Theme Park Insider

A Tale of Two Indie Parks - Part 2

Edited: July 10, 2017, 6:09 PM · If you missed Part 1 of this report, click here to check it out!

When it comes to trips, I am a pretty heavy planner. For this trip, I wrote out a driving itinerary to keep pace, with checkpoints timed to the nearest half-hour to ensure we stayed on schedule. For trips later this year, I've got far more detailed plans, such as an exact order of attractions for the destination parks in Florida. On Saturday, our plan was to simply drive from Athol, Idaho, to Farmington, Utah, a distance of about 700 miles (and a drive time of 10 hours). Since the drive would involve crossing time zones, the plan was to leave at 8 A.M. so that we would arrive at Lagoon in Farmington by 8 P.M. and still have time to set up camp before it got dark (I can't remember if I mentioned it in Part 1, but for this trip we chose to camp at the theme park campgrounds to save money). However, we ended up leaving Silverwood before 6 A.M. and doing something completely different.

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Yellowstone National Park is somewhere that we highly debated including while planning the trip, but ultimately decided not to include it due to time constraints. However, due to a last minute change of plans, we ended up detouring through Montana and out to the park. As Yellowstone is one of the most famous national parks and it was one I hadn't visited yet, I was excited to check it out.

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Unfortunately, I quickly realized we wouldn't have time to do much inside the park. No more than 15 minutes after entering, we ran into a traffic jam due to a herd of bison in the road. While it was neat to see the animals up close, it was a bit frustrating when we only had a few hours of sightseeing time and this delay cost us over an hour.

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We did still manage to see a couple things, however. We took a scenic detour that went out to Firehole Falls, then headed over to Old Faithful.

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Sadly, there wasn't sufficient time to wait for the next eruption, but I was still glad that there was time to spend a half hour or so exploring the area and checking out some of the other hydrothermal vents. I've been to other national parks with volcanic activity (most notably Lassen Volcanic), but this was still very neat to see.

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We also drove through Grand Tetons National Park on our way south. While I had been to this area before on a ski trip to Jackson Hole, I never actually went inside the National Park on that visit. Again, we were super short on time, so we only made one brief stop while driving through, but I'm glad I got to see what I did. The natural beauty in this part of the country is simply unparalleled, and is something everyone should go see at some point. On a future trip, I'll go back to Yosemite and Grand Teton just for the national parks, and I'll probably plan for 5 days between them. But for now, we have a theme park to get to.

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After 16 hours of driving (mixed with a few hours of sightseeing), we finally arrived at Lagoon's campground around 1 A.M. on Sunday morning. Exhausted, we assembled the tent as minimally as possible and went to bed. The next day, it was time for the park.

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Unlike Silverwood, Lagoon is a park I had visited before. Coincidentally, a ski trip to Utah in 2014 overlapped with the park's opening day, so I was able to spend a half day at the park on that trip. Since that time, however, Lagoon has added one of the biggest game changing attractions ever built at a small park, and as I hadn't gotten to experience the park fully on my prior trip I've been wanting to do a return visit for a couple years. Originally, I was going to visit with a group of my friends who were all meeting up in Salt Lake City over Memorial Day weekend, but due to circumstances that didn't work out and I visited on this trip instead.

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So, what was Lagoon's game changing attraction? Cannibal, a monstrous roller coaster that looks like something you'd expect to see at a Six Flags or Cedar Fair park, not some small family-owned park with no regional competition. Ultimately costing $22 million, this ride was in design for five years and took two seasons to actually build (interestingly, on my first visit, the first pieces of track were actually in place, but the ride didn't open until 15 months later). What Lagoon wound up with is a 2,700 ft. long coaster with a 208 ft. tall elevator lift, 116 degree first drop, 70 MPH top speed, and 4 inversions. And by the way, did I mention that this ride was built almost entirely in-house without the aid of any coaster manufacturer? While ART Engineering did the trains, the rest was all Lagoon's engineering team and local manufacturing firms.

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Cannibal is truly a one-of-a-kind ride. The ride begins with a short dark ride section, then riders reach the dark elevator lift. As the ride climbs the tower, beating drums heighten the suspense. Then, at the top, the door opens and cars roll forward to the top of the drop, which completely disappears below you. They crawl to the edge, pause briefly, then plunge down the most insane drop I've ever experienced on a roller coaster.

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The remainder of Cannibal consists of a few large inversions that produce hangtime at the top, as well as a very intense helix to finish everything off. It is a tad on the short side, but not by enough to significantly affect the ride. The restraints are also not the most comfortable, as the lap bar is a bit oddly shaped and can dig into you a little during the hangtime.

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Other than those negatives, however, Cannibal is great! The ride feels very much like a cross between a B&M and a Gerstlauer, with massive inversions and tight twisting maneuvers in one ride. While not the most intense ride out there, it is still a serious roller coaster that would terrify most seasoned riders, and it is just a ton of fun. It is not quite top 10 material, but on my personal list it probably lands near the bottom of my top 20 steel (out of around 300), and it is without a doubt the best coaster I rode on this trip.

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In addition to Cannibal, Lagoon has 9 other roller coasters, many of which are somewhat unique. The next best coaster in the park (and next largest) is Wicked, the only Tower Launch Coaster ever built by Zierer. Starting with a vertical launch up a 110 ft. tower, Wicked begins with a bang and doesn't let up until the finish.

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While it is a short ride and not overly intense, Wicked is still a very fun coaster that would be a perfect "first big coaster." Other than the tower and a zero-g roll, there isn't much to this ride that would be overly intimidating. In fact, Lagoon has designed special booster seats for this coaster, allowing riders as short as 46" to experience it.

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Next to Wicked stands Lagoon's third big coaster: Colossus the Fire Dragon. A Schwarzkopf Double Looping coaster, this ride doesn't look like much, but it packs an extreme punch. After an 86 ft. drop, riders pass through two forceful loops followed by two powerful helixes. The forces are so intense that single riders will have a hard time remaining upright during the transition and anyone who tries to ride with their hands in the air will have them involuntarily lowered. Despite this, the ride is super smooth, and thanks to only a simple lap bar restraint operations are super efficient. This coaster is only a minute and 45 seconds long, yet it is capable of running three 28 passenger trains (only two were running on my visit, but the one in the station was often dispatched before the other hit the first set of brakes). This is a ride from a different era, and sadly classic looping coasters are disappearing from American theme parks.

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In addition to Colossus and Wicked, the south midway features two Maurer family coasters. Wild Mouse, like the name suggests, is your standard wild mouse coaster. Lagoon does run theirs very well, with a lot of cars and minimal braking, but it still isn't that much different from similar installations elsewhere.

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Spider is the other Maurer family coaster. A spinning coaster, Spider was one of Maurer's first, and is the best of the four installations I have ridden. The ride is a tad jerky, but it spins a ton and has an interesting layout. A refurbishment last year also changed the ride so that spinning begins immediately rather than part way through, as is typical on most spinning coasters. This is easily the best family coaster in the park, and to be honest I probably prefer it to Colossus.

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Lagoon's other roller coasters include...

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Roller Coaster, a classic John A. Miller double out and back woodie. Built in 1921, this ride pales in comparison to modern day wood coasters (such as those at Silverwood), but still offers a fun ride.

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Jet Star 2, one of the few remaining Schwarzkopf coasters from the model of the same name. This was the only sizable coaster at the park we only rode once, and while it is a fun ride it is super forceful and quite brutal.

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Bombora, a junior coaster that Lagoon built in-house as a test run prior to Cannibal. It's not a bad ride, but it's probably my least favorite coaster in the park, except for...


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Bat, which I didn't even ride this visit. A Vekoma Suspended Family Coaster, this ride was boring and rough in 2014 (even more than other similar models) and I didn't really care for a re-ride.

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Lastly, Lagoon has Puff the Little Fire Dragon, a Zierer Tivoli kiddie coaster. Essentially a miniature version of Jaguar at Knott's, I didn't ride this in 2014 and ended up passing on it this visit as well.

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But unlike some regional parks, there is much more to Lagoon than roller coasters. To start with, Lagoon offers several water rides, two of which I experienced on this visit.

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First up, Rattlesnake Rapids. While not the best rapids ride I've been on (that honor goes to Raging River at Great Escape), it is definitely in the top tier. The ride features plenty of rapids, a wavepool section, a tunnel, and, naturally, a waterfall. Add in great landscaping and you have a very fun and very wet ride perfect for a 90 degree day.

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Sadly, Lagoon's Log Flume is not nearly as good. Featuring a slow meandering course through a secluded area followed by a single medium-sized drop, the ride is just too short and simple to be very exciting. It's not the worst log flume out there, but I'd place it in the bottom tier. To add insult to injury, this was our longest wait at the park (~40 minutes, when everything else was 20 or less).

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Lagoon also features a couple old-school dark rides. Unfortunately, Terroride was closed (it has since reopened with modern upgrades as one of Lagoon's main 2017 projects), but I did get to experience it on my previous visit. It was super cheesy and pretty short, but not bad for something from the 1960s.

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The other dark ride is Dracula's Castle, which dates back to 1974. This one is a decent length (about 3 minutes, though it feels longer), but the ride sadly has very little inside. There are a few spook house gags, all of which are executed well, but the rest of the ride is just meandering through static scenes. Honestly, the most interesting part of this ride is the cars, which have very low seats and a whole panel that closes, giving the feeling that you're riding in a coffin. It's worth checking out if you're at Lagoon and have time, but there are far better examples of classic spook houses that can be found.

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Like many amusement parks, Lagoon features a fair number of flat rides. The best of these, Samurai, was sadly closed due to a delay in obtaining replacement parts. Fortunately, I now have the exact same ride at one of my home parks (though that has been experiencing significant issues since opening), so the loss wasn't too great.

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Next door stands Rocket, the park's S&S tower. Like many two tower installations, one side is a Space Shot, launching riders to the top of the tower, while the other side is a Turbo Drop, which slowly raises to the summit and then catapults riders toward the ground. With Supreme Scream at my home park, I opted for the Space Shot side, which was pretty fun and better than most shorter Space Shot towers.

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Also nearby is Air Race, a relatively new Zamperla product that offers a far more intense ride than would be expected based on appearance. The ride is essentially a non-stop series of inversions, but due to the dynamics of the ride it feels far different from your standard flipping attraction.

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Lagoon also offers two scenic rides to take in the sights. First up is the Sky Ride, which runs the length of the midway. While the park isn't too big, this is a nice way to go from one end to the other and get off your feet for 8-10 minutes.

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The other scenic ride is the Wild Kingdom Train, which circles a lake at the south side of the park.

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Particularly at night, this ride offers some nice views of the park.

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Once you get off the midways, Lagoon offers some interesting diversions not typically found in larger regional parks. Chief among these is Pioneer Village, a street themed to an old west town and featuring displays of shops from the time.

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While not interactive like Ghost Town at Knott's, this section of the park does still have some interesting things to see.

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There's also a model railroad museum at the far end of the street. It's small, but if you like trains it is well worth checking out.

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Outside of Pioneer Village, theming is limited at Lagoon, but the park still tries to make everything feel nice. Most pathways are shaded by trees, and even stock attractions usually get a few decorative touches here and there.

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Overall, the best way to describe Lagoon is that it is a pleasant park with a good mix of attractions. The park has a lot of unique rides, and though little at the park stands out as travel-worthy on its own, the complete collection is well worth a visit if you happen to be in the area. The park doesn't have that many high adrenaline thrill rides, but they do have an extensive variety of attractions. Operations are also top notch, and are probably better than most of the corporate parks in the US. In fact, the park as a whole feels very much like Knott's Berry Farm did before Cedar Fair took over.

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That said, Lagoon is not the best park out there. The park does have the charm of an old amusement park, but it also has the drawbacks that come with parks of that type. Riders are placed wherever they can fit, resulting in visual clutter and some difficulty in locating smaller rides directly adjacent to larger ones. With few exceptions, most of the park's rides are relatively short, and while lines usually aren't too bad it does mean that the payoff is decreased. Lastly, while Pioneer Village is neat to check out for an hour or so, the park doesn't offer much else in terms of non-ride entertainment, so it may be difficult to fill a full day if you're not the type that enjoys multiple re-rides.

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In short, Lagoon is a park I like, but unlike some of my friends, not one I love. If I'm in Salt Lake City again during the summer, a return visit to Lagoon would definitely be part of my plans. However, without another Cannibal sized addition, I don't see myself making a special trip to return to the park. While many of the park's attractions are unique, for the most part they are not better than similar rides elsewhere.

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So now for the rundown: Lagoon vs. Silverwood? In all honesty, in most areas it comes down to this: Lagoon's offerings are more unique, but Silverwood's offerings are better. For example, Lagoon has more rides, but most of Silverwood's rides are better than their counterparts at Lagoon. Lagoon's coaster collection is larger, with more intense rides, more variety, and more unique attractions, but Silverwood's collection is better (I'd rank Aftershock, Timber Terror, and Tremors above anything at Lagoon except Cannibal), and while not as unique their coasters are more meaningful. Lagoon has more dining options, but Silverwood's food is better. The only area I can absolutely say Lagoon wins in is operations, as few parks can dispatch a 28 person train in 30 seconds or run 8 cars with no stacking on a Wild Mouse. However, all external factors being equal, I would be more likely to pick a return visit to Silverwood than a return visit to Lagoon. Both parks are outstanding, and are probably my two favorite smaller independent parks (though Waldameer and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk are really close), but while I loved Silverwood I simply really liked Lagoon.

In this hobby, too many people focus on only the big parks. While Disney, Universal, Cedar Fair, and Six Flags all bring something to the table, by restricting yourself to just those you miss out on a lot of the smaller and more unique parks in the country. I'm not saying that everyone should hop on a plane and fly to a park well off the beaten path, but should you find yourself in the vicinity of a small park and your plans permit a visit, why not take the chance? More often than not, you'll find something that, while lacking IP and groundbreaking attractions, can be just as fun as the big parks and provide a much fresher experience.

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Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this report, let me know in the comments and I'll continue to make them as I travel to new parks.

Replies (8)

July 11, 2017, 6:16 AM · AJ, Great write up! I had no idea these parks were even out there!
July 11, 2017, 12:25 PM · So lagoon can run 3 trains on their shwartzcoff but Busch Gardens Tampa can only run one... Good to know.
July 11, 2017, 12:41 PM · I would think demand has more to do with single training on Scorpion than anything else. Why should they run multiple trains when the line is never longer than 10 minutes? That would mean unnecessary wear and tear on equipment just so you can increase throughput on an unpopular ride. FWIW, they have a second train, but they rarely run 2 because of the lack of interest.
July 11, 2017, 7:42 PM · Agreed with Tim on an amazing, readable writeup. I would absolutely be down with more trip reports as you're able. Thumbs up!
July 12, 2017, 6:38 AM · On my visit to BGT a few weeks ago the line for Scorpiaon was over 35 minutes and there was no sign of a second train. For a destination park that seems unacceptable to me.
July 13, 2017, 11:32 PM · Tim and Douglas, glad you both enjoyed it. I'll be visiting some more non-California parks at the beginning of July, so look for another report like this following that trip.

Regarding Scorpion, I don't know what the operational procedures are on that ride, but if loading takes a significant amount of time it is possible that running two trains doesn't give enough of a capacity increase to justify the expense. At Lagoon, the trains on Colossus were only stopped in the station for 30-45 seconds, and as Scorpion is a notably shorter ride there probably wouldn't be much benefit if they can't dispatch trains in under 60 seconds. Also, keep in mind that Schwarzkopf has been out of business for over 15 years and parts for Schwarzkopf coasters are becoming more and more expensive, so if the ride can run one train and keep a 10-15 minute wait 80+% of the time it may not make much sense to run two. Jaiden, it is also possible that you visited while the second train was in refurbishment, and in that case it is either one train or a closed ride. I'll add that even though Lagoon is a seasonal park, most of the time one of the three trains on Colossus is under refurbishment. It is only a handful of days each year (if even that many) that all three trains are on the tracks. However, I agree that if a ride has a wait longer than 20 minutes, it should be operated with as many vehicles as available or as many as needed to keep the wait time around that point.

July 15, 2017, 9:28 PM · Very entertaining and informative reporting, AJ. Thank you for sharing. I contemplated stopping by Lagoon on my way back from DLR a few years back, but it didn't work out. Now with Cannibal in the mix, it might be an even tougher decision next time!
July 16, 2017, 5:44 PM · Thanks, James. To be honest, pre-Cannibal I probably wouldn't have recommended Lagoon unless you were going to Salt Lake City anyway, but now it is definitely worth a trip if the detour is reasonable. It isn't a park you'll likely crave a return visit to, but it is well worth visiting if you've never been there before.

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