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Introducing Robert's 2004 Summer Theme Park Tour

It's about 10 parks around the country in less than four weeks, kicking off with five parks in five days here in Southern California. What should Robert see and do?

Written by
Published: July 8, 2004 at 5:46 PM

It's time to give some attractions another chance.

Employees at two local theme parks recently e-mailed me, asking that I give poorly-reviewed attractions at their parks a second look. With some time on my hands, thanks to a generous buy-out from the Tribune Company and a new day job not set to start until next month, I've decided to take a step beyond that. It's time for a blow-out theme park tour.

Next week, I'll be visiting five Southern California theme parks in five days. And reporting each day's trip here on Theme Park Insider. Then, it's off to Orlando for a week, with visits scheduled to some of Central Florida's parks. After that, I'm back to L.A. for a week's rest before flying to Ohio.

Here's the tentative schedule:

Monday, July 12 - Six Flags Magic Mountain
Tuesday, July 13 - Universal Studios Hollywood
Wednesday, July 14 - Knott's Berry Farm
Thursday, July 15 - Disneyland
Friday, July 16 - Disney's California Adventure

Week of July 18-25 - Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios Florida
Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom
Epcot

During week of Aug 2-8 - Cedar Point

If you are a cast member, employee or regular visitor to one of these parks, and have some tips for what I ought not miss, let me know. If there's a show or ride that's gotten an unfair shake on TPI (in your opinion), tell me and I'll give it another look. If there are major rides that will be closed when I'm visiting, or rides I ought to be certain to see first thing, let me know, too. You can respond below or e-mail me.

I won't be at each park from open to close. With so many parks on my agenda, I just couldn't stand up to that schedule. So I'll be hitting each park at opening, and staying through the early afternoon. With single rider lines, and a good (I hope) schedule, that ought to provide enough time to see the eight top attractions at each park that I want to see. (The exception will be Cedar Point, which, believe it or not, I've not visited before. So I'm devoting a full day for that park.)

With so many parks to see in such a short period, I'll be able to make apples-to-apples comparisons on who's doing the best job running their parks. Typically, I visit parks with my two kids in tow. But this time, I'll be seeing most parks solo, allowing me complete freedom on what to ride, and when.

So what do I need to see? What should I do first each day? Where should I have lunch in each park? What ought I avoid at all costs? The TPI rankings will guide me, but I'd love to hear some personal appeals and anecdotes from folks who want to make a case for a place that's been overlooked or misunderstood by TPI readers.

And I'll see you back here each day throughout the tour for my daily trip reports!

Readers' Opinions

From Jeffery Beal on July 8, 2004 at 6:05 PM
Robert,

I will be quite interested in your review of Cedar Point. I have been to many parks but, I have not had a chance to visit this park. I know IOA captured the award for best theme park on this site, but I know from visiting other sites, Cedar Point has a very loyal following.

From Derek Potter on July 8, 2004 at 7:42 PM
Words of advice. Try to avoid Cedar Point on Saturday if you plan to spend one day. You can do a lot, but if you want to do everything without too much hurry, hit it during the week. Same goes for Kings Island. There's not quite as much to ride there, but the crowds can be absolutely horrible on weekends in both Ohio parks. Get a freeway pass for Millennium Force and you will have a painless 15 minute wait for a great ride instead of a long one. I believe they start handing them out at 11:00 am.

Beware the locker policy at Cedar Point as well. Some of the rides will not even let you carry anything in line, it has to be in a locker. Only a few rides have bins at the station, so it's better to travel extra light in this park. There are a couple of rides that are strict on this policy. Millennium Force wants you to store all of your items in the lockers, unless you have button up shorts. The same goes for Dragster, and they enforce it too. Glasses strap is required as well. The whole locker thing is pretty annoying, so to avoid the pain in the arse, I would travel extremely light if possible. At Kings Island, there is one ride like this...Tomb Raider. The rest of them either have a bin, or they let you carry your stuff on...much much cooler policy.

The shows at these parks aren't exactly golden, riding is the pasttime around here. The food is good though. Famous Dave's BBQ, Johnny Rocket's and Macaroni's is good at Cedar Point. For Kings Island, LaRosas Pizza, WINGS, and Bubba Gump's Shrimp are some good choices.

One more thing, if Top Thrill Dragster is open, get in line for it...in fact if you see it running, leave the line you are in and get in line for it. It still isn't operating 100 percent of the day, and many people have made the mistake of putting it off until later, only to be disappointed because it was down. The ride is an unbelievable experience, but it still has some downtime. It would be a shame to miss it.

good ridin at PKI:
The Beast, Flight of Fear, Delirium, Drop Zone, Vortex, White Water Canyon, Backwards Racer, Flying Eagles (snap the cables), Tomb Raider, and if you like a little pain, Son of Beast. This ride is cool, but makes the Psyclone and any other rough ride out west feel like a massage.

good ridin at Cedar Point:
Dragster, Millenium Force, Raptor, Magnum XL 200, Wicked Twister, Snake River Falls, Gemini, Power Tower, and Blue Streak. Most of those are coasters, but there is a reason for that.

Just some words of wisdom to maximize your fun and minimize your headache....brought to you by your resident Ohio park junkie.

From J. Dana on July 8, 2004 at 8:11 PM
In a word, Robert: NUTS. You, my man, are crazy. Congrats on the lucrative buyout...I'm a subscriber to your previous paper, but didn't hear that rumblings were afoot. Hmmmm. Any "hints" on where your next day job is landing you?
From Robert OGrosky on July 8, 2004 at 9:11 PM
Robert, any chance of hitting BGT???? Im going there in Dec and you dont find much info/trip reports on this park for some reason.
From Robert Niles on July 8, 2004 at 11:33 PM
There's a slim, slim, slim chance of my hitting Busch Gardens Tampa. But it would require a minor miracle of coincidences happening to free my schedule for it.

And thanks, Derek, those are exactly the type of tips I'm looking for. Any SFMM employees (and you know who you are...) have any tips for their park?

And to J. Dana, well, I'm not going to the N.Y. Times. But I feel like I'm the only one who isn't....

From Lisa Jones on July 9, 2004 at 2:21 AM
Sounds like fun. I was worried you wouldn't get the feel of the various parks if you were on your own---but this will give you an opportunity to mingle with the guests, which might provide some additional insight I guess. I look forward to your reports!

Will you check out the tea cup attraction at Disneyland? We noticed they were slow on our June trip. A cast member told us someone fell out (or Disney was worried someone would). I wonder if the attraction really is slow, if it will remain that way, and why Disney hates me so to ruin another of my favorite attractions. (I'm still bitter every time I'm on Splash Mountain and I see all my favorite America Sings' characters. I sing the characters old songs to my young teenage nieces --- "Who shot that hole in my sombrero? . . ." --- the teenagers are not amused!)

From Pete Brecht on July 9, 2004 at 7:06 AM
Any plans to visit Sea World Orlando? I know that it's more of a show park than a ride park, but everyone I've talked to who's been there reported that it was a very worthwhile place to visit.
From Mike CP on July 9, 2004 at 8:25 AM
Good luck Robert, especially at Cedar Point. It is going to be pretty busy when you go, so I suggest reading some strategy guides at some of the unofficial CP sites (either thepointol.com or pointbuzz.com).

Really pay attention to the status of Dragster the few days before you go, as it will greatly affect when you should ride it during the day. If it seems to be running well, grab the FreeWay, if it isn't, then just wait in line for it. And remember to walk through the park back-to-front, as you won't have to deal with long waits in the morning.

If you end up with some spare time, go to Town Hall Museaum in Frontier Town and see Snoopy Rocks! ON Ice or Extreme Splash! 2004. Both shows are very good this year and the museaum takes a step back into the history of Cedar Point and how it all started.

And I almost forgot, be sure to arrive early at the park, as they let guests in a limited area inside the park before opening for Donut Time. And new restaurant that serves freshly baked donuts and Starbucks Coffee; great way to start the day. (If anyone was at the IAAPA Convention this past year and saw the donut making machine, it is the same thing).

Good luck on your trip, if you have any questions on Cedar Point, I will most likely know the answer.

From Robert OGrosky on July 9, 2004 at 9:47 AM
I will give a obvious tip but arrive at the parks early.
As for Cedar Point, i dont know where you are staying but if you stay on site you are let into the park at least 1/2hr earlier than everyone else which may allow you too hit one or two rides with no wait and do one or two others with little wait till the crowds descend. If Cedar Point is anything like SFGAM has been this summer it will be very busy.
As for PKI, i dont know if you are a membe of Ace, but if you are admission is half off and if you go to the ace sign in the front of the park they give walk back to a choice of rides so you ride that ride before the park opens and before the throngs make it back to the ride, we did it for Tomb Raider and it saved alot of time as the ride had over a 1 1/2 hr wait most of the day!!! Also not a bad idea to bring swimwear for a nice break mid-day to cool off in the water park if its for you.
From Ryan Williams on July 9, 2004 at 9:47 AM
Robert, remember when going to SFMM just go there with an open mind and an attitude to have fun. Only one ride will be closed and that will be Superman. How lucky you are to get to visit all those parks, have fun! Also the time your going to SFMM isnt to good. You might only get a couple of rides if you only stay till the late afternoon. I suggest a whole day.
From on July 9, 2004 at 3:23 PM
WARNIG: All the theme parks in Central Florida are extremely crowded! Yesterday, I went to both of the universal parks for the millionth time, and it was extremely crowded. There was an hour wait for the FLYING UNICORN. And that usually is a walk on. Also, if u want to kno how to get on to dueling dragons w/o a wait, there is 2 ways. One, go about halfway down the trail to the that you would go to for universal express. Go in the re-ride line. Two. Go all the way down to the Universal express entrance, and the baby swap is right next to it. Go into the door to the baby swap room and at the end of it is the queue line for ice! If you want to go to fire, go backwords in the ice queue and go to the part of the castle where it says choose your path. Then go in the fire line. For one ride on DD, it was a 90 min. wait. But me and my friend did the above thing and rode both in less then 10. HeHeHe. I like both dragons, but fire is better because on the first duel zone, ur less then a foot from ice! Also, Revenge of the Mummy breaks down frequently and its line builds up fast (it is close to the entrance. It broke down yesterday, and after 15 min. of it being down they kicked us out of the line and gave us all vouchers for free ice cream. Also, go in the singles line for every ride you can. Mummy and MIB and huld and Spiderman and all the other singles attraction had a 5 min wait or less!
From John K on July 9, 2004 at 7:12 PM
Monday is not a bad day to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain, todaywe had around 13,000 people at the park. this is how it goes; Monday will usually be a slow day, and it gets a little bit more busier as the week progresses. LET ME WARN YOU, STAY AWAY FROM RIDDLERS REVENGE, they're only running one train as of right now, and the line was 2.5 hours long last monday, although we only had 8,000 in the park. I know a lot about the rides and security, but about the foods I could be missing something there, so mention a couple things about food service at SFMM.
From Derek Potter on July 9, 2004 at 8:05 PM
CP opens up the park 1/2 hour early to Joe Cool members and those that are staying at one of their hotels. I think that they open 3 rides... Millennium Force, Wicked Twister, and Dragster...for those inside early. Not a large amount of time, but enough to at least get in line. Mike is right about walking the park back to front. That strategy usually enables me to walk right on many of the rides in the back because most of the crowd hasn't made it back there yet.
From John K on July 9, 2004 at 11:05 PM
(not trying to make anyone look stupid) Make sure you read the signs so there won't be any misunderstanding between you and the employees. Get there early, jump for X first (soon as the gates open) save DejaVu for last and go hit up any other rides inbetween then (avoid riddlers).Bring loads of cash, tickets are $46.99, $29.99 for kids. Fastlanes are $17 for 4 passes, you might want to use some of those. TwIcKeTs are from $2-$7 you could come back for another day within two weeks. You might want to eat outside, if you do, I recommend Jimmy Deans burgers..down the hill from SFMM turn left onto the Old Road (going away from the Wendys restaurant) it will be at the next light.
No outside is allowed into the park. No pocket knives and/or knives of any kind. Alcohol is also not allowed. Pepper spray is not allowed either. Any other weapons won't be allowed.


also Fastlane is not accepted at Riddlers Revenge

From Jason Herrera on July 9, 2004 at 11:17 PM
C'mon, Niles. I'm in Ohio the same time in Aug. Coincidence? No, I think you're following my ever step. ;o)

John K, you're an entertaining fellow. keep up the good work!

From Amanda LaFrance on July 10, 2004 at 8:03 AM
Robert,
I hope you booked a Cedar Point hotel, early entry is worth it.
Amanda
ps What's wrong don't want to move east and work in NY
From Josh Counsil on July 10, 2004 at 9:54 AM
I'm pretty envious, Robbie. I can't wait to read the trip reports... and I hope you take pics.

It's unfortunate you can't see BGT or SeaWorld Orlando. Those are two parks that sound great, but there aren't very many trip reports on them.

My advice: have fun. Try to be less of a critic and more of a fun-loving tourist. For example, Epcot is one of my favorite theme parks, yet the ratings are horrible. Try to lay back and enjoy the experience. Stop and smell the flowers (at parks that offer them). Watch the street entertainment. Have a blast.

That's all I have...

From Kevin Baxter on July 11, 2004 at 12:48 AM
Lord, Robert, why??? I did twelve one year and still haven't gotten over it. I did four last time in Orlando and got burned out.

Anyhow, why Disneyland and California Adventure? Spend those days driving north and do Paramount's Great America and Six Flags Marine World. PGA is pretty crappy, but SFMW isn't a bad little park. And there'd be more than two people on this site who have been to them!

Why not do all three Ohio parks? See what Cedar Fair is doing to the old Six Flags park. You could write a good column on whether or not Ohio is a worthy vacation destination for the theme park lover.

From John K on July 11, 2004 at 6:42 PM
If you have experience at Six Flags Marine world...tell me what they have, because I want to go check it out
From Mike CP on July 12, 2004 at 4:58 PM
Mr Baxter, I still wouldn't want Ohio to be added to this site just yet as a good place to visit, as Geauga Lake still needs a lot more work. There was an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on how GEauga Lake continues to screw things up.

http://www.cleveland.com/business/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/business/1089453342282361.xml

From Derek Potter on July 12, 2004 at 10:38 PM
I read that article. Have the locals ever been happy with that place??? It seems to me that they expected Cedar Fair to come in and magically turn it into Cedar Point overnight. I have some news for Cleveland/Aurora, it's not going to happen in four months, especially with the mess that Six Flags left (literally) to clean up.

I wouldn't advise a trip to Geauga Lake for the purpose of critiqing. It's nowhere near ready to be examined. There are a couple of things still waiting to be reopened, as well as some of those other first season bugs. After all, this was touted as one of the worst Six Flags parks. They have had four months to fix it all. Cedar Fair is good, but not that good...in fact, I don't think that anybody is that good. The word is that they have made some improvements, (new water show, maintenance...etc) but I say give them a little more time before putting them under the microscope.

In mid August I will be going to Geauga Lake for the first time since SF threw in the towel. I'll come back with a trip report of Cedar Fair's GL, and stack it up with the former SFWOA.

From Kevin Baxter on July 13, 2004 at 4:33 AM
Well, how good is Cedar Fair anyhow? How long have they owned Knotts? It still isn't a very good park. So how many years should we have to wait before we can judge Geuaga Lake? Future reviews don't help people now.
From Derek Potter on July 13, 2004 at 7:04 PM
You should wait until Cedar Fair has had some time with the park. They didn't take over the park until a month to go until opening day. That means that they had to restructure management, inspect and perform maintenance on all the rides, as well as rename them. They had to hire staff and retrain the old staff, work with all the local businesses and programs that had deals with Six Flags, and literally clean up the park. Do you honestly think that one of the worst performing Six Flags parks in the chain could be brought up to speed in four months??? Gimme a break.

As for Knotts, purchased in 1997 by the way, it doesn't have the money of a Disney or Universal, and it's not at the top of the food chain in the Cedar Fair company. Despite that, I would bet that the majority of visitors prefer Knotts to the mess that is Magic Mountain in terms of park experience.

Make no mistake, Cedar Fair is not a theme park company, it is an amusement park company that places rides over theming. They outperform every other theme and amusement park chain in the stock markets and turn a handsome profit every year without the income and help of movie studios and media companies. They got that way by providing customers with great rides and a good overall park experience, so yes, they are good.

CF has themselves a hefty task. They had to open the park and fix it at the same time, and believe me, it needs a lot of fixing. It's a transitional year, and we all know how those times go in business. In my book 4 months isn't enough time, so I will save cold hard judgement for CF's Geauga Lake until next year, and I think that critics should do the same.

From Andrew Swanson on July 13, 2004 at 8:22 PM
Why didn't they just wait until the end of the season and purchase it and get it all nice for next year? OR if they were so desperate to buy it this year, they could have delayed the opening by a couple of weeks, assuming they did a full campaign to inform the public of the delay. Then after they had time to do everything properly, they could open it all nice and purdy.
From Joe Lane on July 14, 2004 at 9:41 PM
By the way, Robert, just so you know, there's a lot of extensive construction going on between the Lakeland exits of I-4 all the way to the Disney exits. If you plan on driving anywhere farther west than Disney, expect bad traffic, but if you can't make BGT next week, I don't think you'll have any trouble.
From Kevin Baxter on July 15, 2004 at 5:15 AM
Wow, Derek, awesome way of totally missing my point. CF has owned Knotts for SEVEN YEARS now. And it is still a crappy park! To say people prefer it to SFMM is ludicrous. Knotts has a marginally higher attendance, but a huge portion of that comes from the Halloween attendance. Without it, the park would plummet down the list. And that is with a great location, which SFMM does not have.

Anyhow, what has CF done that has been so fantastic? And don't use the money thing. They have thrown a lot of money at the park: Supreme Scream, Ghostrider, Xcelerator, Perilous Plunge, La Revolucion, Riptide and the new coaster. I wouldn't be surprised to hear they have actually spent more money here than at Cedar Point on attractions lately. Yet it still sucks. And, unlike Cedar Fair, there is actually a lot of really nice theming here. Ride selection is the problem, including some of the ones CF has introduced.

Right now it has only one must-do attraction, and that is Ghostrider. Xcelerator almost makes it, but far too many shy away from it. SFMM has X, Batman and Riddler's Revenge and several that get close - Deja Vu, Goliath and Scream (hey, it has a 9 on this site). Yes, SFMM has a lot of garbage in their lineup, but so does Knotts, and their garbage makes up about 2/3 of the park. SFMM's makes up less than half.

So don't give me caca about CF fixing up Geuaga Lake by next year. AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN. Five years? STILL NOT GONNA HAPPEN. If CF is opening the park before it is ready for the public, then they deserve negative comments. Period.

From Derek Potter on July 16, 2004 at 9:42 PM
What are they going to do, buy it for 150 million and not open it up to make some money back? Even you should realize that something like that isn't good business for anybody...no matter what shape the park was in. Why they chose to purchase the park right before the season...I don't know. Maybe the price would have went up, or maybe it was their one window of oppurtunity...who knows. Contrary to what may be thought, they have spent a lot more money on Cedar Point than they have on Knotts. If they spent the same amount of money on Knotts that they spend up in Sandusky, then this debate would have no reason to take place.

Amidst your yelling Kevin, you forgot that all the rides you mentioned are in serious question. Some of the rides (X, Riddlers Revenge) have extremely low capacity and long lines, while others you mentioned (Deja Vu) aren't ever open. In fact when was the last time that SFMM had all of their rides running on one day> I think that it's a crock that you can never really count on any of them to be open. Batman might as well sit on the bench when Knott's inverted gets finished, and I've seen some of the reviews that the other MM coasters get, (anybody for a ride on the Psyclone??). Add to that some of the worst food and security ever seen, and you have yourselves a park with just a lot of wasted potential.

Knotts may need a few more good rides,(what did they even have before Cedar Fair in the first place??) but at least they are all open, and the food is edible. I may have to drive a little ways, but I will leave with my sanity and with the knowledge that I could enjoy my day without any worry. Cedar Fair has owned the park for 7 years, which still isn't a very long time when you look at how long it took to build Cedar Point up. They are not Disney, who have big fat checkbooks and can pump hundreds of millions into a new theme park every few years. They also are not Six Flags, who grossly overextended themselves and forgot about the basics of making the customer happy. They don't overspend and go into lots of debt. (what a novel idea huh???)

Has Knott's seen improvement every year?? I think it has. Will Geauga Lake? Yes, but it takes time. At the very least next year it will be in much much better shape than it was as SFWOA. and I never said that it would be the place to visit next year. I said that it would be a lot better and on the right track to being a good regional park.

From Doug Cohen on July 28, 2004 at 12:35 PM
I might be crazy but I went to SFWOA last year and didn't find it as bad as you guys are saying it is now. They have 12 coasters, some of them pretty good. THREE decent woodies and a B&M floorless coaster, and one of only three Vekoma Flying Dutchman coasters in the world is a fantastic starting place no matter the other problems. Did this park go into the toilet over the course of 2003? We were there in early June 2003 and it didn't seem to be that bad.
Knott's? I hate Vekoma Boomerangs and don't really need Schwartzkopf launched loopers either, but Jaguar's fun. Xcelerator is over way too fast. Ghostrider is a very good coaster. The new B&M inverted coaster will be nice as well. They do need help, but you have to put Knott's into perspective. It isn't really a very big park. It's more of a family park than a thrill park. I think changes there will be of an evolutionary nature over the next few years. It's a no brainer that everyone wants new rides, but at $13 million a pop, you just can't add them at will.
From Kevin Baxter on August 1, 2004 at 3:33 PM
Robert, where is your IOA report? I don't see it anywhere...
From Robert Niles on August 9, 2004 at 10:49 AM
I ran out of time on my Orlando trip to get to Islands of Adventure, unfortunately.

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