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Photo TR: My trip to Branson..


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I really faced a dilemma this year as I had two road trips tugging me in two completely opposite directions. Option 1 was a trip out east to hit Busch Gardens VA, SFGAdv, Knoebels, and Kennywood. I have never been to SFGAdv or Knoebels before (and I really, REALLY want to), but that would have been at least a week-long trip and my vacation time at work is already dangerously low.

 

Option 2: A trip down to Branson (Missouri) to hit Silver Dollar City, Celebration City and then SFStl on the way home. I could do this trip in just four days (which means taking just two days off work), and all three parks would be new. Plus I just adore Dollywood, and so was anxious to visit SDC.

 

I suppose that, as dilemmas go, things certainly could have been worse! Still, option 2 won; and on June 2nd I jumped in my car and headed south-west on I-55. It's about 9 hours from Chicago to Branson, which is a good drive; however I couldn't resist stopping at the St. Louis arch on the way down..

 

This is easily the largest PTR I've attempted, and the first in several parts. I'll try and space them out by a few days so not to overwhelm anyone:

Part 1: St. Louis Arch and general Silver Dollar City photos.

Part 2: Silver Dollar City rides

Part 3: Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City

Part 4: Celebration City

Part 5: Six Flags St Louis

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One last look at the Arch. It's actually slightly eerie when you stand right next to it. It is so tall, but so minimal as well. Plus it was cloudy when I was there, and the clouds moving overhead made it seem like the whole arch was in motion.

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Looking south (and slightly west) towards the suburbs of St. Louis. It was a bit of a breezy day when I was there, and up top you can feel the Arch sway.

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My lovely little bundle of insanity looks like a match-box car from up here! (It's the silver car, second from the left)

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Looking west now, over downtown St. Louis. The area immediately surrounding the Arch (beyond the park) is really in decay, but the downtown itself looks pretty nice.

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From the top (630 feet up), the view is fantastic! I'm looking south/east into Illinois.

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To reach the top, you ride in these little carriages, which is like a ride in itself. No, this is not a toilet, but a small barrel into which 5 people are crammed. The barrel itself rotates as it heads up the Arch leg, always keeping the occupants level (relative to the ground).

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For those who've never been to the arch before, it is huge. I could see it poking through the trees for close to 20 miles before I arrived there. It's something I've been wanting to visit for years.

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Nerd alert! I saw this gem a mere 20 minutes into the drive (I'm in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood). You can just hear the skinny 14 year old kid (with thick glasses) begging his dad to get this plate: "PLEASE DAD?! It will be SO KEWL!!". Hah .. nerds are funny :)

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After an hour at the Arch, I was back in my car for the remaining three hour drive to Branson. Actually I stopped just short (in Springfield MO), as that's where my friend Mike was staying with his in-laws. We hung out there for a few hours, grilled some burgers and Brats, and generally had a nice relaxing evening.

 

Sunday however, it was time for Silver Dollar City .. YAY! We were at SDC until about 3pm on Sunday, and then we were back on Monday. The park is beautiful, with trees, shade and fun everywhere you go. We spent two days here (Sunday and Monday - both from open until about 3pm). The rides are great, the food is great, and the Marvel Cave is .. well, words cannot describe it. I was really looking forward to SDC, and I was not at all disappointed by it. More parks (ie: Six Flags and Cedar Fair) need to visit places like this, and really shouldn't be shy about copying them outright.

 

This is a handful of photos from around the park, I'll add photos of Wildfire, Powderkeg and the Swing in part 2 .. coming soon!

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Strawberries and ice-cream is one of the nicest ways to end a meal, and served as our dessert after lunch. The strawberries were fresh, and the vanilla ice-cream was of excellent quality. Why don't other parks offer stuff like this? At SFGAm the other day, I was forced to dine on Papa Johns pizza - Shaperio should go to prison for making people eat that slop!

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Everywhere you turn at SDC are these giant skillets full of fresh, delicious food. It's reasonably priced too .. What a welcome relief!

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SDC has a real steam engine, which means I just have to take a ride. I'm not normally someone who goes nuts for train rides (or the cheesy show you're always subjected to); however real steam engines are just amazing.

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The "impossible machine". Water falls on the small wheel (lower left in the photo), causing it to turn. As it turns it drives the big wheel up the top, which is what lifts the water to drive the small wheel. This is of course, impossible.

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The real draw to SDC (and Dollywood too) is the attention to detail, authenticity, and quality of the theming and all the arts/crafts. Here is a working steam-lathe, which is used to spin wooden baseball bats. This was a great machine to watch operating!

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Thunderation is a really fun Arrow mine-train. Curiously they have two cars on each train installed backwards, and that's where I rode first. I've never been a fan of backwards rides, and this continued that trend; in fact it even made me feel a little ill. However riding forwards is tremendous fun.

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A hint at the fun nature throughout the whole park... :) (Tough to see in the photo, but there is water flowing through the "filter".)

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Sitting on the center console of the swinging ship is a cup of water. When the cycle began everyone started to shout "but there's a cup of water on there", but the ride-ops didn't stop the ride. Believe it or not, not a single drop was spilled, nor did the cup move one inch. Notice the kids (with their back to the camera) are eying it suspiciously! No tricks either, after the ride the op let me pick up the cup and pour the water out. He then refilled it and but it back!

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The Regatta carriages run on what looks like steel coaster wheels. Credit?!

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I'd never ridden anything like the Regatta before, but it was terrific. I made sure to sit on the inside, and did my best to try and break all of Mike's ribs! The op looked at us and laughed when he buckled us in, and kept laughing each time we flew by him. I think Mike might have uttered some naughty words..

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The Grand Exposition is the area of SDC with the most dense collection of rides (including a kiddy coaster which I didn't ride). The Disc-o however, was lots of fun. It is all exceptionally well done, keeping with the 19th century theme.

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We ate lunch at this awesome BBQ place, including these fresh cooked corn. MMmm, corn.

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A very wet looking rapids ride winds its way through the woods. I'm not a huge fan of getting drenched, so I didn't ride; but it really does look like a bloody good ride.

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Food is a well-know highlight at both SDC and Dollywood. I started off early with some fair-dinkum Kangaroo Jerky, strewth! (It's not a great photo, but the little white sticker on the bag actually says "Roo"!)

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Lots of people in period costumes walking by. This fireman is with his awesome dalmatian, named Buckets!

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Silver Dollar City, like Dollywood, is breathtakingly pretty. While most parks dumps down some plants between all the paths and concrete, SDC (and Dollywood) carefully place the paths between the trees. It's wonderful!

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The park began letting people in to the central "Town Square" area up to an hour before the park officially opened. While waiting, we're entertained with this awesome bluegrass band. It was the bluegrass and BBQ week, and the whole Town Square area was dotted with small wooden signs toting facts about the two subjects.

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This water clock is extremely cool. Located just inside the entrance, it is driven by water and actually tracks hours, months and years. There is no minute hand on the clock because the minute hand is a relatively recent invention. This is really a working clock too, with a mechanical speed governor and everything. Very impressive..

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Yup, we're in the south! Although we saw a similar sign at ValleyFair, so I guess the "we're in the south" joke is not really valid anymore. Although I am Australian so I guess I can say "Yup, we're in America!".

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Welcome to Silver Dollar City! I'm really happy to be here..

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As I've already mentioned, Silver Dollar City is an awesome park. It's in a crazy-beautiful setting, and the theming is so good that it even challenges Disney. If that's not enough, there are some really great thrill-rides there too.

 

Wildfire is a B&M looping coaster that opened in 2001. I remember seeing photos of this when it first opened, and thinking about how good it looked. Built on a hillside, this coaster features 5 inversions, a really fun layout, and a great first drop. I started each of my two days at SDC with several rides on Wildfire, and it was always a great way to start the day!

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I was a little worried at first, but thankfully my face did not constitute an obscene gesture!

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Bright!! I know a certain South Bend school teacher who would be chomping at the bit for such a hideous t-shirt... :)

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Wildfire would be seriously dull if it was sitting in some dank parking lot, however this is built on the side of a hill. The views are fantastic! Location really does have a huge affect on the quality of any ride; so even though Wildfire is far from the most intense coaster I've ever ridden, the location more than makes up for it.

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I love a good cobra-roll, and this one on Wildfire is smooth and fast. Probably not one of the most force-full cobra-rolls I've ridden, but the hill-side location more than makes up for it.

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This loop is the second inversion, and it pulls some nice positive Gs at the entrance/exit, with moderate hang-time at the top. The trees in the background make it look as if this loop is about 700 feet tall!

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Typical, ultra-comfortable sit down B&M trains. This was only the second sit-down B&M looping coaster I have ridden (the first being Kumba).

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A lot of theming is found in the queue.

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Theming! Theming! Theming! Wildfire is very well themed, and even something as simple as a height limit is given a fun twist.

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This is pretty much the only part of Wildfire that is visible from inside the park. There is an observation deck that really shows off the ride, but you have to go far out of your way to see it. The result is that you really don't get any sense of the layout until you're on the lift. Which is just fantastic!

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This sign marks the entrance to the Wildfire area. You can see that (like the rest of SDC) it's deep within the woods.

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Monday afternoon we ventured down into Marvel Cave. I knew very little about this before my visit, other than "don't miss the cave". Included free with park admission, this is a sixty minute journey, almost 500 feet underground, and covers many hundreds of steps. That's a lot of numbers!

 

The cave is what started it all, being the first attraction at SDC - in fact SDC grew up all around it. It was an amazing tour, and I strongly recommend it to everyone who visits the park. It was really inspiring to be down there, and I can totally see how one could find religion after stumbling into a place like that alone. Even without the rides, this would make SDC worth the visit.

 

The tour even ends with a cable tram ride back up to the surface; although I'd be hard-pressed to call it a credit!

 

I must admit that I was torn about posting the pictures .. On one hand I want to show off what an experience the cave is, but sadly on the other hand the pictures don't even come close to capturing what it's like down there.

 

Cameron.

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Several shafts like this are visible in the tour. They have all been formed by dripping water .. just try and wrap your mind around how long it takes water to carve something like this out of rock.

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Near the top of the 200 foot tall form. The stairs we climbed (call the huff-n-puff stairs) wound right up next to this - it was great.

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The 200 foot tall form stretches far up into the rocks.

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This is part of one of the largest known forms on the planet (almost 200 feet tall).

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Can you guess? This is called the "waterfall room".

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Note the water dripping down. I actually found the dank / darkness to be very comforting. Not sure what that says about me!

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The creepy form reminded me of a cross between Alien and the Borg.

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Looking back up the way we came. I can't emphasize enough how big this cavern is, one of the largest that is known. Apparently they have had full-size hot-air balloons flying in there.

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This huge form is at the bottom of the cathedral room. It's an all-natural form, and the lighting is superb.

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The first cavern is the "cathedral room", and it was breathtaking. Light filtered in from above, and lit up the mist inside, it was like a scene from Zelda!

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The tours depart in groups of 60. To enter the holding pen it's necessary to step through a doorway that's about 3 feet tall - this represents the smallest passageway that is encountered on the tour.

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So Sunday afternoon at about 4pm, we piled into our cars and headed down the road to Celebration City. I knew next to nothing about this park, so I was pleased to see that it wasn't trying to be a mini-SDC. CC is more like a county fair, with lots of flat rides, games, less luxurious theming; however it is extremely well done. There are many small parks that should use CC as a template, I really enjoyed it there .. more than I thought I would after parking the car.

 

The highlight of CC is of course Ozark Wildcat .. but I'll get to that in the next post. Other highlights include not just the variety of flat rides, but also how well they're run...

 

Cameron.

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However this is why I came to Celebration City. If we're going to be brutally honest I will admit that this was the main draw for me to come to Branson at all! More in the next post...

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Unfortunately the Ferris Wheel was closed, but I forgave it since it looked so amazing against the sunset.

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After our ride on Fireball, Mike didn't feel like spending too much time on Wildcat so he went to grab a bite to a bite to eat with his wife. I took the opportunity to return a few phone-calls. The atmosphere was terrific, with the setting sun, the rides, and all the happy people around.

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More if the minimal, yet delightful landscaping at Celebration City.

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In total contrast to the Double Shot story is the story that revolves around this thing. The first one I rode was at a county fair in Indiana last August. It was fun, but quite tame. This one at Celebration City is INSANE! This pulled such extreme forces that my teeth actually hurt after the ride! It totally knocked Mike out, but I took it for two more rides. None were as intense as that first ride, I guess I had just been right in the sweet-spot.

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The first Double Shot I rode is the one at Indiana Beach, and that is run in ultra-insane mode. While this means that I always have loads of fun on the Indy Beach Double Shot, it also means that every other Double Shot has let me down. Boy was I surprised by this one! Celebration City is now the second place I've found that runs their Double Shot in ultra-insane mode!

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Aside from the goofy turns, the ride is full of little hills like these which are lots of fun, and provide quite a bit of air.

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However this is where Jack Rabbit sort of fails .. these turns are quite wrong. I couldn't quite place it, but the car is thrown to the left before a right turn, and to the right before a left turn. I wonder if the banking is wrong?

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Jack Rabbit is the second coaster at Celebration City. In style this is very much like a Mad Mouse, although the layout is quite different. This is the first drop, which is a lot of fun.

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The highlight of Thunderbolt is this crazy dive, which is fast and forceful.

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Celebration City has three coasters, and Thunderbolt is the first one I rode. These are fun little rides, however the restraint really hurt me in a very .. umm .. personal area.

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The park doesn't come close to the beauty of SDC, but that's OK because it still does what it does extremely well.

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Real-life rockem-sockem robots! These are gas powered cages that people actually enter, and then punch the crap out of the other robot! It was a small up-charge, but looked so cool. Unfortunately I got distracted (Wildcat), and forgot to try them out.

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Inside the park, we're presented with a fairly typical "main street" area. This is home to many small food stands, and gift shops. Usually these areas are pretty tacky, however this was nicely done.

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The entrance to CC has a small giant-granite-ball. These things are so much fun! The ball weighs some insane amount, but it's supported on a jet of water. Yes, water! The fun is that you can spin the ball with your hands. (Note the faint reflection of the handsome, young photographer..)

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Ozark Wildcat .. what a terrific ride. This coaster is like cottage cheese with pineapple chunks in!

 

I know that GCI is not considered the coolest manufacturer by the enthusiast community, but their coasters really do appeal to me a great deal. I've been fortunate enough to ride 8 of these beauties, and I rate them all B or higher. I mean even B&M have had the occasional clunker!

 

Ozark Wildcat was running smooth and fast, with terrific laterals and excellent air. The layout is perfect, and almost every turn does that awesome thing were it pops you out of the seat right at the apex. Delicious!

 

OK .. I'll shut up now and get to the photos...

 

Cameron.

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As a park guest, I am obliged to follow all signs and instructions...

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Every cute, little kitty deserves a hug!

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As you can see, the park didn't get all that busy even after dark. This was some of the best non-exclusive ride-time I've ever had.

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Once the sun went down, the ride started to pick up even more speed..! Plus some of my rides were illuminated by the firework show.

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Typical for GCI coasters, the ride crosses over an under itself a gazillion times. It totally rocks.

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It really seems like the layout changes every time you ride.

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It's as if someone scribbled on a piece of paper, and then said "build this!".

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Air, bank, laterals, drop .. repeat.

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Look at it!!

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I had been told "get to Celebration City before Silver Dollar City closes, and you'll have the place to yourself" ... best advice ever! Even with half empty trains, just 2 hours after opening, Wildcat was running extremely well.

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Oh Boy! Oh Boy! Oh Boy! I could not get through this entrance quickly enough...!

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Great PTR so far. I really need to get down to these parks. They look amazing.

 

I was forced to dine on Papa Johns pizza - Shaperio should go to prison for making people eat that slop!

 

Quoted for truth!

 

dt

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Silver Dollar City looks great! The boat on that raft ride looks like it's sinking.

 

Looking forward to seeing more, Cameron.

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Awesome PTR. SDC always delivers, no matter what you're looking for.

 

Did you happen to notice if Tom Sawyer's landing was open, or if work was being done on the adjacent tree house?

 

Also, if you even went by it, did Geyser Gulch ever get completely re-painted?

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Awesome photos Cameron!

 

SDC brings back great memories of Dollywood a few weeks ago (same company of course), I've love to get out there while the dollar is still in my favour.

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Powder Keg: A Blast In The Winderness. This ride needs a tagline along the lines of "it'll knock your socks off", because Powder Keg is a seriously awesome coaster. How come this is not talked about more often? Even more puzzling is the fact that all of the "most under-rated coasters" threads on the net aren't dominated with people praising Powder Keg. In case you haven't figured it out yet, I was really impressed with this little launched bundle of craziness!

 

Powder Keg is nothing but fun, Fun, FUN! Every aspect of this ride, from queue to brakes, is impeccably well themed, extremely well thought out, and just laugh-out-loud fun. The coaster itself has amazing air, great forces, an insane layout, and typically had me giggling like a 4th grader! I've ridden coasters almost three times the height of this one, that don't even come close to delivering the thrills, fun, or forces that Powder Keg does.

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One of the huge over-banked turns, as viewed from the train.

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The launch shoots out over this crazy air-filled hill, and the action doesn't stop until you hit the lift-hill which is about two-thirds of the way into the ride. The lift actually comes as a bit of a relief, because the ride is just i-n-s-a-n-e up to that point.

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The observation area is right by the launch track. This is brilliant because kids and parents get to wave to each other. There were many non-riding parents there with video cameras, who were filming their kids on the ride. It's a nice touch.

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This is how it all looks from outside the ride. The train is in the launch position, and is launched to about 50 MPH in just 2 or 3 seconds. It's a fun launch, accompanied by blasts of fire.

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Out of the station, the train rolls onto this transfer track. The whole thing slides up and lines up to the launch track. All around the track are more TNT barrels, and buildings. You're basically surrounded by black powder, and a recording warns you not to get too close...!

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Inside the station .. look for all of the TNT barrels.

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Where most parks would simply say "food and drink prohibited", SDC decides to take it a step further. Like I said above, this place is themed as well as the best Disney parks.

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The setting is that of a black powder warehouse, and the queue makes it genuinely feel like you're actually there. Of course it still all fits in to the 19th century setting of whole park.

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The roof of the queue house is dotted with debris from all of the near-by explosions.

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As an example of how complete the theming is, I present you here with a photo of some track that is present only to stop a roll-back. This track will probably never even be used, but SDC has incorporated it very well. If you look carefully you can easily see the transition from real to fake track, but most people see the whole thing and think it's all part of the ride.

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As with Wildfire, guests are lead over to Powder Keg under an innocent looking sign set deep in the woods.

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The final set of pics for Part 2 is for the wonderful Barn Swing. This is another S&S giant swing, but it is exceptionally well done at SDC. Now I will be honest and admit that I have a fear of heights, and I find these things quite scary; however they're so awesome that I can't not ride. As the name suggests, SDC has themed their swing around a barn in a farm ... fun to say, and fun to ride!

 

On Sunday they were running both sides, and we waited little more than about 15 minutes. We rode many times, and in the end I was actually able to keep my arms up the whole time ... it wasn't easy, but I could do it. Actually given the fact that there's nothing to hang on to, I find the ride less scary when I relax and keep my hands up. Just go with the forces...

 

Now I really like S&S .. The Double-shots, Avalanche and Poweder Keg are tremendous fun; and the swings are one of my favorite non-coaster rides. However S&S contraptions tend to be .. well .. visually challenged. I was curious to see how SDC was going to dress-up their swing, and I was surprised to see what a great job they had done.

 

Part 3 (the Marvel Cave) will follow tonight or tomorrow .. Enjoy!

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These swings are as ugly as they are thrilling, and SDC has done a seriously amazing job of keeping it hidden. From inside the park you can hear all the screaming and noise, but can only see the higher parts of the swing. It all adds to the intimidation factor.

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You only get a few glimpses of this ride from inside the park, and this is typically the first thing people when when they board.

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Down, please!

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This ride is quite a beast, sucking up 32 people per cycle with both sides running. The seats are comfortable and the restraints minimal. You feel very exposed when this thing gets going, and nothing to hold on to really adds to the thrill.

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The attention to detail is amazingly good. Of course every barn needs a weather-cock, so naturally it is included on this barn at SDC. Rather than just have something painted on like you'd find at some parks, this is actually real and functional.

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The queue runs through a very convincing looking barn, which is dotted with these fun signs. I can't help but laugh at such cute signs for such an intimidating ride.

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The swing is in a new area called "Wilson's Farms". Along with the swing, is a collection of those lift-yourself-up drop rides for little kids, some food, and a milk-the-cow game. Obvious the swing is the main draw here.

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Wow, I had heard about this park but I didn't think it was anything amazing. Now that I see this TR it looks awesome!

 

Powder Keg looks really unique, and the park looks really nice.

 

Cool TR!

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Cameron, we totally agree with you on Powder Keg!

 

In fact, we've tried to convince parks to buy them all over the place. They really are great rides for the entire family.

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I went last week and Giant Swing really suprised me.

While it is not near as tall as Skyhawk at CP, I think is swings higher in degrees. It states a 230 degree arc on swing but I cannot find how many degrees of swing Skyhawk has on Cedarpoint's site.

 

I remember looking basically straight ahead at ground on Skyhawk, but was looking UP at the ground on the Giant Swing.

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Great to hear how much you enjoyed everything, I think that makes a photo TR ten times better.

 

Yeah, Powderkeg is pretty much the Hershends favorite coaster ever, you should hear them talk about it. I'm quite surprised that CC and DW haven't gotten anything like it yet.

 

As for the rooster atop the GS, did you find out that it was actually made at SDC? And that it has a time capsule inside? You should have seen it before they put it up, it's absolutely massive.

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