So, where else could we go that we have not yet seen? With Hersheypark still on the agenda, I had to find something relatively nearby. PA has quite the abundance of small, privately-owned traditional parks, most of which I expect I will visit eventually, but that would take some extensive and precise planning--something I didn't have time to do at this point. Wildwood was a possibility, with maybe a stop in Ocean City, NJ later in the day, but that might entail a lot more driving than what we had in mind. Alas, we finally decided on Dorney Park, which in hindsight made absolutely no sense since we soon discovered it was even closer to the NASCAR track than Knoebels. But Dorney it was...
I spent an extremely tiresome and frustrating Friday evening trying to install a CD player I had bought Liz into her new car so we could listen to CDs on our 4-hour trip to Allentown. I ended up blowing a fuse, and with no spare fuses to be found, I pilfered the fuse to the power sunroof...odd that there would be a fuse there, since the car has no sunroof, let alone a powered one. Unfortunately, the new fuse did not remedy the problem, and after fighting with wires and fuses by flashlight until the moon was high in the night sky, I reluctantly gave in and went to bed. No CDs on this trip...and now, no radio, either.
Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom - Saturday, July 31, 2004
Four and a half hours of sleep later, we were up and quite unready to drive, as tired as we were. But we managed to pack up the car and head out around 7am. We arrived at Dorney Park just after 11am, and as we pulled into the parking lot and observed the surroundings, Liz mentioned that it reminded her of Kennywood. I concurred--there were more hills and trees than I expected, and the Morgan lining the back of the park had a similar look to the way Phantom's Revenge towers over Kennywood. We headed for the gate, and things started looking bleak: there was a huge horde of guests waiting to purchase tickets, and our line was not budging. About forty-five minutes later we were inside the gates--I have never had to wait that long to enter a park. My hopes were low at this point, thinking that our day was going to be spent standing amidst thousands of NASCAR fans for hours on end, unable to get many rides on anything. Thankfully, I was quite wrong, as the only long wait of the day--other than for tickets and entry into Dorney--was for Wild Mouse. And that hour spent in line was one of the more eventful parts of our day...more on that later.
To prevent this from being a shoe-in for the 'Longest Trip Report Ever' award, I will try to just give a rundown of the coasters and highlights of our day at the park instead of describing our every waking moment with inane detail (like I seem to have done thus far).
After a brief walk through a good portion of the park and a bite to eat, our first ride of the day was Thunderhawk. Previously, the only Schmeck coaster I'd ridden is Hershey's Comet, so I was eager to try another. If Thunderhawk and Comet (at least before the second turnaround was trimmed) are any indication as to what most (or all) of Schmeck's coasters are like, consider me a fanatic. Holy cow! This thing is full of ejector, floater, and lateral air, and it doesn't let up. Am I crazy, or is Thunderhawk severely underrated? My fantastic backseat ride was only outdone by one other ride the entire weekend: a front seat nighttime ride on the same coaster!
Steel Force was up next. I approached with an open mind, trying to forget all the 'Steel Forceless' comments I've heard over the years. I'm glad I did, because it was quite a fun ride, and far from 'forceless' in my opinion. There's some great floating airtime in the front seat, and the helix provided some rather strong laterals. I liked the bunny hills on the return leg, better than Magnum's, actually, although I prefer Magnum overall. Still, I don't get why anyone wouldn't enjoy a ride on Steel Force. Have too many enthusiasts forgotten why we ride coasters? FUN. There seem to be too many critics in the community anymore.
On to Laser. Schwarzkopf is my favorite steel designer, and I'm always ecstatic to ride any of his creations. Laser is the most intense Schwarzkopf I've ridden to date. I experienced a nearly identical 'grey-out' through Laser's second loop as I did through Shockwave's at Six Flags over Texas, but there's a difference: Laser's helices don't give you a chance to breathe after the second loop. I left the ride quite impressed with its intensity, but the rising early-afternoon temperature combined with the head rush Laser gave us was a warning to take it easy for a while.
So, with that in mind, we rode Dragon Coaster, a Zamperla powered family coaster, for the count. I really wanted to ride the Herschell kiddie coaster Little Laser, but I noticed that no adults are allowed to ride at all. Bummer. We were allowed to ride the family-friendly Woodstock's Express, and it was what I expected, only a little less painful than its clone Great Chase at Six Flags America.
I was fairly impressed with the fact that Dorney operated most of their coasters with all of their trains, save for a couple. Laser was running only one of its two trains, and while it would've been nice to see both trains operating, it wasn't extremely necessary because the line was not terribly long. Wild Mouse, on the other hand, was operating with only four of its seven cars, and the wait was easily an hour. As I mentioned earlier, our wait was somewhat eventful which made the time seem to pass more quickly. Two teenage girls pushed their way up to the front of the line, pleasantly saying 'excuse me' to everyone in front of them. Unfortunately, I didn't hear them until they were practically past me, and I was unable to block them in time. Everyone behind us began to angrily yell at them, but there were no employees around to see it. Finally, as we were heading up the ramp into the station, a girl working the queue's entrance had made her way up to where we were standing, and called to one of the female ride ops in the station to call security. Apparently, there was a guy with his family somewhere behind us who had line jumped, and flat-out refused to leave when asked by the employee. He was hell-bent on riding, and nothing was going to stop him. While she was there, the folks behind us began pointing out the two female line jumpers, who were now waiting at the gate to board the next car. The employee then told the same ride op to not let them ride, as she had also witnessed them line jumping. Justice was done! They were asked to leave, and we joined in an elated round of applause throughout our section of the queue. Security arrived just as we entered the station, and unfortunately we were not able to see the events that followed with the other line jumper and his family. Bravo, Dorney! I see this kind of line jumping constantly at Six Flags America, but would never expect anything to be done about it by employees, and security rarely seems to be nearby. It's a nice thing to witness.
When we finally rode Wild Mouse, we enjoyed it, but we found that the queue drama was a bit more exciting. It was a typical Maurer Söhne mouse, and certainly doesn't hold a candle to Hershey's trimless Mack.
Our only non-coaster ride of the day at Dorney Park was Thunder Creek Mountain, a nice log flume built into the side of a good-sized hill. It was short but sweet, and the final drop is proof that drops on water rides don't have to be incredibly steep to be a blast. The ride also enabled me to get a decent look at the bright green track pieces of Hydra: The Revenge lying on the plot where Hercules stood just last year.
Before we were to ride Talon, we decided to cool off a bit in the water park. After Liz fought the mob of angry women in the changing room for nearly 20 minutes, we soon realized where everyone in the state of Pennsylvania was: Wildwater Kingdom. As much as I enjoy water slides, I could not bring myself to wait in their monstrous lines. We opted to find some other activities, and we ended up discovering Water Works, which turned out to be the best fun of the whole day. Between getting shot by water cannons, spit upon by all kinds of water spouts and fountains, and getting dumped on every minute by two enormous buckets overhead, it was just a constant onslaught of water chaos...what a blast! We concluded our afternoon with a relaxing trip on Runaway River, grabbed some dinner, and exited the park to change back into dry clothes.
The first ride of the evening was on Talon, and the sun had set by the time we reached the station. Talon definitely lives up to the hype! As with any invert, the front seat is a must for us. The zero-G roll, for some reason, has to be the best one I've experienced. Overall, the coaster isn't quite as 'snappy' or intense as the Batman: The Ride clones, or as fast and powerful as Alpengeist, but it is quick, smooth, and incredibly well-paced. The color scheme is simply eye-candy, to boot. Talon soared into my top 10 steel list, though as far as B&M inverts go, I still prefer the colossal Alpengeist overall.
We headed to the back of the park once more, and I wanted to get another ride on Thunderhawk. Liz wasn't feeling up to riding a second time (she didn't like Thunderhawk as much as I), so I rode solo. I mentioned that the front seat was better than the back; well, for most of the ride, when I wasn't standing, my ass was planted on top of the seat divider from the abundance of lateral air. At the top of the first climb after the initial straightaway, I experienced ejector air in the front seat that rivaled Jack Rabbit's infamous double-down at Kennywood. Added to this was an immediate curve down and to the left, which left me standing with my hip pressed into the right side of the car. The return trip was equally full of sick air, all the way to the brakes. Believe it or not, after that ride Thunderhawk rocketed to my #1 wood. It's that good.
Our final ride of the night was in the back car on Steel Force. It provided some great air on the first drop, but nothing of significance beyond that. I prefer the front, but it was still a fun ride. We saw some lightning during our ascent up the lift, and it looked as if a storm might be coming our way. Upon exiting the ride, I asked Liz if she'd mind if I took one last ride on my new favorite wooden coaster before leaving. She said she'd come with me if I was going to ride again, and we headed for the queue, up the steps, into the station, and opted again for the front car. After about a two-train wait, we had just sat down in our seats when the ride op announced they were closing the ride due to inclement weather. Noooo! Oh well, I had two great rides on it, and a very pleasant day at the park, so I couldn't really complain. We headed out to the parking lot, and as we approached our car, it started pouring rain. We exited the park and headed to our Quality Inn in downtown Allentown.
At this point, you're probably thinking, 'Ummmmm, yeahhhh...so, what happened to listing the highlights of the day without including inane details?' Well, that was the initial idea, but I guess much like a Stephen King novel, I thrive on inane details. Deal with it.
Hersheypark - Sunday, August 1, 2004
After too little sleep (again), Liz and I grabbed a quick, very mediocre complementary continental breakfast at the motel and we were on our way. It was a grim, rainy morning, and we discussed the possibility of just going home if the weather didn't improve by the time we arrived in Hershey. We had heard forecasts claiming it would rain all day, but surprisingly the skies cleared up somewhat as soon as we left Allentown. We arrived at Hershey shortly after 10am, and walked down to the main gate. Unlike the previous day, it took all of sixty seconds to buy our tickets and enter the park.
First up was Storm Runner, our first Intamin rocket coaster. After a short twenty-minute wait, we were in the front car as usual. I found the restraints very comfortable; they didn't even come close to touching my shoulders. The launch was super-smooth and fast, although just ever-so-slightly less intense than Hypersonic's. But unlike Hypersonic, you don't ride Storm Runner solely for the launch. Man, does this thing pack a punch...or several. I loved the twist halfway up the inverted top hat. Nice airtime over the top, the drop down the other side is phenomenal, the sidewinder is awesome and unique...and then comes the insanity. Climbing up the hill following the sidewinder, you can't even see what's coming. As you crest the top, massive ejector air ensues, and before you can even catch your breath, you're twisting into the barrel roll, which feels like it doesn't want to end. And it doesn't, until you're upside-down again, and then heading down and out before it feels like you should. It's the most convoluted element on a coaster yet. Finally, we head up into a heavily banked S-curve, over another hill with a nice pop of air, and into the brakes. What an excellent addition to Hershey's already stellar lineup! Storm Runner was the 8th new (to me) coaster of the trip, and my 140th coaster overall.
Following our heavy dose of vertical horsepower, we grabbed some food and headed over to Roller Soaker, the last coaster on our trip that was new to me. Being so early and still a bit overcast, we soon decided that we didn't really want to get our clothes soaked, and from the looks of this thing while queuing for it, there was no avoiding getting drenched. We exited the queue and took a long stroll back to the main gate, hopped on a tram and rode out to our car to change into our bathing suits, being careful not to flash any passers-by. Amazingly enough, by the time we were back in line for Roller Soaker, most of the clouds had dissipated and it was getting quite warm and humid. While observing how this ride operated, I was intrigued by the whole concept of it. As a roller coaster, it's absolutely nothing to write home about, but as an interactive water experience, it's a lot of fun! Liz and I boarded our suspended vehicle facing forward, so we could see the action. After the ride was over, we realized the advantages and disadvantages of facing both forward and backwards. During our descent from lift to brakes, we were doused every few seconds by water propelled by either manned cannons or huge geysers, and walls of water squirting skyward from just below our feet or cascading from above. We were able to retaliate, however, by pulling a lever in between our seats which releases a gallon of water on bystanders below. Sounds great in theory, but because the water 'bomb' is actually released right behind our seat, and we were traveling forwards, there is no way to tell if we actually hit our targets--this is when we realized the advantage of facing backwards. We didn't take a second ride on Roller Soaker to try and prove our theory, but it seemed evident that you would be able to see what you are bombing, without the constant onslaught of slamming face-first into walls of water. The ride was over before we knew it, and we were laughing at how silliness of it all.
Before making the long trip to the car to change again, we decided to take a spin on Lightning Racer since we were right there in the back of the park. We boarded Thunder, and had a great ride. I had nearly forgotten how smooth, yet wildly graceful this coaster is. We reached the finish line almost an entire train-length in front of Lightning; it wasn't even close!
Another trip to the parking lot and we were again in dry clothes, ready for more coaster rides. Still tired from little sleep and constant walking and riding all weekend, we wanted to get home at a reasonable time, so I was not pressed to ride everything in the park. We needed not head back to Midway America again, since I decided to forego a ride on Wildcat and Wild Mouse this time around. Trailblazer could also be skipped, although I would have liked to have seized a few nice views of Storm Runner. But there was one more absolute 'must' ride on our trip: Great Bear. This one was for Liz, since it had not operated all day during our 2001 visit--her first to the park. The line was not long at all; about three or four trains later we were sitting in the front and heading up the lift. It was right then that I realized I had only ridden this coaster once, during its opening year. The beginning helix swooped much lower and was much more intense than I recalled. The 124-foot drop over the water was fast, yet graceful; the loop was nice and powerful, and I was pleasantly surprised by the speedy straight section of track leading into the Immelman. The zero-G roll felt damn near as good as Talon's, and I realized that I had chosen the same seat on both coasters--front, far left. Maybe that's the key? We flew over Comet Hollow's midway and into the speed section on the opposite side of the river, and it didn't seem quite as impressive as my memory had insisted. The awesome and disorienting flat spin made up for it, and we meandered up toward the station and into the brake run. Great Bear is not the best B&M inverted coaster, but definitely quite decent and a bit underrated in my opinion.
Since the Kissing Tower was inoperable three years ago as well, we decided to take a spin on it, although not literally; the cabin was not rotating, which made for a pretty dull experience. Next up was a traditional ride on the Coal Cracker flume. It features a great drop with a little airtime hop at the bottom, and it doesn't provide too much of a splash, which our dry selves appreciated. Two more rides were on my list, and we headed down to Comet Hollow, my personal favorite (and most nostalgic) part of Hersheypark.
For me, a trip to Hershey is never complete without a ride on Sooperdooperlooper, which was my very first looping coaster back in 1979. To this day it remains one of my favorite rides. I've had such an enormous attachment to it since I was a kid, and it's the primary reason for my affection and appreciation for Anton's designs. It's certainly not the most incredible coaster on the planet, but I still maintain after all these years that it has the single best vertical loop on any coaster I've ridden. The helix ain't bad, either, and it was more powerful than I remembered.
Our final coaster of the day was Comet, and I was pleased to find an empty queue and, as we ascended the ramp, a nearly empty station. A few short moments later we were climbing the (slightly crooked) lift hill in the front car. I still love this coaster, but the trim brake on the second turnaround makes the latter half slightly disappointing, especially since this was such a great coaster many years ago. Traversing the hills on the leg that extends over towards Tudor Square, it was obvious that with a little more speed this thing would be full of air, and could possibly rival the best woodies around. As we entered the station, I could see that Liz was ready to go. But not before a stop in...
...Hershey's Chocolate World! What visit to Hersheypark would be complete without a Tour Ride through Chocolate World? Unfortunately, we had to endure three noisy teenagers in a car behind ours actually getting out while the ride was in motion and switching seats during the entire ride. I've been on the tour countless times, so I really couldn't care less about hearing the narration, but it was the principle. I'm not a violent person, but I would've taken great pleasure in physically making them sit the hell down and shut up. Despite that, I was able to enjoy the incredible aroma of chocolate throughout the tour (remember the days when you could smell chocolate throughout the entire park?), and more than anything, I was looking forward to that stupid little candy bar they give you as you exit. Ahh, sweet bliss. Of course, on the way out of Chocolate World you can't help but pass tons upon tons of candy waiting to be bought, and who were we to disappoint? Thirteen bucks-worth of Symphony bars, Swoops, and Twizzlers later and we were ready for the three-hour trek home, quite satisfied from our weekend in Pennsylvania.
A long time fan of Hersheypark, every time I visit I am continually impressed by everything about the place. The park is exceptionally beautiful; from the meticulous landscaping and the shady groves of trees, to the wonderful care taken in preserving as much as possible when installing new attractions. Storm Runner is a perfect example of the latter. When I first learned of the new-for-2004 attraction and saw construction pictures, rumors were flying around claiming that Trailblazer was on the chopping block. Well, I generally try to ignore most rumors, but this one had even me somewhat concerned. I was pleased to find that they were in fact keeping Trailblazer, but at first it looked as if the old mine ride would be exposed to the whole park once this new Intamin monster was in place, instead of remaining hidden by the abundance of trees in the Pioneer Frontier section where it resides. How wrong I was! Not until I saw it with my own eyes could I tell that park management truly does everything it can to keep the trees they have in place; and when appropriate they do a fabulous job landscaping even the unbeaten path. Plus, I actually think the fact that Trailblazer travels underneath a couple sections of Storm Runner track makes it even cooler. Additionally, the exceptional atmosphere and service for which the park is known has remained consistent in the 25 years I've been going there. Employees seem generally friendly and happy to work there, and it shows. The coasters all operate at maximum capacity, sometimes even when it's unnecessary (Sooperdooperlooper is a walk-on even on busy days, but I can't remember the last time I saw the second train on the transfer track). They have an excellent variety of coasters and other rides, and many of their coasters are truly unique when compared to other parks. The only thing Hershey is missing, that I can tell, is a water park. However, they have a good start with Roller Soaker, and most of their other water rides are in the same vicinity. They also allow bathing suits to be worn around that area of Midway America, which includes Canyon River Rapids and Tidal Force. Hersheypark is without a doubt one of the nicest overall amusement parks in the States, traditional or otherwise, and will always be one of my favorite places to visit.
Also a traditional amusement park, at least in spirit, I would describe Dorney Park as a combination of Kennywood's size and history, and Cedar Point's atmosphere and selection of modern rides. I think when Liz mentioned that we should try Dorney instead of Knoebels, she was expecting a much smaller, family park like Holiday World, or perhaps even Kennywood, with which she was pretty familiar since she lived in Pittsburgh during her college days. I think she was a little disappointed with the more corporate aesthetics and slightly less personal staff. Don't misunderstand me; she did enjoy the park, it was just a little bit below her expectations. I assured her that those expectations were not necessarily too high, just different. I actually felt Dorney was a bit better than what I was expecting, personally. I recall hearing quite a bit of negative commentary about the 'concrete jungle' that is Dorney Park. What park did these people visit? Certainly not the same one that I saw. Other than the rather flat (although far from unsightly) entrance plaza and main midway, this park is full of greenery and elevation changes, and the landscaping is superb. I didn't find the overall atmosphere quite at the same level as Hersheypark, but it is no longer the family-owned establishment it once was (or that Hershey still is). Again, here we have a very nice variety of coasters and flats, and Wildwater Kingdom is a fine example of a really good and complete water park, and the fact that it is included in the park admission fee is an added bonus. Water Works is the most fun you can have with water without getting sand in your shorts. And finally, Thunderhawk was without a doubt the surprise of the weekend. Never would I have guessed that i would come across a new favorite woodie on this trip, especially when it was the only one I had yet to ride.
This concludes my report on our trip to Pennsylvania. Perhaps I'll receive that award after all. If you made it this far, I have more respect for you than you can possibly imagine. No, wait...let me rephrase: I have no respect for you at all. Why would you waste your time reading all this? Get out and get some sun or something... :)
Now please excuse me while I take Liz's car to the dealer so they can fix the radio.
Holy cow! This thing is full of ejector, floater, and lateral air, and it doesn't let up. Am I crazy, or is Thunderhawk severely underrated?
Severely and entirely underrated. The front seat on Thunderhawk is good fun. I'm thoroughly convinced I was the only thing holding my daughter in on several occasions.
Sounds like you "got" Dorney. That's a good thing. You pegged all the coasters correctly. The only thing I'd have suggested is at least one ride on Talon in the back rows (6,7 or 8)
I have countless laps on Talon and once I discovered the back, never even bothered heading to the right ever again once I hit the station.
I find it hard to rate it higher when there are a number of equally impressive rides that aren't hampered by a lackluster ending.
A lackluster ending that despite the fact of having a trim, STILL has decent air? gotcha. ;) Get over the whole trim thing already.
rocky racoon said:
Thunderhawk is a great coaster that has a mediocre ending because of that trim. Sorry if that sounds "tool-ish," but it's my opinion.
I find it hard to rate it higher when there are a number of equally impressive rides that aren't hampered by a lackluster ending.
Gonch: It's weird, I can't remember how many years it's been since I've ridden a B&M invert in any other seat than the front. It'll be hard to break the habit, but I'll be sure to try a backseat ride on Talon next time I'm there, which I'm betting will be next year to check out Hydra. Actually, the fact that Dorney will have a new coaster next year will only be an excuse to go and ride Thunderhawk again. I could seriously ride that thing all day. Must've been nice to live in Allentown for a while.
rocky: Lackluster ending? I don't recall the ending being a disappointment at all. I don't even remember there being a trim anywhere during the ride, either, but if it was on it certainly didn't kill the ending. I agree with Dante: those bunny hops were full of air, especially the final one leading into the brakes. Comet, on the other hand, could certainly improve by leaps and bounds without that confounded trim.
Tekno: I certainly wouldn't respect you less. I mean, how can you have less than zero respect for someone? KIDDING!!! ;)
rc-madness: Funny you mentioned Busch. While at Hershey, Liz asked me which park I preferred aesthetically: Hershey or BGW. I honestly think both parks are equally beautiful in their own respects. Hell, I don't even prefer one over the other even when thinking beyond aesthetics.
When I last rode Thunderhawk in October of 2002, the trim was pretty much reducing the train to a crawl over those bunnies. Sorry, but that's just the way it was. Maybe it's different now, but Vater wanted to know why people don't rave over Thunderhawk, and I offered him some insight into why many enthusiasts don't go nuts over it. It's a wonderful design by an esteemed designer that doesn't run up to its potential. Or at least hasn't always been run up to its potential.
As for "getting over the trim thing," it's like this: Why shouldn't one rank a ride lower because of them if they alter the ride in a negative manner? I'm not saying that all trims are "evil," but some of them do make a ride less enjoyable.
Thunderhawk (like HP Comet) is one of those for me. *** Edited 8/9/2004 2:21:44 PM UTC by rocky racoon***
Dorney does an awesome job with their line jumpers in my experience, we told the ride ops who enforced the rules and wrote a letter to the park telling them we appreciated it.
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