walls and an odd cloth swag ornament hanging from the ceiling, but that was it. I asked for a slice of cheese pizza. "We don't sell cheese pizza by the slice. You have to order a whole pizza." All they had by the slice was pepperoni. There was nothing else vegetarian there. So I asked for a Slush Puppie. "Our machine's out of order." They also were out of ice cream. I did find a stand near the Holidog playland that sold pretty good baked beans, though....

We headed back for our campsite and found that someone else had set up two tents next to us and actually had taken over part of our site. So I set up our tent on a gravel mound where our picnic table was and nearly collapsed from heat exhaustion.

The next day Karen and I woke up early and drove around the town of Santa Claus. Everything was pushing the holiday theme, from grocery stores to laundromats to golf courses. We stopped in at the Holiday grocery store and bought the best donuts I've ever eaten. We went back to the camp, woke the kids and ventured back into the park for our second day.

Karen and the girls rode the raft ride the day before, so I decided to try it as well. There was a terrific tunnel, and a fun section with water cannons. I really liked the sunken town and the trick waterfall. The station was odd, I guess due to the park's unusual topography. The loading area was basically underground. We followed a sloping concrete path down below grade. The roof of the station was at about ground level. It had an interesting ambience to it that helped the ride. We went on the antique car ride. It was long and not too exciting. It had the distinction of being the only ride with an amusing and personable ride attendant. We took in a couple shows at the park, which definitely seemed to be aimed at the younger crowd. One was a pretty embarrassing Backstreet Boys tribute.

There were several flat rides we didn't bother with (a Scrambler, Falling Star, etc.). There were a lot of kiddie rides. In fact, the main impression I was left with was that Holiday World was a kiddie park with an identity crisis. I thought the theming was almost non-existent. The only thing remotely like Christmas was the big tree display in the gift shop. I can remember very little holiday music being played. Why not have carolers strolling the midway? How about a fife and drum corps band for the Fourth of July section? Why not have an Ozzie Ozborn or Rob Zombie type of character roaming the Halloween section? Artificial pumpkins? Haystacks? There were so many little touches that would have helped. It was as if the management didn't even care about its own theming. Maybe Holiday World was having growing pains.

In a park with lots of kiddie rides there were also two brutal wood coasters that were definitely not "family" oriented. The food wasn't very spectacular. I did order a whole cheese pizza our second day, and it was good. But why couldn't they serve slices? That made no sense. The legendary friendly staff there struck me as moderately pleasant but certainly not outgoing. In some cases, as with The Raven, I was actually concerned about their ability to do their job. I didn't understand what made Holiday World so special and why it was so highly praised by park enthusiasts.

So to sum up the first park on our trip, it was disappointing. I chose this place as the first one to stop at because I thought the park and the camp would absolutely blow us away with hospitality and great rides. I thought this would be the highlight of our trip. Instead we left hot, tired and somewhat ambivalent. I knew very little about our next stop, Indiana Beach, but I was hoping that it would help lift our spirits.

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