June 15 - Made the 6 hour drive from Dayton to St. Louis. Pulled a total Griswold as we got to “the Lou” (I don’t have to be Nelly to say that, right?) and accidentally got off at Exit 2 rather than exit 2c. Found ourselves looking a hookers under an overpass at 2am. Continued on looking for a place to turn around and wound up at a strip club with dancers out front gyrating at us. Way wackier at the time than it sounds now.
On the plus side, we did stop for gas at one point and I found the G-Spot. My wife didn't seem as amused as I suspected she'd be.
Had a great view of the Arch from our hotel room. :)
June 16 - Walked over to the arch. Took a few pictures from outside. Went inside and nosed around. Bought tickets for a ride to the top. $20 seemed reasonable. The ride up felt like riding in the egg that Mork arrived in on Mork & Mindy. Good views from the top. All in all we enjoyed it.
From there we made the drive to Branson. I expected the worst. Having done other 'tourist' spots like the Dells & Niagara Falls and finding them overpriced, dumpy and cheeseball to the point of annoyance, I thought Branson would be the same. It was to a degree, but not nearly on the level of those other places. We had fun there during our stay.
Arrived in the evening and stopped at Montana Mike's for some badass steaks (and one of the best waitresses we've ever had at any restaurant). Finished the night off with a round of mini-golf at Dinosaur Canyon. We played the Raptor course. It was a par 40. My wife won with a score of 54. Enough said.
June 17 & 18 - I had bought 'parkhopper' tickets for Silver Dollar City and Celebration City online ahead of time, so we headed out to SDC in the morning. Of note is that SDC is open from 9 or 10am until 7pm while CC is open from 3pm to 10pm. Basically you do both to make a full day of it.
What can I say? We simply loved these parks. (and I lump them together as one due to the half & half set-up) We did SDC from 10-4 and then went back to the room, got dinner and headed over to CC from 6-10. We liked it so much we really ignored much of Branson and did both parks both days on that same morning-break-night schedule. We did, however, stop to pose with the horse statue with the enormous balls.
Silver Dollar City offers free parking with a long tram ride, but we opted to pay the $10 for preferred parking and a short walk. We passed on the Valet parking for $20 and an even shorter walk. The park is a lot like Dollywood (as one would expect) with more to see, do, buy and eat and eat and eat and did I mention eat? - than to ride, really. (honestly, I don't know why this park isn't listed at the top of many 'best park food' lists).
But the rides aren't exactly lacking. We took in a little of everything. In the interest of brevity, I'll confine details to the coasters:
Grand Exposition Coaster - Standard kiddie fare. Mostly a credit whore stop unless you actually have younger kids and then it's always fun to share a ride.
Fire In The Hole - These coasters are cool for what they are; glorified dark rides. My son is 5 and loved this one. He made us ride it several times over the course of the two days we stopped by. The real dalmatian hanging out in the station is one of those little touches that make great parks great. :)
Powder Keg – Really a great ride. Probably the best coaster at the park. You get a launch (with fire) and a lift hill all in one. Plus with a 42” requirement we were all able to ride. I think my son summed it up best when we hit the top of that first hill that you’re launched into and looked over the hillside at the track ahead and he exclaimed, “Holy Moley!”
Wildfire – Parts of this are brilliant and parts of it are the worst B&M I’ve ever ridden. More specifically, the elements themselves are great, the track in-between isn’t. Terrific views, great first drop, nice floaty dive loop, standard B&M big loop, headbanging, nice cobra roll, headbanging, bangy corkscrew, and it’s over. The parts I liked, I really liked. The parts I hated, I really hated. Overall the bad negated the good for me. Average coaster at best.
Thunderation – One of the better mine trains I’ve been on. Weird pacing with pretty much the whole ride happening right out of the station and the lift coming near the end. Even cooler that a couple of the cars are set-up backwards on each train. Great location running through the woods. The family enjoyed this one.
Silver Dollar City was really a gem of a park. But like I said, in my mind it makes sense to lump it together with Celebration City as one experience. So…
Celebration City is more ‘small ride park’ oriented. It’s small and doesn’t have a ton of rides, but what they had worked for us quite well. The also have animal shows and one of the best fireworks/lasers/music/effect type shows that I’ve seen at any amusement park outside of Orlando. Let me run down the coasters before I wrap these two up.
Ozark Wildcat – I though this was an outstanding woodie. Like ‘easily top 10 for this year’s ballot in Mitch’s wood poll’ good. Might even squeak into the top 5 if I’m feeling froggy. Unique spiraling first drop. Lots of pops of air. Smooth ride. Plush trains. Ultra sweet triple hump section towards the end that rides like a bucking bull. We rode this one over and over.
Thunderbolt – This wasn’t entirely horrible, just mostly. I don’t even know what kind of coaster this is (and don’t want to look it up right now) other than to say it doesn’t feel entirely permanent – very fair-like. It did have one crazy element where the track twisted in a circular motion that was pretty nuts.
Jack Rabbit – So bad it was good. This ride was just so ridiculously horrible that we had to do it several times. Combine all the suckiness of something like an RC-48 with the wicked laterals of a wild mouse and rides like a wagon with cement wheels over a bed of nails. Just brutal. So brutal that you have to keep riding it out of disbelief. I described it as, “Good for all the wrong reasons.” I think I might be a masochist.
A nice selection of flats rounded out the line-up. A great park for a family of mixed tastes and ages. Make sure you check out the Houdini box in the magic shop while you’re there. A great looking park with a laid back layout and a must-see nighttime show that uses projection, water, fire, lasers, music, fireworks and probably even the kitchen sink. I couldn’t even begin to do it justice by trying to explain it all.
The only catch 22 was the use of ‘older’ workers. Sure you got a lot more ‘homey’ friendliness, but what was made up in hospitality was lost in efficiency. To the point of being frustrating at times. In the end friendly went a long way towards making up for efficiency, but I found myself wanting to yell at Grandma to just “scan the damn passes already” a few times.
I’ve been to Kennywood, Holiday World, Knoebels and Dollywood – and for parks of this size and feel – the SDC/CC combo is by far my favorite overall. They might not necessarily be the best at any one thing (except food – and I discovered that paying more for really good food is truly preferrable to paying lower prices for average park food), but when you tally the score they come out on top by being among the best across the board. The rest of the family agreed. Unfortunately, all of those other parks are much closer or along our beaten path so who knows when we’ll find ourselves in Branson again.
June 19 – This was a mostly ‘down’ day as the plan was to drive the scenic route from Branson to Kansas City. This meant a lot of cows to look at. But it also meant a stop at Route 66 Carousel Park in Joplin, MO (and a chance to say I’ve driven a small part of Route 66). I have to mention the extreme friendliness of the folks there. The park was essentially closed when we stopped by and they were recovering from a flood and some damage to the indoor facilities, yet they were still kind enough to let me roam the property to snag pictures. We dropped a few bucks into some classic video games before moving on.
As we neared Kansas City we stopped by Zonkers (formerly Jeepers) at The Great Mall Of The Great Plains and the kids grabbed a ride on the coaster. It was my daughter’s 200th coaster. I passed (see, I’m not a total credit whore). Pretty much what you’d expect from the larger FEC’s with a handful of rides, a play area and tons of games that spit tickets out at you. We blew a little time there before moving on to our hotel in Kansas City.
As a side note about the mall – they had the most brilliant advertising revenue scheme I’ve ever seen…insurance ads on the white lines that made up the parking spaces! I hope you’re reading this Mark Shapiro. :)
June 20 – We hit up World’s Of Fun. I must say I was pretty surprised. If you’re of the mindset that Cedar Fair parks are concrete jungles, then WOF should change that quite a bit. Much nicer than I expected going in to it. It was also ridiculously not crowded – so much so that we showed up around 10:30 am and were gone by 6pm having ridden all the coasters, many flats, seeing two shows and circling the entire park twice. Never more than a one or two train wait on any coaster, although all the coasters were running a single train. (Spinning Dragons had multiple cars going)
This is the fourth Cedar Fair park we’ve hit this year (getting our money’s worth from those Maxx passes) and there’s two complaints that apply chain-wide:
1. Height Requirements. Why is CF so anal about their height requirements? I’m not one to cheat the system and try to slip my kids onto rides or think I know better than the park or manufacturers, but CF height requirements are clearly and significantly higher than the same or similar rides at other parks.
For example the Enterprise ride at WOF had a 54” requirement. The same ride two days later at SFStL had a 42” requirement. That’s a whole foot! My son is 45” and at WOF he had two coaster choices – Spinning Dragons with an adult and the ultra-lame Wacky Worm. At the other parks on this trip he was able to ride much, much more. (3 of 4 coasters at SDC, 1 of 3 at CC, 3 of 7 at SFStL in addition to more flat ride choices)
At Cedar Fair parks anyone under 48” seems to be doomed to kiddie ride status. It really makes a difference in a mixed rider, typical family situation. It’s such a pain to have to keep splitting up to ride and so much more fun when all four of us can ride together. This is one spot where the CF parks just seem like worse choices for us (and presumably most other families with a mix of rider sizes and ages) and became painfully obvious when sandwiched between other more accommodating parks on this trip.
2. Food service. I’m not even talking the inflated prices or the low quality food. I’m talking the actual service. It’s slow, inefficient and flat out bad. It has been at all the CF parks this year and WOF just confirmed that it’s a chain-wide problem. Something seriously needs fixed.
We waited entirely too long at Coasters along with 4 or 5 other people making the same comments (with one lady calling them ‘space cases’) while kids would pick up an order receipt, look at it, walk around a bit, do nothing, put the receipt down and grab another one and do the same thing. It took ages for them to do anything and then much of the time the order was wrong.
Later we hit the Vittles Griddle and got the same slow service mixed with that “why are you interrupting our conversation” attitude that I’d expect from a SF park. Even better was that the kid put gloves on to put our order together and get it on a tray then took them off to ring up the order on the register. When he handed the tray to my wife it bumped the cash register and fries fell all over the place. The kid then picked them up with his bare hands and put them back on the tray (not in the cardboard holder) and gave us the tray. Just really bad food service from CF – and it hasn’t been limited to WOF this year.
But enough with that, the coasters stacked up as follows:
Spinning Dragons – These coasters are fun. A lot of fun actually, but the more I ride, the more the novelty seems to wear thin. Still worth the ride, but not as exciting as I first found them. This was the longest line of the day at around 5 minutes.
Patriot – Rides pretty much exactly like Talon for most of the ride. (that’s a good thing – a really good thing), but doesn’t match Talon’s ending. For that very reason Talon still gets my nod as best B&M inverted coaster out there. Definitely a really good coaster – probably the best at the park.
Timber Wolf – A CF woodie that somehow manages to be slow and rough at the same time? Who would’ve thunk it? Bah!
Wacky Worm – Probably the world’s slowest kiddie coaster and the only one that my kids ever walked away from. I had to talk my son into riding with me so I could credit whore this one…he reluctantly obliged.
Mamba – I find that this coaster, Wild Thing at Valleyfair and Steel Force at Dorney all give pretty much the same ride. There are layout differences, but they’re essentially the same ride at the core. The difference in ride quality seems to come from how hard the mid-course brakes grab before the repeated bunny-hill finale. The brakes on Mamba were grabbing harder than an ACEr at a free buffet. For that reason Mamba was my least favorite of the three Morgan hypers I listed which is a shame. If they’d just let up on those brakes a bit the ending to these coasters would be terrific. As it stands the first half of is pretty damn fun then you hit the brakes and limp your way home.
Boomerang – I dig boomerangs. I don’t find most of them bangy and they can be quite forceful through the inversions leaving you a bit wacky-headed. WOF’s boomerang is like the others.
Overall we liked the park, but the food thing and the limited number of rides we could enjoy as a family made it less than perfect. Hints of Dorney Park (a good thing), lots of trees in most areas and even kind of scenic in spots.
June 21 – This was a planned day of driving back across Missouri. We had to go From Kansas City to Eureka. (actually our hotel was about 20 minutes north of SFStL) Easy drive. Not eventful. Saw a truck carrying a Zipper ride along the way. Got into the hotel a little after four. Rather than sit and do nothing, we decided to grab a bite to eat and then head to the park for a few hours.
Arrived at the parking lot after 6pm expecting to pay $15 for 3 hours of parking but were waved through. Yes, we parked for free at a SF park. :) I also noticed that they had manned cherry-pickers with an employee watching the lot. Something I’ve never seen before even though most SF parks have the station for someone to be there.
Made our way inside the park and were surprised by how nice it was in general. Found the season pass processing and got our passes. Decided to hit some rides tonight to make the next day easier to finish up the line-up.
Managed to do Tony Hawk, Mr. Freeze, The Boss, the carousel and Scooby Doo in right around two hours.
June 22 – We got back to the park around noon with plans to leave by 6 or 7, but ended up staying until close. This time we had to pay for parking but the girl at the booth offered a map for everyone in the car. They’re those $5 souvenir maps and we had four people in the car. If my math is correct we came out $5 ahead on the deal. :)
Let me run down the coasters before I go into my SF commentary:
Tony Hawk’s Big Spin – Half full queue equaled a 15 minute wait. Same verdict as Spinning Dragons – these are fun, but lose some thrill the more you ride them. Bonus points for the overall theme. Dug the façade and the signs detailing the history of Tony Hawk and Skateboarding/BMX in general. Nice touch. Each car had cameras mounted and DVDs available for purchase.
The Boss – A woodie with a really great layout that rode like hell. Such a shame because if this one didn’t cripple you, it could probably be a lot of fun. Just not my cup of tea as it stands. Walk-on, but not worth another ride. (or hike up the endless queue)
Mr. Freeze – a surprisingly fun launched Premier shuttle. Strong launch, nice floaty top hat, and the extra boost up the vertical spike was unexpected (although obvious that it needed to happen in hindsight). Good stuff. (10 minute wait on Thursday night, 15 on Friday)
Batman The Ride – I feel like I get such wildly different rides on these. Some I like, some I don’t like, some are just there. This one got a little bangy on me at times, but was very forceful giving me the ‘jello-feet’ previously exclusive to Dueling Dragons. I approve. (and the two-train wait made it that much better)
Ninja – I’m not going to sugar coat it – this ride blew. Not that fun, kind of rough. Not something I wanted to ride for more than the credit. Walked-on, rode it, walked away. Running two trains with walk-on conditions.
River King Mine Train – Reminded me a bit of Dahlonega Mine Train at SFOG with multiple lifts, meandering layout, big drop ending. Nothing special, but worth one lap.
Screamin’ Eagle – Another nice woodie that rode worse than it should have. Not nearly as bad of a ride as the Boss was, but it could’ve been considerably better if it just rode a little smoother. Nothing that really broke the deal, but nothing outstanding either.
And the part I’m sure you’re waiting for – Gonch’s commentary on SF under Shapiro.
I can say without a doubt that I have more faith than ever that this guy is doing exactly the right things to turn the company around. I’ve never been to the St. Louis park before so admittedly I have no baseline to compare it to, but this is the best overall SF park that we’ve ever been to.
Season Pass holders still get the coupon book full of deals, but now the deals are actually useful and make sense. There’s the usual ‘bring a friend free’ coupons, but there’s even a ‘bring a friend free to any other SF park’ – not good at the park you got the pass from. Great discounts on food and games and merchandise all through it. There’s even coupons for regional attractions included. As a passholder you also get 10% off of everything in the park (15% off of purchases of $25 or more). Souvenir drink cup refills are only 90 cents with that discount ($1 without).
Food prices in general are on the high side (but the 10% lessened the blow) and if you look around there are fair deals to be had. We stopped at Mooseburger and scored decent quality and plentiful food for $30. Easily on par in price, quality and quantity to what you’d find at any chain restaurant (TGI Friday’s, Applebees, Bennigan’s, etc).
The corporate sponsorships in the park made sense and were well blended into the environment – not just random logos pasted throughout the park. Even the more obvious attempts like the Wii Experience were well received and an added attraction to the park that had onlookers and a line waiting to play.
The park was clean and on multiple occasions we saw employees roaming queue lines picking up garbage. And the employees themselves were friendly, helpful and attentive with little exception.
And since we like to talk restrooms, they were all acceptable or better and had a crazy aroma that was exactly the smell of Fruit Loops cereal. A nice touch was the sign on the back of every restroom door that proclaimed if you found anything in the restroom unacceptable to find the nearest employee and direct them to dial ‘716’ to get someone there to make it right.
Every coaster was running multiple trains with almost no wait. Cycles were being hit and I even overheard ride ops congratulating each other for hitting certain numbers.
The characters were out in full force for the entire day and the kids were eating it up. There’s even signs posted letting you know when and where each character will be. Each character also has a photographer who snaps a photo. One of the little genius touches implemented is that now rather than a handful of numbered pieces of paper to carry around each time you have a photo taken, you’re given one plastic barcoded card. You just hand that card to the photographer each time they take a photo and he scans your card and hands it back. You can then see your pics at the park or online once you get home all with one simple code. I checked the online thing and they even offer the pics in full camera resolution with a release for printing on your own.
Even little things like lots of fan misters, push button misters and hoses spraying for people to cool off and kids to play it add to the postive nature of things – they always had people taking advantage of them.
And while Q-bot wasn’t even close to necessary, pricing is what I remember and there’s even the chance to reserve rides right at the Q-bot place rather than having to make your way to the ride to reserve a time. Pretty sweet – just scan for a couple of lines right there as you get the device and have rides waiting for you as you make your way around the park. That’d be helpful on a really busy day.
I’ve made no secret of my support for Shapiro’s changes, but finally getting to see it in person only proved to me that my hunch was correct. This guy has a plan. He knows what audience he wants, he knows how he want to succeed and he’s putting things in place to make it happen. If this is still a ‘transition’ period, I can’t wait to see what’s waiting at the other side.
If St. Louis is any indication, this guy is fixing Six Flags in a big sort of way. Granted there were still a few examples of the idiot, non-caring employees and we ran into the old “we’re out of ice” thing at two of the smaller drink stands (on a 90+ degree day!), but if the parks were at a “0” prior to Red Zone/Shapiro and need to be a “10” before people finally give in and admit they’re where they need to be, then SFStL was at a solid 7 as it stands.
The park itself was really nice and the more reasonable height requirements were much more conducive to a family experience than we found at WOF. In fact, SFStL as a whole was more comparable to the Branson parks than the Cedar Fair park in Kansas City.
In the end we had a great week. We found hookers, strippers and the Arch in St. Louis. We expected the worst out of Branson, but didn’t hate it and we entirely loved their amusement parks. We met some really nice folks (and cows) in out of the way places in Missouri and Kansas. We found a park that reminded us a lot of Dorney (one of our favorites) in Kansas City and we had the single best SF park visit ever since first sampling the chain in 2001.
Good times in Missouri.
Headbanging on WildFire? I've never heard of such a thing, and I rode it 40 some times in late May. What you said about the Jack Rabbit is spot on however, as I've said pretty much the same things since the Hershends bought it. I can't imagine it staying much longer, especially not with it's capacity issues, but I sure love it to death.
I think it's also pretty cool that we agree on so much in spirit but have such opposite tastes in coasters. Talon is hands down my least favorite B&M inverted, for instance.
I have been to SFStL, and there is just nothing wrong with it as in rides being open, and the staff. So, in my opinion the park was run perfectly before without this guy in charge.
Did you go on the Fireball at Celebration City? If so, how was it?
I thought the metal coasters at CC were pathetic. I normally don't mind rough rides, but these gave me a headache and no thrills to go with it, except for that one circling dive on one of them. Their wooden coaster was better, but not one of my favorites. After riding everything once, with no lines in over 100 degree heat and no shade, we decided to hit Predator World across town instead of re-riding anything.
I always have a good time at Six Flags St. Louis and it seems to be a very well run park. The Boss is my favorite ride there, but my wife hates it because it's so rough, so I never get as many rides on it as I want. I think the thrills on the Boss make the pain well worth it, but they could improve the ride by removing the flat finale and replacing it or just ending the ride before it.
I am making my first visit to Worlds of Fun on Sunday after the Sox-Royals game with my father, so I will be taking most rides solo.
But excellent TR, and in the meantime, I definitely need to get out to MO again sometime soon!
And btw, I think it's called 'Thunderbolt' by how fast they can put it together and take it apart as it travels place to place...emphasis on the 'bolt' here...
Did you go on the Fireball at Celebration City? If so, how was it?
Rather intense, actually. Great ride. I grabbed video of it in action, so maybe I'll get that online eventually.
Talon is hands down my least favorite B&M inverted, for instance.
That's because you suck. ;)
On the plus side, we did stop for gas at one point and I found the G-Spot. My wife didn't seem as amused as I suspected she'd be.
Hmmm.... Had to drive all the way to Missouri to find that destination. Perhaps the gyrating strippers helped with the navigation. :) Anyways, thanks for the TR, Gonch.
Did you ride the Flyers at Celebration City?
I didn't, but the rest of the family did.
Glad you enjoyed SFStL. Personally I don't know if you can use this particular park as a PR campaign for Shapiro as it's always been one of the better SF parks. Glad things are going well, and I hope they continue.
Hookers, strippers, exit #2? You were still in Illinois.
Ahhh, now I know. :)
Personally I don't know if you can use this particular park as a PR campaign for Shapiro as it's always been one of the better SF parks.
See, I wasn't sure. It never seems to be listed among the 'good' SF parks.
If only I knew you were in my town, we could have had a cigarette. :)
If only I knew you were in my town, we could have had a cigarette.
The only problem would've been finding a place to actually smoke. ;)
I was pleasantly surprised at how 'smoker-friendly' Missouri was. Smoking sections still in restaurants - yay!
We even got stuck in non-smoking rooms at two of the hotels because the smoking rooms were in high demand.
I have been thinking about visiting SDC ever since Powder Keg was installed, and want to ride the Ozark Wildcat at CC. I like that you are a fellow smoker, so I get that perspective as well. ;)
I am glad to see what is going on with Six Flags as well. My trip to Great Adventure was similar. It was something that I am not used to seeing. Shapiro is really doing a good job. All the coasters were running except for The Chiller, and plenty of looney tunes characters around the park. We got our pic with Marvin the Martian. ;)
I was hoping that you were going to write a TR after listening to the podcast and your comments on there. I was going to ask where your TR was. Jeff is wrong. The podcast last week wasn't near as good with out you there, so get a swelled head. :)
You and Jeff are the Dave Letterman & Paul of amusement park podcasts. Question is which of you are Paul? ;)
*** Edited 6/27/2007 11:33:14 PM UTC by Coasterfantom2***
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