Experiencing Cedar Point's Sunrise Thrills VIP Tour

July 19, 2016, 12:12 PM · Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio long has prided itself as being arguably the best thrill park in the country, with more than two dozen coasters and thrill rides among its nearly 80 rides and attractions covering 365 acres between Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie. It has decided to offer thrill seekers another way to enjoy these thrills, a way to see them from the "inside," so I thought to myself, "What better way to take my fellow Theme Park Insiders inside the thrills than to take advantage of a new tour being offered by the park this year, the Sunrise Thrills VIP Tour?" My good friend from the Los Angeles area, Douglas Hindley, was coming to Ohio for his first visit to Cedar Point, and we decided that this would be a great way to show a Knott's Berry Farm guy what the "big boy" roller coasters at Cedar Point are really like.

We arrived at the front gate, underneath the soaring curves of Gatekeeper, at 6:30am and were soon joined by about a dozen other coaster fans, a bit bleary-eyed but curious to see what this new tour would offer us. We met our main tour guide Steve, who was assisted by Brandon and Sydney, and about 6:45am we entered the slowly-awakening park. It was interesting to see cars, trucks, and other small vehicles driving around the park, making deliveries and preparing the park for another busy day. We were led to Valravn, Cedar Point's newest coaster, and were immediately taken to an area where the service elevator was located. It was actually a six-person funicular-type inclined tram that ran on a set of rails up to the top of the first lift hill, parallel to the coaster tracks. The elevator could take only four guests at a time, because we were joined on our trip to the top of Valravn by Karrah Folk, Manager of Ride Operations and W Barrett, Ride Operations Supervisor, who actually ran the elevator and was in charge of our safety during this part of the tour.

Valravn funicular

I was impressed at the safety measures taken while we were at the top of Valravn. We all had safety belts on, and we were never outside of the elevator without being carefully attached to a safety cable. The walkway at the top of Valravn, which makes a 90-degree turn to the right at the top of the lift hill, affords spectacular views of Cedar Point and the surrounding lake and bay, and fortunately the weather was as spectacular as the view. We were 234 feet above the Cedar Point midway, and if we had done nothing else on the tour the price would have been worth it. I think it was especially impressive for my friend Douglas — we had walked the park the night before and had ridden several rides, but seeing just how huge Cedar Point is and observing its unique location in Lake Erie must have been a thrill for him.

Strapped in for the ride

View from the top of Cedar Point

We spent about 10 minutes looking, taking pictures, asking Karrah questions (while W kept a close eye on us, to be sure we didn't walk off the edge of the walkway!), but we needed to come down and let some other tour guests see Cedar Point from Valravn's roost. All too soon we had descended the elevator and were turning in our safety gear. While other guests were at the top, we were taken underneath the loading and maintenance buildings of Valravn, where we saw the various types of tires used (depending on temperature), the undercarriage of the trains, the (empty) water dummies sometimes used to test run it, and even the special harnesses that are available to allow riders who are missing limbs to safely ride Valravn.

Once everyone had seen Cedar Point from the top of the coaster, it was our turn to be on the first ride of the day. Actually, they did run it a few times empty, then with some employee test riders, but soon we were taking our seats, getting secured and heading up the lift hill. I'm sure that everyone on that ride looked at the walkway we had just a short time walked on, then saw that we were heading over the edge for a 90-degree drop — or I should say "dive." Valravn is just as good every time you ride it as it was the first time — exciting, smooth, fast, and those seconds as you hang staring straight down are always memorable.

After the ride was over and we left the station, we were taken someplace I didn't expect to be admitted to — the grassy infield inside some of the loops of Valravn. The coaster was now running with early entry guests, and it was soaring all around us. Our main tour guide, Steve, brought us there so that we could see how the supports of Valravn bent and moved as the trains passed by, explaining that they were designed to do that to avoid excess strain on the huge steel columns that supported the coaster track.

We were led across the Midway to, of all places, the employee cafeteria, where we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast buffet. I was pleasantly surprised at the wide selection and really good quality of the food — they even had a chef preparing omelets. Douglas and I sat at a table with our tour guides, and we had a chance to speak with them about working at Cedar Point, and my impression was that they really did enjoy the experience. Steve proudly showed us pictures on his phone of himself in horror makeup for last season's HalloWeekends when he was a Screamster in their walk-through haunt "Blood on the Bayou."

The next stop on our Sunrise Thrills Tour was Top Thrill Dragster, Cedar Point's fastest and tallest roller coaster. We were taken into the infield area at the base of the tower, where the mechanics of the launch were explained to us, and we had plenty of time to get some photos from locations that most visitors never have the opportunity to see. Standing under the 400-foot-tall tower of TTD and taking photos straight up into it was a unique experience.

Unique view of Top Thrill Dragster

Next was Millennium Force, Cedar Point's extremely popular 310-foot giga-coaster. Instead of taking us back onto the public pathways, our guides took us through several "Authorized Personnel Only" gates and we found ourselves walking along the banks of the lagoons that fill the center of the park, across the bridge and through "Dinosaurs Alive," then through another backstage area that soon led us into the heart of Bonesville, the Wild West town inhabited by skeletons that have entertained riders of the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad for generations. We only had a few minutes to see the town up close and to take photos, since we had to be away from the area before the next train came by — it would not be appropriate to see living people in Bonesville!

We emerged from the backstage area directly across from Millennium Force, and soon found ourselves standing directly under the station. We saw trains arriving to be loaded with riders, the launch sled returning from the lift hill and attaching itself to the train, and the loaded trains being pulled by the launch sled out of the station — all directly above us. Leaving the station "basement" (which was at ground level with the loading station above it), we walked along the huge lift hill of Millennium Force, where we saw the huge reel and generators that powered the cable. It was amazing to see — so often we totally ignore how roller coasters work and focus just on the thrills and excitement, but this opened my eyes to just how complex each ride is, how unique in its demands and designs each coaster is.

The power behind The Force

Another excursion through some backstage areas showed us how some of the larger props used for HalloWeekends were stored throughout the year, some in large sheds while others were shrink-wrapped in heavy plastic to protect them from the harsh Lake Erie winters. Speaking of HalloWeekends, this backstage area became a familiar HalloWeekend Fright Zone — except it was a sunny, hot morning. We walked along a paved trail lined with skeletons, bones and other props used for Cedar Point's enormously popular Halloween event — somehow it was not quite as scary in broad daylight without dozens of Screamsters trying to scare us. Actually, there was a lot of screaming going on, because we were approaching our final stop on the Sunrise Thrills VIP Tour, Maverick — one of Cedar Point's most popular and intense roller coasters.

We climbed a spiral staircase to the loading station, actually on the exit side, and climbed aboard Maverick without having to wait the hour-plus wait that is normal for this extremely popular ride. Maverick never disappoints — it is fast, almost unpredictable in its twists and turns, and after riding it Douglas informed me that it became his favorite coaster at Cedar Point.

We exited Maverick through the gift/photo shop, but before we could leave there our guides handed each of us a one-time Fast Lane and Fast Lane Plus coupon and a one-day FunPix photo pass, the unlimited digital picture program new this year at Cedar Point. Two other benefits not mentioned before, Preferred Parking in the closest parking area to the front gate, and a Single Meal Deal voucher/person, were nice extras that we took advantage of.

You're probably wondering about the price for this. The price for a season pass holder was $199 per person, with a minimum of two tickets per ticket purchase, or $249 for the tour and Cedar Point admission. The tour is usually offered three time a week, on different days depending on the week, and they have the usual disclaimers about minimum height, weather conditions, etc., and tickets must be purchased in advance. I asked when I purchased them if there would be a refund if the tour was cancelled due to weather conditions — standing on top of a 200+ foot tall steel coaster during a lightning storm was not my idea of a good way to start the day — and they informed me that they would either reschedule the tour or refund the price if that could not be arranged.

Was it worth it? I would say absolutely, especially if you are either a major coaster buff or a Cedar Point regular who wants to see some areas of the park that you don't normally get to explore. You don't need to understand the mechanics of a coaster to enjoy this experience. The guides didn't give a seminar on how to strip down and rebuild a coaster's launch system — they gave an informative explanation of the general principles, answered questions when asked, and let us explore places and see sights that most people never think about. It is not a tour that would be especially convenient for people with mobility problems due to the fact that much of the backstage areas are not paved and were either gravel, bumpy, a bit muddy or involved a narrow walkway along the lagoons, and we walked the entire length of the park. I would suspect, though (and this is purely speculation) that Cedar Point could make special arrangements for guests with special needs to enjoy much of this tour. The extra benefits added to the tour (breakfast and lunch, Fast Lane tickets, FunPix, no waiting for Valravn and Maverick, etc.) made this tour a great opportunity and well worth the price and early wake-up call.

As far as I know, this is the first time that Cedar Point has offered tours like this on a regular basis to the general public during the regular season, and I was told that they have been very popular, the feedback has been "spectacular" (their description) and that they are planning more tours like this in the future. I commend Jason Cartell, Marketing Representative for Cedar Point and the developer of this tour, for providing this interesting, informative and really fun experience for Cedar Point visitors. If you are a regular visitor to the park, a "first-timer" who wonders what's behind those fences or a Theme Park Insider with an insatiable appetite for more theme park experiences, go to Cedar Point's website and sign up. It will be a morning experience well worth your time.

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Replies (9)

July 20, 2016 at 6:39 AM · This sounds pretty similar to the coaster tour I did a Busch Gardens Williamsburg a couple of years ago. I thought it was interesting that the evacuation car on Valravn is actually air conditioned (Griffon is open). At BGW, we were not required to wear fall protection at the top, but were required to stay between a painted line and the railing at the top of the lift hill. As a coaster geek, I definitely enjoyed the time spent in the maintenance area to see how much effort goes into keeping these work class machines in tip top shape.

It is nice they feed you and give you some photos and fast lanes, but $200 is quite an ask. If I recall correctly, the BGW tour is $80 on top of admission, but does not include food and the photo pass (they had a photographer on the tour taking pictures that you could purchase at the end). I suppose at a park like Cedar Point you have to put the cost at that level to limit demand, since it draws so many coaster fans.

July 20, 2016 at 11:07 AM · Good article, James! This would be an interesting and informative experience but I agree with Russell about the price. As a comparison, I just booked a roundtrip from Philly to San Antonio on Frontier - will finally get to ride Iron Rattler in late September! - for less than Cedar Point is asking for a VIP tour and consider the flights to be much better value for my money.
July 20, 2016 at 11:21 AM · @Bobbie
I was actually looking at flights to San Antonio from Philly for a Texas coaster trip but American doesn't fly it.

Anyway the Busch Gardens tour seems much better because it A) is cheaper B) gets two rides each on Griffon, Alpengist, Lochness, and I believe Verbolten C) is more technical and enthusiast based.

July 20, 2016 at 11:56 AM · Excellent article, Jim! I did a very similar tour to this when I visited BGW years ago. Since it was with a group of enthusiasts, we didn't get to go to the top of Griffon (too many people), but we did get to walk the entire course of Curse of DarKastle prior to opening and got to go into backstage and maintenance areas on several other attractions. If you're a coaster enthusiast, these tours are really cool, and if you've got some knowledge of the engineering behind it, the tours can be more interesting than riding the actual rides. Either way, it definitely gives an appreciation for how amazingly complex modern theme park rides are.

I will say that the Cedar Point tour seems excessively expensive even when everything that's included is taken into account. As a result, although it sounds exceptionally good I do not think I would likely ever do this one. For someone who is interested in the mechanics behind the scenes and who has never done one of these tours, however, it would be well worth the price as a one-time thing.

July 20, 2016 at 4:21 PM · Great stuff as always, Mr. Koehl! Being able to park close to the entrance, take a cool tour, ride Valravn in the front row, get breakfast and free photos, and skip a few lines at a crazy busy park like CP makes this event a nice deal for coaster boys and girls with deep pockets. All these tours are out of my price range, but if you got it, flaunt it!
July 20, 2016 at 6:13 PM · @Jaiden Actually American does fly Philly to SAT but not nonstop. And the prices are mostly in the $400+ range. I was able to get a nonstop on Frontier for $135, thanks to a promotion which has now ended. Now if I could only find an affordable nonstop to SLC to get back to Lagoon! Flew there last year on the now defunct US Airways for $303; now it would appear that the only airline running nonstops from PHL to SLC is Delta, and the fares are not cheap. May have to go back to Carowinds, as fares from PHL to CLT are usually very reasonable.
July 20, 2016 at 6:13 PM · @Jaiden Actually American does fly Philly to SAT but not nonstop. And the prices are mostly in the $400+ range. I was able to get a nonstop on Frontier for $135, thanks to a promotion which has now ended. Now if I could only find an affordable nonstop to SLC to get back to Lagoon! Flew there last year on the now defunct US Airways for $303; now it would appear that the only airline running nonstops from PHL to SLC is Delta, and the fares are not cheap. May have to go back to Carowinds, as fares from PHL to CLT are usually very reasonable.
July 21, 2016 at 5:02 AM · @Bobbie
PHL to CLT is a actually very reasonable, $120-170 round trip on American. I did actually fly Delta from SLC to PHL but it was part of a connection so I have no idea how it costs. Too bad Lagoon wasn't open in Febuary or I would have drove from the airport and spent an hour there.
July 21, 2016 at 6:18 AM · I did the tour in early June and it was identical to what you experienced. My wife and I were the only people on the tour. A thunderstorm moved through an hour prior to the tour and they asked if we would like to reschedule before it started. W and Kerrah determined it was safe to be at the top and the tour was on!

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