Park of the Week: Islands of Adventure

Robert's Tour, Part Nine -- Cedar Point

Robert hauls the family up north for a day at Ohio's Cedar Point. But he makes the mistake of not skipping breakfast first.

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Published: August 8, 2004 at 5:05 PM

Sandusky, Ohio -- My wife, a Cleveland native, tried to explain northern Ohioans to me.

“Okay, they live in a boring place. But they are really, really determined to do something about that. And when they do, they do a world-class job.”

Witness Cedar Point. Tucked across a causeway from a nondescript two-lane country road lies one of the world's most popular amusement parks. We arrived early on a Thursday morning in August, with our two kids and Laurie's parents. Based on my experience visiting eight other parks in the past three weeks, I'd figured we had plenty of time to get to the front gate by the scheduled 10 a.m. opening.

Then I acquainted myself with the cult of Cedar Point. Even on a weekday, the line of cars snaked across the causeway, backing traffic to U.S. 6. We were not able to get into the park until quarter after 10, by which time the park was packed and the line for Top Thrill Dragster already exceeded two hours' wait.

Honey, we're not in Southern California anymore. Not only do large crowds actually show up for this park, its setting at the tip of a peninsula in Lake Erie both keeps the park cool in the summer and provides spectacular views from its many high rides. This ain't no parking lot in the high desert.

Cedar Point's broad appeal lies in its extensive line-up of rides, essentially offering three parks in one: a state-of-the-art thrill park, a kid-friendly collection of rides and playgrounds, plus a collection of classic boardwalk amusements, including a giant Ferris wheel, antique carousel and locomotive. Not to mention a beach and marina. Perhaps that's why even Laurie's 86-year-old great aunt is a fan. “I just love every speck of it,” she exclaimed the night before while recounting a childhood visit to the Point.

A plate of bad scrambled eggs at breakfast, along with the longer than expected lines, convinced me to stick with the latter two types of rides, and leave Cedar Point's thrill rides for another visit. (A decision I confirmed after a gentle ride on Camp Snoopy's Lolli Swing left me a minty shade of green.)

If you're looking for thrills at the Point, be sure to use the park's Freeway system to grab reservation times on two rides when the park opens. Cedar Point issues Freeway hand stamps for Millennium Force, Magnum XL-2000, Mantis, Raptor and Wicked Twister, as well as Top Thrill Dragster on some days. Grab a stamp for Raptor on your way to Dragster, then choose a second ride to reserve before hopping on line elsewhere.

Standing more than 400 feet tall, Top Thrill Dragster dominates the park physically and logistically. Its height doubles that of its California sibling, Knott's Berry Farm's Xcelerator. And Dragster's zero-to-120 mph launch places it in a different class than the Xcelerator's zero-to-82 take-off. Dragster also eschews Xcelerator's extra dips and curves, offering an elegant U-shaped track. Launch, up, down, then come back again.

Which also describes the ride's operating schedule. Frequent downtimes demand that you get in line for this attraction as soon as it opens, even abandoning the line at another attraction if necessary. And the amount of money that Cedar Point must be spending to keep this resource-draining technical marvel running might explain why the park's contracted Six Flags disease and was running just one train on many of its other coasters throughout the day of my visit.

For more traditional coaster twists and turns than Dragster, opt for Raptor, a B&M inverted coaster that to my eye appears not nearly as rough as Magic Mountain's Batman, with the additional benefit of outstanding views of the park. Cedar Point's peninsula setting has forced the park to build its rides intertwining with pathways and even one another, reinforcing a sense of intimacy throughout a massive park. And Cedar Point installs its coasters over grass, water and even sand, not the stifling asphalt parking lots that some parks settle for.

Other thrill ride highlights include Millennium Force, an Intamin gigacoaster that offers a steeper descent and less jarring turns than Magic Mountain's Goliath, and 2002's Wicked Twister, a high-speed take on the back-and-forth of those old rocking ship rides. (One of which Cedar Point provides nearby for easy comparison.)

Youngsters will want to head first for Camp Snoopy, a collection of lightly themed kids' rides similar to the Knott's Berry Farm original. While not as rustic as the California version, this Camp Snoopy win points for eliminating Knott's awful Peanuts Playhouse and adding instead Woodstock's Express, the same model Vekoma junior coaster as Natalie's beloved Flying Unicorn at Islands of Adventure.

Cedar Point also offers a Peanuts Playground off the Main Midway, with a train ride, dark slide, swing sets and a cage where kids can practice throwing baseballs to cut-out Peanuts characters.

Parents beware, though, that Cedar Point enforces some of the most restrictive height limits I've seen in a theme park. Forty-two inches for the Dumbo-style Red Baron? Forty-eight inches for the Mine Ride? First- and second-graders better like Woodstock's Express, because that's one of the few thrill rides they'll be able to ride at Cedar Point. To be fair, though, at this writing Cedar Point was perhaps the nation's largest amusement park never to have had a ride fatality, so it's has earned the right not to be second-guessed on safety.

And while Cedar Point offers a wide range of rides to appeal to any visitor, it fails in offering a extensive line-up of rides that all those visitors can enjoy together. There's no Pirates of the Caribbean or Cat in the Hat here. Instead, the teen-agers head off to Dragster and the younger kids to Camp Snoopy while Grandma and Grandpa climb aboard the Giant Wheel. Sure, by the end of the day, everyone had a great time, but what about spending the day together? Perhaps that's why some of the Cedar Point fans among Laurie's Cleveland relatives fly south to Walt Disney World every year, too.

Give those northern Ohioans credit, though. Throw Cedar Point into the mix with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Rock n' Roll and Pro Football Halls of Fame, an impressive urban trails system and a lively downtown, and the region can boast enough world-class attractions to warm even folks who have to live through a Cleveland winter.

  • Read the rest of the articles from Robert Niles' Summer 2004 Theme Park Tour

  • Readers' Opinions

    From PM 24-7 on August 9, 2004 at 4:35 PM
    Haven't been too impressed with Cedar Point lately...Since they purchased Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, they have shut down, demolished or internationally shipped 2 of the most popular roller coasters (RIP- Zambizi Zinger and Orient Express). They have taken 20 year staples of the park and gotten rid of there place they build sub-standard replacements (a 30 second boomerang coaster and a mild-family coaster).

    Having personally inquired into the loss of the rides, one was purchased by a country in South America and shipped there and the other is still standing but not operating because of maintenance costs...

    Robert, it's good you got your rides in on the popular coasters that have had maintenance issues because they will probably be replaced with a kiddie ride the next time you visit...

    From Mike CP on August 10, 2004 at 5:42 AM
    Just to let you know, on Thursday it was the second busiest day of the year, as on the day before the weather was horrible and only two or three rows in the parking lot were filled, so it was two-days worth of people in one day.

    Cedar Point is an awsome park and they definately know what they are doing. I would have to agree though that they still need a ride where the whole family can ride together, but I don't know if it will ever happen.

    Glad you had a good expereince at Cedar Point!

    From Robert Niles on August 10, 2004 at 1:54 PM
    Just my freakin' luck....

    Thanks for the info, though.

    From Derek Potter on August 14, 2004 at 7:43 PM
    Sometimes the long lines can be deceiving. They move pretty quickly. Why CP was running one train operations on some coasters is a mystery. They always seem to be running at full capacity when I'm there. Hopefully you will have better luck next time and get to actually ride some of the good stuff.
    From Peter Kott on April 1, 2005 at 3:18 AM
    I had a great experience with my family. True, we divided, where my 7 year old son and I escaped to the advanced rides, while my wife and 4 year old daughter rode the kiddie rides, but this park must cater to continually being the best and most advanced coaster park in the world. I don't want to see it becoming Disney parks, although I grew up and loved them both. It is nice to see a park that caters to all ages, while pushes the edge of excitement and intensity that all the world adores.

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