DATE: 6/16/2001 - 6/17/2001
Day 1: Sunny, high 70s.
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: 0
As it is my home park, I've been going to Valleyfair since 1977, the year after it opened. Back then, it was only about 25 acres and had just one roller coaster (the 1976 I.A.D.-built High Roller). In fact, my mother snuck me on the coaster that same year, long before I was actually above the height restriction. I loved it, and the rest is history.
I remember Valleyfair adding the Flume in 1978, Wild Rails in 1979 and the Corkscrew in 1980. I remember the IMAX theater opening in 1982. I remember Thunder Canyon and Liquid Lightning (now Whitewater Country Waterpark) opening during the mid-'80s. I remember Excalibur opening in 1989. I certainly recall the dearth of new attractions that followed those expansion years which was finally broken with the introduction of Wild Thing in 1996. I was even at the April 1996 preseason Press Day for Wild Thing, having won a contest to be one of Wild Thing's first riders. I remember traffic on Hwy. 101, which parallels Wild Thing's lift hill, stopping dead in its tracks as people marveled at the monster green structure.
I know this park quite well, and it pains me to see the disservices done to it over the last twelve years. I'm not sure if it's an overall Cedar Fair management issue or just a Valleyfair management issue, but this park -- which used to be so much fun and a place of great wonder -- is now boring, stodgy, and devoid of thrills. Every coaster capable of any thrills has been heavily braked, neutered, and retrofitted (if not originally equipped) with retracting seat belts. These seat belts effectively make the rider's placement of the lap bar irrelevant, since you won't get any air time anyway. Even the Ferris Wheel has lap belts!
I get the feeling that the park is absolutely fearful of lawsuits. The ride ops at Excalibur and Wild Thing are absolutely hellbent on stapling you, though they make YOU staple yourself (none of the coasters have the restraints actually checked by a ride op; a voice loop directs riders to do it themselves). And, in a strange homage to the way some parks (cough...PKI...cough) operated in the early '90s, Valleyfair vehemently refuses to allow riders to leave items on the platform at any of their rides except Power Tower. It's ridiculous. Ride ops at Wild Thing even demanded I shove my $1200 digital camera into my pocket of my shorts (I didn't honestly think it would fit, so I had it cinched to my wrist using its own strap, a technique I've used previously at other parks) before permitting me to ride. Large stuffed animals, backpacks, hats...all must go with you on the ride. What a stupid policy in a day and age where every other amusement park has figured out antagonizing your patrons is not good practice. Even the programs running on Power Tower were quite tame compared to Cedar Point's own version of the ride. Another observation - there are no air gates on any of the coasters! Interesting given my previous observations about apparent corporate paranoia...
As is my usual procedure at amusement parks, I shoot a lot of photos - scenery, shots from the queue lines, off-ride shots, loading station shots, and on-ride where permitted. I felt like I was being endlessly eyeballed by Valleyfair ride ops once they saw me shooting pictures, as if I was doing something against the rules. Heck, all I'm doing is promoting your park! Sheesh...
Ignoring the green behemoth visible from anywhere in the park, it seems Valleyfair has been frozen in time since 1989. The park hasn't expanded, and even worse, many of its great older rides (Bayern Kurve, Wild Rails, and the old canvas-topped Super Caterpillar) have sadly disappeared. The park is exceptionally vanilla with nothing of note to distinguish it from its regional and national competition. The total lack of theming (there never was any to begin with) is terrifically boring. Starlight admission is $16.50, though I purchased a "Fun Extender" pass the previous day for $10, which are available at stands throughout the park. It is still quite possible to do everything Valleyfair has to offer in an evening.
THE PARK'S RIDICULOUS RAIN PROCEDURES:
Keep in mind there was no rain until 9:40 PM. There had been clouds all day, and certainly some ominous clouds floated by in the extreme distance, but there had been no lightning, not even cloud-to-cloud. Yet, the park shut down every ride at 7:15, and it took until nearly 9PM for all of them to reopen. According to the park's ride ops, there is a lockout procedure that requires maintenance staff to personally visit each ride to allow it to reopen (?!) and they work from the front of the park (i.e. Wild Thing, Power Tower) to the back (Excalibur, Mad Mouse, Looping Starship) as they do this.
I've been to plenty of parks on days where there was a threat of rain, or even an actual torrential downpour or lightning storm. It's pretty simple - rain itself does not shut down rides; lightning, however, does. As soon as a certain period of time has passed since the last incidence of lightning, the rides reopen. At Cedar Point and PKI, it's like clockwork. However, at Valleyfair, after waiting an interminable amount of time without any rain falling and the sun periodically shining brightly in the evening sky, we joked that they were concerned "...that there was a chance of weather" (regardless of what the weather actually was). We waited and waited for Mad Mouse/Excalibur to reopen, and finally gave up once we noticed Wild Thing was open around 8:15. Not until nearly 9PM did we notice Mad Mouse and Excalibur running by craning our heads as we went up Wild Thing's lift hill. As a purchaser of a Starlight (after-5pm) admission, not only was I especially irked that Valleyfair closed everything down for 1-2 hours without any apparent reason, but I was particularly annoyed that the park has, at the admission of the ride ops, such a Draconian ride reopening procedure. We joked it was almost as if there is only one key that can turn on each ride in the park, and that one maintenance staff member carrying the key ring is currently on crutches. Another of our group joked that perhaps maintenance lost the jumper cables that start the coasters. Still another wondered if this was a ploy by Valleyfair to get people to patronize the concession stands. At any rate, the inclement-weather (or, in our case, sunny-weather) operating procedures at Valleyfair are the dumbest I've ever come across, and certainly are the most poorly thought out.
People go to Valleyfair for two reasons. Most commonly, people go there because it's close and convenient. Second, people go there because they don't realize how much better the other parks of the world really are. It seems management is doing precious little to cultivate national interest in the park. Valleyfair, while once headed there with its rapid 1980s expansion, has never become the destination draw it could have been, sad when you consider the monster retail tourist attraction just ten miles northeast from the park (that's Mall of America for the uninitiated).
Over two days, our group had the opportunity to try the offerings at Atomic Pizza, the cheese curds and wingalos (boneless chicken wings) at the Red Garter Saloon, burgers and fries from Coasters Drive-In, and funnel cakes. With few exceptions, the food was mediocre at best and gut-wrenching at worst. The funnel cakes were PRE-MADE, only being thrown in to the hot oil briefly to warm them to serving temperature. The first batch of cheese curds ($3.25) were cold; the second and third batches were fresh and palatable. The wingalos ($4.75), however, were by all accounts positively disgusting. The pizza ($3.25 a slice) was bland but filling; the burgers were dry and like shoe leather; the french fries were cold and unremarkable. Perhaps the only good value was at the Dippin' Dots stand, where staff provided good-sized samples to people wanting to try new flavors. Food and drink was, in general, expensive compared to most other parks, especially smaller ones closer in size to Valleyfair. Medium sodas cost $2.75 and vending machine pop went for $2.50.
The only show our group saw was the '70s revue at the Red Garter Saloon. The college kids performing in the show were well choreographed, appeared to be having a good time, did a good job of involving the extremely sparse crowd which was in the theater, and performed all of their own music (a live backing band which performed a very tight set).
The bathrooms were acceptable. Not entirely clean, but by no means spotless. The seats in the men's stalls required some attention before being, errrr, usable. I always hate it when bathrooms do not have mirrors, too.
High Roller (1976 I.A.D. single out and back) 0
I remember how this coaster was throughout the late '70s and the '80s. This little woodie is capable of airtime that belies its size. While the first drop, second hill/drop and third hill/turnaround/drop have always been fairly mundane, the endless bunny hills on the return run and after the right-angle dog leg were capable of amazingly powerful ejection. I am not exaggerating when I describe the High Roller airtime of yesteryear as a miniature Phoenix. However, a strong trim brake just before the turnaround's drop virtually stops the train, killing the return run. More recently, yet another trim brake has been added at the point where the track makes a left-turn dog leg near the station. This trim destroys any airtime that ever remained on the last three bunny hills, which once upon a time provided the strongest ejector air of the entire ride. Now, unless you ride in seat 1.3, you do not get any air time whatsoever, and what little you do get is gentle pops instead of the out-of-your-seat mayhem it is capable of. The retracting seat belts don't permit air time anyway.
I laughed when I saw the "Ride Guide" at the queue entrance, which rates rides on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the fastest, most intense rides. High Roller was listed as a 5. Bwahahahahahahahaha!!
High Roller has not been particularly well maintained. There is no signage any more marking the coaster's name, and it appears to not have been painted in several years. It looks awful. The lone upside to this coaster are the beautiful art deco-inspired I.A.D. trains (two trains; each is a 4-car, 3-bench model which are well padded and -- believe it or not -- feature mechanically released single lap bars. These aren't buzz bars - a ride op has to step on an outboard release for the bars in each coach.
Corkscrew (1980 Arrow multielement) 0
This ride never changes. Unfortunately, it never was a thrill machine to begin with, and Cedar Point's own corkscrew wins in a head-to-head because of its pre-loop ejector hill. Nevertheless, it is still one of the smoothest Arrow loopers anywhere, with a gorgeous over-the-pond location that begs to be photographed over and over again.
One unusual observation about this coaster is its SIX-car trains, unlike every other Arrow looper I've ever seen, each of which has seven-car trains. The track layout is follows: 180-degree turn out of the station, lift, drop, vertical loop, banked 180-degree turn which goes right into the corkscrew, helix, brake run.
Excalibur (1989 Arrow mega mine train) -1
When this ride debuted in 1989, it was an oddity. Other than Cedar Point's Gemini (and later Thunderation at Silver Dollar City), no other Arrow wood-structure, steel-track coasters have ever been built. And, despite its short length (not much longer than the Corkscrew) it packed quite a punch. However, the 1990 reprofile (elimination) of the evil ejector hill that followed the first drop and the more recent addition of a trim brake ON THE FIRST DROP has turned this ride from controlled mayhem to something with power and speed (actually, lack thereof) more akin to a traditional mine train ride. Sad. The retracting seat belts keep you pinned to your seat, too.
Wild Thing (1996 Morgan hyper) +1
I rode this coaster several times in April 1996 during the preseason press day - before the 2nd and 3rd trains were delivered, and a month before the transfer track even existed. At this point, the only hyper I'd ever ridden was Magnum, and my opinion of Wild Thing was solely based on comparisons to my 1994 and 1995 rides on Magnum.
On that freezing April day, Wild Thing was running wonderfully, and while it has two fewer outbound airtime hills than Magnum and its figure-8 spaghetti turnaround pales next to Magnum's pretzel, the return hills were pure bliss, with strong air time in virtually any seat of the six-car, three-bench trains (though naturally I preferred 1.3 and any rear car seat). It was an enjoyable, if second-place, hypercoaster.
My, how times have changed. In the five-plus years since I last visited Wild Thing (Valleyfair, for that matter), this ride has been tamed. I joked that perhaps the park had named the wrong ride 'Mild Thing'. (The kiddie coaster is called Mild Thing.) The outbound hills are enjoyable, but seem so much slower than before, and the spaghetti turnaround's track transitions feel surprisingly rough. Perhaps the greatest atrocity done to this coaster is the insanely strong midcourse brake (two full train lengths long) that immediately precedes all of the bunny hills on the return run. This is worse than any SFMM midcourse brake...much worse. It takes the coaster from full tilt to just barely enough speed to avoid valleying. Unless you're in 1.3, there is no air time on the return run; unless you're in the back car, there is no air time on the outgoing run. Having to make a decision like that kills this ride. Why build a multimillion-dollar thrill ride 205 feet tall - capable of then-world-class speed - and then install brakes? It's like sponsoring an Indy car but placing a speed limit on how fast your driver may go.
Mad Mouse (1999 Arrow mad mouse) +1
Having just ridden my first Arrow mouse at Michigan's Adventure the previous weekend, I was not particularly looking forward to this one, especially with my misadventures with brakes on the other coasters in the park. I figured this ride would be a poor replacement for Wild Rails, the Schwarzkopf wildcat ride that previously occupied the plot of land on which Mad Mouse now stands.
Surprisingly, only one of the installed trim brakes actually did anything and this mouse ran far better than its one-year-older twin at Michigan's Adventure! While it comes nowhere near the Hersheypark Wild Mouse in intensity (the Holy Grail of mice as far as I'm concerned) or the Schwarzkopf gem it replaced, it was an enjoyable, if short ride.
Power Tower (2000 S & S turbo drop/space shot freefall tower) +1
I can't believe this is made by the same company that build Cedar Point's Power Tower, because the drop is nowhere as fast or intense as Cedar Point's. The carriage bounces only three times on the Turbo Drop side, and the first bounce doesn't even reach the 40% height mark on the tower. The Space Shot side was far more enjoyable than the Turbo Drop side, but both were incredibly tame by comparison. Why does everything at Valleyfair have to be several notches below similar rides at other Cedar Fair properties, anyway?