A Blur: 30 days, 10 parks ...

Associated parks:

Sunday, June 16, 2002 10:11 AM

… and four very sore feet.

The days: Some of April, most of May, a bit of June.

The parks: Parc Asterix (PA), Oakwood (OAK), Alton Towers (AT), Blackpool Pleasure Beach (BPB), Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW), Kennywood (KW), Knoebels (KNO), Dorney Park (DP), Lakemont (LM), and Cedar Point (CP).

The feet: Mine, and those of my wife Suzanne (SUZ). Taking advantage of a rare warm weather break in my wife's work, and dipping into my unwieldy reserve of vacation time, SUZ and I decided to head to Great Britain for a couple weeks in late April. Then, after a few weeks back home we spent the latter half of May on our Somewhat-Annual North American Coaster Road Trip (SANACRT).

We pretty much alternated visits with friends and family - both in the U.S. and abroad - and trips to places of interest (you know, Loch Ness, Fallingwater, that sort of thing) with days at the parks. Rather than attempt to detail all of our traipsing about for the benefit of those slogging through this (and my weary mind, as our first leg began over six weeks ago) I thought it best simply to note the highlights and make some observations. Just so you can have an idea where we're coming from (i.e. our prejudices) SUZ and I prefer airtime to laterals, dark rides to spin n' pukes, old-fashioned rides to theming, etc.

Great Britain: Man, those Brits seem to love two thing - dark rides, and getting wet. And they will combine the two at any opportunity - no wonder BPB spent millions of pounds on Valhalla (a giant, heavily-themed flume/shoot-the-chutes). All three English parks had at least one old dark ride, and both AT and BPB had several - some of which sprayed water on you for no apparent reason.

We LOVED Oakwood (and Wales in general) - it is perhaps the most beautiful park we've ever been to. The oak trees (not yet in bloom, which gave the place a real gothic/spooky feel) are spectacular - the place is basically in a forest, miles from anywhere. It has several rides I've never seen anywhere else, such as a bobsled-type ride where you're pulled to the top of a hill by a rope in single-seat sled, and then you fly down the other side controlling your speed yourself. Very fun.

AT was great too - very much a British Busch Gardens, except the castle here is real. The landscaping is magnificent, the rides excellent and well maintained. We stayed at the on-site hotel, which is lovely, with great attention to detail (and several wonderful surprises), although quite expensive. You can either catch a monorail or walk a scenic fifteen-minute path through a forest to the park.

Blackpool was just what we expected, for both the good and the bad. It was amazing to see how they were able to cram rides everywhere, on top, underneath and through one another. It's atmosphere is that of a slightly-seedy seaside resort - that being what it is, I suppose - which was just fine with us, as we like that sort of thing. Our visit there suffered somewhat from an unfortunate choice of hotel - bad advice from the Lonely Planet guide - although we can hardly hold that against the park.

Parc Asterix, north of Paris, is very do-able in a day trip from the south of England - catch an early ferry from Dover and then drive at the speed of your average French maniac. There's an impeccably maintained (and very pricey) three-lane highway you can take right to the park - posted limits are 130 km/hr (about 80 mph) but cars were blowing by me when I was doing 160. The 250 km (150 mile) trip took about 90 minutes.

THE RIDES: Believe the Hype: Tonnere de Zeus, PA. This CCI woodie will tear you a new one, no foolin'. As stated above, I prefer airtime to laterals, but oh man - this is the Holy Grail of lats. We tried it in the front - very good - and then the back … this thing is packed with "This can't be right!" moments from beginning to end. Not a brake on the course, the train SLAMS into the run at the end of the ride with so much speed the entire structure is pushed forward a good foot. I have never, ever been on a ride this intense. If you wanna know details of the course, ride it yourself - from the first drop on you are fighting for your life. Again, air's my thing, but I can certainly see why this monster's always at the top of those wooden coaster polls.

Megaphobia (OAK) is also a superb ride. It's gorgeous, winding its way through huge oak trees, and packs quite a punch. I'd heard it described as a smaller Rampage and, although it doesn't quite measure up to that, it does have some excellent moments of air combined with pretty intense laterals. This was SUZ's favorite coaster on the overseas part of our trip. Another CCI that runs without a single trim.

Oblivion, the B&M "one-trick pony" was - improbably - our favorite coaster at AT. Sure, it's basically just the one drop, but WHAT a drop - SUZ and I are suckers for that stomach-in-the-throat feeling you get off a great drop (think first-generation Intamin free falls). Surprised no one has built another one of these - compact, simple design, excellent capacity, much less expensive than other types - and it certainly delivers what it promises. Not to say we didn't care for AIR (B&M flyer) or Nemesis (B&M invert). Both are solid rides - and the theming of Nemesis is spectacular, IOA-quality stuff. Can't say that I was overwhelmed by AIR - it was interesting, and I certainly can see why there are those that love it - but I wouldn't be going out of my way to ride it again.

Blackpool, as you may know, has several rides not found anywhere else … and sometimes you can see why. Not that they aren't good, but … take their wooden wild mouse, for example. How do the cars stay on the track? Makes for a scary ride, though. Same for their most highly-thought of coaster, the Grand National. A creaky old woodie that delivers a thrilling, airtime-filled ride, it may be the only coaster I've ever been on where I wanted a trim or two added for piece of mind … I just hope all that salt air ain't eating away at the track. And everything you've heard about the Pepsi Max Big One is true - it is that rough, and it is that boring. If you must ride, hope for a front seat (you can't pick 'em) - we got stuck in the back. Think Mean Streak on a bad day.

Over in the good ol' U.S.A. we concentrated on our favorite parks, most of which are TR'd to death, so I won't bore you with yet another rave about BGW. We only hit a few coasters we hadn't been on before, and of those the easy stand-out is Phantom's Revenge (KW). Allow me the cliché - "Wow - a ride I vowed I'd never go on again is now one of the best in the world!" Yes, it's true. Lose the horsecollars and a loop or two, and all of a sudden you're jostling with Magnum and Apollo's Chariot at the top of my steelie list.

Of the other "new to us's" - we loved the Leap-the-Dips (LM), too. Knew it would be fun, but it actually delivered a couple thrills. Lakemont has a couple other insane little coasters as well, making us glad we stopped by for an afternoon. We both dug Talon (DP) - a fast, fun, smooth ride. Wicked Twister is what it is - I liked it, SUZ was indifferent - and, yes, the back seat seems to be the place to be.

And I couldn't possibly file a report without a plug for Knoebels, and the reigning wooden king of airtime, the Phoenix. We've sought out almost all of the pretenders to its throne, and none have come close. There are rumors Cyclops could challenge, and some hype Ghostrider or the Cornball Express (we haven't ridden those - yet) but I honestly can't see how. But even without Phoenix, this fantastic park would still be worth a visit.

All in all, a pretty good month's worth of work. Time to settle back into our jobs, work on the new house, and, of course, plan the next trip …

Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.

*** This post was edited by spewey on 6/16/2002. ***

Sunday, June 16, 2002 10:24 AM
Man, I'd be finished after taking a trip of that calibur. Thanks for the TR. :)


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