Minneapolis has always been near the top of my list of potential US travel destinations.
Yes... you read that correctly. you're not drunk.
As I was saying, Minneapolis has always been near the top of my list of potential US travel destinations. It's in that super annoying spot where it's possible to drive it but really stupid to drive it (we're actually 30 minutes closer to Orlando by car than we are to Minneapolis) and it was always really expensive to fly there for seemingly no reason (because I mean...like... it's f*cking Minnesota).
That said, one day I was browsing Frontier's website and all of a sudden a direct flight from Long Island to Minneapolis popped up for a stupid low price. As I generally do, I snatched it up immediately and didn't even tell Brit until after the fact.
There are a few reasons I've been wanting to go there. First and foremost, we haven't been there and the list of places in the US where we want to go but haven't been is quickly shrinking. Second of all, there are a lot of things there that seem appealing. We knew they had two zoos, we knew the Mall of America looked awesome, we knew that Target Field looked like the best modern style MLB stadium in existence and we knew that Valleyfair existed and we could get in for free. We pretty much just expected Dorney with more cheese curds and potentially a stray moose walking around the midway but we could roll with that.
We woke up Saturday morning on Long Island at 4am with a pretty long day planned (mainly because it started at 4am). We were only an hour and a half from home but we opted to stay at the airport to buy ourselves some extra time to sleep since there was a Rodeway Inn there that we could stay at with points anyway. Staying at a Rodeway inn is generally a terrifying game of Hotel Russian Roulette but this place was actually kind of fantastic for what it was (meaning it was marginally acceptable for human occupation).
Our flight was at 5:45 but we showered the night before, we were parking at the airport and we had pre check so we had no issues getting up at 4am and getting over there as late as possible. Every second of sleep counts. Thanks to a few beers from the nearby gas station we were fortunate enough to crash around 10:00 while watching some weird Battlebots marathon with some dude who (I think) was a D-list wrestler like 20 years ago (we're the klassy types) so it was about the best nights sleep you could ask for with a 4am wake up call.
Everything went according to plan in the morning and we made it to our gate with ease. This was the first time Frontier ever flew this route, and when we got to the gate we were thrilled to see that this plane would be far from full.
Our plan for day one was to visit Valleyfair and then head to the Twins game that night. The flight seemed uneventful and we drifted in and out of sleep a lot (though afterwards the pilot did apologize for the turbulent flight but we didn't really notice or care). We landed at 8am, picked up our rental car and made our way over towards the park planning to grab some breakfast nearby as we knew we would be super early.
Well... joke's on us. This park is in the middle of god damn nowhere.
We actually ended up backtracking a bit but eventually found a Panera where I ordered up one of those delicious cinnamon crisp things with cream cheese. Those things are my sh*t, and while it's far from an acceptable breakfast we were on vacation so f*ck it.
We hung around there for a bit before eventually making our way over to the park at 10:00 where we came across a totally manageable crowd of people at the front gate. A few minutes later the park opened up and we were on our way in.
We didn't really have a strategy for this park and we never got the idea that we needed one, but you can never really go wrong with rope dropping a low capacity Wild Mouse so it seemed sensible. This was our second Arrow mouse of the spring so we sort of knew what to expect and it was exactly what we got. It was a fun little ride.
Up next was the coaster that most enthusiasts would likely consider the park's "star" attraction, Renegade. Renegade is a cool looking GCI that seems to play GCI's greatest hits with a curved wonky drop, station fly through and tons of floater airtime pops. The ride started out great and I loved the first drop and first few turns, but halfway through the ride something went seriously wrong.
Every once in awhile I'm reminded that I'm 30. Yeah, I know... it's not "old" but you're also not 21 where you could do literally anything and never suffer the consequences. I decided to go "hands up" on a GCI that I'd never ridden and around the jackhammering far turn I tweaked my back so hard that I totally had the wind knocked out of me (which I had never done before).
I walked off the ride and realized I was screwed. Walking was a chore and I was still winded. Are you f*cking kidding me???? Not even one hour into our trip I was seriously questioning whether or not I'd be able to ride anything else all weekend. I grabbed some water and walked it off a bit but it was a process. F*ck you, Renegade. F*ck you.
After a bit I started to feel slightly better but I still wasn't sure if riding anything else was a good idea. That said, I was totally doing it anyway and after thinking through their ride lineup in my head I realized that the coaster that was least likely to be rough in any way, shape or form was totally the Morgan so I figured that would be the perfect way to ease back into things.
We opted to wait for the front since it would give me a little more time to get my bearings and because if it was anything like Steel Force I assumed that the ride would absolutely blow everywhere else anyway. It bought me about 15 minutes, but in what felt like no time we were locked in ascending the lift and I was nervous as to how this would go over. After what felt like forever we crested the hill, hung over the top and finally began our descent.
The ride started with trepidation but halfway through the lateral section of the ride I was finally hit with the reality that I was good to go and I was ecstatic. Knowing that I was now on a Morgan and not a sh*tty GCI, I finally hrew my hands up and enjoyed the ride which actually consisted of some fun laterals and great pops of air. What a relief!
We immediately got back in line and queued up for the front again, knowing that this time I would be able to fully enjoy it.
I'll be honest, this ride doesn't get enough praise. Normally when a park with an average lineup has a coaster that's as good as Wild Thing, people OVER-hype it but I feel like that's actually the opposite of what's going on here. You never heard about Wild Thing. People just group it in with Steel Force and Mamba and overlook it but I have to step in here. This ride is way better than Steel Force. It honestly blows it to hell.
I get it, it's not going to make anyone's top 10 list but it's a great coaster. The thing that really sets it apart is the middle of the course when it breaks from it's "out and back" start and just starts diving and turning around the park. It provides great visuals and it's a ton of fun. Following that, it hits the midcourse and resumes the traditional Morgan hyper portion of the program but I'll say that the airtime did feel a bit more powerful than it does on Steel Force. Maybe it's because Valleyfair actually runs full trains.
After our second ride on Wild Thing we decided to head over to Steel Venom as it seemed marginally less likely to kill me than a wood coaster, an Arrow that turns alot at high speeds (shudders) or an Arrow Corkscrew. These rides are always a blast, and this one was no different. It was also awesome to see one with a functional holding brake.
After Steel Venom we walked around a bit checking out some more of the park. Valleyfair is the textbook definition of a generic Cedar Fair copy and paste park. We had a great time there and we knew this going in so it's not really a complaint, but it's a lot like Dorney in that regard. There's not a single part of the park that has a shred of charm or originality. On the plus side though, it's squeaky clean and everything is beautifully maintained. It's the most generic Cedar Fair park ever, but I mean... even a generic AF Cedar Fair park is a great place to spend a day.
Next on the agenda was the park's other wood coaster which is awkwardly located in the park's kids area. This was the closest thing to a line we encountered all day but we were still on in about 20 minutes. While there, we laughed at how the park painted the part of the track next to the queue while leaving every other section (that was further from guest areas) in much "less pristine" shape. The ride itself was fun though and it delivered a smooth ride. I'm shocked that it doesn't valley on that first hill though. It always seems like it's not going to make it.
We were right near Corkscrew, but I figured if I was going to die that day it should be on something way more wonky and f*cked up so we decided to make our way back to Excalibur instead.
In a weird way I was probably more excited for Excalibur than anything else in the park. I knew it had high suck potential (An Arrow that focuses on high speed laterals is generally never a good thing) but it was also super f*cking weird and I couldn't help but be intrigued by it. Awful or not, it was something wildly different.
The ride was running one train but it was a complete walk-on (probably since it's buried in the back of the park) and we were on the front row on the next train. We ascended the lift preparing to embrace the suck, but honestly it never came.
I don't really understand why this ride is actually good. The transitions are f*cking horrifying and absolutely the type of nightmarish Arrow bullsh*t you would expect from a mine train but at much higher speeds. There are countless occasions where you're riding along, you stare at some hellish mess of a transition up ahead and you yell a collective "Oh, fu*ck that" but then you go through it and you somehow don't die.
I can't believe it, but Excalibur gets a thumbs up. We walked away amazed, satisfied but ridiculously confused about the abomination of a coaster that we just rode (and for some reason enjoyed).
Prior to our trip I had been messaging RCjunkie who was local to the park and now that I knew my weird back thing was good to go I figured I'd shoot him a message and see if he was around and wanted to meet up for some rides. He was all for it, so we decided to go get the Corkscrew out of the way while he made his way over.
To the ride's credit it was actually a lot better than expected. There was some headbanging but it was nothing awful and it was fun flying around over the water. Honestly, since I don't exactly blame Renegade for my experience on it I was surprised to see that Valleyfair really doesn't have a bad coaster in the bunch.
I had been eyeing the Screaming Swing since we pulled up so we decided to make our way over there next (hitting Power Tower on the way). Both Power Tower and the swing were a blast (as always), and we definitely got off wondering why there aren't more of these crazy swing rides in the world. To be fair... I don't know the last time I rode a Screaming Swing and DIDN'T get off pondering that question.
By that point RCjunkie had arrived so we met up with him for a few more rides. Meeting enthusiasts is always an iffy proposition, but he's a super cool dude and we had a blast. We ended up riding Steel Venom again as well as Wild Thing, both of which delivered great rides once again. Along the way he pointed out a few cool details we had missed about the park, though we mostly talked about baseball, the mall of America and Margaritaville... all of which is right up my alley.
I probably missed something to be honest, but we were having such a nice time that I didn't bother to take pictures for awhile and just focused on riding and having fun (going through pictures helps jog my memory since it takes me for-f*cking-ever to write these things). After awhile though, RCjunkie had to head back and we had to leave soon to get to the Twins game but we opted to ride the train (since it had a cool looking tunnel that you could see from the midway) before we left.
Okay, I won't lie... the train sort of sucks. We had planned to ride the full loop but it turns out it basically just doubles back on the same part of track which runs along the highway. The tunnel is cool, but the fact that it's all you really see of the ride from the midway implies that it's a better ride than it is. It does serve a useful purpose transporation-wise, but when we saw how lame it was we decided to just get off at the back station (rather than riding the full loop) so we could end the day right on Wild Thing.
You can always count on Cedar Fair to try to appeal to locals with lazy stereotypes...
Every new addition to Canada's Wonderland: "I don't know, theme it to pine trees and logs and sh*t. Canadians love pine trees and logs and sh*t. Then put something about the Yukon or Timber in the name." Valleyfair: "IDFK... doesn't half the population of Minnesota ride a moose to work? Cool, so for this park just have a bunch of stuffed moose prizes and sell sh*tty cheese curds. It'll be great".
A front row Wild Thing ride was the perfect way to end our day at the park. It may not be the biggest or the best but it's a super fun ride where you can throw your hands to the sky and race around at crazy speeds and that's good enough for us. Though I have come to appreciate it for what it is, this ride does blow Steel Force away and it makes me a little jealous. If Dorney had Wild Thing and not Steel Force I feel like we'd go there a bit more often.
We could have stayed longer but at that point it was about 5:00 and we decided to make our way out and over to Target Field for the 7:00 Twins game.
Target field was actually one of the main reasons we wanted to visit Minneapolis as ever since it opened it's been universally praised as one of the best modern ballparks in baseball. I'm probably a bad coaster enthusiast because when these awesome fares popped up there were two possible weekends to choose from... on one of them, the Twins were home but Pepsi Orange Streak at Mall of America was closed for refurbishment, on another one of them all of the coasters at the mall were open but the Twins were out of town. It was tough, but we picked the former. I know, I know.
I know a lot of people here aren't baseball fans but we love visiting different major league ballparks because not only do we like the sport but baseball stadiums vary a lot more in their designs than other sporting venues and the changes in venues drastically impact the game. For example... if you hit a ball 412 feet to center field at Target Field it's a home run, if you do the same thing in Boston it's probably a fly out. Hit a low screaming line drive deep to left field at Target Field it's a home run, in Boston it's possibly a single. Quirks like that make it fun. On top of that a lot of stadiums offer brilliant views of the city and surrounding area (which you rarely get with football stadiums as they generally like to fully enclose them to fit as many seats as possible).
Baseball stadium design goes through phases every 10 years or so, and part of the reason why people like this one so much is that it ushered in a (much needed) new era. Some quick background for the six people that care... in the 70's and 80's, new baseball stadiums were generally build outside of "downtown" and were fully enclosed circles that didn't offer much in the way of downtown views and (while functional) they were generally disliked. In many cases they also housed the city's NFL team, but building a stadium for both sports meant it wasn't ideal for either. Fans were far from the field and sight-lines were akward.
Then in 1992, the Baltimore Orioles opened "Camden Yards", which to this day is universally loved for good reason. It's a baseball only stadium where fans get close to the field and it's located right in downtown Baltimore. It helped revitalize the innner harbor area and the stadium is absolutely gorgeous. It was designed to feel like a classic old school brick ballpark but it was also able to include all of the modern amenities you could ever want.
The problem? Camden Yards was so great that suddenly EVERY CITY wanted their own Camden Yards. In the year's that followed, Arlington, Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, New York and Atlanta have all opened their own "Camden Yards" style ballparks (along with countless minor league teams like the Memphis Redbirds, Aberdeen Ironbirds, Columbus Cippers, Hartford Yard Goats and New York Mets). Now every stadium was brick and "retro" and in many cases loaded with hunter green seats and things designed to make it as much like Camden Yards as possible.
Okay... I have no idea if the Hartford Yard Goats play in a reto ballpark, I just wanted an excuse to let everyone know that there's now an honest-to-god professional baseball team called the Hartford Yard Goats.
Anyway, while most stadiums tried as hard as possible to be Camden Yards version 837; Target Field didn't do that...
Target Field is modern and they're not ashamed of that fact. While it's not the only recent stadium to go against the Camdan-Yards-wannabe trend it does it better than the rest. It's a tough balancing act to build a stadium that has modern style but also uniqueness and personality. Minneapolis pulled it off.
(Okay, it was ONE week before Memorial Day weekend so I guess it had one week to warm up like 30 degrees before the "unofficial start of summer").
The stadium lived up to the hype and it was an enjoyable game too. It was a really close pitchers duel, though the Twins eventually fell a little short. It was awesome to finally get out to Target Field and it absolutely lived up to the hype. The place is absolutely gorgeous, it has a great vibe, the fanbase is fun and they have a great food and beer selection. Between the ballgame and Valleyfair it was a great day.
Next up: Mall of America!