You were born 20 years ago this week. Hard to believe it’s been 20 years. I have a difficult time remembering what my life was generally like back then, but specific things stand out. I remember being obsessed with Roller Coaster Tycoon, spending all day thinking about what I was going to build once I got home from school. I also remember when you were announced in the summer 1999 and wondering which ride would come out on top between you and Son of Beast, which Kings Island had just announced a few months before. In hindsight, it’s laughable and kind of embarrassing that this was even a debate. But for some reason, I remember being a bit more excited about Son of Beast. Maybe it was because at the time I still considered Kings Island to be my home park. Maybe it was because the thought of a 200-ft wooden coaster with a loop sounded more epic. Maybe (probably) I was just an idiot.
My next obsession after RCT quickly became running home and downloading the POV renderings for both rides. Back in the days of dial-up, this would take hours. I watched the videos over and over. I constantly checked the websites for construction photos and updates. It might’ve been the most excited I had ever been for anything in my life.
I got my first taste of Son of Beast in the spring and found it to be fun but not earth-shattering, and it quickly became clear to me which of you monsters would reign supreme. Unfortunately, I would have to wait until later in the season for my first ride on you. One of the things I was most looking forward to was getting my first glimpse of you in-person. Driving up the causeway to the Cedar Point peninsula has to be one of the greatest anticipation building moments for amusement-park-goers anywhere in the world. When the last few buildings and trees finally peel away on the left side, revealing a staggering city of hills and thrills, it is truly breathtaking. Cedar Point had long since had an impressive skyline, but I knew that the size, color, stunning profile and prominent location of your first hill would dramatically change it forever. I was not disappointed. Even today, with so many more monster coasters having popped up around you, whenever I make this trip up the causeway, my eyes always fall on you first.
By the fall of 2000, the time had finally come. My parents took me along with my cousin and a good friend to the park. For some reason, the three of us decided to hold off for a bit, while mom and dad essentially went straight for you. Your queue was long and full, so as my friend, cousin and I got in line around dusk, my parents were about to get on. We had walkie-talkies in those days, so as we wound our way through the queue, watching with nervous anticipation as train after train of screaming and cheering riders went roaring by, I couldn’t wait for the alert beep on my device to go off. I couldn’t wait to hear what dad had to say.
You see, my dad was really the one that got me into all this. He had the privilege to perform in one of the marching bands for Kings Island’s opening day. For him, it started with The Beast, which was my first big coaster and remains an all-time favorite, if mostly for nostalgic reasons. I knew how excited he was to ride you, and I was a little jealous that he would get to before I would. As dusk turned to darkness and we got closer and closer, the walkie-talkie beeped. Here we go. At this moment, it was still possible that you wouldn’t quite live up to the hype. Maybe you’d be too rough? I really hadn’t experienced a smooth, non-looping steel coaster before. Or it could have been one of those not-quite-worth-the-wait type of things. Anyway, I answered the beep, and dad was ready to tell me what he thought.
I have countless memories of my dad, who passed away in 2018 after a long and painful battle with alcoholism. There were some rough times, to be sure, but there were plenty of great times as well, many of them involving amusement parks. Many of them involving you. Human memory is a funny thing. Most people are fairly confident in their memories and believe them to be like files on a computer or video recordings. But they really aren’t like that. I’ve watched enough true-crime documentaries and read enough books on the subject to know that our memories are quite fallible and malleable. I know I would make a terrible eyewitness. So how can I sit here and claim that what my dad said to me in that moment, out of all the things he ever said to me, is something that I will remember, verbatim, for the rest of my life? I don’t know. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
“Chris, you’re not going to believe it. Smooth and fast!”
Smooth. And. Fast.
Now I couldn’t stand it. I had to ride. I remember being freaked out by how open and vulnerable seeming your cars were. Nothing but chairs stuck atop a floor board with tiny little lap bars. I’m supposed to go up 300 feet in those? I remember being scared by how steep the climb was going to be. And of course, my first ride was going to be a night ride. Yikes. Well, again, you did not disappoint. You quickly became my favorite roller coaster and have been so ever since. I’ll admit that I didn’t put my hands up on that first ride, because I just didn’t know what I was in for. But I do now, each and every time.
For the first time it felt like I was riding something that was truly different from everything else. It must’ve been what it was like when people rode The Beast or Magnum for the first time. I grew up with those coasters, so they were sort of my baseline, and everything I had experienced up until the fall of 2000 more or less fell in line with those rides. But you were extraordinary, in a class all your own. Nowadays, I hear coaster enthusiasts fawning over the latest RMC creation while claiming that you are boring and overrated. My guess is that these enthusiasts are of a younger generation. To them, you have probably been their baseline, something that’s just always been around, always being over-hyped and never quite living up to it. It’s the same thing we see with kids who weren’t alive to experience the Michael Jordan phenomenon claiming that LeBron James is the GOAT. I get it. It’s the same way I feel about Magnum XL-200, the same way I feel about Star Wars and Joe Montana. But sometimes the get-off-my-lawn types have a point. So allow me to restore to you some of your original glory.
Has there ever been a more crowd-pleasing roller coaster? A ride that, after two decades, remains a top-level attraction in a park full of top-level attractions? A coaster that brings people cheering—and I mean genuinely cheering, not the fake “yeah yeah, whatever” indifferent cheering, but the “I’m so happy right now I have to scream” cheering—in Year 20 the same as it did on Day 1? Has a coaster ever provided the same level of speed, power and terror with such elegance, grace and comfort? Is there a better coaster experience than plunging down your 300-foot hill at night into the Halloweekends fog, illuminated by spooky midway lights? No, you don’t have 45 combined seconds of thigh-crushing airtime. You don’t pull fighter pilot level Gs. You don’t change directions like a gazelle trying to outrun a cheetah. I don’t care. I think you’re perfect, and I wouldn’t change a thing about you.
It’s probably insane to gush like this over what is essentially a machine. But the iron and the wheels and the winch and the magnets are not what I think about when I think about you. I think about all the joy you’ve brought me and my loved ones over the years. I think about the first big parent-free trip I took with my friends in 2002, where riding you with our shirts off while making a Superman pose became an annual tradition. I think about meeting my future wife at Cedar Point when we both worked Power Tower in 2005, and how much we both still love riding you together. I think about our first trip back to Cedar Point after she gave birth to our second daughter, and how hard she had to work to recover her body enough to ride a coaster again, and how afraid she was at not knowing whether or not she could handle it. Well, she could. And she did. She cried a bit when we got back to the station. Your station. Of course it was your station.
I remember so many rides with my dad. I remember texting him after my older daughter Allison had ridden you for the first time. He had died just a few months prior, but I texted him anyway. I wanted him to know how proud he would’ve been of Allison. My younger daughter is now tall enough to ride you too, but it looks like that will have to wait another year. I cannot wait for that, for my whole family to ride together for the first time. As bleak as things look now, I know it will happen, and it is going to be special.
So thank you for all the memories, and here’s to many more in the future. Because the future is riding on it.
Happy Birthday Millennium Force!
Shirtless Superman tradition started in 2002 (except for one guy who clearly wasn't on the same page)
My 50th ride, and dad not knowing what I was doing so trying to imitate me and failing
Chris and Amy
Chris and Amy
First ride with Allison
Allison with her mommy after getting stuck on the lift hill at night for 30 minutesTuesday, May 12, 2020 9:16 AM
Chris, that was a great post. Thank you for writing it.
I have countless memories of my dad, who passed away in 2018 after a long and painful battle with alcoholism. There were some rough times, to be sure, but there were plenty of great times as well, many of them involving amusement parks.
I was pretty far down your father's path myself. About three years ago, I calmly looked in the mirror and decided that I was ready to die if the alternative was to quit drinking, because I just couldn't stop on my own. I had given up. For reasons I still can't entirely explain, I finally managed to surrender and ask for help about four months later. But up to that point I think my kids might well have said the same thing about me--vacations were one of the only times I managed to be fully present for them during my active addiction, and even that was iffy in the last year or two of my drinking.
I'm a bit over two years sober, and I am so grateful I don't have to live that way anymore. Thankfully, the vast majority of folks don't have a problematic relationship with alcohol--and so far, that seems to be true for everyone else in my family as well. But, if anyone reading this is concerned that maybe their relationship with it isn't all that great, I can privately share my story of what it was like, what happened, and what it's like now, just drop me a private message here.
Thank you for sharing something so personal Brian, and congratulations on your sobriety.
Thanks for sharing that Chris. Well written and engaging. I still have a .mov of the promo for MF ("At the turn of the millennium, there were signs...."), though I think I've only ridden it a handful of times. Indeed, the future is riding on it.
Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."
Thank you for writing that.
Just perfect :)
Promoter of fog.
I love it. I was in 8th grade in the 1999/2000 school year in the suburbs of Akron and the excitement for Six Flags Ohio and Millennium Force has still never been duplicated. Last week was the 20th anniversary of Opening Night of Six Flags Ohio, and I made a social media post about how I still have never had a single park visit that duplicated the excitement that night had for me.
I vividly remember my first ride that opening year. My brother rode it with me. We were both scared to death of it. When we got off, our legs were shaking uncontrollably and we were on an adrenaline high. We both looked at each other and said let's do that again!
That is what got me hooked on my coaster addiction.Last edited by Shades, Wednesday, May 13, 2020 10:57 AM
I remember following the construction process daily. Crazy as it seems now, 2000 was the last time I visited Cedar Point. 20 frickin years.
I moved to the Cleveland area for the first "real" job in my career in 1999 and remember thinking that if I had to move to Cleveland, at least I picked a great time to do it! I didn't know whether to be more excited for Millennium Force, the 3 large coasters being installed at SF Ohio, or SOB just under 4 hours away!
Almost 21 years later, I know that there are "better" coasters out there, but MF is still my favorite coaster. Of course the fact that it's less than an hour away and I've ridden it hundreds of times plays into a bias, but it's unlikely to change, no matter how good Fury or anything in Japan may be.
One of these days I'm going to get my negatives scanned and get higher resolution copies of the construction photos I have. Those already posted are pretty small, what with our giant monitors and HD phone screens.
Thank you for sharing.
That was such a great read. I can relate to so many of the things you wrote, that honestly I was left in tears.
"...But the iron and the wheels and the winch and the magnets are not what I think about when I think about you. I think about all the joy you’ve brought me and my loved ones over the years."
We'll be riding again soon, Happy Birthday Millennium Force!
Not as awesomely resonating as Chris' original post, but I'll share add my own Millennium Force chapter from my trip-report-as-a-novel-project that I've previously posted on here.
Millie was a different story.
Millennium Force was the 310-foot-tall roller coaster. The first to break the 300 ceiling. It was added to the park three years ago when Y2K marketing was all the rage.
While Magnum pitched out to the lake, Millennium reigned the opposite shoreline, dominating Sandusky bay. Magnum was fire-red. The Force was a deep cool kind of blue. It too did not rely on inversions, although it contained a couple of questionable overbanks. Comparisons were intentionally meant to be drawn across the midway.
The Millennium ride was designed and marketed to take Cedar Point into the next century. Usurp its predecessor as new reigning champion. The replication of a previously successful formula ratcheted up a notch. At the year 2000, Cedar Point was back in the business of shattering records and provided the next true world-class entry in its arsenal.
However, there was also a strong contrast of offering between the two. Magnum was a bucking bronco relying on airtime-accentuated peaks and valleys. Millennium was a ground-hugging pure speed-thrill machine. From the tip of lift to the final brake, it never lost momentum.
The Millennium Force was also by dominant accounts of critics, enthusiasts, and the general public alike: the best roller coaster in the world.
With the Dragster unreliably working out its bugs, Millennium Force was still Cedar Point’s top-draw attraction. It commanded the longest line in the park.
Dragster could be written off as a one-trick pony. A gimmick of a ride. (One hell of a trick though!) Millennium, on the other hand, built by the same Swiss engineering firm Intamin, was the complete experience.
The Force was a great ride, but I held a minority school of thought. Perhaps I was being spiteful and anti-establishment, but I would rather ride the Magnum six times than spend the same time waiting once for Millennium. If I was going to invest an hour for a single lap, I’d rather go for the ten-second adrenaline kick of Dragster. At least I would not black out there. Javier actually agreed with me on both views. No one else did.
As fun as it was to spite the Millennium, it was more fun to ride it. The ride flanked the edge of the peninsula parallel to Perimeter Road and the railroad tracks past the Cedars.
The lift system was a swift and silent elevator cable. It replaced the traditional chain. The engineered value being the cable was much lighter and faster. Although the distance was a third greater, the ride up was actually less than half the time of Magnum’s chain lift. Millennium was a steeper climb. I preferred the drawn-out anticipation to absorb the atmosphere.
The vista on that short journey and subsequent plunge was impossible to disparage though. Climbing the sheer slopes of Millennium Force, there was nothing but water to the right, and the entire park to the left. From Magnum, you could see Canada! A spun talking point; that was really just the speck of a Canadian island a dozen miles into the lake. But from Millennium, you stared straight into the afternoon sun with all of downtown Sandusky and the expansive Ohio coast laid out to the Michigan line.
The first drop of Millennium Force was its best element. It offered the world’s highest dive off the slow-crawl acceleration of a traditional driven lift, even with cable replacing chain. The angle of descent was way steeper than the Magnum, eighty versus sixty degrees. That provided detach-your-ass-from-your-seat airtime down the entirety of the descent. There was no room for error on the lap-only restraints. Only the T-bar to stop you from pitching into Sandusky Bay. Dragster may have one-upped Millie on the height and verticality, but the dynamics of Dragster’s dive began with a different kind of sensation brought by the launch thrust. I preferred the old-style winched-over creeping arrangement found here.
It was after the flawless drop where the wheels figuratively began to fall off Millennium Force. As compared to Dragster, where the wheels literally fell off…more on that later. But my main grouse with the Force was the first overbanked turn. Millennium had a moment that was too intense for me. I would gray out, or begin to lose consciousness. My vision faded at the same point during every ride. This sensation did not happen to every rider, but I was not the only one affected either. I cannot imagine it being healthy.
Maybe it was not the ride, and it was my fault. The product of long day shifts and a diet composed of soda and cereal.
The tunnel vision only occurred during the first overbank. I complained to Oscar in my closing argument of why Magnum bests Millennium. My roommate told me to clench my ass checks during the offensive turn to remedy the issue. That such puckering halts the drainage of blood from the upper body. I figured he was being salty. However, the technique did improve the issue.
After the blackout U-turn over the Frontier Trail, Millennium stole a couple good plays from Magnum. Airtime hills and tunnels brought the ride onto an isle in the lagoons. Trapped on the island, the coaster continued to burn speed. Spinning out tight donuts while it hugged the murky inlet. Then another hop back over the water utilizing the same overpass. One last overbank coiling the queue line.
Like with the Dragster, the design team closely knit the interplay between the ride wait area and a high-speed section of track. It escalated the anticipation as the train roared by. The park composed a proprietary techno theme for the ride, which blared over the queue, evoking a nightclub. Millennium Force tried so hard to be cool.
It was a weeknight sometime thereafter, Javier and I found ourselves again in that disco. Millennium Force, given the length of its waiting and proximity to our dorm, was a good last place to jump into line right before the park closed. With an early shift, it was a worthwhile way to kill the hour while we waited for our friends to finish their post-closing cash-out. Tonight, Nina had that closing shift. Ben was home watching cartoons.
I liked riding Millennium at night because the ride had a pulsating amorphic colorized lighting package. Darkness amplified the sensation of speed, the ride’s calling card. Nighttime also cut down on the bug activity. Muffleheads were not fun to catch traveling ninety miles an hour for the duration of two minutes.
We were deep in the center of the undulating queue surrounded by hundreds of guests sauntering through the slow but continuously moving line. Bobbing along to the loop of electronic music. The debate biding the moment was whether Disaster Transport’s enclosure was an improvement or not.
Disaster Transport was a bobsled coaster from the early eighties near the front of the park. It had been enclosed about a decade ago and now sat in darkness within the corrugated metal box that was an eyesore first impression from the front gate. There was some poorly executed space theme storyline about surviving nuclear winter or whatever. Neither Javier nor I had ridden the ride in its original incarnation as an open-air bobsled. So this discussion was completely theoretical.
“I think the beachfront real estate of that ride could be better harnessed. You could program something else a bit more exceptional,” I exposed in full obnoxious design crit mode.
“TAER it down,” Javier responded, referencing an obscure joke from online coaster message boards. “They could put a nice little classic boardwalk-style woodie there…hey, I think I recognize that guy over there.” Javier pointed across several switchbacks to two college-age bros.12
“They probably work here,” I replied.
Javier was snapping his fingers for recollection. “No seriously, I recognize the dark-haired one. He was in a coaster special on the Discovery Channel. Doing the commentary for opening Montu.” Javier was satisfied he’d made the connection.
Montu was a roller coaster that opened years ago in Tampa Bay, Florida. Which I am pretty sure Javier had not been on. “Are you serious? You recognize some dude off a bit they did as a kid in an obscure cable TV special almost a decade ago?”
“Yep. And I’m going to go confirm it. Right? We still got at least half an hour here. Hold the line.” Javier ducked into a nearby unused switchback and cut across the stanchions. I could not hear the initial conversation, but could tell by the looks of confusion, shock, then humor, that Javier was indeed correct.
Javier returned with the two celebrities. Shai and Jake were friends and fraternity brothers from Cornell University. Both also did work at the Point. They were roommates one cattle car down the Cedars corridor from our own dorm rooms.
Shai, who Javier had recognized, was from Saint Petersburg and was studying attractions management. At the Point, he performed with live entertainment in the Red Garter Saloon show.
Jake was on the Dragster crew, but said, “Don’t pump me for information; we’re told not to openly discuss it. I’m transferring to maintenance next week. Getting away from that wretched thing.” He was a mechanical engineering major.
I was impressed off the bat that these guys were able to pull such lucrative and legitimate internships from the paltry seasonal offerings of amusement park employment. The stature and brainpower of the Cornell man.
Shai’s right shin was in a brace. “‘Jump’ by Van Halen is my performance number,” he explained “The literal translation five times a day runs a little threadbare.”
“Wait, they have actual live entertainment shows here?” Javier asked.
I was not sure how kidding he was. Javier was a self-professed band geek and spent at least some of his free time (when the coasters were not operating) watching Drum Corps marching band videos on Ben’s desktop.
“Yes. You guys should come by the saloon,” Shai invited.
The discussion cut back to roller coasters, the one topic we all had in common. At some interval as often occurred in the waiting line, the ride itself seized and decided such rhythm of conversation.
Shai was fully in the Millie camp. “It’s like you’re chasing something the entire time.”
Jake pointed to a group of pretty girls a couple switchbacks up. “Shai, I think a few of those are dancers from Starstruck at the Centennial. Want to facilitate an inter-department introduction?” He physically nudged his friend. “Riding partners… Why don’t you see if they recognize you too.”
It was indeed employee hour at the Millennium Force.
Shai dragged on it, obviously not wanting to. I peered through the crowd but the supposed troupe was already through the turnstile. I caught a flash of red hair as the girls boarded. We still had at least fifteen minutes of queue to go.
“Isn’t this ride just the best?” Shai asked, filling his own downbeat. He hummed along to the trance of the Millennium Force theme. The beat petered out. Then as we switchbacked a 180 in the queue, the looped song repeated.Last edited by Kstr 737, Wednesday, May 13, 2020 7:26 PM
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