[ICYMI: Part One]
JR: Hmmm... I never thought going two miles over the speed limit was the same as going warp factor eight, but whatever.
As Jim said in one of his few honest moments, thanks to a carefully situated worm hole (aka time zone change) we made it to Holiday World with plenty of time to spare. The "prettiest young lady" – as Jim referred to her – who took our pre ordered tickets, turned out to be a 50+ year old woman filled to the brim with energy and enthusiasm for her home town park. After exchanging pleasantries with this young-at-heart cast member, we burst into Holiday World’s main courtyard, thirty minutes before official park opening time.
Now, my good friend Jim is getting a bit seasoned – heck, he's decades past his prime. In fact, his mind seems to be deteriorating at the exact inverse rate of his average interstate driving speed. I had no issue dealing with occasional touring stoppages while we waited for Anton to clear the drool from his venerable father's chin, but his lapses in memory are the most alarming symptoms of his failing sensibilities. Several times before our trip, during scheduled planning sessions where Jim ignored me and muttered incessantly about Americana 1900 and how TPA 6.1 was rigged against him, I explained patiently that our first day at Holiday World would consist of seven specific stages: 1) Ride Thunderbird, the world’s first launched wing rider, 2) visit Splashin' Safari, Holiday World's highly regarded water park, 3) ride Holiday World's Trifecta of wooden masterpieces - Raven, Legend, and Voyage, 4) ride more water rides, 5) check in at our hotel, 6) return to the park and enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner, 7) experience dusk/night rides on the park's four "big boy" coasters. Now, I understand that keeping track of this complicated touring plan could send small children into fits, but I expected Mr. Koehl to be of hardier stock.
Having said all that, it was indeed my intention on day one to make a leisurely walk to the back of the park to ride Thunderbird. However, as we waited in a human corral of heat and sweat, coaster fever took over and when the park opened the kids and I shot out like a train on Top Thrill Dragster in a quest to beat the masses of humanity and be one of the first to ride the park’s new signature coaster.
Weaving and winding through quickly tiring, out of shape park goers, the kids and I blazed a trail past what seemed like miles of blindingly white concrete. Jim and Robin were quickly left in the dust, and while the adage is, you never leave a man behind, the quest to be first overcame me in a way I had not expected, and even as the sweat began to drip from my brow in rivulets of stinging rain, I clawed and fought my way past anyone who dared to cross my path.
What seemed like hours later we arrived at the back of the park and gazed in wonder at the beauty of Thunderbird. This magnificent work of art is a testament to the fact that designers have moved way beyond just constructing steel and concrete beasts. The Imagineering that Walt Disney began in 1955 has finally permeated through all facets of theme and amusement park design. Even regional parks are paying more attention to the aesthetics of ride design. Kudos to them all.
Don’t get me wrong, Thunderbird is not a themed coaster by any means but it does have some nice decorative touches and is laid out as a companion to the surrounding nature rather than in contrast to it. And it is a big, extremely photogenic coaster. I was quite impressed.
Moving with the alacrity born of years of coaster love, we moved into the barn themed queue (which reminded me of Powder Keg at Silver Dollar City) and upstairs to the loading area. I was pleased to see Thunderbird was in two train operation – a very good sign. Emma and I grabbed the front, right row for our first ride (ride ops were directing traffic but not enforcing things just yet – later on as the crowd swelled they were a bit more strict), me taking the inside seat and my daughter on the outer wing. I quickly noticed the restraints were much less aggressive than those I sampled at Dollywood’s Wild Eagle a couple years ago, for which I was quite thankful.
After a few words from the ride op watching from his perch above the queue area, we moved into the launch barn and with a shot of mist off we went racing to the first inversion like a ball from a cannon. After the inversion the ride turns in on itself and careens through the rest of the inspired course twisting, turning, looping, and head/foot chopping like an eagle – I mean, Thunderbird – gliding through a tight canyon. What an exhilarating way to begin the day!
JS: So you liked Thunderbird?
JR: Absolutely. Thunderbird is a fun ride. It isn't the fastest, longest, or bestest coaster in the world, but it is a hoot, and easily the most accessible coaster experience at Holiday World.
We rode it several times before the crowds swelled beyond an acceptable level and we decided to move on to other adventures, stopping to grab free beverages from a nearby stand (water for me and strange mixtures of various sodas for the rest of the group).
JS: Jim, I presume you eventually caught up to Quicksilver here and rode Thunderbird as well? How do you assess the ride especially with your background as a Cedar Point veteran who has ridden the Roller Coast’s record breaking Wing Rider, Gatekeeper, many times in the past?
JK: It's a bit hard to compare Thunderbird to Gatekeeper, but if I had to, I would give the edge to Thunderbird by a slim margin. The launch of Thunderbird out of the barn and directly into an overhead Immelmann is much more exhilarating than the slow chain lift hill that starts Gatekeeper, but then the view of the Lake Erie coastline curving off into the distance is much more scenic than the miles of cornfields and the remains of Pilgrim's Plunge that Thunderbird would offer with a lift hill. The majority of the ride is a great experience, fast, head-over-heals, and smooth. As far as the signature fly-through-a-building feature I have to give that edge to Gatekeeper. Thunderbird flies through a “barn" twice from two different directions, and it looks like a previous coaster train had to blast its way through the wall. That thematic element is the problem – you can see the fly-through coming, and you know that you are going to fit. Gatekeeper's fly-through of the entrance gate “keyholes" looks like there is no way you are going to fit, and the fact that you approach them horizontally while the keyhole openings are vertical makes it seem obvious that you are going to die. The track doesn't turn sideways until the last moment, and as often as you ride Gatekeeper it still looks like you will not fit. Point to Gatekeeper. The finish, however, is Thunderbird's. As you approach the finish and return to the launch barn the track takes you through two relatively slow inline twists, just slow enough that gravity begins to pull you downward while you are still upside down, creating the sensation of falling out of the train at any moment. Only the relatively comfortable restraints keep you in your seat – barely.
Thunderbird is really a magnificent coaster: fast, smooth, decent theming in the launch building, and well-staffed. It is a coaster deserving of all the accolades it has received.
JS: So, with Thunderbird out of the way and our readers losing interest in this trip report faster than the American public is losing confidence in its government, where did you all head next? The water park?
JR: Yeah, but first we made a pit stop at Holiday World’s only dark ride, an interactive “shooter” called Gobbler Getaway. I put air quotes around “shooter” because the conceit of the ride is that visitors are not shooting turkeys (if we were, Jim would be first!) but are using turkey callers to round up the pesky creatures. Anyway, Gobbler Getaway is a fine Disney-on-a-budget dark ride. It's not my favorite Sally dark ride (Yosemite Sam and the Gold River Adventure at Six Flags Over Texas holds that honor – http://sallycorp.com/dark-rides/custom-designed/yosemite-sam-and-the-gold-river-adventure/) and getting a working turkey caller is a crap shoot, but the A/C was phenomenal and the darkness a nice escape from the blazing sun outside. Holiday World needs one or two more attractions of this nature, IMHO, and a bit more shade to be sure.
But, yeah, after Gobbler Getaway it was getting close to 11:00 AM and Splashin’ Safari was about to open. So, we threw our shoes and socks into a locker, grabbed sandals and water shoes, and assimilated ourselves in with the throngs of people waiting to get soaked!
JS: Jim, we’ve really heard enough from James for, well, for a few years honestly, so why don't you take over and tell us about your Splashin’ Safari adventures? Anything to give folks a reprieve.
JK: Splashin' Safari has the same issues that every water park seems to have – it is confusing. It looks like it was not planned so much as it evolved, with new attractions stuck onto places where they had a bit of room. Much of our time was spent trying to get from one location to another, with comments like, "I think it was this way", "no, we turned here", "I can see it but how do we get there?" In spite of ourselves, we found the changing rooms and got into our swim apparel, which for most of us was swim suits and UV shirts (except Anton who informed us that he "never gets sunburned and didn't need sunscreen" – incidentally, Anton got massively sunburned and should have used sunscreen), then we headed for the two headliners at the water park, Mammoth and Wildebeest, the number one and number two longest water coasters in the world. The first we rode was Mammoth.
The queue building for Mammoth is sheltered from the sun and much of the outside queue line was also shaded by trees. The line was fairly short right after the water park opened, so we only waited about ten minutes before boarding, and I must say, Mammoth is a spectacular ride! It starts off with a conveyor belt lift hill then sends you down a series of drops, tunnels, and curves intermixed with six uphill launches using linear induction motors. One thing I would strongly recommend to anyone riding Mammoth: when you are yelling, screaming, etc., be sure your tongue is in your mouth when you hit the bottom of a drop! I was happily yelling on our way down a particularly steep, long, backwards (to me) drop, and when we reached the bottom of the drop I bit my tongue so hard that I immediately tasted blood – and started to look around the bottom of the raft to see if my tongue was floating around by our feet. It was still attached, luckily, but I did spend the rest of the ride wondering how to put a bandage on a tongue wound!
Anecdotally, we rode Mammoth again later in the day and decided to try to save time by using the single rider line. Big mistake. Either there were absolutely no empty seats for single riders, or the ride operators were ignoring the single rider line, but we stood for a considerable time with no forward movement whatsoever, while watching the regular line move forward smoothly and consistently. Finally we decided to just give up and get into the regular line. Of course, by the time we got up to the loading station they were utilizing the single riders much more quickly and efficiently. It figures. Anyway, since there were seven of us and the boats only hold six, we split up and rode in two rafts with some really nice people...from the single rider line. Regardless, Mammoth is an incredible ride – fast, soaking, and well worth the wait if you must wait. Just remember to keep your tongue in your mouth!
After that first ride on Mammoth, we headed next door to Wildebeest, a multiple Golden Ticket award winning rocket-style water coaster that also uses a conveyor lift and linear induction motors to propel the four-passenger boats through its 1,710ft length. I was able to enjoy Wildebeest without any serious injury, and we all had a great time on this very fun water coaster.
We rode two other water rides at Splashin' Safari: Bakuli, a "toilet bowl" raft ride, and Jungle Racer, a racing slide. Both were fun, though nothing spectacular. Mammoth and Wildebeest are really the standout attractions, everything else is pretty much par for the course. Still, we enjoyed the water park, despite it being crammed to the gills with people, and spent about a third of our day after riding slides just relaxing in the two wave pools offered. But we had a full itinerary and no time to waste. So we headed back to the dry park for some serious coaster fun. James, wanna take it from here?
JR: Sure, Jim. No problem. I carried us at the parks, I might as well carry us here as well. *Ahem!*
After the water park was awash with people (see what I did there?), to the point that on every slide, pool, and walkway we felt less like people and more like sardines, we left Anton (who is part fish) at one of the two wave pools then marched off to ride Holiday World’s trifecta of wooden warriors, Raven, Legend, and Voyage.
Here’s a well-known tip, one that bears repeating: on days when both the dry park and water park are open, it pays to avoid the headliner attractions in the dry park – the four coasters – until after the water park opens. Once the majority of the crowds move into the water park the coasters all become mostly walk on attractions. And that result was certainly the case this day. We were able to walk on all three coasters a couple times with the exception of Legend which went down briefly forcing us to wait.
Another tip: if you have never ridden Holiday World’s three woodies you really should experience them in order – Raven, then Legend, then Voyage – as they build on each other and offer increasingly long and intense experiences. Despite Legend being down briefly, we followed this progression as this visit was both Emma and Jim’s first time on each coaster.
So, we started with the Halloween section of the park and The Raven, which is a short, fast, unrelenting masterpiece of a wooden coaster. I love how the trees and lake are melded into the track layout – very nice. This coaster does have a themed queuing area that looks like something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, however the theme does not carry through to the rest of the ride, an unfortunate turn of events, but one that could easily be remedied if the Holiday World folks had some paint, a few scary music CDs, and a desire to be more than just a regional amusement park. But, those things are neither here nor there, just me being a theme park snob. Raven is a solid ride, still fun, and well maintained, though rough around the edges to be sure.
Next we headed to The Legend, which as I noted previously was closed briefly. So we busied ourselves with free beverages and a bathroom break while the ride ops got things rolling. We also took a quick ride on HW’s white water raft ride, Raging Rapids. This ride start outs in the complete darkness of a tunnel has a nicely themed town along the way, but nothing really happens in the tunnel or the town, and the rapids are fairly tame, so ultimately the ride is a bit of a letdown, one and done for us.
After wasting time for about 45 minutes we walked on and boarded The Legend, another wooden masterpiece. Longer, taller, faster, and rougher than the Raven, this beast will seize your attention and not let go. Just waiting in line is interesting since the train shakes the entire queuing area whenever it passes nearby! Unfortunately the Legend is far more intense then I remembered it being. In fact it was pretty much a one-and-done for Jim and Robin, and even I was questioning my judgement as I rode it several times throughout the day. It is a violent ride, but it is also unrelentingly fast, and twists and turns on itself so many times that I often lost all sense of where I was – or maybe the battering I took from the ride stirred my brains – I’m not sure. At any rate, Legend is a big boy’s “big boy” coaster – a beast not to be taken lightly, but well worth your time if you don’t mind intense rides.
After The Legend we headed straight for the granddaddy of them all, The Voyage. Thunderbird is new and exciting, but the Voyage is the real reason most Coaster Boys visit Holiday World. It is the top credit. Situated at the back of the park in the Thanksgiving area, this wooden coaster is still a beautiful collection of wood and steel measuring 1.2 miles in length, and filled with mountainous drops, tunnels, 90 degree turns, and off the charts airtime moments. However, the Voyage has definitely succumbed to time and adjustments have been made. Holiday World has shortened the train (dropped off the back two rows completely), retracked much of the more intense portions of the ride, and increased the brake run before the triple down to the point that the ride comes to a complete stop before plunging into the final tunnel, but the Voyage is still amazing and unrelenting from start to finish. It turned out to be my daughter’s new favorite roller coaster and she was constantly asking to reride throughout the rest of the visit. If you are a wooden coaster fan you owe it to yourself to ride The Voyage. In fact, all three wooden coasters at HW are standout rides that would be among the featured attractions at any theme park in the nation. It still shocks me to no end that a place named Santa Claus, Indiana, is the wooden roller coaster capital of the world!
Anyway, most of us rode the Voyage several times before heading back to Splashin’ Safari to catch up with Anton and cool off!
JS: Thanks, James, that info was almost interesting. Almost. Mr. Koehl, as the senior member of the group, and the one most prone to suffer the crippling effects of older, wooden coasters, how do you assess Holiday World’s trinity of wooden beasts?
JK: I am a survivor of Mean Streak at Cedar Point, so I thought I could handle anything. I survived the three wooden coasters at Holiday World, but it was a challenge. Actually they are three really intense, really exhilarating coasters, and each one is unique in their layout and use of the topography. James insisted that we ride them “in order"- whatever that means. The Raven is the oldest wooden coaster in the park, opening in 1995, with The Legend opening in 2000. In many ways they are very similar coasters – both make extensive use of the hilly land and lakes in and around the park, both use tunnels, and both are extremely rough rides. The Voyage is different in layout in that it starts out as a traditional out-and-back coaster – a very BIG out-and-back coaster – that on its way back turns pretty wild and wicked – and offers some great fun.
My first ride on Raven was hard. I tried to be all macho, tough guy, hands-up the whole way. Wrong idea. It wasn't fun. It hurt. Raven bangs you around, throws you all over, and I was feeling pretty bruised up by the end. Afterwards, this is one time that James actually had some good advice. He said, "Just ride it. Go with it. Don't try to fight it." That's what I did the second time – I went with it, holding on, leaning into the turns, and it was a much more enjoyable ride, still rough and very fast but much more exciting and less intimidating.
The Legend. We rode it several times during the course of our visit, from front seat to back to middle, and I feel there is no place to ride it nor no method of riding it that will make Legend anything other than painful. It's disappointing, because the layout of the ride is wild, beautiful, and a great design. After our last ride of the trip I decided that it would be my last ride on Legend for good. Seriously, it was just too rough. I was worried that any more rides would probably leave me with a broken leg. The stress of the hard turns and violent shaking of the train was more than I could handle.
The Voyage is a dream combination of speed, distance, and a remarkable mixture of coaster elements. The first hill is crazy tall, and looks so thin that you almost wonder what keeps it from tipping over – it almost reminded me of trying to balance a sheet of typing paper on its edge. After the seemingly endless climb to the top, while basking in the amazing view of miles and miles of beautiful Indiana corn fields (that was like sarcasm, only smaller), we started out plummeting down the first drop and into a series of hills, tunnels, and wild curves that make this one of the best designed coasters ever. Fun, fast, exciting, and the only pain I really endured over the several times we rode Voyage was from James' daughter Emma, with whom I shared a car with on our last ride of the night. Emma is a sweet, delightful, beautiful young lady, a girl that James' is now taking shooting classes for in preparation of her quickly approaching dating years. Emma has a talent that many young women of her age have, but that few have perfected as well. She can scream. I don't mean a "this is fun happy scream". I mean "S-C-R-E-A-M!!" to the point that every dog within 14 miles of Holiday World was rubbing its ears on the ground writhing in pain. I mean that local emergency responders were checking their civil defense monitors, trying to figure out if the air raid sirens had malfunctioned...and that was before we even left the station. In some ways it was a bit refreshing, an exciting contrast to the snoring I usually hear from Anton in his "laid-back teenage coolness nothing is going to excite me about a roller coaster persona". He's always been like that.
The three wooden coasters of Holiday World are a remarkable collection. Any one of them would be considered the best wooden coaster in any other park (other than Legend, which would still be rough, violent, and would make even Mean Streak seem comfortable), but Holiday World has all three, and with Thunderbird as the jewel in the crown Holiday World is a park that any coaster boy, girl, or (before James says it) old man must experience at least once.
JS: For once I agree with both of you: Holiday World certainly has the art of building wooden coasters down pat. Fans of the genre definitely need to visit the park at least once – and when they do, they won’t leave disappointed. But, much like Mr. Rao, I digress. Gentlemen, what was next on your itinerary?
JR: As Jim noted previously, we headed back to Splashin Safari to reride Mammoth. Jim already discussed our second ride on Mammoth, but I will just add it was easily the headliner of Splashin’ Safari and one of the best water park attractions I have ever visited. Seldom do I wait in a sixty minute line and still feel like I received my money’s worth. Really, when I return to Holiday World someday in the distant future, I will ride Mammoth several times and not waste my time on any other water park attraction. It is simply awesome.
After Mammoth, Jim, Anton, Jacob, and Jeremy luxuriated in one of the wave pools while me, Robin, and Emma headed to ZOOMbabwe, the world’s largest enclosed water slide. The wait was excessive, about 45 minutes, but at least the stairs to the top of the platform provided a good view of Legend as it raced through the woods. Eventually we made it to the top and boarded our raft. The ride was…okay. Had we only waited twenty minutes or so we might have enjoyed ZOOMbabwe more, but unlike Mammoth it simply does not provide the thrills necessary to justify a longer wait.
Eventually we gathered the troops, including massively sunburned Anton, and headed out of the park to check in to our hotel, unpack, clean up, and then get ready for our evening festivities at Holiday World. At this point I am going to pause and let Jim describe his impressions of our hotel, Santa’s Lodge. Let me just say that the best thing about this dilapidated 1970’s-looking “resort” is its proximity to Holiday World. And even that “best thing” is probably not good enough to prompt me and mine to schedule another visit. Jim, you may do the honors….
JK: I'm not sure if Santa's Lodge looked worse than it was because of the inevitable comparison to the immaculate Holiday World just down the road...no, it really was pretty awful. I suspect that in its day (which was probably a day in 1972) it was a really nice place, but that time is long past. Run-down. Worn-out. Tired. Depressing. And that was before we checked in. The lobby was decorated for Christmas, which was to be expected, but I don't think the decorations have been changed since it opened. You know how you see the houses that leave their Christmas lights up all year long and you look at them and think, "Wow, those people are lazy!" That's what I felt in the lobby of Santa’s Lodge.
Check-in seemed to go smoothly, and we got to our room with no problem, especially since the "security" door lock didn't work from the parking lot to slow us down from entering. The room was 1) dirty, 2) undecorated other than some generic country theme, 3) smelled slightly from chlorine from the indoor pool down the hall, 4) dirty, 5) dark and, like the rest of Santa's Lodge, reminiscent of 1972, 6) did I mention dirty? The carpet needed cleaned about seven years ago, but apparently hadn't reached the top of the to-do list yet. The strangest thing, and possibly the scariest, was of all things the bathroom door. The bottom of the door, on the inside, was chewed up. Seriously, it looked like it had been chewed on to the point that for about a foot across and six inches up from the bottom of the door the faux-wood panel had been chewed off exposing the pressed faux-wood core. I can imaging not wanting to stay here any longer than necessary, but having to chew my way out of the bathroom? I wondered if we had somehow wandered into a Holiday World haunted house that had somehow gone terribly wrong, and the Santa that the hotel is named for is not the Santa Claus we all know and love, but was the Santa "Claws" of the "B" horror film. I have endured post-Soviet hotels in Kazakhstan (really, I have) and they were Disney caliber deluxe resorts compared to Santa's Lodge.
I felt that management had decided they had a monopoly on visitors to Holiday World, since there doesn't seem to be any other hotel competition anywhere nearby, so they did the least amount of work they had to on the facility, paid off the health inspectors ( I made that up, but I would not be surprised) and waited for some chain to come along, buy them, demolish them and put up a real hotel. Sad, and unnecessary. They have a remarkable location, and Holiday World is a good enough park to warrant an extended visit and possibly a few nights stay. As it is now, I would not revisit Holiday World again if I had to stay at Santa's Lodge. Holiday World needs to do something about the resort situation, including not recommending visitors stay at Santa’s Lodge until it cleans up its act – and its carpets. It detracts from the Holiday World experience, and that detraction is something that I am surprised the Koch family tolerates.
JS: I’ll be expecting a call from the Lodge’s lawyers after that scathing review, but for those thinking about visiting this “resort” it would behoove them to think again. At the very least, perhaps management might take notice and do something about the appalling condition of the place. We’ll see. Anyway, what happened next?
JR: After unpacking and cleaning up a bit, we bolted from Motel Hell and headed back into Holiday World to get some dinner. It had been a long day with only a few snacks to keep us going and everyone was, in their words, “starving”. So, we headed back to the Thanksgiving area of the park to the Plymouth Rock Café.
On the way back to the restaurant, we made a pit stop at the Funnel Cake Factory to get dessert first (of course!). Earlier we had noticed they were selling Deep Fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, which sounded amazing, but the line was too long. As we passed by the shop this time there was no line – and since calories don’t count in a theme park, we raced to the counter and ordered a few to share. And they were delicious, but after a few bites we quickly realized frying something that is already delectable just makes it too much of a good thing, so we were glad we only ordered a few to share. Sweet tooth satisfied, but stomachs raging for “real” food, we sped expeditiously to the Plymouth Rock Café.
TPI TIP: Experienced theme park insiders know that eating before or after normal meal times is the way to ensure your meal is a nice respite from crowds and lines. So when we entered the Plymouth Rock Café at just after 7 PM, the place was nearly empty. Perfect timing!
We proceeded to the cafeteria-style line ready to order a Thanksgiving feast. Plymouth Rock serves adult and child meals (adults can order the child portion if so desired – which is what my wife did), featuring turkey, ham, chicken, or chicken and dumplings (I ordered turkey). Meals include your choice of sour dough roll (my choice) or cornbread muffin, as well as various side dishes such as mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, mac and cheese, green beans, corn on the cob, baked potato, baked sweet potatoes, cottage cheese, Jell-O, and strawberry glazed bananas (I ordered mashed potatoes with gravy and mac n’ cheese). Prices range from $6.99 for the kids’ portion up to $14.99 for an adult meal with three sides. You can order various desserts as well, but they are an extra charge.
Once we got our food we sat down in a spacious, wonderfully air conditioned dining room, said “grace” then dug in. The food was excellent. I mean, really, really great. I was very impressed to have such excellent grub in a regional theme park. Quickly polling the assembled party of family and friends, the verdict was unanimous: the Plymouth Rock Café was a hit – a gem of a restaurant in a regional theme park. Very impressive – even Jim would agree, right, Koehl?
JK: Huh? What? Oh, sorry, I always take a nap after a big Thanksgiving dinner. Let me reread what you said – "turkey, ham...cornbread muffin...." – I think I had pumpkin pie, which was pretty good but not as good as the rest of the meal. You also get free beverages with your meal, just like in the rest of the park, but the drink cups are much larger than the small cups used at the Pepsi Oasis stands in the rest of the park. That fact saved running back and forth for refills during your meal. Anyway, I agree with James, Plymouth Rock Café was a terrific dining location.
JS: Now that your bellies were completely full, I presume you did something supremely intelligent like riding roller coasters again?Tweet
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