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Friday, August 26, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Coast Odyssey - Cedar Point, Ohio

After a cozy night and a day of touring in Cleveland, we moved on 50 miles west to Sandusky.

My son and I are roller coaster nuts and are always looking for ways to prove ourselves. Here on the shore of Lake Erie magically rising skyward from the tip of a peninsula is the holy grail of coasterdom, Cedar Point, with more roller coasters in one spot than any other park on earth.

The Point is also home to the tallest coaster in North America (second tallest in the world), Millennium Force (this has since been eclipsed by several coasters - Ed). As Tim Allen might say, this bad boy features a super-quick elevator style lift hill, a 300 foot near vertical first drop, 92 mph top speed, stadium style seating, 120° overbanked turns (that invert you slightly), and two tunnels.

I had made my hotel reservations via Cedar Point's website for the Breaker's Express hotel, which is the Point's budget lodging. There us also the upscale Hotel Breakers, Sandcastle Suites, and Lighthouse Point Cabins and Campground which are at the park. Breakers Express is about a mile away. The other three properties mentioned were either not available or very expensive (Sandcastle Suites at over $200 per night).

I opted for e-mail notification when making the reservations and two weeks before leaving got a message advertising $49 season passes that were available at certain Cleveland area Tops markets. Since we were going for two days and the usual price was $39 per day, this was welcome news. So the last thing we did in Cleveland was to stop at a Tops market and pick up three passes.

After a lovely drive through the Ohio countryside, we arrived at the Breakers Express. It's pretty large and basic...about Motel 6 quality except the beds are bigger. There's a large pool area and a hot tub outside with minimal landscaping. The boxy look of the building and the large security fence behind the pool area depressed my wife who thought it looked like a prison exercise yard.

We reserved a barrier-free room and were place at the very end of the first floor. Unfortunately, this was the absolute worst place in the hotel as the door from the parking lot could be heard slamming all night long. On top of that, the ice machine was just outside so we were treated to a symphony of ice buckets being filled. After the park closed at 10, many shouts from park goers could be heard echoing through the halls. It was truly a miserable night (yes we did complain and security came to quiet the more noisy guests in our wing but could not move us or do anything about the door).

The next morning, we demanded a move. A lovely woman at the front desk actually went up to the third floor to personally find the quietest room she could and moved us there. It wasn't barrier-free but we had no more problems with noise.

After settling that, we headed over to the park. Handicapped parking is right next to the front gate. We processed our season passes with two wonderful ladies who snapped our pictures and printed them on the cards that would serve as our passes. Noticing we were from Southern California, they informed us that are passes are also good at Knott's Berry Farm until next May. Great! We saved money and got passes to our local park as part of the bargain.

Entering the park, we asked about a Special Assistance Pass (SAP) for my son and were directed to Park Operations. There, we got the pass and learned about Cedar Point's unique handicapped ride system.

Maybe a little history is called for here. For many years, parks routinely let disabled guests enter through the exits of rides. Many less scrupulous able-bodied park goers caught on and started renting wheelchairs to avoid the lines. Others started to resent disabled riders who got on immediately while they waited for hours.
Disney started building all their rides to have accessible queues but many disabled persons still can't manage to stand in line that long without problems (and Disney's idea of accessible is somewhat lacking). They also started really cracking down on what constitutes disability...I will never forget the humiliation of having to prove my son was disabled at City Hall there when it is very obvious with his leg braces and limited movement - not to mention the expensive power chair he sits in. Six Flags said, screw it, wait in line till you can't go farther and then try to find someone to help you.

I sympathize with some of it. Disabled guests should not skip the wait time but on the other hand, should not be made to needlessly suffer.

Back to Cedar Point Park Operations. In my opinion, I think Cedar Point has come upon a very neat solution. You are given a passport-like book with all the rides likely to have long lines listed in it. This is your SAP.

You then take this to the ride you want to go on and present it to the worker at the end of the line. The worker checks to see what the normal wait is and stamps your book like a visa with the time you should return (now plus the wait time). If it's 12:00 and the wait time is half an hour, your book is marked with 12:30. You can only make one reservation at a time. It's similar to FastPass at Disneyland.

When your time is up, you return and board the ride. For the inconvenience of having to wait, you are allowed to ride twice. While you wait, you can go on any ride not listed and get immediate boarding or do anything else you want but you don't have to wait at the queue.

I asked several able-bodied guests what they thought of this and all seemed to think it was a fair and compassionate did I. The ladies in the Park Operations office told us that many disabled park goers didn't like it. I don't see the problem, but maybe some of us have gotten too used to not waiting in line. The ADA says everybody's equal now, so we have to live with the same guidelines.

Now having praised Cedar Point's policy, I do take exception that several rides have stairs to negotiate even for disabled guests. The older rides like Corkscrew, Disaster Transport, Gemini, and Iron Dragon were this way. I know it would not take much to ramp up some of these rides.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license
Our first ride was on Corkscrew where the line worker stamped our book for immediate boarding. I carried Tim up the stairs. It was fun but bumpy. Too bumpy for my wife who refused to go on another coaster after that.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Chris Hagerman under CC-BY-SA license
Next was the Mine Train coaster where we again had a short fifteen minute wait (we rode the Antique Car ride and had a beer in the meantime). It was extremely smooth and gentle.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Nick Nolte under CC-BY-SA license

Mean Streak is the towering wooden coaster at the very end of the park. It's more popular so we would have 30 minutes to kill. This we did by going on their river cruise ride which is very similar to Disney's Jungle Cruise ride. Mean Streak was OK but is no match for Ghostrider at Knott's Berry Farm...still the best woody in the world for my money. Mean Streak just had too many dead spots in between the exciting ones.

Now it was on to the big, bad boy himself, Millennium Force. It's very popular translating to an hour and twenty minute wait. We used this time to have some elephant ears (fried dough) and more beer. Yummy!
We also went on the Calypso, a kinda combination Twister and Himalaya. The operator made sure that the car my son was riding in was at the bottom of the slope for easy unloading when the ride was over. How thoughtful! I remember the pain of a severely wrenched back from getting my son out of the Himalaya at Magic Mountain when that ride's operator did exactly the opposite.

Time to face our demons and report to the Millennium Force queue for our appointment with destiny.
Tim was very nervous. I reassured him although I was fighting off my own severe case of butterflies as we waited to load. As we waited I noticed something else about this park...the ride operators are very proud of the beasts that they operate.

Every coaster we rode, the operators would consistently brag over the speakers to the guests the eye-popping statistics of their rides like proud parents of little leaguers.

The Mean Streak operator would pipe up "You are about to be dropped 165 feet down at 60 miles an hour on what was the largest roller coaster of it's time. G-forces exceeding 4 will pull at your body. A combined 6 seconds of weightlessness awaits you. Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to experience Mean Streak....please keep your hands and feet inside at all times."

While waiting at Millennium force the speakers would blare "Ladies and gentlemen, please board Millennium Force and prepare to hurtle 300 feet down at 92 miles per hour into some seriously overbanked turns that will invert and disorient you. You will travel through two tunnels and over 6,595 feet of twisting steel track. This is the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the country and second tallest in the world. Ladies and force."
Millennium Force Looms Over Lake Erie

Upon their return, the operators would get back on the speakers and ask how they like their ride whereupon the riders would break into enthusiastic applause. I like it when it's obvious the employees like their jobs and are as enthusiastic as you are.

We board the train in the second row of the first car and strap in tightly. The elevated second row allows us to see over the heads of those in the first row giving us an equally tantalizing view.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license

We leave the station at a quicker-than-normal speed and those butterflies are killing me as I look straight up to, I don't know, forever I guess...the lift hill is a stomach churning 310 feet tall. About two thirds of the way up, the lift suddenly gains speed. NO!!! I'm not ready yet!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license
Arcing over the top, I look with dread 300 feet...straight..down. In a flash we're zooming through the bottom. Another second and we've cleared those massive overbanked turns and head through the tunnel. Around a bend, into a second tunnel where our photo is snapped for posterity. A wicked camel hump, another overbanked turn and we're back where we started. Wow...that was some seriously demented fun.

Lunch is next at the Silver Dollar, one of the park's sit down restaurants. The service is good, the food terrible. Cedar Fair also owns Knott's Berry Farm...I would suggest that they import Mrs. Knott's chicken dinners here ASAP!

We take a nap break at the hotel and return to find the park closes at 8:00 today. We thought it would be 10:00. Not much time left. We make an appointment for Raptor right at closing time. Meanwhile we take in some great views of Lake Erie and the park from their giant Ferris wheel.

Agh! I'm out of film! I would have loved to have posted those pictures here (thank God Wikimedia has come into existence since this trip was taken - Ed).

It's 8:05, just after dusk...Tim and I board Raptor in the front row. Those of you familiar with Magic Mountain will recognize this as a clone of Batman with an extra inversion. Those of you who are not, this is a suspended, looping coaster where your legs dangle in midair the entire ride.

I like this ride, a lot, just like I like Batman. It's smooth, fast, and the inversions are awesome. One major problem on riding it at the particular time we did.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license

The first drop and I'm screaming like a maniac and three gnats lodge themselves in the back of my throat.
After the first loop, another finds my eye. I shut my eyes and mouth and feel many more stingingly bounce off my face for the rest of the ride. This is one I don't need to ride twice right now.

That's the end of the first day. That night we sleep the sleep of the dead in our new, much improved room. The next morning, we head back to the Point.

We have a decent, sit-down breakfast at the Boathouse located at Cedar Point's marina before heading in.

We head over to Blue Streak, a much smaller and older wooden coaster than Mean Streak. It looks like a pleasant little coaster that should give us just a little thrill to start the day.

Photo couresy of Wikimedia
Nick Nolte under CC-BY-SA license

After spending much of the ride suspended weightlessly in thin air, I realize that looks are deceiving. This is another completely gut-busting thrill ride putting the much bigger Mean Streak to shame. I am just astounded that this tiny wooden coaster sitting quietly out of the way delivers such a major league coaster punch.

Tim wants to do Raptor again. After waiting an hour for our appointed time (we wiled it away going on a few spinner rides), we ride it twice. It’s much nicer without the night time bugs flogging your face.

Tim and I have one more major coaster to do to complete our list...Magnum XL-200. In its day, like many of the Point’s coasters, it was the tallest and fastest in the world. Although many modern coasters have passed it by, it still packs quite a punch.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia
Nick Nolte under CC-BY-SA license

We only have a five minute wait and the rain is just starting. We are alone in the front one else is there until the third car. It’s scary riding up that huge 200 foot lift hill by yourself. It’s quite fast with some extreme air time including quite a bit in its two terrifying tunnels. The rain combined with the high speed put a bit of a damper on because it stings your face pretty bad.

Millennium Force had been planned for an encore but by this time it had started to rain pretty hard and most rides were closed. We called it a day at that point.

Although we had wanted to repeat many more rides, we are satisfied that we accomplished what we set out to do.

It’s still early, around noon, and we don’t want to spend the day in our hotel. A drive in the country sounds good. We head west towards Toledo and cut up to Michigan where we have lunch at the Buffalo Grill in Erie.

My wife and I split a delicious rib eye steak sandwich while Tim had a burger and fries for a total of less than $12. We notice that we still have some time and Detroit is only 34 miles away. We can pop up there and take a quick tour of Comerica Park (the Tigers stadium) and Tim can add that to the list of ballparks he’s visited.
Comerica Park, Home of the Tigers (notice the tigers on top of the scoreboard)

Though we were only there a couple of hours, Detroit itself was quite a depressing an American Beirut. The stadium is very nice, though. Eating at the in-stadium McDonald’s (the Tigers were on the road playing our Angels) afforded us the opportunity to go inside the park and take some pictures.

We noticed the old Tiger Stadium was still standing when we came into town and tried to drive over to see it, but the streets were very confusing and a Detroit cop just about T-Boned us because he was going about 70 miles an hour and not looking where he was going (no lights or siren, I think he was just in a hurry). At that point, it was decided that was enough of the Motor City and we hightailed it back to Ohio.

Another good night’s sleep and it was off to the next part of our trip, Amish country.

Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick

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