It may not be off the beaten path, but Cedar Point is a definite Bucket List item for any adrenaline junkie!
Located on a natural sandbar that protects Sandusky Bay, Ohio, from the waves of Lake Erie, Cedar Point Amusement Park bills itself as the Roller Coaster Capital of the World. And for once, such a boastful claim might actually be true!
Opened in 1870 (making it the second oldest amusement park in the US), Cedar Point has been catering to thrill-seekers since it built its first water-splash ride in 1890. Two years later, the park constructed its first roller coaster, a Switchback Railway, and it hasn’t looked back since. In terms of the number of roller coasters, Cedar Point is tied for second in the world, with 16. And for the last 16 years straight, it’s won Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award for Best Amusement Park in the World.
According to my brother, Bisckits, there are few things better than a day at a theme park. Except perhaps, a day at a theme park that has 3.2 million visitors a year, minus the crowds. Which is exactly what we experienced at Cedar Point last weekend.
As luck would have it, a friend of ours works for a division of Limited Brands, which this year rewarded its employees by renting out Cedar Point for a whole morning. Despite one member of our group being stricken by a dreadful case of pine mouth, we arrived at the gates of the park early and in high spirits.
At nine o’clock the gates finally opened and we rushed into the park, eager for our first adrenaline fix. With everyone dispersing towards their favourite roller coasters, the ‘crowd’ was quickly swallowed up by the 364 acre site. Soon we were walking through an amusement park ghost town, like something from an episode of Scooby Doo, a feeling added to by the decorations already in place for Halloween.
Over the next four hours we rode a total of ten times on eight of Cedar Point’s most extreme roller coasters. On one occasion, we arrived back at the station, were let through a gate, and jumped straight onto the next train. Heaven!
We were all looking forward to riding the brand new Gatekeeper. And although it was fun, it doesn’t quite make it onto my top three rides at Cedar Point, which are as follows (in ascending order):
3) Maverick – All about the twists and turns, Maverick is a ground-hugging roller coaster that keeps you guessing about which way the next G-force-inducing direction change will throw you. Instead of slowly climbing to the top of the initial slope, Maverick launches up it. After that, you completely lose track of which way is which. One second you’re being thrown side-to-side through a rapid set of horizontal curves, then next you’re upside-down in the middle of a corkscrew. Eventually the ride pulls into a tunnel and slows…
But it’s not over yet. As you begin to relax, lulled into a false sense of security by the slowing train, you’re pressed back into your seat as you’re shot forward once again. The twists, turns, climbs and dives resume as you zip through the final section of the ride towards a breathless rendezvous with the station.
2) Millennium Force – If Maverick is about the neck-straining direction changes, Millennium Force is all about the gut-wrenching drops. When it was built in 2000, Millennium Force was briefly the highest and fastest roller coaster in the world. And as you slowly climb the initial hill, the first of those facts is impressed upon you. In spades. From up here you can see the whole of the park below you, together with large stretches of the Lake Erie coastline.
The first drop alone is 300 feet! And for the rest of the runaway ride, your stomach is struggling to catch up with the rest of you, as you race from one zero-G hump to the next, via a series of superfast banked turns.
1) Top Thrill Dragster – This roller coaster stands head and shoulders above any other I’ve ever been on. Literally. One of just two coasters in the world to exceed 400 feet in height, only Kingda Ka (at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey) is taller. Top Thrill Dragster draws your eye no matter where you are in the park. The first time I rode it (in 2009), I spent the hour in line alternating back and forth between excitement and terror. On that occasion, as the train pulled out of the station and up to the launch point, I remember thinking, “Who do I have to pay, and how much, to get me off this thing?!”
Despite the impressive height of Top Thrill Dragster, for me it’s all about the launch. As you sit in front of a set of Christmas tree start lights, like those you’d see at a real drag strip, the sound of an idling dragster engine buffets your ears. The lights flash GO, and with a squeal of simulated tires you’re on your way. The incredible acceleration you experienced on Maverick suddenly feels like nothing, as the Dragster hammers you back into your seat. From a standing start, within 3.8 seconds you’re hurtling along the horizontal launch track at 120 mph, like a fighter jet being launched from a aircraft carrier.
Before you know it, you’re into the second phase of the ride. Powered by momentum alone, the ‘dragster’ to which you’re strapped goes ballistic. Rotating a quarter turn clockwise, it rockets upwards like a… a… well, like a rocket! You race vertically into the sky, with gravity clawing away at your speed the whole way.
Within moments, you reach the upper arc of the track, a ridiculous 420 feet above the ground, with just enough velocity to carry you over the apex. (On rare occasions, the speed isn’t quite enough, and the train returns to the launch point. Backwards.) For a split second you feel weightless.
And then you’re falling. 400 feet straight down. The weight of the dragster pulling you Earthwards. You rotate 270 degrees clockwise, before beginning to level out onto the deceleration track. You’re thrown forwards into your restraining harness, as powerful electromagnetic blades bring the dragster to a rapid halt.
Everyone bursts into loud, excited, nervous laughter, high on the adrenaline that’s still coursing through their bodies. Just 25 seconds ago you were sitting motionless on the parallel track opposite, waiting for the ride to start. Now it’s all over. And in between you’ve been blasted up to 120 mph and shot 420 feet in the air.
Can we do it again?!
Below is a video Rich shot of an entire Top Thrill Dragster run. It lasts 28 seconds!
PS: I wrote a follow-up piece to this article on my own blog, Jaspa’s Journal. It’s called Enough Of A Good Thing, and makes the almost heretical claim that line-ups at amusement parks might actually have an up side!