Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Roller coaster rave

My family went to Cedar Point just about every summer throughout my childhood, and I still think it's the best amusement park anywhere.

The most exciting of Cedar Point's 17 roller coasters is the newest, Millennium Force. This visit was my first ride. As the train climbs the 310-foot hill, you have plenty of time to enjoy a superlative view of Lake Erie. Then you nose-dive. I know it's not straight down, but it might as well be.

This coaster was smooth and felt faster than any other roller coaster I've tried, possibly because the seats are so exposed. You feel as though you're sitting on top of the tracks, with nothing around you, just a seatbelt keeping you from launching into orbit.

B and I had different opinions about the Maverick, probably because I am shorter than he is. Signs along the line recommend removing all earrings. None of the other folks with visible piercings seemed concerned, but I took mine out and was glad that I did. This coaster wants to buck you off at every turn.

Maverick didn't so much bank as pitch and roll, sharply. If you're 5'3", like me, you get boxed in the ear by the padded headrest; if you're 6', like B, you exit with a sore neck. Still, I'd go on it again, just for the feeling of swooping and diving like a raptor.

The best part of Top Speed Dragster may be the anticipation. As you wait in your seat for the warning lights to turn yellow, then green, the whole car vibrates with revving engine sounds. A voice barks at you to keep your arms down and head back. I'm sure mine wasn't the only pulse accelerating at this point.

Then "tires" squeal, and in a second you are firing off at a face-flapping speed. The next second (OK, not literally, but it all blurs together) the car shoots straight up, spirals once, and slows a bit to go over the top. Breathe, and scream now, because you're hurtling back down, rolling as you go. Then the car slows; that's it. Wipe the wind-driven tears out of your eyes and grin idiotically at the people still waiting in line, checking your reaction as you return to the loading platform.

These were the best three of the seven coasters I rode. I also liked the Raptor and the Magnum X-L 200. And the Blue Streak is still fun after 40-some years. But I can't recommend the Mantis. It's an awesome tangle of track, and the stand-up ride is different, makes you feel like Superman. But it was rough. There is no way to keep your head from whanging off the padded headrests for most of the trip. As we pulled back into the station, the big guy sitting next to me moaned, "And WHY did we do this??"

I have an inexplicable fondness for this ridiculous ride, the maXair. It's seemingly designed to produce nausea. The round seating area spins slowly, and the whole thing swings like a pendulum 'til you think you're going over the top. I never get sick on rides, and this one makes my stomach do loop-de-loops. But for some reason, that's fun.

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