Wow, this was our fifth event at Holiday World already. Very hard to believe! This particular event has been has been very special to me over the years, because it has ended up being the one time of year where most of my closest friends, spread around the country, were in one place. Unfortunately, this was not going to be one of those times. In fact, I wasn't even going to have Diana and Simon with me, because the airfare was cost prohibitive. On the up side, it would be my last trip with Seattle as an origin, so it will be a lot easier to drive places for next season.
The flight out was dreadfully long, and I ended up leaving late from Chicago because, well, because it's O'Hare. I hate that airport. Got into Louisville at about 8, so it's like my day was shot. Traveling west to east never works to your advantage, though conversely, east to west will score you a longer day but you're tired out of your mind. I got to Santa's Lodge around 9 or so, where I met Mike, his brother and nephews, driving in from Chicago.
The thing about Santa's Lodge is that it's... adequate. I'm a hotel snob, and as much as I'd like to complain about something, it is pretty clean. The beds aren't great, and the rooms are a little worn, but that's the worst I can say about it. Having the bar in there makes it a great place to gather, and the breakfast buffet isn't bad at all.
What I did not anticipate was that the park was hosting the Golden Ticket Awards (Amusement Today's thing), which would bring in a bunch of folks that I haven't seen or talked to in person in a very long time. Gravity Group was throwing a party at the hotel, so right away I noticed Mike and Korey there and chatted with them briefly. Also saw Janice, who I haven't seen in years, and Jeff who was undoubtedly excited to tell me about a "totally immersive dark ride experience" or something. I felt like a party crasher, but it was good to see those folks.
I managed to actually go to sleep by midnight, which is surprising given the time change. I was able to get up nice and early to get set up for ticket distribution after a little breakfast (thanks, Mike!), and other than a brief snafu to getting the tickets, everything went smoothly. Diana helped me do envelopes and name tags the night before, and it was super easy.
First thing on the agenda was to finally do the water park. If there was an advantage to not having Simon with me, this was it. I closed up the ticket operation and met up with Mike and his family. It was still very cool, so there was almost no one in the water park. First thing I did was head over to Wildebeest.
I still had not been on a water coaster, so this was my first time. I boarded a boat by myself, in the third position. I was really impressed with the load and unload of the ride, and the overall capacity. It's kind of neat because every hill is essentially a block. Since the LIM's don't know anything about how many people are in the boat, they launch an empty boat literally off the slide. With one person, I could feel myself launching off every peak and landing. It was the single most awesome experience I've had on any ride, wet or dry, in years. Even with the cold water, I loved it. That they're building a bigger one with the new rafts is the best idea ever.
Shortly thereafter, I did it again when I found Mike, and we did it a couple more times. We did one lap with me in the front and Mike in the back, and the dynamics of the ride were even more crazy. I got floater air in the front, he got ejector air in the back. I can't say enough about how great the ride is.
We went around and did all of the other big slides around the park, none of which I had done before (except for the tornado, which I did at Geauga Lake). It's such a great collection. I did not care for all of the stairs, which as Mike pointed out would not be all-at-once if there were any lines, but I also appreciated that they had raft elevators for all of these things. I can't believe parks that don't spring for those. I was also impressed with the stuff for little people, especially the little slide complex they did recently. The newer wave pool is super impressive. Overall, it's an outstanding water park, and I give them a lot of credit for continuing to increase its capacity.
Before changing to dry clothes, we did Pilgrims Plunge. I'm not sure what is different compared to two years ago, but it held zero of the excitement it did that day. The run out went all the way to the end, so I assume either the depth was changed or the height of the track. The splash was unimpressive as well. It just didn't do anything. I was kind of disappointed.
Once dry, we gave thanks and had turkey dinner. As always, it was delicious. The new building is pretty huge, but was pretty full. I imagine when it's hot, it's a much better arrangement, but on a mild day like this, we opted to sit outside. The food was so good.
We decided to go see the Golden Ticket Awards, just because. It was way too long, but Mike and I stuck it out.
Dinner was down in one of the pavilions this year, as the GTA folks got to use the hall for their reception. Pretty good pizza, as usual, and I still wonder how most parks can't make good pizza.
We had just short of 80 people, so after several of the GTA attendees asked about crashing the ERT, I said I was OK with it. They even did two trains on Voyage, and there were still empty seats.
Raven continues to run exceptionally well. Last year it was almost glass smooth, and this year it was pretty close. The ride continues to amaze me, and it's amazingly well cared for. The Legend got an incredibly amount of love, and for the first time in all of the years I've been going to the park, I left feeling that Legend was my favorite of the bunch. I haven't had a good ride on there in years, but it was in absolutely amazing shape. They've clearly given it a great deal of attention. Even the helix, where the laterals can be brutal, was fun. You could tell how well it was running just by the weird pop of air going up into the last turn.
The Voyage, however, has seen better days. You know it's not running well when you move slowly through the mid-course. I also noticed it shuffling in a few places, most notably the second 90-degree banked turn. You could feel the train skip along it, because it was going too slow. Pat Koch was wonderful enough to talk with us on the platform, and she indicated that they want to keep that #1 designation for the ride, so they plan to spend quality time on it this winter. Between that and the Timberliners, I suspect it could be quite awesome next year. If the work on Raven is any indication, I believe it's possible.
Overall, it's just another one of those days at Holiday World where you feel that the place has a soul, where you're both a paying customer but a temporary part of their family. I know this impression is further colored by having so much time around the Koch family, as you do at these events, but it's really a great feeling that you just don't find at most parks. It's the reason you come back, year after year, to the middle of nowhere.
Back at the hotel, the evening was festive down in the bar area. There were many beers consumed. We pretty much set the ground work for a Dollywood event, and Jeff very much wants to have us down for an event at Schlitterbahn. It's hard not take him up on it.
Unfortunately, I had to leave from the hotel at 3:30 a.m. to get back to Louisville for my flight out (via Detroit), so it's a good thing I didn't drink too much. It still was not a fun flight back, as my legs (water slide stairs) and back (Voyage) were a little tight, and that's not good in an airplane seat. Overall, I'm still miffed at the ridiculous expense of getting there, but overall I had a much better time than I anticipated.