The only way to describe my planning style is meticulous. I pick the core destinations for each year's trips two years out, and by the fall I have finalized exactly where my major trips will be taking me the following year. As soon as new ride announcements are complete, I start building itineraries, and usually I've got a semi-final itinerary approximately six months out. That said, sometimes changes can happen late in the game. For example, on last year's tour I had to move my vacation dates after making plans with others, so it resulted in reversing the direction of the tour. This year, the final schedule ended up sticking fairly close to what I had locked in once I announced the tour to friends in April. However, sometimes it makes sense to change things in the middle of the tour, and this was one of those times.
Show Me The Coasters
Part 3: An Adventure for Timbers
Cedar Fair operates a total of a dozen parks across North America. Among those instantly recognizable to most are Cedar Point (the largest park in the chain), Canada's Wonderland (the largest theme park in Canada), Kings Island (Cincinnati's regional theme park), Carowinds (a rapidly growing park in the southeast), and Knott's Berry Farm (the original theme park, just down the street from Disneyland). None of those were included in this tour. Instead, we visited three Cedar Fair properties off the beaten track for a typical enthusiast. Two of those, Valleyfair! and Worlds of Fun, are located near major cities (Minneapolis and Kansas City, respectively), and while not destinations on their own are places enthusiasts may visit if in the area. The third, Michigan's Adventure, is so far out of the way that few make the trek.
Admittedly, of the three Cedar Fair properties on this tour, Michigan's Adventure was the one I was most looking forward to visiting. True, it is the smallest of the three, and the park receives almost no capital investment, but it is home to one specific coaster...Shivering Timbers. If I were to analyze what got me into this hobby, seeing that coaster on Discovery Channel specials years ago was absolutely a major contributing factor. It looked amazing...hill after hill for a mile, with nothing in the middle to break up the pace. Granted, at the time I didn't think I'd be too likely to ever ride it, but still...that coaster fascinated me.
Once I started traveling, the desire to get to Michigan's Adventure has been like an itch, and I've been trying to work it into trips for a couple years. The park almost made it into last year's tour, but was cut due to time constraints. I tried several times to work it into this year's tour as well, but no itinerary could squeeze it in without compromising another park. Therefore, it wasn't going to be a part of the tour, and I resigned myself to the fact I'd likely need to wait at two or three years before I'd have another shot.
When we finished Six Flags Great America before 6 P.M., however, everything changed. Upon returning to the hotel room, Rob asked if we were going to do a park tomorrow, and I reviewed the official plan...hit a couple credit stops in the Chicago area, then head to St. Louis. However, I also mentioned that I had looked into adding Michigan's Adventure to the trip, which piqued his interest. Like me, he wanted to check the place out, but could never find a time to get there. I busted out the computer, did a bit of work on Google maps, and reached an exciting conclusion: If we left the hotel by 6 A.M., we could get to the park around opening, spend a few hours there, and still make it to St. Louis by 10 P.M. I quickly texted Evan to confirm that a late arrival in St. Louis wouldn't bother him, then asked Rob if he would be up to eleven hours of driving plus a park in one day.
A little after 11 A.M. on the morning of Monday, June 24th, we pulled into a parking spot right in front of the gate to Michigan's Adventure. With only a few dozen cars present on a drizzly morning, staff was parking everyone in preferred, so no more than two minutes later we were through the gates of a park I'd wanted to visit for twenty years.
Our first stop of the day was the smallest of the park's three woodies, Zach's Zoomer. While built by Custom Coasters International (CCI), this ride has a very similar layout to the PTC junior woodies operating at several other Cedar Fair parks. Overall, it runs about the same as those...smooth with a few small airtime moments, but nothing to write home about. It does rank slightly above the other junior woodies of this tour, but not by much.
With the other kiddie coaster not yet operational due to the gentle mist, we headed to Corkscrew, an old Arrow relic from days past. Super short by today's standards, the ride is little more than a drop, turnaround, double corkscrew, and a turn onto the brakes. It is certainly not smooth, but compared to other coasters of a similar vintage the ride ran okay. Still, this wasn't one begging for a revisit.
We next tackled the park's other Arrow product, Mad Mouse. One of three Arrow Mad Mouse coasters produced, this is an oversized wild mouse coaster with banked turns to smooth out the experience. Fairly light braking meant a few pops of airtime and some good laterals on the hairpins, though not as much as the similar Psycho Mouse at California's Great America. Due to slow operations, this ride also hosted the longest wait of the day, boasting an insane 5 minute queue time.
With the three credit coasters at the front of the park out of the way, it was time for the main event. I hadn't seen the ride running much, so I was a little nervous as we approached, but upon arrival it became clear the lack of operation was due to a completely empty station. We made our way up the ramp, climbed into the train, buckled ourselves in, and waited for the all clear. In no time at all, the train was dispatched, and I was off for a ride I'd been waiting to experience for 20 years. What better way to hit coaster #500 than have it be Shivering Timbers?
Photos do not do justice to this ride (and I didn't take any that turned out well, but you can see some here). A massive wooden out-and-back coaster, stretching the entire length of the parking lot, looms over you as you approach the park. A mile of wooden track, at one time the longest single-lift woodie in the world, with three hills over 100 ft in height and numerous smaller bunny hops. The initial 122 ft. drop accelerates trains to 57 MPH, then there is no interruption for the remainder of the ride. The two and a half minute journey wraps up with a helix full of all the laterals CCI is known for, then the trains scream into the brake run with speed to spare.
So, how was the ride? To be 100% honest, Shivering Timbers was not quite as amazing as I'd expected, but still very good. On the whole, it was very much like a wooden version of a B&M hyper, with floater airtime on many hills but nothing crazy. The coaster isn't overly rough, but at 21 years old it doesn't run as smooth as it once did. Plus, I believe the ride wasn't running quite as well as it can, especially since we never had more than six people on the train. With a full train on a hot day, this ride would haul, and I've got a feeling it would earn a spot on my top ten list under those conditions. Based on rides in an empty train on a cool day, I'd say this falls outside my top 10, but in my top 15 or so. The ride ranks very similar to GhostRider on my personal list, with a smooth series of airtime hills and plenty of intensity yet not too much roughness. I got four rides on this beauty by the end of our visit (Rob did six or seven), and I was satisfied with that. In short, would I travel a significant distance out of the way to ride Shivering Timbers again? No, probably not. Would it be enough for me to return if I were in the area? Absolutely!
Now that the star attraction was out of the way, we turned our attention to collecting the remaining credits. First was the nearby Wolverine Wildcat, a double out-and-back woodie built by the Dinn Corporation.
Patterned after the Knoebels Phoenix, this is more of a family coaster, yet still large enough to provide some thrills. It also features a couple moments of floater airtime, though trim brakes tame this coaster (with the tradeoff being a smoother ride). It's one of the better Dinn rides...not a spectacular coaster, but not a bad one either.
Next was Thunderhawk, a relocated Vekoma SLC that is the park's newest coaster. Most look at a SLC and cringe, which is a fair reaction in almost all cases. However, Thunderhawk is an exception to the rule...if ever there was an SLC I could consider smooth, it is this one. Yes, it's the same short layout as all the others, but I found this one enjoyable enough that I actually went around for a second ride.
Completing Thunderhawk left only one remaining coaster in the park for us to ride: Big Dipper. Built by Chance Rides, this is a junior coaster with a simple oval layout traversed twice. Some junior coasters can be mildly enjoyable rides, but unfortunately this is not one of those. With uncomfortable cars and jerky transitions, it definitely wound up near the bottom of my list.
Seven coasters complete, all in about a hour and a half. We surveyed the park while I took a few pictures and concluded that none of the non-coaster rides looked worthwhile (I considered the log flume but didn't want to get wet), so Rob and I headed back to Shivering Timbers to re-ride until we were ready to go. Ultimately, we spent about two and a half hours at the park...not quite as much as I was expecting, but plenty to hit anything noteworthy.
Overall, I can't really say Michigan's Adventure has much going for it. Yes, they've got Shivering Timbers, but when you step away from that ride you find yourself in a soulless, unthemed expanse of concrete occupied by generic theme park rides and boxy buildings. It is the least interesting of the Cedar Fair properties, and is a tough place to recommend visiting due to location and limited offerings. That said, I did enjoy my visit to the park. Upkeep is to the same standards as other Cedar Fair properties, resulting in a park that is clean and polished throughout.
While the park may not have particularly unique attractions, they do have more variety among their rides than some, and the attached waterpark looked quite nice. Additionally, the employees were all quite friendly, and the emptiness of the park allowed for several opportunities to chat with some (we learned the park is much busier on weekends...average Saturday attendance is around 8,000).
In the end, I don't regret making the detour to this park, and if I had it as a local park I'd be perfectly happy visiting a couple times per season. However, given the location and high profit margin with minimal investment, I can't see there being a reason to return anytime soon, and I've got a feeling it may be another decade before this park receives another major ride.
Michigan's Adventure Coaster Ranking:
1. Shivering Timbers
2. Wolverine Wildcat
4. Zach's Zoomer
5. Mad Mouse
Never Again Tier:
7. Big Dipper
Leaving Michigan's Adventure, we opted to make a food stop before the seven hour drive to St. Louis. Thus began the quest to find a Steak-n-Shake, as many locations throughout the Midwest are currently closed due to franchisee issues. After passing two closed locations, we opted instead for a quick stop at Chick-Fil-A. The remainder of the drive was fairly uneventful, with Rob and I trading off at the halfway point. We made it to St. Louis a little before 10 P.M., where we met up with Evan and Andrew, the other two joining this crazy journey. Once at the hotel, it was time for bed...it had been a very long day, and with a packed itinerary that would be a theme from this point on.Tweet