Darien Lake13th August 2005
This morning began with a drive down from Toronto. While planning this week, I had presumed (correctly) that a day with no long drives would be of great benefit, even if the net result was a longer drive the next day, thus my decision to stay two nights in Toronto. What I had not anticipated was a one hour delay to cross the border back into the United States, due to a tailback of cars on the route the satellite navigation told me to take. The time was taken on the US side, with each car being subjected to an interrogation taking around ninety seconds. I could only assume that they had some specific threat on the radar, as nobody in their right mind would cross the border on a regular basis if delays of that length were typical.
The net result of this delay was an arrival at the park a little over an hour after opening. The park was already crowded with people, and to make matters worse there was a ten minute queue of people trying to get in the gate. I made a spontaneous decision for us all; rather than seeking lunch, we would acquire muffins to eat in the queue line for Superman - Ride of Steel (#541). A wait of at least an hour was likely there, and we wanted to get it in just in case the forecasted thunderstorm decided to materialise.
Having ridden the mirror image of this ride I expected a pretty good coaster. This turned out to be, if anything, an underestimation; we rode in car two, where throughout the ride we did not feel even a single jolt from the train; instead, there was glorious airtime throughout. Fixing the dead spot at the end of the second helix would have been nice, but one cannot have everything. James and Andrew were both delighted with what they quickly decided was the best coaster of the last few days.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the rest of the coasters in the park. The gentleman sitting beside me on Predator (#542) described the experience as a simulated car crash. There is no doubt that I have ridden worse, but it was still a very long way from the best wooden coaster I've ever been on. Viper (#543) was running somewhat better, with an almost complete absence of headbanging, but nevertheless enough bumps to batter the rest of the body fairly thoroughly.
James got his one hundreth coaster on Mind Eraser (#544), our second SLC in twenty four hours. When updating my own database I discovered that this was also a landmark for me, in this case my one hundredth Vekoma built coaster. It was fitted with a mist generator half way through the course, but though it was running while we waited it had been shut off by the time we were on board. This was, if anything, a relief; while not cold, it was nothing like as warm as the USA can get during August. We were over the height restriction for the kiddie coaster in the park. This is something put in place artificially by Six Flags, as we had no such trouble on the same model two days ago, but nevertheless it was no great loss. The other coaster, the Boomerang, was out of order, with the catch car mechanism stuck at the top of the reverse lift hill.
With a seven hour drive back to Columbus we all decided it was time to go. It was only when were in the car that I mentioned that alternative arrangements had been made to hit two more parks on the way. My initial plan had been not to mention it at all until we were pulling up at the Waldameer Park gate, but I figured that there would be no chance of getting away with that given that the address would be shown on the satellite navigation unit while it was calculating the route.
Waldameer Park13th August 2005
A quick enquiry at the ticket office for Waldameer Park revealed something that the web site had not, namely that the Ravine Flyer 3 coaster was restricted to children and adults accompanying same. Consequentially we would only be getting two credits here. First of these was the Comet (#545), a small family sized wooden coaster. The ride was old enough to feature a manual braking system, something that Andrew appeared to be particularly taken with. Only one of the two trains was in use but even still we only had a five minute wait to board. The ride was broadly speaking the same as that at Wyandot Lake.
We decided to hold off on the second coaster for a little while in order to ride the Ferris Wheel while there was still enough light to take photos. Frustratingly, my CompactFlash card decided to fail on me, neatly corrupting two thirds of these, showing one of the pitfalls of digital media. It was replaced a few days later when it did the same thing, fortunately on less important pictures.
Andrew logged his one hundredth different coaster on Steel Dragon (#546), a Maurer Sohne spinning coaster and a clone of the one I had ridden earlier this year in in the Netherlands. The version at this park lacks the theming of its dutch cousin, but makes up for this by being a much better ride. As with the other version, the cars did not spin anything like as much as I would have liked. However, the tracking was smooth as butter, solving my major complaint and giving a very good ride. Stepping on to my soap box for a minute, I occasionally get irritated at how steel coasters with an identical layout can ride so differently. If parks would only maintain their rides properly the experiences should be the same. There is no excuse for disasters such as that on Thursday.
It would have been really nice to explore some of the rest of the park. Even as we walked rapidly towards the exit my eye caught an interesting looking dark ride that could easily have been fascinating. However, to have done whis would have meant axing Conneaut Lake, and none of us were willing to do that.
Conneaut Lake Park13th August 2005
It was quarter to nine at night when we walked in to Conneaut Lake Park. Research on the Internet had confirmed a rule against adults on the smallest of the three coasters, so given the time we did not even bother looking for it. Instead, we quickly acquired some ride tickets and entered the queue for Blue Streak (#547). As we approached the station it became immediately obvious that this was a ride maintained in pristine condition with loving care. A light board was visible above the track, showing where on the course the train was. The train looked to be original, complete with a fixed position grab bar. Riders are secured with a seat belt as an additional safety precaution. These looked to be a relatively recent addition, and are presumably necessary in this day and age for insurance cover. Fortunately, they did not detract from the ride experience in any way.
The layout itself was that of an out and back design but hidden away in the trees. The faint glow of the rest of the park was enough to barely illuminate the track as we went through the ride. I wasn't surprised to note that the tracking was pretty smooth, and extremely smooth given the ride age, some sixty seven years old this year. Queues (and tickets) permitting all three of us could probably have ridden for a few hours, but it was beginning to get really late to be still more than two hundred miles from home, and as such we had to move on.
The other adult sized coaster, a Chance Rides Toboggan (#548), was a new experience for me. The ride features single person cars which are lifted vertically through the center of a tower that looks not unlike a helter-skelter, with track circling the outside of it all the way to the bottom. There is a small coaster hill at that point, before the car returns to the station. The enclosed lift design necessitates a roof on the car, and this was what presented my only major problem with the ride. I fit in without any problems, but there was not a lot of vertical room to spare. At the drop on the end, I hit the top of my head with enough force to leave me with a mild headache for the rest of the evening. While the effects were gone by the next morning, it could not have been healthy. Anyone over my height would have had serious difficulty.
Epilogue13th August 2005
The dictionary on my laptop defines sensible as a course of action chosen in accordance with wisdom or prudence. This word cannot reasonably be used to refer to my decision to interrupt a four hundred mile drive between Darien Lake to Columbus, OH with two additional amusement park stops. There are, however, some mitigating factors:
- Distance. Waldameer Park was approximately one mile off the drive as planned by my satellite navigation unit, and constituted a diversion of less than two miles when freeway exits are taken into account. Conneaut was more of a diversion, but only added 40 miles to the overall trip.
- Cost. Both additional parks sold individual ride tickets, limiting the costs to a manageable level and, crucially, made it possible for me to justify stopping the drive for just long enough to hit the coasters. It would have been nice to explore both parks properly, but there just wasn't the time. With luck that will be possible in the future.
- Future. Conneaut Lake closed at the end of 2005, and despite the best efforts of its promoters has yet to reopen as of 2008. It would have been a pity to miss the Blue Streak.
Finally, it is worth observing that my two passengers, James and Andrew, appreciated both parks just as much as I did. Neither had any complaints about the fact that we arrived back a shade before two in the morning; they felt the diversions to be worth it. I rest my case.