Cedar Point's annual gathering of rollercoaster enthusiasts from around the world, all coming together to experience the theme park from early morning to late into the night.
18 hours of non-stop theme park action sounds both crazy and like a dream, especially for theme park fans from the UK such as myself who are used to major parks like Alton Towers opening 10am-6pm at best, but more likely closing by 5pm or even 4pm on some days. But eighteen hours is exactly what CoasterMania! event promises, beginning as the sun rises over Cedar Point's peninsula at 6am and ending at midnight the following evening.
The event is only open to members of seven rollercoaster clubs: American Coaster Enthusiasts, European Coaster Club, Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain, Club de Fans de Montanas Rusas, Club TPR, CoasterBuzz Club, and Great Ohio Coaster Club. Even with such a restricted attendee list, CoasterMania still attracted well over 1000 fellow geeks, who all began assembling outside the main entrance to Cedar Point a little before 6am on Friday, June 1st 2018.
After our event tickets were checked, we proceeded over to the registration desk where we picked up our official accreditation lanyard, tshirt and souvenir pin badge. There was then a few minutes to grab a coffee, have a toilet stop and do some coaster celebrity spotting while the crowd of fans continued to gather on the Midway.
Just before 7am the queue of fans, many decked out in their new orange CoasterMania tshirts, started moving into the park - we were on our way to the first Exclusive Ride Time (ERT) session of the day!
This was my first visit to Cedar Point, and it was only as we started walking that I began to appreciate just how large the park is. The first two hours of ERT were on three rides at the back of the park, and it was a good 5-10 minute walk away ... walking was to be a big theme of the day!
ERT from 7-9am was on Steel Vengeance, the park's new Rocky Mountain Construction hybrid coaster; Maverick, an Intamin Blitz Coaster; and Skyhawk, an S&S Screamin' Swing. These were joined from 8-9am by Gemini, a racing hybrid coaster from Arrow Dynamics; and Wilderness Run, a kiddie coaster that adults are usually banned from riding, but are permitted for the CoasterMania ERT. A chance for the credit whores to get their tick!
As with most of the fans we started our day on Steel Vengeance, which only opened on 5 May. It had a minor accident on opening day, with two trains lightly bumping into each other in the station. This meant the ride had been on one train op since then. Big credit to Cedar Point though - they had been working hard and managed to get back up and running with both trains ready for CoasterMania! This was greatly appreciated, as I can imagine the queue times would have been astronomical with a single train.
Steel Vengeance replaced Mean Streak, an old woodie from Dinn Corporation which by all accounts had become rough and well past its prime. It closed in 2016, and Cedar Point called in RMC to give it their unique brand of transformation. The height was increased by 40 feet, the length by 300 feet, and 4 inversions were added. What has emerged is an incredible ride, full of floaty air time. There's a massive drop at the start and some airtime hills but from then on the train spends most of its time twisting around inside the ride's wooden structure, which creates a breathless, disorienting journey that builds into one of the top rollercoaster experiences in the world. But is it my favourite rollercoaster in the world? No, but I'm not sure why. It has everything and there's nothing really to criticise, yet still there's something I can't put my finger on that stops it being right up there. Still an amazing ride though, and it didn't stop us going around again for a second go later on during the ERT session!
The second coaster of the day was Maverick, a 100 foot tall Intamin Blitz coaster which sits next door to Steel Vengeance. It is another superb rollercoaster, which starts with a rather un-traditional lift hill which uses a slowed down LSM launch to get the train to the top. Half way around there is a second much faster LSM launch tunnel, which propels the train into a ground hugging second act. At 100 feet tall, Maverick should look huge, but thanks to the bonkers-ness of Cedar Point, it is dwarfed by many of the park's other rides. That doesn't stop it from packing a serious punch though. I managed two rides during ERT - once at the front, and once at the back.
By this time, our two hours of ERT were up and the general public were being let into the park. We headed over to Top Thrill Dragster, a rollercoaster which has been on my bucket list for years. Unfortunately, two trains before we were due to get on, it broke down. Abandoning our plans, we went over to Magnum XL-200 instead. This is an Arrow Hyper Coaster which is full of airtime. Unfortunately, airtime of the wrong variety: the train itself feels like it lifts off and then drops back onto the track with a bump several times over the course of the ride.
Bearing in mind we had been up before 5am but had yet to have anything to eat, next we went in search of breakfast. I'm sure Cedar Point has some more interesting breakfast options is you look around, but we ended up at a Pretzel stand. I went for a cream cheese pretzel ... a rather strange taste combination of sweet cheese and salty pretzel. It filled a hole at least!
One of the exclusive experiences offered at CoasterMania is a boat cruise on Lake Erie, giving the chance to see the park from the water. The cruises are operated by Jet Express throughout the day, and attendees are issued timed tickets indicating their slot. Ours was booked for 11:30am, so we headed for the pier just outside the park and boarded our boat.
Unfortunately it was quite cloudy so the views weren't as spectacular as they could have been, but I still managed to get some photos from the unique viewpoint the boat provided. We circled around the Point, then went out further into the Lake and over for a brief view of Marblehead Lighthouse, which is the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the US side of the Great Lakes.
Following the boat trip it was time for lunch, which was provided at the Lakeside Pavilion. On offer was a selection of chicken, hot dogs, mac 'n' cheese and cookies. Maybe not the highest quality food, but certainly very welcome.
Our morning ride count wasn't that high, but at six hours in we were only a third of the way through! However, it was time to get some more rollercoasters ticked off the list. First up was GateKeeper, a B&M wing coaster which flies over the park entrance. I'm a big fan of wing coasters in general, but I found GateKeeper to be one of my least favourite. Rather than the gentle swooping motion that gives some of the best moments on a wing coaster, GateKeeper was way too intense with sustained periods of positive Gs. The head choppers through the "keyholes" over the park entrance worked pretty well though.
Next to GateKeeper is Wicked Twister, an Intamin Impulse Coaster that we rode next. I have to admit to finding these pretty scary but a lot of fun, and Wicked Twister was no exception. The launch is powerful, and the views from the spikes over Lake Erie are wonderful.
Having only flown in two days before, by this time we were feeling a bit jetlagged and energy was running low. Starbucks provided the cure, and was staffed by some of the most friendly employees I've ever encountered at a coffee shop. I think it helped a lot being from the UK - I even got "James from UK" written on my cup! With batteries recharged, we pushed onwards just as the clouds cleared and the sun came out, revealing Cedar Point in its full glory. We took a ride on Raptor, a B&M Inverted coaster which has a great layout and gives a great ride.
We followed this with Blue Streak, the park's only wooden rollercoaster now that Mean Streak has been converted into Steal Vengeance. It has been well looked after, and was smooth and more fun than some other PTC coasters that have deteriorated badly.
Near Blue Streak is Valravn, Cedar Point's B&M Dive Coaster. We were about to get on that when we noticed Top Thrill Dragster testing. Having failed to ride it earlier in the day, and it being one of the top coasters I wanted to ride at Cedar Point, we quickly headed over and joined the queue, just in front of several hundred others who had also spotted it coming back to life.
The staff were operating the ride really efficiently, and it wasn't long before we were in the station. There was one guy who's sole responsiblity was to make announcements and entertain the crowd, and he did a great job at creating a party atmosphere. Finally it was time to climb on board, shortly before being launched to 120 mph, climbing 420 feet and falling vertically back to the ground.
My first rollercoaster similar to Top Thrill Dragster was the 200ft tall Stealth at Thorpe Park, a ride which I still love to this day. I've also ridden Red Force at Ferrari Land, which although at 367ft tall is much higher than Stealth, I didn't enjoy so much. Luckily, Dragster is a different beast and is now my favourite of the three. The launch feels powerful, the view from the top is amazing if brief, and the twisting drop provides something extra above Stealth. I did miss the airtime hill before the brakes though, which gives a nice pop of airtime on Stealth and Red Force.
I love B&M Dive coasters, so I was excited that Valravn was next up. We got a ride in the middle of the front row, which provided a nice view of the track ahead. Unfortunately, I came off a little disappointed. I love the wait at the top, the vertical drop, and the sweeping curve elements of other Dive coasters like Oblivion at Alton Towers, Krake at Heide Park and Baron 1898 at Efteling, but Valravn's layout following the first drop felt much more like a B&M Hyper Coaster. Not that I have anything against B&M Hypers, it's more that I missed the unique Dive Coaster feeling. Stay tuned though: there's more to say on Valravn later ...
Next up was Rougarou, formerly a B&M Stand Up called Mantis which was given new floorless trains and renamed Rougarou in 2015. I hadn't heard great things about the ride, and the reports held true. I found it rough and uncomfortable. As a stand up, it must have been close to unrideable.
A ride I'd heard much better things about was Millennium Force, an Intamin Giga Coaster which opened in 2000 and remains at the top of many enthusiasts' lists. At 300 feet tall and with a top speed of 93 mph, the stats are impressive. It's definitely a great ride with some nice moments of airtime. Is it the best in the world? Not to me - it's fun, but not as interesting or exciting as many others I've ridden, including several at Cedar Point such as Maverick and Steal Vengeance. I do empathise with others who have a different opinion though, and can see why they would rate it highly.
By then it was close to 5:30pm, and time for another part of the CoasterMania event: the Q&A session. This gives a great opportunity every year for Cedar Point fans to ask senior management questions and provide feedback about the park. Unfortunately, a lot of the questioners seemed to miss the point. Although there were good suggestions about adding some more shade or indoor/water attractions to beat the heat, others appeared to believe that asking what new ride was planned for the park's 150th anniversary celebrations in 2020 would get an answer. Then there was the banal sucking up, with people saying how long they'd been a season pass holder and how wonderful everything was. My personal highlight though was the person who stood up to thank the park for adding fat seats so they could ride their favourite rollercoaster. As the saying goes, only in America!
When the Q&A/gushing session was over, we headed back into the park and onto Iron Dragon, an old Arrow Suspended coaster. I love these rides! They might not be particularly thrilling, but they're very enjoyable and make me smile. I managed to convince my travel buddy that it was good enough to ride twice. Although he's not as excited about these old beasts as I am, it did give him the opportunity to eat his M&Ms ... or at least spill most of them all over the floor of the car. A treat we left for a later rider to enjoy.
Now gone 7pm, we were feeling hungry again. Having heard the running joke throughout the Q&A that the in-park food wasn't great, we headed over to the park's Hotel Breakers to find something to eat. We ended up in Perkins Restaurant and Bakery, and had some very nice food set inside the diner themed room. All the dishes on the menu looked good, but I opted for Everything. No, not one of each silly ... the "Everything" was a mix of ham, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, cheese and homestyle potatoes served in a skillet with two eggs on top. Delicious, and much needed.
Gemini was on the morning's ERT session, but we missed it out as we chose to spend extra time on Steal Vengeance and Maverick. Finally though, it was time to try it out. It's a "hybrid" racing coaster from Arrow, featuring old fashioned steel Arrow track on wooden supports. As you might expect, it doesn't provide a comfortable ride. I don't think it can have been a popular option during ERT!
Continuing our Arrow coaster-fest and ticking off the final new rollercoaster for the day, we went to ride Cedar Creek Mine Ride. Most Arrow mine trains are rather uncomfortable, but this one has been well cared for and was pretty smooth. If it had been at most parks, it would probably be looked upon more fondly, but set amongst Cedar Point's stellar lineup it is easily overshadowed.
With darkness falling, we had managed to ride most of the rollercoasters at Cedar Point apart from the kiddie coaster, a Vekoma family mine train and an Arrow Corkscrew (which unfortunately had broken down). It was time to try something different: Skyhawk, the S&S Screamin' Swing. At 103ft tall and with the seats reaching 125ft in the air at full swing, it is the largest swing ride in the world. It's superb, and we managed to get in two rides.
It was now just before 10pm, and the park was about to close to the public. We opted to make Steel Vengeance our last "public" ride of the day. It had been an amazing ride first thing in the morning and it didn't disappoint fifteen hours later, with the nighttime darkness adding an extra dimension. Less fun through were the insects which gathered in the station, attracted by the lights. They were everywhere, covering everything and causing some very itchy bites. Still, sometimes you have to make some sacrifices to ride world class rides. I felt more sorry for the staff, who weren't able to board Steel Vengeance and escape the swarm as the train disappeared into the darkness and up the lift hill.
With the park closed and normal people gone home, us CoasterMania attendees had Cedar Point to ourselves, and one and a half hours of ERT to end the day. Rides included in the session were Millennium Force, Valravn, Raptor, GateKeeper, Rougarou and Blue Streak.
We joined the Millennium Force fans for some rides on their favourite coaster, which was beautifully lit with colour changing lights. Again, the darkness added another dimension and made for a few great cycles.
Our last rides of the night were on Valravn. Having been disappointed on my first ride earlier in the day, I found it to be much better at night and on the ends of the front row. Maybe I had been overly critical during the daytime. But still, I yearned for a more "Dive coaster"-esque layout. By this time there was a distinct chill in the night air, but we still managed three rides.
The final ride over, with midnight striking CoasterMania 2018 had come to an end. It had been my first visit to Cedar Point and by far my longest day at a theme park. It had been incredible: Cedar Point has a vast number of rollercoasters, many of them amongst the best in the world. The park's staff were excellent, both in terms of speedy operations and their friendliness. The CoasterMania event was brilliantly organised and the team behind it, headed up by Director of Communications Tony Clark, should be very proud. While it's too far away to attend every year, I hope to be back in the future.