July 2006

Text and images copyright Jay Ducharme 2006

On Wednesday, July 26, Karen, our girls and I took a trip up to the Wisconsin Dells to sample Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park. The trip up there was an experience all by itself. Route 12 through the lower Dells is like driving through a combination of Las Vegas and Coney Island. The strip was wall-to-wall attractions, from "Broadway" musicals to unusual eateries. There were dozens of over-the-top lodgings like the Carousel Inn (decorated with an overload of pastel-colored lollipops and cotton candy waterfalls), most of which featured indoor waterparks. There was Noah's Ark, the king of Wisconsin's waterparks. There was the Tommy Bartlett Show, featuring "ski, sky and space." Bartlett was a big Wisconsin entrepreneur and apparently purchased more billboards than anyone should be allowed. There were rows of haunted houses and tilted rooms. The most elaborate was a gargantuan building labeled "Top Secret." Take the White House, break it in half, tip it upside down and drop the pieces unceremoniously to the ground. That's what this place looked like. It was a huge upside-down building jammed crooked into the pavement. A car was smashed into the side and a fireplug was gushing water. I still have no idea what was inside.

But the object of our attention was Mt. Olympus, formerly Big Chief's Carts and Coasters. This park began as mainly a collection of interesting go-karts. Then a wood coaster was added...then another, and another. Then the owners purchased the waterpark next door and renamed the place. Before I experienced Route 12, I had wondered why this park had expanded so rapidly. But after seeing the eclectic mix of attractions, I could understand. If Mt. Olympus hadn't become the biggest, baddest place on the block, it would have been buried by the competition.

With all the visual chaos around me, I spotted the entrance on the left. The park was sort of built in a valley, with each end on opposing hills. Karen questioned whether that was the park, but I didn't feel like driving past the entrance only to find myself unable to quickly turn back. So I pulled in, and a friendly attendant told us to drive up the hill in front of us. To our left was the large Treasure Island hotel. To our right was Mt. Olympus' huge indoor waterpark, The Bay, and behind it the Neptune outdoor waterpark. We drove up the hill. The small parking lot there was nearly empty, and there was thankfully no charge to park.

We walked over to the small entrance, basically two ticket windows built into a beautiful huge grecian archway. I handed the friendly attendant our online tickets. We were given wristbands and then walked back down the hill. The park offered several options: just the waterparks, just the coasters, go-karts and coasters, or the whole shebang. We weren't going to the waterpark, so we got the go-kart and coaster wristband. There was even an option just to walk around the park.

As we walked down the hill and took a left through the waterpark, it became obvious how big the place really was. And with the number of people in the park, it was also obvious that there had to be more parking somewhere. We passed by a nicely landscaped adventure golf course. We eventually came to a walkway past the waterpark. On the left was a gigantic row of grecian columns in front of a tent-like building that looked sort of like a temporary army barracks. This was the new Parthenon indoor amusement park. It was a beautiful sunny day, about 11 am, but the sun was beating down pretty hard. So an indoor air-conditioned park seemed really inviting. It was more like a mini-showcase for Zamperla rides. There were various kiddie rides and a small crawl-through fun house. The bulk of the area was occupied by Opa, a portable Zamperla spinning coaster similar to Kennywood's Exterminator. The whole setup looked rather temporary. Karen was brave and decided to take a chance on Opa, as did the girls. Heather and I had ridden Exterminator and knew what to expect. I suggested to Karen that we both sit in the middle to minimize the spinning. The line was fairly long but moved efficiently. I thought it was interesting that the cars didn't actually begin spinning until they reached the trigger on the second level of the structure. So the first part was very similar to a mild wild mouse. But once the spinning began, the sensation was much different. We were pretty well balanced, so it wasn't like a Tilt-a-Whirl (which it had been on Exterminator). But it provided some peculiar G-forces as we'd hit curves in the track at different orientations. It was pleasant and amusing. Karen found one ride on it to be plenty.

In front of the coaster was a "Dancing Heads" concession. I had never seen one before. It was a karaoke machine, like many parks have. But with this, the lip-synchers sat in the middle of a big green screen, with their bodies covered by a green cloth. A camera digitally mixed the heads in real time with a limited selection of backgrounds and cartoon bodies that danced to various tunes like Aretha Franklin's ubiquitous "Respect." They were getting $15 for a 3-minute DVD of your performance. We passed.

At the back end of the Parthenon stood about a dozen yellow columns, about twelve feet tall. They didn't seem to have a purpose and looked as if they were just being stored there. I walked over to one an tapped on it to see what it was made of. To my surprise it was just painted styrofoam.

We walked out of the Parthenon and resumed our progress toward the coaster area. The walkways were poured concrete, made to look like tan slate. To our left was a large building, looking convincingly like a remnant from ancient Greece, that sported the Mt. Olympus logo on it. To the right was a fenced-in pond that contained fountains, geese and mountain goats. In front of the fence was a Robocoaster, not really a coaster at all but basically a robotic assembly arm affixed with two seats. Passengers were secured with over-the-shoulder harnesses and then the arm went through its motions, whipping the people around and spinning them mercilessly. It looked violent and extremely uncomfortable. It was interesting to watch riders' expressions. When the ride started up, they were amused and laughed. But as the motions became more and more extreme their faces showed distress and a little panic. I never saw anyone line up for a second ride, and they were going for a mere $2 (or two rides for $3). We did notice that the ride had different programs. Two small children got on, and the arm gently tossed them and spun them in a simple pattern. The kids giggled non-stop and seemed to love it. Heck, I would have loved the sensation too. But anytime an adult got on, the extreme program was used.

Further down from the Robocoaster was a Zamperla Disk-O, just sort of plopped on the walkway. Behind that was Titan's Tower, a pretty standard looking go-kart track. To the left was a stretch of nicely themed shops: Aphrodite (a gift shop), Arcadia (an arcade) and My Big Fat Greek Pizza Joint (Guess what?). Ahead of us loomed the distant structures of the coasters and something else nearby that looked like a wooden coaster but wasn't. It was the structure of Helios, and I had never seen a go-kart track like it. It was two wooden triple-helixes, sitting side by side, about twenty feet high. It reminded me of a parking garage ramp. But I had to do it. None of us had ever ridden a go-kart track like this. Heather passed on it, though. The park seemed to have the queuing process down to a science. There were two lanes at the loading station. One held twelve cars waiting with passengers. All of the cars in the park (with a few exceptions) were exactly alike -- plain (except for a small spoiler), black and really low to the ground. The other lane accepted the incoming cars from the track. The two attendants simply pivoted a long padded barrier to direct the flow of traffic. After all the cars had come in from the track, the attendants would signal the waiting cars to go. After the outgoing lane emptied, a whistle was blown and the recently returned passengers would exit the ride. Then an attendant would move the barrier back. The attendants looked really hot and tired.

As I expected when kids were at the wheel, occasionally a wiseguy would decide to play bumper cars, often when returning to the station. But the park had a good way of dealing with that. We saw a kid come flying into the station and purposely ram the car in front of him. An attendant calmly walked over to the kid and said, "Give me your wrist." Sheepishly, the kid raised his arm and the addendant used a Sharpie to make a big black X on the kid's wristband. I wasn't sure what it meant, but the kid looked really depressed after that and left with his head down.

In a short time, we each hunkered down into our car. The cars had an accelerator and a brake pedal. When we were given the go-ahead, I stepped down on the accelerator but really didn't get much speed. The car curved around out of the station then turned left up the first counter-clockwise helix. The surface of the helix was made of wood slats, and my car bounced and skitted all over the place. It was like riding over a washboard. At the top of the helix, the track went across and then into a downward clockwise triple helix. And then the cycle repeated. I was impressed with the driving skills of kids who looked to be seven or eight years old. They seemed to handle the small balky steering wheel with ease and were good judges of acceleration and braking. We went through three circuits of the course. On the last leg, I looked down below as I was going up into the first helix. One car intentionally rammed another, sending it spinning briefly and jacknifing across the track. Everyone coming up behind had to stop. Karen and I returned to the station, but Liz didn't return. We waited and waited. There were additional attendants positioned around the course, and I assumed they saw this. Finally, the next group was sent out onto the track and we exited without Liz. After a pause, the cars came around -- and there she was. They had given her another round. After that ride, Liz told us that she had helped straighten out the jacknifed car, and the attendants let her go for another spin (so to speak).

We were all pretty hot after that (and choked up with gas fumes) so we headed to a nearby conscession cart. I got a Gatorade, and the ladies got fresh-squeezed lemonades. We walked past Dive to Atlantis, which the park advertised as a coaster. It was really a shoot-the-chutes ride with a dip in the track. It looked a bit barren, with a nice archway out front but nothing else around it. A few of those styrofoam columns scattered about might have looked nice, or maybe even some trees.

We were definitely in coaster territory, though. Structures were all around us. It was nearly impossible to tell which coaster was which. Except for Pegasus, which sat apart intertwined with the go-kart Medusa's Drop, the other three woodies looked all tangled up. The first one we came to was Cyclops. Its big drop was hard to miss, diving alongside the midway below the station. One thing that struck me about all the coasters here was how high the stations were. All of them had fairly lengthy staircases that had to be climbed, making them inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair. Also, all the coasters had a steep dip in the track coming back into the station. On some it was actually pretty effective, because the brakes would let the train ease down the drop very gradually.

Cyclops was the first wooden coaster the park built, in 1995. It was designed by Custom Coasters. We climbed up to the station and found nobody there, except a bored-looking ride operator. The train had left on its course. We queued up for the front seat. The girls lined up for the second seat. The train re-appeared, and Karen was surprised how short the ride was. We climbed on board into the PTC trains. I then understood why all the stations were so high up. Every coaster started off with a dive out of the station -- not a little bump like what Arrow used to do, but a pretty sizeable drop. We swung around to the lift hill, clattered up a short ways and then dove down the first drop. From there, I don't really remember too much about the ride except for the dive down by the midway. That was exciting. The rest of the ride was pleasant, but not memorable. Afterwards we stopped at Medusa's Cafe for some soft-serve ice cream. I got caramel, and it was so soft that I had to eat it fast to prevent it from tumbling off onto the ground.

Next door was Pegasus, so we decided to try that. This was the park's second coaster, built in 1996. It was the smallest of the wood coasters. Coming out of the station, the train dropped and curved to the right and then went up the modest lift hill. Off the lift, there was a series of small dips and right-hand turns above and around the Medusa's Drop go-cart track. It felt more like we were riding a wooden wild mouse. But it was fun, a different sensation for a wood coaster. Then there was a series of quick hops back to the station. I liked it better than Cyclops. There was more variety and the ride put a smile on my face.

After that we headed over to Hades. Built by the Gravity Group (whose members were from the now-defunct Custom Coasters) in 2005, this woodie briefly held the record for the steepest drop (65 degrees), longest tunnel, and steepest banked turn (a whopping 90 degrees). Holiday World's Voyage and Six Flags Great Adventure's El Toro bested all those records the following year. The structure of Hades (which I thought meant Hell, but actually was named after the Greek god of the underworld) was galvanized steel. The wood track was noticeably fresher than any of the other coasters. And the track laminations looked well-constructed. I had gotten used to seeing Custom Coasters track that had gaps all through the laminations (which in turn could make the track wear out quicker). But with the enormous forces at work on Hades, a well-built track was a necessity.

The coaster's statistics were impressive: a 150 foot drop and over 4700 feet of track. We wandered through the appropriately desolate queue line, filled with large stones. I liked how the park had saved many of their old trees when building the coaster, working the track around them. The ride's thin structure was elegant but seemed so spindly. Not much of Hade's layout was visible from the queue. The big drop right out of the station was plainly visible, and the subsequent curving bunny-hop-filled course before the lift. There was more track on this coaster before the lift than on the entire course of many small coasters. I noticed the severe third drop. It reminded me of the drop after the hoop-dee-doo on Riverside's Cyclone. You could see people get yanked down as the train dropped out from under them. The train then flew into a sharp right turn, swung under some track, took a left and then flew up into the lift at high speed. It was an appropriate beginning. The only other portion of track visible was the return run, which featured a noisy high-speed dive next to the station and an undulating layout that took the train in a wide circle around the station.

This ride had the longest wait of any of the coasters, but it was a reasonable twenty minutes for the front seat. Heather and I rode together. The drop out of the station seemed insanely steep. That third drop was indeed pretty violent. The we zoomed up into the lift. When we got to the top of the lift, I gasped. I saw a vast parking lot. At the far end of the parking lot appeared to be another coaster. I looked down, and there was a tiny hole in the pavement. The track disappeared from under us and we sped down toward that hole. In an instant we were surrounded by darkness and cool dampness. The sound of the train was absolutely deafening. I felt my body shimmy to the right. The was a floating sensation and then my body shimmied to the left. What I saw next didn't make any sense to me. It was the exit of the tunnel. But it was on its side. Suddenly the entire image righted itself as the train came out of the 90 degree banking and we flew up the tall hill of that "other coaster" I had seen from the lift. We were at the other end of the parking lot. I took a breath as we coasted over the top. Then we turned right and plunged down sharply, flew over a speed bump and then charged back into the tunnel in the opposite direction. Once again, my body was subjected to all sorts of forces -- up, down and side to side -- and I couldn't see a thing. I thought the train was going to shake itself to pieces. Then we barreled up a hill into the light and thundered down the drop next to the station. We circled around to the right, negotiating the bunny hops smoothly, popping out of our seats. And then we flew up into a wide left turn and were yanked to a stop at the brakes. The brakes released the train and ever so slowly lowered us down the hump back into the station. I was exhausted. I made a chopping motion across my neck to Karen, indicating she shouldn't do it. She hated tunnels, and I told her this was the mother of all tunnels. But there she was with Liz, lined up for the front. So she climbed aboard.

She was almost crying when she returned. Her expression was a mixture of shock and exhaustion. She and Liz both said they began drooling in the tunnel from the extreme forces. They both swore, "Never again." Heather and I both were willing to go for another ride, but not at that moment. The coaster was so intense that we needed a rest. Mt. Olympus certainly created a world-class coaster. But it might also end up being a world-class headache. The track through the tunnel was taken at such high speed, it'll surely be a maintenance problem. And the rigidness of the steel structure will probably cause even more wear on the track. But after 11 years of maintaining wood coasters, I assume the crew was well aware of the problems they'd have to deal with.

We needed another break after that, so we stopped into the stunning (and air conditioned) Delphi Coffee and Gift Shop. The exterior had the same ancient Greek look of the other buildings, but it was circular and completely surrounded by mirrored windows. The shop featured a really nice selection of T-shirts, postcards, magnets and other items. And of course, the smell of freshly roasted coffee permeated the air. All the souvenirs were well-designed and attractive. The structure of a new building was going up next door. It looked like a smaller version of the Parthenon. I went to a nearby ticket booth to ask for a map and was given the standard park brochure, which featured a cartoony layout of the park with no legends to figure out what's what. I asked if they had any maps that were labeled, and was told no. I thought that was odd, because at the ticket booth there was a labeled map of the park taped to the counter.

We headed back out onto the midway. Liz really wanted to try the Trojan Horse go-karts. It was similar in layout to the other tracks, except this one went through the belly of a three-story-high wooden Trojan horse. It was an impressive sight, positioned near the park entrance up on the hill. The ride also looked a bit lonely. It sat there with nothing but a large expanse of field next to it. At least the park still had a lot of room to grow. The go-kart track was fun, but nothing too exciting. Heather decided to try it and liked it. The trip through the horse was interesting because I could see how the structure was built (basically, a wood frame with a wood slat skin). The attention to detail on the horse was impressive, down to the rope ladder hanging off of it and the giant wheels on the horse's hooves.

We walked back down the hill. There was another larger entrance coming from the big parking lot where Hade's turnaround was. But the path down from the entrance area had been blocked off. There were various kiddie rides scattered about that didn't seem to be doing much business. We stopped at the entrance to Medusa's Drop, the go-kart intertwined with Pegasus. This one had a fairly long wait. The fumes from the engines were beginning to get to me. But eventually we boarded and took off. My car felt peppier than the others I had driven. The layout was fairly standard: I headed under Pegasus' lift hill and then curved left into a counter-clockwise upward helix. Pegasus' track at times was just a few feet above my head, and occasionally the train rumbled by. It was a nice effect. I got to the top of the helix, and to my surprise the track dropped out from under me into a steep double dip. My car flew down the hills and I even got a little airtime. It was lots of fun and made me laugh quite loudly. We went around four times. On the last circuit, a kid nearly rammed me, cutting in front of me right as we got to the top of the helix. His car was just inches in front of me and there was nowhere for me to turn. As we went down the dips, my car sped up and I slammed into him. All it seemed to do is just push him further ahead.

Karen and the girls really enjoyed that ride. The girls wanted to get some gifts at Delphi and Karen and I wanted to cool off on Dive to Atlantis. So as the girls headed for the shop, Karen and I lined up for the "water coaster." We noticed there were only five boats on the fairly lengthy course. The line was pretty long, and wasn't moving very quickly. And there was no shade. We waited about ten minutes but began to melt. So instead we met back up with the girls and got some drinks from the Medusa Cafe. Karen rested at a shaded cafe table while the girls and I queued up for Turbo Track, a fairly normal-looking go-kart track. While in line, I decided to pass on it and instead videotape the girls. They had a great time, and Karen was able to rest a bit. After that, we walked to the back corner of the park to ride Poseidon, the largest go-kart track in the park. This monster was similar in layout to the other big tracks, except it had six levels, arranged in a figure-8, plus an underground tunnel and a long connecting runway high above the ground. The queue was shaded and it was fun to watch the cars go through their twisting course. There was a slight hold-up when one of the cars died in the station. The attendant walked over to it and fiddled with the engine. Then he reached behind and pull-started it, just like an old lawnmower. After a few tugs, the engine started.

The ride began with a left turn out of the station heading down into the tunnel. A wide left turn up and around brought me past the station and heading for the left upward helix. At the top of the tall helix, the view of the park was impressive. The long runway over toward the figure-8 was paved with sheets of metal. The figure-8 itself was great, a long winding trip down through the massive structure. Then the track headed back toward the tunnel. It was a surprisingly long course. Three laps on this ride was plenty.

We had one more coaster to try: Zeus. Built by Custom Coasters in 1997, this was the park's biggest ride until Hades opened. It was yet another coaster whose structure was mostly hidden from view. We climbed up to the station and thought the operator was asleep. There was no one there except for two people in line for the front, and no train. After about a minute, the train returned to the station. Heather was standing with Karen, and I was in line with Liz behind them, waiting for the front seat. The ride operator seemed annoyed that we wanted to wait for the front. The riders exited from the train. The two people in line sat down. And we waited. The ride operator said nothing. Finally some people entered the station and the train began to fill up. Karen didn't want to keep waiting, so she and Heather took the third seat. After a few minutes, the train went on its way. When they returned, Heather and Karen both gave the ride a thumbs-up. Liz and I took the front seat and after a short wait we left the station.

Like the other wood coasters in the park, there was a drop out of the station. the track turned left and rose up a hill, which leveled out. We engaged the lift. At the top, we turned left. The sight there was a visual jumble. The track was tangled up with Hades. We dropped down and then soared over a nice camelback hill with good airtime. That was followed by two little speed bumps that pierced the structure of Hades and a bigger hill with a turn to the left. There was another drop with a low high-speed turnaround. Another camelback brought us to a steeply banked right turn followed by a double-dip. The bottom of the dip was low to the ground and vegetation was coming up through the tracks. A quick rise up through Hades turned sharply right -- and there we were at the brakes.

I thought this was the most enjoyable coaster in the park. It was punchy but not extreme, filled with airtime and lateral forces. It wasn't punishing at all. It was probably the most "normal" coaster there, even though it had an unusual U-shaped configuration. It was very re-rideable. So I wondered why it had such an empty station. Maybe it was just the time of day.

We were all hungry by that time, so we headed back toward the one main eatery in the park, My Big Fat Greek Pizza Joint. When we entered, we were surprised to see an old wooden sailboat inside the restaurant. It had stools all around it forming a dining area, and seating inside as well. We were the only ones there. We each ordered drinks and a personal pizza. Mine was with double-cheese. The total came to $32 (a lot less than we spent on a similar meal at Six Flags). We sat down and relaxed while they cooked the pizzas fresh. The food was delicious.

Another thing I appreciated at the park was the background music. It was all authentic Greek music spanning many genres, from traditional to pop. It helped give Mt. Olympus a unique old-world feeling.

We went next door to the Aphrodite gift shop. I picked up three really nice T-shirts, some postcards and magnets. One of the clerks came over to me and asked if I was a coaster enthusiast. I said yes. Then she asked me if there were any gifts that they didn't have that I would like them to carry. I had to think for a minute. No one had ever asked me that question before. I suggested some more magnets (since only two coasters were represented), but I couldn't think of anything more creative. I was really impressed that the staff cared enough to ask what I'd like. Also, all of the workers at the park were international students. But unlike so many international students at other parks, these seemed to be very well trained and spoke perfect english. There was no communication problem at all.

It was then about seven at night. I found it hard to believe we had already been there for almost eight hours. We could easily have spent more time, but it was a long drive back to Milwaukee. We hiked back up through the deserted waterpark and to the parking lot. On the way, we passed by The Parthenon and its huge styrofoam columns. Kids were standing there picking at the columns and tearing chunks of styrofoam off. Naturally there were no parents around to stop them.

We had a great time at Mt. Olympus. If we go back to the Dells again, we'll certainly stop there. The theming and architecture was nicely done. The go-karts tracks were fantastic. And the coasters were pretty good. Hades would certainly please thrillseekers. Families would enjoy the park's many other offerings. I wish there had been more food choices. How about having some baklava carts? Or baklava on a stick? Or lamb kabobs? The greek theming has great potential for expansion. The park itself had lots of room for expansion and could develop into the best amusement facility in the north-central area, even rivaling Six Flags Great America. I realize that prefabricated rides like Opa and Disk-O require less initial financial investment than something like Hades or Poseidon. But I hope that the management continues its "Carts and Coasters" tradition of unique rides. With so much competition in the area, the more outrageouly unique the park stays, the more successful it will be.

Return to Karen and Jay's Excursions