MILLENNIUM FORCE REVIEW: The most successfully executed modern roller coaster

Happy Holidays everyone! Apologies for not posting at all these past few months. I’ve been working a ton at my job with not a lot of days off so I’ve been exhausted. That being said I was working on this post a little bit at a time, and I finally got it done. I’m hoping to get more consistent with my content in the future.

Love it or hate it, Cedar Point is a special place. It’s been around a long time (147 years as of 2017), and for many roller coaster enthusiasts, it’s mecca.

There’s a good reason for that, and his name is Dick Kinzel. As the former President and CEO of the Cedar Fair chain, Kinzel was obsessed with roller coasters. He learned very quickly that if you build them and build them big, people will come in droves to ride them. Starting in 1976 with Corkscrew, nearly every roller coaster added to the park broke at least one world record.

Arguably the most historically important roller coaster to open during this time was Magnum XL-200, the world’s first hyper coaster (pictured above). Up until then, the tallest and fastest roller coasters were all inversion machines, because flipping riders upside down had been the formula for success for around 15 years. Magnum changed all that, being the first full-circuit coaster to break 200 feet in height, as well as the first coaster of that scale to focus entirely on big hills and airtime, with no inversions whatsoever, and people went nuts for it.

The introduction of Magnum kickstarted what many in the industry called “The Coaster Wars.” Over the next decade, amusement parks fought in a battle of supremacy, building coasters even higher, faster, and longer.

Years later, Kinzel sought out to repeat his success. With the new Millennium approaching, Cedar Point was ready to go big. Really, REALLY big…

This video was created by the park to announce to the world that the world’s first giga coaster, Millennium Force, would open in May of 2000. To this day I still get chills watching this as it’s one of the best ride announcement videos I’ve ever seen.

Since the internet had become a regular part of people’s lives by 1999, Cedar Point’s marketing team realized that they could have media content go directly to the general public through their website, so they created a webpage where people could access a live webcam pointed at the lift hill, and regular photo updates that showed every step of construction. Now with the internet having an even bigger presence in our culture, this formula is now the gold standard for driving the hype machine, and Cedar Point was the first to do it.

Here’s a time lapse from the webcam set up for viewing construction.

When Millennium Force opened, it felt other-worldly. No one had ever seen a roller coaster so massive, so intimidating, and perhaps most importantly, so modern. The ride somehow perfectly captured what the new millennium was in that moment. The future had arrived.

Designed by Werner Stengel and built by Intamin of Switzerland. 310 feet tall. A 300 foot drop at 80 degrees. Top speed: 93 mph. 6,595 feet long. 4 overbanked turns. 4 great moments of airtime. To say the coaster is impressive would be an understatement.

My first visit to Cedar Point was in 2001 when Millennium Force was still the hot new kid in town. I was only 9 years old and still warming up to larger coasters, so while I was excited to try out classics like Raptor, Blue Streak, Corkscrew, Gemini and the like, I was terrified of Millennium Force. I was really scared of heights at the time, and it seemed so impossibly large to me, so I couldn’t for the life of me sum up the courage to get in line. My dad and my sister waited over 2 hours to ride it that day, and I remember my dad getting off the ride proclaiming he found his new #1 roller coaster, but I decided to wait to try it myself until our next visit.

Two years later in 2003, we return to the park on my 12th birthday. With Top Thrill Dragster now being the tallest and fastest in the park, Millennium Force seemed a little less intimidating, but I was still nervous to ride it. At that point I just decided to tough it out.

While in line I couldn’t help but notice this unified sense of energy and excitement buzzing through the queue. Trains were rushing right by us as the final section of the ride surrounds the queue on all sides, giving those in line an extra dose of adrenaline for each train pass. I was stunned to see how fast the trains were still going by the end of the ride (around 60 mph I believe), and every single train that hit the brake run erupted in cheers. At that point I knew this would be a special coaster. Unfortunately I think we ended up waiting almost 3 hours thanks to a ride breakdown while in line, and my nervousness turned into frustration as I just wanted to get the darn ride over with, but finally we get into the station, I get on, and we take off.

I was shaking the entire way up, but once that train started falling down the first drop, I released all that tension in one giant euphoric rush, so overwhelmed by the crazy speed and the massive elements. That first ride felt legitimately life-changing. I had found my new favorite roller coaster.

Even today, people still go wild on the ride when coming back into the station, despite the fact that several taller, faster, and more intense roller coasters now exist. It takes a special kind of roller coaster to pull that off for going on 17 years.

Inside the station, a futuristic techno beat is thumping through the overhead speakers, and the ride ops are pumping up the crowd. The trains on Millennium Force are very sleek and aerodynamic. They feature open-air seats that sit low with a simple T-shaped lap bar that is very comfortable. The seat backs don’t tip back much at all, so when you sit down, you’re kinda forced to sit straight up, which psychologically keeps you very alert and ready for action as opposed to being tipped back and relaxed like on a B&M hyper coaster.

(POV filmed by Cedar Point)

The lift hill is pitched at a steep 45 degrees, and thanks to an elevator cable lift system, it’s a very quick and quiet ride to the top, but still long enough for the height of the ride to really sink in. It’s WAY up there. I still find the trip to the top pretty harrowing since there are no side panels of any kind on the trains, allowing you to look straight down to the ground from over 300 feet up. Millennium Force’s lift sits right on the west shoreline of the Cedar Point peninsula, meaning you get a fantastic view of the park to your right, but on your left you see nothing but water, and you realize that a tiny seatbelt and lap bar are the only things keeping you from plunging to your death.

It’s not long before you start to free fall 300 feet down the nearly vertical 80-degree drop. The radial curve of the first drop is large and gradual, perfectly designed to make you feel like you’re falling forever. In the back seat you get catapulted into the lap bar and stay there for the duration of the drop, while in the front you can feel yourself falling forward in your seat before gravity has its way with the train and you start floating. Eventually you reach the bottom and feel every bit of that 93 mph in your face. Experiencing that kind of speed completely open to the elements is exhilarating.

The valley of the first drop transitions straight into a giant overbanked turn to the right at 169 feet tall and banked at 122 degrees at its peak. The banking on this turn allows the positive g’s gained on first drop to be sustained all the way through the turn with little to no lateral force, resulting in riders experiencing a visual paradox of being plastered to their seats while being tipped nearly upside down. Sometimes it can make me grey out depending on the day, but nonetheless it’s a very cool sensation.

The exit of this turn slingshots the train back down and into a ground-hugging turn to the left, speeding between nearby trees and the giant support towers of the first drop. Riders rush in and out of a tight tunnel before zooming straight up into a massive 182 foot tall camelback hill, providing a few long seconds of sustained floater airtime, a nice transition moment into the next section of the ride.

Dropping out of the sky, the long train swoops to the right and rises into another overbanked turn that then dives down underneath the valley of the big camelback hill. The track then veers left into yet another overbanked turn, this one a little taller and much tighter than the last. Dropping out of that turn, riders take a quick dog-leg to the right that lines the train up for a second camelback hill parallel to the first one, providing a shorter but slightly stronger moment of airtime.

The pullout of this hill is long and gradual, sending riders straight into a second tunnel, inside which is a turn to the left and the on-ride photo. Emerging from the tunnel, riders are now rushing right past the queue into the station just a few feet away. There’s a very quick and low airtime hill, followed by a dog-leg to the left, then a long straightaway that sets riders up for one final 68 foot tall overbanked turn, before gliding into the smooth magnetic brake run. Congratulations, you’ve just experienced the greatest roller coaster in the world.

Well, at least according to some…

Just like Kings Island‘s renowned Beast, Millennium Force seems to have generated a little bit of controversy on whether it really is the greatest ever. There are enthusiasts testifying that the ride doesn’t provide enough airtime, the forces are too weak, the ride is too smooth, and they’re tempted to fall asleep. “Millennium Forceless” has made the rounds online as a blunt jab at the attraction, claiming that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.

People that have this opinion seem to only enjoy coasters that melt their faces off with forces. They want to black out from positive g’s, and their thighs crushed with negative g’s. The more forceful, the better, and since Millennium Force is a giga coaster, it ought to be super forceful, but it’s not. I admit that in my teens I started to lean this direction, finding my rides on it to be fun, but not face-melting. As I’m getting older though (approaching my late twenties now), and my taste in roller coasters continues to evolve, I’ve come to the opinion that strong forces are overrated.

Now, hear me out here. I enjoy those ultra-intense roller coasters as much as the next guy, but I don’t find those rides all that re-rideable. When it comes down to it, the coasters I enjoy the most are both comfortable AND thrilling. Yes, the forces may be light overall on Millennium Force, but ultimately that’s what helps it be so good in the long run. The pacing of the ride is speedy yet graceful, making it one of the least nauseating large-scale roller coasters out there. The forces don’t tire the riders out, and the energizing thrills come through the incredible speed that is beautifully sustained from the moment you drop off the lift, all the way to the final brakes.

That speed, combined with the smooth track and openness of the trains, makes you feel like you’re riding on the back of a supercharged rocket flying through the air, dodging trees and pathways close by. In this context I don’t give a flip about how strong the forces are. That experience alone is really freaking amazing.

This is why Millennium Force is arguably the most popular roller coaster in the world. The ride is thrilling, yet very smooth and easy on riders, which makes it approachable for everyone willing to try it, and the fact is that while there are taller coasters out there now (even one in the same park), 310 feet is still really freaking high, so the ride still feels incredibly imposing. That initial climb and first drop may be dreadful for some, but once you ride out of it, all your anxiety is released, with the rest of the 60 second ride serving as the most satisfying payoff for your brain.

In this case, that makes Millennium Force a truly fundamental roller coaster in the greatest sense. It allows you to face those fears head on and conquer them in grand fashion. That’s honestly rare for a modern roller coaster, as most rides being built these days seem to focus on throwing as many hills, twists, and turns at you as fast as possible, giving you almost no time to process what you just went through, but Millennium Force is different. It manages to make riders hyper aware of their surroundings, with their brains totally conscious of everything the ride is throwing at them. I can’t think of another roller coaster that does that so well.

By finding that perfect balance between thrills and comfort, Millennium Force is the yardstick to which all roller coasters are typically compared. It is the pinnacle of the first generation of modern steel coaster design with its ultra-smooth drops and curves, and a layout sequence that is beautifully symmetrical and complete. A true legacy coaster.

2000 was a massive year for roller coasters across the board, with the total number of new coasters around the world being 148, 55 alone in the USA. As of 2017, the year 2000 is still the only time in amusement history where the height and speed records for full-circuit roller coasters were broken three times in one year, starting with Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Goliath in February, then succeeded by Millennium Force in May, and again succeeded by Nagashima Spa Land’s Steel Dragon 2000 in August.

But of those three, Millennium Force was arguably the most important, given that it literally and metaphorically broke new heights for what roller coasters could do. To this day it still stands as one of the best coasters in the world, and still considered by many to be THE best, and I honestly cannot disagree.

MILLENNIUM FORCE RATING: 10 / 10 (Perfect!)

Feel free to let me know what you think of Millennium Force in the comments below! Do you agree? Disagree? Think I’m nuts? Let me know!

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MYSTIC TIMBERS REVIEW: Kings Island’s wood coaster legacy continues with this modern, twisty Out-&-Back

Wooden coasters are a big part of Kings Island‘s history.

It all started with The Racer in 1972, which ignited a brand new interest among amusement parks for building large-scale thrill coasters.

Then in 1979, The Beast came along, earning a legendary status of being the “biggest, baddest, longest wooden coaster in the world.”

Then in 2000 during the Paramount years, the park attempted to build the world’s largest wooden coaster with Son of Beast, but it didn’t last. The coaster succumbed to structural issues, closing permanently in 2009 before being demolished in 2012.

When Cedar Fair acquired the park in 2006, I started to wonder whether another wood coaster would be built at the park again. Well to my excitement, I was thrilled to see King Island announce Mystic Timbers, a smooth, twisted wooden coaster through the woods and back provided by Great Coasters International Inc., along with a perplexing question.

What’s in the shed?

Image provided by Kings Island

Months went by, and my excitement grew as I watched this beautiful timber structure be assembled. A curved first drop, ground hugging track, lots of changes in direction, and 16 airtime moments! But the shed mystery continued. May rolls around, and it’s finally time for me to check this fresh pile of lumber for myself.

Since the Mystic Timbers experience involves a story, allow me to set the scene.

It’s April, 1983. You, a civilian, have discovered a recently abandoned lumber mill. A rusted 60s GMC pickup sits there, lights flashing, keys still in the ignition, radio still playing, apparently crashed and abandoned by whoever was driving. There sits an entry point and security booth. It sits empty, but a video monitor inside shows security footage is rolling in the area. A warning message blares over a loudspeaker, announcing a mandatory lock down and telling everyone to evacuate the area immediately. It’s clear something bad happened here.

The queue winds along the property, lined with old wood fencing, passing under a few sheltered lumber storage areas, standing in the shadow of a large work shed. This is the central headquarters of the mill.

You work your way up a set of stairs into a garage attached to the work shed. There you board one of three trucks (the coaster trains) also left behind in the mill. You climb in, turn it on, and start exploring the property (make your way to the lift hill).

Headed up the lift hill, a security guard spots you and yells through the loudspeakers, ordering you to turn the truck around and leave, because the area is dangerous, but in traditional horror movie fashion, you continue on anyway. At the top of the lift, the man says one final warning. “Whatever you do, don’t go in the shed!

The speakers feed back a bit as he turns his mic off, but then a mysterious ringing sound echos through the woods, and you panic, hit the gas, and try to escape (aka drop down the first drop and into the coaster’s layout).

(Video filmed by Kings Island)

What follows is a fast, wild trip through the woods, dodging trees and riverbanks, and hopping over hills at speeds up to 53 mph. Despite your desperate attempt to escape the lumber mill, you ultimately end up at the very place you weren’t supposed to go to: The Shed. Another warning message plays outside the wide open gate. “Warning! Don’t go in the shed! This is a restricted area!” But suddenly, the message starts skipping and distorting, before mysteriously uttering “Go in the shed… Go in the shed… Go in the shed…” Before you slowly roll in…

If for whatever reason you haven’t found out what’s in the shed by now, I’ll offer a big fat SPOILER ALERT.

Inside the shed, tree vines can be seen sprawling across the room. You come across a work space with various items strewn about, such as a desk, a locker, a radio, and a coke machine. Saw blades line the walls, and the overhead lamps are barely giving any light. You come to a dead stop inside the shed. Doors in front of you are swinging in the wind, and the shed wall to your right reveals daylight through its missing planks. All is quiet…

Suddenly, the radio kicks on by itself and starts playing some early 80’s tunes (“Cars” by Gary Neuman, “Maneater” by Hall and Oates, “Can’t Take my Eyes Off You” by Boys Town Gang, or “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler). Spooked, you start to creep forward, but then the radio stops, and several sets of red eyes pop up everywhere. The lamps begin to flicker and swing. The saw blades begin to bounce off the walls. The locker jumps forward from the wall. Large creatures (either giant bats, giant snakes, or a giant living tree) start to appear to your right outside the shed before they come around the corner and jump at you from the doors. Scared out of your mind, you roll out of the shed, back into the garage, leave the truck behind, and get the heck out of there!

Ok, that’s really just the concept of the ride, which I absolutely love. I think it’s just creepy enough to keep you on edge, but just engaging enough to keep you intrigued. Here’s the thing though. As fun as the coaster itself is, I’m not sure if Kings Island executed this story concept quite to its fullest potential.

While the queue has some good theming, I’ve noticed that most guests don’t seem to take the time to watch any of the security footage, which really doesn’t show a whole lot other than the occasional guard popping up and talking into a radio or what not, so it doesn’t generate a whole lot of suspense, and it’s not quite clear what’s going on unless you know the ride story going into it. Also a couple of the TVs show Cedar Fair’s FunTV programs, which totally clash with the mood that’s trying to be established.

Then of course there’s that shed. When Kings Island announced the ride, they focused the marketing almost completely on the shed alone. In their defense, they did do a fantastic job of keeping the shed elements secret, and that in turn generated a ton of curiosity for the attraction, so a lot of people came to ride it on opening weekend. Isn’t that the point of marketing in the first place? Get people to spend money and come to the park? Marketing did their job well in that sense. I can’t criticize that.

BUT two problems stick out with focusing on the shed.

  1. It unintentionally creates high expectations that can potentially be very hard to meet.
  2. The rest of the coaster, itself having a great layout with some great elements, is almost completely ignored in the general public’s eyes.

So when people showed up to ride, many spent the entire duration of the coaster anticipating the shed while virtually ignoring everything else, hoping whatever was in the shed would just blow their minds.

 

So with the ride’s concept in mind, what’s really in the shed?

Two projection screens, blended together with a live set featuring some moving props and moody lighting, and that’s really it. That is the climax of the ride.

But is it really a climax though?

Through interviews from Mystic Timbers’s media day, it was revealed by Kings Island staff that the real purpose of the shed was to give the guests riding the ride a fun little something to keep the ride story going so guests wouldn’t get bored waiting to roll back in the station. A bonus feature if you will. After all, the ride runs with 3 trains and no midcourse brake, so stacking is inevitable.

In that regard, I don’t have any problem with the shed itself. It does indeed provide a fun ending to a very fun roller coaster. Holovis, the company chosen to theme the coaster, put in a bunch of little details all over the ride, especially in the shed. The coolest parts of the shed to me are all the references to current and past attractions at Kings Island. The bats reference the Bat roller coaster, and the snakes reference Diamondback. I think my favorite touch though is all the Son of Beast references. The hazard warning label from the defunct ride’s trains can be found in the transfer track area, and the red eyes that turn on in the shed are a reference to the Son of Beast logo.

All that being said though, I heavily, heavily criticize the marketing team for setting up the shed to be the ride’s climax when it seems it wasn’t meant to be one. If seen as a climax, it feels just plain awkward to have this big jumpscare moment and then just slowly roll away from it into the station. There needs to be some sense of escape. Let’s say the shed wasn’t the very end of the ride. It would’ve had a much more lasting effect on riders if instead of just rolling directly into the station, the ride launched out of the shed into a whole other short section of coaster before hitting the final brakes, sort of like Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which coincidentally shares a very similar theme with Mystic Timbers.

The other option would’ve been for the marketing team to not mention the shed at all, and have it be a complete surprise for everyone. That way no unrealistic expectations are set in riders’ minds, and they would get off the ride thinking “Man how cool was that?”

After all, the real star of the show here is the roller coaster itself. Mystic Timbers is one of the best GCI roller coasters out there. It may not have any record-breaking stats, but it’s got speed, it’s got lots of airtime, and lots of quick twists and turns that weave around trees. It’s also ridiculously smooth and comfortable, which makes it VERY reridable. That is the best part of this coaster. It’s a quick ride (right around 50 seconds from the top of the lift to the brakes), and it’s paced just right to where I really want to ride it again and again, and it doesn’t get old.

If I were to describe Mystic Timbers to the average Kings Island guest, I would say it’s a faster, smoother, and more twisted version of Racer in the woods. In that way it works as a nice bridge coaster between The Racer and The Beast; just thrilling enough to satisfy the thrill seekers, and just comfortable enough to be approachable for families. It’s layout is fast and low, with only two large drops on the whole ride. The rest of the coaster is nothing but tight, smooth, fast-paced, ground-hugging hills and turns; a brand new experience in the park’s coaster line-up, and frankly, my new favorite coaster at Kings Island.

I only say that because Mystic Timbers is exactly the kind of coaster that I tend to like the most. I like rides with a quick pace and a lot of speed. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy rides like Diamondback, Beast, or Banshee. Those three rides are all great in their own right, but man, Mystic Timbers just hits right in my sweet spot. Everyone’s got different opinions. That’s the beauty of this hobby.

But yeah, I can’t ignore that the shed seems to have an identity crisis, as it seems like it can’t decide whether it’s a ride climax or a ride bonus. As the former, it’s pretty darn disappointing, but as the latter, it’s pretty darn cool, so I guess it depends on how you decide to look at it. Personally I choose to see it as a bonus as it helps me enjoy the ride more overall. I went ahead and spoiled the ride ending for myself at opening, because I didn’t really care too much about the shed. I knew it wouldn’t be a drop track (Ugh. That rumor was annoying.) or anything else super fancy, so for a mid-range regional park, projection screens and some moving set pieces feel about right. I also didn’t get around to riding it until May of this year, so I felt it wasn’t worth the trouble to keep the shed a complete surprise for a whole month.

Think about this, though. Mystic Timbers was built by Cedar Fair, a company that, for years, worked off the premise that building giant thrill rides with no theme whatsoever will attract guests from all over, so I find it really impressive that the coaster actually has a real story to follow, with elements that help guests feel like they are a part of it: the radio playing in the crashed truck at the entrance, the security footage playing on the queue TVs, the audio clips that play outside the station, the 60s era truck grilles and rusty paint jobs on the trains, the engine start-up sound when dispatching etc. I find all of these details to be really really cool, and I just love that Kings Island decided to give this ride a story at all and theme it as much as they did. I give the park two huge thumbs up for that. I really hope this is the beginning of Cedar Fair implementing more theming into its major attractions as it really does help rides feel all the more special and unique.

With the opening of Mystic Timbers, Kings Island now has the world record for most wooden track in one amusement park, with 18,804 feet. I’d say that’s a worthy record to have for a park with such a passion for wooden roller coasters.

MYSTIC TIMBERS RATING: 8 / 10 (Great!)

Please tell me what you guys think of Mystic Timbers in the comments below! Do you agree with me? Disagree? Think the shed sucks? Let me know.

Until then, I’ll catch you in the front seat!

-JC

COASTERSTOCK 2017 AT KINGS ISLAND: Trip Report

Click on the photo to go to my album of photos I took over the weekend on Flickr.

Drove in my driveway last night from a very exhausting but amazing weekend trip to Mason, OH, the home of Kings Island amusement park, where I met up with my friends Matt and Alex for Coasterstock 2017.

Coasterstock is an annual roller coaster enthusiast event put on Kings Island, and it includes behind-the-scenes tours, presentations, and exclusive ride time on some of the park’s rides before and after regular park hours. This year’s event also included free drink wristbands, a Mystic Timbers drawstring bag, a free 2-day FunPix pass, and a Coasterstock t-shirt with the Mystic Timbers logo on it. One of the many reasons Coasterstock is awesome.

Of course the new hotness this year is Mystic Timbers, the park’s brand new wooden coaster built by Great Coasters International, and what a ride it is. I’ll save my review on it for a separate post later, but I’ll just go ahead and say it’s the coaster I’ve been patiently waiting to come to Kings Island for a long, long time.

I arrived in Mason on Thursday to ride Timbers a few times before the event started the next day. Check in for the event began VERY early Friday morning at 6:30am. I got in line, got my stuff, and headed into the park where ERT (exclusive ride time) began on Banshee, The Bat, Delirium, Drop Tower, and Adventure Express at 8:30am. Unfortunately Adventure Express was down that morning, so we had to wait to ride it later in the day.

Lunch was provided in the the park’s Picnic Grove area where they served burgers and hot dogs, and the speaker for the lunch presentation was Logan Joiner and his father. Logan has autism and struggled a lot with sensory overload in his early childhood, but one day he discovered his newfound love for roller coasters through YouTube, and after being scared of the idea of actually riding one, he gathered the courage to finally visit a park and do it. Some 200+ roller coasters later, Logan has become much more confident, open, and social. His father mentioned that he started doing much better in school after he started riding coasters. Logan has also started a YouTube channel called Koaster Kids, where he visits parks, rides coasters, and ranks them on a scale of 1 to 5 screams, and encourages kids with disabilities to get out there and “Be brave!” I gotta say, I had heard about the Koaster Kids channel, but I had no idea that Logan had autism, and I think it’s super inspiring that he overcame so much of his struggles just by riding coasters. I couldn’t understand why he had gained such a huge following so quickly, but now I get it. Way to go, Logan!

After lunch it was over to the Blackout haunt building for a lights-on tour. Blackout is one of many Haunt mazes guests can walk through during the Halloween season. This particular maze is unique because it is completely dark inside, the walls have different types of creepy feeling textures, and lights will flash on actors and props when you walk close to them. Normally I absolutely hate haunted mazes, but this was something I couldn’t pass up, and it was a really interesting tour.

The next thing on the bill was a backstage tour of Diamondback, the park’s huge hyper coaster. However, that tour was cancelled due to a storm that rolled through the area. My friends and I were waiting to ride Diamondback before the tour would start, ready to walk over after our ride, but of course the ride went down because of lightning, and so did most of the park, so we just got comfortable in the station and waited it out. After a couple of hours, the ride opened again, we rode, and continued on with our day.

Thankfully by the time the park closed, the skies cleared out and gave way for some pleasant, albeit chilly, weather for night time ERT, which included Mystic Timbers, The Beast, Diamondback, and Flying Ace Aerial Chase (one of the parks family coasters). All great rides to ride at night. Timbers was especially cool, because the rain created mist that rose from the White Water Canyon rapids ride and covered half the coaster in fog. It was very eerie and awesome.

ERT the next morning was in the Coney Mall section of the park, featuring The Racer, Flight of Fear, the Zephyr swings, and the Dodgem bumper cars. I arrived a few minutes late so my friends were already riding stuff when I walked in, but I joined them and we continued riding. Flight of Fear, an indoor launched coaster in the dark, was running every other cycle with its lights on, an experience the general public typically never gets to see. Although the ride in some ways is a little more scary when you can see it, because it’s just a huge twisted mass of steel that comes VERY close to your head in several places haha.

We were on our own for lunch on this day, so I decided to try the BBQ Bacon grilled cheese sandwich at the new Tom and Chee location, where they take a grilled cheese and put bacon, bbq chips, and bbq sauce in it. It instantly became my favorite food item in the park as it was quite delicious.

One of the highlights of every Coasterstock is the backstage Beast tour. The Beast of course being the park’s landmark wooden coaster tucked away in the woods. We got to walk way back into the ride area and got some amazing views of the coaster that regular guests don’t get to see. Don Helbig, the park’s PR manager, held a quick presentation talking a little bit about the ride’s history as well as some fun facts about the ride while back there.

Because Friday’s Diamondback tour was cancelled due to weather, Don offered it on Saturday just before dinner, so he took us back behind the Crypt building to get a great view of both Diamondback and Mystic Timbers.

Dinner was provided that evening in the picnic grove. One of the speakers for this day was Jeff Pike, Co-Founder and President of Skyline Attractions and former lead design engineer for Great Coasters International. Now I’m a huge geek when it comes to designing roller coasters. I love figuring out how they work, how they are built, and how they are designed, so this presentation was my favorite of the entire weekend. Despite the fact that Jeff is no longer a GCI employee, he still does design work for the company. In fact, the final design of Mystic Timbers was created by Jeff. He went on to explain some of the challenges that came with the project, including how he had to reroute a section of track after accidentally going outside the ride’s boundary line. Fascinating stuff. He also told his story about how he got into the industry, and how he slowly worked his way to becoming a roller coaster designer.

So Alex and Matt and I made our way to the back of the park to prepare for Saturday’s ERT. We were sitting in Rivertown and had some LaRosa’s pizza to munch on when the skies opened. Right at park closing, a big storm rolled through. Heavy rains, lots of lightning and thunder, the whole package. Several attendees bailed early because they thought there would be no ERT, but we decided to stick it out and wait. It turned out to be a great idea, because at around 11:30pm, Diamondback started cycling trains. My friends and I all rushed to jump in line at Mystic Timbers, which wasn’t quite ready yet, and the ride host told all of us to go to The Beast, which was running, so we all ran that direction and had a very wet but memorable night ride on The Beast. By that time Timbers was ready, so we rode that, then made our way to Diamondback, which unfortunately already went down by the time we got to it, so we finished our Coasterstock with one final ride on Mystic Timbers.

I had a blast. My friends had a blast. Everyone at Coasterstock seemed to have a blast. Kings Island really knows how to treat us coaster enthusiasts well. A huge thanks to Kings Island for hosting an amazing event year after year.

Until next time, I’ll catch you in the front seat!

-JC

 

THE BEAST REVIEW: Still the most radically unique wooden coaster to ever exist

It’s 1978, and a young and ambitious Kings Island is still riding the waves of a roller coaster renaissance that started with its own Racer in 1972. New coasters are popping up all over the country, and height and speed records are being broken left and right. The wood coaster to beat at the time? Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Colossus, with a height of 125 feet, and a top speed of 62 mph. Little did anybody know at the time that Kings Island was about break those records in quite a big way.

The result of course being The Beast, opening in April of 1979, and featuring the two largest drops of any roller coaster at the time at 135 and 141 feet, and reaches a top speed of 64.8 mph, breaking the height and speed records pretty modestly. But there’s one other record of note.

The ride features 7,359 feet of wooden track to speed across, shattering the length record, soundly. So soundly in fact, that The Beast still holds that record to this day. That’s 38 years (as of 2017) as the longest wooden roller coaster ever built.

Now the stats for this ride are impressive yes, but it’s what the ride does that really grabbed people’s attention.

Image from Google Earth

When Kings Island’s Al Collins and Jeff Gramke were designing this giant, they had the luxury of building on 35 acres of densely wooded, very uneven terrain, so to save money, they kept the majority of the ride close to the ground, below the tree line, taking advantage of the natural hills to create a ride that wisely rises and falls with the ground below it. Now this isn’t the first time a coaster has done this. One example being Screamin Eagle at Six Flags St. Louis, which opened just 3 years prior, but no one had ever built a ride that took advantage of terrain on the sheer scale of The Beast.

One little fun fact about The Beast is that Charles Dinn was the lead construction manager for the ride. The same Charles Dinn that went on to start the Dinn Corporation, which is responsible for roller coasters like Hercules, Texas Giant, Mean Streak, Raging Wolf Bobs, and Georgia Cyclone. Ironically, all but one of those coasters have been closed and either demolished, or completely rebuilt by Rocky Mountain Construction. Long story short, parks started demanding mega-sized wood coasters. Dinn built them, but ultimately several of them succumbed to minor structural problems. Basically, from an engineering standpoint, it’s not ideal to have high g-force on a really tall section of structure. Wood just can’t handle that kind of stress long-term.

What’s REALLY cool to me is that John Allen, the famed coaster designer responsible for KI’s Racer and consultant for The Beast, already knew this! He recommended the majority of the ride to stay low to the ground since the speed was going to be so high, and that would help scrub off some of the excess momentum. This is something I learned from KI’s PR manager Don Helbig at a Beast presentation during the Coasterstock event last year.

I think Dinn had to have been inspired by The Beast when he went on to design his own coasters, so in my mind The Beast really kind of kicked off the mega wood coaster trend of the 80s and early 90s.

When approaching the entrance to the ride, only one prominent feature is visible from the midway: the first lift hill, slowly creeping up and away from the park, only to drop down the other side, and disappear from onlookers on the ground. The rest of the ride is completely hidden in the trees. The only people who know what comes next are the riders themselves.

The entire experience focuses on the element of mystery. It’s one of the most vague yet primal fears of human nature, the unknown, but what else does mystery stir in us? Curiosity. We want to know what’s out there in those woods, and the only way to know is to ride the thing.

Sounds exciting enough, but today The Beast seems to be dismissed by a growing number of coaster enthusiasts as a boring, dull ride that doesn’t do anything interesting compared to the modern mega coasters being built these days, and I get it.

(POV provided by Kings Island)

When you break the layout down into individual sections, it suddenly seems very non-impressive. Other than the beginning and the end, the ride is nothing more than a bunch of basic straightaways and turns that hug the ground, with the occasional tunnel thrown in for good measure. There are virtually no airtime hills on the ride, not to mention its speed is robbed in a couple of places thanks to trim brakes scattered throughout the course.

It’s really easy to look at The Beast on paper and say “Oh, there’s no airtime or quick direction changes on the ride, and so many trim brakes. It’s gotta be boring”. When riding it, it’s even more easy to compare it to other roller coasters that have those more traditionally accepted elements and wish you were riding something else. Heck, right next door is Kings Island’s mega airtime machine Diamondback, a ride that certainly offers an experience The Beast can’t even come close to offering.

If you’re among the group that is not a fan of The Beast, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong. I can’t change your opinion, BUT I still encourage you to open your mind and at least understand that The Beast is simply a VERY different kind of ride altogether; a ride much more psychological and theatrical in nature.

When riding the coaster, the track is so enshrouded in trees that you can never see what’s coming next until you turn into the next corner. What’s more is that the speed of the ride gets progressively faster and faster (yes despite the brakes) as it makes its way through the course, and the lateral force get a little stronger with every turn, keeping riders on their toes through the whole thing.

Then there’s the second lift hill which offers a jarring, yet natural break in the pacing. Riders start to let their guard down, perhaps thinking that the ride might be over, but this lift hill is really a calm before the storm. A moment of stillness that greatly heightens what comes next: that counter-clockwise double helix.

It’s the most powerful part of the ride. Flattening out at the top of the 2nd lift, riders slowly turn to the left and head down a long shallow ramp (yes I call it a ramp) that gradually gains more and more speed while also tipping riders on their left side as the track banks more and more, setting up for what I like to call “The Slam.”

Yes, “the slam” is that huge kick of lateral force to the right as riders hit that first section of the helix, and the lateral force never stops until you go around once, twice, then slowly head back home to the station.

Without fail, every time I ride The Beast, that ramp into the double helix gives me the feeling that I’m gonna crash into the tunnel wall. It’s such a perfect psychological build up and pay-off that is, in my opinion, the most well-executed finale to any roller coaster I’ve ever ridden, a lot like a well-executed climax to a good book or movie.

Again, let me emphasize that The Beast uses very different tactics to induce fear in riders compared to more traditional coasters. While many rides resort to the feeling of free-fall as their main weapon, The Beast works purely on the fear of losing control. You’re hurtling through the woods at speeds too uncomfortable to handle, and you wish you could slam on the brakes, but you don’t have any brakes, so you just have to hold on and hope you don’t die. It’s THAT kind of fear that makes The Beast work. I completely understand that some riders don’t feel that kind of fear when riding the ride, and those people may find the ride boring since they’re just waiting for some decent hills (that never come).

The Beast experience increases 10-fold when the sun goes down. The layout is completely isolated in the back of the park, and there is nothing else around it, so you’re speeding through 35 acres in complete darkness, totally alone, certainly feeling like you’re not at an amusement park anymore. The tunnels especially are so dark at night that you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. If you’re really lucky and catch the ride just after it rains, a layer of fog from the near-by Miami River will cover the ride area, adding an extra dose of eeriness to the experience. It’s tradition for park goers to get in line right before closing, wait for the fireworks show to end, then enjoy what is widely considered the most famous night ride in the roller coaster world.

On a completely unrelated note, there also seems to be this “homemade/backyard engineering” feel to The Beast since it was designed AND constructed completely in house by Kings Island. That tells me there had to have been a little bit of trial and error involved in the beginning. After all, Collins and Gramke had never designed a whole roller coaster before, and supposedly only had some rough calculations written on the back of a restaurant menu by John Allen. The trim brakes that are on the ride serve a purely functional purpose. The ride HAD to be slowed down I guess because it was going too fast for the structure to handle. It feels like the designers of the ride truly did not know just how fast the ride would go until they sent it around the course for the first time.

When you look at the ride from that perspective, the ride’s name makes total sense. It’s too big, too fast, too extreme. We must restrain this Beast before it goes out and kills someone. That’s definitely where The Beast gained its legendary status from, especially from those that rode it in it’s first few seasons. I wasn’t around back then, but apparently the old skid brakes didn’t grab too hard, and were susceptible to being slippery when it rained, so the ride felt a little faster back then. These days the ride operates with magnetic brakes, which grab harder and don’t fail when wet. Those trim brakes today probably generate the biggest complaints from enthusiasts, but since they are required to keep the ride in good shape, they’ve gotta stay. Oh well…

While I do happen to be one of those people that tends to hover toward rides that have more airtime, quicker pace, and higher intensity, I still really appreciate The Beast for what it is: a speedy, bouncy trip through the backwoods of Ohio. Nothing more, nothing less.

I’m really happy The Beast exists. I’m even more happy that The Beast remains largely unchanged since it opened, as it has cemented itself as one of the most iconic roller coasters in the world. Totally different. Totally unique. Totally Kings Island. Totally Ohio.

THE BEAST RATING: 7 / 10 (Solid)

I’d love to hear what you guys think of The Beast in the comments below! Until next time, I’ll catch you in the front seat!

-JC

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LIGHTNING ROD REVIEW: The world’s fastest wood coaster speeding its way through the Smokies.

P1000307Rocky Mountain Construction.

If you call yourself a roller coaster enthusiast, you should be familiar with these three words. If not, I’ll fill you in with the basics.

Rocky Mountain Construction, or RMC, is the latest and greatest roller coaster design firm to hit the industry. They specialize in creating ground-breaking wood and steel coasters that use very innovative track tech, and pushing the boundaries, doing what was previously thought to be impossible. In other words, they’re changing the roller coaster game forever, and you don’t fully understand how until you ride one for yourself.

In August 2015, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN announced it would be building RMC’s Lightning Rod, the world’s first LSM launched wood coaster that would also be the fastest wood coaster in the world at 73 mph. The ride immediately became the most anticipated coaster of 2016. After several months of construction, the ride was barely finished just a couple of weeks before opening day. On that day, thousands showed up anticipating their first ride on this crazy coaster, and it’s closed.

Ok so the park has a few kinks to work out. It’ll probably be open in a couple of weeks right? Wrong.

The ride finally opened in June, nearly 3 months after its original planned opening date. It operated for a few weeks, then went back down for ANOTHER month. Sheesh, this ride is giving me some flashbacks of Top Thrill Dragster’s opening year at Cedar Point in 2003.

After those two major delays, on August 4th, 2016, Lightning Rod opened again, and this time it seems they finally have the ride under control. Cue the impromptu drive to Pigeon Forge to take a ride on this thing.


This was my view right at park opening. It was the first time I had seen the ride run since May, except this time it was opening, and I was pumped. It was a very hot August day (high of 95 degrees…), and I stood in line outside for about 30 minutes, and finally the ride staff opened the doors and we were on our way. Up the stairs and into the station we go.

I need to take a quick aside to comment on the theming on this ride. It’s subtle but executed great. The first room is the garage of an auto shop where the Lightning Rod hot rod sits. The next room is a welding shop with a bunch of car parts strewn about and lights and sounds of somebody welding behind a closed door, my personal favorite touch. The exterior of the station looks like an old school ACE auto parts shop. Really well done.


For my first ride, I was sent to row 2, giving me a good look at the trains. These are beautiful roller coaster trains. The front car as seen here sports a classic hot rod engine hood and grill, and the sides are decked out with a slick flaming paint job. Probably the coolest looking trains I’ve ever seen.

This is my 3rd RMC, so by this point I was pretty familiar with their seat and restraint systems, which are pretty restrictive. The lap bar is super beefy and also has a shin bar, so once it’s down, your legs do not move one bit. Probably not as comfortable as a B&M clamshell restraint found on said company’s hyper coasters, but still not that bad.

(POV provided by UpStop Media)

Starting off, the hot rod train slowly rolls out of the station and takes a right turn to line you up for the launch. Before you know it, those LSMs kick in and you’re screaming up that massive first 206 ft hill at 45 mph. At the top of the hill is the first big moment of ejector air as the train dips down about a 40 ft drop, setting you up for the biggest drop on the coaster at 165 feet. Airtime moment #2.

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Down the large drop we go, flying out of our seats the whole way. Rolling out of the drop and screaming down the valley, the train rips through its first major element, a giant wave turn, in which the ride banks a hard left turn at 90 degrees, and while sideways, the track actually curves in on itself, resulting in airtime with no lateral forces whatsoever, yet you’re completely sideways. It’s so bizarre but crazy fun.

From there Lightning Rod heads back down into the valley, picking up a ton of speed, and heads into a 90 degree banked camelback hill. At breakneck speed, the train rolls out of a right turn and banks hard and fast to the left, then banks right again going out of the hill. The twisting laterals here are immense, and throw you like a rag doll. Insane.

Making a 180 degree turn to the right, the hot rod train screams through a low, banked airtime hill, providing strong negative and lateral g’s, takes a slight right turn to head back up the valley, cresting in yet another airtime moment. See a pattern here?

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At the top of the mountain, Lightning Rod sets riders up for the return trip home with the ride’s signature feature, a quadruple down. Four breathtaking drops in a row down the other side of the mountain, pushing riders hard against their restraints once again. Turning out of the last drop to the right, the train hops over another quick airtime hill and up into the non-inverting half loop, a heavily banked 180 degree spiral turn to the right. Out of that turn, riders fly out of their seats one last time as they drop straight into the magnetic brakes. An action-packed end to an action-packed ride.

So there’s obviously a lot of stuff that makes this ride amazing, but the biggest thing I took away from the ride was its pure sense of speed. This was the first time I was genuinely scared of how fast a roller coaster was going. Like seriously, Lightning Rod feels dangerously fast, like those wheel bogies were REALLY working hard to keep that train on the track. This ride is not just the fastest wood coaster in the world, but it truly feels like the fastest wood coaster in the world, if that makes sense. More than any single element of the ride, this is what makes Lightning Rod really stand out among the competition to me.

It took me four trips to Dollywood to finally ride Lightning Rod. The first two were early in the season, and the third was just four days before it opened back up. To be completely honest, I’m almost glad it took that long, because that really built up the ride experience in my head to something like an unreachable dream, so when I finally showed up that August morning and waited, something like an explosion of happiness went off in my head as they opened the doors and let us through. It was so surreal walking through the queue for the first time. I was finally about to ride the most anticipated ride of 2016, right here in my home state of Tennessee.

I rode Lightning Rod 10 times that day, and I don’t think that surreal feeling left me the entire time I was on that coaster. It was just so amazing to finally be riding it. This was compounded by the fact that this is the most intense, relentless, crazy roller coaster I’ve ever ridden, wood OR steel. I actually found my first ride to be too intense! We hit the brake run, and I’m thinking “what the heck just happened??” It was almost too much to handle, but I carried on, and jumped right back in line.

Ride after ride, I got into the experience more and more, being blown away at everything this ride was doing! The sideways airtime, the twisting laterals, that amazing quadruple down, everything. By the end of the day, my legs were aching because of all the ejector air I put myself through all day, but I didn’t care, because the ride was so amazing I couldn’t stay away from it.

As I said before, this was my 3rd RMC coaster. My first two were Goliath at Six Flags Great America, and Storm Chaser at Kentucky Kingdom. Both of which were really fun coasters, but neither totally blew me away like Lightning Rod did. It is absolutely their crown jewel coaster in my opinion.

However, I do have ONE small critique. At the bottom of the first drop, there is a really nasty jolt in the track, as if a track joint was not totally smoothed over. On one of my rides, that bump in the track tweaked by neck pretty badly, and I had to walk away from my marathoning for a couple of hours. The silver lining here is that if you ride in the front row of a car, the bump is barely noticeable, but in wheel seats, you feel it hard, so just prepare for it. Other than that, the ride is smooth as can be.

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Bar none, this is the most amazing roller coaster I’ve ever done out of the 156 I’ve ridden. It’s a game changer folks. Find any way you can to get to Dollywood and ride this thing. It’ll stick with you forever.

LIGHTNING ROD RATING: 10/10

Until next time, I’ll catch you in the front seat!

-JC

DOLLYWOOD APRIL 2016: Video / Trip Report / Park Review

My theme park season started with this cool, beautiful spring trip to the best park in Tennessee, Dollywood! Crowds were nonexistent, with wait times for rides never over 10 minutes. Dollywood’s Festival of Nations was in full swing, so the park was decked out with lots of different world culture activities and shows.

Lightning Rod, Dollywood’s new RMC woodie, was still closed, but the site was very active as crews were installing brakes on the launch hill, and I even caught some video of the trains being installed on the track! This ride looks absolutely incredible in person, and I think I speak on behalf of all coaster enthusiasts when I say I cannot WAIT to get my rear end in the front seat of this thing.

Dollywood is one of those few parks that just overflows with charm, with the attitude and culture of East Tennessee filling every ride, every walkway, every building, and every bit of landscaping. Cedar Fair and Six Flags parks, take note. THIS is how you do a regional park the right way.

Now I’ve been to Dollywood several times as it’s in my home state of Tennessee, but I’ve never been this early in the year, and it was probably my favorite trip to this park so far. The light crowds meant plenty of re-rides, so I really got to spend some time evaluating the parks ride line-up, and boy is it awesome!

ROLLER COASTER REVIEWS

P1000273 TENNESSEE TORNADO: It may be one of the shortest Arrow coasters ever built, but rest assured that this is, in my opinion, the best. It’s fast, intense, and most importantly, smooth! Being built after the Ron Toomer era and designed by Alan Schilke, this ride is the ONLY Arrow looper to feature “non-standard size” loops and use modern track-bending techniques to produce smooth transitions, and it’s head over heels above every older looping coaster in Arrow’s arsenal. That being said, this one is starting to show its age a bit. It had some bad vibration in a couple of areas that gave me a small headache, but it was still a lot of fun. RATING: 8/10

P1000268BLAZING FURY: I have a big love for old, cheesy dark rides, and this one has the plus of including a coaster section! The trains are themed to look like fire engines, and the ride takes you through quirky scenes that feature funny animatronics and lots of buildings on “fire” before going down three small drops for the finale. I love how Dollywood continues to update this old attraction with new effects and additions to the scenes. It shows how much they love it and want it to stay for a long time! FIRE IN THE HOLE!!! RATING: 7/10

P1000310MYSTERY MINE: Somehow this little gem of a coaster slips under the radar of many, but this thing is one of the best themed coasters I’ve ever come across. The ride story goes that a series of superstitious accidents led to the closing of a mine in the Smokies, and riders have a chance to explore that mine by jumping into one of seven mine cars and going for a ride, but they quickly learn that it’s nothing but trouble and must find their way out, but not before dodging a rock crusher, crossing a rickety trestle, and finally plunging 85 feet straight down a mine shaft! Seriously this ride is a TON of fun. The only negative part of the ride is that it’s a bit of a headbanger at times, but it’s nowhere near as bad as other rides I’ve done. RATING: 8/10

P1000283WILD EAGLE: Ah yes, the first B&M wing coaster in the US, and boy is it majestic sitting up high on a hill right in the middle of the park! Just like an eagle flying through the sky, the ride is smooth and graceful, but also powerful. It’s definitely not as intense as other coasters at the park, but I consistently noticed how popular it was among guests. They love Wild Eagle! Again I think that goes back to its comfortable ride and huge presence in the park. For this thrill seeker, it wasn’t my favorite, but it certainly does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and to me that’s all that matters. RATING: 7/10

P1000279FIRECHASER EXPRESS: This is another little gem of a coaster that is a lot more fun than you might think! The park markets it as a family coaster as it has a very low height requirement (39 inches I think), but this ride does a lot of cool stuff! Most notably, it features a layout in which the train travels forward AND backward, but it’s still a continuous circuit coaster, sort of like a mini Expedition Everest without the high level of theming. Speaking of which, the theming for this ride is pretty cool, too, as the trains look like fire engines and the station a fire dept. station. The story is that riders are firefighter recruits and are sent out on a mission to go put out a fire at a fireworks shop. Lots of fun for kids and adults alike. RATING: 7/10

THUNDERHEAD: (No picture, but heavily featured in video) Currently my favorite coaster in the park. This GCI woodie is the perfect example of what a good twister coaster should be: tight turns, high banking, lots of crossovers, and lots of speed! Also, despite the fact that there are no large hills for airtime, there are a TON of small airtime pops throughout the course that always catch me off guard. My understanding is that Thunderhead has won the “best wood coaster: award from Amusement Today a few times, and I can see why. It’s currently running a little rough, but not horribly rough in my opinion. Still a great coaster. RATING: 9/10

More park pictures below.

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Other notable rides include Daredevil Falls (a fantastic log flume), Barnstormer (a big S&S Screamin’ Swing), Smoky Mountain River Rampage (a drenching rapids ride), Mountain Slidewinder (a wet and wild toboggan slide down a mountain), and the Dollywood Express (a 5-mile train ride aboard a beautiful authentic steam locomotive).

Dollywood just oozes with southern charm, which is why it is one of my favorite parks in the whole country. Everyone needs to check this place out. You won’t be disappointed. Let me know your thoughts on this park in comments below.

PARK RATING: 9/10 (Excellent!)

Until next time, I’ll catch you in the front seat!

-JC

VOYAGE REVIEW: a 10-year analysis of Holiday World’s record-breaking wood coaster

P1010263When I first saw the announcement for this roller coaster in 2005, I knew it would be special. The ride rendering looked like one of those fantasy roller coasters some crazy enthusiast would dream up in No Limits. Except this one was being built for real…

The late Will Koch, park president at the time and a major coaster nerd himself, came to The Gravity Group design team and asked for an extreme out-and-back coaster, one that would put all others to shame. Make it big, make it long, and pack it with more airtime than any other wood coaster in the entire world. The result is an absolute monster, with a design that more resembles a steel hyper coaster than your average woodie.

P1010754We have a lift height of 163 feet with a 154 foot first drop, a top speed of 67.4 mph, and a ride duration of 2 minutes and 45 seconds. At 6,442 feet long, Voyage is the second longest wooden coaster in the world (behind The Beast at Kings Island) and the longest wooden coaster in the world with a single lift hill. On top of all that, Gravity Group squeezed in a total of 24.3 seconds of weightlessness, giving it the current world record for the most seconds of airtime on a wood coaster.

My first ride on Voyage was in July of 2006, its opening season, which also marked my very first visit to Holiday World. To this day, I have never ridden a traditional wood coaster as extreme as this one. What exactly makes it so extreme? Watch this video…

Filmed by Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari.

From this POV video, we learn a few things. First, this thing is FAST. Once it hits that 67.4 mph at the bottom of the first drop, it seems to never slow down even toward the end. Second, the ride is LONG, much longer than the average roller coaster. Finally, we can see that the coaster is split into three distinct sections. Let’s break them down one by one.

P1000123The first section is the outbound run. This section is exclusively made of straight camelback hills designed for long moments of floater airtime. The first two hills after the initial drop are giants, with drops of 107 and 100 feet respectively. The next two hills hug the ground and dive in and out of three underground tunnels.

P1000150The second section is the turnaround known as the “spaghetti bowl.” This section is made of rapidly-paced hops, twists, and turns that completely change the dynamic of the ride from an out-&-back to a twister. The track hugs the terrain closely, and contains a few surprises including a reverse banked hill and two back-to-back 90-degree turns.

P1000124The final section of the ride is the return run, beginning with a totally enclosed triple-down drop (the ride’s signature feature). This section cleverly combines the previous two dynamics (out-&-back and twister) by including straight hills interweaved with tight twists and turns, all while still traveling one general direction. The section has a sense of build-up as the elements gradually get quicker and more twisted until the ride finishes with a series of steeply-banked hills and curves that include two more tunnels before hitting the final brakes.

The true brilliance of the design is the way it uses the terrain to its advantage. It’s really hard to notice when you’re on the ride since everything is a blur, but the ground below you on the outbound run is gradually going uphill. When you get to the turnaround, you reach the top of said hill, so when the ride sets you up for the return run home, it simultaneously sets you up to go back DOWN that same hill. The total elevation difference here is a vertical of 100 feet. This is how Voyage is able to maintain its speed so well all the way to the end, by going uphill one way and downhill the opposite way. This is most evident when you get to the midcourse block, which is only about 10 feet or so off the ground. As you ride through the return run, you can feel the ride slowly picking up speed while staying close to the ground. It’s an amazing sensation and is a masterpiece of roller coaster design.

However, Voyage is, admittedly, a bit of a paradox. This is a ride that focuses on one thing and one thing only: extreme thrills. It charges full-steam from the top of the lift to the brakes, not giving riders a single chance to breathe sans the block brake before the triple-down. It is definitely an exhilarating ride that satisfies any thrill seeker’s craving for an adrenaline rush. On the flip side, though, I wouldn’t call Voyage “fun” in the traditional sense. It’s not a coaster that is designed to make you giggle with delight like a flat ride or smaller coaster might.

P1010965Its sheer non-stop intensity combined with its very long length results in a very tough, physical ride. It throws you around and beats you up a bit, challenging your coaster riding endurance almost to its breaking point, so while it’s very exciting, it’s also very exhausting. As a result, opinions on Voyage are quite polarizing. People either love it or hate it, usually for the same reasons.

P1000116Voyage’s thrilling, forceful ride also made it very rough and temperamental over time, turning the experience from tough and physical to violent and painful. I won’t be the first person to say that this ride is a thigh-bruiser. The train can shuffle through the course pretty badly and has left me in a bit of pain on more than one occasion.

P1010961I’m honestly not sure if Holiday World knew what they were getting themselves into when they decided to build a wood coaster of this caliber using traditional laminated track. Wood coasters are generally pretty expensive to maintain as is, and from what I understand, Voyage is a VERY hard ride to maintain properly. It ran incredibly well its first three or four seasons, but it started to get progressively more and more painful each year following. Thankfully Holiday World’s “coaster cats” (the nickname for the park’s coaster maintenance team) have been on top of things for the most part. They’re having to do major track work just about every off-season to keep this thing running as smoothly as possible, but even then it still runs a little rough today.

P1000127One possible long-term solution to Voyage’s roughness is to give it a “GhostRider”-style refurb. Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California has a wood coaster similar to Voyage called GhostRider that has also aged badly over the years, so Knott’s decided to call in Great Coasters International Inc. to come and retrack the ENTIRE ride for the 2016 season. Not only that, but GCI is also reprofiling the highest-stress sections making them more manageable, and replacing the rolling stock with their own Millennium Flyer trains. These are single-axle trailered cars where one car attaches to the next via a trailer arm and hitch with a two-axle car up front. They track MUCH better than Voyage’s two-row PTC cars since the trailered design is able to follow the path of the track more properly with a lot less shuffling. The one-row cars are also much more flexible and don’t pound on the track as hard because the train’s weight is distributed across each car’s single axle. If Holiday World did this, Voyage might be easier to maintain over the long run and be more comfortable to ride.

GhostRider's new Millennium Flyer Trains. Image from of Knott's Berry Farm.

GhostRider’s new Millennium Flyer Trains. Image from of Knott’s Berry Farm.

Despite the fact that Voyage is struggling with age, there’s no denying that it is still an incredible ride. It’s a total package experience, offering three different roller coaster types into one ride: out-&-back, twister, and terrain. Even better is that all of its elements fit seamlessly together to where the ride has a natural flow to it. Not one element feels awkward or out of place. The non-stop speed makes for some ferocious pacing, some of the best I’ve ever experienced on any coaster. The ride also feels like an epic adventure, taking you FAR into the backwoods of the park and back. You really feel like you’ve “gone somewhere” with Voyage, which makes its name very fitting!
One other thing. Voyage really comes into its own at night. Because you’re out in the woods for much of the ride, it is pitch black out there, making it feel so much faster and all the more epic.

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I call Voyage the Beast of the millennial generation, because I can’t help but draw some parallels. They’re the top two longest wood coasters in the world, they’re both really ballsy designs for their respective periods, both are revered for their night rides, and both are considered the best wood coaster in the world by many, depending on who you ask. I’ve noticed that most older people who grew up with the Beast consider it to be the best, while the younger crowd (my age) tends to lean more toward Voyage.

I already consider Voyage a classic, as it has cemented itself in history as perhaps the most enduring wood coaster ever built. It takes some serious guts to build a ride like this, so you’ve gotta give props to Holiday World for not only having the guts to build one of the ballsiest roller coasters on the planet, but also caring about it enough to keep it running as good as they can. 2016 will be its 10th anniversary season, to which I say happy early birthday, Voyage. Here’s to many more thrilling years.

Voyage SHOULD be a 10/10 coaster, but as it’s currently running, I have to take off a point for its current rough ride.

VOYAGE RATING (as of 2015): 9 / 10 (Excellent!)

Do you guys agree with my review? Let me know in the comments below what you think of the ride! Until next time, I’ll catch you in the front seat!

-JC