June 12-19, SFGAM, MIA and CP

Associated parks:

Thursday, June 26, 2003 1:53 PM
Very long trip report with a very happy ending.

This was our 3rd roller coaster vacation since getting bit by the bug last year. The first trip was a camping vacation to CP in June 2002 and the next a more civilized Breakers Express vacation in August. This year we decided to get really brave and added SFGAM and MIA/Timbersfest to the itinerary. Amazingly each trip keeps getting better than the previous and we are already looking forward to our fourth tour to take place the last week of August.

I wish I could bottle the energy I have on the night before we set out on our trips, it could come in really handy for Monday mornings come January. Wednesday evening the 11th was no exception, bags were packed, checklists checked and everything was ready to go but sleep would not come. I think I eventually nodded-off around 11:00 only to find myself hopelessly awake a little after 3:00 AM. So with a solid 4 hours of sleep under my belt I decided it was time for the vacation to begin.

We were on the road at 4:00 AM and were pulling into the parking lot at SFGAM a little after 10:00 AM, really not a bad little drive from Eagan, MN. Our initial reaction was positive, the place certainly looked big enough with many exciting looking coasters etching out the skyline. In fact let’s first dwell on the positives of the park.

We absolutely loved American Eagle backwards, Raging Bull and Viper. If we were ever to return to the park that is where we’d spend practically all of our time. We couldn’t stop laughing through American Eagle and were unable to pry ourselves away from the backwards-running side. I’m sure it’s also awesome running in the forward direction but time didn’t permit us to try it. Raging Bull in the back seat is by far the best place to ride and we had an absolute blast, but I would still take Magnum any day over RB. Viper was a huge surprise delivering tons of airtime but unfortunately we were only able to ride it once. The Whizzer provided a sentimental journey and finally Superman is worth an honorable mention but only in the back row. The front doesn’t provide the visuals you’d expect and I can attest you will hurt your neck if you try to lift your head up to look forward during the heavy positive-G moments. Superman doesn’t give the sensation of flying but rather what it would be like to be carried by something or someone that is flying. They should have angled the flying position so you can more easily see what’s ahead instead of watching what’s swooshing directly underneath you. Your mileage and neck muscle strength may vary of course.

Now onto the few yet insurmountable negatives about SFGAM. What is most noticeable is that the parking lot is maybe ¼ full yet the park itself is packed. The reason for this becomes obvious when you notice the drop-off station where parents can drop off the kiddies for the day. SFGAM is equal parts amusement park and massive childcare center for the greater Chicago area. Teenage boys can be observed by the hundreds spitting every moment and location possible. It was like watching a bizarre species of bird on the Discovery channel. Were these boys hoping to make a nest or mark their territory or simply leave a bit of their DNA behind? No one, including them, will ever know. Looking around I estimated that there was one adult for every one hundred kids and this was on a cloudy, unseasonably chilly Thursday. Perhaps it was a school-trip day but that doesn’t seem likely in mid-June.

I hope I’ve led a good enough life that I’ll make it to heaven when I die but if not I’m guessing the alternative would be SFGAM on a Saturday – can’t even and don’t want to imagine what that would be like. Wait times for Raging Bull, Viper and Batman were close to an hour and Superman very close to 2 hours. The bathrooms were in desperate need of attention and ride ops never so much as cracked a smile. SFGAM is a great park with great coasters but as someone recently mentioned in a TR for SFWoA the park lacks a soul. If they could find a way to hire more happy/motivated employees, toss in a no-spitting policy and clean up the bathrooms they’d have a much more family-oriented park that we’d be interested in visiting again someday. It would also be great if they could reduce queue wait-times as well, or at least make the wait more fun with DJs and better music.

Due to time constraints we passed on V2 as we already have something similar if not identical at VF, Deja Vu of course was down. We were surprised to find that we didn’t like Batman, too short, too rough and way too long a wait – give us Raptor any day instead. Over the course of the day we rode Raging Bull 3 times, American Eagle and Superman twice, then single rides on Whizzer, Viper and Demon. We passed on Iron Wolf as we don’t like Mantis and heard IW has considerably more head-banging. They do have a great arcade tho, better than CP’s simply because they have a Simpson’s pinball machine – woohoo!

After literally attacking SFGAM, spending nearly a full 12 hour day there we headed to the Comfort Suites across the street to check-in and collapse a little after 10:00 PM. Definitely would recommend staying there, 2 queen beds with a pull-out couch for around $100 per night and the location couldn’t be better. Plus fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies at night can’t be beat. I did feel sorry for the desk clerk, a young woman in her early 20s who operated the hotel solo, apparently the norm for a weeknight. We all slept really well and requested the late check-out.

The next day, Friday, we hit the lovely Illinois tollways but not before a pit-stop at Krispy Kreme. It’s important to overwhelm your body with sugar, fat and caffeine before driving some of the most dangerous highways on earth. But really the drive around Chicago wasn’t too bad, taking I-94 to the Tristate back to 94 and then picking up Hwy 31 in Michigan which takes you to MIA. Actually Highway 31 had me longing for the Chicago freeways as drivers in this part of Michigan on a Friday afternoon most definitely have a death-wish. We had two close calls on the trip and they both took place on 31, definitely avoid this highway during anything close to rush hour.

Michigan’s Adventure was slated to close at 7:00 which struck me as a wee tad odd/early for a Friday night. After making it through the traffic delays and near-death experiences on Hwy 31 we realized we could make it to the park by 6:00 and get at least one ride on the Timbers before the park closed for the night. Surely the park would be packed on a Friday night – boy were we wrong! We pulled into the entrance gates and there were maybe a hundred cars in the lot and no one manning the parking booths. We picked a parking spot fifty feet from the entrance and made our way up to the gates. We were told by the very friendly gate attendant that we needed to take our Valley Fair season passes to guest relations where they provide paper tickets. A slight deviation from Cedar Point but in less than a minute we were through the gates and into the park. Immediately I was struck by what a beautiful park this is and overall friendliness of the entire staff, from management down to the very much gooberish kid running the boardwalk fries stand (he needs to clean/trim his fingernails tho).

From the moment you arrive at the park it’s nearly impossible to peel your eyes away from Shivering Timbers to enjoy what else MIA has to offer. This was to be our first “legendary” wood roller coaster and we couldn’t wait for our first ride. Now what we found out is that ST is a lot like coffee. The first cup you don’t think all that much of and the second isn’t really all that exciting either. But by the time you’ve had your fifth or sixth cup you have no idea how you’ll get through the day without it. By the end of Friday evening we had a few rides under our belt but were still less than thrilled with ST. Maybe it was because it was Friday the 13th and it was a full strawberry moon but we left the park wondering if we’d made the right decision to visit MIA.

Our concerns were further compounded by the town of Muskegon, the nearest city south of the park. If you plan on visiting MIA I would recommend avoiding this town at all costs. While perhaps at one point it had some charm it’s a real stretch to feel like you’re on vacation when you’re there. The motels look like they’re closed but unfortunately turn out to be open. Having never visited the area before I picked a Quality Inn on BR 31 as we had pretty good luck with those in the past. While it wasn’t the worst motel I’ve ever stayed at I would definitely rank it in the bottom ten percent, ratty bad linen and toenail clippings on the bathroom floor to greet us with windows that do not open. The staff were very cheerful and friendly but the problem really is the area itself, very depressed and run-down and all of the motels in the area reflect an economy in ruins. I would say our motel was one of the nicest in the area at least to look at from the outside but believe me that’s not saying much!

After a somewhat OK night of sleep we headed out for breakfast at McDonalds and did a little sight-seeing around Muskegon hoping to find something of redeeming value. The beach area turned out to be somewhat pretty but it’s set against the backdrop of major industry, some of it incredibly stinky. We took a couple of pictures at the USS Silversides, a WW II submarine docked at the harbor but declined taking a tour. Having seen enough of the town we headed up to MIA and arrived there around noon.

This time a parking attendant was there who told us how happy she is they now have booths instead of umbrellas for collecting parking fees. We paid the six bucks but were told that if we left the parking lot and came back we would be charged again. Being the cheap bugger I am I knew we’d spend the entire day at the park, little did I know how fast the day would fly by.

We were greeted at the front of the gates by Camille, a general manager at MIA and one of the friendliest and nicest people I’ve ever met. There she was, on a very sunny and warm day standing in front of a table labeled Timbersfest, wearing a gorgeous black dress handing out name tags and smiling from ear to ear. It was at that precise moment that I felt our vacation had truly begun – thanks Camille! We presented our Coasterbuzz membership card, chatted with her for a bit, put on our name tags and shortly after were through the gates.

Over the course of the day, a Saturday, we rode ST at least 20 times each. The only wait all day long was for the front seat but by the end of the day my oldest son and I agreed it was the only place to be on this incredible coaster. My youngest son took the speed-riding approach and probably got closer to 30 rides in that day/night. But Alex and I found that none of the other seats provided the same airtime as the front. In fact we had never experienced airtime like this in our lives, made Magnum seem wimpy in comparison. ST was running rough according to Timbersfest veterans but aside from the trick-track we weren’t really bothered.

Lunch was served from 3:00-4:00 and it was fantastic! BBQ chicken, burgers, hot dogs, pasta and potato salads, fruit bar, brownies, ice cream and pop of course – they really did a top-notch job. We were starving and ate like pigs and had a great time just the three of us. Oddly enough the enthusiasts were pretty much keeping to themselves over lunch. The only time we met people was waiting for ST, it was great to see another family from Farmington, MN.

After lunch we hit the arcade which in itself doesn’t have anything new to offer but we still had a blast playing 25 and 50 cent games. Alex spent close to an hour on Gauntlet Legends and Shaun won a total of four stuffed fish (best prizes I’ve seen in a while) playing skeeball. I was fighting a sinus headache so I went out to the car for some medicine and just took it easy on a bench for an hour.

I still can’t begin to say what a fun park this is even tho the only major coaster they have is ST. We had ten times more fun at MIA than at SFGAM and it really was all due to park atmosphere and cleanliness. Everyone was smiling and having a great time, patrons and employees alike. I later met up with Camille and she provided tons of great suggestions and insights into possible expansion at MIA. For one she said to avoid Muskegon altogether on our next trip and instead stay in Whitehall where there is a new Best Western. She also mentioned that they (Cedar Fair) own a ton of the property surrounding the park and are looking into doing a Lighthouse Point or possibly an on-site motel. But she said they would have to see how the numbers look towards the end of the season and based on what we were seeing on a beautiful Saturday afternoon I doubt those numbers will look very good.

We will definitely be returning for Timbersfest next year and hope to make it back to MIA yet this year in August. I strongly encourage any and all enthusiasts to attend TF as well or visit any other time during the season – this a great park that deserves our support. When you’re on vacation you expect to be treated well and MIA couldn’t be better from that standpoint, a stark contrast to SFGAM with it’s metal detectors and pools of saliva.

The ERT ended promptly at 10:30 as my impression is that they were concerned about the trick-track. We got the 2nd to last ride Saturday night and we could see maintenance personnel at the trick-track when we went sailing past. I would rank ST up there with Millennium Force for an overall fun factor and the absolute highest for airtime, it really is an astonishing machine. Also big kudos to John the hilarious ride op who ran ST during ERT – you really helped to make the Timbersfest experience that much better!

Ok, did I say I much prefer MIA to SFGAM? ;)

Sunday, June 15, Father’s Day (hey, I got a stuffed fish!) we slept in and were on the road around 11:00 and were pulling into the Breakers Express parking lot at almost exactly 4:00. We headed into the lobby and there is a huge line waiting to check-in, nearly all women/mothers for some reason. I suppose they had to wait to get their tickets but since we had season passes we said the heck with waiting and headed directly to the park.

Now like everyone has already said nothing really prepares you for seeing Dragster for real for the first time, it really is breathtaking. I was concerned that it would be a big ol’ eyesore but it really does fit in with the rest of the skyline. We made our way around to the Magnum entrance and for the first time ever had our season passes processed at that entrance (we had gone back through before with handstamps but always went through the front gates for the first visit of the day). Now here is where we learned what a great deal the Magnum entrance is for non-Cedar-Point/Cedar-Fair season pass holders like ourselves, especially during future morning ERTs. While everyone else has to go through the regular turnstiles we had to get signed-in at the employee entrance/desk. So in the morning while the regular line is stretching back to Soak City we can casually walk up at 8:45 and be the first or second in our line. Even better news is that it takes a lot longer for the gate to go up than it does to open the employee door – we literally had everyone else beat in line by a solid minute for our morning ERTs.

On this very busy Sunday afternoon we made our way into the park, practically running right into Dragster. We just stood and stared, looking up and down and all around, it’s dizzying just to look at. But what’s this? There’s a line stretching from outside TTD’s entrance all the way back to it’s exit! Apparently it had been running on Saturday and briefly earlier in the day and there was hope it would re-open. We got in line but before long the bad news was delivered that it would not open so we headed over to MF. The line for MF was pushing 90 minutes and we were very hungry by that point so we took a quick spin on Iron Dragon just to say we rode something. The best part of Iron Dragon used to be flying through the trees, now the best part is getting a better view of TTD. I’ll always have a soft-spot for ID altho I have no idea why, it’s just a fun/happy coaster and that’s really all, but it’s enough to make me ride it every visit to CP.

We headed out for our first visit ever to Steak and Shake – wow all you coaster nuts are absolutely right – S&S rocks! Great food, friendly waitresses and really fast service which was a blessing as we were starving. After dinner Alex wasn’t feeling the best so we got checked-in at Breakers Express and he stayed back at the motel while Shaun and I got a few evening rides on our usual favorites.

This time we parked in the front lot in our usual lucky 13E spot and headed through the gates straight for Raptor. Now for some reason we never got a better ride on Raptor the entire trip than we did that first night. Sat 2nd row in the middle and it literally flew through the course smooth as butter, not even a hint of head-banging at the end. Subsequent rides we found ourselves getting banged-up and realized the center seats towards the front, preferably 2nd or 3rd row are the only way to go. After Raptor we were off to WT, Magnum and MF all of which had very short waits. We were back at the motel by 10:30 and were already settling into our CP routine.

We fully exploited the Magnum entrance Monday morning and were the first guests in the park. Zipping past the very broken TTD we were surprised to see that we were still beaten to MF by a handful of people and then I remembered the Marina entrance. Still it was only a ten minute wait for a front row ride on MF and as always it proved to be a great way to start the day, any day. After that we took our one and only ride on Mantis front row. Mantis really fails to impress on all accounts, there’s absolutely nothing remarkable or memorable about it that makes us want to ride it again. Someone must have really not liked it as a guest became ill on the ride and they had to spray it down with a hose – that was a first for us seeing that happen! And what a terrible coaster to get sick on, no place to lean over and nonchalantly hurl.

After the ho-hum ride on Mantis we headed over to good ol’ Magnum and got a great ride in 1.3, Maggie is running great this season. Then to contrast really good against really bad we headed over to Mean Streak and concluded that Shivering Timbers is easily a million times better coaster. Mantis and Mean Streak are the two black sheep of the park, they both look great but fail to deliver as a ride experience. MS squeals and howls and creeps along and amazingly offers absolutely no airtime.

With our two least-favorite coasters out of the way we hopped in line for the MF Freeway line and were stamped for a 3-4:00 slot. After that it was Raptor Freeway where we received 5-6:00 stamps – the park was really packed! We waited around a half-hour for WT and as always loved it, still prefer 2nd or front row to any other seat. Then we noticed Dragster was testing so we headed over there for a bit and watched one train after another launch seemingly flawlessly. After it became obvious TTD wasn’t opening we took the Sky Ride back over to Raptor and waited 45 minutes for a pretty rough ride in the back row.

It was after 2:00 and we were getting pretty hungry so we hit the Midway Market for lunch/dinner and it was great as always. Oddly enough I prefer the lunch offerings to the dinner and it’s cheaper to boot. We ate way too much and decided we needed to walk it off before getting in line for our Freeway ride on MF. A few rounds of DDR at the arcade and the kids were ready to go. I got myself prepared by sitting like a bloated bullfrog on a bench outside the arcade, wishing I had a pillow – too much really good food!

We did another front row for MF and the extra wait for the front was very much needed, more time to digest. After that we gave Raptor another whirl and again got a pretty rough ride but our last rough one of the trip as we finally figured out the best places to sit. Then more DDR and video games at the arcade, then a fun little ride on Gemini and finally a back-row ride on Magnum which proved to be a great time. We were exhausted and decided to leave the park a little early and got some sleep.

Tuesday morning the friendly parking lot attendant handed us the little yellow paper announcing that Dragster would indeed be down again for the day. So we decided to give the Marina entrance a whirl and parked as close as possible in the very west side of the front lot. Noticed an even closer lot (besides the Marina which I assume you need some sort of permit to park in) right next to Blue Streak but as far as I could tell it was reserved for employees. This time we were 4th in line and got the 6th train out of the day on MF in the front row.

We passed on Mantis ERT and headed straight to Magnum and got in line at 9:40 but they were running behind and the queue didn’t open until 10:15 – enjoyed a great front row ride. Then it was off to wish Gemini a happy 25th birthday and sign the banners which at some point will be displayed in the Town Hall, pretty cool to be a part of history. After an all-around fun ride on Gemini I begged the kids to ride the Paddlewheel Excursion with me and while they rolled their eyes through the whole thing I found myself laughing quite a bit. Kids today just don’t appreciate good cheeze ;). Then it was a repeat of the day before, Freeway handstamps for MF and Raptor then a front row ride on WT – loved it! Followed that up with a little arcade time and then we headed over to TTD to watch it launch a few more trains. We also stood in front of the webcam at a prearranged time of 1:30 and a friend back in Minnesota saved the picture for us, doesn’t take much to thrill me ;).

Since Steak & Shake proved to be such a winner on Sunday we headed there again for lunch and were treated to another great round of burgers, fries and of course shakes. We got back to the park just in time for our MF Freeway ride in the back row – pretty much my favorite place to ride Millie. The front is a rush but the back provides way more airtime. Off to the arcade again for a few more rounds of DDR (man I wish they had Daytona 2) which is always a good time and attracts quite the crowd.

After that we took a walk along the beach and got our first tour of Breakers. I wanted to see just how “bad” the Bon Aire section was as it would be the next step up in accommodations over Breakers Express. Wow would I have been unhappy if we would have decided to stay in one of those rooms. When the guest services person opened the door to the room he said it always smells a little musty but they spray the room down before people check in – how nice. The vintage 1960s flower-power design wallpaper in the bathroom was peeling and the room seemed cramped and depressing. If the price was in line with Breakers Express I could see maybe making the trade-off but the added convenience of staying on-site isn’t worth staying in what I would call a dumpy room. We didn’t get to see any other rooms but I’m guessing the main or rotunda section is a slight step-up and the towers section a huge improvement. We took the elevator up to the 9th floor and peered out hallway windows and with the hotel map in hand we figured out which rooms would provide the best view of the park, if and when we could ever afford to stay in the tower, which as far as I can tell is the only place to stay at Breakers.

By this time it had started to rain for the first time on the trip so we broke out the somewhat reusable but in reality disposable rain ponchos. I had purchased these in 2002 on our first camping trip to CP and really it was amazing that this was the first time we needed to use them. We headed over to Frontier Town and tried one of the caramel-apple-custard desserts at the fire station and it was absolutely delicious/fantastic – highly recommend. I’ve noticed that Culver’s sells a caramel apple custard sundae as well, have to see how that one compares someday.

The rain was starting to let up so we headed back to the arcade and then over to Raptor for our Freeway ride which really only saved 10 minutes of waiting. Since the line was so short we jumped back in again and got two rides back-to-back in the 2nd and 3rd rows, flipping a coin for who got the rougher outside seat but otherwise we got two really smooth rides. Finished off the day on WT and Magnum 1.3 and left the park really hoping and praying that TTD would open the next day.

That night on the channel 5 news they did a segment on TTD primarily focusing on how it had been down for 13 days and that two weeks was the longest any ride at CP had been closed. Apparently they weren’t counting the brief time it was open over the weekend. They interviewed lots of people with long/sad faces who traveled from far away to ride Dragster only to be disappointed, they really were putting the screws to the park. But the reporter said that there was some potentially good news coming and that the TTD mechanics were expected to make some kind of announcement the next day. My gut-instinct told me there was hope it would open, tons of hope in fact, and we went to bed dreaming that maybe we’d get to ride the world’s tallest and faster roller coaster the next day.

We arrived at the park on Wednesday around 8:30 and were very disappointed to be handed the little yellow paper again apologizing for TTD being down. Horror of horrors, did the media mislead us trusting souls? ;) But I didn’t believe the little blurb and was convinced it would open that day. So we parked at the Magnum lot again and weren’t quite as quick going through the employee doors into the park, maybe the 3rd group in the park. We did our usual jog to MF and had another great back-row ride.

Still obsessed with my vision/hunch we headed back over to TTD and noticed two well-dressed gentleman pacing about the station. I walked up and said hello and inquired about the previous night’s news story as to whether indeed the mechanics would make an announcement that day. I then looked at the nametag of the person I was asking the question to and immediately said, “oh my gosh, Mr. VP (purposefully leaving the name out here), what an honor it is to meet you sir!” Well apparently Mr. VP appreciated my compliments/gushing and spilled the beans to us – TTD would indeed open that day. He told us to check back in a “little bit”.

So there we were, armed with insider info from CP brass that TTD would indeed open sometime that day. We were well into day 3 of 5 at CP and I decided that I needed some time off my feet so we got in line for Dragster. There were already two other guys in line, Jeff and Chris were their names I believe and they had been told by guest operations that TTD would open that day as well. Soon other hardcores picked up on the scent and joined the line and at times it stretched back to the exit of TTD. We met lots of other enthusiasts from Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Zealand and a few stragglers from RCCGB who were doing an unofficial add-on to their tour, primarily with the hopes of riding Dragster.

So we waited and we waited, 10:00 went past, then noon, then 2:00, faces were getting mighty long, sad and hopeless looking. The kids took off several times to the arcade and to bring back food but I held our ground. The little sandwiches under the bleachers aren’t too bad, the steak sandwich was the best. The fact that there were so many of us standing in line when there was a big sign saying it wouldn’t open was infuriating the gate attendants/crew. Every five minutes this woman with a voice shrill enough to get anyone to confess to a crime they didn’t commit would announce that TTD is down due to mechanical reasons and that they didn’t know when or if it would open. She went on and on about the 67 other rides in the park that were open and literally begged us to go ride them. But she wouldn’t say that it wasn’t going to open for certain, so we stayed put.

By around 4:30 things were looking really bleak. Throughout the day the station was manned by at least six people, polishing the trains, sweeping, getting ready for something. But by this point they were all supposedly being sent home for the day, TTD was officially not going to open, or so they said. When I got in line for the day I knew that was a possibility and really wasn’t all that disappointed. I met some really interesting people and still had a day and a half left at the park, plus I had already done every coaster I wanted to ride to death. But the other people in line were far more desperate and upset. I felt especially bad for the guy sitting next to us who had to be at work in Pittsburgh the next morning at 7:00 and the two in front of us who had delayed their coaster tour an extra couple of days with the hopes of getting a ride. And then there was all 80+ members of the RCCGB who didn’t get a ride at all, lots of disappointed folks.

So we headed out of the park and went back to our room for an hour when around 6:00 I just got this very anxious feeling that we had to get back to the park ASAP. Mr. VP knew what he was talking about, I just knew it. Sure enough we head back into the park only to be greeted by a line stretching from the entrance to Dragster all the way back to Iron Dragon. They were sending trains out with employees on board – it was indeed about to open. I was devastated, we waited all day and now were looking easily at another 3 hour wait.

The kids and I found the end of the line and I told them to stay put and to hold our place. Within moments there was another hundred feet of people behind us, a massive, feverish epidemic had hit the park. Frantically I ran up to the station, hoping to see a ride attendant or someone who could vouch that we waited all day. I didn’t see anyone I recognized except for Mr. VP who was again pacing the station. I shouted to him, “Mr. VP, remember me?” He walked over and I continued in a very civil/polite tone, “We waited for 7 hours and went back to the hotel for an hour and came back to this – is there anything you can do?” He looked at me for a moment and said, “let me check”. He went over and talked to another guy in a tie and came back and asked me where my kids were and told me to go get them.

I ran back to the line and found the kids and told them to come with me – they must have wondered what the heck was going to happen next. We got back to the station and stood there trying not to look conspicuous and our new friend/best-buddy waved back to us and we waited. He came over and told us they were going to get the first couple of trains launched and then he’d let us in. Sure enough within a couple of minutes he told us to head over to the exit gate and a minute later he waved us up to the pre-loading platform. By this point I am literally shaking, both from the excitement of being about to ride the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world and being escorted to it by one of the people who had been living and breathing it’s installation for the past two years. I gushed and fumbled for words and he asked where we were from and I told him all about the kid’s bedroom wall back home being covered in construction photos and how we had been following the progress of the ride since the footers were poured last April. He asked us not to take the front row so we got in the 4th train out of the day, sitting in the 3rd and 4th rows – our first ride ever on TTD escorted by CP brass no less!

The only downside was that we got the double-staple treatment but it really wasn’t that bad. The first stapling took place when we got on the train before the station and then again after the rest of riders had gotten on. When they pulled us up to the launch position I was never more scared in my entire life. The engine sounds are revving and all I could do was stare at the lights on the tower, waiting for them to go. My mouth was dry, palms were dripping sweat and I was literally terrified, a feeling I don’t recall having since my first ride on MF and even that paled in comparison. So we sat and waited for what seemed like an eternity. “Arms down!” went the pre-recorded voice, over and over (we said that pretty much every five minutes for the rest of the trip, lol). Then we felt the ever so slight roll backwards a couple of inches and the first lights went up on the tower, then the next and the next and before you could say “here we go”, we were off.

That first ride on TTD was nothing short of outstanding, one of the greatest moments of my life after watching my kids being born, seriously. The initial thrust of speed makes you want to scream but you can’t, and then it keeps going faster and faster until everything is a blur. It makes the first drop on MF seem like a kiddie-coaster. Then suddenly we’re racing skywards, up, up, up and up some more until we crest the top, a quick glance around and then flying just as fast as before, spiraling, straight down. The brakes were incredibly smooth as we came to a stop, everyone cheering, clapping and honestly I think some crying in happiness. Words cannot begin to express how insane TTD is, it is unlike any other coaster on earth. As we waited to be unloaded I gave the big thumbs-up to Mr. VP and he waved and smiled back. If that isn’t a testimonial to the tremendous customer service that CP provides I don’t know what is.

Still in shock and disbelief we headed out through the exit and laughed hysterically at our pictures at the on-ride photo booth. My face in the picture looked like it had been put in a microwave, distorted and twisted, skin flying a couple of inches behind my head (I have rubbery features =). So what to do? Get back in line of course! We hit the bathroom, grabbed a glass of complimentary water at the pretzel stand and got back in line around 6:30. This was our first time actually in the queue and it really isn’t very exciting in comparison to MF or Raptor. There wasn’t a DJ as far as I could tell and they played a lot of music that apparently is thought to be conducive to drag racing. I watched one guy in line really getting into ‘Devil with a blue dress’ and became concerned that this was all a bizarre dream inspired by watching too many David Lynch films.

But my dreams would never feature down-time and sure enough around 8:00 TTD went down and she stayed down. By 9:00 it still wasn’t up and people were leaving the line in droves but we stayed put, slowly making our way to the final maze even tho it wasn’t running. We saw other people in line that had waited with us all day and with the exception of one person decided to keep our good-fortune story to ourselves. We kept our fingers crossed, we prayed, we sacrificed virgins to the TTD gods but mostly we ate refrigerated Skittles and waited. A little before 10:00 they did a test-launch and everyone cheered like we were being freed from slavery. Then another and another and finally they started boarding the trains again.

Now there are two versions of Dragster, a day ride and a night ride, and as you might expect the difference is night and day. At night there is a glow to everything, the tower itself has this aura around it that is absolutely beautiful. Then there’s the station which has gorgeous lighting and the launch area is lit-up very bright, almost surreal, like you are about to be launched into another dimension. Like crazy fools we waited for the front row (if TTD is running just get on it, anywhere!) but our risk-taking paid-off. There was a single-rider a little ahead of us so Shaun jumped on with him and we watched his train go, unbelievable. Just like in the movie Contact where Jodie Foster’s character says, “you should have sent a poet”, words cannot describe the excitement in and around the station, pure magic. I looked over at the brake-run/finish line and there was Shaun sitting in the front row smiling and laughing and shouting something to us that I’m sure was along the lines of “it’s awesome!”

A couple of launches later we were being snuggly buckled/clamped into the front row of the infamous yellow train. Then we were moved into launch position. Thinking that I would be more calm the 2nd time around in reality I found myself just as terrified as the first time. I looked at the tower and the crowd cheering, the lighting absolutely heavenly, what an astonishing work of technology – 3.5 billion years of evolution cumulating at that very moment. And then the slight roll-backwards, the brake fins drop, the lights and once again we’re off on another 17 second journey to the other side of the galaxy.

I decided to risk it and not wear any eye protection as my only option were sunglasses and I wanted to see the ride as much as possible. This turned out to be a great but admittedly risky decision, I could see and remember almost everything this time around, but not really. The launch was still a blur but the climb up the tower was crystal-clear and then when we reached the top I wanted it to stop so I could take a picture. There below us, shrouded in fog and mist, was MF, all lit-up like an alien civilization/city/planet – again think of the movie Contact. But before I could utter “they’re alive” (see the movie!) we were spiraling downwards, the world a spinning blur of light, sound and color. And then, it was over.

Alex and I climbed out of the train and found Shaun in the photo booth. My face was even freakier/distorted than the previous picture and in a way I wish I would have bought it just for a laugh. I wanted to wait for a good picture of the three of us together and being the eternal optimist knew we’d get that chance the next day. It was now 10:30 as we headed out of the park and I thought about where we were a full 13 hours earlier. Would I do it again? Probably not 7 hours for one ride, but maybe 3 or 4 hours, lol. Earlier in line we joked and laughed at ourselves for seriously thinking a one hour wait was too long for MF.

I got the best night of sleep of the trip Wednesday night and we awoke to rain Thursday morning. Alex said the heck with that and went back to bed but Shaun and I grabbed our ponchos and headed for the park. This time we were handed the yellow paper but when we arrived at the Magnum entrance there was a sign announcing that TTD would be open – woohoo! Some fast little whipper-snappers beat us to the entrance to TTD (they ran through the landscaping and were chewed-out good by security) but we were still around 6th in line. We sat and waited again, this time entertained by a mechanic who slowly walked and dried the launch run with what looked like a big leaf-blower. Announcements on the PA attributed the delay in opening to the rain and long story short it opened at 1:00 and we got another stellar front row ride. Nothing will compare to the night before tho, I doubt we’ll ever get a better or more exciting ride than that one.

We picked up Alex back at the motel and were back in line around 2:00 which would be our shortest wait of the day – a mere 3 hours. TTD did break down and of all times when we were seated in the back row in launch position! They rolled us back a little and had us exit the train outside of the station and then walked us back where we waited. The wind had really picked up and it was absolutely freezing in the station. Everyone was huddling together, pulling arms inside shirts, doing whatever it took to stay warm. After about a half-hour it re-opened and we climbed back on the train again in the last and 2nd to last row. It was another great ride altho I couldn’t really discern much difference between the back and the middle of the train. The on-ride photo turned out great so we bought one along with a button.

By now we were starving and headed over to the Midway Market for dinner. I ate way too much again and we waddled over to the arcade to burn off some calories. During our wait during the day we somehow managed to obtain handstamps for Magnum so we headed over there only to find that a line had formed again for TTD outside the entrance (it apparently had broken down again after we rode it). People were pouring out of the real line and the situation looked grim and sure enough they quietly announced that it would not run again that day. Happily we headed over to Magnum and got our last ride of the trip in good ol’ 1.3, at night no less – what a great way to end our vacation.

The drive back to Minnesota took the longest ever, in part because I followed Mapquest instructions for navigating around Chicago. Taking the Tri-state tollway easily adds another hour to the trip, if it’s not rush hour stay on 90 and take it straight through downtown. Or better yet avoid Chicago altogether! My plan for our August trip is to hit Indiana Beach by taking 39 straight down to 24 and take that across Illinois to Indiana Beach. Then after that down to Holiday World, then CP and finish off at MIA and take the ferry across Lake Michigan – now that would be a lot more relaxing vacation.

A few random thoughts:

My youngest was hit in the head by of all things a low-flying bird, not on a ride but while walking near the pretzel stand near Dragster. He felt something or someone kind of poke him in the back of the head and several people told him it was a bird that had run into him! As TTD was readying for testing I watched a low-flying seagull circle above the track. Do they have any measures in place to keep birds away when TTD is running? Are the engine revving sounds supposed to do it? Obviously one would be quite dead or at least severely injured if they slammed into a bird at a 120 MPH.

Sunglasses/eye-protection – make sure yours are aerodynamic and rated for 120 MPH! While mine were strapped-on tight (they sell straps in line) the wind still got underneath and vibrated quite a bit, I’m really surprised they still didn’t come off. Didn’t have any problems on MF tho. If anyone has any suggestions for aerodynamic eye-protection please by all means share.

Six train operation on all four rides! Don’t know why that’s a big deal but it’s nice to see it running close to the way it was designed. The trains look kinda funny without the wheels and spoilers but it’s not that big a deal.

Why was there so much pressure on the park to open TTD on the 18th? My theory is that the media were having a field day with TTD being down so much and the park didn’t want TTD to break the record for longest down-time (what currently holds that record, MF?). The impression I got from the VP is that it had to open that day at nearly all costs, thankfully safety wasn’t sacrificed. The recent announcement that it won’t re-open until July 4 seems to reinforce this no more than 2-week rule.

The animation design team (a man and a woman, can’t recall their names) are some pretty cool/fun folks. They knew how long we had waited and when they saw us sitting in a train waved and gave us the big thumbs up – love the staff at CP (aside from the whiney-voice gate attendant ;).

We love CP and wish there was something even close to on par with it here in the midwest. SFGAM is definitely not even in the running. I’m perfectly happy just to wander CP and not even ride anything, it’s such a fun/happy place. I’m hoping Holiday World will provide a similar overall experience.

The blokes in the RCCGB are really a fun and friendly bunch. It was interesting to hear their stories. One told me he had just a terrible ride on MF and when I inquired as to why he said in a very thick, cockney accent, “covered in bugs!” – too funny.

This was our first encounter with the infamous Muffleheads and we weren’t the slightest bit bothered. What’s all the fuss about? Sure they fly around in mass numbers but they don’t bite or sting like mosquitoes (come to Minnesota!). And if you’re bored in line it’s always fun to grab one by the tail and have it flail it’s little arms at you (you can almost hear a high-pitched voice chewing you out ;).

And finally we learned that guest relations hands out freeway passes to Dragster if you complain enough and sometimes when the ride shuts down for the day. The problem with the pass is that it’s worthless if the ride never re-opens. One of the people who waited in line for a long time gave us theirs as their vacation was over. If anything maybe we’ll frame it!

Thanks for reading!



Friday, June 27, 2003 9:46 AM
Very nice trip report :)
Friday, June 27, 2003 11:29 AM
Never mind a lengthy trip report when it's such a pleasure to read.

Since SFGAm is my home park, sorry to read it was a disappointment. For what is worth, what you encountered was not unusual. On many occasions I feel like the oldest one in the park myself. And the restrooms could always use a bit of attention, especially toward late afternoon.

For the record, Chicago public schools finished up on June 24 so you could have run into some groups. I remember in the late 70's, I did the Great America trip with every park district group, church youth organization, etc. that I could find. If there was a bus heading toward Gurnee, I was on it. Probably the same with many pre- and early teens today.

After the Fourth of July, every day is like Saturday at GAm. To it's credit, it has one of the best capacities of any SF park. It's rare to see a ride running less than max trains and the ops usually do a pretty good job of moving them through. Lines are always a problem in the summer but remember, this SF park has no waterpark to draw people away from the rides.

After my first and only visit to MiA last year, I swore I wouldn't return until they gave me a good reason i.e., a new coaster. I found the park to be very plain with the standard Cedar Fair concrete everywhere and lack of landscaping. I understand that the park is a work-in-progress but I'll just wait for a little mo of that progress before another three hour drive. Aside for John on ST (you know I'm impressed when I remember the name of the op), the staff was even more apathetic than I'm used to seeing at GAm. The food was awful, too.

Hope you give GAm another chance. It really is one of the shining stars of the SF chain. Best to try as early in June as possible. Everything is much more manageable. But the most troubling part of your TR for me was your statement that GAm lacked a soul. Troubling, primarily, because I think you're right.

Saturday, June 28, 2003 3:21 PM
You won't believe this but I was there Wed too probably near you... I was w/ a group of 2 other kids my age (16) sleeping on a pole... they eventually left but I ended up waiting about 5 hours and then leaving.

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