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The Year of 100 Roller Coasters Part 2: Clearing Customs for Coasters

Explorer C

Well, it’s been a…productive…four weeks. Seeing as the pace at which I was riding roller coasters for the first half of the year wasn’t nearly quick enough to hit one hundred, I had to pick things up a bit.

So how have things gone since the last recap? I’m now sitting at seventy-six roller coasters on the year with a lifetime track record that now sits at two hundred and seventy-two. I basically went through a four-week rush to a number of different amusement parks in the United States, Canada, and Germany.

The first weekend in the tour was a trip I had been trying to take for a few years: a road trip to Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion, Virginia’s two major amusement parks.

Alpengeist features a massive swooping first drop into a ravine

Busch Gardens Williamsburg came first. It’s an award-winning park not too terribly far from ORF. I hadn’t been to the park in six or seven years, so it was great to get back. There aren’t many coasters there, but if there’s one thing that the Busch Gardens/SeaWorld parks are known for believing, it’s that quality counts more than quantity. The five adult roller coasters at the park possess an average quality that few other parks can match. Three of them were at the park during my last visit: the towering out-and-back Apollo’s Chariot, the twisted, enormous inverted Alpengeist, and the classic Loch Ness monster, a ride whose interlocking loops are famous in the amusement industry. The new-to-me roller coasters were Griffon, a monstrous ride with a signature vertical drop (it actually holds riders in place at the precipice for a few moments to heighten the fear factor), and Verbolten, a ride with a goofy, bizarre theme and that also featured the signature drop of the ride it replaced, the Big Bad Wolf. 

Griffon riders plummet vertically two hundred feet to the ground below

Kings Dominion, located very close to RIC, came the following day, and with it some outstanding experiences of its own. The park possesses far more roller coasters than Busch Gardens, and it also has what may be one of the greatest entrance plazas of any park I’ve ever visited. The park, along with its sister park Kings Island, was built with a 1/3-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower (complete with observation deck), and in each case they stand at the far end of some beautiful fountains and cool-looking buildings. As far as the roller coasters went, there were a few highlight rides. There was Grizzly, a wooden roller coaster buried in the woods that was crazy fun. Another was the Backlot Stunt Coaster, formerly known as The Italian Job – Stunt Track, a smaller launched coaster with cool thematic elements from the movie (the movie reference was removed when Cedar Fair bought Paramount Parks). Volcano-The Blast Coaster was yet another, and it was a launched inverted coaster that blasted riders vertically out of a man-made mountain.

There are two other coasters at the park, though, that were real stand-outs for one reason or another. One was Dominator, which was actually previously located at Geauga Lake, the now-closed park which was the first park I ever worked at. The other stand-out was Intimidator 305, a ride that paid homage to Dale Earnhardt (hence the Intimidator) and that stood a jaw-dropping three hundred and five feet over the ground below (hence the 305). The name is appropriate for yet another reason, though, as it blew the doors off of just about every other ride I’ve ever been on from an intensity perspective. Read: turns that nearly induced blackouts. 

The enormous lift hill of Intimidator 305 dwarfs the nearby Anaconda and Rebel Yell

The next trip was the most unexpected, though. The day before I left for Virginia, it was suggested that I go to Germany the following weekend to join my uncle who was over there on business. Nothing like last-minute planning, eh?

Anyways, last-minute became the theme of the Germany trip. I flew over to Frankfurt, where my uncle picked me up to take me to Holiday Park in Hassloch, a little over an hour away from the airport. The park had very little in the way of roller coasters, but its signature ride, Expedition GeForce, had been on my ten-most-wanted-credits list. It has often been ranked as one of the greatest steel roller coasters ever built. I can safely confirm its awesomeness. 

Expedition Geforce
Expedition GeForce features a tight, twisting first drop into a dynamic layout

Now, while driving to Hassloch, I had mentioned to my uncle another park located about an hour and a half further by the name of Europa Park. Between the two, I had picked Holiday Park for its relative convenience, but my uncle, who had already been in Germany for a while and hadn’t walked right off of a transatlantic flight into a day of coaster-riding, explained that he was in no way tired and wouldn’t mind checking out Europa Park. I didn’t take him seriously at first, but as we were in the midst of our Expedition GeForce riding, I began to realize he was not messing around. We decided during our fourth lap that we would call it a day at Holiday Park and go for the gold by going to Europa Park. Serious game-time decision! Two parks in a single day right after a transatlantic flight? Sure! What good are sane, rational decisions anyway?

With that said, I have never seen a park like Europa Park. First off, it was enormous. Secondly, the park and its theming reminded me of Epcot’s World Showcase on steroids. It also had some pretty epic roller coasters, from the twisted, wooden Wodan Timbur Coaster and its neighbor, the launched, looping blue fire Megacoaster (I’m not sure why “blue fire” didn’t have any capital letters, but whatever), all the way to the massive Silver Star, a hypercoaster (i.e. any roller coaster that has a hill two hundred feet or higher over the ground below or a drop of two hundred feet or greater vertically) that actually runs down the middle of the parking lot. 

Silver Star
Silver Star riders soar through maneuvers through Europa Park’s parking lot

With Germany completed, it was just a few days until the start of the Midwest tour: Kings Island first, Valleyfair! second.

Kings Island is a sister park to Kings Dominion and was another park I hadn’t been to in years. Located an hour and a half south of CMH (and I believe slightly closer to DAY?), into which I flew, Kings Island is easily one of the coolest amusement parks in existence. The highlight rides for me were The Beast, the world’s longest wooden coaster and an amazing ride in the dark (it, like Kings Dominion’s Grizzly, runs through the woods and is barely visible from the park); another Backlot Stunt Coaster; Flight Deck, a suspended coaster that runs through a valley and is crazy wild with its swinging cars; Firehawk, a flying roller coaster that was also a Geauga Lake relocation (and the ride I was primarily assigned to at that park, therefore leaving it a special place in my memory); and Diamondback, my third B&M (a Swiss coaster manufacturer) hypercoaster of the four-week rush (the prior two being Apollo’s Chariot and Silver Star) and a real airtime machine.

Diamondback features a large drop of over two hundred feet that dives right over the midway

However, Kings Island was home to one of the most memorable experiences of my riding career. In the past two years, several Cedar Fair parks received rides that were all named WindSeeker. The ride consists of just over sixty pairs of seats arrayed in a circle, each attached by a metal bar to a cage-like structure wrapped around a tower. The ride “vehicle” climbs up the tower to a height of over three hundred feet in the air and swings around in a circle for a few revolutions before descending back to the ground. Now, as I mentioned in my previous article, I was afraid of most roller coasters due to what was ultimately a fear of heights. That fear still plagues me. I am able to overcome it on roller coasters because they spend but brief moments at their highest points. This ride sustained its maximum height. However, I decided that I didn’t want my fear to win anymore, so I rode it. I was still quite terrified even after I got out of the seat once it was over, though, but hey, it was a good time. 

WindSeeker takes riders three hundred feet above the precious ground below and, in this example from Kings Island, stands tall over the far turnarounds on the Racer

Anyways, I flew home, then turned right around the following day and flew to MSP to go to Valleyfair!, located less than thirty minutes away. Valleyfair!, whose name inspired the “Fair” in the “Cedar Fair” name, was home to such rides as the Wild Thing, a large, green hypercoaster; Renegade, a twisted wooden coaster; and Steel Venom, a launched inverted coaster with a vertical twist on one end and a vertical spike with holding brakes on the other with the train going back and forth between the two.

Wild Thing
Wild Thing is a massive steel coaster that runs along Valleyfair!’s perimeter

With the Midwest leg of the tour over, I was looking forward to the final stop in the four-week rush: Canada’s Wonderland. Located less than twenty minutes from YYZ, and probably a two and a half-hour drive from BUF, Canada’s Wonderland is an enormous park in the suburbs of Toronto and a former Paramount Park like Kings Dominion and Kings Island. As such, there were a number of similarities, including an International Street entrance plaza. However, where the Kings _____ parks had Eiffel Towers, Canada’s Wonderland received the man-made Wonder Mountain. As far as highlight rides, there was the Vortex, a near-clone to Kings Island’s Flight Deck, yet another fantastic Backlot Stunt Coaster, and what was easily the best one-two punch of the entire tour (and probably of any park I’ve ever visited): Behemoth and Leviathan.

Behemoth, the largest roller coaster in Canada for several years, is still one of the largest in the world with a height of two hundred and thirty feet

Behemoth and Leviathan are both the exact same style of ride (B&M speed coasters, a la Diamondback, Apollo’s Chariot, Silver Star, etc.), but where Behemoth calls it a day at two hundred and thirty feet, Leviathan keeps on trucking to three hundred and six. Behemoth was loaded with lots of airtime, leaving me with a lot of opportunities to get to know my lap bar very well. As for Leviathan…holy shabungas, that ride was UNBELIEVABLE. Of course, it would have to be for me to make up words like “shabungas.” It had airtime of its own, but it also had the kind of speed that made the skin on riders’ faces flap in the wind. For the Spaceballs fans, you could say it ran at ludicrous speed.

Leviathan, now Canada’s largest roller coaster, blasts riders through massive maneuvers at extremely high speeds

As a footnote to the Canada’s Wonderland recap, they also had a WindSeeker. I rode it at night. It was still horrifying. However, I’d ride it again, and that’s saying something as I’m not usually into too many non-coaster rides.

Anyways, I am now sitting just a scant two-dozen roller coasters away from the goal of one hundred as opposed to the eighty-one I needed when I first wrote to you. Will I hit the one hundred? Will I have completely lost my mind in my attempt? What rides were the best of the year? Stay tuned for the final stories, coming at the end of the 2012 amusement park season.