LOU'S VIEWS: Thrill parks offer rides of our lives

July 27, 2009

This week, three of my fellow IBJ scribes join me in picking our favorite area amusement park rides


I’m not, by nature, an amusement park guy. Part of that comes from the fact that I grew up in a resort town, Wildwood, N.J., and going on rides was something locals stopped doing as soon as we started working (which happened around age 12 if the child labor board wasn’t in enforcement mode).

After that time, the rides were strictly for the tourists.

But as I get older—and as I get further from my Wildwood roots—I find myself appreciating rides more. And this summer’s trip to my favorite Midwest amusement park, Holiday World, left me with even more positive feelings.

Especially about its latest big attraction, Pilgrims Plunge.

Now let’s deal with the historical accuracy first. For the record, I haven’t been able to find any indication that any of our Massachusetts-based, buckle-hatted forefathers took a 131-foot, 45-degree angled plummet in a hollowed-out log.

Riders drop at a 45-degree angle on Pilgrims Plunge, the world’s largest water ride, at Holiday World. (Photos Courtesy Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari)

Thus, while Holiday World’s newest attraction may not gain the attention of the History Channel, it’s already been ridden by the folks at the Travel Channel, clearly attracted by its claim to be the world’s largest water ride.

Any ride with a “world’s” superlative usually sends me in the other direction. But there’s an appeal to water rides, with their anticipatory ascensions and climactic splashes. And until technology evolves significantly further, there’s no chance of going upside down, which for me is a big plus. My center of gravity doesn’t like being upended.

 As soon as we passed through the Holiday World gate, my daughter, my son and I hastened to the Thanksgiving region, past the not-on-your-life Voyage wooden roller coaster, the more-my-speed Turkey Whirl and the goofy Gobbler Getaway. Lines were short first thing in the morning, so we were on board before I could think twice about it.

The ride itself is simple, without the usual circuitous log-flume journey. Once strapped in, an elevator takes you straight up (with some strategically placed rocking just to jangle your nerves a bit), there’s a slight hesitation, and then comes the why-am-I-doing-this exhilarating drop.

The splash—a soak-your-shoes splash—comes less from the impact and more from the sprayers, but so what? Pilgrims Plunge has nothing to hide. It has no surprises. And it’s a terrific addition to the world-class lineup at my favorite amusement park.

Knowing that favorite rides are like favorite foods—very personal choices—I asked three other IBJ scribes to pick their favorites as well.

The Gemini at Cedar Point, by Gabrielle Poshadlo  

It may not be the tallest coaster, like Millennium Force, or the fastest, like Top Thrill Dragster, but the Gemini is hands down (literally) the most fun. It’s like choosing movie night with the family over a white-water rafting trip.

But that’s not to say it’s comfortable. The Gemini is old (opened in 1978) and wooden and rickety, and when you put your arms up, you run the risk of taking one off on the low-hanging rafters. The blue and red trains compete for the finish, and somehow it’s riveting to try and beat your friends in the opposite cars, even though there aren’t any drivers and it’s likely predetermined which will win.

Diamondback at King’s Island, by Cory Schouten

The new-this-year Diamondback proves it’s possible for a coaster to be both thrilling to the senses and comfortable to the body. For starters, you ride in a spacious seat, not a cramped car. There’s no shoulder harness to bump against. And the staggered, stadium-style setup means no one rides directly in front of you; everyone gets a front-row experience.

The 3-minute experience starts by giving you the best mid-ride view of King’s Island as you head straight uphill toward the ride’s tallest drop, a 215-foot plunge at 80 mph. For the finale, the coaster careens down a hill toward a lake for a splashdown (you won’t get wet unless you’re riding in the last car).

Through every twist and turn, helix and hill, Diamondback is smooth. It whips you around, sure. And that first drop is, wow. But it’s not jerky and violent like Son of Beast, a torture device disguised as a roller coaster (and now mercifully closed). It’s supposed to be fun, right?

Diamondback may not age as well as The Beast. But it should survive the test of time. I’ll be back.

Skyride at Indiana Beach, by Tawn Parent

My favorite ride at Indiana Beach amusement park in Monticello is not the tallest, scariest or the one with the most loop-de-loops. But it is the most versatile: the 45-year-old Skyride, a ski-lift-style ride that travels from one end of the park to the other. It’s the best way to kick off a day at Indiana Beach. From 100 feet up, you get a bird’s-eye view of everything, from the Scrambler to the miniature golf to the elephant-ear hut.

Later, it’s an ideal way to traverse the park if your dogs need a break. And on a sweltering summer day, the breeze off Lake Shafer feels heaven-sent.

After the park changed hands for the first time last year, it was a surprise to find the Skyride dressed in ice cream pastels instead of the white it had been since 1964. But it still felt the same as when I rode it as a kid on trips with my family to this retro theme park. I remember the dizzy thrill of looking straight down into seats of rides far below, and the fear that my younger sister, in a reckless moment, would lift up the flimsy “safety bar” and dive into disaster.

I always end a day at Indiana Beach with one last cruise on the Skyride. The slow journey down the midway is the perfect cap to a frenzied day. I gaze at the flashy lights on the boardwalk, savor the sweet aftertaste of this day and many others, and start dreaming of next year.•



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