I hadn’t realized that I had not been to Hersheypark in 5 years, and a lot of things have changed in addition to a lot of new rides and attractions being added. Also, in 1999 I was not nearly as big of a theme park junkie that I am now, so this trip offered a larger slate of experiences to compare to Hersheypark. We got to the park just after 10:00 AM and headed right for Storm Runner. There were already a number of people in line outside of the entrance, but nothing compared to what we waited for when we rode Top Thrill Dragster last summer. In fact, once the queue opened at 10:30, it took us the advertised 30 minutes to get on the “world’s first hydraulic launching coaster with inversions” as it is billed on the map and billboards leading to the park. Storm Runner employs a duel loading platform that makes it one of the most efficient Intamin AG coasters I’ve seen next to California Screamin’. Another unique aspect of this coaster is its over the shoulder restraints which are more like giant lap bars with collars than your traditional OTSRs. While the restraints are nice and wide to accommodate large-shoulders, they do not accommodate large-bellied people at all. In fact we saw a couple of people who were not able to fit who were more generally “large” than what I would call “fat.” Hersheypark’s recommendation is that guests over 6’3” and 225 lbs will probably not be able to ride. They do have a test seat out front, but the instructions to tell whether or not you can truly “fit” are not clear, as the restraint can close on just about anyone, but it may not fit properly across the rider’s legs. It would be better if the test seat had an attendant to tell guests if they’re OK or some mechanism to let the guest know that the restrain is fitting properly. Anyway, after we boarded the back row, we moved forward to the launching platform where just like Dragster the shuttle pushed the train back slightly to hook in and you hear the words, “Get Ready,” and “Here we go!” Then you’re launched to 72 MPH on a very short launch track before soaring upwards towards the top hat. Back row riders will get 2 great shots of air, one before cresting the top hat and another just after cresting the top hat. Then it’s a quick plunge straight down into a ravine and up into an Immelman. The train dips down a bit and then back up into a slow barrel roll and a second half roll before plunging down into another valley to complete the “flying snake dive.” After that it’s a couple of quick curves and a little bunny hop and the train reaches the magnetic brakes to complete the 1 minute ride. While the launch is not nearly as powerful as Xcellerator or Dragster, this coaster makes up for in originality. The inversions are very cool, particularly the slow barrel roll that is very similar to the slow rolls on Volcano at PKD. However, this coaster is not without its flaw, and the quick turns before the end jostled my neck into the shoulder straps of the restraint which wasn’t terrible comfortable. Perhaps some softer or more rounded shoulder straps could fix this problem, but the inherent problem is with the design, and that the quick turns cause more harm than good. What I found interesting about Storm Runner is how it was integrated into the park. All of the inversions occur high above the ground (about 75-100 feet) and the final plunge before the turns had a good “head chopper” with the monorail. A lot of people are complaining about the length of the ride, but I felt it was adequate as it is still longer than it 2 predecessors. There really isn’t room to do anything else, so considering the location, I think the layout is probably the best they could do with the room they had to work with, very similar to the layout of Great Bear. Another slight complaint would be with the queue design since the permanent queue area can only accommodate 30 minutes of line before spilling onto the sidewalk. The staff did a great job managing the line, but better queue design could have quelled the spillover. All-in-all I would rate Storm Runner very highly (9/10) and inside my top 10 steel coasters, but the sheer size and speed of Top Thrill Dragster still has its siblings beat.
After getting off Storm Runner, we decided to check out one of the other new editions since we were last in the park, Lightning Racer. While not the tallest, fastest, or wildest wooden roller coasters, it has become one of my favorites. The Millennium Flyer trains make Lightning Racer about as smooth as a wooden coaster can be, and the cool combination of racing and dueling elements really enhance the experience. Both sides offer slightly different rides with lightning being my favorite of the two. Lightning Racer truly made an impression on me, and vaulted to #2 on my top wooden coasters, just below Phoenix. We then went on Wildcat, which was the very first creation from GCI, and is still a great wooden coaster, but has grown a bit rough since I last rode it in 1999.
We then walked over to the other side of the park and up the hill to Great Bear. I remember really liking this coaster the last time I rode it, but I’ve been on a lot of inverted coasters since then, and Great Bear just doesn’t stand up to some of the other great inverted coasters. I think the main problem is the excess of straight-aways and space between some of the elements. It has a very unique layout and is still a great coaster, but just about every B&M inverted coaster built since 1998 is better than Great Bear. After Great Bear we hopped on the Superdooperlooper. The classic single looping coaster is many kid’s first looping coaster, and still as smooth as silk as its track hugs the terrain. We then walked over to the Comet and surprisingly had to wait nearly 30 minutes to board this classic woodie. Hersheypark has upgraded some of the systems since we last rode it, as everything is now electronic, and the coaster is noticeably rougher. While the Comet is still a classic, it may be starting to show signs of its nearly 50 years of operation.
After the Comet, we decided to grab some lunch, and Hersheypark has one of the most diverse food selections that I’ve ever seen in a theme park. They have everything from knishes to perogies and fried squash to fried bologna. If you want something a little different you can find it at Hersheypark, and if you want normal food, you can get that too. I had a kosher chicken pita and potato knish while my wife had a fried bologna sandwich on a pretzel roll with potato wedges. After a great lunch I wanted to ride the other new additions since our last visit. We first went on the Claw which is one of the new Huss flat rides where passengers sit facing towards the center on arms of a pendulum as it swings and rotates. For those who have been to Knott’s, it’s the same as La Revolution. Since my wife didn’t want to get wet on the 68 degree overcast day, I had to go it alone of Roller Soaker. This coaster is very interesting, but would be a lot more fun to ride on a sweltering hot day. It is an inverted coaster with 4 passengers to a car. The track goes back and forth while people on the ground can try to soak the people on the coaster with water cannons. The coaster riders can return the favor by dumping water onto guests below, but have to aim carefully as each passenger only gets one dump. I thought it was cute, but would be concerned with crowd control around this ride during really hot and crowded days.
After getting a little wet on Roller Soaker, we went back over to Storm Runner and took a ride in the front seat. The front seat is truly where you want to experience this coaster. However, if you don’t want to wait the extra time, the second row provides almost the same experience as the seats are situated in “stadium style” with the second row slightly higher than the front row to provide a similar view to the front seat.
After our second ride on Storm Runner we walked over and checked out ZooAmerica, the adjacent zoo that is included with park admission (it is $7 to do by itself and probably not worth it). There were a few cool animals, but this animal experience is nowhere close to what is offered at a traditional zoo or even Busch Gardens Tampa or Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It was almost 6, and we wanted to get to the World of Chocolate before the concert, so we left the park and went over to the newly renovated World of Chocolate just outside the park entrance.
While the ride has not changed one bit since we last visited, the rest of the building has received a huge facelift and a 3-D movie and “Factory Experience” have been added. Don’t worry, you still get your free chocolate sample when you get off the ride. We didn’t do the 3-D movie or the “Factory Experience,” but the “Factory Experience” looked like it would be really cool for kids who get an ID badge with their picture on it. They also have a really nice café where we grabbed a couple of paninis before heading over to the concert.
We met my friend outside the World of Chocolate and headed into the stadium. While Hershey Stadium is not the greatest place to watch a concert, it didn’t really matter, because Van Halen rocked the house down, and the guys actually looked like they were getting along. The sweet sounds of Eddie Van Halen guitar solos punctuated a sweet day at the “sweetest place on earth.”
I can not wait to get to Hersheypark to ride Storm Runner. Plus this park has two of the best woodies to be found, Wildcat and Lightning Racer. I personally like Wildcat better, but that is just my opinion. I think your analysis of the Great Bear is spot on. A very good ride, but it does not compare to some of B&M's other inverted roller coasters such as Alpengeist or the Dueling Dragons. I also enjoyed riding the Claw. If I remember correctly from my visit there last year it has a pretty long ride cycle. My wife and I will be going up there in the next couple of months. Can't wait to get there.
My suggestion for visiting this park is to go during a weekday. If that is not possible, then Sunday is your best bet (like every other park).
Entering the park when it opens, I believe you will have your most important decision to make. Do you ride Storm Runner (which I have not ridden yet)or the Great Bear inverted coaster first.
Both roller coasters will quickly develop lines, so whatever you choose, once you are finished riding that coaster, the other will probably have a wait of at least 30 minutes or more.
If you go ride Storm Runner first, I would proceed over to Wildcat next, a great twister and one of my all time favorite roller coasters. If you have entered the park right at opening time, the line should be very reasonable. You may even be able to hit this one twice before moving to Lightning Racer which is not to far away. This dueling/ racing woodie is another great GCI creation. Jump on Thunder and then get immediately back in line to ride Lightning.
With a little luck, it is very possible that you could do these three coasters within a hour of your arrival.
From there, I would proceed over to the Great Bear and get in line to ride. You very likely will have a wait of around 45 minutes to get on. On your way over, if the line is reasonable, jump on Sidewinder, a boomerang coaster before heading over to the Great Bear.
After the Great Bear, Comet and the Superdooperlooper are right in the same section as Great Bear and are worth at least one ride. Might as well get them out of the way.
Following the coasters, I would definately get in line to ride the Claw. I really enjoyed this swinging pendulum type flat ride. If it is hot or you enjoy water rides, I would recommend Tidal Force a chutes ride. It is located close to the Lightning Racer coaster. Before you leave you definately want to take in Chocolate World, located just outside the main entrance. Get your hand stamped if you plan on going back into the park.
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