Musings of a Coaster Rider

I’ve not been to an amusement park in ages.  This weekend, I went, and road the coasters.  This is a long post.  It has no point, except for me to just ramble on about roller coasters and more.  Ready?  DO NOT STAND UP!*

Canada’s Wonderland, the amusement park, opened in 1981, and I think my first visit there was in 1982.  At the time it had five  coasters – three woodies, a flume, and one steel one.  My first visits I didn’t do many of the coasters, but gradually worked my way up through all the woodies.  That looping stuff, though… no way.  Not for a few years.   And when I took that plunge (literally, here!)… there were a few more coasters to try and I loved ‘em all.

The last time I was at Wonderland was, IIRC, in 1994.  The last time I was on a coaster was… 1995.  Been ages, and when Erin and I hit up California’s Great America last Saturday it turned into a day of much riding.  What the park lacked in number of coasters, we made up in volume in a deliciously slow day at the park.  At one point, as no one was in line for our car, we rode a coaster 5 times without getting off.  Now THAT’s a way to ride!

But back to Wonderland for a moment.  The original three woodies are there (and they better never take ‘em down!).  The Ghoster Coaster was a junior coaster, with the Wilde Beast and the Mighty Canadian Mine Buster were the medium and laaarge coasters, respectively.  And as woodies go, they were great classics.  (the Ghoster Coaster even, apparently, received the American Coaster Enthusiasts’ Coaster Classic Award, which was rescinded).

The Minebuster was tall, long, fast (for the time), and a great classic design… big hill, then lots of humps that gave you plenty of delicious hang time, before turning around and coming back again for more!  The original lap bars (which have since been replaced — the reason the Ghoster Coaster’s award was rescinded) were at mid-chest level, so you truly got hang time.  That sucker would let you fly, before you clunked back down in the chair for some good positive Gs.   It’s what coasters were invented to do, and it did it well.  The end of the ride was a 45~ tilt helix through a metal mine shaft, with the noise (and the screaming) making for one amazing sensory experience.

The Wilde Beast was just that… wild(e).  It wasn’t big, but it’s compact and twisting form had the other great hallmark of woodies:  it was VIOLENT.  The first hill had a curve in it, and by gods, you knew it when going down.  Lots of quick up and downs (with hang time!), and you were shaken AND stirred when you got off the ride.  Glorious.  Just what a woodie’s supposed to do.  It pains me, as I searched out videos and info on the Wilde Beast, to read comments saying that it is “too rough” (and therefore not as good as other coasters).  Again, the POINT of a woodie IS that it is rough!  (Well, natch, one of the points).  That’s what makes it great.

And the Minebuster, when you got to that Helix at the end, it wasn’t a smooth transition into the curve, nay, it THREW you to the side as it SLAMMED into the 45~, and by golly it was fighting the turn the whole way.  Your body knew it had ridden a ride when you were done.

I hereby invite everyone to EMBRACE the old woodie experience!  Let yourself be thrown about and enjoy the rush!

Wonderland opened with 4 coasters, and that fourth one, the Dragon Fyre (with its awesome original paint scheme that took the cars from orange to red as the flame it should be) was smooth as silk, and a simple design.  Up, down, two loops, one corkscrew (two inversions), a full sideways helix for a full revolution, and back into the station.  To the woodie prop plane this was a fly-by-wire jet fighter, and felt like it too.  I loved it.

What I never realized all those years, as Wonderland was really the only park I had much experience with, was, as each new coaster was added, what an amazing collection and mix of coasters they were adding.

Skyrider, a stand up coaster, came onto the scene, with a big loop, a double-turn helix, and some nice bouncy hills and counter-steering that played with the mind.    And that loop and the way the harnesses were designed let you KNOW there was G-forces, they had enough give to let your legs have to do some of the work…. The BAT came, the classic and all-over-the-place boomerang design.  Pulled up and back out of the station for a rush through the gates, then that Cobra Roll that, just as you got used to the direction of the first inversion, fwips you around the other way, a loop, and the pull-up… so you can do it again backwards.  Thunder Run came just before the BAT, and while it was not a thrill coaster per se, the run twice through the mountain (through the MOUNTAIN!) along with the visual/light effects and the dragon made it a fun experience.

And then came… Vortex.  Vortex also came off the MOUNTAIN, and it was suspended.  Not just inverted, but an Arrow Dynamics made suspended coaster, where the cars are free to swing side-to-side on their own.  The original granddaddy of suspended coasters, the Big Bad Wolf**, recently was shut down at Cedar Point, and this bodes not well for the remaining 3 or 4 similar coasters in the world.  If you’ve never ridden one, this is a unique experience because of that free-swinging action.  When you hit a corner, you whip out to the side, in a way that feels, because it is, free.  The sensation is pure, perfect, and thrilling.  And, with no track below you, that feeling of flight is there, as well as the sensation of “will we fly off?” or “will we hit that column/etc there???”.

There have been so few of these built, and Wonderland had one, incorporated with the mountain.  That’s unexpected (to me).

That brings me to the end of when I’ve visited, but they’ve since added a Flight Deck (which I rode here so more on that below) where the Zumba Flume used to be, Time Warp, a “lying down flying face first” coaster, and then…. Behemoth, a hypercoaster (200+ feet tall) and then… Leviathan, a GIGA coaster (300+ feet tall).

As an aside, I watched a couple of years ago a POV vid of Behemoth, and as it was going up the lift, the camera panned to the side to see the Minebuster getting smaller and smaller  below… and I shouted out “the Minebuster should NOT look small!”

And now, for 2014, a new ride that’ll once again plunge into the mountain, a combination thrill coaster and 4D interactive ride with 3D effects and blaster guns (?).

While I never realized it, Wonderland’s up there in terms of quality of coaster parks.  And it used to lay the theme on thick, and it was GREAT.  You didn’t just queue up for a ride, each one had its own flair to heighten the experience.  That, sadly, seems to be gone now.

My recommendations to Cedar Faire (who runs the park):  bring back the original lap bars on the woodies, bring back the themeing, and please please please do not let Vortex succumb to the fate of the Big Bad Wolf.  I’d even say spruce up the Vortex – it’s missing a theme, and while it’s a terrain coaster (interacting over a pond and a few other things), I’d say play that up more.  Use some good rocks, copses of trees, and let the cars fly through all that.  It’d be amazing.  (If you could re-design it to be longer too…)  Also, you’ve got the two big ass coasters now.  They go fast, but I’d suggest working back into the other mix of interesting coaster designs, with Linear Acceleration Motors an fast shoots, maybe an inverted dueling coaster, and ones that amp up the inversions to the extreme.  Or, a nice new woodie like the Gold Striker.

The Gold Striker’s the new Woodie that opened this year at Cali’s Great America, and we rode it a whack of times this past weekend.  As a woodie goes, it’s pretty smooth, not very rough at all.  And there’s very little design for hang time (and the lap bars don’t allow it – unless you cheat like I did and push up on the bar as they lock it to leave yourself some room!)  But it is a gloriously designed coaster, very tight, with highly banked turns, a speed that stays remarkably fast and constant throughout, and it twists and turns, and ups and downs and changes directions very often, creating a very thrilling ride.  We loved it.

Flight Deck was the other coaster that really enthralled us this weekend, though I’d say it’s a coaster design that only works awesomely if you get the front row (see earlier comment about quiet day, and we rode it front-seat all times but once).  With the track above, no floor, and no car in front of you, it’s all vision, all the time, all directions, which is a fabulous experience, and makes even a humble loop seem fresh.  The corkscrews were great, and the corkscrew-into-direction-switch-into-helix-over-water was a thrill each time.

Especially the time where, as we came roaring over the edge, we see, in the water below, just under the tracks, a gaggle of ducks.  Before my mind can even comprehend “look out!”, before they can even sense us, we’re over them and they’re beginning to take off.  With the speed, their motion, the perfect view, the sideways angle, it was as though the moment was frozen in time, their wings just spread open, us hanging there.  Very cool.

So, colour me as having coasters back on my radar to more actively get out and do.  Not sure if Cal’s Great America is high on the list (small park that it is), but Six Flags in Vallejo is not uber far, and promises a lot of coaster goodness.

And next time I find myself in Toronto during the summer time… I’m going to Wonderland.

* My favourite sign atop each of the woodies at Wonderland.  I always found that hilarious.  I so wanted there to be that on the coasters at Great America and on their old woodie, the Grizzly, there it was, proud, atop that first big hill.

** I so wanted for years to ride on the Big Bad Wolf, and now won’t be able to.  What an awesome ride… two lift hills!  Swings over water!  Weaving through the buildings of an old village, any moment appearing you would crash into them!  Inspired design — straightforward, but what an experience it would’ve been, now foolishly removed.  Vid for it here:

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