Midway Market already has to be there because it's the kitchen for the picnic area and I don't see why they would ever change such a ridiculously efficient setup. The food probably isn't going to change since they're already making it for the picnic area, but if a park with staffing problems wants to convert it to a likely more labor intensive table service setup or something then what the f*ck ever. Have fun during Halloweekends.
SANDUSKY, Ohio – With every new record-breaking coaster at Cedar Point, it’s easy to forget the ones that came before it. Remember in 1976, when the Corkscrew was brand new, the first in the world with three inversions? H. John Hildebrandt does.
“In 1974, Cedar Point had four roller coasters: Blue Streak, Cedar Creek Mine Ride, Wildcat and Jumbo Jet,” writes Hildebrandt, who started working for the park as a seasonal employee in 1969 and went on, decades later, to become general manager. “It was the fifth coaster, the Corkscrew, which opened in 1976 that changed everything forever at Cedar Point.”
The coaster wars were officially under way, he writes, “and have continued, with varying degrees of intensity, until today.” After 40 years in the business, Hildebrandt retired in 2013, the year that GateKeeper debuted. In between Corkscrew and GateKeeper, he helped launch Gemini, Magnum XL-200, Millennium Force, Top Thrill Dragster and Maverick – some of the greatest roller coasters ever built. A Cleveland native, Hildebrandt recounts the highs and lows of his coaster-riding, midway-strolling career in his new book, “Always Cedar Point: a Memoir of the Midway.” It’s an entertaining, insider look at one of the country’s most-beloved amusement parks.
Among his insights:
* The park set an attendance record in 1994 with 3.617 million visitors, the year Raptor debuted. Cedar Fair no longer releases attendance numbers for its individual parks, so it’s interesting to note that this record still stands, even with the addition of numerous record-breaking coasters in recent decades.
* A monkey in the park’s popular Jungle Larry attraction escaped in the summer of 1977, causing two rides to be shut down while a search took place. The animal was never found. “Legend has it he rests underneath one of the Iron Dragon footers,” according to Hildebrandt. He waited for calls from the media about the incident -- “any news outlet would have loved this story” – but none came.
* Disaster Transport, a space-themed indoor coaster, was one of the park’s rare fails, a remake of the ride formerly known as Avalanche Run. “Putting a steel shell over Avalanche Run was the easy part. Creating a legitimate themed, thrill ride experience was a much bigger task. Whether we acknowledged it or not, we were setting ourselves up to be compared to Space Mountain at Disney World.”
* The roller coaster Mantis, new in 1996, was originally called Banshee, with T-shirts and other promotional material already distributed. The name change came after a Sandusky Register story described a banshee as a ghostly figure who appears prior to death. “We can’t have a roller coaster with a name associated with death,” Hildebrandt quotes then-Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel as saying. Years later, after Kinzel’s retirement, the name Banshee was resurrected for a new ride at Kings Island.
* Fast Lane, the pricey pay-to-go-to-the-front-of-the-line pass that debuted in 2012, didn’t generate the level of pushback that park officials expected. “Our biggest fear was blowback from regular riders who would resent these park-goers who could afford the first class option. However, it never happened, at least not to any measurable or significant degree.” Cedar Point's Mantis was initially named Banshee, until Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel decided he didn't like the name.
Hildebrandt, 69, first worked for Cedar Point while still a student at the University of Notre Dame, running the Frontier Lift. A few years later, he was hired as a full-time employee in the marketing department, gradually working his way up to vice president-marketing and then general manager. Aside from one year at Dorney Park, a Cedar Fair sister property in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Hildebrandt spent his entire career at Cedar Point. He was privy to and part of some of the biggest decisions in the park’s history.
He agreed to answer a few questions about his years at the park:
It’s been five years since you retired. How often do you get to Cedar Point?
Well, I do live close by, less than 5 miles. I’m probably in the park 8-10 times a season. I really enjoy visiting the park with our grandchildren (all under 10). It’s nice to walk the midway and just observe and not worry about anything. It’s nice to have the freedom to leave whenever I want. I remember my wife and I were about to enter the park, approaching the Beach Gate, after eating dinner at TGI Friday’s. It was late September, my first year as a retiree. It started to rain, the wind picked up off the lake, and the temperature was dropping. I thought about all those tough weather days in the past when I was working. I turned to my wife and said: “You know, we could go tomorrow.”’ We did.
What do you miss most about being the park every day?
You can get up from your desk and in less than a minute be in the middle of thousands of people having fun. It’s exciting. It is show business. You get caught up in it.
What was the best part of your job? The worst?
That’s easy: walking the midway, observing the park in operation, talking to guests and employees. Walking the platform of Top Thrill Dragster talking to guests just before they are launched into coaster heaven. I loved awarding Cornerstone Pins to seasonal employees (the award is given to employees who exemplify the cornerstones of guest service: Safety, Service, Courtesy, Cleanliness, Integrity). One of the worst things was walking the midway on really bad weather days. Another was dealing with disappointed or angry guests. With millions of visitors every season, there are going to be some problem visits.
I had several, influenced in part by my then current age. My first few years it was the Blue Streak, followed by the Gemini, which opened in 1978, when I was 29. The Magnum opened in 1989, the year I turned 40, and it was my favorite until Millennium Force opened in 2000, when I was 51. It remained my favorite ride until my last year (2013, when I was 64) when it became the Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad. That said, it’s not fair to compare MF with the CP&LE. For thrills, Millennium Force delivers an experience that is second to none. It’s the best roller coaster in the world. On the flip side I could, as GM of the park, grab a ride in the cab of the train any time I wanted. And they even let me clang the bell and pull the whistle cord. How do you compete with that? [Editor’s note: Because of a medical issue, Hildebrandt did not ride Steel Vengeance this year, which some coaster fans believe displaces Millennium Force as the park’s best coaster. “I’m cleared to ride now and look forward to riding it in 2019,” he said. “Based on everything I’ve seen and heard, SV is a very good coaster but is not MF. Nothing is.”]
How about the one that was the most fun to promote?
Raptor. 1994. Everything clicked, from the media announcement, which included a stunt plane flying off the beach in imitation of the Raptor track layout, to producing a video which played before every Indians game on the new Jumbotron at then Jacobs Field.
Your favorite marketing campaign?
Magnum. 1989. Of all the campaigns I was associated with, the Magnum campaign was the most memorable. I think the TV and radio spots would still be effective today, almost 30 years later. A lot of credit goes to our agency at the time, Hesselbart & Mitten (Akron), no longer in existence. It helped that the product matched the hype.
One that fell flat?
Mean Streak. The marketing campaign for the launch of Mean Streak (1991) never clicked with park-goers the way we had hoped it would.
Anything you would never go on?
A few: Witches Wheel (now gone), Windseeker (fear of heights), Super Himalaya (fear of getting sick). There were several that I only rode once: Power Tower, Mantis (aka Rougarou), and Wicked Twister. One of my colleagues, Dick Collingwood, our corporate vice president-administration, went on a successful quest to ride every ride in the park at least once during the summer before his retirement. I thought that was a pretty cool thing to do. Cedar Point has a lot of rides.
You had a hand in the development of several memorable marketing lines for the park (at least one of which is still in use): “Get to The Point!” “The Amazement Park” and “America’s Roller Coast.” Did you have a favorite?
Tough call between “The Amazement Park” and “America’s Roller Coast.” Both are as good a brand positioning statement as you can get. “The Amazement Park” is more general, speaks more to the totality of the Cedar Point experience. “America’s Roller Coast” positions the park as the park with the best coasters. If you are an amusement park, that’s a good position to own. We used “America’s Roller Coast” in advertising geared to teens and young adults. Both lines are, by advertising standards, a bit old. “The Amazement Park” was coined in 1978 or 1979 and “America’s Roller Coast,” a few years later. Credit for both lines goes to MARC advertising in Pittsburgh.
How did Cedar Point change after the purchase of the five Paramount Parks?
From the guest perspective, not very much. With the acquisition, the company doubled in size. There was a natural and necessary effort to standardize procedures. The parks all had to give up some autonomy for the greater good. One example: We standardized seasonal employee uniforms wherever possible; shirts and hats that said, “Cedar Fair Entertainment Company” vs. “Cedar Point.” I understood why we did it, but I still didn’t like it.
You were general manager of Cedar Point when Cedar Fair purchased Geauga Lake (then Six Flags Worlds of Adventure) and, for part of your tenure, were responsible for managing Wildwater Kingdom. As I’m sure you know, there’s still quite a bit of anger in Northeast Ohio about the decision to close the park. Why do these historic amusement parks mean so much to us?
I grew up on Cleveland’s West Side (the West Park area). Our high school after-prom event was held at Geauga Lake. I believe the emotional connection to amusement parks gets cemented in between the ages of 6 or 7 and 19 or 20. It’s a little bit like the emotional connection we develop with music. Or sports teams. I think the key to the amusement park connection on an emotional level is the fact it is multi-generational. Taking your son or daughter to their first Indians game is a lot like taking them to Cedar Point and riding their first coaster. There is a continuum of experience from childhood to the end of life. My father was a lifelong Browns fan. I feel him every time I walk into the Stadium. When we took our grandchildren to their first Tribe game, I thought of the games I attended with my grandmother and aunt. And so it is with amusement parks. I met my wife at Cedar Point. There are a lot of folks from Northeast Ohio who met their spouses at Geauga Lake. I get it.
What accounts for the wild success of HalloWeekends, which you had a hand in creating? (Interesting, though, that the event hasn’t resulted in an overall attendance increase for the park.)
Several things. First, starting in the 1990s, the growth in the Halloween industry all over the country. Second, Cedar Point’s decision to position HalloWeekends as essentially a value-added attraction: You get all the Cedar Point rides AND all these great Halloween attractions for one competitive (versus stand-alone haunted houses) price. Third, Cedar Point continues to up the ante every year, making the event bigger and better. Fourth, the park created an event that had great attractions for both families and teens and young adults. HalloWeekends has probably moved some park visits from July and August to September and October.
Thoughts on the future of Cedar Point – how will it be different in 10 or 20 or 50 years? The coaster wars will continue?
The big question for the future revolves around the future of the roller coaster. Will the success of big, expensive coasters like Millennium Force and Steel Vengeance continue? In a word: yes. Park experiences will become more interactive, as technology develops. I think season pass admissions will continue to grow. Guests will increasingly buy a season versus a one-day experience. I believe amusement parks have to continue to offer experiences you can’t have at home, or any other place, either. You can’t buy Millennium Force and put it in your backyard. Interestingly, if you go back to Cedar Point’s first golden age, circa 1910, you have nearly all the components you have today: rides, including roller coasters; food, novelties and restaurants; souvenir stores, games and arcades; a variety of live entertainment; lots and lots of lights.
Looking forward to reading this book, make sure to go to the link and check out all the vids/photos.
Very cool! Even I'm feeling nostalgic after reading that, haha! I grew up near Kings Island and started really getting into roller coasters during middle school. My friend who got me into the hobby told me about Cedar Point, and from then on I could not stop watching videos of Millennium Force and the other rides there. I told my dad I wanted to go, and after a while he took my family and me up to northern Ohio to hit up CP and visit some family friends. It was a dream come true! While I was unfortunately a bit let down by MF, I was absolutely starstruck when I finally got to ride. I guess I had too high of expectations, as I guess is common with that ride. TTD blew me away, though, and to this day is my favorite roller coaster!
Anyway, excuse my reminiscing. Great article! It's cool to see the park through the eyes of a longtime manager.
Great read, thanks for sharing. I had the pleasure of meeting John during my first visit to Cedar Point back in 2012. He's a great guy and was very kind to meet with my dad and my 13-year-old self on our first visit. Cedar Point really has a great history.