Dorney Park (7/31/05)

Associated parks:
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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 10:19 AM
You would think that Dorney would be my kind of place. It has a classic Herb Schmeck coaster, the most classic Schmeck ride still in existence. It has a hyper that, while far from flawless, is downright respectable. There’s a powerful Schwarzkopf double looper. Two original B&Ms. A decent collection of traditional flats, including an Eyerly Monster and a Mangels Whip. A sizable number of decent modern rides. A fun flume, a gigantic shoot-the-chutes and soaking rapids. The park is clean, the operations are efficient, and it’s all about an hour from my house. So why am I not more enthusiastic about Dorney Park?

Before he turned into a lush and started crashing his car into everything under the sun, Billy Joel sang, “It’s all about soul.” It’s a song that the head honchos of Cedar Fair would be wise to listen to on a regular basis, for there is more to a good amusement park than fancy additions that merely make good business sense. An amusement park requires a heart, something that elevates the experience by inducing a certain degree of emotion, and Cedar Fair parks often fail when it comes to the intangibles.

We arrived at the park around 1:30- the lot was jammed but most everyone seemed to be in Wildwater Kingdom. Fine with us, since we had no waterpark plans- we were there to ride the rides. After a very short wait for tickets, thanks to the always-stellar Cedar Fair operations (something that the company seems to excel at), we were in and on our way to Talon, which had a line that barely reached the bottom of the stairs. We went for the back seat- THE seat for Talon. I like Talon, and the more I ride it, the more I am able to appreciate how wonderful the layout is. For me, the ride strikes a fantastic balance between inversions and non-inverting elements. I love the mid-air helix after the Immelman, the ground-hugging turn after the flat spin and the two drops late in the ride that produce some downright terrific airtime. Talon, in its fourth season, is still smooth as glass, running like a brand-new ride.

We were hungry for lunch so we passed quite a few rides before settling on some expensive and woefully lackluster pizza at Patio Pizza. White Water Landing had broken down, creating quite a stir among a group of patrons that had seen the riders get evacuated (it’s easy to spot people that don’t frequent amusement parks). The Red Garter Saloon received new paint and got renamed the Game Day Grill. Many of the large shade trees along the path down the hill into the older part of the park are now gone for what seems like no apparent reason. Now one of the only shady parts of the park is no longer shady. It makes no sense- none of those trees were in the way of Hydra’s construction, so why get rid of them?

Thunderhawk was running one train but had no line. After a two train wait, we were in the front seat. Thunderhawk’s new station still pisses me off after all these years. The concrete foundation for the old station is still there, gazing up through the weeds, as if it’s still confused as to why the rest of it disappeared. Sure it was a little cramped but the building had character, something that I can’t say about the current building that looks as though it was bought off the shelf from Lowe’s. I still don’t get it. It’s like tearing down a Victorian beachfront house and replacing it with a Port-A-Potty. The good thing is, Thunderhawk is running pretty good. What happened to the trim brake at the top of the first turnaround? From the lift hill of Steel Force, it looks as though the brake is hanging from below the track (obviously no longer in use). Where the train used to get slowed to a crawl, there is now a severe moment of air before the train makes a hard left. The train also seems a lot faster through the picnic grove area, all the way to the trim brake on the second speed hill that still makes me want to scream four-letter words in disgust. If that brake was removed and the Thunderhawk were allowed to run uninhibited, it would be unbelievable. Right now, it’s a great rough-and-tumble coaster that craps out when it should be kicking into high gear for a killer finish.

On our way to Steel Force, we walked the path beneath the Thunderhawk’s structure. This is still, by far, my favorite area of the park. There are real trees there, not just immature saplings scattered about piles of mulch. You can sit on a bench and find yourself hypnotized by Thunderhawk as it speeds all around you. Contrary to what you may think, “old” Dorney isn’t entirely dead, it’s just been heavily consolidated. Too bad there’s no hope of finding Journey to the Center of the Earth hidden among the trees.

“That green sh*t is raw, but this is the rawest (sic) sh*t of ‘em all” (a colorful comparison of Hydra to Steel Force by a fellow rider, who also stated, “That Thundersh*t just ain’t right.”)

Steel Force had no line. After a one train wait thanks to three train operation, we were in the first seat of the rear car, my favorite place to be on Steel Force. After riding Nitro, Apollo’s Chariot, Phantom’s Revenge and a duo of Supermen, Steel Force clearly isn’t in the running for the title of my favorite hyper, but it’s still quite good. The first drop isn’t steep for very long but I still enjoy the float over the second hill and the way the train charges through the helix as if it’s never going to stop gaining momentum. And no other coaster has that “lift & lean forward” airtime that Steel Force provides on the last four speed hills. After all these years, it’s still smooth and still fun, and that alone makes it worth the trip to Dorney.

Revolution had a short wait so I opted to take a spin. My experience on these swinging, spinning pendulum-style rides was limited to a few traveling versions (all made by Zamperla, I believe) so I was interested to check out a permanent park installation. Dorney’s version, which I think was made by KMG, had a fairly long ride cycle and swung quite a bit past horizontal- two things that made it a winner in my book. It was the perfect way to prepare for the nonstop g-force assault that is Laser. I always forget how intense that thing is. Very few coasters get to my head but Laser, with those back-to-back vertical loops and tightly-banked spirals, does it every time. It still amazes me that the thing is anchored down by tubs filled with water. Gotta love the genius of Anton.

We took rides on the Zephyr and the Whip- two rides that seemed to have slipped beneath Cedar Fair’s “let’s trash the classics” radar time and time again. The Zephyr travels a distorted oval along the creek and into the quiet area behind Laser. The creek doesn’t seem nearly as wide or as deep as it once was (when it was filled with boats like the ones in Knoebels’ creek) but the wildflowers that line the banks make it really peaceful and serene. The Zephyr is kept in fantastic condition- it almost looks brand new! Congrats to Cedar Fair on maintaining that little gem. The Whip is also nicely kept- it doesn’t run nearly as fast as the legendary machine at Rye and the cycle is fairly short- but I’m always too thrilled to be riding such a classic at Dorney to notice that it isn’t the best Whip around.

The line for the Space Shot side of Dominator was very short so I took a ride before heading up to Hydra. I still prefer to be dropped down rather than shot up but at least the view was nice. To be honest, after riding Morey’s new AtmosFEAR tower, most tower rides are going to pale in comparison (more on that in another trip report.) After a hike up the now-sunny hill and a brief fifteen minute wait, we were seated in the front seat of Hydra, staring strangely into the center of the much-praised jo-jo roll.

If you have loose articles, secure them. The jo-jo roll is slow and will remove anything loose in your pockets. It’s not the most enjoyable inversion around but it is a fun way to start a coaster. Unfortunately, the rest of Hydra just wasn’t as fun. I’m all for inversions but there comes a point when enough is enough. Seven inversions work well on a long coaster such as Kumba, Medusa or Hulk, but not on a coaster that barely pushes 3,000 feet. As I said earlier, Talon works because the layout strikes a good balance of inversion elements and non-inverting elements- Hydra seems like loop after loop after loop, even though there isn’t a true loop to be found anywhere on the ride. Making things worse was the weird vibration coming from beneath the train, the same type of vibration that is common to cars with front end issues. I’m guessing the culprit was a bad wheel because I find it hard to believe that a coaster as new as Hydra (and one with B&M genes) is already showing signs of aging. Don’t get me wrong- Hydra is not a bad ride- but from what I could tell, it isn’t nearly the ride that Talon is. I wanted to take another spin but after a decent meal at the Game Day Grill, the crowd from the waterpark was flooding Dorney (no pun intended) and the lines for the coasters were getting fairly long. We took a ride on the Cedar Creek Cannonball (which moves as fast as a cannonball rolls uphill), a final ride on Talon (still had a short wait for some reason) and got on the road by 8:30.

I do a lot of Cedar Fair bashing and I admit that some of it is blown a little out of proportion. After all, if it weren’t for them and their relentless investment in Dorney Park, there would be no Steel Force, no Talon, no Thunder Canyon and Hydra. Hell, there might not even be a Dorney Park (judging by the way things were going at the time Cedar Fair decided to buy the park.) But whereas Cedar Fair makes a lot of decisions that work well as far as the bottom line is concerned, they often forget that there is an emotional side of amusement park operation. Journey to the Center of the Earth is gone. So is the Iceberg. And the Rocket Ships. And the Thunderhawk’s classic station, complete with Lusse Auto Skooters and Alfundo. And a few thousand trees. And while Cedar Fair isn’t responsible for all those losses, they have done very little to make up for them. Dorney has no darkride. No bumper cars. And no new wood coaster on the horizon to balance what could be one of the finest coaster collections in the country.

The park looks better than it has in many seasons. There are flower gardens, newly-painted buildings and yes, even baby trees. The thing is, most of us will all be dead and buried by the time the trees grow to a size where they will be able to provide a decent amount of shade. Of course, that’s assuming that those trees don’t get felled between now and the time they have a chance to mature. Cedar Fair seems to have a thing for replacing trees with gravel pits and concrete and I’m not sure why that is.

Dorney Park is a decent amusement park, far from the worst place to spend a summer day. Cedar Fair knows how to run a park and it’s rare that you’ll find a rude employee, trash on the midway or a ride not run to capacity. Yet despite all it has going for it, there are things I don’t like, things I can’t quite put my finger on. It is often said that the whole is better than the sum of the parts, but for some reason the sum of Dorney’s parts seems to be better than the whole.

*** Edited 8/3/2005 2:42:30 PM UTC by Rob Ascough***

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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 10:21 AM
...patiently waits for paragraph breaks
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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 10:21 AM
Your patience paid off.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 10:30 AM
Nicely written. I agree with you completely, there is something missing from Dorney, but I can't imagine what it is or how they could fix it.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 10:32 AM
Had you ever been to the park before the Cedar Fair era? It seems that most people that have issues with the park have some memory of the "old days."
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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 10:41 AM
I wasn't there before the CF days, but I thoroughly understand what you're saying. I suppose an LC visit the day before my DP stop made recognizing 'soul' that much easier. DP still has it in patches.

-'Playa

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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 10:45 AM
No, I was never there, but from what I understand from friends who were, they said it wasn't all that great.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 11:29 AM
It all depends on when you went. My personal experiences only date back to the early '80s but the charm of Dorney was still there then. It was a great place to have fun at.

By the late '80s, imo, the charm was gone. It seemed like a lot of it was worn down and dirty and it didn't seem friendly at all.

I didn't go back until CF bought the place how ever many years later, but today is much, much better than the late '80s. Sure, it can't match the charm of prior years, but CF has cleaned the place up and made it a fun place to be again.

DP is far from perfect, but as Rob mentioned in his TR there might not even be a Dorney today if it weren't for Cedar Fair.

- Jeff

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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 12:10 PM
Wonderful report, Rob. You really managed to capture the essence of Dorney Park. I felt the same way after my one and only visit in 1999. I never had the pleasure of visiting the "old Dorney" but the current incarnation felt sterile to me. Sure, I wish I could have experienced some of the older rides but there is more to it than that. There was no need for the wholesale raping of Dorney's character.

In some ways it is similar to the transformation of Hershey Park from a traditional park to a theme park. But Hershey (with the exception of the awful carrousel pavilion) still managed to keep some of the old feel. Cedar Fair seemed hell-bent on remaking Dorney into a miniature Cedar Point - including an exact copy of Cedar Point's hideous carousel pavilion. (what is it with these old pavilions?)

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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 12:34 PM
I won't try and say that the old Dorney was the best traditional park around but it really was a nice place. The area down by the old entrance was wonderful- the old Thunderhawk station illuminated by tons of neon when the sun went down, the Rockets twirling in the air, the "darkride" smell from Journey to the Center of the Earth leaking onto the midway- there was no Talon or Steel Force but it was still a hell of a lot of fun. The soul of the park was centered around those three attractions and when they were removed, a big part of Dorney went with them. Imagine Kennywood without Noah's Ark and the Potato Patch or Disneyland without Cinderella's Castle and you'll know what I'm talking about.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2005 12:39 PM
Great trip report, Rob! Thanks for all the details since i''m goin Thursday! Especially Your details on the park and opinions on Hydra. I most agree with your opinions on Talon! I think that it was of the best coasters in dorney!
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Tuesday, August 9, 2005 1:56 PM
Just nitpicking, but Talon is actually in its 5th season. Anyway, I agree though, Talon is aging beautifully, too bad its paint isn't. I think this past offseason was the worst to that ride's paintjob than I have seen since it opened. Just to comment a little bit about the weird vibration you felt on Hydra....that is expected to some extent. It is a beemer in its first season, and I believe it will age as well as Talon has. Also, if you know a little bit about the wheels of B&M coasters, Hydra is different, especially from Talon. Well over three quarters of Talon's wheels are polyeurethane (sp?) whereas Hydra is split kinda half and half....half polyeurethane, half nylon. And from what I understand nylon wheels, while they do make the ride a tad faster, also make it rougher. Also, another thing I remembered is that Stengel had a hand in designing Talon, but not Hydra I believe.
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Tuesday, August 9, 2005 2:24 PM
I cannot agree more. Dorney was pretty cool back in the day...much more traditonal and laid-back. I wish some of the more newer coaster junkies could have expierenced it, but...eh. Oh well.

I pretty much go to Dorney now just to ride the rides..it's not one of my favorite parks.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2005 5:51 PM
Well it's sure not like it was when the nuns were there. http://www.laffinthedark.com/articles/dorney/dorney6.htm

All the arson from the 70s and 80s also helped rob Dorney of a lot of its traditional soul.

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