I arrived at Martin's Fantasy Island with James and Andrew after an exhausting six hour drive from Columbus, OH. It was tiring largely due to its monotony; American freeways are good roads, but once you've seen five miles of one you might has well have covered the entire network. I wasn't sorry to pull off onto the side roads near the park, and true to form the satellite navigation system in my rental car took us right to the park.
The first coaster we hit was the Silver Comet (#525), heading directly for the back seat. In the queue line was the sign I wish all parks would have, advising that glasses could be worn if and only if secured by a strap. This is an entirely reasonable restriction and far better than a blanket ban on glasses. At any rate, the ride was of the calibre of everything else from CCI. It has been well maintained and runs as good as new. The same could not be said for the brand new Crazy Mouse (#526). This was my first encounter with a Zamperla branded version of Reverchon's classic spinning mouse design. The only visible difference between the two was a re-engineered lap bar system; this version had individual lap bars instead of a single bar for each side of the car.
On riding, however, I was immediately struck by how slow the ride was running. Where every other spinning mouse I've ridden has run with a time between 1:30 and 1:45, this one clocked in at 2:15, at least thirty seconds slower than a Reverchon on a bad day. We only got one moderately decent spin in the second half of the course where the Reverchon would normally give six or seven. What on earth have Zamperla done to this ride? There is no other way to say it. They have taken a very successful production model coaster, with numerous park installations and many more travelling models, and effectively castrated it. The result is a boring and dull ride, which is braked so heavily that it hardly coasts at all. While it could be argued that the ride is more friendly now to very small children, it is utterly forceless for everyone else.
We did walk around the park but decided not to ride anything else. The tower ride was a definite possibility, but there was a sign saying no glasses permitted, so we gave it a miss. As an aside, how can it be that secured glasses are okay on a coaster but not on a ride that only goes straight up and down? Instead, we rode the Silver Comet twice more before heading back into the car for the drive across the border to Marineland.
11th August 2005
Crossing the border proved to be relatively headache free, though within moments of driving in the Niagara Falls area I began to wonder why anybody would. The sight before me felt like Blackpool without the class, or Las Vegas without the charm. It was depressing to see the gaudy colours everywhere, and even less so to discover that fuel for the car was at least three times the price it had been in the USA, making me wish I'd bothered to fill up before crossing. The pedestrians, of which there were an impressively large number, appeared to have no interest in the cars passing them, with one group walking directly in front of me forcing rapid application of the brakes.
By the time we entered Marineland I could really have used a beer, although as the driver this was strictly off limits. Instead, we went coaster hunting, ending up first beside the Tivoli Coaster (#527). With that cleared, we headed all the way over to the other side of the park for the ride which has, for twenty two years, been the signature attraction at the park.
I am referring, of course, to Dragon Mountain (#528), once the longest steel coaster in North America and at the time of writing still in sixth place for length. Careful use of the terrain by the designers allowed the 186ft ascent to be completely hidden away with barely any support structure. After such an impressive ascent it might be reasonable to assume a serious drop, but no; the ride coasts along for the better part of two minutes along a relatively slight incline, never really picking up much speed. It is true that there are four inversions in the mix, but they are spaced so far apart the rider ends up relying on them to break the monotony.
There is no doubt that Dragon Mountain was a great ride in its day. However, by todays standards it is is not terribly exciting considering how much more it might have been. The one thing I can say for it, though, is that it qualifies as an excellent family attraction; there are no major drops to terrify those scared of heights, and the tunnel sections are certainly good fun. One caveat though; on our second ride, we all ended up with sore shoulders from the restraint system, eliminating any desire to ride again.
The only other ride in the park of any significance to us was the Sky Screamer, a triple installation of S&S Combo Towers, with upward and downward launches. James and Andrew had never done an upward tower ride before, but both strapped themselves in like veterans. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the towers here were run at full power, with a substantial pop of airtime at the top. The view from up there is quite spectacular, with that famous waterfall thing (the one Superman rescued a baby from) clearly visible. Once again we rode twice.
Before leaving, we grabbed a bite to eat, and James and Andrew played a few very animated games of Air Hockey. I was somewhat tempted to go back to the Sky Screamer a third time after allowing time to digest, but it was getting late, and another hundred miles in the car beckoned.