Thursday, July 3, 2003

46 coasters, 3 states, 6 days

Welcome to the great Tristate Coaster Tour - six days of trekking through Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana to ride every adult coaster in the biggest amusement parks.

That would be 1,318 miles behind the wheel, dozens of CDs played too loudly, dozens of U-turns and - gulp - 46 coasters. Or, to get linear about it, 133,696 feet or 25.32 miles of track.

The Raven at Holiday World, Santa Claus, Ind.
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Roller coaster craze a never-ending cycle
Map & information about the coaster parks (PDF)
The 2003 tour re-creates a trip undertaken in the summer of 1998, when there were 31 coasters on the itinerary. The addition of 15 coasters in those intervening years meant it was high time to test them all again.

Luckily, there was no standing in line. We entered via the exits thanks to a little help from park staffers.

One more thing, just as last time, we limited ourselves to major amusement parks. Let's roll ...

Six Flags

7:11 a.m. Tuesday: The top is down and Turandot is in the CD player as I head north on I-71 to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Aurora, Ohio. Formerly Geauga Lake on one shore and Sea World on the other, Worlds is now a single 750-acre park with towering shade trees dating to Geauga Lake's founding in 1888. It had five coasters until 1999, when Six Flags bought Geauga and Sea World and the next year installed five new coasters.

11:29 a.m. Tuesday: The car is parked and the downhill journey on Six Flags' nine adult coasters begins on X-Flight, Ohio's only flying coaster. Once riders are seated and locked in with a shoulder harness and ankle bar - you do need them - the cars tilt back, parallel to the track and passengers stare at the sky. The slow ride up gives a spectacular view of the park, but on the fast ride down the track keeps looping, corkscrewing and twisting so that half the time riders are hanging out of the seat staring at the earth, 115 feet in the air at 50 mph.

Superman, which takes riders from 0 to 70 mph in three seconds, and Batman, a floorless coaster that swings legs all over the place, are the park's other two top coasters.

4:30 p.m. Tuesday: Off to the hotelTime for a beer.

Coaster heaven

9 a.m. Wednesday: On to Sandusky's Cedar Point in a light rain accompanied by vintage country music. Cedar Point, a 364-acre peninsula poking into Lake Erie, was founded in 1870 and today holds the record for more coasters than any park in the world - 16, with 14 qualifying as non-kiddie coasters. It's also home to Top Thrill Dragster, the world's tallest (420 feet), fastest (0 to 120 mph in four seconds) roller coaster. It sends riders upward at a 90-degree angle, holds them a breathless sec at the top, then plunges them down at another 90-degree angle.

10:50 a.m. Tuesday: Bad news: Dragster is down. "It's a problem with the computers. That's the kind of thing that happens with a prototype coaster," explains park rep Janice Witherow.

But Millennium Force is up and hissing. The 310-foot steel monster running at 93 mph is one of the smoothest rides in the world. Also winner of's 2003 World's Best Steel Coaster poll.

This is one coaster where you should sit in the front seat - even if it means 10 or 15 minutes more in line - so you can watch the track disappear on that 80-degree angle of descent. But not in the rain. At 93 mph, even a drizzle feels like icepacks hitting you in the face.

Thirteen coasters later, Dragster still is closed.

6:05 p.m. Wednesday: Ride attendants begin testing Dragster's cars, and thousands of park guests make a beeline. By 6:10, the line is huge. We get to ride. Intense? Yeah, heart stopping. Scary? Uh huh. Worth the $25 million investment? No doubt.

Off to Indiana

8 a.m. Thursday: It's sunny, so the top's down for the five-hour drive to Indiana Beach in Monticello, Ind. Today's soundtrack is Metallica, because it seems like the right thing to do in Indiana.

Indiana Beach hugs the shores of Lake Shafer. Quaint rental cottages surround the park and spill onto a boardwalk with midway games and one of the country's last walk-through funhouses.

10:05 a.m. Thursday: Founded in 1926, Indiana Beach boasts the last roller coaster in America with no restraints. That would be the Tig'rr, a small steel coaster that seats four per car and delivers its thrills with hairpin turns and sudden drops.

12:55 p.m. Thursday: We're ready to ride the park's four adult coasters, especially Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain. named it Best New Wood Coaster of 2003.

It's a dark ride, a runaway train deal during which riders face forward or backward. Either way, whatever happens comes as a surprise. Like 180-degree turns on a 6-foot radius and a 35-foot drop out of nowhere. It's not fast (25 mph) and it's not high (35 feet) - but it's good.

Indiana Beach's other winner is Hoosier Hurricane, a favorite among American Coaster Enthusiasts. Built mostly over the lake, it constantly gives the illusion of plunging into the murky depths.

Wooden legend

3:05 p.m. Thursday: We're out of here for the drive to Santa Claus, Ind.

10 a.m. Friday: Off to Holiday World and only two coasters, but they are legendary. The Legend and The Raven, named No. 1 wooden roller coaster in the world by Amusement Today.

Owned by the Koch family since its founding in 1946, Holiday World might be the country's cleanest park. Family matriarch Pat Koch is never seen without a broom in her hand.

Holiday World's other claim to fame: Free sunscreen and free soda all the time.

Riding Stella and Lola

9 a.m. Monday: It's off to Louisville's Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, home to seven adult coasters. Loretta Lynn provides the music.

Kentucky Kingdom houses another ACE favorite: Twisted Twins, a double-track wooden coaster. Trains named Stella and Lola twist and squirm around the tracks, nearly collide and toss riders out of their seats 10 or 12 times. Back seat is preferred.

It's also home to Chang, one of the world's tallest stand-up coasters and Kingdom's most popular. It has the most loops, the steepest banks and the nastiest turns.

Greezed Lightnin' is the new attraction. Its catapult launch zooms riders from 0 to 60 mph in six seconds, straight into a vertical loop, then up a 142-foot tower. The train then falls backward, back through the loop, roars through the station and repeats the ride backward. Three times.

Familiar territory

9 a.m. Tuesday: Top up - it's raining and chilly - and music from Hidden Treasures, the locally produced King Records tribute, for the ride to Paramount's Kings Island and its 12 coasters - eight adult and four juvenile.

The Beast, world's longest coaster with 7,400 feet of track, is running two trains. Attendants are letting riders stay on for repeat rides, a rare sight.

Another rare sight: The tubular Lime Green Reptar looming up around the corner. It's a floorless coaster with no air time, no sudden drops and no upside down loops - a perfect starter coaster for novices.

The big gun here is Son of Beast, world's tallest and fastest wooden coaster at 218 feet and 80-plus mph.

4 p.m. Monday: After 46 coasters in six days, we've escaped with no more than three bruises, a head of coaster hair and a touch of windburn.


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