Considering that I've had PointBuzz in my life for two decades, it's almost embarrassing that I haven't been to Cedar Point in years. 2016, I think. So a series of things lined up that made it time. My friend Ken from DC and I were planning pre-Covid to see Garbage on their tour with Alanis in DC, which of course didn't happen. Then, unexpectedly, Tears For Fears came out with a new album and announced a tour with Garbage, and obviously I couldn't miss that. They had a Tampa date, but we were supposed to cruise that week. That cruise got moved, but by then we figured out that the Cleveland date would be workable. And while we're there, why not go to the just-opened Cedar Pont? I haven't done a trip like that without my little family in a long time.
I wanted to have a full day at the park, so that meant arriving on a travel day before, and having the show after. I priced Lighthouse Point cottages, and they had a ticket deal that made it cheap to get 3-day tickets. I would break down the cost to be $250/night plus $100 each for the three day tickets, which is pretty reasonable. I used to stay in those cottages every year for closing weekend. I was pleased to discover that ours was exceptionally clean and in good shape, with mattresses that weren't very old. My last stay there they were pretty tired. And for extra fun, there was a family of five water snakes living under the sidewalk.
Appearances were even better when we got into the park. It's just immaculate, with fresh landscaping and paint. The appearance of the park has benefitted over the years from a real focus on design, and the company has some of the best. New midways, ride stations, restaurants, they all look so good. I never really noticed how cheap everything looked back in the Kinzel era. It wasn't unclean, it just didn't have the aesthetic at the time. I did not observe any spot that appeared tired or in disrepair, whether it was in the park or the hotel, where we ended up spending a lot of time.
The most impressive improvement though is that the park has completely changed how it thinks about food. Kinzel famously said on an investor call once that "people gotta eat" with regard to pricing, but you knew he meant quality didn't matter either. Crappy hot dogs and burgers were what you got. I never understood this, because eating good food makes for a better experience that you remember, and you can't make up for that just because you have great rides. So the park has added a number of new restaurants in the last few years, and every one of them serves real food made by humans and directed by chefs. It's a totally different scene. The highlight for me was at the new Farmhouse restaurant, on the site of the old cars in Frontier Town. I had hand-breaded chicken tenders and fried smashed red potatoes, and they were amazing. Ken had flank stake and some kind of corn thing. Really great food and a long way from cheap death dogs.
Their beverage game is better, too. There are a number of places where you can get actual liquor. The pours are a little stingy for the cost, but it varies a lot by location. The self-service soda and all-day drink offering is pretty popular, and worth it if you'll get three in a day. We had it with our ticket package, and honestly there's no universe where I would drink 36+ ounces of soda in a day, so I wouldn't buy it.
The general vibe among the seasonal staff is fairly positive and professional in all departments, which is great to see. It's also a relief to see there are no issues with culturally diverse hair, or tattoos and body piercing. I noticed it right away checking in, as one of the women there had a septum ring. (Take note, Disney, you need to get over this.)
I wanted to front-load the positives, because I'm going to get super negative. A lot has changed since the last time I was there, and mostly I've read about it on PointBuzz. Having that site for 23 years, I've seen plenty of silly complaining and entitlement, so I was skeptical about what's going on there. Unfortunately, a lot of what I experienced was pretty well aligned with what people have been complaining about lately. Ride operations are, at best, a disaster.
I started out pretty optimistic on Thursday, when we arrived. It was weird being there that afternoon, having driven through Walt Disney World in the dark that morning on the way to the airport. We headed to the front since I assumed early arrivals had made their way back. First up was Gatekeeper, and I was pretty optimistic. The crew was doing a great job, and that's a hard ride to run quickly because of the loading arrangement on each side. But dwell time in the brakes, with three trains, was not long. I've seen trains on the lift as one crossed through the mid-course, but that's tough to hit consistently. And as I said earlier, really impressed with the overall friendliness of the operators. Waited about 20 minutes.
Next we went to Raptor, and that's where I started to notice that things were not as they once were. The queue implied a wait time of around 20 minutes, but we waited just short of 40. There were two trains in the brake run most of the time. When we got up to the platform, I watched a few cycles, and it was never one thing that was causing delays. The crew wasn't really hustling, but most of the problems were related to guests. People too big to ride weren't identified to wait for the "big" seats, empty seat restraints weren't popped on arrival (also, empty seats), guests were dumping massive amounts of junk in the bins, etc. It's the same Raptor it was 20 years ago, so I don't understand what changed. I'm sure you could find someone from those days and ask them how they did it.
Blue Streak was a little slow-loading, mostly because buckling your own seatbelt is insanely difficult, in those cramped PTC's, and it isn't any easier for the operator to check the belt, which buckles on the inside. Wow does the ride need some track work, by the way. Those poor trains flex and twist visibly in ways that are unsettling.
Valraven had about a 45 minute wait, so we passed on it, and we would later regret that. Headed to Melt and had some delicious grilled cheese. Not too many compromises on the menu, but that location was using non-fresh-cut fries. On the plus side, they had Blake's Triple Jam cider, a favorite I found in the current Epcot Flower & Garden festival.
Had to walk-off that grilled cheese and cider after that, so we didn't rush to ride anything. Millennium Force was down, so that was a bummer. Got on Rougarou in about 20 minutes. Again, they were running three trains, but there were two in the brakes most of the time. They don't have crap bins, but they have show cubbies, which I've never seen before on a floorless ride. I remember back in the day I would just sit in my slip-on shoes for Dominator at Geauga Lake. This scene was a lot like Raptor, there was no one thing slowing them down, it was a lot of things.
We worked around to see Magnum was not running, and Gemini wasn't either. The mechanics were going to Gemini, because they were walking behind us, at the same leisurely pace. We went back to Steel Vengeance, but the wait was two hours, so no thanks. Maverick was down and evacuating on the brake run. At this point, given my 5 a.m. wake time, and having walked 7 miles by that point, I was kind of done around 7. There would be time to ride tomorrow. Or so I thought.
Slow start to Friday, as the travel caught up with us. Got up late, and by the time we were moving it was just before 11. Decided to introduce Ken to Chet & Matt's Pizza, including the crazy delicious dessert pizza. He was not disappointed. We were in an out of there inside a half-hour. We were disappointed to see that Millennium Force was not yet running on the way out, but it was when we got back.
We picked up our Fastlane bands and headed to Valraven. It was down mechanical. We saw some mechanics go in, so I thought we would just hang out with a beverage for a bit. We saw the guests on the stairs stand up and clap, and thought they were close to opening. However, as far as I know, they never did. Raptor was down, and I assumed it was because the wind, then measuring 12-20 mph, was coming off of the bay, the one scenario where it can prevent the ride from reaching the mid-course. But the next six hours would prove very disappointing.
For a few hours, we wandered around looking to ride the things we missed, and every single one was either down mechanical or closed for "weather." Raptor, I understood, because I've seen the train sitting between the cobra roll and mid-course. But Steel Vengeance? In what universe does wind stop that ride? There's no point at which it's ever moving slowly, and certainly doesn't have the air drag of an inverted ride. Maverick, Millennium Force, Magnum, Gatekeeper were also DOA. This went on until 5, when we relented and met up with friends at Farmhouse. The food there is delicious.
We got up from dinner around 6, and looking around, none of the things were running. At this point, I'm pretty annoyed. We headed down the trail to the little tavern in the old wood shop for some drinks. It turns out that they too were going to close an hour early, contrary to the sign, despite a steady stream of customers. We finished our last drinks there around 7:20, and the only thing we could see running was Rougarou. So we used Fastlane and it still took nearly a half-hour before we boarded. By the time we got off, it was 5 minutes to closing, but it didn't matter. A quick scan of the skyline showed nothing was running anyway.
So ended the single most disappointing day I've ever had at the park, and I traveled a thousand miles to have it.
That night, we had drinks at the Surf Lounge in Breakers, where the nice bartender kept it together while training a new guy. She never missed a beat. We needed some snacks, so we headed over to Friday's where the poor bartenders were completely slammed, and they were understaffed. That was the only miss for food-and-beverage for the time we were there. We closed it, and hung out at the fire pits for a while before heading back to the cottage.
Slow start to Saturday, because of the drinking, and knowing we had to drive back to Cleveland and be up late for the show. We were in the park by 11, and knew we had to get out by 2 to make a dinner date. First attempt was Steel Vengeance, where the line was already two hours. Really regretted blowing the Fastlane the day before. Maverick was, wait for it, down. Down the trail we made to see that Millennium Force was fortunately running. The side said it was between 20 and 45 minutes, so we went for it. The actual wait was closer to an hour. Only two trains were running, and once again, I couldn't explain the slow loading, with dispatches averaging every 4 to 5 minutes. I'm sure part of it is that the operators have to eyeball the amount of slack on the belts at an inch, which is a horrible practice because it's subjective and difficult to see without bending over weird. I'm not sure why the belt and bar tugs of yesteryear are now obsolete. I felt bad for the operators, because that's gotta be tough on the back.
We were off the ride around 12:30. Valraven was running, with an hour wait, but given the optimistic expectations, our need to get back to the car by 2, and my general annoyance with the last 24 hours, we skipped it. Got another "free" soda and took it to the Breakers patio where we hung out.
The show that night was one of the most epic I've ever seen, but that's a different blog post.
I'm not sure what to do with our experience. Cedar Point certainly holds a nostalgic place in my heart, but it's a strange mix of massive improvement in terms of food, design and upkeep, but ride operations and maintenance are the poorest I've ever seen. I'm not sure what to do with that. I mean, for the last 9 years I've been taking my kid on a Vekoma roller-skater with two trains that rarely stack, and that's with children riding. I did a new roller coaster a few weeks ago at Epcot that is moving well in excess of 2,000 people per hour, and by the way, they don't have seatbelts and you check your own restraint. And it's not just that, because there was a time when ride crews at Cedar Point were trying to break throughput records, safely and professionally. Five minute dispatches on Millennium Force would never stand (that's fewer than 500 riders per hour, if you're counting).
I love you, Cedar Point, and champion the fact that you finally take culinary efforts seriously and empower your designers and planners to make the park more beautiful than ever. But you need to get your ride shit together.
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