James Edmondson & George Cazenove's road trip across Pennsylvania and Ohio during June 2005, visiting six theme parks in six days to experience the ultimate thrills.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sunday means Geauga Lake

It's 5.54pm. We're in Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Outside it is 95 degrees farenheit. In approximately 10 hours time, we will be at our desks. It is not a happy thought. However, we are comforted by happy memories of a long journey across the north-eastern corner of the US that finished today at Geauga Lake amusement park.

After the life-changing experiences of Cedar Point, we were expecting be disappointed by Geauga Lake. We felt much as Bill Clinton must do every day - that the pinnacle has been reached, that the summit has been climbed, that the celestial zenith has been touched but too early in life - all that remains for Bill Clinton is a life post-Presidency; all that remains for us is a life post-Cedar Point. But soon we were struck by a happy thought. Unlike Clinton, we can revisit the scene of our 'awakening' again and again. Today, we made plans to relocate to Sandusky, Ohio and let life begin once more.

Geauga Lake Posted by Picasa

Still, we must not forget Geauga Lake. It is a very commendable effort indeed. The opening ride of the day, 'X-Flight', showed us that we would not be too disappointed. A ride that takes place entirely lying down in a harness, X-Flight certainly made us regret that extra toast at breakfast following a series of dips and twists and loops. The rest of the park was equally satisfactory. Our last wooden ride of the tour, 'The Villain', was so quick that the train car came away from the tracks after one hair-raising plunge while simultaneously causing James to pull a rib muscle. For the true coaster pilgrim, these wounds are more badges of honour than inconveniences.

Our only "lay-down" experience: The X-Flight Posted by Picasa

An Urban Commando Posted by Picasa

Other rides were equally impressive. The negative G-force acheived at 'Dominator' have ensured that even at this late hour we are still to have our lunch while 'Double Loop' - a mid-1970s classic - caused most of our loose change to fall from our pockets giving us a second reason not to eat lunch. We are broke.

The entrance to the superb Dominator Posted by Picasa

We left the park at 3 satisfied with our final day and certain that we had done the gods of roller-coastering proud. A short drive in the truck that passed as our hire car and we found ourselves at the airport pondering what our inbox might bring us tomorrow morning....

The Tour of Duty comes to an endPosted by Picasa

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Saturday: Cleveland

Following personal enlightenment at Cedar Point, we were in need of a haven, a peaceful place where we could reflect wisely on the wonders that we had seen. Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie, where no tourists have ever ventured seemed a perfect choice. We realised fairly early on that Cleveland is a weird city - we spent Friday night in a sports bar owned by the least likely sports bar owner after Mother Teresa, heavy metal rock star, Alice Cooper.

Our feelings that this was an odd town were confirmed the next day at breakfast in an excellent local diner where we were accosted by two Jehovah's Witnesses who were involved in spreading the good news to the deaf community. Our own thought is that Jehovah's Witnesses are slightly missing the point of Christianity by basing their beliefs on the LSD trip that is Revelations rather than the four gospels and possibly the Acts of the Apostles. But enough theology - all that need be said is that while they were involved with good works, our new friends' methods of finding new converts was unusual to say the least. Very simply it involved asking everyone they met in downtown Cleveland - waitresses, fellow breakfasters, passers by et al - if they knew any deaf people. As an opening conversational gambit it certainly grabs the attention...

We then walked through central Cleveland which was completely dead before heading to a suburban shopping mall where we found thousands of seemingly affluent Clevelanders. It made a very odd contrast with the souless and rather sad business district. At dinner we discovered from our chatty waitress why it is so dead. The steel industry that used to support Cleveland has relocated almost entirely to China while the local businesses have moved to the suburbs. Truly central Cleveland is just a ghost town.

Nevertheless, the ghostliness does not stop downtown Cleveland from having one of the finest steak houses we have ever eaten at and we consider ourselves connoisseurs. It was the last night of this epic odyssey and having driven over 900 miles in a week in pursuit of roller coaster excellence we though it only right to toast this acheivement with a dinner for champions. And in the US, this means eating steak. We did you all proud. James feasted on a 20oz Kansas City strip on the bone while George savoured at 18oz filet mignon. Washed down with a delightful 2002 Cabernet Savignon from the Napa Valley, we felt that we had celebrated the mysteries of the roller coaster in a befitting manner.

We retired therefore not only with severe indigestion but also wondering what Gueaga Lake, a younger brother of Cedar Point, just outside the city might have to offer for our last day.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Friday means Cedar Point

It is said that the early Christians would crawl from their homes to Calvary, the site of Jesus's crucifixition - no matter what the distance - to show their belief in the Lord and their reverence for this most holy of places. As we crossed the causeway from Sandusky to Cedar Point, the greatest amusement park in the world, we began to understand how the Pilgrims felt.

Welcome to nirvana! Posted by Hello

The day had begun propitiously. The McDonalds breakfast of Thursday seemed many moons ago as we sat down at Dianne's Diner and tucked into a hearty (and lunch disavowing) breakfast. We wondered whether we were making the right decision especially as we feasted on a Tepanyaki dinner the night before in the only food outlet in Sandusky that didn't demand its guests consume fries. So we left Dianne's pondering whether the power of 'Millennium Force' 'Top-Thrill Dragster' and 'Magnum XL 200' might force us to see our breakfasts once again...

In front of the awesome Millennium Force Posted by Hello

In short, we survived...but only just. We began at 'Millennium Force', the second tallest roller coaster in the world from the top of which customers are supposed to be able to see Canada. We did not see Canada as we were intent on our own survival. A near vertical drop of nearly 300ft tends to focus the mind and we came off the Force impressed and shaken by the sheer speed we had experienced. We then crossed to a wooden 1980's creation - Gemini - which although child's play at Cedar Point would have stood out at any other of the parks we have visited. A quick scan of the map and we were ready for 'Magnum XL 200' where we met fellow coaster enthusiast, Randall. Not only does Radall have resplendent facial hair but he is also the proud holder of the Magnum record having riden it 106 times in one day. Why, I am not sure.

George with Randall. Note the counter hanging off Randall's fanny pack, recording the number of times he has been on the Magnum XL 200 that day. It read "106" Posted by Hello

Randall also told us that he visited Cedar Point at least twice a week and drives to the resort from his home in central Ohio, two and a half hours away. Furthermore, it was 'Coastermania' day and he had been at the park since 4am and intended to stay until 1am. We know that many of you regard us as distinctly peculiar for having undertaken this Augean task of ours but when we met Randall we realised that in the pecularity stakes we have a long, long, way to go.

Incidentally, Magnum did not disappoint. A double drop from roughly 250ft and two outward spirals created a smooth and very fast ride which again proved the quality of Cedar Point. However, the best was yet to come.

Top-thrill Dragster is the most expensive roller coaster in the world. It cost $25m to build and last approximately 5 seconds. Accelerating to 120mph in under 2 seconds, the drag car then rises vertically up to 320ft and then descends, also vertically, while twisting before declerating through the use of high-intensity magnets. It is a ride like no other and is truly exhilerating. Every rider came off 'Top-thrill Dragster' beaming because of adrenaline while also (not forgetting that this is America) cheering and whooping as though at a football game. We have little hesitation in nominating this ride as the best of the week.

The Top Thrill Dragster. Taller than the Statue of Liberty Posted by Hello

We spent the rest of the day in a daze. 'Mantis', a twisting coaster on which riders stand up and 'Raptor', another twister which would have been a leading ride at any other park, simply fade into oblivion alongside the Dragster. We left Cedar Point late in the afternoon humbled by our experience. Sir Ernest Shackleton wrote at the end of his epic journey in the Antartic Ocean and across South Georgia that 'we had heard the text that nature renders; we had reached the naked soul of man.' As we buckled up and headed towards Cleveland, we thought of Sir Ernest and reckoned too that like him we had had a spiritual experience. Nothing would ever be the same again.

George is put in the stocks after being caught oggling 14 year old girls Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Thursday means Kennywood

Welcome to Kennywood! Posted by Hello

Thursday was a day of disappoinments. Having become all to used to fine eggs and bacon and some light toast with syrup for breakfast, we left our Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, PA, sure that we would find a welcoming diner in the suburbof West Mifflin where we would also find our fourth park - Kennywood. We drove around for some time and were forced to take refuge at the Golden Arches. An unpopular and desperate choice but one we were forced to make - a theme park does not cater for breakfast. We also discovered one of many clues as to why so many Americans are obese: the healthy option at McDonalds, the apple and walnut salad, somehow contains 13gms of fat!

George ponders Phantom's Revenge Posted by Hello

Still, maybe Kennywood would lift our spirits. It was not to be. Kennywood is a local theme park with a couple of rides worthy of notice. And they are bold efforts. The designer used the steep cliffs above the Ohio river to create a couple of heart-stopping drops but these are small beer in a disappointing park which is in dire need of a revamp and general re-thinking. The management have made one attempt to modernise with the addition of 'Garfield's Nightmare' which is a puerile effort mainly for Garfield fans. Furthermore, our estimation of our fellow coaster enthusiasts took a dive at Kennywood. We had a nasty suspicion that it was incest day at the park as we seemed to be the only customers who were not offspring of a brother and a sister.

The root cause of obesity Posted by Hello

So we left Kennywood feeling downcast but our spirits were soon raised by three happy thoughts: retail therapy at Grove Park Outlet City (main puchases: timberland shoes, polo shirts, shorts from GAP), we were about to enter a new state and the fact that on Friday we would be visiting the grandaddy of them all, the greatest theme park in the world. Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio.

The day comes to an abrupt end after experiencing King KahunaPosted by Hello

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Wednesday means Hershey Park

Welcome to Hersheypark! Posted by Hello

In England we have Bourneville, in the US they have Hershey. Everything in the town of Hershey is chocolate related - even the streets are unimaginatively named - Cocoa Drive leads onto Chocolate Avenue. This love of chocolate is even refelected in the lamposts which are topped with a Hershey Kiss design. At the heart of all this is the the Hershey factory and Hersheypark. Hersheypark was set up in 1909 by the philanthropist and chocolatier Milton Hershey as a place for relaxation for his employees. Clearly after his death, his trustees thought this was a rotten idea and set about creating a theme park rivaled by few in the US.

Hershey high street Posted by Hello

They succeeded. Hersheypark is an extraordinary roller coaster experience. Despite an ever-present chocolate theme (for example, as guests enter the park, they are serenaded by Sammy Davis Jr's 'Candyman'), the rides are magnificent. Following a substantial and magnificent (and lunch nullifiying) breakfast at the Hershey Pantry, we ventured into the park and were amazed. 'Storm Runner' contains not only an acceleration from 0-70 in under 2 seconds but also the only truly vertical drop that we have come across. The 'Great Bear' has spirals that turn the brain into Dairylea while the two wooden and thus old-fashioned rides - 'Wildcat' and 'Lightening Racer' - again confirm that being hurled around upside-down is not the only way to enjoy roller coasters. Of the first three parks that we have visited this week, Hersheypark is in a class of its own.

The awesome Great Bear Posted by Hello

We ought to add that Hersheypark is not a perfect example of altruism. The constant encouragement to purchase mountains of chocolate cannot be helping the general struggle against obesity - many of our fellow guests at Hersheypark had clearly spent a significant part of their lives consuming Hershey products. Truly this was tragic as so many of them were schoolchildren.

This afternoon we drove four hours along route 70 and are yet to leave the state of Pennsylvania. Instead, we are a mere 11 miles from Kennywood, tomorrow's destination, and having eaten half a cow between us for dinner, it is time to retire, replete, and also satisfied by the best day's coasting yet.

The haircut of the Gods Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Seats for "larger" guests

THIS IS A TRUE STORY: As you probably know, whenever you go on a ride at a theme park, an employee comes round to check your harness is secure before the ride starts. They then give the thumbs up to the operator for the ride to begin. Unfortunately today, when an employee checked George's harness on one of the rides, she gave the thumbs down; she had to ask him to move to another seat, one reserved for their "larger" guests. The shame...

i.e. for fatties Posted by Hello

Tuesday means Knoebels

Welcome to Knoebels! Posted by Hello

We awoke in Shamokin this morning surprised (and in James's case disappointed) to find that we hadn't been drugged and trussed up in the middle of the night and subjected to a 'Deliverance' style experience. Instead, we headed into town to Tommy's Diner where a peroxided, smoking divorcee cooked us an all-American breakfast: eggs over-easy, bacon and hash browns. A mere $8 poorer we drove to Knoebels theme park, home of the wooden Phoenix and Twister rides. They did not disappoint.

The view from the top of Phoenix at Knoebels Posted by Hello

Although lacking the sophistication of Dorney Park's main rides, there was something refreshing about not dangling upside down at 80mph and feeling nauseous after every ride. Instead, the two main rides at Knoebels are dedicated to speed and dramatic, high angle falls which although left us in need of a chiropractor meant that the day was devoid of a slightly sickly feeling and trepidation each time a new ride approached.

George complements a fellow Coaster Enthusiast on his hair piece Posted by Hello

This more old-fshioned approach gave Knoebels a fairground feel with its ghost-train, shooting arcades and ferris wheel. Put simply, Knoebels demonstrated to us that for the true coaster enthusiast g-force inducing, brain-curdling rides are not everything. Furthermore, Knoebels is in the heart of Pennsylvania's countryside - glorious wooded valleys at every turn and views across the Appalachians to make the heart sing.

George packs heat at the shooting range Posted by Hello

We left, a little sadly, at 2 and started off to our next challenge - the infinitely more commercial Hersheypark, next door - would you believe - to the Hershey chocolate factory.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Downtime upstate

Having got our first park under our belt, we headed towards Elysburg, upstate Pennsylvania, with renewed optimism. After a couple of hours driving we arrived in the one-horse town of Mount Carmel where the local hostelry, Visintainers, was open for business. However, one glance at the grill on the reception window, the stains everywhere and the distinct lack of guests saw us move on at pace.

The world famous Visintainer's Motel Posted by Hello

It soon became clear that Visintainers really was the best that the district offered until we stopped in a gas station in the quaintly named town of Shamokin. A rotund local told us about a haven called Penelope's Bed and Breakfast just by the hospital.

Our eponymous hostess welcomed us effusively and introduced us to her friends - Bob who owned the local gun store and his wife - and her husband, Andy. After a hearty tea of corn on the cob and mince in a roll, the conversation turned to politics. We discussed all manner of topics: dislike of the French, gun-laws, crime in Detroit - perpetrators and causes, the Korean War, Mexican immigration and hunting all washed down with a couple of Bud Lights. We fitted in well with our new friends especially as they evinced no surprise whatsoever when they heard the purpose of our trip - we found this lack of cyncism refreshing.

George relaxes in the spa within the gazebo at Penelope's B&B Posted by Hello

This took us to approximately 7pm and faced with few options we decided against twidling our thumbs and played Trivial Pursuit with a set from the late 1970s. George won a classic victory by answering every question, without exception, 'Richard M. Nixon' but James gained revenge by winning a quick game of Scrabble. At 10pm we retired to our separate rooms - George to the 'Laurel' suite complete with heart-shaped jacuzzi; James to the less glamorous 'Maple' room where the song of racoons, the roar of bears and the sound of some local rednecks beating each other up lulled us to sleep.....