Knoebels Amusement Resort

15th July 2016

I've always thought of Knoebels Amusement Resort as a living museum, representing a step back to a time before amusement parks were overrun by safety regulations, pop music, bouncing basketballs, and dour operators. One of the key reasons for this image has been the ride selection, which has tended the eschew the modern in favour of the historical. It seems unlikely that all that many parks would choose to retire their only adult-friendly steel coaster in order to resurrect a classic Flying Turns, a ride type not seen since the last original model closed in 1974, but the team at Knoebels did just that, and after seven years of heartache the new (old) ride premiered to huge acclaim at the end of 2013.

Given that history it was a shock to many when the park announced that its 2015 addition would be a steel coaster from Zierer with four inversions. My immediate reaction on reading the story was that this was akin to adding neon running lights to an Aston Martin, and as we drove up to the park today it felt very much like my worst fears were being confirmed, with bright blue and yellow track sticking out like a sore thumb from among the trees, towering over everything in the immediate vicinity. The effect was eye catching, albeit not in a way calculated to please long term fans of the park.

Impulse

Impulse (#2269) is only the second ride to use the track system developed for Wicked in 2007, albeit without the LSM launches of the original model. The eight-seat cars featured a distinctive oversized lap restraint that I branded the "lap plate" to hold riders in place as well as high sides to keep arms within a clearance zone. The ride began well enough with a smooth lift hill engagement and first drop, and indeed almost all of the track was clatter free, a definite upgrade over similar ride designs from Gerstlauer. That said, however, the experience felt remarkably forceless; the only really memorable portion was the fourth inversion, an inline twist that was very good, if not quite at the level of the magnificent roll of the day before. Worse yet, the restraint had an unfortunate tendency to tighten while out on course, to the point that we were not sorry to disembark. We did a second lap later in the day that confirmed our first impression, namely that this was a credit to be ticked off and forgotten about.

Our second stop was at the Giant Wheel, from where we hoped to get some decent photographs of the new coaster. It wasn't particularly easy to do given a high rotation speed, though we did manage a couple of shots while paused at the top. The ride had at least half a dozen operators on duty, a surprising number for such a simple attraction, though it might have been deliberately overstaffed given what happened a few weeks after our visit.

The world's only Flying Turns was running very well today, perhaps reflecting the fact that it has had a bit of time to fully break in. My previous report described the ride as being on the short side, and I stand by that assessment, but for all that the experience is an absolute joy from start to end. Today the weight distribution gods put us into the front car, from where we could see wheel marks in the trough giving a clear visual of just how far to the side the cars actually travel, something that isn't always obvious from on board.

We'd probably have gone back for a second lap if the wait time had been shorter, but instead we decided to go for a meal break in the park's full service restaurant, The Alamo, which dates from 1926. The menu was comparable to that of the Cracker Barrel chain, with a few token Italian specialities added to the mix, and the prices were extremely reasonable considering the standard of catering on offer. After lunch we decided we'd take a little time to digest, and a good way to do that seemed to be waiting a few extra cycles for a front seat on Twister. The helix-heavy layout isn't what I generally look for in a coaster (as noted in my thoughts on Legend earlier in the week) but despite that the ride felt really good today, easily holding its own against the other wood coasters in the park.

Air Gates

It was mildly upsetting to discover air gates in the Phoenix station, apparently added this year despite the previous boarding system clocking up three decades of safe operation. On the plus side the modification didn't appear to be impacting boarding speeds significantly, though I still found myself cursing the nameless drone in an insurance company somewhere who took away one of the last wood coasters in America (if not the world!) where passengers are trusted to behave themselves. Fortunately the trains remain free of seat belts (for now at least) which allowed us to enjoy two airtime-filled laps.

Our final stop was at the Carousel Museum. As we walked through the door we caught a rancid waft of body odour that we quickly traced to an exceptionally corpulent female who was taking ridiculous numbers of photographs. I'm hardly in a position to judge on that particular foible, given that my archive of amusement park shots broke through the 250 GB mark earlier this year, but I at least have the courtesy to set my camera to mute. This individual, on the other hand, had her sound volume on loud, meaning that every shot was punctuated by a focus beep and a recorded click that became incredibly irritating within seconds. We did our best to filter out both the sound and smell as we learned about the history of carousels from 1800 until the present.

 

Hersheypark

15th July 2016

Hersheypark has an evening admission price that kicks in at 5:00pm, and we timed our arrival in order to take advantage of this. Though a good deal on paper, it's worth highlighting that the daily parking fee is not discounted, meaning that our total spend for a visit of just under five hours came in at eighty dollars. Though not awful by the standards of American corporate parks, it represented slightly more than we needed to spend for a similar length of visit at Knoebels that included a full service meal and more rides.

The first target for the evening was the family coaster added in 2014. Cocoa Cruiser (#2270) was the thirty third installation of the Zamperla 80STD worldwide and number twenty seven in my list. The design was identical to the other members of the family, and oddly enough that made it a little bit disappointing; I'd have liked to have seen the individual cars wrapped with Hershey product logos, and a few oversized chocolate bars inside the ride area would have spruced things up too.

It's worth pausing briefly to comment on the fact that many rides of this type in large corporate parks are off limits to adults who are not accompanied by children. This constitutes blatant and, it must be said, legally questionable discrimination; after all, if an adult is allowed on board with a child in tow then it follows that there is no safety related reason why they cannot ride without one. Some years ago I made a polite enquiry at a guest services department about this, and was told that the rules were in place for the protection of children, and the accompanying nasty look made it clear that there was no point in pushing any further. Hersheypark is to be commended for allowing all those who meet the height and weight requirements to enjoy their smallest coaster.

Whirlwind

We decided to make our second stop at the Ferris Wheel in order to get a few photographs before the sun dipped below the horizon. The operators were enforcing a shoes and shirts required policy which seemed a bit unnecessary given how close we were to the water park, but on the plus side that shortened our wait after several people were forced to leave the queue. The one hundred foot height gave us some nice shots Fahrenheit, Lightning Racer, and Wild Mouse, and there were a few good shots of the water park too, notably Coastline Plunge: Whirlwind, a ProSlide Tornado added to the park in 2007.

Our third stop was at Laff Trakk (#2271), an indoor spinning coaster added to the park for the 2015 season. The ride is the eighth example of the Maurer Sohne Xtended SC 2000, and the sixth of its type in the United States. The Hersheypark version stands apart from the others (despite the relative ubiquity of the design) for its theming, which probably represented at least half of the overall attraction budget. The queue starts outdoors in an overflow area, but then continues into a brightly lit hall of mirrors, providing both entertainment and amusing photographs for those waiting. After about fifteen minutes in there guests finally move out on to an elaborately decorated boarding platform with a cartoon mural on the wall for Laffing Sal's House of Fun, a reference to a famous animatronic produced by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company during the 1920s and 1930s.

The main portion of the layout can only be seen after the car leaves the station, and it is certainly eye catching, with an abundance of brightly coloured theme elements lit by black lighting. That said, the actual experience fell quite a long way short of its promise for two reasons. First, the jaunty tune in the official video was conspicuously absent, and lest readers think I'm joking about this, I'm not; the ride would have benefitted enormously from a soundtrack. Second, and more importantly, the cars simply did not spin to any great degree, a problem we also had on our last encounter with the genre. I found myself wondering whether the designers had considered adding kicker motors to set cars spinning, perhaps in the manner of "waltzer walkers" seen in Europe; an upgrade of that nature would really improve the guest experience.

With the essential ticks complete we decided that we'd pick one coaster each to finish out the night. My choice was Storm Runner, which was retrofitted this year with soft neck straps, representing a long overdue upgrade. It was only a few extra cycles for a front seat, and from that location the ride was magnificent, delivering a forceful yet smooth ride all the way from launch to final brakes. The highlight was the so-called Flying Snake Dive, a blend between a heartline roll and an Immelmann that has yet to be replicated on any other coaster. Megan's choice was Comet, which has sentimental value for her as her first ever coaster. It too was running well, delivering a smooth ride punctuated by small amounts of floating airtime.