Hersheypark In The Dark (10/18/03)

Associated parks:
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Tuesday, October 21, 2003 9:54 AM
Call it a hideous oversight, but with all of the traveling we did this summer, Linny and I never made it to Hershey, which has long been one of our favorite parks, partially because of a little GCII masterpiece called Lightning Racer. We were all set to hang our heads in shame for the winter months and wait until the first chance to go next spring, but when we found out that LR would be running for the Hersheypark In The Dark (HITD) event, we found a way to squeeze Hershey into our schedule. Had LR been dormant as it has been in years past during HITD, we wouldn’t have bothered, but since it was we were more than willing to make the trip, despite the cold and windy weather.

Unlike most Halloween events at parks, Hershey has no haunted houses, and theming is rather limited to corn stalks, pumpkins (strangely shiny pumpkins) and temporary signs that designate the “renamed” attractions. Admission to the park is free, and rides can be ridden with tickets or a P-O-P wristband that sells for a reasonable $20 at various stands scattered throughout the park. As far as rides go, all of the water rides and Sidewinder, Roller Soaker and Wildcat were closed, but everything else seemed to be open. I have heard that this hasn’t been the case in the past, so I assume that Hershey’s Halloween event, like every other parks’ Halloween events, is catching on and a greater number of attractions is needed to satisfy the crowds.

The first thing we noticed when we got into the park- strollers. Hundreds upon hundreds of strollers, dominating the paths like semis on a clogged interstate. They were everywhere- this was obviously a family event, the direct opposite of Halloween Horror Nights at IOA where no one under 18 is allowed in! Then again, it is Hershey, which clearly caters to families, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise. But I wasn’t expecting THAT many strollers! It wasn’t too bad at first, but it got a lot worse later on.

The lines for wristbands near the Carrousel were ridiculous so we walked into Comet Hollow and found a booth by sooperdooperlooper with no line. After being handed the wristbands (I found it odd that they didn’t put them on for you- you had to take care of that yourself), we headed over to Comet, which was called Ichabod’s Train or some crap like that. There was hardly any line, which was a shock, as I have never seen a minimal wait for the Comet- the queue for that ride is always packed! We grabbed a front seat ride and were treated to a typical Comet ride. That is to say, it was smooth and fun, but not what it could be. The first drop is good, the second drop after the sharp turn is surprisingly powerful and the small hill that follows offers some minimal airtime, but the absurd trim brake above the station was applied heavily (as usual) and killed, once again, what could be one of the best coaster endings ever- an out-and-back run of speed hills of all shapes and sizes. Because of the brake, the train moves slowly through this part of the ride, and once it manages to regain some of its lost momentum, it pulls into the station and hits the brakes. While I applaud Hershey for keeping the coaster’s standard lap bars and skid brakes (not too many non-Knoebels woodies out there with skid brakes), they have really done a disservice to this fine Herb Schmeck coaster with that thing, which sucks a lot of the life out of its finale. What a shame.

As we headed up to Great Bear, we took a spin on sooperdooperlooper, which was ingeniously renamed sooperbooperlooper- a name which must have sounded too frightening to the guests, as no one was waiting to ride it. After a walk up to the station, we were immediately seated in a middle seat on one of Anton’s classic looping coasters. I love this ride- the loop is a typical Schwarzkopf loop, with wonderful sustained g-forces throughout, and the rest of the ride is like a mine train done right, with fast turns, a tunnel and a helix finale. Like Comet, the coaster is trimmed in a few spots, but the brakes don’t seem to detract from this ride like they do on its wooden neighbor. The lap bar-only trains are great, the only thing wrong is that they offer minimal legroom for a 6’3” guy like myself, which I have found to be an issue on all Schwarzkopf trains. Its not unbearable, its just the fact that my knees are always forced into the padding on the back of the seat in front of me, making it impossible for me to move around once the lap bar comes down. Its no SFOG Mindbender, but I would gladly ride this thing over any Arrow looping coaster in a heartbeat. Except for maybe Lochness Monster.

Up the hill, we saw an empty queue for Great Bear… errr, I mean Great Scare! I have never seen anything but a full queue for this thing! With hardly anyone in the station, we got in line for the front seat, which added about ten minutes to our wait (which seemed even longer because of the goofballs that insisted on practicing their sad comedy routine in line right behind us). I like Great Bear, and I like it more and more each year. The mid-air helix that precedes the first drop is a stroke of genius (it makes the real drop that much more exciting) and I particularly like the straight section of track that connects the vertical loop with the Immelman. The only thing bad about this ride is that it is too short. I’m sorry, I know that ride length shouldn’t be a factor when forming an opinion of a coaster, but I can’t help but return to the station, thinking about how much better it could have been with another flatspin or a helix. I always find it hilarious to see the on-ride photos (they are taken right as the train pulls into the final brakes) because half of the faces have looks of shock because the ride was so quick! As far as inverted coasters go, it’s a good one, although I honestly haven’t come across a B&M invert I didn’t like.

We took a stroll through the valley where Trailblazer sits to see if we could see any signs of new coaster construction. Aside from a few markers, there wasn’t much. That was, until we got to Sidewinder, where a mess of serious-looking footers was under construction behind the dead end. Not being too familiar with the layout and how it fits into the park, I wasn’t able to figure out what they could have been for. Aside from that, the only other major sign of construction was a temporary trailer that has taken the place of the balloon ride. That, and signs declaring a new ride for 2004.

Continuing into Midway America, we hit Lightning Racer, now Wicked Racer, and saw a very short line. Unfortunately, only one train was in operation on either side, so the line didn’t move as quickly as we thought it would. We took a back seat ride on Thunder (I have always found this to be a back seat coaster), and noticed all of the new coaster parts alongside LR on our way up the lift. During the ride, I noticed that it seemed quite bumpy in comparison to years past- the trains literally vibrated and buzzed as they traversed the course. I was tempted to think it was bad wheels until we rode Thunder once again in the middle of the train, then I started to think that the track needed some work before realizing that it was unlikely that every inch of track was bad. Are GCII’s coasters, or their Millennium Flyer trains in particular, known for performing poorly in the cold weather? That’s really the only thing I can think of, because LR has been extremely smooth in years past and I doubt that Hershey would let the ride quality deteriorate like that. Don’t get me wrong- the ride was still great, but smoothness is part of LR’s allure, and without it, something was definitely missing.

After a trip back to the car to get another layer of clothing, we returned to the park, only to find that the amount of people seemed to double within half an hour! More parents, more kids, more strollers… the crowd seemed to be multiplying right before our eyes. Making our way back to Midway America to eat at Mama Ilardo’s was definitely a test of endurance. With some decent pizza and breadsticks inside of us (Mama Ilardo’s remains some of the better amusement park food out there, IMO), we went back over to LR to grab a few more rides- one on Lightning and another on Thunder. And after a final ride on Great Bear, which is an outstanding night ride, by the way, we decided to call it quits. It was 9:00, we were cold, and the strollers were still, um…. strolling.

I love Hershey, and I truly think that it is one of the best amusement parks out there. The layout, while a little confusing and meandering, gives each section of the park a unique character. Comet Hollow retains a traditional feel, despite the presence of Great Bear. The Trailblazer “valley” feels very calm and quaint, even though it resides right in the middle of the park. And Midway America is fantastic- during the day, you can appreciate the beautiful landscaping (this section feels like it has been there forever, even though it is less than a decade old), and at night, you can easily become immersed in the sea of blinking lights that surround you. The employees are generally friendly, all rides are well-maintained and run at maximum capacity almost all of the time and the paths are spotless. Training at Hershey should be required for all up-and-coming amusement park managers!

Following the initial disappointment of not getting that long-rumored B&M hyper, I am now excited about the new coaster, which seems as though it will be a perfect fit for this already-perfect park. It doesn’t change the fact that Hershey still lacks an “airtime” coaster, but it will definitely give the park a high-tech ride that will probably still be a good ride in ten years (unlike one-trick ponies like Xcelerator and Top Thrill Dragster). Provided it proves reliable, of course. For people who want state-of-the-art, it will make Hershey a new destination for them, and it will satisfy current guests by giving them yet another good coaster to ride. In retrospect, I can’t fault Hershey’s choice one bit.

Next year, we’ll pass on the stroller-infested HITD event and just stick with regular season days as we have done in the past.

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-Rob
A.C.E. member since 1990
Posting @ Coasterbuzz since 2000
E.C.C. member since 2002
*** This post was edited by Rob Ascough 10/21/2003 1:56:19 PM ***
*** This post was edited by Rob Ascough 10/21/2003 1:58:02 PM ***

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Tuesday, October 21, 2003 10:57 AM

It's funny you mention that LR didn't seem to be running as good as usual since I felt the same way during my visit back in September. While I've always preferred Thunder, I rode Lightning more that day because of the vibrations on Thunder.

Great TR, Rob!

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Sue Barry
CoasterSue@aol.com



*** This post was edited by Sue 10/21/2003 2:58:42 PM ***
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Tuesday, October 21, 2003 11:21 AM
Its funny, because up until this year, I could have cared less which side I was on, as they both felt pretty equal. This year, however, I found myself liking Thunder more, although I'm having a hard time putting my finger on the reason(s) why. I noticed more vibration on Thunder, although Lightning wasn't much better. It wasn't horrible, and it didn't keep us from riding, but I didn't find myself enjoying the ride as much as I had in the past.

Did you go on a cold September day? I'm seriously wondering if the vibration has to do with the weather. Either that, or the trains need to be overhauled?

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-Rob
A.C.E. member since 1990
Posting @ Coasterbuzz since 2000
E.C.C. member since 2002

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Tuesday, October 21, 2003 11:37 AM
Actually, we were there on a really nice day. It was sunny and warm out.

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Sue Barry
CoasterSue@aol.com

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Tuesday, October 21, 2003 11:40 AM
I could be wrong on this (and I am sure someone will tell me if I am), but could long term weather patterns have something to do with it?

Last winter was on of the hardest we had here in PA in the past few years (certainly the hardest during Lightning Racer's short existance) and this past spring and early summer were the wettest. Also, temps for this summer were a bit lower than the past few I believe (a few hellishly hot days, but nothing sustained). Could one or more of these weather factors have played a part in a little more roughness on LR?

Or could it be that the coaster is just starting to age a little?

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"I don't believe it!" - Victor Meldrew

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Tuesday, October 21, 2003 11:58 AM
It could very well be the weather pattern during the past year... in fact, I would bet money on it. I honestly can't see a coaster going downhill (no pun intended) like that in such a short time. I could understand a rough spot here and there, but not continuous vibration on both tracks. Hershey seems adept to maintaining their wooden coasters and I can't see them letting the track condition deteriorate like that.

Wildcat aged very quickly, but I am sure that it had a lot to do with the PTC cars. I don't think that they take the turns as well as the Millennium Flyers do, and I think they are heavier as well (thus putting more stress on the track and structure). When I rode Gwazi last fall, it felt very much like Wildcat, as it also runs PTCs. Perhaps PTCs make GCII coasters "age" faster than their own rolling stock?

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-Rob
A.C.E. member since 1990
Posting @ Coasterbuzz since 2000
E.C.C. member since 2002

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Wednesday, October 22, 2003 6:35 AM
The crowds are the main reason why I am not all that excited about getting back to HP in the Dark this year (and probably won't get there). Two years ago it was open on Thursday nights (but only open two weekends that year) and my wife and I visited then. Great time. Walk-ons (and re-rides) on Comet. Went on a Friday last year and it was bad (in comparrison). 30 minute waits for Comet. Main reason... since this is a wristband and also a Pay as you Ride event, they were checking wrist bands and taking tickets AFTER the trains were loaded. I noticed at least twice they had to release the buzz bars so people could get tickets out of their pockets. This slowed the loading of this one train operation down considerably. In a thread on this board inquiring about this, I wondered why they did not take tickets at the beginning of the queue (like Knoebels does on Phoenix and Twister, and I was told that it was to avoid 1) people who were too small to ride losing their tickets (hint, why not check them at the beginning of the queue) and 2) avoid people who "change their minds" and "decide not to ride once they get to the station" having a problem with giving up their tickets.

While Comet is my sentimental favorite, there are two things that bug me about this coaster.

I had not visited HP for a span of around 10 years (1988-1999) and when I made my first return visit in 1999, I noticed that they had changed the exit to the ride. I remember that years ago the ramp that is now the "authorized personell only" ramp (the one that empties out just beyond where the queue makes the final turn before going up the ramp into the station" was the exit ramp. This made it much easier to ride over and over agian... the exit was on the same side of the station as the entrance... you did not have to walk under part of the coaster and out the opposite side into Carousell circle as you do now. Problem with this I suppose was loading and unloading the trains from the left side... had to stop, unload, then move forward to load... does slow things down a bit. In the grand scheme of things, this is just a little bug... but not a problem. So you have to walk a little to get back in line... no big deal... Steel Force at Dorney is the same way... and the "inconvience" of Comet's exit is nothing compared to the hike you have to take to get back in line for Phantom's Revenge... and no where near the trek you have to make at PKD on Rebel Yell and Grizzly.

The that really bugs me... that "station turn" trim. What is the purpose for that? I heard that Phoenix at Knoebels has (or at least has a place for) one of these trims, but it is not used, so that means that it was probably in Schmeck's originial design and not a "retro-fit" that HP instituted. The question is, why does HP see a need to engage it (and engage it heavily)? Is it to save wear and tear on the coaster (both tracks and trains) in the last part of the ride? Or is it because they felt the need to tame thigns down to go more with their "family" atmosphere? (I have the same question about the trim on the sooperdooperlooper just before the helix finish.) While I don't think that the ending to Comet (with out that break) would be quite as wild as that of Phoenix, I still would love to get a ride on that coaster with out that damnable break being on.
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"I don't believe it!" - Victor Meldrew

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Wednesday, October 22, 2003 7:10 AM
I'm not sure why the Comet was trimmed, either, but I can't imagine that it was solely because of wear and tear. The coaster is close to 60 years old now, and if I remember correctly, Hershey didn't use the trim until just a few years ago. I miss the Comet of old, before the brake was used. It was an outstanding coaster then.

Additionally, if it weren't for John Fetterman, Phoenix would have been tamed over a decade ago. I don't know if that means the trim you speak of would have been used, but the coaster would not have been as intense as it is now if Fetterman wasn't so adamantly against Knoebels taming the ride. This leads me to believe that wear and tear isn't a major issue with these two Schmeck coasters, and that they were (or would have been, in Phoenix's case) trimmed for a more family appeal.

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-Mike Buscema

'No matter how skilled the designer is, every time we push the envelope we learn new things about coaster design.' --Dana Morgan
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Wednesday, October 22, 2003 7:42 AM
As stated, I did not visit Hershey from around 1988 to 1999. What year did the trim first start being used? Was it around 1996? If so, could the addition of Wildcat have anything to do with it? Could Comet have been trimmed and tamed to turn it into a more "family friendly" wooden coaster to compliment Wildcat's more out of control personality?
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"I don't believe it!" - Victor Meldrew
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Wednesday, October 22, 2003 8:56 AM
I'm not sure when it was first used. I think the last time I visited before 2000 was 1995, and I'm pretty sure it was running brakeless then. So there may be some logic to your theory, possibly even if the trim was first used a year or two after Wildcat was installed. All of this is of course speculation.

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-Mike Buscema

'No matter how skilled the designer is, every time we push the envelope we learn new things about coaster design.' --Dana Morgan
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