TR: Bill's / Knott's / Magic Mountain [16.01.15 - 19.01.15]
TR: Buffalo Bill's / Knott's / Magic Mountain [16.01.15 - 19.01.15]
For the start of the year, my girlfriend and I decided to escape the snowy confines of MI to visit the much sunnier and warmer western lands of Nevada and California. The trip plan was to fly into Las Vegas, do some things around town, and then drive across the Mojave to do coaster parks in the LA area. We'd originally considered getting very ambitious and folding San Diego into it as well, but given our limited time we wisely constrained ourselves to three major coaster options: the Desperado, Knott's, and Magic Mountain.
The trip started in Las Vegas. I'd visited the city before as I work in the casino industry, but it was Taylor's first trip there. We both enjoyed wandering the strip, seeing the Beatles Cirque de Soleil show at the Mirage, and taking in the good eats. While we were in town we also stopped by New York, New York briefly and since she hadn't been on it we rode:
For a Togo ME isn't a bad ride, it starts off with a couple of large straight drops, and then runs into a fairly powerful clothoid loop before wandering around home through a series of turns.
ME is far from a great coaster, but it is large and worthwhile. Taylor was glad we had a chance to ride it. The retraints, a lap bar combined with shoulder hooks, are odd, but not terribly uncomfortable, more than I can say for some of Togo's designs.
Once we headed out of town for LA we managed to take a break in Primm to stop at Buffalo Bill's Casino or the Bison Steve as fans of Fallout New Vegas can't help but thinking of it as. BB is a smaller, locals casino mainly created to attract CA visitors to Vegas. The casino itself is fairly small with rudimentary theming. They have a smattering of rides, though really only the Arrow hyper, Desperado is worth mention for ride fans as their S&S Double Shot is non-operational and their log flume is very mediocre now as it used to have light guns that were removed at some point, and without them the layout meanders too much with nothing to really look at or do.
The Desperado however was notable. This was built shortly after Magnum and for a time was a record holder for the tallest lift hill, and tied with Steel Phantom for the longest drop. The best way to describe it would be Magnum with a twister emphasis. It starts out with a long drop into a tunnel, it then rises, and dives into a swooping, and rather powerful turn. It then rises and turns again before diving past the entrance to the casino, into a double helix inside a faux mountain, and making a few more bunny hops prior to heading home.
Like Magnum it has some very rough transitions and brutal air elements, but I liked the ride and rather enjoyed getting a half-dozen circuits on it while we were there. Definitely worth the stop.
Once we arrived in LA the first thing on the agenda was a Saturday trip to Knott's Berry Farm as they had long hours for the weekend, going until 10 at night.
Knott's is a nice, smaller traditional park. They have a smattering of family-friendly dark and actor rides, as well as a good collection of coasters large and small.
Ghostrider was the first coaster we came to, and also the one I was most eager to ride. The only CCI on the west coast long has had a reputation for having a great layout and rough tracking owing to the brutal heat and long operating schedule.
The overall ride experience on this was exactly what I expect from CCI though. The first drop is a bit surprising in the back as the covered drop prevents back seat rides from seeing where the train is going or when the drop is going to end. The coaster continues from there into the trademark CCI collection of powerful sweeping turns, humped turn-arounds, and air-laden bunny hops.
As with all of their great coasters, the power of the ride was evident in several spots, not just from the shaking (due to poor tracking / dried wood) but also due to speed and power. Though the ride was certainly rough, it was far from unridable and we took 3 circuits on it over the course of the day.
Though it is clearly far from its prime, Ghostrider was good enough to sneak into my top 10 wood, sitting just beneath Phoenix. In some ways it reminds me of my experience with Tonnere de Zeus in that I can see how the roughness would make some people dislike it, or perhaps make them remember how it was even better prior to that, but as it stands I still think it's a fantastic design and a wonderful example of CCI's golden period work.
Montezooma's Revenge was the first Schwarzkopf flywheel launch that I'd been on since I visited Belgium over a decade ago. The ride, while solid, was not as powerful as I remembered. Of course, I've taken a lot of launched circuits since then! Still, I'm glad Knott's had opted to keep this ride, as they're becoming quite unusual.
Next up we rode Jaguar! (insert snarly cat noises here). This was a fairly unique launched Tivoli coaster that featured plenty of twists and turns, though, sadly, a shorter layout and longer line than I would ideally like. Still, very fun and worth a ride on any visit to the park.
The Boomerang was obviously nothing of note, but we checked it off for our counts.
Sierra Sidewinder opened up a bit late, but we were able to get into the queue before too much of a line had grown. This spinning Mack ride seemed like a perfect fit for the park with plenty of thrills but not too much to overwhelm the family heavy clientele that they seem to attract. The only real downside was the long line, as I would have liked to have re-ridden it with less of a wait.
My girlfriend loves inverts, so Silver Bullet was next on the list. This is a delightful, unique mid-size B&M invert with plenty of action over its custom layout. Though it uses most of the expected B&M element, it also seems to stretch them out nicely, keeping the pacing up without being a Batman-esque flurry of action. Very solid.
Near the end of the day we still had 2 coasters left to go, and Xcelerator, the prototype for Dragster and Kingda Ka was on tap as my 250th coaster. Xcelerator, at just over 200 feet tall, is considerably smaller than its later relatives, but it still features a nice launch, and solid drop. Unlike the later designs, it allows the ride to roar through a couple of powerful turns after navigating the top hat hill, which is a welcome change from the launch and done style of the later rides. I also rather liked the fact that that top hat itself features straight drops instead of the twisted corkscrew ones from the later models, as it allowed you to get a better sense of height and speed. A solid ride, though I do think Knott's still would have been better served with a full length circuit hyper coaster, something they still sorely lack.
The last ride of the day was the horse-themed Moto-coaster, Pony Express. Until this ride I'd never been on one of these coasters, and the sensation of sitting down and having myself locked onto a horse prior to launch was...quite unique. The upright position that you ride in makes the relatively sedate launch feel significantly more powerful, and the turns from that position also felt surprisingly unstable. As with several other rides at the park, my only real gripe here was the super short circuit length, otherwise it's a great fit for the park and quite amusing.
Overall we both quite enjoyed our visit to Knott's, the weather was gorgeous, in the 70s, and the ride lineup was fun. The main downside of the day was failing to buy line cutting privileges as it didn't seem as though the park would end up being busy at the start of the day, but it certainly was by mid-afternoon, as we only got 1 ride on everything but Ghostrider and only 3 rides on that, and that was in a 10-10 PM operating day! We also managed to visit Mrs. Knott's for lunch, and I had no idea the portion sizes were so huge! Solid service despite the very busy day, and in the future I think we'll get one meal to split, as it was way, way too much food for the price.
After doing Knott's on Saturday we spent a day doing touristy things in LA, visiting the La Brea Tar Pits and the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Then on Monday we had an ambitious goal: to do all of Magic Mountain's coasters in one very short 10:30 AM to 6 PM operating day, as the park was open for MLK day.
On arrival the park looked like it was going to be medium-busy, without terribly long lines, but due to our very short time and the fact that neither of us wanted to miss out, we opted for Platinum line cutting and paid for cuts on both X2 and Full Throttle at $15 per person / per cut. This decision paid off in spades as we were (spoiler alert) able to do everything in one day and still manage some re-rides as well due to the wrist bands.
Taylor's knee was bothering her a bit due to the amount we had been walking the past several days, so we opted to go with one full circuit around the park, and then extra rides on X2 time permitting. As a result of that we started by heading up and to the left, arriving at
X2 for our first ride of the day. I feel a bit anti-climatic in starting this TR with the best ride, just as I did with Knott's, but I don't think that will be any surprise to most of the people reading this.
I've ridden a couple of the B&M wingriders (Gatekeeper at CP and X-Flight at Six Flags Chicago) and after those I was thinking this would be better, but possibly not as good as I was expecting. X2 completely blew me away though, it was so far head and shoulders over the other gimmick coasters that I've ridden that it's difficult to even put it into proper context.
The layout for X2 is explicitly built to emphasize power and extreme twists. From the face first 200 foot drop, to the powerful flipping turns and intense positive g's on the bottom of the hills. I simply did not expect it to have the forces and power that it demonstrated. The ride was whirlwind, intense, and breath-taking. Despite all of this, the turns are engineered perfectly to insure that the heavy g sections are taken on your butt, not against the restraints or rocking, a serious problem we would run into later in the day.
Simply put, X2 easily exceeded all of my positive expectations and vaulted into my top 10 steel, sitting just below SROS Boston, which is lofty company indeed for such a gimmicky design. The power, uniqueness and fun of this ride made it an easy top 10 ride for me though, and easily the stand-out ride of the trip.
After riding X2 the next ride we came to was the Schwarzkopf classic Revolution. I think, based on our rides, that when this coaster was built it was likely a fun, zippy coaster. It made great use of the terrain and had a nice variety to its layout. Unfortunately, the decision to add OTSR to the ride has made its many lateral transitions painful and means that a very defensive position is needed at all time while riding it. If it was running without them I think it would be my favourite Schwarzkopf looper, but as it stands it still easily loses out to Superdooperlooper at Hershey.
Following that, we next came to the B&M flying coaster Tatsu. My experience with this sort of ride is somewhat limited, as I've only been on the Superman rides in Chicago and Texas (I think in Texas?). I've always liked them, but disliked their setting. The nice thing about Tatsu wasn't that the layout was much different, honestly, it had a similar mix of elements, but the setting for this ride was much, much better than its cousins as it made excellent use of forested, hilly terrain of the park. As a result, it gave a much better sensation of flying and was a much more effective overall ride. I'm still not wildly crazy about this style of ride, as I think what it can do is limited, but Tatsu is an excellent example and for my money should be the model for this type of coaster heading forward.
We headed up the hill next and opted to skip Ninja for a bit as it wasn't available for Flashpass as we weren't sure how cramped on time we were going to be. The next ride we went on was Superman: Escape from Krypton. Though this ride is considerably less impressive now than it was when it debuted, it's still a large and and historically significant. The ride itself? Somewhat sedate by today's standards. The trains both face backwards now, and the LSM technology launches riders out at...modest speeds up the large tower. The cars appear to get about 3/4 of the way up before descending back down the tower in a gentle parabolic curve. Superman was relaxing, but certainly far from intense. I think that, at this point, this type of ride is simply outmoded with its slow launch technology.
Gold Rusher was next. Not a lot to say about this coaster, it's a standard Arrow mine train with a moderately nice setting. I enjoy these rides, but few of them do enough to actually impress me, Gold Rusher seemed largely par for the course.
After riding Gold Rusher we walked into the back portion of the park and rode the wooden coaster formally known as Terminator aka: Apocalypse, a GCI twister. The theme on this ride, as expected, was bizarre and totally incongruous with the wood coaster that was attached to it. That said, the ride itself was what I would call a medium tier, a middle of the road GCI example with a few rough spots along the way. As expected for the firm, the ride looked quite beautiful, but I've always found their rides a bit too gently banked and a little too low on extreme forces to really love them with only their original ride, the Hershey Wildcat really offering up enough of the forces that I like (I also still need to ride Thunderhead). Still, I'm glad that Magic Mountain has this ride, as its their only remaining wood coaster.
When we came back into the superhero section of the park Taylor talked me into going on Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom despite my general trepidation about riding large drop towers. I will say this, the ride makes excellent use of the Superman spike, and it's one hell of a thrilling ride. The tower is so ridiculously tall that after a certain point in the lift I stopped even being intimidated by how much further we had to go; the people all already looked like ants and the Riddler's Revenge was impossibly far below us. The drop, as expected, was excellent, a great, long, true free fall. This is a great addition to the park, and it makes me interested in going on the slightly bigger one hooked onto Kingda Ka at SFNJ.
After riding Lex Luthor we had the misfortune to arrive at Green Lantern: First Flight next. I'd heard nothing at all about these rides, I just knew this was the only Zacspin model in the States and that it was set to tame mode, with full rotations being rare. Green Lantern was as terrible and uncomfortable as X2 was fantastic and exhilarating.
Though the ride concept seems similar, the random rotation of the cars on Green Lantern made for some stupendously painful transitions, particularly when the car would go down to the next level. I would see the cliff coming and brace myself. The car would careen down the hump, slam me into the restraints (including my male bits into the large seat bump), roll back, knock my head into the (firm) headrest, and then slam me forward into the restrains again. A few seconds later it would repeat, and then again.
Perhaps looser rotation would buffer some of this. Or perhaps looser rotation would just mean that one would be pummeled with even more prejudice. All I know is that this is easily, easily the roughest, most uncomfortable, and worst coaster I've ever been on, anywhere, and I doubt I would be willing to ride another coaster of this model going forward, as I would not want to know how much rougher it would be with age or more rotation.
After surviving the Zacspin we walked into more familiar territory for a ride on Batman: The Ride. There's not much to say about these rides at this point, they have intense, short, but action-packed layouts; and they've built too damn many of them. Fun, but overdone. Worth a ride with short lines, always though.
Somewhere in the midst of this we also rode Riddler's Revenge, the B&M stand-up coaster. I've always rather liked stand-up coasters (mostly because I learned, as a male, how to lock the restraints such that they aren't causing mid-ride problems) and Riddler was pretty easily my favourite that I've been on. It has the standard elements that one would expect from the style, but the layout is a little longer, a little more unpredictable, and a little looser, which I enjoy for this type of ride. It's not a huge leg up over the competition, but I liked the total package here, and hope that they keep it as a stand-up rather than doing a CP style conversion somewhere down the line.
Goliath, the Giovanola hyper twister, was the next coaster we came to. Having ridden its younger brother, the Texas Titan last year, I knew what to expect heading in. As with the Titan I'd rate it as good but not great. The first drop is solid, and I like the twistery end to the ride, but I hate the dead stop on the block brake, as the coaster has some power left with it, but not quite enough to satiate me. Taylor hates the helices on these, so she was glad that Goliath only had one. I wish Giovanola had taken this idea and had the opportunity to work with it more, as the seed of a truly great style of ride, for my tastes, is here, it just wasn't executed tightly enough to be truly effective. I think my opinion of this ride would have been much higher if I rode it in the early years where the end was allowed to be more powerful, as it stands, middle tier.
By this time, we'd curved back around to the front of the park and found ourselves at Full Throttle, the Premier launched ride. The ride op was generous enough to give us front seat queuing, and we had a blast on this simple but effective layout. FT is sort of a new take on the older Mr. Freeze style shuttle, as it launches out of the station into a huge clothoid loop with a lot of hang time. It then takes a turn into another large inversion; stops in a tunnel, then launches backwards back up into the previous inversion and launches forward on the way through, getting speed into the huge hill over the top of the initial clothoid. The hill back offers great extreme forces as the drop is sudden and steep. The only downside is the very hard braking at the end of the ride. I quite liked it, and Taylor absolutely loved it. It's a short ride, but unique and fun. I'd like to see some more designs in this vein from Premier!
After that, we went back to get another Flashpass credit to re-ride X2, and managed to hit Ninja, our last remaining credit as Scream! was closed due to Twisted Colossus construction. Ninja is an Arrow swinger, and for my money, the best surviving one that I've been on. The course is long and fairly powerful. It makes good use of the trees, and has one of the more unique, varied layouts that I've been on. It's not quite up there with the departed Big Bad Wolf, but it was still excellent and a ride that I hope sticks around, as I think it's one of the stand-outs at the park.
That concluded our day. We had some 20 minutes to spare, but we were flat out knackered from the packed day. After the park we headed back to Vegas for a day, saw Rock of Ages at the Venetian (excellent), and trundled our way back to MI. It was a fine way to start the coastering year!
Thanks for reading all!
399: 92 (28 CCI/GG) / 307
I tend not to comment/compare as much online as I was wont to do in years past; I just wanted to let you know I did enjoy your report.
One of these days we may bump into each other again.