August 2004

The next morning we ate breakfast at Bob Evans, one of our favorite restaurants. The day was overcast. We arrived at the park at 10:30. The parking lot was just about empty. We strolled leisurely over to Lost Kennywood and sat by the fountains. All was quiet except for the rushing water, when suddenly a voice broke through the PA system and exclaimed, "Good Morning, Kennywood!" The famous march associated with Barnum & Bailey's circus began playing, and the park came to life.

Since there was almost no line, I decided to ride Phantom's Revenge again. Karen passed. One of the park's educational signs in the Phantom's queue line suggested riding toward the middle of the train for more air time. That went against what I knew of coasters. But I figured instead of the very front, I'd try the second seat. I waited only a couple of minutes and was seated next to a young kid. The first drop was smooth. When the train crested the second hill I popped out of my seat, and as we barreled down that enormous drop I floated all the way, though I couldn't understand how that was happening. I was really delighted, though. We zipped through the helix, emerged from the tunnel and then hit those bunny hops. It felt like I was riding a mechanical bull. I'd never been so forcefully thrown into a lap bar -- repeatedly -- on any other coaster. It wasn't painful, but it really was a physical endurance test. I realized why there were so few of those bunny hops; if there were any more riders would herniate themselves. I was really surprised that the second seat produced such severe forces compared with the front. What a potent coaster!

From there we went to one of my favorite rides, the Tumble Bug that Kennywood called The Turtle (for obvious reasons: the tubs were designed to look like turtles). The one at Whalom Park used to be amazing, with stainless steel tubs so that you slid all over the place. Kennywood, though, had placed a material on their seats that was sort of like those non-slip decals for showers. Karen and I sat in an end tub. The ride began by gently rocking back and forth on the track, and then edged forward over the circular undulating course. The ride ran much slower than Whalom's. It also didn't go backwards, but it was a long ride. Instead of sliding around in our tubs, our bodies just sort of lurched forward a bit as we went over the hills. It was sort of a de-fanged Tumble Bug. But as with so much in this park, I was just glad that the ride was still there and was still running.

We then took another fun front seat ride on the Thunderbolt. Some maintenance people were working on the Raging Rapids. The trough was dry. So we took another ride on the nearby Gold Rusher. Oddly, some stunts that had been working the day before weren't working any more. After that, we walked toward Kiddieland. I noticed that the big metal garage doors in front of the game booths were all painted with colorful scenes. I thought that was a really good idea. Instead of making the midway look dead if a game wasn't opened, it added color and beauty.

We took another ride on the train and then walked back to Lost Kennywood to ride the Pittsburgh Plunge. Nobody was in line. We had the boat all to ourselves. It was pulled up the metal lift. We rounded the corner and passed through a cupola. The boat dropped down into the pond. A thick wall of water shot up in front of us, and then collapsed. We were drenched.

I decided to try Exterminator. Karen definitely wanted to avoid that one. I had heard that after Le Cachot, their old dark ride, burned down a few years ago Kennywood had built another dark ride. But I thought it was in the same spot. I wasn't prepared for such a huge installation. As I mentioned earlier, the building didn't look right in that section of the park. It was too "themed." As I entered the queue line, several people in front of me were being ushered into the tunnel beyond. When I approached the the tunnel, the attendant stopped me and sat back down on her stool outside the tunnel. I waited there a few minutes. A line started to form behind me. The attendant stood up, looked around, told me to wait there and then walked off. And wait I did, for about a half-hour. I wondered whether the ride had been shut down. Meanwhile, the line behind me was stretching past the Plunge. There were no other employees around to query. Finally, another attendant showed up and sat on the stool. He didn't look to happy and didn't even acknowledge me. I just kept standing there. Finally without saying a word he made a slight motion with his hand, indicating that I should advance. As I passed him, I mentioned that the other attendant had simply left her post. He didn't seem to care.

I walked into the tunnel and turned right down a corridor. At the end there was a doorway and I turned left. Past the doorway was a large room that was another queue line about half-filled with people. The line was on a concrete ramp that criss-crossed the room. At the far end of the room was a wall of rusty metal panels that looked like they had been pulled out of an old electrical plant. Various lights on the panels flashed on and off. It reminded me a bit of Flight of Fear at King's Dominion. The exterminator theme at that point seemed to have been abandoned. To the left was an emergency exit door that was wide open, letting light flood in. After about twenty minutes, I entered another corridor and turned left. There was the loading station. It was extremely narrow. Opposite the loading station was a wall with sewer pipes on it. Green light emanated from behind them, and that was about the only light in the station. A single car rolled into place, looking like it was from a wild mouse or Galaxi, and it had a big rat head on the front. But I'd never seen coaster seating like this: the car was more like a Tilt-a-Whirl, a semi-circular arrangement of four seats. I climbed in, sitting on the left side of the car, which meant I was actually facing slightly right. The lap bar was above my head. I started to pull it down as two other riders entered the car and I ended up conking them on the head. For some reason, even though there were two separate lap bars, they had been chained together. I apologized to my co-riders. The floor at the front of the car had a sort of angled foot rest. It was to prove very useful.

When we were comfortably secured, the train glided out of the station In front of us was a mannequin in exterminator garb, holding a nozzle that was squirting smoke. We turned a sharp left. That felt really weird, because I wasn't facing forward to begin with. Then we engaged the lift hill in the dark. A short time later I could feel the car crest the lift hill. There was a slight drop and we started rolling forward. The first half of the ride was just like a wild mouse, except in the dark. A fast straight run was followed by a sharp curve. Occasionally there was a surprising swift drop. I had difficulty adjusting because of the darkness and the way I was facing. But other than that, there was nothing too extraordinary. The ride was really smooth, with no bumping or snapping. There were a couple of stunts, but we flew by them so fast I couldn't tell what they were.

Then about half-way through the circuit, pandemonium began. The car suddenly and rapidly started spinning around its center. Since I was off-center to begin with, that felt really weird. Combined with the rapid motion on the track, up and down the hills and flying around turns, my brain couldn't tell what was happening to my body. It was one of the strangest sensations I've ever experienced. I kept my feet pressed down on the foot rest, which helped steady me, and held onto a grab bar on the side of the seat. The motion wasn't nauseating or even dizzying, because so many forces were at work and I never went in any one direction for any length of time. But it was completely disorienting. We finally landed on a flat stretch of track and I could feel the brakes tug at the car, but we kept spinning around freely. There was a glint of light, and between spins I could see the station approaching. The spinning finally stopped and we glided into the station backwards. The car spun once more to face us forward and then the lap bars came up. I thought I was going to be a bit wobbly on my feet after that, but I felt fine. I walked out into the daylight at the back of the building.

This certainly was one of the most interesting coaster rides I've had. I wish I had more of a frame of reference. I couldn't see anything, which I think killed some of the ride's effect. The coaster itself, I felt, was a good fit for the park. But the whole theming was terrible. It stuck out like a sore thumb. Why couldn't they have themed it like an old 1920s fun house? Or why couldn't they simply have placed the whole coaster structure on the edge of the cliff, or better yet integrated it into the terrain like their other coasters. Coming up to one of those hairpin turns at the edge of the cliff while spinning around would have been a really thrilling experience. I'm not sure I'd re-ride them too often, but I hope I get a chance to try out spinning coasters elsewhere.

Since I'd never been on an Intamin drop ride before, I decided to check out Pitt Fall. The tower was the other sore thumb in Lost Kennywood. It just looked awful compared with the surrounding architecture. Unlike Intamin's Gyro Drop, which had a ring of seats around the tower that spun on the way up and then dropped, Pitt Fall was more like an S & S tower. There were four sets of four seats. A big metal cap on steel cables would glide down into place and lock on top of the seats. The cables pulled the seats to the top of the tower. There was about a five second pause, the cap would release its grip and then the seats would ride two rails straight down until they came in contact with two strips of magnetic brakes that brought the seats to a gentle rest. The park was running just two of their four sets of seats. The other two were locked at the top of the tower. The line wasn't very long, but it took a while to board. I ended up facing out toward the bridge across the Monogahela River. The best part of this ride was that it sat on the edge of the cliff. It felt a lot higher than it really was. After a breath, we dropped down and came to a rest. The entire trip was about thirty seconds, and it didn't do much for me. I liked the S & S towers better, because those pull you down faster than gravity and then bounce you back up. There was more of a thrill. I wondered why Kennywood got that particular tower. A Gyro Drop would have held more people and would have been more picturesque and thrilling.

After that, Karen and I headed for the famous Potato Patch and got some fresh cut french fries. They were thicker and better tasting than the similar Potato Patch at Lake Compounce. We spent the rest of the day mostly walking around and enjoying the ambience. We rode the carousel. Its working band organ was playing a strange roll that featured a long medley of songs from The Wizard of Oz. We took another ride on the Log Jammer. While we were in line, right before we were about to board, the crew became frantic and began scurrying about the loading area. The left trough paddle that regulated where the release of the logs apparently malfunctioned. The attendants scrambled to switch over to the right-hand loading trough, and they did a really good job of managing the minor crisis. We got into our log, and were sent on our way. That roller coaster drop still amazed me. It was a very enjoyable ride. When we got back to the station, we discovered they had shut the ride down.

We stopped at the Carousel Food court and had an interesting foccacia pizza. We walked back to the Kennyville Stage and caught the Kenya Safari Acrobats, an act almost identical to one at Lake Compounce. Then we had some really good ice cream from the Big Dipper. The skies got darker and it began pouring, so we called it a day. We said goodbye to Kennywood and headed out through the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was a giant exit sign. I wondered why the park didn't place a more memorable sign there, as they had done at Lost Kennywood's exit. On the way back to our van, we noticed people streaming up the outdoor escalator that led to the distant second-level parking lot.

We enjoyed the park. I was glad that Karen finally got a chance to see it. It took us a while to get used to it. It didn't resemble any other park we've been to, and it wasn't quite what we were expecting. I guess the most jarring thing was the music that seemed like an anachronism in such a traditional setting. The coasters were fun and the food was okay. But for me the most impressive things were the architecture and the night lighting. It really felt like the park was from another time, as if it were frozen inside a snow globe.

The next morning we awoke early and drove to Cedar Point to pick up our daughters, who had worked there the whole summer. The air was extremely hot and muggy. The skies didn't look too friendly. We met up with one of our daughters and then hunted down some Cheese on a Stick. After that tasty treat, we took the train from the back of the park. When we arrived next to Millennium Force there was a throng of people gathered inside the final turnaround. Karen spotted a sign announcing the Amusement Today Golden Ticket Awards. The ceremony was just breaking up.

We met up with our other daughter and then took a fun ride on the Blue Streak. As we got off the ride, I told the attendant that he had the best coaster in the park (and I meant it). He responded, "If that's true, they don't shut down Disaster Transport in the rain." Speaking of rain, we noticed the sky was getting ominously dark. We overheard a ride attendant say that there was a severe thunderstorm on its way. We stopped at the nearby Racing Derby and finally took a ride. What an amazing piece of machinery! It really kicks up a breeze. My horse was a bit bumpy, but it wasn't too bad. Karen really enjoyed the ride.

We felt a few drops of rain, but hoped it would hold off a little longer. It was still really hot, so we headed for Thunder Canyon, the rapids ride. The setting was wonderful, with the ride buried back into the forest. There weren't any people in line. The attendant was wearing a raincoat. We sat in a raft with two boys. The attendant began telling us how much she wanted to be a theatrical costume designer. Then it began sprinkling. As our raft drifted out into the waves, the skies opened up. It began raining so hard, I could barely see in front of me. Our raft had about two inches of water in it. Luckily Karen and I had our flip-flops on. One of the boys joked that he didn't have to worry about getting wet. We went right under the strategically-placed waterfalls. We were the last raft to return to the station before the ride was shut down. We might as well have just jumped into the trough. We were soaked to the bone. The wind was blowing. Lightning was flashing. We went from sweating to shivering. We slogged into the nearby glassblower shop, hoping to get warm. Out on the empty midway, huge puddles had formed. One older kid ran up and "skated" through the puddle as if he was on ice. A younger kid tried to mimic him but wiped out and landed on his butt in the puddle. We went to the back of the shop where the glassblowing demonstrations normally took place. There was a furnace there, but it didn't put out enough heat to warm us. We walked over to a gift stand. The guy behind the counter was from Bulgaria. We asked him how he liked his job. He said it was all right, but he really hated country music (which constantly played in that section of the park) and couldn't wait until the end of October when he could go back home.

The rain let up a bit, so we decided to get something to eat. We made our way over to the Frontier Inn. It was filled with people. Karen and I got salads. The girl behind the counter took her gloved hand and like a crane scooped an enormous amount of lettuce into our bowls. I also got a pizza, which was okay, and Karen got garlic breadsticks. We sat down inside the air-conditioned room. The salad was quite good.

Most of the rides were shut down. We walked over to the Cedar Point museum. There was a fascinating display similar to a player piano except it also had an ingenious player violin inside. We encountered a chatty attendant who droned on about how many jobs she's had. We extricated ourselves from there and headed for the train. Hundreds of leaves had fallen off the trees and blanketed the ground. Kids were running around with multicolored ponchos on. Karen said it reminded her of Halloween. One thing we should have done at Kennywood was stock up on hats for her. After our ride on Thunder Canyon, Karen's brand new straw chapeau looked like a mop head. It never regained its shape.

We shivered all the way back on the train. The many humorous stunts kept our minds off our dampness. The rain let up, but the temperature had dropped about 20 degrees. Once back at the main midway, we headed for Park Plaza and bought a few more souvenirs. One thing we noticed was that all the game attendants we saw were constantly talking. They were real barkers, always trying to engage the guests. That was such a refreshing change from so many other parks, where the game attendants just sat there like lumps waiting for customers to come to them.

We went back to our hotel, dried off and rested up. The next day we moved our daughters out of their dorm and brought our summer officially to an end. We had a family picture taken. Three months seemed to pass so quickly. We really got to discover why Cedar Point is such a wonderful place. Although the architecture wasn't as nostalgic as Kennywood's, it was bold and colorful. And we fell in love all over again with the special charm of Knoebel's. We didn't run the triathlon this year, as we had done in the past (visiting a half-dozen parks in one week). We took time to enjoy the places we visited, so we were able to appreciate them more. It was a very relaxing vacation for a change and it was certainly one we'll remember for a long time.

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