Darien Lake 7/7/2016

Monday, July 11, 2016 9:32 PM

We got to the park when it opened at 10:30, me, my best friend, his fiance and his mom. I haven't been to Darien Lake since 2004 when it was still Six Flags, so I was interested to see how it had changed in the intervening time. Pulling into the parking lot I was amazed at how large the water park has gotten and how many new attractions it has since the last time I was there.

My friend and I get in for free thanks to the military discount (we were astounded it was free, we were expecting a reduced price, but not free!) and the two ladies only had to pay $25 each since they were accompanying military members. That was a really nice gesture on the part of the park.

We head to the back(?) of the park towards Mind Eraser to start the day, hoping to beat the lines. We passed the weed-filled abandoned hillside that used to contain several waterslides in the center of the park, and it was a premonition of the day. We beelined towards Mind Eraser for our first ride. Walk-on of course, we were pretty much the only people on the midway in that area that early. The ride was acceptable, predictably bumpy, but I've developed a proper strategy for riding Vekoma slc's, so I was prepared. The coaster itself looked like crap though. Practically every metal post in the queue fence was bent or warped, and graffiti was everywhere. Mind Eraser's infield was overgrown with weeds and apparently not tended at all. The track and support paint was extremely sunfaded and actually chipping in places revealing the rust-colored metal. It was a mess. They'd also turned off water-mist effect at the bottom of the first drop, which was unfortunate. Overall, that area needs a lot of love.

Next we headed to Sleighride, a Petersburger Schlittenfahrt ride by Mack located across the midway from Mind Eraser's entrance. Decent long ride, goes forward and backward. They used to have cold air conditioning to simulate the alps in the enclosed section, but apparently that's gone by the wayside. On top of that, there was no music. More on that later...

We hit up Thunder Rapids next because it was right there and it was already close to 85 degrees at 11am. It's an excellent log flume, two drops a tunnel, and only a light soaking. Fun ride. Disembarking, we headed to Viper. Now this coaster is a major improvement from my memory of it. It was smooth as silk, an impressive feat for an Arrow looper built over 30 years ago. They've reverted the colors back to all black track and supports, and either refurbished or upgraded the trains to resemble bright green vipers, scales and all. It is definitely well kept. We only had to wait a couple cycles to ride, too. Exiting the ride, you're in a completely different part of the park from where you entered it. We had to double back through Rowdy's Ridge to get back to where we were. This new area is completely unrecognizable from my memory of the area. The Huss Ranger that used to sit next to the exit of Viper is gone, it's queue now used as a smoking gazebo. Shame, that was one of the better more thrilling rides in the park. The scrambler having been relocated elsewhere in the park, the entire area was kiddie rides now. The landscaping was gorgeous, and they've constructed an entirely new and more official looking entrance to the performing arts amphitheater that drives all Darien Lake's profits. It looks great.

Next we ride Rolling Thunder, a supersized park version of the classic Ring of Fire fairground ride. It was a long ride! And terrifying, you spend so much time hanging upside down as the thing goes both forward and backward. I really miss UFO, Huss's giant version of the classic Round-Up, which this ride replaced, though. It was one of my favorite rides in the park. And Darien Lake didn't put much effort into Rolling Thunder's environs. Not only did they rip out all the old growth trees that surrounded the old UFO, they pretty much created a pavement desert around the whole ride, no cover over the queue, and the ride itself sits on bare concrete. Landscaping was not a factor in the construction of this ride, and it's disappointing in that regard. Afterward, we hit up a couple games, the Pirate Ship (which was running awfully, it barely swings beyond 30 degrees these days), the bumper cars, the Giant Wheel (165 feet? I couldn't even get close to the edge of the seat, plus the wind was rocking us, I was terrified), and then we got to the new Boardwalk area.

This area of the park has changed so much since I was last there, in a good way. The landscaping was very pretty, whereas it used to be a blacktop desert. We hit Blastoff!, which isn't anywhere near the tallest drop tower but still offered quite a rush, and featured three or four more satisfying bounces before returning to the ground. We didn't ride the Wave Swinger, but it really is a pretty ride. Darien Lake went all out with flowers and nice landscaping, making it the centerpiece of the area, even moreso than the Carousel right across the midway. We got some food, played a few arcade games, and then moved on to our next ride.

Predator is unrideable. Unrideable. If you go to Darien Lake, don't even bother with it, you'll do your spine some good. It may appear to be a fun ride, but it's not fun at all. It hurts, a lot. I was enjoying myself until we got to the bottom of the first drop and there was a rough bump that jolted me out of my seat and screwed my neck up. From then on I was forced to sit forward, because I couldn't keep my back against the seat for fear of further injury. I had to brace my back and neck and try to keep them in the same position for the duration of the ride to avoid injury. Mind you, we were riding in the last train, so maybe that had something to do with it. But it should be illegal for this thing to still be operating. It needs an immediate and extensive overhaul before it will ever be enjoyable. Don't be tempted if you go there to ride this thing, avoid it at all costs. Seriously. Worst coaster experience I've ever had.

Next was Ride of Steel. People in line were still referring to it as "The Superman" so maybe it wasn't such a bad idea for Darien Lake to keep the colors and half the name; the point still gets across even to the younger generation haha. But the line here was short too, just a couple of cycles wait. The landscaping in the area was nice, but the colors, like Mind Eraser, are fading badly. The coaster still offers the same high-speed thrills as it did 12 years ago, but it's decidedly rougher than what I remember. The train rattles a lot, especially on the two large helixes, and the bunny hops back to the station are a lot less comfortable from what I remember. It was slightly disappointing that this once great ride is falling into disrepair.

So my group breaks again, gets some drinks (at this point it's 2:30 and it's 95 degrees out), and the two ladies decide they've had enough for the day. They're tired. I roll my eyes to myself, thinking "are you kidding me? we've been here four hours. I'm going to have some words with my friend, because I had been under the impression that the two of them were into roller coasters as much as me and him were. So they leave and go sit at the Tim Horton's near the front gate. We "got permission" to go on everything we hadn't at that point, so we did.

Next we head to Boomerang. This ride was positively shiny, it looked like it had been repainted over the past offseason. It looked great, and in my opinion is one of the more attractive and best-positioned Boomerangs there is (with the cobra roll positioned over the water of the lake and all). It was a walk-on, it ran fine. Not much else to say. Next we hit the Motocoaster, another walk on, and let me tell you, this, after Mind Eraser and Ride of Steel is the most thrilling ride in the park. I'd never been on anything like this coaster before. It's pretty much a stand-up coaster, where you straddle a faux motorcycle and their are no restraints apart from two small sidebars that enclose you at the sides and a thing that comes forward to press your back down onto the seat. No seatbelt, nothing, it's like riding a real motorcycle. Your only grips are the "handlebars" of the bike. Off-ride, it looks pretty tame. It's not very tall, it's got a few turns and you're done. Not true! This might have been the most fun ride of all! My friend and I were in the front row. When that launch light turned green, the breath was knocked out of me. I don't care how many mph it goes or how slow it might look from the ground, being on it is a different experience. I was screaming the whole time. Most of that was from the minimal restraints, but some of it was from just how fast you were going and how tight of turns you were making at that speed. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it, having judged it from pictures as just a cheep portable fairground coaster. I learned my lesson, that thing was a beast. Not even kidding, five out of five.

So after that headrush, my friend and I went to finish up what we missed. Twister (Top Spin) was closed. The weird thing is that it was closed when I last visited Darien Lake 12 years ago. Is the thing ever open? Is it a conspiracy against me? We hit Silver Bullet, a weird Enterprise-style ride in the center of the park. Except it's not very similar to an Enterprise at all. We walked up, and the operator was twiddling his thumbs. No one in line. He lets us in and we're the only two on the ride when it starts up. I genuinely feared for my life on this ride because of how rickety and out of control it felt, it was awesome! Once the wheel hit vertical, every time my individual car would descend it looked like it was going to crash into the arm supporting the wheel, the thing was swinging wildly. Great experience. Our last ride was Shipwreck Falls, the chute-the-chutes. Again, no line, not particularly notable of a ride. Got a little wet. We met up with the girls and headed out at about 3:30pm.

So Darien Lake has gotten weird. It was dead. Like I said, we did all that in about 5 hours, with an hour break for lunch and games. The landscaping is as lovely as ever, I'll give them that, but there is no atmosphere. Not like what I remember, not like what SFNE has (my most recently visited park). Not a single ride had music playing. No music played anywhere in the park except at the shops and food courts. It was silence except for the sounds of rides and the low hum of the crowd, and the crowd was quite thin. It was almost surreal. A lot of the shops and games were closed (including all of the ICEE stands, it took me forever to find one that was opened) and it just felt kind of sad to me. I have great memories of this place, having visited many times when I was a kid and teenager, and it's really lost a lot of the ambience that it once had. I will note that the water park was extremely busy, on the way out I saw that all of the slides had huge lines. It was a hot random Thursday in July, maybe this park is right to spend more on the waterpark than on the rides side. I'm pretty sure that that's the reason almost everything was walk-on. We hadn't planned to visit the waterpark, but we definitely should have. Like I said, we left at 3:30, having gotten through the whole park pretty much, and we had plenty of daylight left to get through the waterpark. If anyone is planning on visiting here, I would suggest planning to do both parks, because you'll have plenty of time from my experience.

Last edited by bjames, Monday, July 11, 2016 9:41 PM
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Tuesday, July 12, 2016 2:47 AM

Boy, it sounds like the place has really gone downhill in recent years. I was last there in 2011, and the park was still doing okay. Although I am glad to hear that Viper is still pristine. It's still my second favorite Arrow looper, after Tennessee Tornado (which, let's admit, stands rather in a class by itself.) But that is definitely saddening news about the neglect of Ride of Steel. Overall, a bummer.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016 3:19 AM

Overall, I was disappointed. Viper is in excellent shape, but Ride of Steel is sad these days. But I'm mostly sad about the park overall. It was just so weird to me that there were no fake rocks anywhere playing music. No rides played any music. It just felt so weird, there was no atmosphere at all. The last time I was there it was when Six Flags still owned the place, and it was lively. I'm no fan of Six Flags, but Darien Lake just felt dead this time around.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016 3:28 AM

I don't think that ever bodes well for a park.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016 3:49 AM

Ensign Smith said:

I don't think that ever bodes well for a park.

Locally it's really popular. Upstate NY sees commercials for this place constantly. And it's only 30 mins from Buffalo and an hour from Rochester, that's a couple million people right there. I'm not afraid that it will disappear from the map, I'm more afraid that the current owners will ignore it despite its appeal. I mean, I grew up 3 hours away and my parents still took me there every couple years (when we weren't going to Great Escape or "Riverside" (SFNE))

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Thursday, July 14, 2016 1:15 PM

Darien Lake's biggest issue is ownership and management. It was bought with several other parks about 10 years ago and is now owned by CNL Lifestyle Properties. They are an INVESTMENT FIRM. Their goal has always been to flip the properties and make some money. As a result, they put minimal money into the park. As for management, CNL has contracted the park out to 3 different companies to run the park over the years; a couple years ago Herschend was at the helm and allegedly was interested in buying the property outright. But they didn't want to buy all of CNL's properties, so that relationship fell apart. Too bad, there was word of some amazing ideas including a total revamp of Predator (possibly RMC, this was right after Outlaw Run was built). Now it's managed by Premier Parks (does that name sound familiar?) which was founded by Kiernan Burke and (the now deceased) Gary Story (sound familiar?). CNL controls the budget, so regardless of what the management wants to do, there is very little capital available.

Predator is awful. I think it is THE prime candidate for RMC Topper Track. Leave the layout alone, maybe reprofile a couple hills, but it's a great layout. Topper track and trains would make this coaster awesome again. I laugh that they still have a plaque in the station touting Predator as the #4 wooden coaster according to ACE, from like 1992 or so.

Ranger was SBNO for years, it finally disappeared this past off season. All the classic Huss rides are slowly being removed.

Twister NEVER runs. I don't know if it's inoperable or what the deal is. But I have t seen it run in a few years now.

The Performing Arts Center is owned & run by Live Nation, I don't think Darien Lake gets anything out of the venue aside from additional guests in the park and overnight stays.

And now for any long-time Darien Lake fans... A couple years ago I discovered a ridiculously fun ride called Troika at Cedar Point. Apparently Darien Lake had one called Thrillbilly, as part of the Huss package in the early 80's. From what I can gather it was located about where Lasso now stands. I have no recollection of this ride, I can't find any photos of it. And I remember A LOT of stuff at this park that people argue never existed... Does anyone remember this ride, or have a picture of it?

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