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Photo TR: Condor's Continuing Showcase of the Amusements!

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My first theme park vacation of 2016 marked my first visit to two parks that were new to me in Dollywood and Carowinds, and another that I had not visited since 2009 in Six Flags Over Georgia. The plan was to spend two, full, crowd-free days, midweek at Dollywood to really soak in all that the park has to offer, see a bit of the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area, and get as many re-rides as we could handle on a very particular and highly anticipated new for 2016 attraction. That plan was made in January. Had I known then what we all know about said attraction now, a single day at Dollywood would have sufficed and we would have included a fourth park instead, probably Kentucky Kingdom. Would Dollywood with its existing rides and no lines to slow down our pace be enough to keep us entertained until we departed for Carowinds and SFOG? That was an interesting question. Fortunately, the answer was yes.



Wednesday/Thursday, May 4-5, 2016


“It’s okay, but Kings Island was a lot nicer.” -- anonymous. An interesting thing about traveling to parks with people who enjoy them but are decidedly not enthusiasts is the reactions that you simply would not hear from anyone in the enthusiast community. Since my birthday is the fourth, my parents joined me for the Dollywood portion of the trip. My dad has been to most of the parks I have, but my mom has only been to a few -- one of which was Kings Island the year before.


Now I thought Dollywood would be the perfect park for them to enjoy specifically because it was not cut from the Six Flags or Cedar Fair template and would provide a more well-rounded experience (and cinnamon bread). My dad loved Dollywood, but my mom just didn’t get the place. Where most of us appreciate Dollywood for its attention to detail, theming, cleanliness, above average customer service, and modest, but quality coaster collection, my mom just saw lots of wooden buildings and stuff that reminded her of the things she dislikes most, namely the outdoors and all things old fashioned. Now while I’ve just spent two paragraphs painting her as some kind of indoor curmudgeon, she really isn’t and she still enjoyed the park for the time she was there. But in hindsight, perhaps Carowinds would have been the better park for her, though there’s no way I’d ever get her on Fury 325.


And with me for the entire trip was my friend Carlos, who is every bit the enthusiast I am. He and I met by chance at Cedar Point two years ago and I later visited Medusa Steel Coaster and Carlos in Mexico City this past October. Like me, he had been to SFOG before, but Dollywood and Carowinds were new. He and I also tend to differ somewhat on the coasters we prefer, so comparing reviews and experiences is always fun.


We entered the park at opening and made a quick left up the trail past Thunderhead to what I understood was the lowest capacity of Dollywood’s coasters in Mystery Mine for two quick rides. As it turns out, crowds were so light that it didn’t matter what order we rode anything in and everything was a 1-2 train wait or a walk-on both days we were there. Carlos and I both have 250+ credits, but Mystery Mine was still somehow our first Gerstlauer Eurofighter and our second was coming up at SFOG in a few days. I understand why some people find this ride uncomfortable, though I thought it was just fine (but I’m also the kind of person who finds Skyrush, Magnum, and The Voyage perfectly tolerable, so yeah… um, check me out) and we returned to ride it several more times.


Next we backtracked to Thunderhead, which is my pick for the park’s best coaster pending the eventual opening of its younger wooden cousin up front… This was my ninth GCI and I think it’s one of the best. It’s not as smooth as the still-new Goldstriker, but it was comfortable enough and we rode it more times than the park’s other coasters.


We looped around the back of the park to Fire Chaser Express and Wild Eagle which are conveniently across the midway from one another. Fire Chaser is the ideal family coaster in that it combines impressive scale and genuine thrills with cool elements, theming, and a friendly demeanor that lends itself to great re-ridability. Three rides on it over two days felt sufficient, but this is the kind of coaster I would have ridden all day as a kid. I suppose Silver Dollar City already has this niche covered with Thunderation, but if their next coaster is not a big thrill ride, I’d love to see them build something like this.


Wild Eagle was the coaster at Dollywood I was most ambivalent about. Wing coasters are just not my favorite B&Ms. I like flyers and inverts much better. This one in particular doesn’t have any elements that create a wow-factor like Thunderbird or Gatekeeper, and in a park with a unique coaster lineup, this one was a little hard to get excited for. Carlos thought it was the park’s best steel coaster, but my opinion is more mixed and I’ll delve into that in depth later. We actually rode this quite a bit over our two days, second only to Thunderhead.


Tennessee Tornado was down in the morning, so we moved on to Blazing Fury, still a top notch dark ride even if I’d like to see it get a Timber Mountain Log Ride style makeover, and then meandered through Craftsman’s Valley for cinnamon bread at the Gristmill and down to the front of the park for lunch.


Next we all hopped on the Dollywood Express steam engine train. The visual of a full-on locomotive serving as a theme park attraction is impressive, but along with it comes the problem of soot blowing in your face the whole time if the wind is just right and you’re seated in the either of the first two cars as we were. And really, the steam engine itself is the coolest part of the attraction. The route it takes is not particularly scenic and honestly a bit short.


Tornado opened up eventually and we walked right on into the back car. Wow. What a forceful, unique Arrow looper! It’s my pick for Dollywood’s best steel coaster and I would be just fine alternating this with Thunderhead and marathoning them both all day. Now I mentioned my father had been to quite a few parks himself. He’s in his sixties and still rides everything from Voyage to Kingda Ka, but Tennessee Tornado did him in for the day. The g-forces this thing pulls kind of wiped him out for a while and after resting, my parents decided to return to our hotel for the day.


Carlos and I spent the rest of the time until closing exploring the nooks and crannies of the park and re-riding all five coasters. The park was set to close at 7:00 and by 6:00 the weather had settled into steady rainfall. So we did the only logical thing and rode Thunderhead eight more times until the rain stopped just before 7. Many of my most treasured theme park memories are of going lap after lap on some of my favorite coasters in the rain, uninterrupted by stuff like other people thinking they have the right to get in my way or something. Tremors, Timber Terror, Millennium Force, Magnum, and Dueling Dragons are all members of this special club. And now Thunderhead joins them.



On our second day we only spent around four hours in the park. The weather was warmer and dryer, but crowds were still nonexistent so we got in several more re-rides on all five coasters before leaving to check out some local attractions outside the park.


I’ve come this far without mentioning Lightning Rod by name, but I do have to address it briefly. We knew a few weeks out from the trip that our chances of riding it were basically zero. We hoped to catch it testing, but all we got to see were a few cars getting crane-lifted off the transfer track. Without it, Dollywood is still a great park in almost every way, but lacks a true world-class anchor attraction. Carlos and I bought season passes just in case we find it feasible to return to Dollywood for a day later in the year to ride it.


After leaving Dollywood, we picked my dad up and drove to the Smokey Mountain Alpine Coaster only a few minutes from the park. I had never ridden an alpine coaster before and Carlos had only done a much shorter one in Colorado, so we were especially excited for this. There was still some rain, so the crew unfortunately had the “wet” cars with the windshields up in front running the course. I suppose it takes away just a bit from the full, open feeling you would otherwise get, but the ride itself is a blast either way. There were no brake-happy riders in front of our group either of the two times we rode it and for a fan of lateral forces like myself, this ride is a dream, especially in the two helixes.


We made a stop at Pigeon Forge’s “The Island” outdoor shopping center to visit the Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine store for a free tasting. Ole Smoky has a great thing going with their moonshine tastings. You get to sample what amounts to about a 1/3 shot of 11 different styles of moonshine and 2 kinds of whiskey. So you definitely leave with a decent buzz going, especially if you haven’t eaten anything in five hours like us.




Mystery Mine (x5)

I wish more parks outside of Disney, Universal, and Dollywood would build coasters like this. Not necessarily Eurofighters, but coasters that marry high-g maneuvers, airtime, and inversions to immersive theming. As I said earlier, I didn’t find it rough, but I can see why some of the transitions might be too abrupt and jerky for people. My favorite part was the sequence comprised of the first 90 degree drop halfway through the layout followed by the upward 90 degree banked turn. Nice moment of conventional airtime followed by lateral air. (7/10)


Thunderhead (x15)

My favorite GCI is American Thunder at Six Flags St. Louis. What I like about it that I don’t find in all GCIs is a sense of linear organization to the layout that helps build anticipation of elements to come and keeps it from feeling like a random series of directional changes. This is something that feels lacking from others like Goldstriker but present in Thunderhead (Apocalypse has it too, but with the slight problem that it’s elements mostly suck). When I look back at GCI’s portfolio, I find a dramatic change in how they designed their early rides from Wildcat in 1996 through the Roar twins in 1999 and how everything else is built from Kentucky Rumbler in 2006 onward. In between you have Lightning Racer, Ozark Wildcat (which I never rode), and Thunderhead. With these three they began to transition from big, single hills and wide, swooping turns into the more complex elements made of many smaller twists and smaller pops of air that together make the fast paced layouts we see from them today. I think what I like about Thunderhead is that it feels caught at the perfect point between old and new GCI. It has relentless pacing and real airtime, but also the big elements that stand out and don’t get lost in the layout like they do on Goldstriker. It’s still not as good as the best CCIs, Gravity Groups, Intamins, and RMC’s, but it’s good enough to be my second favorite GCI. (8/10)


Fire Chaser Express (x4)

After writing about Thunderhead I honestly have nothing insightful to say about Fire Chaser. But that doesn’t reflect negative on the ride. It’s exactly what it’s supposed to be: a big, moderately thrilling family coaster and it’s brilliant for it. (6/10)


Wild Eagle (x8)

The best part of this coaster was the unexpected airtime on the first drop. Wild Eagle’s hilltop setting makes it look like a hyper coaster from outside the park and going down the drop, it feels like one too. After that, I didn’t find it all that impressive. The rest of the wing coasters have unique features not found on other B&Ms, but Wild Eagle has zero. This layout could just as easily have been a sitdown, floorless, or invert with virtually no difference. It’s rougher than I remember Thunderbird or Gatekeeper being the year before and it’s also the only one of the three that still has vests that tighten during the ride. It’s still a fine ride, but B&M routinely does better. (7/10)


Tennessee Tornado (x7)

If only Arrow hadn’t relied on outdated technology for so long and started building coasters like this in the early 1990s. Then we could potentially have had an industry full of new-wave Arrow loopers competing with B&Ms for countless parks’ shopping lists. But instead all we have is Tornado. It’s unique, super intense, and frustratingly incomplete. If there was a camelback-corkscrew-helix sequence to round off the layout before hitting the brakes I think you’d see this coaster rank highly in many polls and maybe even land on a few individuals’ top ten lists. Unfortunately it doesn’t have any of that, but what it does have is still enough to make it my second favorite Arrow below Magnum and above X2. (8/10)


Westayed at The Riverstone Resort just a couple of miles from Dollywood. Great hotel with reasonable rates.


Not a bad place to stay for two nights.


View of the real river.


And of the fake one.


For those who don't know, Dollywood is in "Pigeon Force" as Carlos likes to say.


My favorite part of the ride.


The only easy place to photograph Mystery Mine.


Thunderhead lands just outside my top 10 wooden coasters.


I'd love to see a Star Flyer in this spot.



The drop coming down off the first elevated turnaround.


Strong floater air over this hill.


Everything in Pigeon Forge is apparently fire fighter themed.


The whole area around Fire Chaser Express looks great.


I believe the tightening vests are intended to represent the eagle's talons.


Great airtime here, especially for a looping coaster.




I didn't think the food at Dollywood was *that* special, but the cinnamon bread sure was.



Amazing how smooth this Arrow rides.


Major ejector air coming down the enclosed drop off of this lift.


First loop is reminiscent of Yolo's.


The second and third inversions are packed with g's.


Well at least it LOOKS great.




I would not be denied my Lightning Rod experience. And who are YOU to tell me I didn't ride it?


"Excuse me, will you be soft-opening later today?"


Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster.


I'll definitely seek out more of these when I travel.


I encourage anyone who visits Pigeon Forge to stop here or the distillery in Gatlinburg.


You get to try all of this for free.


Cinnamon, apple pie, butterscotch, and Tennessee mud were my favorites.

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Friday, May 6, 2016


This will sound harsh, but Carowinds has two coasters that are great, one that’s just okay, and a bunch that are basically junk. To use Kings Island as a point of comparison again, that park’s collection has the complete opposite problem in that nearly all of its coasters are average-to-good, none are truly great, and only one (Vortex) is objectively terrible. And Kings Dominion marries these two dynamics almost perfectly, perhaps why it’s also my favorite of the three. Considering how closely Paramount and now Cedar Fair adhered to similar acquisition strategies for them, it’s kind of remarkable how qualitatively different each park’s coasters feel to me.


You might think this means I didn’t enjoy Carowinds or that I think it’s a mediocre park, but this is not the case. Well actually, the “Carobrew” honey lager I tried at Chickie’s and Pete’s was probably the worst beer I’ve had in years, so maybe. But I thought the park looked great and the operations were generally good, especially on the big three B&Ms. Carowinds is also very picture friendly. There are great views of all the major coasters from both inside and outside the park. Had I been a more devoted photographer and spent more time, or you know, used an actual camera instead of my iPhone, I probably would have 3-4 times the photos and not have reused any angles.


We bought Fastlane to help bypass all the school groups roaming the park and headed first to the low capacity Nighthawk upon entering an hour after opening at 10. The ride crew was struggling with the restraints on the train in the station when we got there, so a one train wait ended up taking about 30 minutes for us to ride. Nighthawk is the flying Dutchman prototype so it’s not as mature a design as Kings Island’s Firehawk, but Carowinds has done an excellent job landscaping around it, so it at least passes the eye test for centerpiece attractions. One ride was all we needed.


The nearby Intimidator was next and we got on right away in the back seat. I made sure to do this before Fury 325 as I was sure whatever charms Intimidator has of its own would be totally eclipsed by the giga coaster. I was even more right than I knew and I only felt the need to ride it once more later in the day.


This was not the case at all with Fury. I we rode it more times in one day than any coaster on the trip and it was a no-brainer for my steel top 10. We tried seats all over the train and I liked the front and back rows equally well.


After the awful Carobrew we decided to continue punishing ourselves with a lap on Carowinds’ only remaining, adult wooden coaster, Hurler. It actually wasn’t that bad and ran far smoother than I remember the one at KD did in 2014.


Still in search of a beating, we then sought out the resident cookie cutter Arrow Dynamics looper, Carolina Cyclone. But it didn’t open until mid-way through the day and we moved on to Carolina Goldrusher, the Arrow mine train instead. It was around this time that I realized how surprisingly compact Carowinds felt. I don’t know the park’s acreage and it’s obviously huge if you count all the land taken up by the coasters around the rim of the park’s loop, but the actual walkable area did not feel as large as other parks we typically think of as similarly sized. The main midways wrap around a hub made up of Nighthawk, Vortex, and Carolina Goldrusher, with Intimidator, Afterburn, Carolina Cyclone, Hurler, and Fury around the perimeter. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt like we could walk the whole park in no time at all.


We went outside the gates to take advantage of the plentiful views of the B&Ms from the parking lot and take pictures. Once we re-entered we finally made our way to Afterburn. It was a milestone for me because it was the last remaining B&M inverted coaster in the US I had not ridden. I truly saved one of the best for last. All I could think about was how much I wished Knott’s could trade Silver Bullet for this. I liked it even better the more I rode it and by the end of the night it had climbed up the ranks to become my third favorite out of the thirteen unique inverted layouts I’ve been on, only Raptor and Dueling Dragons Fire above it.


We made quick work of the boomerang, Carolina Cobra, then Vortex, Carolina Cyclone, Flying Ace Aerial Chase, and Woodstock Express before devoting the remainder of the day to accruing laps on Fury 325 and Afterburn. Ricochet had either long lines (no Fastlane available) or was down the majority of the day, but we finally included it in the middle of our Fury marathon to close out the night.


Amusing little story about Fury: With about 30 minutes to closing, Carlos and I rode next to two guys who were a little intoxicated. Once we hit the brakes, the guy seated beside Carlos vomited a stream of pure beer onto the back of the car in front of us. Having watched the Afterburn crew take forever to deal with the same issue earlier and cycle the affected train 5+ times empty, we did not want to miss out on any night rides on Fury and screamed at the two guys to NOT tell the ride ops about it. It was all pretty liquid anyway and the crew was preoccupied with dispatching trains ASAP, so they never noticed, the two guys stayed quiet, and we got three more night rides on Fury unimpeded.




Fury 325 (x13)

Now my #6 steel coaster and top rated B&M. I hope B&M has at least one more giga coaster like this in them as the scale seems to force them to design the kind of exhilarating experience we all wish they would deliver regularly. Ejector airtime on the first drop and the final two camelbacks, plus-moderate-to-strong floater air on the middle hill with the trim. What I did not know to expect was how this thing is packed with positive g’s through all the low level curves during the first half. For a g-force lover like myself, this was a great surprise and puts Fury in the same club as B&M’s earlier stuff from the 1990s. But I do place it third out of the three giga coasters I’ve been on. Intimidator 305 is just a more visceral experience and Millennium Force is still an outlier that somehow gets away with breaking many of the “rules” we often use to determine a coaster’s quality. That doesn’t diminish Fury though. It’s plenty great in its own right. (9.5/10)


Afterburn (x10)

What a ride! As much as I was looking forward to what for me was the last of the truly old school B&Ms in the country, I did not expect it to surpass the likes of Montu and Alpengeist and land a spot in my steel top 20. As you can tell by now, intensity is my primary criteria for judging steel coasters and this one does it almost perfectly. The only way I can nitpick it even a little is to wish for a double helix finale à la Raptor or Silver Bullet instead of a single. (9/10)


Intimidator (x2)

I’m a fan of B&M hypers and even I really didn’t like this one. The others I have ridden are Nitro, Goliath @ SFOG, Apollo’s Chariot, and Diamondback. I have the former two firmly in my top 20 and regard the latter ones as still good, but with generally weaker airtime, which is exactly what I expected of Intimidator. No. I rode once in the very front and again in the very back and both times I came away feeling utterly indifferent about what had just happened. It’s like a giant California Screamin’ that actually has less airtime. I don’t like the staggered B&M hyper trains and I wonder if accommodating them has something to do with the more drawn out hills and transitions on this and Diamondback. So glad Mako is getting the straight across ones. I didn’t even bother returning to it later in the day. But I do have to mention this: Carlos loved Intimidator. Unlike me, he did go back to it in the evening and described a coaster that had transformed from earlier in the day with much stronger airtime. Is he right? Very possibly. I honestly should have given it one more ride after a full day of warming up, but I was simply having too much fun on Afterburn and Fury to care. I leave Intimidator as my ultimate “deserves another chance” coaster. (6/10)


Nighthawk (x1)

I’m actually a very big fan of Kings island’s Firehawk (Geauga Lake’s X-Flight when I first rode it) and I even prefer it to the B&M Superman: Ultimate Flight clones. Nighthawk doesn’t fare quite as well. It’s not rough, but just feels “loose” on the track to an even greater degree than the typical Vekoma. It misses out on Firehawk’s improvements like the ending helix and replacement of the double corkscrew with a double inline twist, and that detracts significantly from time spent in the flying position. (5/10)


Vortex (x1)

Blah. Another rough, old standup. It’s a little longer than its cousin at California’s Great America and maybe a little more comfortable, but still a one-and-done coaster. (4/10)


Ricochet (x1)

Actually pretty decent for a standard wild mouse. Minimal braking on the flat turns and you still take the sharp drops fast enough to keep things fun. I never know what to expect with these so this one being even moderately fast was a nice surprise. (5/10)


Carolina Cyclone (x1)

Simple double loop, double corkscrew Arrow. Another one Carlos seemed to enjoy but was painful on the neck for me. Really starting to miss Tennessee Tornado now… (4/10)


Carolina Goldrusher (x1)

Unfortunately one of the less inspired mine trains I’ve encountered. Certainly no Thunderation, but older ones like those at SFOT and Cedar Point best it too. No interesting terrain or landscaping at all. Good as a starter coaster for youngsters moving up from kiddie coasters and that’s about it. (4/10)


Hurler (x1)

Honestly not the abomination I was prepared for following my experience on the one at KD. I’m very interested to see what Cedar Fair does with that one since it’s closed for 2016 last I heard. I suppose these will both be RMC candidates sooner or later, but I question whether the lack of substantial support structure due to the low-lying nature of the layout makes them ideal for it. Perhaps a Ghostrider-style GCI makeover is more suitable? (4/10)


Carowinds is a beautiful park for entirely different reasons than Dollywood. You can see most of the park's major attractions from almost anywhere in the park.


Nighthawk, Vortex, Carolina Goldrusher, and Flying Ace are clustered in a central hub.


Nighthawk doesn't ride particularly well, but Carowinds did and excellent job with the presentation.


Based on aesthetics alone, this would be the park's second best coaster.


Fury looks even taller than the other giga coasters. Perhaps because it is.


Like Fury and Afterburn, you have to go outside the park to find many of the best shots of Intimidator.



I found this coaster much better to photograph than to actually ride.


The hammerhead is certainly no match for Goliath's helix turnaround at Six Flags Over Georgia.


Fury 325 narrowly edged out Kumba's longstanding place as my top B&M. Just barely....



Great, ground-hugging g-forces through this section.



Fury overshadows Intimidator in every way.


Big, flat turns after the first drop have rarely proven to be a wise design feature on traditional wooden coasters.


The Hurlers have such a weird layout. And they simplify much of what makes the very similar Thunder Run at Kentucky Kingdom good.


Carolina Cyclone is far from the best Arrow looper...


...but also far from the worst.


Vortex wasn't too rough until the second half of the ride.



Afterburn is situated next to what I'm sure is a seldom-used back entrance.


The batwing element on this and Montu is so good. It's a shame B&M used it so infrequently compared to the usually far inferior cobra roll.



It has a nice kick on the first drop, same as Batman, Flight Deck, and several other inverts.



I wish the US Navy still flew F-14s, but that's a discussion for another forum.


Corkscrews aren't usually my favorite inversion, but this one is seriously intense. Great element.



Carlos took a couple great shots at twilight.



It's always satisfying to add a new top ten coaster.

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Six Flags Over Georgia

Saturday, May 7, 2016


This park is rarely talked about as the best Six Flags park. Six Flags Magic Mountain and Great Adventure get lots of attention and occasionally someone will mention Six Flags Over Texas or Great America, but practically no one heaps praise on SFOG. This is understandable because we often tie a corporate amusement park’s identity to its signature ride(s) and SFOG has no El Toros or Kingda Kas, no Superman The Rides or Wicked Cyclones, no New Texas Giants, no Twisted Colossi. If that’s the way you’re accustomed to seeing things, it’s not hard to understand how SFOG could be overlooked.


My only prior visit was in seven years ago in 2009 and back then I decided that it was in fact my favorite in the chain. I still think so today.


My first thought upon arrival in 2016 was, “Holy crap Georgia Scorcher needs to be repainted.” We in Southern California think coasters like Xcelerator and Tastu have it bad, but I’m sure Scorcher would gladly trade places with them. Its paint is not just badly faded, it’s rusted, streaked with black, and is literally peeling off and crumbling over the entire track length. It really detracts from the beauty of what is easily Six Flag’s nicest looking entrance plaza with lush greenery, a lake, and Scorcher and Goliath both zipping around. Fortunately this little standup still kicks ass so I almost don’t care.


Now this won’t be news to a lot of you, but I’d like to take a second to compare the value of SFOG’s platinum Flash Pass with Carowinds’ Fast Lane Plus from the day before. Fast lane Plus included all major rides including Fury 325, Nighthawk, and Plants vs Zombies for $75 per person if purchased at the park, and since it utilizes simple wristbands, you don’t have to mess around with a redundant Q-bot that requires you to leave your ID/credit card/first born child behind as collateral in case you steal it. Flash Pass makes you do all of that, charges you $115 per person for the privilege of including all the major rides* (but not really – if you want a solitary pass for Dare New Devil Dive Revolution and the wonders of virtual reality you still have to pay another $10 for a total of $125 per person – which we did). As a pro free market, supply and demand kind of guy, I believe Six Flags has every right to charge whatever price for this product their customers are willing to pay. That’s just reality folks. But as a biased coaster enthusiast consumer, it’s impossible to argue that it’s as good a value as Cedar Fair’s alternative. “Oh, but Flash Pass Platinum allows you consecutive re-rides without leaving your seat!” This is true, but only when the coasters are running more than one train (which the park’s second best coaster, Mind Bender, was not) and I still feel just, so, so dirty every time I do it. Not that it stopped us or anything.


I’m not going to walk us through the entire day this time and instead jump straight into the ride reviews. But first, what do I think is so special about SFOG that makes it my favorite of all Six Flags? I think it’s two simple things: The well-roundedness of the coaster collection and the atmosphere created by the lush topography and subtle terrain the park is built on. Like its sister, SFOT, this park has a lot of the old school details and charm absent from other parks that Six Flags acquired instead of built. And while I absolutely think Georgia Cyclone should be next in line to get RMC’d, there are enough quality coasters here from Goliath to Mind Bender, Scorcher, Batman, Superman, Dare Devil Dive, Cyclone, and GASM that the lack of a true world class standout doesn’t even matter to me.


I almost forgot. While I meant everything I just said – dear lord does the staff at SFOG suck. I don’t recall what they were like last time in 2009, but in 2016 even Magic Mountain has better operations and service than this. It’s like they take all the people who didn’t pass interviews and drug tests at Carowinds and bus them here every day. Maybe I just had a bad experience, but this was the least inspired, unfriendly, most glum group of park employees I’ve seen in a while.




Goliath (x10)

This coaster was a longtime mainstay in my top 10, but that was based on rides from seven years ago when I had less than half the credits I do now and before I had ridden countless Intamins and RMCs. Does Goliath still measure up? Not quite. It’s still very good, just no longer top 10. I think it’s the best of the B&M hypers and it absolutely mops the floor with Intimidator. The airtime is stronger, the pacing is uninterrupted and much quicker, and the setting is one of the nicest you’ll find for a hyper coaster. Second best coaster of the trip after Fury. (9/10)


Mind Bender (x6)

On the other hand, Mind Bender was actually better than I remembered it. I recall it pulling those awesome Schwarzkopf g’s and using terrain to great effect, but I did not remember that this thing has real airtime too! None of the drops with their shallow descents suggest airtime when you look at them. But they have it. This coaster is an all-around gem and I am so glad they didn’t apply VR to it. Moves up solidly into my steel top 20 with this visit. (9/10)


Georgia Scorcher (x5)

B&M’s finest standup and the only one that still rides like new (if only it looked like it too). Amazing contrast with the far inferior Vortex. This coaster is not quite Batman-level intense but it’s a lot more forceful than Riddler’s Revenge and any of the floorless coasters. Great, tight little layout that prioritizes swooping dives and twisty directional changes over inversions. I wish B&M made more like it. (8/10)


Dare Devil Dive Coaster (x1)

I did not ride with VR after finding it kind of disappointing on SFMM’s Revolution. I could not imagine waiting in the full queue for this thing with VR. With Revolution it’s tolerable because the capacity is naturally higher, but here the dispatches are much slower and it appears to break down often. VR element removed, I actually really liked this coaster. Nice and smooth with a good mix of forces and a fun layout. (7/10)


Batman: The Ride (x1)

Since I prioritize intensity above all else, you’d think I love these. But I just don’t and I can never completely figure out why. It’s not that I dislike them, I just don’t think the layout is that fun or exciting even though it’s relentlessly intense. (7/10)


Superman: Ultimate Flight (x2)

These are cool, but with Tatsu nearby at home they’re just filler attractions for me. I think the S:UF clones actually get a bit of a bad rap online that they don’t necessarily deserve. People often talk about them like they’re among B&M’s lesser efforts and I don’t think that’s true. I think the types of maneuvers flyers are relegated are simply difficult to pull off in confined spaces. (7/10)


Great American Scream Machine (x2)

One of the best John Allen wooden coasters. It’s bigger than Blue Streak, more scenic than Rebel Yell or the Kings Island Racer, and has more airtime than all of them. Only Screamin’ Eagle at SFStl tops it for me. (7/10)


Georgia Cyclone (x2)

The RMC topper track on the first two drops really helps. Big difference from last time, but later portions of the ride can still be kind of rough. I enjoyed riding this more than I thought I would, but it’s the obvious place to go for the park’s next big coaster. Great RMC potential here. (6/10)


SFOG's entrance plaza gives Carowinds' a run for its money.


This Batman's mother is not named Martha. In fact it has two mothers. Their names are Walter and Claude. They are both men.


Goliath and Scorcher make one of the better B&M combos out there.


I like to imagine Georgia Scorcher speaking in a wheezy, dying old man's voice: "Pleasssssse... If I could only have one... last wish... Please paint meeeeee........."


Amazing what a great ride they packed into a small plot. This and Batman are the two most compact B&Ms I've seen.


Dare Devil Dive has a pretty good layout. I look forward to trying it again in the future once VR is gone and it's hopefully more repeatable.


Great American Scream Machine is the wrong choice for a RMC conversion.


Georgia Cyclone is the correct choice.


Last time I was here there was a piece of wood hanging by a single nail and swinging wildly back and forth near this drop.


"Blue Hawk????" A lesson in why you never let the public name anything.


Superman doing what Supermen do.


Decent floater air on Goliath's larger hills. The ejector doesn't start until the bunny hops.


A modest first drop for a hyper coaster. Things really don't pick up until the second.


One of the all-time great out & back turnarounds.




The only hill on the ride without airtime is this one immediately following the helix. A trim brake before it grabs you just enough to limit the speed at which you take it. If that trim wasn't there, the bunny hops after it would be a thing of legend.



Mind Bender is one of Schwarzkopf's best. They layout is a little more innovative and varied than its cousin, Shockwave at SFOT.


Nice abrupt pop of airtime here in the back seat dropping back down out of the spiral "third loop."



I really, really like this coaster and had a tough time deciding whether to marathon it or Goliath at the end of the night.







Edited by Condor
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Wow, I've read through everything and still can't wait to read KI and SFOG! Please don't stop writing at such lengths! Which hypers were your favorite? I could figure out which ones you meant, and all the ones you listed are typically well loved. Afterburn looks phenominal with its new paint job. I was really taken aback when i saw those photos of it.


That is just too bad about ... mhm, that coaster. When i vosited Dollywood TN Tornado was closed, so to each his own I gues. We both walked off a little bummed.


At least you got to see the Rod erected, am I right?

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Thanks for the praise! These trip reports can sometimes take a while but I have fun writing them. And btw, Kings Island was part of my 2015 trip. Just used it for a couple of comparisons here.


My list of hypers and gigas goes like this:


1. Skyrush

2. Intimidator 305

3. Millennium Force

4. Fury 325

5. Phantom's Revenge

6. Magnum XL-200

7. Goliath (SFOG)

8. Nitro

9. Superman The Ride/Bizarro (another one I owe another chance)

10. Superman El Ultimo Escape

11. Diamondback

12. Apollo's Chariot

13. Titan

14. Steel Force

15. Mamba

16. Intimidator

17. Goliath (SFMM)

18. Desperado

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This will sound harsh, but Carowinds has two coasters that are great, one that’s just okay, and a bunch that are basically junk.



I'm even a little harsher than you, as I don't get the "greatness" in Afterburn that so many do! I view it as a "Very Good" coaster, while Intimidator is "Good", and Nighthawk is "just okay".


Great TR's though, thanks for sharing!

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Your comment about Wild Eagle's vests symbolizing the talons gripping against you is so true, haha. Also agreed about the surprising pop of air over the drop. I prefer it to the wing over element.


Damn, I miss Afterburn. And I'm currently sitting at the Charlotte airport just 15 minutes away. That corkscrew is facemelting intense and the zero go, like Raptor's, is brilliantly paced.


You really like the inline twists on the Vekoma Flyers better than the corkscrew? That odd laying on your back to flipping over your feet was so disorienting! I loved it.


Great report, I'll probabaly re-read it again later!


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Great reports on Dollywood and Carowinds. I loved the story about the drunk guys on Fury, lol.


My initial response to that trip report from SFOG was of course, "No sky bucket photos 0/10" but after reading through it I enjoyed it immensely. lol

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Nice report! Interesting perspectives on a park I am dying to get to (Dollywood), a park I don't really care about (Carowinds), and a park I just visited and loved (SFOG). Also, some great photos.

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Loved these reports too. Great writing style, and I think pretty similarly to you.


Fury is a total game-changer, and Afterburn has held up so well. Congrats on completing the US inverts!! That's exciting. I'm getting there, but still have a few gaping holes in Montu and Banshee. And I totally agree with Goliath - it's great, and probably the best US hyper, but after riding Fury, it doesn't hold up quite as well.


I haven't ridden Thunderhead since 2007 and in my mind it's still one of the best. i'm nervous to see if it still holds up when I go back to reride it, especially compared to it-that-must-not-be-named.


Great stuff!!

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Great report! Loved all your details, ratings, and pics. I don't have the patience to sort thru pics on my phone, sit down to type everything up and then upload pics so I really appreciate people who make the effort to do that! I know it takes a bit of time to do, especially when you're writing as detailed as you are. Thanks for posting and I hope to read more of your TRs in the future!


This summer will be my first time to Carowinds and Dollywood so it's super helpful to read a completely different opinion on the parks (especially DW) than I normally hear. After completing your TR, I think I may have overhyped DW for my boyfriend so will work on tempering his expectations for our upcoming visit. We were in Charlotte a couple months ago and drove over to Carowinds to gawk at Fury and drive around the park taking pics. It was really neat to be driving down the highway and see the park straight ahead! Similar to Cedar Point but, well, about 100x less awesome haha.

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  • 2 months later...

California’s Great America

Friday, August 12, 2016


I made my pilgrimage to CGA to say goodbye to standup Vortex this August. Wait, sorry, I can’t lie to you people… I don’t actually care about Vortex.


I first visited the Northern California parks in 2012 in what was little more than a four hour credit run through Six Flags Discovery Kingdom the morning before a wedding and an even briefer cameo at CGA the next day before I drove home to Orange County. At the time I felt that CGA was a park with a very nice atmosphere, but an abysmal selection of rides outside of the super-intense Flight Deck. I visited again in 2015 to ride Goldstriker, which gave CGA the one-two coaster punch it sorely needed. This time I went with my friend, Kyle (Gnome) with the intention of spending a full day really exploring both parks. It didn’t quite work out that way.


A few thoughts on CGA:


- Flight Deck and Goldstriker complement each other perfectly and I can ride them all day without bothering with a single one of the park’s other coasters. You have a timeless, steel g-force machine with inversions, and a smooth, wooden airtime generator that hits the brakes with enough momentum to hustle through another 1,000 feet of track if it wanted to.

- Out of the 13 unique inverts in the US I rank Flight Deck sixth. I love everything about it except the short length. Another corkscrew and a second helix could make it elite. This is not likely to be a popular opinion but I prefer it to Banshee.

- Goldstriker is my third favorite GCI after American Thunder and Thunderhead. I love the relentless speed and constant pops of floater air. The only negative is that there’s no defining moment on the ride.

- Vortex can still be tolerable in the first two rows, even as a standup. I fear the layout is too limited for it to become as transformative as Rougarou became with floorless trains, but I’m curious enough to come back in 2017.

- Demon is not all that brutal by Arrow standards aside from one thing. The pullout from the turnaround into the first corkscrew occurs at what must be a 45 degree bank that just about kills me every time.

- I didn’t ride Grizzly this time, but in 2015 I actually enjoyed it pretty well. A lot of people, myself included, have called for RMC to do their thing, but if that never happens it serves very well in its role as a “big” family coaster.

- Mass Effect is a great attraction. I’m not a gamer and I don’t know the first thing about the franchise so I was unsure about doing it. If you are having similar thoughts, don’t worry. The storyline is simple and clear, and the graphics and 3D are top notch. A lot of fun.

- I wonder how my perception of this park would differ if Paramount and Cedar Fair had not pillaged it of some key attractions over the decades. With Stealth, Invertigo, Tidal Wave, and Whizzer still there, CGA would feel like a complete park instead of “Flight Deck + Goldstriker and???”


Nowadays, Goldstriker has more airtime on its first drop than Ghostrider does.


Has anyone stopped to consider that the #shed on Mystic Timbers is there to accommodate the Prudential office Kings island will be installing for 2018?


I really hope we get one of the 4-5,000 foot long GCIs that keep cropping up in China. Goldstriker finishes with the momentum to do it.


I always gray out at the top of Flight Deck’s upward spiral. It’s a near-constant build of g-forces from the drop pullout, through the loop, and into the spiral. Love it.



Pond Skimmer: The Ride


There’s a wonderful little “pump” the train navigates exiting the corkscrew that you’d never find on a newer B&M. Many of the early 1990s ones are full of quirks like this that lend coasters a bit of personality.


Does any park have a collection of smaller B&Ms than CGA?


Grizzly can actually look impressive from some angles. Like it's the Phoenix or something.


Mmmm… So impressive….


I’d honestly rather see Demon removed for a new coaster than Grizzly.


But there seems to be enough room around the perimeter behind Demon, Grizzly, and Whitewater Falls to build an out & back coaster of some kind.


After 40 years, Demon has become an almost seamless part of the landscape.


Yep, it’s come a long way.



It’s hard to see where all the airtime comes from by looking at Goldstriker. None of it is Intamin/RMC extreme, but it’s everywhere.


I wish Goldstriker had one or two standout elements I could remember vividly. Some wooden coasters have them, others don’t.


After roughly 20 rides over two years, I still can’t recall much of the layout even though I really enjoyed it.


It still runs great in its fourth year of operation. This already shows that it’s holding up better than Apocalypse.


Vortex’s tight layout could honestly be a lot of fun when you don’t have to brace yourself entering every curve.


But why is Patriot going to be entirely blue? Because Flight Deck is now red? It hardly matters, but red trains or supports would have been cool.


Maybe Patriot’s station will get a ROOF to go along with its shiny new retractable floor?


Flight Deck is ageless. You’d never know it’s 23 years old. It runs smoother than many younger B&Ms.


The zero-g-roll doesn’t create much zero gravity. The rate of rotation is so quick it’s more of a lateral-g-roll and it feels awesome. Great element.


I’ll still gladly trade my home invert, Silver Bullet, for it.


By 2017 only five of the seven original B&M standup coasters will be left, and hopefully soon just four if Carowinds’ Vortex also goes full-Patriot. Just don’t touch Riddler’s Revenge and Georgia Scorcher.


This is a warning to everyone: If you have important credits (Joker…) to get the next day, DO NOT think it is safe to get absolutely wasted the night before. Kyle and I took a Lyft to the nearby Fault Line Brewery for lunch where we both got flights of 10 different beers, then capped that off with shots of Jameson and some 16 oz IPAs. Still feeling good, we also had a few more IPAs once we got back to the park. I regularly drink in parks where craft beer is available, but this was on a different level. I’ll be honest, I kind of blacked out after that. We both vaguely remember sprinting down the midway to Goldstriker for no apparent reason. So there’s that. But when I woke up the next morning I was so hung over that I honestly thought I couldn’t make it to SFDK. This would then mean that I took TWO trips to parks with new RMCs in 2016 and rode NEITHER (Lightning Rod was closed when I visited Dollywood). Unwilling to accept this, we loaded up on Gatorade and Advil, took a long nap, and finally made it to SFDK three hours later than we wanted to. Oh well. At least we got our Joker credits. Disaster averted. This time.

Edited by Condor
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Sage advice. Don't get fit shaced before important credits. I'm sticking with this plan Saturday night before my CP trip. I had a disaster in 2012 when I got the opportunity to go see the NBA Allstar Game in Orlando. 20 years old and drinking scotch with TNT executives into the late hours and then figured out we had tix to IOA @ 9am. Yup, moving was too difficult and I missed out. Never again!

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Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Saturday August 13, 2016


San Francisco needs a better park. The city is too big, too influential, and too much fun to have a pair of third tier Six Flags and Cedar Fair offerings. Stephen and Aisha Curry deserve better. Why isn’t there a Six Flags Over Texas or Kings Dominion here instead? We can’t expect a Cedar Point/Magic Mountain/Great Adventure (I mean, the city isn’t THAT awesome…), but really? Discovery Kingdom? This place? I guess it’s okay enough. Kind of. San Francisco is certainly no Houston. Now those people got screwed. I guess Oakland is here too. Forgot about them. Whatever. Even the Warriors are moving in 2019.


So where was I? We drank a few too many Kolschs (a great style, more people need to brew these) and IPAs the day before during a break from California’s Great America. Our plan was to wake up at 8am and be at the park by opening at 10. After recovering from our previous day, we finally got there at 1pm, so we only had a little under seven hours to explore the park.


I got all the old credits in about four hours on a much slower day in September 2012, so I wasn’t concerned with riding everything this time. We wanted to ride Joker as many times as possible, plus Superman: Ultimate Flight, Medusa, and V2 at leach once each. The park was just crowded enough that we didn’t even make it to Superman. It had a 90 minute+ line all day and waiting for it would have meant two or three fewer rides on Joker. I know there are examples of certain parks on specific days that probably debunk this, but I honestly feel coasters like Premier Sky Loops are too low capacity for most Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks. They have more GP appeal than other shuttle coasters like Intamin Impulses and I just don’t think the ride experience is worth the wait it creates. I say leave them to the Lake Compounces of the world.


We ended up riding Joker four times, Medusa twice, and V2 once. That’s all we had time for. Part of the inefficiency of the average day at SFDK is that I don’t think the park has the infrastructure to handle the crowds it gets and that goes back to the pre-Six Flags Marine World days where the developers could never have anticipated it turning into a coaster park. The layout has no flow, there aren’t enough dining locations, and the ones they have lack adequate seating. They have this gigantic tent for restaurant seating and there are only enough tables to fill half of it. There were more people standing and eating than sitting down.


I didn’t write reviews for CGA, so I wanted to make sure I did so here.


The Joker (x4)

This was my sixth RMC and my top 20 list is starting to get awfully crowded with them. SFDK now has the signature coaster it needs to make it a repeatable park. It has a few improvements made from earlier RMCs. The small bunny hops from station to lift hill on Twisted Colossus are too abrupt and don’t create satisfying airtime. On Joker, they’re more gradual and have real airtime without being uncomfortable. Likewise, the only weakness on my favorite RMC, Medusa Steel Coaster, is the slow speed you take the final inversion. It doesn’t have any interesting positive or negative forces and is just a bit of a letdown after a near-perfect layout. Joker’s last inversion is even lower to the ground and has a slight upward trajectory, making it more of a barrel roll than an inline twist. It has some nice forces and is quite fun. The first drop is very good, but not amazing. There’s ejector air to be had, but to me it’s RMC’s weakest first drop. Keep in mind that’s like saying Russell Westbrook is the worst of the top five best players in the NBA. Loved the step-under flip. It will be hard to include this on many iron horse conversions, but it could easily become a fixture on RMC’s new-build wooden coasters. The turnaround following the stall was okay, but not as dynamic as the ones on Twisted Colossus. The right-banking camelback delivers more ejector, as does the double down. The final bunny hop has what is probably the strongest airtime on the ride and then you hit the brakes with the perfect amount of momentum. It doesn’t feel like it ends 500 feet too late like New Texas Giant, nor 1,000 feet to soon like Iron Rattler. I didn’t ride it as many times as I wanted to, and I have difficulty discerning why, but The Joker is my least favorite RMC. As I pointed out, that means it is still very much a top-flight coaster, but there must always be an order to things and nothing about Joker elevates it above the others for me (9/10).


Here’s how I rank them:

1. Medusa Steel Coaster

2. Outlaw Run

3. Twisted Colossus

4. New Texas Giant

5. Iron Rattler

6. The Joker


Medusa Parking Lot Coaster (x2)

Back in 2012, Medusa was it. This big B&M floorless was as good as it got at SFDK and it just wasn’t enough to make me come crawling back. Now with Joker leading the charge, I find it easier to appreciate Medusa. I noticed the same thing at SFMM when Twisted Colossus was built. Before 2015 I thought Magic Mountain lacked a true elite coaster. Now that it has one, I can more easily enjoy Tatsu, X2, and Riddler’s Revenge because that niche has been filled and they are alleviated of the burden. So since Medusa isn’t Discovery Kingdom’s flagship any longer, I feel free to appreciate the ride for what it is rather than holding it up as a standard bearer. And it’s actually pretty good. The first half is basically Kraken, my favorite floorless. Nice floater air on the first drop and moderate intensity through the first three inversions. I don’t really like the sea serpent roll because B&M stretched the element out too much rather than just mirroring half of a cobra roll. On a hot day, Medusa holds its speed enough that you plow through the midcourse brakes unimpeded and take the twin corkscrews at a good clip (8/10).


Now the floorless coasters:

1. Kraken

2. Superman Krypton Coaster

3. Dominator

4. Rougarou

5. Medusa

6. Bizarro

7. Batman: The Dark Knight

8. Scream

9. Hydra


V2: Vertical Velocity (x1)

As I alluded to earlier, I don’t like a lot of shuttle coasters. Speed: The Ride (RIP) and the Schwarzkopf shuttle loops have always been the apex of shuttles for me. Otherwise, give me a full circuit coaster any day. Unless it’s Yolo. Impulses were interesting when they first came out around 2000 and anything with LIMs instantly became cool, but I don’t think time has been kind to the concept. The standard ones are boring, Wicked Twister is only a little better, but this one, this city ordinance-created, Frankenstein impulse is kind of cool. The angled, inverting front spike is infinitely more thrilling to me than a 90 degree vertical climb. I’m glad Intamin has moved on from building these because there are other models that offer more thrills in a similar footprint. Still a fun coaster if the wait is short (6/10).


Medusa is an impressive sight from any angle.


I don’t know if I should be surprised or not that B&M never attempted another sea serpent roll, because, well, this one isn’t great. But there are a lot of shitty cobra rolls out there too.


Kraken and Medusa have the best dive loops. They don’t take them quite as slowly as some other loopers.


You can’t even tell it’s a parking lot coaster until you board the ride. I guess all you need are palm trees and a wooden fence.



SFDK’s entry plaza builds so much excitement being surrounded by all these coasters.


They should have pulled a Maverick with The Joker and named its trains Heath, Jared, and Jack.




I think the twist robs Joker of just a bit of airtime. I wonder if this is less of a factor on taller coasters like Expedition GeForce.


The step-under flip is almost a fully inverting version of the stall turnaround on Outlaw Run.


I’ll have to wait until next time to ride Superman again. Kyle really likes it so I probably owe it another chance.


Last time I just didn’t understand the ride.



Legitimate airtime before the lift hill.


Joker has a great visual sprawl to it. It looks like a jungle of wood. Which is technically all jungles.


The entrance to this turnaround is the only part that fails to produce air.


Rode the boomerang last time. Thought it was one of the better ones.


Like CGA, SFDK now has a nice one-two punch with Medusa and Joker.


From off ride you’d seriously have no idea Medusa is a parking lot coaster because it’s disguised so well. Then once you climb the lift and look down, you’re all “ohhhh….” From this angle they could almost call it Medusa Terrain Coaster. Six Flags has told bigger lies.



In 2012 I decided that Kong was the worst of the Vekoma SLCs.


Our Lyft driver told us Kong was a “must ride.” Cool. Glad I asked a local.


I still can’t bring myself to bother with Larson Loops. Are they any good?



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  • 1 month later...

Fun Spot USA

Wednesday September 28, 2016


This was Day 1 of a week-long rendezvous with a couple of friends in Orlando that was fortunately timed just right to avoid Hurricane Mathew. One of these guys is every bit the coaster enthusiast I am, while the other is pretty much a Disney/Universal only person who visits twice a year. The last of us arrived around 7pm an after checking into our first hotel, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant that California sorely needs, the utterly fantastic Miller’s Ale House. The closest one to where I live is in Las Vegas so I can’t exactly get up and drive there for lunch. Though sometimes I’m almost tempted to.


We also visited Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Busch Gardens Tampa, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Sea World, but first was Fun Spot. I think we spent about two hours, though we easily could have stayed longer and tried to ride more of the flats. I would have insisted on it had I done my research a little more thoroughly beforehand and known of the apparently insane programs some of them are said to run.


I also had my first Yuengling here. That may sound incomprehensible to beer drinkers who grew up on the East Coast, but it simply can’t be found anywhere out west. I didn’t expect something on the level of a great, craft brew or anything, but Yuengling is certainly better than any of the macro-lagers out there. If I was an Orlando local I’d probably be at Fun Spot all the time. Cool coasters with short to no waits and decent cheap drinks are absolutely my thing. And if I had not just last month learned to be extra cautious about over drinking ahead of more parks the next day I probably could have shuttled between White Lightning and the bar all night.




White Lightning (x6)

This is the coaster Florida badly needed. B&M country finally got its own GCI and it’s a pretty good one. Like its brothers White Lighting zips along effortlessly never losing speed and hitting the brakes with enough momentum to go another 700 feet of track at the same pace if it wanted to. I got decent floater airtime in all rows but this was hampered some by the fact that the trains were never more than half full, often empty aside from my car. The same thing happened on Kentucky Rumbler so I unfortunately don’t think I got to experience either coaster at its best. With a heavier train I can only assume this one rides like a miniature Goldstriker with strong floater pops along the course. (8/10)


Freedom Flyer (x3)

My first of the modern variety of Vekoma junior inverts equipped with lap bars. I had heard this coaster packed a punch for its size and I actually think that might be an understatement. A few of the early banked turns and especially the ending helix feel more forceful than plenty of full size coasters and I’d gladly ride this over something like Hydra at Dorney Park. Hopefully a few more US parks get these. (6/10)


A lot of cities would be fortunate to have a small park like this one.



Another GCI lands in my wooden top 20. It’s in the lower half but could rise if I get to ride with full trains.


It was hard to get photos with trains running because there was only one crew of operators who ran from one ride to the next depending on where the few customers went. The park was nearly empty.


Nice selection of coasters and classic flats here. I wish I rode more of them.



One good thing about White Lightning is that it should be easy to maintain. At its low height and speed the stress on the track can't be much.


I caught a little air on the double up/double down and a few other hills, but again, it just wasn’t going fast enough tonight to really show what I’m sure it can do.


The lighting package nicely completes the white structure.


Freedom Flyer Guy – Freeing Fun Spot of expensive intellectual property since 2013.

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Universal Studios + Halloween Horror Nights

Thursday September 29 and Sunday October 2, 2016


I endured two marathon 16 and 17 hour days at Universal Orlando Resort on this visit. I’m positive these are the longest two days I’ve ever spent a park. We went from 8am to 1am on a Thursday and 9am to 1am Sunday. I’ll deal with Islands of Adventure separately to focus on Studios and HHN for now.


My last trip to Orlando was in 2011 so Diagon Alley, Transformers, and the expanded Simpsons area were all new to me. We entered through the front gate on opening at 8am to ride Escape From Gringotts as early as possible. We got on right away with no wait at all. My first thought on entering Diagon Alley is that it was even more impressive in scope than Hogsmeade at IOA. This carries over into the queue line which I honestly wish I had more time to examine and appreciate. I assumed this would be the first of several rides on Gringotts, but somehow due to circumstances I don’t recall ended up being the only time I would ride during my two days here.


After Gringotts we quickly walked onto Mummy, still one of my favorite all-around attractions, and took the Hogwarts Express over to IOA to ride Kong after opening before it could develop a line. An odd thing about me since I am a film buff and a screenwriter is that I have only seen one Harry Potter film and I don’t even remember which one it was. I still have no satisfactory explanation for this. I’ve never read a single page out of any of the books either, so the extent of my Potter knowledge comes almost entirely from theme parks, so many of the characters and nearly all of the references found in the attractions are lost on me. Despite this it’s easy to immerse myself in the environment and I really enjoy all of the world building and attention to detail.


We returned to Studios from IOA around 2pm and hit Transformers, Men in Black, and Mummy again before HHN. We booked a table at Finnegan’s Pub to take advantage of the stay and scream privileges and wait it out until the event started. Our plan was to hit the super popular American Horror Story house right away, but what I didn’t know is how they keep the barricades up to funnel people from each stay and scream holding area into the nearest 1-2 houses only, leaving us to Walking Dead (which I’m sick of…) and Ghost Town, a house I was really anxious for as it was one of only two with original concepts this year (I don’t count Chance’s Lunatics Playground. All of those 3D clown mazes are the same to me).


With the first two houses done and the barricades down, we decided to write off AHS until our second night as the wait had already ballooned to something horrible like 2 hours even though the event had just started. So first up was Walking Dead, which I remember nothing about, and then The Exorcist. Exorcist was the house based on established IP that I was most excited for. The reverence for the film was great and they did justice to most of the iconic scenes, but I didn’t find it scary.


The debate over houses using TV/film IP versus original themes has been run into the ground by now, but I have to comment on it: I think the original ones are almost always better. When you confine yourself to adapting established material, your priority invariably becomes reproducing iconic moments and characters from the source material rather than creating an environment of genuine suspense and mystery. Haunted houses rely on fear of the unknown to scare people. You ideally won’t know what to expect around the next corner and the suspense of what may or may not jump out at you is the main way to generate fear. With something like The Exorcist, unless you haven’t seen the film, you know you’re going to see possessed Reagan or the demon Pazuzu in every room. In Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre you know you’re going to see Michael Myers and Leatherface twelve different times and a hot chick in pajamas with blood coming out of her back. You lose the element of the unknown and without it the mazes simply aren’t as scary.


Next we hit Lunatics Playground, still a step ahead of the crowds. We bypassed the nearby Texas Chainsaw house to do Halloween and the second original house, Tomb of the Ancients, which as you can probably imagine, I quite liked! One of those two empties out next to Texas Chainsaw which by now had our second longest wait of the night at around one hour.


We took a break from the houses to wander the scare zones a little more thoroughly and take part in one of my favorite Orlando alcohol rituals: Drunk Mummy. We were all probably three souvenir cup refills deep by this point in addition to whatever we had at Finnegan’s and we rode twice using the single rider line. I think.


After some food we finally got around to Texas Chainsaw and our last house of the night with the longest wait at 90 minutes, Krampus. By then HHN was drawing to a close and we still had AHS, Bill & Ted’s, and Rip Ride Rockit left to do our next day.



When Sunday rolled around we started in IOA this time and after a stop at Toothsome Chocolate Factory, got to Studios around 3pm, and hopped on Rockit with a 15 minute wait. We deliberately chose the front holding HHN holding area closest to American Horror Story and we were so of the first few into the house once the gates opened. Our round of houses tonight meant repeats of Tomb of the Ancients, Ghost Town, Lunatics Playground, Halloween, and Texas Chainsaw.


We didn’t see either of the show our first night so we caught both of them this time. Academy of Villains was decent for a straight musical show, but nothing stood out to write about. It’s been a few years since my last Bill & Ted’s so I can’t refer back to the quality of recent shows, but I was a little disappointed with the lack of a narrative this year. The first time I saw it was in 2009 and I remember a relatively cohesive script that wove all the pop culture references together about as well as you could hope. This year’s didn’t seem like it had that. I realize expecting a real plot in a show like this is asking a bit much, but if I’m going to offer any meaningful critique, this would be it. I thought the music and dance numbers this year were pretty good though.




Revenge of The Mummy (x5-8ish)

Still my pick for the top ride in the park and best indoor coaster in the country. I’ve had some epic marathons on this in years past and everything about it hits all the right nostalgia buttons for me. The big airtime moments and crazy twisty bits are all just as I remember them. However some of the effects are beginning to show their age. That said, Mummy could continue to soldier on for a decade with no changes and still remain a top tier attraction. But the upcoming 2017 Mummy reboot starring Tom Cruise(!) is a prime opportunity to update the special effects and queue line. If the movie doesn’t turn out to be trash, I hope that’s exactly what Universal does. (8/10)


Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts (x1)

I fully planned to ride this more than once, but with the way our two days unfolded it somehow didn’t happen. I don’t know what the general consensus on this ride is around here, but it felt to me like Universal just going through the motions. All it does is park you in front of a giant screen where you watch a 20 second movie, then the coaster car drops underneath or spins around the screen to another one where you do it all over again. The theming in Diagon Alley and the queue line actually feels like a step up from Hogwarts and Forbidden Journey which is why I was so surprised when the ride itself felt like a step down. Sure I had fun on it so it’s not like I thought it was a complete letdown, but perhaps with a few re-rides I would have found more to appreciate. (7/10)


Transformers (x1)

A nice counterpart to Spider Man at IOA, but not necessarily a better one. The visual effects and storytelling are great and surpass both of the Potter rides. Where I think this ride falters is the connection between the events on screen and the motion of the ride vehicle. Transformers has a bit of the problem I had with Gringotts in that I always felt like I was parked in front of screens watching something cool instead of being immersed in it. The narrative actually tries pretty hard to connect you with the action, but I don’t think the fusion is quite as good as what Spider Man accomplishes. Still a great ride. (8/10)


Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (x2)

God they need to update the music selection. There may be more to it than I realize, but I’d think adding a handful of new songs and classics every year or two would be a simple and obvious update for this ride. Same for the characters and dialogue in the queue line video package. Man is that thing going to feel dated in another ten years. The coaster itself is still one of the most polarizing I’ve ever ridden. Back when it opened I really enjoyed it despite its flaws and constant downtime. Then my last rides on it in 2011 felt awful with no airtime and a rougher ride than I remembered. Now in 2016 I actually liked it quite a bit again. It wasn’t uncomfortable at all, felt plenty forceful, and had three strong airtime moments. The pacing still sucks with the layout’s four mid-course brake runs and middle stretch that does absolutely nothing, but it felt more like the Rockit I remember from opening year. And the best thing about Rockit might be how it breaks up the B&M hegemony in Central Florida. Sure they’re some of the best B&Ms built, but Rockit is sooooooo different from them and there’s still nothing else like it in North America. (7/10)




American Horror Story (x1)

Easily the best of the film/TV IP houses. Drawing material from three different seasons helps this one out because the constant variety keeps the illusion of the unknown alive a little more. The sets were fantastic but much of it felt too brightly lit. Hope to see this return with three new seasons adapted next year. (8/10)


The Exorcist (x1)

I love the film so as a movie buff I was happy to see how faithfully executed the house was. But as a HHN goer I didn’t find it particularly scary for reasons I expressed earlier. I’d love to see another demonic possession house that takes inspiration from The Exorcist rather than adapting it outright. (7/10)


Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch (x2)

Gulch. What a great word. It just sounds so Halloween. This was a very solid house that made me think of some of Knott’s houses on a larger budget for obvious reasons. No great jump scares that I remember but the atmosphere felt genuinely creepy. (8/10)


The Walking Dead (x1)

I remember absolutely nothing about this house, so the only conclusion I can draw is that I must have thought it was incredibly lame and that Walking Dead needs to retire from HHN.


Lunatic’s Playground 3D – You Won’t Stand a Chance (x2)

Hands down the best rotating tunnel I’ve ever seen. Genuinely had trouble staying upright through it, which never happens. Otherwise, it’s the same as every other like-themed 3D neon maze throughout the industry. I also have no phobia of clowns whatsoever, though I can see why this house could be legitimately terrifying to those who do. (5/10)


Tomb of the Ancients (x2)

My favorite house this year because it was the only one that invoked genuine suspense and successfully jump-scared me more than once. This one is the antithesis of everything I bemoaned about established IP houses that sacrifice fear of the unknown for familiar characters and scenes. Hope to see it back. The ancient ruins theme is versatile enough to reuse again and again with only slight changes to keep it fresh. (9/10)


Texas Chainsaw Massacre (x2) and Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddenfield (x2)

Both of these are interchangeable to me. Neither one had atmosphere invoking any kind of dread because the settings are too relatable. You’re inside a traditional American home for the majority of each one and the scares are repetitive from room to room. “Oh crap! It’s Michael Myers!... And there’s Michael again… And again… And… yep… Oh, wait, he’s coming at us with a spatula this time!” It works on film where the inverse is true and relatability can actually be scarier, but I don’t think that’s true of a walk-through experience. A lot of people really seemed to like these two houses, maybe because they have difficulty separating the idea of films they like from what does and does not create an effective attraction. If that’s what people want, then great. I just can’t relate to it. (5/10)


Krampus (x1)

Like the film, this house walks the fine line between horror and humor. That also means that it never quite got the point of being as scary as it could have been. It also felt different than all the others, so for that it was fun. (7/10)


Passing through CityWalk on my way to either gate always feels like coming home. Some things change, others stay the same, but it’s still home.



Am I remembering things incorrectly or was Rockit originally supposed to be a CityWalk-specific attraction and technically not part of the park itself?


It seems I neglected to take any pictures inside Diagon Alley. This is apparently all I’ve got.


If you draw a straight line from here to Fun Spot, Optimus is directly threatening the Freedom Flyer guy. No, really.


The non-inverting loop is a great element. Rockit starts so strong yet finishes so weak.


I wonder which coaster holds the record for most feet of track taken up by block brakes. Rockit is certainly a contender, maybe even the favorite.


I didn’t gray out in the treble clef this year, which is unfortunate.



HHN offers interesting angles of the coaster you don’t ordinarily get.


I liked NBA City, but this place is a huge upgrade. I’ll make a point of eating lunch or dinner here next time.


Our selection of shakes. I must have undone at least twenty-nine hours of cardio with my diet on this trip.


It begins...


What all the HHN switchbacks look like when you’re the first group inside. You still walk through every single one of them.



Two actors play Chance in her scare zone every night. One of them spoke—like with her vocal cords and mouth. One for some reason, did not.


The entrance to Texas Chainsaw.


Dead Man’s Wharf was my favorite scare zone this year.


The Survive or Die: Apocalypse scare zone is themed to a city overrun with Mad Max-level street violence. So like Chicago right now, but not as bad.


Vamp ’55 scare zone was fun. Vampires crash a 1950s high school prom. They should make a house out of it some year.





Rockit is best ridden at night.



Meet my friend Josh. Josh declined to join us for Walt Disney World, Busch Gardens, and Sea World. He spent an ENTIRE WEEK at Universal and went to HHN four nights in a row. That’s just the kind of guy he is. So while we were at Epcot, he had a scare actor lunch with some of Universal’s creatives that included a daytime tour of several houses. I didn’t find out about this in time to attend.


Photos were not allowed in the featured IP houses, but Ghost Town was fair game. Here’s what he took:










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