Christmas By The Sea: December 2013


My folks live in Wildwood, NJ full time so I'm down there quite often. As a matter of fact, I prefer the island off-season rather than on, and I always spending Christmas there. 

A lot of people have experienced Wildwood (or any Jersey Shore town, really) in the summer but if you been off season, you know how it turns into a really quiet small town with an almost eerie, ghostly feel to it. Other than the fact that the coasters don't run, this is my favorite time to be there. 

Over this past Christmas holiday I took an afternoon bike ride up to the boards - that's boardwalk for you non-locals - and snapped some coaster porn as an enormous, menacing storm crept up the coast and right toward me. I got stuck in it and had to hide under a storefront for a half hour.


The Return to the Great: September 14th, 2013

El Toro (foreground) & Kingda Ka (background)

I had been to Six Flags Great Adventure a handful of times in the 80's and 90s as a kid, doing any and all coasters & rides, but after watching the Megastructures documentary about Kingda Ka, I came to the realization I hadn't been to the park in almost 20 years. After researching the park I also realized it was now home to not only the tallest roller coaster on earth, but also an entire line-up of world class roller coasters including El Toro, which has been voted in coaster poll after poll the worlds #1 wooden coaster for five years and running, and Nitro, widely considered one of the worlds best steel hyper-coasters. For reference, a hyper coaster is one that has more than a 200 foot drop with no inversions - instead focusing on height, speed and airtime moments.

Rounding out their collection is
Superman: Ultimate Flight, a coaster you ride on your stomach in a "flying" position, the worlds first floorless coaster in Medusa (since re-painted and re-themed to Supermans' arch nemesis Bizarro), Batman, an inverted coaster where you hang beneath the track, legs dangling, and Green Lantern, a coaster you stand on. In addition to these steel behemoths are a few smaller junior/kiddie coasters and other non-coaster amusements (aka flat rides). 

Superman: Ultimate Flight

Why have I not been making it a point to get up to this park? The seed was planted. I rounded up my best friend Art and hatched a plan to head up one sunny Saturday in September of 2013. Little did I know this was just the beginning.

On that day we rode almost every coaster in the park, including Kingda Ka, whose massive 456 foot tower taunted us as we did the other coasters throughout the day, until we finally made our way to it and agreed we had the balls to do it. On that day I also learned a few things. First, I learned that Wildwood's "big" coasters are of a... let's just say a "lesser" quality, whereas the machines at Great Adventure, designed and built by amusement giants Intamin and B&M, are high quality, world class machines. I also learned Kingda Ka is not the best roller coaster at this park. Not even close. 

 Batman: The Ride

We arrived at opening and wound up not having to wait in long lines for our first few coasters. Overall park vibes were mellow, and perfect weather. Our goal for the day was simple: coasters, coasters, and more coasters. We started off with something easy: Batman: The Ride. We had no wait. This was similar to Wildwood's The Great Nor'easter (an all time fave, I ride at least once a summer). Batman was a nice start to our day, only I like Nor'easter better: a smoother ride, with more comfortable restrains, its faster, higher. "Batman" seems to be aged. Still this was quite a warm up first thing in the morning. 


From there it was off to the much buzzed about steel hyper coaster Nitro. Again we had no wait and sat in the 2nd row. Hands down, this is one of the best coasters I've ever ridden. It is ridiculously tall, very intense, yet so, so smooth. There is no over-the-shoulder harness and no seatbelt, its simply a lap bar that sorta snugly fits over your abdomen/crotch. I'll earn later these are referred to as "clamshell restraints". The first drop is 215 ft and mind blowing, followed by massive, soaring hills for 3 minutes. Tons of air time. Highly recommended. Could've rode this all day.  After we took it down a notch and ducked into the aging Skull Mountain. No wait, but what a surprise. This is an indoor coaster in total darkness with death metal blaring over the speakers and the occasional strobe light. Lots of giggles and riding with my head tucked down for fear it would be chopped off. Nothing compared to Nitro but still amusing.  

 SkyWay station and Runaway Mine Train's final drop over the lake

After the craziness of Skull Mountain, we hopped on the SkyWay cable car for the aerial view and as a shortcut to the higher concentration of massive coasters on the other side of the park. Upon touching down, we hopped right on the classic Runaway Mine Train in the last seat. Again we had no wait. We had a big laugh upon realizing I could *just barely* squeeze my large frame into the train. I managed, & we giggled like kids on this medium sized classic that mostly runs through a densely wooded area. It is the oldest coaster in the park, opened 1974. 

Right next door is one of the larger steel coasters, Bizarro. This originally opened in 1999 as Medusa, the worlds first floorless coaster. In 2009 it was repainted and re-themed as Bizarro with added smoke, fire and lighting effects. Once again, we had no wait. This is a wicked ride! The trains are completely open so your feet are dangling over the track. This boasts a total of 7 inversions, and effects (lights! smoke! fireballs!). Wish we could've gotten back on again later but we didn't. We took a quick break for a (very expensive) beer and took in some sights. 


Then, time to straddle to the bull: El Toro. Wow. 2nd row again. It's easy to understand why this is such a highly rated wooden coaster. We had a 25 minute wait, but it was worth it. This has an insane first drop (one of the steepest/highest in the world for a wooden coaster), followed by enormous hill after hill, and many twists and turns. Relentlessly intense speed and airtime, yet the smoothest wooden coaster I have ever experienced. The rapid fire turns toward the end are a perfect final punch. This was good timing as upon exiting the ride the line was twice as long as when we first began to wait. 

El Toro on the Travel Channel

Then: the crown jewel, Kingda Ka. The reason we are even here. This ride launches you from 0-130 mph in just 3.5 seconds, up a 456 tower and then straight down. It is the fastest in North America and the tallest on earth. Overall, its a pretty amazing experience, a must-do if you are even casually interested in coasters and/or amusement rides. We managed to sit in the 2nd row, yet I found this ride to be a bit of a one trick pony. For me it was all about the launch - I could not possibly describe what going from 0-130mph in 3.5 seconds feels like. The height is awesome (but blink and you'll miss it), the drop is intense but the extreme acceleration at the beginning is the WOW factor. This was a 45 minute wait, but worth the experience and bragging rights. Notable: I expect serious restraints on a coaster of such speed/magnitude, but the shoulder harness was a bit uncomfortable.

Kingda Ka on the Travel Channel

At this point we took a quick break to head out to our car & grub on our packedWe had stopped to pick up hoagies @ Wawa on our way into the park so we took a break to head to the lot and eat. After, we headed back into the park for another spin on our favorite of the day: Nitro, only this time in back of train, and it blew us both away. We had just enough time for the indoor The Dark Knight coaster which is similar to a Wild Mouse coaster, but indoors, with fast turns and little dips in the dark. It does have a neat little pre-show while you are in the queue. Underwhelming in comparison to everything else we rode.

Nitro On-Ride POV

Sadly due to dinner plans, we ran out of time and were unable to wait the estimated 2 hours for the stand-up Green Lantern or the laying/flying Superman: Ultimate Flight

I could've stayed all night and am certainly planning a trip with a larger group come spring 2014. I left the park feeling electric. Riding roller coasters that I haven't before causes me to experience a very unique sensation, one I have not felt since I was a child. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it is the closet thing I have had to religious experience. I lost this feeling throughout my life to other pleasures, other feelings, other experiences, other highs. On this first trip to Great Adventure in 20 years, the feeling was back. When riding a coaster for the first time my eyes widen, my senses heighten, my stomach is packed with butterflies, my brain is completely alert. 


Ride Totals:

Nitro x2
El Toro x1
Batman x1
Bizarro x1
Runaway Mine Train x1
Skull Mountain x1
The Dark Knight x1

Kingda Ka x1


INTRODUCTION: My 36th Year (aka My Midlife Crisis)

My 36th year riding this great planet Earth took a very different path from how I spent my time the decade and a half prior. During that time, I had settled into my life - comfortable and placid at my job, in my home, during my social activities, in my relationships. My life was far from bad, but over time I could not escape a sense of mundane. I found myself often thinking of how I wanted to do more physical things - bike riding, working out, just getting off of the couch, out of the house, out of the city.  A little over 2 years ago, in an effort to lose some pounds and gain energy, I changed my diet and started walking daily, which slowly turned into jogging. As a non-runner most of my life, this was excruciating at first. Over time I would learn how this eventually results in an exhilarating buzz that I found addicting.

Rewind: As a child, I spent more summers than not in Wildwood, New Jersey, a popular, bustling seashore town, where you can find Morey's Piers, which for as far back as I can remember has been home to a huge amount of restaurants, arcades, and of course amusement rides, including a number of roller coasters. I was fascinated particularly by these high paced, twisting, turning, looping machines. I rode them all, and as often as possible. There was no fear, no limits. My friends and/or my sisters and I would beg our folks for money to get ride "bracelets" - so we could re-ride coasters all day, which we did with purpose and fire. I even went through a phase of drawing and designing my own coasters in notebooks and then trading and showing off my ideas and designs with friends. Even without knowing much about physics we debated whether certain designs were even possible. We were way into it. 

Surfside Pier, Wildwood

As real life unfolded, my interest in coasters never waned, just took a back seat. I have been back in Wildwood many summers since, regularly getting my fix on their three signature "big" coasters. They are great fun, and I make it a point to get up to the boardwalk and ride at least one every time I am in town. My parents now live year round in Wildwood so its almost mandatory to get up on the "boards" and do some kind of riding at least once a summer, if not a few times. 

Mariners Landing, Wildwood

Fast forward: One quiet night in summer of 2013 I sat in my home office clicking my way through the ends of the internet, when I stumbled upon a complete episode of Mega Structures that someone had ripped off of The National Geographic channel and uploaded to YouTube

The episode detailed the planning, construction and opening of the worlds tallest and fastest roller coaster, named Kingda Ka, located at Six Flags Great Adventure, just 45 minutes northeast of my home. I was enthralled and watched it from beginning to end. What a machine this thing is. I remembered when this coaster opened, but with my convenient yearly trips to Wildwood, never made it a point to get to Great Adventure to ride this beast. Now knowing so much about it gave me an itch I needed to scratch.