At the turn of the millennium, I began to develop an interest in amusement parks, with an emphasis on Roller Coasters. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where this interest originated; it certainly wasn't a family influence, and that's putting it mildly. Nevertheless it was thanks to my extended family that I was able to visit some major parks for the first time in 2001, including Cedar Point, Geauga Lake, and Kings Island.
It was in the last few months of my undergraduate degree that I decided to take the next logical step with my new hobby, namely a group trip with a club of like minded people. My first choice was to join the European Coaster Club with their planned trip to California. Unfortunately the dates simply did not work for me. Instead, therefore, I decided to joined the American Coaster Enthusiasts, who at that stage were plotting a two week trip through Europe. Closer investigation revealed that the trip was being sold as two separate weeks. It seemed a good idea to book on just one of them in the unlikely event that the trip turned out to be not for me; I could always do a longer trip the next time.
In order to get an idea for what I was letting myself in for, I decided to subscribe to an e-mail list discussing the trip. The enthusiasm was infectious; more than two hundred people were writing day and night about places they were going to be visiting in six months time. Some people on the list were looking to see if they could get to any more parks before the organised trip began. The catch was finding a local driver, as Americans drive on the wrong side of the road. Another day or two didn't seem like too much of a risk, so I decided to volunteer.
The three other participants in this mini tour were David, Gloria, and Suzie. I'd arranged to meet them all at the car rental at 8:45am. Unfortunately circumstances got in my way, and it was almost ten when I arrived. Even still I was actually the second to arrive, a major relief for me; it would not have been good to be last! In due course the others appeared, and we hit the road in our little Fiat Punto. Such cars are not made to take four adults, particularly not when they all have luggage. Nevertheless, engine screaming, we still managed to cover the 175 miles or so to the Clarendon Hotel in Skegness in a little over four hours.
The conversation in the car was predictable in its topic if not its substance. David and Gloria were chatting enthusiastically about their respective coaster counts, a concept which to that point had not occurred to me. As the name suggests, ones count is simply a total of the number of different coasters ridden worldwide. Suzie was very particularly proud of the fact that she'd managed to make Millennium Force her 310th coaster, significant given that that was the exact height of the record breaking ride. In an attempt to fit in I decided to take up this hobby, and I've regretted it ever since!
Botton's Pleasure Beach
11th July 2002
It was only a short walk over to the park from our hotel, where we met up with two more enthusiasts. Andy had taken the day off work to join this group of crazy Americans, while Alan had been mad enough to get straight off a transatlantic flight and into a train. Despite all predictions, David and Gloria didn't head directly to a coaster, choosing instead to loosen up on the Waltzer. This ride is a good stomach test at the best of times, and was even more so today thanks to a staff member spinning the cars by hand. This is apparently something which would never be allowed in America, words which were to later become a catchphrase for the trip as a whole.
It didn't take long for them to revert to the expected form, however. All of us took over the train on the Big Apple (#33), a roller coaster aimed at children and one which I'd never have bothered with under normal circumstances. It is these rides more than any others that show how foolish counting coasters really is; for adults at least they are hardly worth the effort of riding, and are certainly not work paying money for. The same was arguably true of the Queen Bee coaster, but this one was actually closed preventing any more embarrassment there.
The park has chosen to maximise the use of its available space by installing its signature coaster on the roof of a building. Storm (#34) seemed surprisingly violent for its size, with the restraint system landing me a few punches to the side of the head. Apparently the manufacturer of this ride is sometimes called nicknamed Painfari, which figures. Our ride was augmented by singularly appropriate weather given the ride name; the only thing missing was the flashes of lightning.
The last coaster on our list in this park was Runaway Train (#35). This ride was arguably only for children too, although it was at least a little more exciting than the Big Apple. The layout was a little interesting in that the train only made right hand turns, which presumably made the design of the wheel mechanisms a little simpler.
11th July 2002
We arrived at Fantasy Island to some dismal news; apparently all the outdoor coasters were closed. There had been some lightning strikes in the area, and the tallest conductors in the area had been shut down for safety reasons. This was hardly unreasonable but frustrating all the same, given the fact that the sky was now crystal clear. Gloria went looking for one of the park supervisors, who informed us that the various rides would be opening up again in about a quarter of an hour presuming of course that the weather remained clear. He did say, however, that Jubilee Odyssey was down for the day due to it stalling in high winds, and that the manufacturer and park were working together to solve the problem.
While waiting for the outdoor rides to open we managed to persuade an operator to let us board the Jellikins Coaster (#36). Some of the rides at Bottons may have been aimed at children, but this took things to a new level, with each car featuring a roof which for me was at neck height. Shoehorning ourselves into cars this small was a distinct challenge, well worthy of a giggle. In order not to overstress the ride mechanism the operator let us ride individually, marking the first occasion that I've had a whole coaster train to myself.
By the time we made it outside again the other rides had begun to open. Fantasy Mouse (#37) was a direct clone of the ride that appears at Funderland every year, which I've since learned is a production model design with at least twenty installations worldwide. From there we went to Millennium Coaster (#38). This ride seemed a little bit on the dull side other, thanks to substantial lengths of perfectly straight track, but it remained enjoyable on the whole, especially during the two vertical loops.
We were also able to ride the Rhombus Rocket, a so-called powered coaster which apparently I'm not allowed to count. David spent a good five minutes explaining to me why. Apparently the definition of a roller coaster involves two main stages. The first stage is a propulsion system which either lifts the train to a height or accelerates it to a speed. The second stage must be powered only by gravity and momentum. Powered coasters avoid these two stages and instead use an electrical rail which runs the length of the track, powering a motor on board the train.
I'd done all the rides on my list at this point, but the hardier members of our group had spotted something. The Beast was a particularly aggressive spin ride which I'm told is officially called a Top Scan, and Gloria, David, Andy, and Alan elected to give it a go. Watching this machine in motion was nausea inducing from ground level, making me very glad I'd chosen to sit it out. As the ride began to slow there was a loud cry from Suzie; look at Gloria! Sure enough, Gloria was looking distinctly the worse for wear. Andy didn't look particularly happy either. It seemed they'd met their match!