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Vote of the Week: How many theme parks did you visit this summer?

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: August 29, 2014 at 12:13 PM

With children heading back to school, extended hours ending at the year-round parks, Halloween planning in full swing, and seasonal parks getting ready to close for the year, we're coming to the end of another theme park season. So let's take this time to look back.

Where did you go this summer?

Theme Park Insider James Rao is sharing with us on the front page this week his family's summer roadtrip to Kings Island and Cedar Point. (Here are the links, in case you've missed them: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. He'll continue tonight and tomorrow.) For the first time in years, my family did not take a big cross-country roadtrip this year. But we still visited several parks, with the highlights being coverage of attraction openings at Universal Orlando and Knott's Berry Farm.

Cabana Bay Beach Hotel
What I did on my summer vacation: Stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando.

We'd love to hear about your summer and your theme park travels. Which parks did you visit? What was your favorite ride or show? What was the best thing you had to eat in a theme park this year? Which park are you most looking forward to visiting again one day?

Of course, not every visit goes perfectly. Did something go terribly wrong on a theme park trip this summer? (Besides the stuff that's supposed "to go terribly wrong" at the start of just about every theme park ride....) Tell us about the most notable moments from your theme park travels this year, in the comments.

But first, let's take a count of how many different parks you visited this summer. (Don't count repeat visits to the same park, please, just the number of different parks you entered since — let's say — May of this year.)


Was this more or fewer parks than you've visited in a typical summer in the past. Let's keep the summer going with a conversation in the comments!

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The Rao Family Visits the Roller Coast: Part 3

James Rao

By James Rao
Published: August 28, 2014 at 9:15 PM

ICYMI: Part One and Part Two.

We are in Sandusky at a Fairfield Inn about six miles from Cedar Point – the Roller Coast! The room is nice, but much smaller than the Comfort Suites near Kings Island. Gonna be a bit cramped, but we’ll be fine. The pool is nicer, but there is no whirlpool, and the exercise room is small, really a one or two person closet to be honest. We likely will not be using the pool much as The Point is open until 10 PM the next couple of days, and there is a special Platinum Pass Holder night time ride event on Gatekeeper after park closing on August 13th. We came here to ride coasters, not swim! Let’s get unpacked and go check out the park! More when we get back from the park.

Cedar Point

As we drove across the Kinzel Causeway the jaws of the Rao Family collectively dropped as the behemoth that is Cedar Point rose powerfully into view. Stunning. Picturesque. Massive. The Point is all those things and more. It is something that should be seen with your own eyes as photographs just don't do it justice. Coasters and massively tall flat rides seemingly rise out of the depths of the water like sea monsters ready to lash out at unsuspecting and unprepared travelers. If Kings Island is big and in your face, which it is, Cedar Point is even bigger and even more in your face.

It was chilly, around 73 degrees, and windy, very windy. Top Thrill Dragster had already closed due to high winds, which was okay by me because I was here for two things: Maverick (the coaster at Cedar Point I most wanted to ride) and a night ride on Millennium Force. So, we trekked about fourteen miles to the back of the park (Cedar Point is long, very long, Epcot long) to ride Maverick (yes, I know about the Soak City entrance, but this first visit I wanted to walk the park at night, and really see it in all its gloriously brilliant grandeur).

Maverick had a posted wait of 15 minutes, but there was no line, so we whisked our way into the station and into the back three seats of the train. And we were off!

What a ride!!! Wow! From the fast rising lift hill to the final launch, Maverick is definitely a ride that lives up to expectations. That first drop is amazing as you are flung out of your seat, and race recklessly through the rest of the twisted course, with the nearby bay on your left-hand side. And I remember yelling “Wait for it! Wait for it!” to my family as we slowed in the tunnel prepping for the launch halfway through the ride. What an exhilarating experience. I had high hopes but Maverick still managed to impress me. Sharing high-fives, and a chorus of “Awesome”s we exited through the gift shop with broad, jubilant smiles on our faces, and, laughing, we headed towards our next adventure.

We literally skipped down the eerily lit Frontier Trail to Millennium Force, its trains roaring in the distance calling to us like a mermaid calls to a lonely sailor. Again, a posted wait of 15 minutes greeted us, and we quickly made our way to the station, trains blasting past us as the line moved inexorably forward to the pinnacle of Coaster Boy geekdom: a night ride on Millennium Force. We grabbed three rows near the back and amid hoots, hollers, whistles, and clapping; we fired out of the station and whipped up the lift hill like a bat out of Hell (thanks, Jim Steinman). The view from the top as we plunged 300 feet into blackness was amazing. It seemed like we were looking off the edge of the world into the vastness of eternity. It was beautiful, but we didn't have long to enjoy it as suddenly the “force” hit, and screams came out of our lungs like high C notes from an opera singer. And as we crashed down and started back up all I could think was that my children were lucky to have a father like me and that, “I am the best Dad in the world!”

In the queue

Our mission for the night was accomplished and it was nearing closing time, so we headed to the main entrance. On our way out we noticed that Raptor had absolutely no line. So with about ten minutes to go before park closing, we hopped on and got to ride a couple times in a row without exiting. Raptor is a good B&M invert, with some real nice elements, but after Banshee, nothing will ever be as good. I did like the helix at the end of the ride as it puts some massive pressure on you, but overall Banshee is just a far better experience. Raptor is good, a bit rough for a B&M invert, but good. I am just spoiled now!

After a couple rides on Raptor the park was closing up so we headed back to the hotel, and stopped for a quick bite to eat at Taco Bell (yeah, a horrible choice, I know, but all we really had time for at 10:30pm).

Everyone is now sleeping as I put the final touches on today’s report. I’m exhausted, but excited for tomorrow. We’ll be meeting fellow TPI regular James Koehl and his son Anton for early entry at 9am. I am definitely looking forward to continuing our Ohio adventures, but for now, rest is required! Night, night….

There is a line in the musical Big River that asks, “Did the morning come too early or was the night not long enough?” It is a fitting question to ask as I wearily start waking kids up at the crack of dawn. It is going to be a chilly morning in Sandusky, but I convince myself that coaster lovers have an inner heat that defies cold weather. “We will be just fine,” I think, as my cheerful calls to rise and shine are met with grumbles and angst. “We’re leaving at 8am, kiddos, time to rock and roller coast!” More groans (deservedly so). I pull out my ace: “Top Thrill Dragster awaits!” And suddenly the light comes on, both literally and figuratively, as the sun breaks through the clouds and the kids remember exactly where we are. Abruptly everyone is in a rush to get ready. It is going to be a great day….

What a day it was! Sure it had its share of ups and downs (pun intended) but it hit the finish line strong! While the previous night’s activities showcased the grandeur of the park, the warts showed quite clearly in the light of day. Cedar Point is not the amusement park mecca we first thought, though its reputation would have you believe it is so. By count there are about 50 non-kiddie rides in the park. A lot, but since they are all largely limited capacity attractions, coasters, flats, and swings, when the big crowds hit, the place becomes really tricky to navigate. Long lines form quickly at the headliner attractions, and eventually even the mid-tier and flat rides back up to the point of silliness. Fast Lane and Fast Lane Plus both sell out regularly at Cedar Point, but at $480 for my group of six, it wasn’t an option. Cedar Point is definitely not a park for people who are impatient or who want to avoid crowds and long waits.

We met fellow TPI member James (Jim) Koehl and his son Anton at the Soak City entrance of the park. Jim, wearing his coveted Theme Park Insider T-shirt, regaled us with stories of Cedar Point past, present, and future both days that we toured with him and his son. And it was the history of Cedar Point that interested me most, as I quickly became a huge fan of the park that once was much more than its present incarnation. Please don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of fun to be had at the current day version of Cedar Point, but Jim’s whimsical and romanticized tales of its glorious past intrigued me in a way I am intrigued by classic parks like Disneyland and the 1980’s version of Epcot. I asked Jim repeatedly to provide TPI with these historical vignettes as I believe other theme park fans would be hugely interested in the history of this grand old amusement park. We’ll see if he follows through….

James and Jim

Since we all had Platinum passes we were able to enter the park one hour early (with the on-site-resort guests) and grab some Early Ride Time on select coasters. Our first target was Maverick, so at 9 we blasted through the entrance and headed right toward Frontier Town and progressed to the front seat of Maverick without a wait.

As I stated last night, Maverick is a great coaster, packing a wallop of elements into a beautiful layout. Yes, the restraints could be better and occasionally they can hurt your thighs, but not enough to detract from the overall experience of this stellar ride. I hate to kill the suspense, but I will state now that Maverick was my favorite coaster at Cedar Point, and I have the T-shirt to prove it!

Maverick

We rode Maverick a few times until about 9:40 when the constant stream of early arrivals caused the wait to grow beyond a few minutes. We headed in the general direction of Top Thrill Dragster to get in line for its 10am opening. Sadly, other people had the same idea and the line already stretched beyond what I was expecting. Furthermore, this headliner was not even testing yet as high winds delayed its opening. In fact, when the ride finally did open later that morning the waits quickly spiraled to over two hours as the back two rows were blocked off making an already low capacity attraction even worse. We moved on to other experiences.

First up we hit Iron Dragon which is a suspended coaster like the Bat at Kings Island. Unlike the Bat, however, Iron Dragon is a slow, meandering ride that provides some nice scenery but almost not thrills at all. It does make for a good starter coaster, and the second half of the ride is a bit peppier, but we expected a bit more from the Roller Coast.

Next up was Mantis, a B&M standup rumored to be changing significantly next year (2015). We actually enjoyed this coaster and visited it several times throughout the day. It has a long course with a variety of fun elements that combine for a thrilling ride. As long as you remember to crouch slightly right before they lock you into position (in effect giving you a bit more room to stand) you won't experience the discomfort that usually comes with these types of rides.

After Mantis, we sauntered through Frontier Trail and Frontier Town where Jim entertained us with stories of what was and what could still be. This area is the only themed section of Cedar Point and as I told Jim it is very similar to Silver Dollar City, without the great food and top-notch shows (although we will probably catch the Red Garter Saloon show tomorrow). If you follow the Theme Park Insider Blog Flume regularly, Jim posted an excellent article about the history of Frontier Trail/Town, so you already know a lot about the area. Suffice it to say that Cedar Point has an under-utilized and under-appreciated themed area at the park, so let's hope Matt Ouimet recognizes its potential and expands the adventures in the area at some point in the future.

Jim had never been on Skyhawk, an S&S swing ride, and so we boarded and rode it next. I think this attraction is the same as the one at Silver Dollar City, but my kids kept telling me it went higher. I am not sure that statement is true, but it is a good ride, though too short, if you ask me.

Both the Cedar Creek Mine Ride and Mean Streak were on a staggered schedule, not opening until 11, so we headed to Gemini next. Only the red training was running, but there was no line so we quickly boarded and rode. Without the hand-slapping good fun that comes with both trains running at the same time, Gemini is a fairly tame and boring ride, and it is a bit on the painful side. The blue side did open later (around 11:30) and we did get to experience the hand-slapping good fun of a family racing coaster done right. Gemini is not worth riding unless the two trains are racing, IMHO.

Gemini

Next we passed through the recently reimagined Gemini Midway, which looks nice and has quite a bit of kinetic energy, and moved on to Magnum XL-200. Great ride. Really great. This coaster quickly became one of my favorites at the park. Good speed, good air, great views, and a fast moving line make for a terrific coaster experience. Honestly, I might even prefer Magnum over Millennium Force, but I am not sure I am ready to make that statement yet. Need to ride Force again before I decide.

From Magnum we rode Corkscrew which may have had some merit in the past, and does provide some great views along the midway, but the ride is just “meh”. A one-and-done coaster for us.

Corkscrew

At this point it was starting to get very crowded. Honestly it felt a bit like Disneyland with crammed walkways and people bumping into each other every step of the way. One thing to note is that as you walk the midways at Cedar Point most folks are generally craning their necks this way and that way looking at the various coasters as they make their rounds. It is not uncommon to crash into folks due to this phenomenon. My advice to you: act like you’ve been there and keep your eyes forward. If you must stop and gawk at Top Thrill Dragster, then pull over to the side of the midway and gawk. Don’t keep walking without looking where you are going! Common courtesy, folks!

We grabbed a ride on a couple of midway flats, Super Himalaya and Matterhorn, which could use a thorough cleaning and some fresh paint. Still, as far as flats go, these two are a couple of my favorites, and since the lines were short, why not? However, I should inform you that much like my local Cedar Fair Park, Worlds of Fun, these flats were staffed by a single ride operator. So the same person that lets you board, has to make sure you are locked in, and also has to start the ride. Cycle rides are notoriously slow loaders anyway, but with only one ride op they become so much worse. I hate to wait for an employee to slowly meander through their duties while I am sweating my rear end off in an uncovered, short line. Come on, Cedar Point, staff up your rides!

This comment brings me to an observation about Cedar Point: for as busy as the park is, the employee presence seems way too low. In comparison to Kings Island, where employees were prevalent and highly visible every step of the way, Cedar Point seems like an employee ghost town. Seldom did we see “cast members” wandering around sweeping or staffing the entrance of queue lines, and there were a good number of times we encountered attractions with only one person performing the operations. In short, the park seemed understaffed. Maybe it was just an unexpectedly busy couple of days, but we found the employee presence at Kings Island to be better than Cedar Point, and thus our overall customer experience at Kings Island was superior. However, we did have Mr. Koehl in our party which was like having a VIP tour, so we still had a great visit!

After the Matterhorn we wanted to hop on the sky ride, but again, due to high winds, it was not operating. And it was also at this time that we noted GateKeeper was not operating, and that in fact a large crane was lifting something to the top of the lift hill. Uh oh, our Platinum Pass Holder Evening Ride Time was scheduled to be on GateKeeper! Cursing myself for not riding this wing coaster the previous night instead of Raptor, I trudged with the rest of the group to the front of the park to get lunch.

Tomorrow: Part 4.

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Insider's Update: Look, up in the sky! It's the Disney drones!

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: August 28, 2014 at 2:17 PM

Wow! There's so much news happening this week that we're going to run our Insider's Update recap a couple of days early. And we've got some exciting news about the Theme Park Insider website to share, too.

First, if you're a Jungle Cruise fan, just stop what you're doing and watch this video right now:

It's Tokyo Disney's delightfully cheesy promo video for its Jungle Cruise reboot, which debuts Sept. 8.

The revamped version of the attraction will have new lighting effects and other special show effects. In addition, a specially written musical sound track will be heard throughout the attraction for the first time in any Jungle Cruise. Also, an after-dark only “night cruise” will provide a unique take on the jungle adventure.

A spruced-up Jungle Cruise isn't the only new Disney project capturing attention this week. Disney's Imagineers have filed three applications for patents for using aerial drones in its theme parks. No, it's not a new, high-tech way to shoot the hippos (as awesome as that might be). Disney's patent applications describe the use of drones to hold up floating characters, projection screens, and light displays. Here are links to the applications:

Disney drone marionette
Images from Disney' patent applications

For the "marionette," think of Universal's Macy's parade balloons, but instead of people carrying ropes to hold down helium-filled balloons, you'd have remote-controlled mini-helicopters holding up the giant characters. Same concept for the projection screens and light displays.

Disney drone projection screen

Theme parks have found a wide variety of surfaces upon which to project show images, from the clunky traditional screens used by Universal Orlando's Cinematic Spectacular, to the water screens used in Disney's Fantasmic! and World of Color, to projecting on the castles themselves in the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris, and Tokyo Disneyland for various nighttime shows. Disney's patent plan would give its parks additional flexibility, in allowing Disney to place temporary, moving projection screens anywhere in its parks. Not only that, by putting screens in the sky, Disney could position them to allow more viewers to see the screens without the expense of creating terraced viewing areas or dedicated show stadia.

Disney drone castle reveal
Check out this patent application drawing for a drone-driven castle reveal!

More Disney news: The Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue at Disney's Fort Wilderness at Walt Disney World is celebrating its 40th birthday on Sept. 5. And Disneyland has a new mobile website that allows visitors to buy tickets and pay for parking, in addition to making restaurant reservations and checking park schedules. Finally, Disney's announced changes to the live entertainment line-up at Epcot's World Showcase, with Mo'Rockin', Off Kilter, Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps, and the World Showcase Players going away at the end of September, in favor of new acts.

Speaking of closures, the Flintstones Bar-B-Q is closing at Universal Studios Hollywood on Sept. 1, according to one report. If you've been in the park lately, you've seen The Wizarding World of Harry Potter rising behind the Flintstones' shack, and have known that the end was near.

Last item: As I suggested above, we've got some changes coming here at Theme Park Insider. I've been working on a site redesign, which we will be launching in early September. We're wrapping up template creation and testing now, and I think you'll like the new look we'll have soon. It retains our basic functionality, while freshening the overall look. Plus, we'll have a fun, new "Insiders" subscription option that will allow participants access to some new Insiders-only bonus features on the site, as well as to in-park events we'll be planning in the months to come. Keep reading!

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Halloween News: How to visit Knott's Scary Farm, plus, Michael Myers is coming to Orlando

Jacob Sundstrom

By Jacob Sundstrom
Published: August 28, 2014 at 11:24 AM

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Steel re-tracks, Giant Loops, and a dark ride highlight Six Flags' 2015 new attractions announcement

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: August 28, 2014 at 10:01 AM

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The Rao Family Visits the Roller Coast: Part 2

James Rao

By James Rao
Published: August 27, 2014 at 10:24 PM

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Beyond CaliFlorida: Previewing tomorrow's Six Flags announcements

Jeff Elliott

By Jeff Elliott
Published: August 27, 2014 at 10:34 AM

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The Rao Family Visits the Roller Coast: Part 1

James Rao

By James Rao
Published: August 26, 2014 at 8:39 PM

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Disney's celebrating villains - but some wonder... who's the bad guy?

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: August 26, 2014 at 9:47 AM

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Carowinds plans record-setting coaster, plus more upgrades for 2015

Matt McDonough

By Matt McDonough
Published: August 25, 2014 at 10:39 PM

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Monday Top 10: The best quick-service restaurants at the Disneyland Resort

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: August 25, 2014 at 10:57 AM

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The Week Ahead: Disney and Universal schedules for August 25-31, 2014

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: August 24, 2014 at 9:23 PM

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Insider's Update: Unleash the locals!

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: August 23, 2014 at 11:04 AM

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