Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip: Cedar Point
Written by Robert Niles
SANDUSKY, Ohio - I wish that I would offer you the fool-proof, follow-this-and-you'll-see-it-all-and-have-a-great-time plan for Cedar Point. After all, as "America's Roller Coast," Cedar Point draws millions of thrill rides fans from around the world its northern Ohio home every year.Tweet
But I can't.
One thing I have learned about Cedar Point, however, is that more than any other theme or amusement park I've ever visited, the setting of this particular park is essential to its appeal. Cedar Point's environment, on a thin peninsula jutting into Lake Erie, blesses this park's rides with some of the most spectacular views in the industry. From the top of Millennium Force, 310 feet above Lake Erie, you feel as if you are floating on air, with the enormity of that Great Lake available before you.
At the same time, the upper-Midwest, Great Lakes setting exposes Cedar Point to inconsistent weather, including rainstorms that can happen at any hour of day or night. Forget about Central Florida afternoon storms, or the blessed consistency of Southern California summer sunshine. It's northern Ohio. Don't like the weather? Wait a few minutes - it'll change.
Sure, you could build indoor attractions to guard against inclement weather. But then you couldn't enjoy those awesome views. So Cedar Point embraces its environment, for good and for bad, and you've just go to go along with that.
Even if it means enduring waits in the rain.
That's how our day began on Sunday. We'd queued up at 9am, with a few dozen other guests staying at Cedar Point's Hotel Breakers, for our one-hour early entry into the park. But just as the National Anthem finished on the park loudspeakers, the skies opened up again, keeping the four roller coasters that are supposed to open for early entry closed. Still, Natalie and I made the soggy walk over to Millennium Force and hoped for the best. Worst case, we'd be toward the front of the line when the park opened at 10.
But 20 minutes after 9, the rain stopped again and we saw the first test train make its way around the track. Five minutes later, we'd walked through the queue and strapped in for our ride 300 feet up.
Millennium Force delivers two things in world-class quantity - views and speed. A stiff lake breeze only amplifies the feeling of speed as you fly down the 80-degree hill and over the first airtime hill, eventually maxing out at 93 mph. Unlike the one-trick-pony Top Thrill Dragster, Millennium Force sustains its speed for much of its two-minute ride, rewarding you with occasional glimpses of the lake along the way.
From there, Natalie and I walked up the Frontier Trail toward Maverick. This 2007 Intamin Blitz coaster reminded me of Dollywood's Mystery Mine: It's a western-themed steel coaster that attempts to offer unique motion elements that go beyond the lift-up, drop-down, bank-to-the-side repertoire of almost all coasters.
Maverick starts with a 100-degree drop - that's right, it's not straight down, but down and a little bit backward as well. That's just the first of many odd track angles on Maverick, which spends much of its ride rolling the track to one side, then the other, often at angles beyond 90 degrees. Track rotations on roller coasters almost always set up inversions, but Maverick employs them as straight-line elements of their own. Throw in a false ending (one of my favorite theme park elements), and Maverick delivers a frisky two-minute adventure.
By that time, our extra hour was up, and day guests were flowing through the gates. So Natalie and I rejoined Laurie and Brian to sample some of the other rides they'd been eyeing. Our 13-year-old daughter, Natalie, loves coasters ("Big coasters = Happy Natalie!" she wrote to a friend), but 10-year-old Brian prefers whippy flat rides, which I can't handle. So Brian gleefully led his big sister on to the Matterhorn, Tilt-A-Whirl and other stomach scramblers that I'd only be caught dead on.
Brief showers frequently interrupted the morning, shutting down the big coasters, as well as the Sky Ride, forcing us into a game of "look for the test run," where we'd hop into the queue whenever we saw a test vehicle on its track, signaling a ride was about to reopen.
By noon, showers retreated for the day, and by 3 pm, so had the clouds.
Ultimately, Natalie declared Maverick her favorite ride of the day, though she also enjoyed Millennium Force and Iron Dragon (which, although she liked, she said wasn't as fun a ride as the late Big Bad Wolf, which closed at Busch Gardens Williamsburg after 2009.) Laurie hauled Natalie aboard the Corkscrew with promises of a super-smooth ride, only to discover that the Arrow coaster doesn't ride the same as it did when she was a kid in the late 70s. Laurie came off that ride looking like we had expected the kids to look after their third go on the Tilt-A-Whirl.
Finally, we convinced Brian to try his first "big" coaster, and he joined us for a trip on the Blue Streak, the oldest coaster in the park, a Philadelphia Toboggan woodie from 1964. At 78 feet, the Blue Streak isn't huge, but it delivers more than its share of airtime, particularly when the ride's a walk-on and the trains are going out half-filled. Brian loved it so much that ran with his sister to ride a second time.
Here comes Theme Park Insider: The Next Generation.
By the way, we did stay overnight at Hotel Breakers. At $410 a night, it ain't cheap, but the package included four one-day adult tickets to the park, the early entry, as well as parking for our car in an ultra-convenient lot that allowed for a scenic drive around the permitter of the park when we arrived. Strip the extras, though, and it's still $200+ a night for a room that offered easy access to the beach, as well as a killer view of the park.
But that's all of note that the room offered. We stayed in the Breakers Tower, which could use another refurb, as the beds were among the saggiest on our trip, and none of the rooms had available WiFi or Internet access. Nor did it offer a modern climate control system, just an old-fashioned knob on the A/C unit, which we could turn to "High," "Low" or "Off." Welcome to 1989.
Still, staying on the peninsula remains the best way to fully experience Cedar Point. Look, you can find an iron park at dozens of other locations around the country. If you're not taking some time to walk the beach or admire the views here, you are, literally, missing the Point.
Next Up: We're going back to Holiday World!
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