Birthday Weekend..Southern Style! Busch Gardens/Carowinds 9/11-12

Associated parks:

OK, first the important thing. The STREAK is over. On July 2, I walked into Darien Lake when the gates opened. Since then, my amusement park itinerary consisted of the following:

July 5..Great Adventure
July 17..Dorney Park
July 24..Lake Compounce
July 25..Great Adventure
August 15..Dorney Park
August 31..HersheyPark
September 11..Busch Gardens Williamsburg

On NONE of those seven occasions did I walk into the park at the time the gate opened. And those who know me know that's the antithesis of my amusement park soul.

Carowinds broke the streak on September birthday.

I left Bayonne on Friday morning, the 10th, at 8am, headed for Motel 6 in Williamsburg. Of the several trips I've taken down to VA and the surrounding states the last several years via I-95, this was by far the easiest..little traffic, made only one gas/bathroom stop, and was at the motel by 2:30. I checked in, brought my stuff into the room, and rested my eyes for about 45 minutes. Then I hopped in the Saturn and headed toward the park to pick up a discount ticket at the local AAA office. Had a tiny bit of trouble finding it, as there's no street sign and it's set back from Rt. 60. But I have no problem asking for directions...and I knew I had to be right on top of it. Pretty good discount...$52.95, 9 bucks off the gate, which apparently is $63.99, so the discount was even better. Hit the Red Lobster on the way back to the Motel, and treated myself to Endless Fried Shrimp...had four helpings (yeah, I'm a pig) and a ton of iced tea. Didn't have room for the key lime pie I craved. Back at the motel, I watched Cash Cab for a while, then called my friend Debby to finalize our meet up plans for Saturday. She was originally going to hit the AAA office too, coming up from Powhatan, but her mom had picked the tickets up for her. It was expected I'd be at the park first and would look for them by the gate, as she anticipated about a 2 hour ride. So no definite meeting spot or time was set...front gate whenever she and her son Zach got there.

Saturday dawned a beautiful day, and I don't know why, but I had slept quite well Friday night. I headed for the park, and, following an awfully lackluster breakfast buffet at Golden Corral, parked in Italy lot at about 9:20. After taking the tram up to the gate, I perched my butt on a rock that allowed me a full view of everyone exiting the trams, as well as the France parking lot closest to the gate. 10 am opening came and went with no sign of Zach and Debby. About 10:20 they approached from behind me (I was looking at an arriving tram.) Turns out they had made much better driving time than anticipated and had arrived about the same time as me. But Deb has a handicapped placard and was able to park in France, and they went into the park. I didn't have my cell with me (it was in the car), although it turns out she had called me.

We headed in. Didn't know what Zach was gonna ride. I figured since he'd been on Anaconda, Nessie wouldn't be an issue. I thought he'd be fine on Apollo's Chariot, and that I MIGHT be able to sway him to Griffon. Grover would be fine, and I figured he wouldn't ride Alpengeist. We headed for Nessie first. I've always loved her, as she was one of my first "big" coasters back in 1978, the year she was born. Having been on Anaconda, Zach commented that Nessie was smooth, and he enjoyed his ride. I always do. It's one of my favorite first drops, and the best tunnel ever on a steelie. Zach said he'd like to ride again later. I believe we Escaped From Pompeii next. The effects are cheesy but fun, and the splash was decent.

I took my solo ride on Alpengeist next. I've got this funny thing with inverted coasters. I love them, but I've never really decided which is my favorite. When I leave Dorney, it's Talon. When I leave GAdv, it's Batman. When I leave Cedar Point..well, you get the idea (but who in their right mind wants to leave Cedar Point?!) And for some reason, my thoughts always wander back to Carowinds and my only rides on what was then Top Gun. Anyhoo, Alpengeist felt nice. Not much braking, no wait for rear seat. But I was on the inside end seat. The ride was passable.

It was time for #275. When I got off Alpengeist, Debbie told me she and Zach had seen Griffon's train stuck on the lift hill, apparently cycling without passengers (I had seen it running with passengers earlier.) Zach had decided to pass on Griffon, and we started to head elsewhere when we saw a loaded train go through the circuit. So I rushed in and got a back outside seat with a one train wait. I don't really know why, but I wasn't impressed. I don't know what the differences are between this ride and Sheikra, but I enjoyed Tampa's version a heckuva lot more. They're both too short, obviously. I've always loved the concept of the dive coaster, but I certainly hope more can be done with it in the future.

Debbie and Zach were hungry, so they went in the FestHaus while I grabbed a second ride on Alpengeist. This time I rode OUTSIDE (left) back seat, and the difference was noticeable. I joined my companions at FestHaus, but I wasn't ready to eat yet. They split a meat platter, of which she said only the ribs fell short in quality.

Zach was definitely up for Apollo's Chariot, and we got our ride in the next to last row with a one-cycle wait. I've never been completely thrilled with AC. It's a pleasant ride, but far from the top on my B&M hyper depth chart. However..sometimes it's good to ride with somebody who brings a different perspective. I think "we"..."enthusiasts"..can get a little jaded at times. This was Zach's first B&M, and the tallest coaster he'd ventured on, to say nothing of the longest drop. He loved every second of it, hands up almost all the way. Seeing him with the smile on his face helped me enjoy the ride more than I normally might have. He was up for an immediate re-ride, which we took closer to mid-train. Just ain't the same..even my 11 year-old companion agreed.

I'd never visit Busch without getting a corned beef sandwich at the FestHaus or Grogan's. I move into the cafeteria-style line in FestHaus, and there's another patron standing in front of the guy making the sandwiches. So he's making a sandwich, I assumed for the other guy, since I hadn't spoken a word to order. Meantime, the other guy walks away, and the chef presents me with the freshly made sandwich. Sorry, if he had asked me what I wanted BEFORE he made the sandwich he'd have known I wanted it WITHOUT Swiss cheese or German Potato Salad. So I told him I didn't want that sandwich and was rewarded with a dirty look when I told him what I did want. Another customer grabbed the other plate.

Zach and I rode Grover's Alpine Express in the Sesame Street kids area. I fit in it surprisingly well, and was happy to see no seat belt. But I was surprised we only got one cycle. Most coasters of that junior steel type give you at least two.

Zach and I did the blah Le Scoot log flume. We started to wait for DarKastle, but it seemed there had been an influx of people into the park, and we decided not to wait in a line that appeared to be at least 45 minutes. A quest for a third ride on the Chariot also fell victim to the I-dont-want-to-wait syndrome. We took the train ride around the park, which was the only ride for Debbie all day besides her car. I always feel kind of bad when I go to a park with them because she doesn't ride. But she enjoys herself, looks in the shops, etc.

I had completely forgotten about Europe In The Air, and when I remembered, it was kind of late in the day. I didn't even know where it was. Side note: for a park that's not really as big as some, I find BGE tough to navigate and locate attractions. Maybe because I don't get there often, which makes sense. I got off Alpengeist (in Germany) and it took me 15 minutes to find the FestHaus (also in Germany.) And that was despite the fact I asked two park staffers to point me in the right direction! Anyway, I knew Zach and I would have to wait for EITA, and we did, a little more than half-hour. Is it okay? Yeah. Would I wait that long again? Nah. My favorite shots were of the London Eye Ferris Wheel on the Thames and Stonehenge. Even as an Irishman, I enjoyed it more than Corkscrew Hill.

One thing that saddened me, and it's probably because, again, I don't get to BG very often. I could not place where Big Bad Wolf was.

I knew it was gonna be a bit of a short day. I had planned to leave around 5:30 to head to North Carolina, a 6+ hour drive to my buddy's place in Gastonia. So around 5, I wanted to try for another ride on Griffon..this time in the front seat. I got on line (the single rider line was not open.) After waiting about 10 minutes, the ride shut down with a passenger-laden train stuck about halfway up the lift. I left the line and went back to Debby and Zach. Poor Zach will probably NEVER go on it now, after seeing that. They were up there for a solid twenty minutes. We watched until they were freed to complete the circuit, and I went back in to see if the ride would re-open. It didn't at that time, and since it was close to 6pm on a 7pm close night, I doubt it did. Debby and her son had convinced themselves I was on that train..which I probably would have been if I wasn't waiting for the front. I was surprised no attendant ever went up to "re-assure" those folks.

After picking up a couple of postcards, saying goodbye (Zach apparently may have already suggested Busch for his 12th birthday next April) and taking the tram back to Italy, I pulled out of the parking lot about 6:15. Ran into a couple of rain squalls (it had been gorgeous all day) and made a coupla stops, including a 10pm Wendy's stopover. I arrived at my friend's place at 12:30 am. Couple things you should know. Dan weighs twice what I do, give or take 10 pounds, and doesn't get around too well using two canes. His mother is somewhat frail, but screechy loud. These people lead a vampiric existence. She stays awake until the sun comes up, and he comes close to that. Then they basically sleep all day, having "breakfast" around 5-6 pm. Then they'll maybe go out shopping until 2 am. Matter of fact, when I called him from the road at 10 and 11:30, he didn't answer because they were at Wal-Mart. Yes... THESE are the TRUE People of Wal-Mart.

I abided some chit-chat, while wanting nothing more than some shut-eye. They got the hint around 1:30, and I hit the couch. Actually slept okay for the second night in a row. Went to a 7:30 mass in Gastonia (Dan and Mom weren't up yet) and hit Waffle House in Mt. Holly(mmmm!) for breakfast on the way to Carowinds. Awesome view of CaroTim from I-77. I don't care if it is a "parking lot coaster." It's an impressive sight from the highway. Parking lot told me it wasn't going to be that crowded, and I walked through the gates BEFORE OPENING! I like the fact that CaroTim's entrance is only a few yards to your left. There were about 30-50 people on the stairs. Although the single rider line was open, I didn't use it at that point since I wanted a back seat ride to be my first as a 46 year-old!. I thought it was a wonderful ride. Loved the open trains, and my feelings about the V-seating have been expressed before (like it.) Not an agonizingly slow lift hill (Nitro, I'm talkin' to you!) but not SO fast that you can't build up anticipation. Beautiful first drop, 7-8 seconds of sustained floater airtime between the crest of the first hill and the bottom of the second drop, and some interesting twists into the hills, rather than simply the straight up-and-down. Brake wasn't on heavy. I liked the ride immensely, and rode it ten times. Definitely a back seat-ride, as I got little to no airtime on my two rides near the front. I don't think it even comes close to my untrimmed experience on Intaminidator in April at KD. Excuse me while I get out my soapbox for a moment. The three most recent new-to-me B&M hypers share a common trait. I thought Behemoth was more than decent, liked Diamondback a lot, and was thrilled by B&Midator. But all three of these rides run out of steam 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through. It is possible for hypers/gigas to maintain a level of intensity ALL the way through..witness Intaminidator, S:ROS America...even MF to a lesser extent. Hell, what about Voyage and El Toro? The last third of those rides are mind-blowingly good! I think B&M is certainly capable of reaching that level with their newer hypers.

After using the single rider line four out of six rides, I moved on. I took single rides on Ricochet and Carolina Cyclone (good examples of their type.) Nice, unusual 3-color scheme on the latter. Rode the Scream Weaver (Enterprise) and got wet on White Water Canyon . I decided I was ready for my first wood of the weekend, and headed for Hurler. Saw that it was stuck on the lift hill with one car occupied. I hung around and saw the car go, so I headed there. After cycling two trains, I boarded the second seat, knowing how rough the back would be. Mistake. There was a distinct lack of speed and forces in that spot. So I took a back next. Mistake. Felt more like I expect from that ride, especially on the "ow" factor. moved up one seat for my third ride, but no luck there either. I've enjoyed some Hurler rides in the past, but got no pleasure out of any of these three.

NightHawk is still closed, so I haven't gotten on it on either of my two visits to Carowinds.

I took one ride on the Boomerang, Carolina Cobra. I was really impressed with these new flexible, softer OTSR's that don't even come CLOSE to your ears. The ride? Hey, it's a boomerang..seen one, seen 'em all. Ride shut down as I was actually going around for another.

I had good memories of Afterburn, having ridden it as Top Gun in '06. In the back of my mind, it's been my favorite invert. But I needed to ride it again to verify those feelings. They're valid. This is the most surprisingly twisted invert I've been on. The elements remain kind of unpredictable, the straight passages have great speed. I got 13 rides without leaving the station, then six more later...including stopping on the lift hill, apparently due to a camera/cell phone moron.

When I was at Carowinds in '06, I marathoned the Springsteen coaster (AKA Thunder Road) to the tune of 22 rides in one day. I started this day with a back seat ride on the left side. They were running two trains, but not racing them. Ride was awful, but I could tell they had replaced about half the wood recently...more lumber sat adjacent. I found a better spot on the other four or five, although I had a tight fit for my butt in the seat. I took six rides at that time, and a total of 17 on the day. Many were very good. It was absolutely CHARGING up to the turnaround, and the return was, at times, almost Toro-smooth when going through the new sections. On my last ride the train stopped on the first part of the brake run into the station while the other train kept going (they were racing at that point.) Sat there for about 5 minutes, then two attendants were walking toward us, and said there was a problem with the brakes. Then four-count 'em, four..maintenance vehicles arrived. I was hoping for a nice evacuation as a birthday present, but alas, not to be. Took another ten minutes before we were able to roll into the station.

At one point I went back to CaroTim to see a line of about 30-40 minutes. But the single rider line was now NOT open. WTF? You open it earlier when there's no one there, and close it when there's actually a line? Went back after riding a couple things (and NOT riding what looked to be a rather nice raft ride) and found no line. I managed to stay on for four rides without leaving the station by popping in with single riders.

That's about it for Carowinds, but a coupla things bothered me:

I like bumper cars. But they had taken all the cars out and set up a video game arcade on the floor of the Dodgem's.

Thunder Road used to have Burma Shave-style signs on the lift hill, one after the other.."Grit Your Teeth"..."Bear The Load"..."Enjoy Your Ride"..."On Thunder Road!"
Those were removed and apparently replaced with paper signs on the queue railings, most of which had been removed or blown away.

I didn't like paying $.99 each for small postcards, the likes of which I'd paid $.35 for at BG the day before. I ponied up, because I wanted them, but felt ripped off. I left the park at 6pm closing.

Dan's about a half-hour from the park. I knew we'd be going out to an Italian restaurant in Shelby, so I only did the PP thing at the park..Pretzel and Powerade. Had a decent chicken parm sandwich at the restaurant. More chit chat back at the house, but this time they mercifully ended about 12:30. Said goodbye then, because I obviously wasn't gonna see them in the morning. I left Dan's at about 7am Monday. Hit a Waffle House, but the bacon-egg-cheese biscuits were not up to their standard.

I recently made the acquaintance of a coaster fan in another area of NC. We had thought about maybe getting together for lunch Monday, but were unable to make plans. I rode through her area, and left a message or two, but we failed to touch base. That was a little out of my way, but my intention was to go home Monday if we didn't meet up. I worked my way back to I-95 and headed north. I realized that my body and my eyes were not going to allow me to complete the journey. So I figured I'd hit the Motel 5 1/2 in Ashland near KD, and that's what I did. They finally changed the sign and's now the Capitol Hotel. There's still some Motel 6 traces, the logo on the phone. I arrived at 2pm, hit the room at 2:10, and was asleep by 2:30. Woke up around 4:30 and headed over for what turned out to be yet ANOTHER disappointing meal..this time at CAPTAIN D's, of all places! fish tasted like it was under a lamp for three hours...not crispy or tasty at all. Puppies and iced tea were excellent. I had a jones for ice cream, but had a piece of Mrs. Smith's key lime pie instead.

I left Ashland Tuesday morning at about 7:10. Despite the fact I took 301 (the long way) to Delaware, and made some stops, I was home before 2, so I made excellent time.

Speaking of numbers: On my "unofficial" count:

#276-Grover's Alpine Express
#278-Carolina Cobra (yes, I count it because of the new location!)

I've also realized I had never counted the Wild Maus that used to be at BGE, so that's sort of #279.

More numbers: My three favorite coasters at Carowinds are CaroTim, Afterburn, and Thunder Road. Challenge yourselves. Add up my rides on those three coasters Sunday as noted in this report, and you'll see a significant number. And yes, I did think of it while I was there!

Think that's it. Questions and comments are, as always, welcome! Thanks for reading!

The amusement park rises bold and are huddled on the beach in a mist

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