DATE: 5/11/2001 - 5/12/2001
Day 1: Cloudy, low 80s, periodic nighttime rain.
ABOUT ME: Male, age 37. Coaster rider since 1977 and fanatic since 1986. I have more than 330 adult coasters on my "track record". I generally prefer wooden coasters to steel because airtime is one of my big criteria. Also, I don't mind a little headbanging on coasters.
RATING SYSTEM: I subscribe to the ubiquitous Griswold scale, which rates coasters and parks on a scale from -3 to +5. Zero indicates a mildly positive rating.
THE PARK: +4
This was not only my first Stark Raven Mad, but also my first visit to Holiday World whatsoever. After winding through endless stretches of country road that suddenly makes right-angle turns as it winds between farms, we finally came to Santa Claus, Indiana, and just a couple miles down the road lay a modest-sized parking lot. And, in the distance to the left of the shiny new entrance plaza, lay the Raven. Well, at least the first few hills and the swoop turn over Lake Rudolph, because that's what little you can see of it.
Signs at the entrance plaza directed us to specially marked Guest Relations windows, where carefully labeled envelopes contained our preregistered group's admission and meal tickets, the event's agenda, two nametags, and discount coupons good at the food stands and gift shops. We used our SRM Saturday admission on Friday instead since we were going to Kentucky Kingdom the next day. I went to the Saturday morning photo walkback by actually buying an ACE-discounted ($12) POP admission. Once inside (about 10:30 am), we immediately grabbed a big locker ($3 plus $5 refundable key deposit), stowed our gear, and then proceeded to scope out the park.
Holiday World is not particularly big. It doesn't take very long to circle the park at all, but it's a very relaxing, hilly, scenic walk. The park has gone to great lengths to preserve the mature trees and the ambience they create. Living up to its stellar reputation as the "Cleanest Park In America", the park was spotless, while also being attractively landscaped. During our walk, we came across several flat rides, including a Scrambler, a Monster, a Rainbow, and a Flying Skooters, as well as the park's nondescript log flume, Frightful Falls, which lies directly underneath Legend. The park also has a tame adult bumper boat ride and a brand new "Rough Riders" dodgem, where the cars are themed as horses and bison, among others. The new dodgem, unfortunately, was quite slow and the cars really didn't provide much impact force at all. The shoulder straps were far too short to easily reach over your neck and under one arm, and use of them was rigidly enforced. Though we did not actually visit the Splashin' Safari section of the park, it sure looked like a lot of fun, and I expect the next time we return we'll check it out.
Holiday World has an extensive selection of kiddie rides spread throughout the park, far more so than any other park I have ever seen, and that's not even including the relatively new Holidog's Fun Town section of the park, which from a distance appears to be an enormous park playground structure. No, make that gigantic. Many of the kiddie rides at Holiday World I've never even SEEN before!
The park's themed areas (4th of July, Halloween, Christmas) are done so in a very subtle way - very little is done beyond the arches that separate the sections and the choice of ride names.
The gift shops beyond Kringle's Cafe carry all manner of neat, unique non-Holiday World stuff, including some of the heaviest glass ball ornaments I've ever come across. There is a glassblower on-site who works on some pretty neat projects right before your eyes. The park's own memorabilia shops carry the most common park-logo souvenirs (t-shirts, caps, sweatshirts, ponchos, shot glasses, and mugs) but I really found very few of them to be anything exceptional - nothing of the level that Lakemont, Knoebels or Conneaut Lake offer, which is unfortunate since I willingly spent $100 at Conneaut Lake on their unbelievably cool novelties!
Directly off the back of the Christmas/glassblower shop is a large exhibit area featuring the park's extensive (donated) private collection of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, including photos, artifacts, and period items in glass cases. The exhibits also featured museum-style explanations of the items and background stories from Lincoln's life. The exhibit was particularly engrossing, as was the adjacent exhibit of antique toys from around the world, including an extensive area devoted entirely to toy trains - Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx, in various gauges (O, HO, TT, NN, and standard).
Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say Raven and Legend are without question the finest 1-2 punch of any park, anywhere. No park has two coasters that are this out of control. I had to reevaluate my entire rating system after riding these two coasters - suddenly I had brand new #1 and #2 woodies, respectively. No other coasters come remotely close to the insane, I-am-not-in-charge-of-this-coaster experience these two C.C.I. masterpieces deliver. The closest experience I can possibly relate is how The Beast was...fifteen years ago.
Holiday World is fanatical about the maintenance of their roller coasters, and not just because their two woodies are the crown jewels of their empire. Will Koch, Paula Werne and Holiday World's newly hired C.C.I.-expatriate-turned-maintenance man Joe Schlong are bona fide coaster crazies themselves. Maintenance's endless quest to eliminate any possible source of friction on the coasters and reduce cycle times ad infinitum is without equal anywhere in the theme park world. They are on a mission to deliver the single most unforgettable coaster experience, period.
None of Holiday World's shows were open yet, though the park normally features a high-dive act and several gospel/Christian-themed musical revues. The Discovery Institute features a mad-scientist routine aimed at educating youngsters with demonstrations of various Mr. Wizard-style physics and chemistry tricks.
Holiday World's food offerings were a little limited solely because of how early in the season we were visiting. That aside, the food at Kringle's Cafe (the only restaurant open) was superb. Kringle's pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries were all fresh, hot, tasty, priced even for the budget-conscious, and portions were enough to fill each of us up. The park's free pop policy, which according to Will Koch added $4 to the cost of admission when introduced in 2000, is the single most brilliant marketing ploy in the history of theme parks. Holiday World has scattered a handful of "pop huts" (they call them beverage oases) throughout the park. Each has as many as four entrances, each of which leads to a rack of medium cups (perfect size for taking the edge off your thirst) and a self-serve soda fountain. All entrances and exits from the huts have over-the-door air conditioners which blast you on your way through.
Some of the park's other (closed) food stands featured BBQ sandwiches, ribs, Mexican, and Udderly Blue Ice Cream.
The park is mellow. That's the only way to describe it. Everyone is so friendly and everything runs so smoothly. With the park being practically empty (typical waits ranged from walk-on to 3 trains depending on seat choice) most of Friday morning, ride ops gladly let returning riders with open queues re-ride or switch to an open seat. No theme park mentality, just a mandate to make sure everyone has a safe, fun time. The park's employees each take it upon themselves to be individually responsible for every Holiday World patron's experience, and each was clearly having a great time doing so. And, after having an opportunity to speak with park owners Will and Pat Koch and Holiday World PR svengali Paula Werne, it's obvious the park's positive message comes straight from the top.
As with the rest of the park, the restrooms are constantly cared for. No complaints whatsoever.
ON THE 'STARK RAVEN MAD' EXPERIENCE:
It is difficult to adequately articulate the unbelievable lengths to which the Kochs and Holiday World go with park patrons and in particular SRM attendees. Such close, one-on-one access with the OWNERS of a park, needless to say, is virtually unheard of. Throughout the event, you're treated like family. No detail is too small, and you marvel at how you feel like VIP guests of the park. Everyone is there to make sure you walk out with a permanent smile. In other ways, it's like having an all-access pass at a rock concert. In yet other ways, going to SRM is like going to your grandparents' or a favorite aunt's house as a child and being completely spoiled. You get a private walkback/photo op on the park's maintenance paths. You get to take on-ride photography. You get SEVEN HOURS of ERT. You get an enormous meal including two pieces of pizza, chips, pop, and a block of absolutely sinfully rich fudge in your choice of flavors. You get another whole day's admission to the park. Simply put, the park's treatment of its SRM guests forgets nothing. Holiday World even gave SRM attendees big keepsake blocks of wood replaced on the coasters!
Going into the standing-room-only pre-ERT warmup session in the park's Discovery Institute theater, we really didn't expect much while waiting for park staff to sweep the general public out. Instead, we were treated to round after round of entertainment! Will's monologue about park improvements over the last couple of years (Legend opening in 2000, extensive retracking over the winter on Raven, new padded lap bars on Legend, the new ticketing booths and entrance plaza, and the waterless urinals) was peppered with in-joke humor ('I have an announcement...we've been bought by Michigan's Adventure') and a humorous discussion of how Cedar Fair responded to Holiday World's soft drink initiative ('We are absolutely NOT going to offer free pop!'). He even treated the crowd to a preview of the park's three hilarious new television spots, which reinforce the park's family appeal, cleanliness, and world-class thrill rides. The latter, a spot called "Coaster Riding 101", was a riotously funny sendup of the extreme laterals that riders experience on Legend (the spot is much funnier if you've already ridden Legend, since the moves the schoolchildren make while seated at their desks are unmistakable). Paula cracked several in-jokes about coaster enthusiasts and her email correspondence with them, including a good-natured trip report from last year in which someone joked that during one ride on Legend they feared '[they were] going to have to get out and push'. Pat's speech, however, temporarily changed the tone as she volunteered the immensely personal story of her recent cancer diagnosis. She felt that we, as members of who she considers family, should know and asked for us to think about and pray for her. But, true to form, Pat insisted there be no sad faces or needless pity since she would beat this like any other challenge - with the support of us, her extended 'family'. To lighten the mood, she motioned to staff to turn on four wall-mounted air blowers which shot entire rolls of toilet paper into the audience. Later, Will, Pat, and Laurie Koch, Paula Werne, and park controller Matt Eckert donned choir robes and performed a hilarious rendition of a song (their lyrics set to a relatively well-known sacred melody...in four-part harmony!) about how they decided to design and build the Legend, and about SRM in general. Finally, Paula gave out several gag/door prizes and then even auctioned off the newly replaced 1st-generation Gerstlauer lap bars from the Legend, donating the proceeds to the American Cancer Society.
With over 650 people (according to Paula's estimate) participating in ERT, there were lines far longer than those during the day for both of the park's coasters. However, if I had ridden Legend any more than I did (dozens of times in 14 hours), I would probably have been crippled for life, so I really don't think the crowds really were all that big of a deal. I mean, 30 minute waits for a coaster are hardly something to be concerned about! Besides, there was plenty of time then to socialize with all the other coaster crazies in the queues.
Midway through the night, while next in line for the front seat of the back car on Legend, Nick the ride op had just come over to hang out with the crazies at the back of the station, following a train dispatch. The guys in the last seat queue tell him "RING THAT BELL!" Nick complies, throwing his light frame into the effort to ring the 160-pound bell. He grabs the bell rope, which ends in a wooden toggle handle and exits the aluminum ceiling through a grommet. He yanks hard and the bell rings. During the second pull, however, something odd happens. The rope comes down much farther than it should, and a strange, loud THUNK is heard above the station. Suddenly the toggle flies upward, taking poor Nick with it until he reactively lets go. The toggle slams into the ceiling, crumpling the aluminum in a radial pattern. We quickly realize: THE BELL HAS FALLEN. Indeed, the bell is hanging over the edge of the station, apparently swinging over the block brake run. The wooden toggle further crushes the ceiling upward as the bell swings back and forth, stressing the steel cable. Within seconds, folks in the rear seat queue immediately recognize the potential risk facing the riders of the train which has just left the station and is at that very moment headed up the lift. What would happen if they blast into the brake run - which violently shakes the entire station? The wooden toggle - the only thing now holding the bell up - could very well go straight through the roof if stressed. They alert the ride ops (Nick at this point is more than a little dumbstruck) and call for an immediate E-stop. The ride ops, themselves just figuring out what has happened and not quite prepared to hit the Big Red Button, don't stop the train before it leaves the lift. They head out to the walkway on either side of the brake run to gain a little perspective on what's just transpired. Maintenance is called, and both they and management respond in record time. It quickly becomes apparent that nothing can be done before the train returns. Fortunately, the bell holds its place as the train slams into the brake run, and riders are escorted directly off the train via the emergency exits.
Park staff, after surveying the situation with just a little bit of frustration ('Well, this is not something we'd planned for') establish that one of the bell's two cast mounts broke, sending the bell to the roof below, where it then rolled off the side of the station and hung down a few feet, just a little bit to the left of the track (as it would be seen by returning riders). Over the course of at least thirty minutes, park staff used ladders to reach the bell and tie an enormous rope to it, which was then held and anchored by several Stark Raven Mad visitors just outside the exit platform! Staff then carefully used a monster 4-foot-long set of bolt cutters to snap the metal cable holding the bell in place. It immediately swung to the right, just barely missing a coach lantern mounted on the side of the station, and was slowly lowered to the track below. At one point, the support rope became wedged in the belfry's woodwork and had to be dislodged, sending maintenance back up onto the station roof.
OTHER ERT GOINGS-ON:
Legend went Down Mechanical once during the evening, but maintenance quickly dealt with a stuck sensor in the brake run. Later on, following the mid-ERT rainstorm, Legend began overshooting its brake run by incredible distances. Normally the front car is 12-15 feet outside the station when the brakes bring it to a complete stop, but with the brakes slick from rain Legend started making its way a couple feet inside the station. Then 3-5 feet. Then 8 feet. To make fun of the situation, Paula Werne began marking the wooden floor of the Legend station with chalk marks as each train continued to blast farther and farther into the station. Incidentally, each overshoot forced a "restart" of Legend's computerized operating system, which treats them as violations.
Raven (1995 C.C.I. terrain coaster) +5
A sign on the Raven seen as you enter the park proudly proclaims it to be the #1 roller coaster in the world. After riding it dozens of times, I know that is no mere claim. It's a fact. Seat dividers, individually ratcheting lap bars and short track length aside, this coaster could not be any more perfect. You spend more time out of your seat than in it. You pray that the next airtime/sharp lateral combo doesn't deliver a seat divider wedgie. You begin to crave the coaster's fifth drop - THE drop - that attempts to send one-click riders cleanly out the back of the train. Thanks for flying Raven Air!
At night, once you get past the swoop turn over Lake Rudolph, the coaster reveals nothing of its twisted route until it's far too late to prepare yourself. You are at the Raven's mercy at every turn and drop, and the two misters send a chill down your spine as you fly out of control through the thick woods of Holiday World.
The amazing thing about Raven is how much it achieves with such a relatively small lift hill. Through judicious use of the large elevation change across the land the Raven occupies, the coaster delivers far more bang than you'd ever think. Every drop has airtime, occasionally with a nice sharp lateral while you're airborne. Unlike many coasters, it's very difficult to find a BAD seat anywhere in the train. While the ride experience varies from front to back like any other coaster, the ejector forces are present everywhere. Raven starts out with an exceptional ride even in the early hours of the park's operating day, and just gets better from there. By nighttime, you learn the meaning of Insane Mode.
Raven runs a single 7-car, 2-bench PTC train with seat dividers, individually ratcheting lap bars, and individual seat belts.
The Legend (2000 C.C.I. terrain/twister coaster) +5
Legend is a beautiful coaster, set serenely against the trees that densely populate Holiday World. The unique V-shaped lift hill structure, giant swoop turn into a tunnel directly off the lift, endless twists and turns, and cleverly themed schoolhouse loading station impart a graceful air to this C.C.I. woodie.
Legend has a very different mandate than Raven, which was primarily about airtime. Legend's goal is to throw you around with some of the most powerful laterals ever put on a modern coaster. It's virtually impossible to describe Legend's contorted layout, which changes directions so often during its 4,000+ feet of track and at such high speeds that you never do get a really complete idea of where you're going. At night, it really doesn't matter anyway since you can't see a foot in front of your face and there is no way to anticipate where the ride is headed next. Legend revels in throwing its riders around like a bucking bronco. Nevertheless, it still has incredible air time, including a couple of exceptionally powerful ejection hills followed by notoriously strong slammer drops, but it primarily is about changes of direction. Its varying-diameter helix, for example, narrows dramatically about 2/3 of the way through, slamming riders unexpectedly to the right -- even though they're already PINNED to the right. You're breathless from the experience, yet Legend repeatedly cranks it up a notch just when you think you can't take any more. Legend's lateral forces are so strong that even if both riders are holding on to the grab bars in front of them, you will still end up elbowing each other in the sides and landing in each other's laps more often than not. The ride flies into its final sharp 180-degree turnaround with so much momentum remaining that the force of the train slamming into the brake run shakes the entire platform and loading station back and forth 2-3 inches.
Legend runs a single 7-car, 2-bench Gerstlauer train with stiff individual lap bars that stay where you set them.