Friday, June 29, 2001 12:31 PM
For the third straight year our family of four (son age 11, daughter age 14, me and my wife, 40s) visited Indiana Beach. This year we planned an overnight trip, to give us plenty of time to experience the vaunted new Cornball Express, and to allow for some night riding. Here is my report, focusing first on the park’s major attractions, and then offering some general observations about IB.
We left Chicago around 10:30 a.m. and got to the park around 1:00 p.m. IB offers a wide range of pricing options, for your convenience or your confusion, I can’t tell which. There’s a $2 park admission up front. Then, on days of full operation, you have the option of paying per ride, or getting one of two $15 POP ride sessions (11-6 and 4-11), or an all day Combo Pass for $24. The Combo Pass is the best deal if you’re going to spend the time, so we got it and headed for the water park.
Water Park: I’m not much of a water park guy – I like to swim, but don’t go in for lolling about on the beach – and we had skipped this section on previous visits. But we had two days to spend at IB so we gave it a try.
I had more fun than I expected. It helped that the weather was perfect for this kind of thing … upper 80s, humid, partly sunny, the kind of day where you’re happy to get in the water, but not punished too badly when you’re in the sun. The water park consists of the sand beach, the action river and five slides. The sand beach is a large (750,000 gallon) pool with a sand area – we didn’t spend much time there. The action river is a long, meandering channel that you traverse in an innertube. Jets provide a current. It’s more fun than you might expect, with a lot of opportunity for group interaction, and the worm’s eye view you get of the slides and the Galaxi coaster is pretty interesting.
My kids were up and down the slides a lot. They said the straight one with the near-vertical drop gave them each a real face-full when it leveled out. They generally liked the others, though. I tried the Convertible (open on top) twice. Keeping my 200-pound frame aright on the innertube through the tight turns was a challenge, but fun.
After about 2.5 hours of this, it was back to the beach house to change and on to our real reason for being there.
Cornball Express: Believe what you’ve heard. The geniuses at CCI have packed an incredible amount of know-how into this little ride. Don’t let the goofy name mislead you.
You climb a lot of steps to reach the station (fine by me – keeps the chainlift short). The divided seats have a seatbelt and a lapbar that goes to a fixed position (that is, the same position for everybody, not ratcheted down to the max). The ride ops don’t tighten the seatbelt for you and the lapbar allowed me plenty of air room.
You leave the station, drop a bit into the structure of the Hoosier Hurricane, and do a 180 into the chainlift. The steep first drop twists left as it dives into an impossibly narrow space, between CB’s own structure and the log flume. The train then hurtles uphill into a steeply banked turn, then another drop, a climb, a swooping turn, and then an incredibly air-filled drop to the lake with a steel support providing a del capo visual. Then a high climb back into the Hurricane’s structure, a flat turn and another twisting drop. The train then leaps into the helix with a sudden jolt of air at the top of the climb, then screams through the helix itself. From the end of the helix to the brakerun, your rear end has only incidental contact with the seat as the train rips through two bunny hills, the first of which provides the most insane ejector air of the ride. Then the train roars into the brakerun and you’re done.
We rode it nine times. There isn’t a bad seat on the ride, although the chainlift seemed bumpier in the middle. The front misses out on air at the top of the first drop, as it seems to be waiting for the back of the train to catch up. Backseat is best for air, it gets yanked over the crest of the first drop and just whips through everything else.
If you’re willing to accept the proposition that bigger isn’t necessarily better, then I think you have to consider Cornball Express alongside the world’s great roller coasters. I’ve ridden some other much-discussed CCI woodies – Shivering Timbers, the Raven, the Legend – and in every category but size, CB easily is in their class. Every element works, the pacing is relentless, the interaction with Hoosier Hurricane’s structure and its own is visually thrilling, and you spend half the ride in the air. Given the space they were working in, it’s amazing they got a ride built at all. The fact that they got a ride built as great as this is testimony to genius.
Hoosier Hurricane: I tend to be protective of the Hoosier Hurricane because I love the park so much, and the Hoosier Hurricane defines Indiana Beach. Approaching the park from the south parking lot, you cross a suspension bridge, and the park (and the ride) are gradually revealed through the trees. It’s awe-inspiring (check out the night view at http://www.customcoasters.com/images/hoosierhurricane03.jpg
to see what I mean).
The knock against this ride is that it’s short on airtime for a big out-and-back coaster. True. There’s air in the back on the first drop and the hills on the way back, but it’s all in short bursts. However, there’s so much else to appreciate about Hoosier Hurricane. It’s a big, fast, muscular ride with fine trackwork, great laterals and excellent speed throughout. The second drop that curves and goes under the boardwalk is one of the most fun elements I’ve experienced on any coaster. And if, like me, you’re the sort of person who really enjoys the beauty of classic coaster architecture, you’ll find riding this thing a feast for the eyes. It’s truly beautiful. Try it after dark; its character seems to change and it becomes a wilder and more headlong ride.
Other Coasters: The park has two steel portables, Galaxi and Tig’rr Coaster. I’ve ridden them in years past, but this year I left them to the kids. They report that Galaxi still has that nasty thunk at the start of the lift, the wild blast of airtime in the backseat on the first drop, and then mostly a lot of running around. Tig’rr is more of a G machine, and runs without restraints, which is interesting. It doesn’t do much for me, but the kids love it.
Other rides: The dark rides are fun at IB, especially the Den of Lost Thieves. The car has two guns and you shoot at targets. My very competitive 11-year-old son had our highest score of the trip (320), but he was going against my daughter who isn’t much of a shot.
There’s a great assortment of flat rides. I went on the Falling Star, the Scrambler, and did the Dodge ‘em cars 4 times. Went twice on the flume, which is fun and gives an excellent view of CB Express, although a couple of trees along the course would improve it greatly. I left the Chance Yo-Yo to the kids – I’m not keen on dangling rides, although I did ride the chair lift, but only because it offered easy transportation from the south end of the park to the Skyroom restaurant. Which leads us to …
Food: Food stands are everywhere at IB, reasonably priced. Tuesday night we had dinner at the Skyroom, which actually would be a pretty good restaurant if it were on a busy street in Chicago. By amusement park standards, it’s outstanding. It can get a little pricey, steaks and seafood climbing quickly into the $15-$20 range. I had the special, chicken breast in a peach brandy sauce with vegetable couscous (I’m not making this up), my wife had a pasta dish, my daughter French onion soup and a caesar salad, and my son spaghetti from the kids’ menu. With beverages it came to about $45 before tip. Drop in early and get your name on the list ahead of time if you want a window table, and you do want a window table. The waitress was really nice, which leads us to …
Personnel: The park is staffed with the usual assortment of college-age kids with a few old timers sprinkled in. Special kudos to the crew members on CB Express Tuesday night, who were putting that thing through with blazing efficiency. Aside from a couple of ride ops with an inflated sense of office, most of the employees seemed good natured enough. Not close to Holiday World, though, which is the gold standard in park personnel. How do they do it?
Lines: Lines on Tuesday and Wednesday were close to non-existent. This is a huge difference IB offers you compared to a big corporate theme park, and it has a major impact on how enjoyable the park experience is. Ride ops held up Hoosier Hurricane a couple of times for the train to fill up. We had to wait a ride or two for front or back seat on Cornball Express; middle seats were usually walk-on.
Maintenance. The park was close to spotless. The biggest negative was the floor of the mens’ room near the Hurricane. It’s never dry, and I don’t like what my imagination does with that.
Summation. You can’t go back to 1928 and experience Coney Island in its prime, but a visit to Indiana Beach is about as close as you can get. This park has been in the “best kept secret” category for too long. Go.