A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it's hard to be snarky with a photo. Enjoy!
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Sunday, June 14th, 2009
Weather: Warm and sunny
Event: ACE Day
With only a scant hour of ERT under my belt since leaving the considerably more active southeast region of ACE for California almost 3 years ago, I had some catching up to do. The opportunity to get 4 hours of quality time with the renowned collection at Six Flags Magic Mountain seemed to more than make up for my recent dearth. With a morning session from 8:30am to 10:30am and an evening session from 10pm until midnight, it was sure to be a long day, even brutal at times, but worth every ache and bruise.
Surviving an event like this is old hat to David and me, but this was the first ACE experience for both Megan and Katie. We were sure to prep them on both the physical rigors in addition to the, well, letís say social ones. Obviously these events are the perfect opportunity to savor having some major attractions all but to yourself. Taking advantage of that is best done through constant and repeat riding. Even while getting from one ride to another, the clock is ticking.
Of course not every one is as obstinate in their approach; even I have relaxed in my pursuit of utilizing every last second of ride time. The days of 20, 30, even 40 or more consecutive rides are long gone. But you can be sure I keep telling myself that at a park like Magic Mountain, itís silly to focus on one ride considering the terrific variety they have. I only wish the park wasnít so immense.
The warning was something along the lines of, ďRe-riding is standard procedure, donít feel obligated, but donít expect to be running from one ride to the next after only a single spin.Ē In the end, itís all about efficiency, not to mention going easy on our feet. The strategy was pretty simple, hit the popular coasters during the morning session, and use the regular operating hours to enjoy some short lines, and use the night session for anything we missed. Putting it simply, it was going to be a long day, and we all needed to pace ourselves.
The other prong of our preamble had to do more with the fellow event attendees. Donít get me wrong, I love ACE. More specifically, I love going to ACE events. In honesty, the 15 or 20 events I have been to over more than a decade now have never been anything less than completely stellar. With that said, it was important to warn our companions that there were always ďcharactersĒ, folks with unique personalities and social habits. I donít mean to impugn anyoneís spirit, but itís rare to experience one of these activities without some sort of awkward social encounter. On the one hand, Iím glad to belong to an organization that takes all types. On the other, some of these people are seriously out there. Short of being outright cruel, Iíll leave it there.
Itís a 4 hour and 30 minute straight shot to Valencia, and in our younger days, we may have made the trip early that morning and caught a nap in the afternoon. Weíre apparently grownups now. The plan was to head down and check into our hotel Saturday evening (leaving enough time to jump in the hot tub, of course.) Once again we were staying at the Marriott Courtyard, a reasonably priced yet pristine incarnation of the chain just one exit up I-5 from the park. David and Katie came down from Sacramento the night before, making it a full weekend, and before we were on the road we were sure to enjoy a few of our local wineries and had a big, late lunch. We were on the road by 4pm, and with a quick drive-thru stop we were at the front desk just before 9pm.
We were up the next morning at 7am, and out the door a bit before 8am. With plenty of time, we pulled through the toll plaza enjoying the free parking, and found only the first couple rows filled. Even the trams were running, so we enjoyed a brisk but bumpy ride to the front gates. Though check-in was listed to be between 7:30am and 8:30am, there wasnít anything to check into. Just before the gates opened, we were officially greeted by the Director of Communication, and given the rundown of the dayís events. Right on time, we poured through the gates, ahead of most of the 300 or so other attendees.
The initial plan was to start with X2, follow the hill up to Tatsu, and then finish off the morning with Terminator and Dťjŗ Vu. Viper and Revolution were also open for business during the two-hour session, but they didnít make the cut for obvious reasons. It would be a tough day climbing up and down that damn hill, but we were running strong on enthusiasm, if not sleep.
X2 was predictably down, which meant weíd have to unfortunately circle back to the front of the park before the session ended if we wanted to avoid a wait. The rides that would be open for the night sessions were still listed as a surprise, so we wanted to play it safe, even if it meant some backtracking. For now, we proceeded as planned, heading right to Tatsu instead.
We were the first oneís there, which was made evident after being asked to move the garbage can to hold the queue gate at the bottom of the stairs open. With no marking (and obviously no preparation by the attendants), we unknowingly headed up the wrong side of the parallel set of stairs. We had to double back down, and not surprisingly a few attendees scooted past us with little consideration for having arrived after us. Our ire was quickly remedied by hopping into the last row for the first train of the day.
As it turned out, none of us had ever ridden Tatsu during the day, usually saving the ride for later in the evening in hopes of finding a shorter wait. Unlike a wooden coaster, this change of timing didnít change the physical ride experience itself, but it meant being able to more clearly see the world beneath you. Itís one of the most unique placements for a coaster, swooping around the top of the mountain, seemingly a few hundred feet above the park below, and even further above the Santa Clarita valley. No location could be better suited for a flying coaster.
Facing the park below you as you climb the lift could not be more disconcerting. The drop is just about equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, and the layout alternates between diving towards to ground, graceful inversions, and sweeping turns with some of the most impressive views you can find on a coaster. The highlight is easily the gargantuan pretzel loop, which is one of the most disorienting and intense coaster maneuvers out there. The finale is one last swoop that feels like hundreds of feet above the park entrance plaza.
There is certainly a lot to take in during the daylight, and the visuals are impressive, but we were looking forward to a potential night session. The landscape of lights in the park and throughout the valley is remarkable. For now, we settled for a few rides in a row, switching to the second row before leaving, but staying on the same train. To think Iíve waited over an hour on multiple occasions to experience this. Not that it wasnít completely worth it then, but you can easily imagine how great this was.
But there was a lot to do, what with a brand new GCI to ride. Considering their installation at Dollywood is a number one coaster, we were excited to see what they were up to more recently. Iíll save the obvious themeing incongruity diatribe, but just say the themeing that we briskly passed in the queue was an impressive effort for Six Flags, though not something Iíd want to have to endure.
Having just opened a few weeks prior, we werenít surprised to see the station crowded, but waiting only a couple trains was needed to ride anywhere you wanted. We settled in towards the back. The comfy millennium flyer trains we were pleased to see, the on-board audio made me somewhat wary. With music and sound effects pulsing, we were up the lift and quickly into the low, twisted layout.
The feel was entirely reminiscent of Thunderhead, though not quite packing the same airtime pops. The twists and turns were taken at an absurdly rapid pace, and the slick trains offered nothing but an agile response. The transitions were unpredictable but still completely cohesive, and there was just the right amount of kick. Iíd say it gave the second half of El Toro a run for its money. At a scant 2800 feet, it definitely left us wanting more, but thatís only because what it did, it did perfectly well.
We settled for a couple of more rides before moving on to its somewhat notorious neighbor, Dťjŗ Vu. With only a handful of folks on the train, loading and unloading was considerably easier for the ride operators. Instead of 32 seats to tediously check for multiple seatbelts in addition to the harness, there were only five or six of us. We timed it well and walked onto row number two, and were quickly on our way up the back lift.
Complain all you want about these coasters (lord knows I sure have), but itís something of a testament that Magic Mountain is the only of the three original purchasers of this model that has had the dedication (i.e., fortitude) to keep theirs up and running. Never mind that they likely cannibalized their sister parksí versions--even when you have the parts, keeping this thing running is a nightmare.
As much as Iíve rued this model coaster over the years, one canít deny its intensity. Perhaps it became a bit bumpy, but considering its maker, and the fact that many of their coasters that arenít half as fun are twice as rough, I choose to take it in stride. That meant not minding an ear tap or two on the boomerang and even the loop, and focusing on the twin vertical drops and unbelievably exposed feeling during the face-first dive. Smooth and pleasant may not describe this one, but itís one of the many rides at this park that are more than tolerated because of the ridiculous and unique ride experience they provide. We were sure to tolerate it twice before moving on.
After hearing that X2 had come back online, we trudged towards the front of the park. At the time, it made sense to head back there and then start our loop at Goliath when the remaining 20 minutes of ERT ran out. That all changed when we heard Superman screaming across the park. I know, I know, say what you want about it, but that ride still impresses me. And seeing as David had been waiting to ride this, getting on it before it broke down for the day (or forever) was the new priority.
For now we headed down the hill to X2, catching the Panda Express shortcut of course, and walked through the empty queue. The first noticeable change for this themeing overhaul is the new color scheme, looking much sharper now that it doesnít completely clash with Viper. As you get within earshot of a train, youíll be able to hear the onboard audio, which is another nice addition.
We were greeted in the station by one train operation, but didnít find much of a wait. In consideration for the ladies, we gave them inside seats for the first run. Granted these new trains were supposed to offer a less violent ride, but my expectations were especially low. The gigantic TV screen in the station was a surprise to see, but after watching it for a few minutes, it seemed ridiculously pointless. The on-board audio continues while in the station, and seems to be on a loop Ė which is unfortunately shorter than the time it takes to actually load the ride.
Pulling out of the station, youíre treated to some old school crooner music, but it quickly turns heavy with Metallica. There are plenty of sound clips interspersed, some from movies, others just random sound effects. It turns to a heartbeat (and a helicopter, for some reason) at the peak, and then Aerosmith for the drop. The majority of the ride is Beastie Boys, not that you really notice the audio during the insanity that is this ride. It finishes off with a nod to Ozzy and then Rage Against the Machine on the brake run. All together, itís a little weird, a little cool, and completely and entirely over the top. There is nothing soothing or understated about this ride, and while the updates donít really do all that much Ė they certainly continue in that vein. The fire balls are actually pretty cool, assuming theyíre working.
As for the ride experience itself, it really didnít seem all that different to me. Perhaps it was slightly less spine-jarring at times, but there were plenty of moments were youíll get seriously knocked around. DO NOT go on this ride unless you are willing to sustain some major brutality. Itís not even headbanging, itís your entire body banging against both the seat and the restraint. You may literally feel like a rag doll. Is the ride worth enduring this to experience its insanity? Absolutely, I even upgraded to an inside seat and took a second ride. But be forewarned, this is not a relaxing experience.
Our pair of rides was enough, and the timing worked out quite well. As we crossed over the bridge to head up to Samurai Summit, the first wave of GP was pouring in. I shuddered to think what the wait would be like in only a few minutes with just the one train running. As we climbed the hill, we saw Tatsu still with no line and took a quick spin, this time in the front row. It doesnít add too much in the way of visuals, but itís a slightly different feel, especially in the pretzel loop.
We took the ďsecretĒ stairs and ended up in front on Ninja. Of course there was no wait here, so we were able to enjoy two rides in the back car. I still contend this to be one of the most overlooked coasters out there. Between the terrific use of the terrain, the exciting and pleasant ride it offers, and the novelty (and now rarity) of suspended coasters, itís easily what I consider the most underrated coaster in the park, and maybe even beyond. We could have stayed on for a third ride, but as much as I enjoy it, there were some major coasters we still had to get to.
Nearby on the plateau is Superman, and we were thrilled to see a completely empty queue. Iím not sure if we were still ahead of the rush, or if this ride has lost all of its popularity, but there was no one to be found. In fact, we were able to stay on for multiple rides. No, this isnít the most intense coaster, the launch is akin to accelerating on the highway Ė but hitting over 90 mph and enjoying a few precious moments of weightlessness is nothing Iíll sneeze at. To think, when I first rode back in 1997, I waited upwards of an hour for a ride. This thing is ridiculously outdated now, so itís hard to imagine it being here for much longer, but that only made me appreciate getting in as many rides as we wanted that much more. David and I got in five before moving on.
Heading down the hill by Superman, we avoided all the craziness that surely was the Terminator area and went directly to Riddlerís Revenge. Finding a quiet queue, I was finally able to get a ride towards the front of the train, not having to suffer through the worst station design of all time. Megan and I got row two, David and Katie were up front, and we were off in no time. They were running two trains and, considering the long layout, managed to avoid stacking.
Not that this ride isnít great, but itís not surprising to see why this was one of the last major stand-up coasters ever built. It continues to build on what Cedar Point and Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom did, and is undeniably the longest, tallest, fastest coaster of this type. Itís also got all others beat with its six inversions. Minus the occasional ear tap, it offers a smooth enough ride, at least towards the front. While the placement is improved, it seems to suffer a bit from the same problem Scream has. Itís big, itís fast, but thereís nothing remarkable about it. Of course itís a very fun ride: a huge drop and loop, lots of twists and turns, and some solid Gs. For some reason, itís just one of those coasters that I get off and think, ďOk, whatís next?Ē Riddler is easily worth a ride, even a decent wait, I just suspect that it may look more impressive and daunting than it actually feels.
The complete opposite is true next door at Batman. Magic Mountainís incarnation of this classic B&M mainstay offers so much more intensity with only half of Riddlerís height and length. The compact inverted is offering a terrific ride, with plenty of feet-tingling maneuvers. This is easily my most ridden model of coaster, thanks to plenty of ERT sessions at both Six Flags Great Adventure and Six Flags Over Georgia. And while we didnít need ERT to get in a couple of rides in, the experience was just as familiar and just as fun.
With lunch approaching, we needed to swing across the front of the park to get to the picnic grove. On the way, we wanted to check off the last major highlight before the manageable morning crowds turned into afternoon crowds. That meant a stop by Goliath, the rare Giovanola hypercoaster. Itís a surprising hike to get to this one, as itís placed deceptively next to Colossus but has an entrance considerably closer to the front of the park. Of course the walk was worth it, it was probably the best coaster that wasnít part of the morning ERT session.
Offering a terrifically smooth ride, Goliath provides a great taste of what makes hypercoasters fun Ė impressive height, a ridiculous drop, speed, and even an infamous high-G maneuver. Unfortunately, it doesnít linger on any of these especially long, and thereís only one real airtime moment outside the drop. It may not be the best of its kind out there, but it remains the only hypercoaster on the west coast, and helps round out the Magic Mountain collection perfectly.
Lunch was at the East Picnic Grove, just inside the parkís front gates. We got our event cards punched and, apparently having missed the rush, headed right up to the buffet. Our entrťe options included fried chicken, vegetable lasagna, snd some barbequed brisket. The meal was decent enough, especially if you were as hungry as we were. Iced treats for dessert were easily the highlight Ė it wasnít a searingly hot day, but shorts and a t-shirt were a smart decision, as was the ice pop.
During the meal they outlined the scavenger hunt, apparently a 4-hour ordeal. No thanks Ė I knew weíd have plenty of extra time during the afternoon and would need a diversion of some kind, but scouring this huge park for clues was not what I had in mind. They also collected written questions for a Q&A session with park management scheduled for 8pm. I was sure to pop one in there, about Dťjŗ Vu, though obviously the hot topic would be the newly announced bankruptcy.
Wanting to fill in all the gaps, we started off on our afternoon loop. Our first stop was Log Jammer, a decent log flume that takes advantage of the great terrain. In fact, the trip is quite long and offers a nice, shaded ride. On the down side, I was expecting a wetness factor along the lines of Splash Mountain, but this was closer to Grizzly River. Most of the damage was done during the main drop, but much of the course offered surprising moments of dampness. We werenít completely drenched, but it was a modest soaking. Letís just say if there had been McDonaldís fries near by, I would have been expected to buy them.
To help air dry, we hit the pair of flat ride classics across from Goliath, Buccaneer Ė a typical pirate ship that, for the record, does not go upside down Ė and Swashbuckler, a somewhat generic swings ride. Both were walk on, and offered the expected level of thrills (i.e., low).
To up the thrill level somewhat, we had a few coasters to catch up on. First was Colossus, which was running two trains on one side, which is about as active as you can ever expect it to be. We waited only a couple minutes and got a ride towards the back of the train. Things seemed a little speedier and a little more intense than I remember, which was certainly nice Ė but it was still quite bumpy and overall less impressive to ride than to look at. Call it a lack of appreciation for a classic, but with Psyclone now gone, Colossus is no longer the best wooden coaster in the park.
Of course this visit was paired with Scream, the most pathetically placed ride in existence. It goes to show how even a major steel coaster can lose quality if itís implemented poorly. Granted this B&M floorless offers a great, if predictable ride. Itís just kind of pathetic how obviously little Magic Mountain cared about themeing when they dropped this in the middle of a parking lot, and didnít even rip up the asphalt or remove the parking lines.
Continuing around the back of the park, we stopped by Gotham Cityís pair of flat rides, a Roundup which offers a nice, long cycle, and a Himalaya that was actually more uncomfortable than fun. Obviously these rides had specific names, thus integrating them cohesively into one of the few areas that the park got right, but I sure donít remember them. Atom Smasher may have been one. Iím not sure which.
Into the next area, where the entire theme escapes me, we found bumper cars where one way directional signs were blatantly ignored. Next door at the Scrambler, the lone ride operator could not have been less efficient, though the official phone call he received halfway through his painfully slow loading procedure clearly threw off his rhythm.
Mixing in another coaster, we loaded up for Gold Rusher with barely a couple trains wait with two running. For some reason we ended up towards the back, which left us with a bumpier ride than weíre used to from this. Sure, itís pretty ancient, but it usually gives a pleasant ride up and over the mountain. Weíll be sure to sit up front next time and see if itís still worth a spin.
Heading over to equally vague Yankee Pier area, it was time for another ďlogĒ ride, though the more generic boats on the Jet Stream left some themeing to be desired. Megan sat this one out, so of course it figures that the ride doesnít offer near the dousing we all received on Jammer. The rotating loading wheel is a nice attempt to increase capacity, so even with a few stoppages the short line moved quickly enough. The layout is considerably shorter, and seems to be less about floating than the boat rolling along the bottom of the trough. Itís still somewhat scenic, especially with Ninja flying overhead, though the tunnel could use some sprucing up. Thereís a decent drop, and we were pleased no one got too wet.
Closing out the loop, we had to head back up and over the hill to get to the front of the park. At the peak, we caught the elevator to take us to the top of the Sky Tower. On a beautiful day like we had, the view is absolutely stunning, and itís fun to watch all the activity in the park from over 350 feet above it. On top of the view, the area has become something of a museum with models, conceptual ride sketches, old park maps, and all other sorts of memorabilia. If you donít mind the occasionally noticeable swaying of the tower (God help you if youíre up there during an earthquake), this definitely makes for a nice diversion and a chance to escape the crowds. We were just trying to be thorough, though we certainly enjoyed the visit, save for the painfully awkward descent thanks to the uncomfortably chatty and socially inept elevator operator. We appreciate enthusiasm from employees, but basic levels of interpersonal skills would be nice too.
I realize we took it in the stupid direction, but we next rode the Orient Express from the top to the bottom. For those that donít know, this funicular tram opened with the park and provided the original access to the summit area, even before there were pathways built to walk up there. Make sure you check out the original park map if you do make it up to the Sky Tower, the park has come an amazingly long way. Nerd alert: see if you can guess which year each map depicts based on which coasters are in place.
From the bottom we walked slightly back up the hill, just to get to the entrance for Viper. Itís funny to think that this was something of the pinnacle for a generation of roller coaster designers and fans alike. The stats it touts are simply stunning, even some 20 years after its debut. The 188 foot lift, 171 foot drop at 70mph, seven inversions, and 4.1 max G force stack up against anything thatís being built today. Unfortunately, it just doesnít offer a pleasant experience, despite its numbers. Thrilling it remains, but much of the exhilaration comes with (and is occasionally overshadowed by) some moderate roughness. Itís not surprising when you are familiar with what usually happens to Arrow coasters of this pedigree, but itís somewhat sad and certainly disappointing that a coaster this impressive really doesnít warrant taking a second ride.
And there was one coaster that didnít even warrant taking a first ride in my eyes. David and Katie took on Revolution without us while Megan and I grabbed a quick snack and a much needed sit. When they contended the ride was perfectly smooth without a single moment of displeasure after retuning, I was beyond skeptical. Iíll get into it later, but I really should have trusted my instincts.
We had hit all the adult rides, minus Tidal Wave and the Carousel (too wet and too boring, respectively), and still had a good three hours until the Q&A session scheduled for 8pm. After mulling a trip back to the hotel for a respite, we agreed it would be entirely too difficult to work up the energy to return to the park if we were to lie down for a couple hours. Instead we headed back to the car, cranked the A/C and tried to figure out dinner.
The options were between cheap fast food and having drinks at a more expensive location. Our genius idea was the best of both, seeing as Red Lobster and Wendyís were right next to each other down the hill just outside the park. We enjoyed a few rounds (it was cocktail hour after all) along with their famous biscuits at Red Lobsterís bar, and then took the party next door to hit the value menu for dinner. It may sound completely pathetic, but it really couldnít have worked out better.
Humoring Katieís log ride passion, David accompanied her for another ride on Log Jammers once we reentered the park, while Megan and I manned the spray jets found at the end of the circuit. That was two dollars in quarters well spent, first for a practice round to get the timing right, then spraying the pair with four of the six possible spouts. Granted the dousing probably paled in comparison to what the ride itself provided, but that was little consolation as they vowed revenge when meeting us at the exit. (Itís a good thing I was their ride back to the hotel)
With a little time to spare, we all headed back to Revolution and David convinced us that a ride, specifically in the front seat, would be more than bearable. Ugh. Itís a good thing there wasnít much of a wait, because I would have been doubly displeased about the experience. This ride is a joke, thanks almost entirely to the unnecessary and awful shoulder restraints. I spent most of the ride unsuccessfully trying to brace my ears for impact on each and every jarring turn. Itís almost impossible to assess what the experience would be like with only a lap bar, but itís unfortunately entirely moot as well. If they hadnít commented on the rideís supposed improvement before we had blasted them on the Log Jammer, I would have been entirely convinced that this was their revenge. Either way, I should have known better.
Taking a break from the business of riding rides, it was time to get some insight into the ride business itself. First the winners of the scavenger hunt were announced, with the top performers receiving wheels from a few defunct coasters. Not sure what they plan to do with their prize, maybe it would make a good conversation piece? But now it was time for the main attraction, while the names unfortunately escape me, three of the top guys at the park opened up the floor to take questions. We had the directors (or VPís perhaps) in charge of Communications, Operations, and Maintenance.
They fielded each and every question, no matter how inane or infantile. Of course the standard new coaster questions. Youíd think the folks attending this event would understand that they canít talk about plans that havenít officially and formally been announced. Why these people think weíll get the true inside scoop is beyond me, and perhaps indicates how deluded many are in thinking we deserve special treatment from the park.
Yes, there is a coaster for 2010, but probably nothing that will be too appealing for grownups. There were allusions to 2011 and beyond, even a hint at something like El Toro. In fact, there was a lot of candor about the ďrivalĒ between them and the ďNew JerseyĒ park, as they put it. When some Intamin-obsessed enthusiast suggested a record-breaker like Great Adventure has, the maintenance guy (who really led the discussion) joked that SFGAdv is on the phone with them all the time trying to get Kingda Ka off their hands.
There was also another rivalry moment when one of the enthusiasts piped up and commended the event for a terrific ERT schedule, referencing a single hour of ERT on only three coasters for some 1500 attendees at that "other" coaster destination. The competition was palpable, and I applaud the leaders of the park for sticking it right to Cedar Point, but weíll get to that in a minute.
There were plenty of queries about the harnesses on Revolution Ė no, theyíre not coming off, but there may be plans to redesign them entirely. They explained the roughness and shuddering on X2 (technically called ďclockingĒ) is a by-product of the suspension system attempting to absorb the forces the ride creates. The implication was that while the spring-like bouncing sensation was obviously unpleasant, it would be physically unbearable without the suspension at all. I appreciated the honesty and the candid descriptions for each of these.
My question was answered, though I was somewhat teased for saying the other parks ďseemĒ to have given up on their Dťjŗ Vu installations. I was trying to diplomatic and sensitive to their sister parks, but they were quite blunt when they said there is no ďseemĒ about it. The answer was vaguely that they have a terrific maintenance team who works very hard to keep it running Ė and yes, I realize it was something of a softball question. I was hoping to get a more technical description, but oh well.
They took questions about Supermanís underperformance and Screams lack of themeing in stride (and even joked that they were surprised those questions didnít come up until the end of the hour). Superman runs between 88 and 92 mph, and thatís purely a maintenance restriction. Itís hard to argue when your options are run slower, or donít run at all. The joke on Scream was an investment to repaint the parking spots to get them a fresh, white look.
These guys know theyíre not Disney, but the expressed a serious intent to improve the guest experience beyond just cramming in more coasters. In fact, overhauling bathrooms and implementing an intricate ride throughput tracking and alert system were two of the biggest pushes for the immediate future. As you can imagine, this was music to my ears. My biggest complaint about the place has often been that you have to wade through sewage and tolerate pathetic ride operations in order to get on the awesome rides. If theyíre serious about these efforts and see them through, there is no question this park has amazing potential. I genuinely hope this isnít just the same lip service we always hear.
And of course the issue of bankruptcy couldnít have been avoided, though they didnít have much to say. Six Flags Inc. is in desperate times, but this park is doing just fine. They were very clear in describing the chain as something of a series of individual franchises, and theirs is a key performer for corporate. Obviously we got the spiel that not a single thing about how the park operates would change in the immediate future. The subtle undertone was that, no matter happens with the company on a corporate level, the park would not only not be going anywhere, but it would continue to focus on what it does best Ė and they were not shy in admitting that coasters are the heart of this park.
With that in mind, they wanted to stick it to Cedar Point. Given the debacle that often is ERT there (not that Iíve personally experienced it), they made it clear that they wanted to treat their guests better. Iím not sure if it was truly a record, but the session ended with a cameo by Mr. Six (and that awful music), who helped announce that the evening ERT session would be on every single coaster in the park! Not that hitting them all is even possible, or that anyone would seriously queue up during ERT for the mine ride, but apparently they wanted to make a statement, and we had no problem getting caught in the crossfire.
There was still some time before the evening session started, and since we had no idea how many folks would linger late into the night, there was no reason not to start early. With the dark settling in (and it being right next to us), we decided to enjoy the fact that you canít see the pathetic lack of themeing on Scream at night. It was a quick wait for the front row, and then we moved back for a couple more rides. I must say, when youíre able to overlook the awful placement of this ride, itís much more enjoyable.
We were warned to stay away from the more popular coasters as they would likely have a wait a good bit after 10pm. Heeding that good advice, we decided to swing back by Batman and enjoyed a trio of night rides, even though we were still riding with the general public. All day long, the policy had been to allow you to stay on if your row was empty, and no one seemed to mind filling in the empty seats even if it wasnít. We were thrilled to see it, even if itís possibly the result of the operators just not caring one way or another.
But re-rides on Batman have been done time and time again, so we moved on to something a little more unique. Instead of heading back to Riddler - we decided that one ride was enough there - we queued up for Goliath just before the cut-off at 10pm, and enjoyed a back row ride before the station was swept of all but our event cohorts. With two trains, we immediately hopped back on and enjoyed a series without leaving our seats. Thereís nothing like night ERT on a hypercoaster.
As we moved on, we debated whether to hit X2, and instead decided to see what the crowds were like on Tatsu and Terminator. There was a good 90 minutes left, but just getting from one ride to another took so long. We eventually made it up to the station on Tatsu, and finding an empty station, began to realize that even if everyone from this morning had stuck around, the ERT options were so spread out, there wouldnít be a need to wait for anything.
It was time to take in the amazing views from Tatsu that we had been waiting for. If youíve ever had that flying dream, I swear that no experience has come closer than a ride here, and seeing the valley all lit up as you soar through the air is that much more dreamlike. We got four rides in before we were halfway through the session, and headed down the hill to Terminator.
In another wonderful surprise, we were inexplicably greeted by yet another empty station. Though the nighttime improvements in the ride experience are merely visual on Tatsu, Terminator had seriously kicked into a higher gear now that things had cooled off. The first few maneuvers were now a complete and total blur. The difference from morning to evening was astounding (not even including the now functioning fireball effect), and what was a terrific ride was now seriously approaching the upper echelon of what wooden coasters could do. I didnít have my wooden coaster rankings memorized, but I had a feeling it would land somewhere pretty special.
After half a dozen circuits, we still had some 30 minutes to go. David and I convinced each other that a spin on X2 would be tolerable, provided we could secure inside seats. With the crowd dwindling and two trains running, we had our pick. This was our first ever night ride - not that it meant the experience would be any more disorienting, the ride was all maxed out on crazy. I endured a single spin, and David stuck around for a second.
Turns out I made the right call, as even before he returned to the station, the ride shut down, leaving him all but alone out on the brake run. I imagine he was able to relax comfortably given the reclining seat, which was in contrast to our experience, getting an ear chewed by one of the aforementioned typical ACEers. It was a good 15 minutes before the ride was up and running again just as it passed midnight and all four of us were able to escape relatively unscathed, though happy to call it a night.
We were back to the hotel by 12:30am, and were up and on the road before 9am the next morning. The others started to catch up on some sleep during the drive, as I needed to get back to get in a half day of work. It was a straight shot back into the Bay Area, and I made a good showing signing on just after lunch. Itís always tough to get back to the grind, but at least I didnít have to go into the office.
The event could not have been more fun. Everything was well organized, the rides were well run, and everyone hosting us for the day was beyond hospitable. I should even commend the park for how smoothly everything went during the regular operating hours. I wonít go so far as to say the place turned a corner - there is still a lot of room for improvement, but so many of the typical painful and frustrating experiences which have become synonymous with Six Flags were entirely absent.
Granted, we stayed away from the marquee attractions during the peak park hours, but even the guests seemed better behaved. Iím happy to say that if these modest improvements are built upon as promised, and the park continues to trend towards the getting the attention it deserves, Magic Mountain may slowly begin to shed its infamous reputation. Itís always hard to objectively judge the quality of a park through the lens of a special event like this, but short of becoming a place youíd want to bring your kids, it seems like thereís a chance it may once again become a place you want to bring yourself.