5.25.2015

Pilgrimage to The Point, pitstop @ Kennywood: May 22, 2015


 Prelude: A short backstory of how this trip came to be.

In June of 2014 I had a day planned with my sister Alison to go to our home park Great Adventure and spend a day running around like kids again and riding all the awesome rides we are so lucky to have so close to us. The morning of, I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed, and jumped online to find an email from her stating my nephew had been sick and she'd been up all night with him and wasn't feeling too great herself. Bummed, I replied I understood and went on to checking the remainder of my inbox.

The next email was from her husband Tom saying that if I still wanted to go he had nothing planned and would stand in for her. Game on. We met up and off we went to enjoy the hell out of the park and for the first time really bonded over our shared love of thrill rides. It was on that day that we first talked about how much we would both love to go to Cedar Point. We discussed the logistics of getting to Sandusky, OH (flying vs. driving, what time of year do we go?), the potential cost of such a trip (do we stay on site?), and of course how soon we would be able to make it happen.

Throughout the summer of 2014, Tom and I shared more than a few coaster days - taking multiple trips to our home park, and a couple of test road trips, first down to Six Flags America, and then out to Dorney Park during Haunt. On each of these trips, we talked more and more about how and when we would make it to the roller coaster capital of the world.

Shortly after New Years 2015, I got an email from Tom asking if I was still seriously interested in making the pilgrimage to the Point, because we would need to get serious about planning. He and my sister would get a sitter for my nephew, we could board our pets, and could each bring our other halfs, making it a couples weekend. He offered to drive us there and back so we could save airfare money and splurge on the park and hotel. I was in. The planning began.

We eventually settled in on the idea of going on or around Memorial Day weekend, knowing it would be easy to get off from work, and since it would likely be very busy we decided the best way to do this would be to really splurge and stay on site. We tossed around the idea of staying at Hotel Breakers or somewhere close by. We discussed stopping at Hershey, Kennywood on Knoebels on the way.


Eventually we decided on doing Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend at Cedar Point, with a stop at Kennywood along the way on Friday afternoon. It's literally right off the route we would need to travel so it seemed a perfect place to stretch our legs on the 8 hour drive to Sandusky. 



Day One (Friday):
Departure, Driving, Coasters at Kennywood, and a Dive in Pittsburgh

The alarm clock went off abruptly and even though it was 4:30am and still dark as night, like a kid on Christmas morning I shot up and out of bed without a moment of hesitation. I had hardly slept anyway. Coaster dreams and all. The missus and I had mostly packed the night before so after some coffee and showers, with the sun peaking out from the horizon, we were on 95north out of downtown Philadelphia heading to Levittown, PA where we would join my sister Al and her husband Tom, aka our captain for the trip.




We arrived just before 7am, quickly threw our bags into the back of their very new and very comfy SUV and off we went on the first leg of our journey. After grabbing some breakfast on the road we headed for the PA Turnpike to begin our pilgrimage to the Point. First stop: Kennywood Park.


The trip from Levittown (just north of Philly) to West Mifflin PA (just southeast of Pittsburgh) is about a 5.5 hour drive right through the center of Pennsylvania. With tunes on the stereo and food in our bellies we turned what could have been a long, boring car ride into a fun, rowdy road trip with lots of jokes and jamming to our favorite songs. 


 


I haven't done this route too many times but I did get a taste of it on my road trip out to Hersheypark last fall, which is probably the best time to drive through here due to the vibrant colors of the dying leaves. 




Both of these treks have made me appreciate just how beautiful of a state we live in. Driving over and through the Appalachian Mountains is completely awe inspiring and at times almost surreal. 
 

   
 
 
There is just nothing like coming over a mountain range and looking down into an unending valley of tree-topped rolling hills and tiny houses dotting the landscape. I took literally hundreds of pictures but I won't bore you guys with a ton of them. I highly recommend taking this route if you are traveling through this fine state.




 

Just before noon we began seeing signs for Pittsburgh, and then Kennywood Park. We made it! We spotted a Giant Eagle supermarket and quickly ducked inside to purchase discounted tickets, following advice from fellow park goers. We saved $40 total doing this, getting us into the park for only $30 per person. Score! 



After hopping back on the road, and navigating our way around and over the Monongahela River, we found ourselves on Kennywood Boulevard and spotted the first of many Kennywood "arrows" pointing us in the right direction. Next thing you know, Phantom's Revenge, one of my major 'bucketlist' coasters, was peaking out over the hills at us, guiding our way.



 
We pulled into the lot and decided to splurge the $7 on the preferred parking. If you don't want to pay, you can park in the free lot. (Screw you and your $25 parking, Six Flags!!!) The free lot is not much further away, but since all of our luggage for the weekend was in the car we figured we'd rather park where our car might in a "safer" place. Not to mention our walk to the gate was 2 minutes, tops.





 
It was after noon at this point and since the park had been open for an hour or two, we had zero wait at the main gate and in we went. 


Knowing we would only be in this park for 5 or so hours and were not going to do any type of skip-the-line pass, the planner in me had a strict itinerary for this park. We'd go to Phantom, then Exterminator, etc etc. However, once we got through the tunnel after the entrance, that all went out the window as we discovered the crowds were low and lines were minimal for the most part.


Upon exiting the entrance tunnel we spotted Sky Rocket directly to our right with a station wait and we hopped right on. Our first coaster of the trip, we joked we were "having a launch for lunch". 



This modest little Premier launcher is a good ride. I was very happy I didn't listen to the naysayers who told me this was skippable. Hardly. The launch is nice and zippy but nothing crazy. We sat in the back and we got great ejector airtime over the drop. I can see what people mean about the tricktrack and airtime hills toward the end, and how it just meanders around but the first half of this ride is great!


The zero-G roll provides a nice floating feeling and the drop off the mid-course in the back seat is another highlight. Mucho airtime. My only complaint is the shin restraints are a bit uncomfortable for a taller rider (I'm 6'2), but I'll take it if it means being able to do inversions without shoulder restraints.

 
Overall I liked this ride a lot. It had potential to be GREAT if the 2nd half didn't fall so flat. It was good enough to hop back on as we were heading out later in the day when it was a complete walk-on.

Take a ride. POV by Theme Park Review


Immediately we were all struck by how classic this park feels. It's the exact opposite feel of a Six Flags or Cedar Fair park. Lots of shade, everything feels homie, unique, quaint. The midways were fairly empty, we picked a good day to start our trip here. 



 

From here we headed towards Phantoms Revenge, but we suddenly spotted the Bayern Curve, which was one of my favorite flats as a kid, and since they are so rare anymore, I had to get on. There was literally 3 people in line and they were just starting to load so our group of four jumped right on. This thing is a little wild! Rougher than I remembered but to be fair its a really old ride, though obviously maintained well. I would love to have been here at night to check out the lighting package. Gotta love the insanely loud horn when it reaches top speed! I felt like a kid again on this.

Off ride footage by Kennywood Joe
Phantom's Revenge was just across the midway, and this is a big deal coaster to me. I've watched the POV a hundred times, and it has always intimidated yet called to me. 


This coaster originally opened in 1991 as Steel Phantom, built by Arrow Dynamics, and not only utilized the dramatic terrain to create an enormous 2nd drop into a ravine which was considerably larger than the rides first drop, but also featured 4 inversions: a vertical loop, a batwing element, and a cockscrew. 


Over time riders complained about neck and back pain through the inversions and the park decided to remove the coaster in 2001. After much disdain by fans of the ride, the park decided to hire DH Morgan, at that time famous for their out-and-back hyper coasters, to remove the inversions and replace them with high speed turns and airtime hills. Opening in 2001, Phantoms Revenge was born.  
 

This was the longest wait of the day, probably about 20 minutes. The missus sat this one out as she doesn't like giant steel coasters without over-the-shoulder restrains. Once in the station we bee-lined for the back seats - Tom and Al sat in the rear with me just in front of them. Our first BIG coaster of the trip. All I can say about this is WOW. 


Not only did the first drop surprise me - I expected it to be this slow, sweeping drop but instead it absolutely ripped us down that curve - then the 2nd drop into the ravine is just breathtaking. You are totally hauling A$$ down that thing, and it feels like it goes on forever.

 
 Me (2nd from last, hands up high) and Tom & Al (back row), pic captured by Dawn

But it ain't over yet! Now for a side of airtime. Sweet, glorious, violent, ejector airtime! I can't imagine this being a better coaster with its inversions before its conversion, the finale is incredible. I don't want to spoil the rest of my report so I'll just say this is easily one of the best rides I took all weekend.

Take a ride. POV by Theme Park Review 

After the wait and then riding we all decided it was time for lunch, since none of us had really eaten anything substantial all day, save for some rest stop munchies. It was suggested here and elsewhere that we HAD to try the Potato Patch fries, and since we were headed to Thunderbolt next, we gave them a shot. 


Between the reviews online and then the moderately long line for these would have you believe eating these things is akin to a religious experience. The missus got the gravy fries, while Tom, Al and I tried the bacon and cheddar. I don't know if we are just spoiled living in Philly and having great french fries here, but these fries, while not bad, were so very average. Yes, bacon and cheddar is delicious but the fries themselves were a huge letdown. Greasy, soft, the insides barely cooked. IMO french fries should be crispy. All four of us were very underwhelmed. Even the gravy fries were almost tasteless, the gravy a greasy watery film that really just covered the bottom of the paper container they came in. Again, they weren't terrible, but beyond overhyped.



Lucky for us, Thunderbolt was next and seemed to want to remind us that despite its overhyped park food, Kennywood is a great park with great rides. We did this and then Jack Rabbit and Racer (the parks other two classic woodies) back to back. All were a 10 minute wait or less. Thunderbolt quickly became a favorite.

 


As we were queueing we noticed lots of signs all over the place warning no single riders, and when we boarded we were instructed to have the smaller rider sit on the right side. Confused, we boarded as instructed, then once out on the course we figured out why. The double helix in the middle of the ride is INSANE! Combined with the single position buzz bars and shared seatbelt we quickly understood the 'no single riders'/'smaller riders on the right' policies. Laterals like a Music Express at full speed. So bonkers, so fun.



 
Take a ride. Footage by Theme Park Review.

 The drops into the ravine and around Phantom were awesome, and we got some mild yet great pops of airtime throughout the ride. The missus loved this one. So far 3 for 3 in the great coasters department.


Racer was probably the biggest dud of the day as far as coasters go. We split into groups of two and sat on either train in the same seat, somewhere in the middle/back of each of our trains. Any racing coaster is fun just because you are racing, especially with friends on the other train, and this was no exception.





For such an old ride its very well maintained. And that the queue and entrance are exactly as they were when it was built was pretty awesome. The ride itself was not rough at all, it just didn't really wow any of us. A few sudden turns and nice laterals but little to no airtime. I did not get all whorish and ride both sides for the credits. This was one and done.

 


Take a ride. POV by Theme Park Review
 

Jack Rabbit is another almost 100 year old coaster, basically right next The Racer, and I'll say right now there isn't much to this coaster other than a completely maniacal double drop in the middle of the course.
 

 

Overall it's a considerably short ride, and it doesn't really do much save for a handful of other small yet fun and surprisingly steep drops as well as a forceful turn through a tunnel but OMG THAT DOUBLE DROP.

  

When boarding we were all kind of shocked when we realized the only restraints on this thing were a single, shared seatbelt and nothing else but a grab bar. Not something you see at all anywhere, especially on a coaster with THAT DOUBLE DROP. 
 

 
We were literally all practically standing up coming down that element. This was easily one of my most favorite moments on any ride we did all weekend at both parks. I'd even go as far as to say that element right there is worth a trip to this park alone.

 
 We rode once and walked right around for a second ride and Tom and I sat in the back seat. Just wow. They don't make em like this anymore. 

Take a ride. Footage by ThemeParkReview.

 

We took a little bench break and watched the Skycoaster and Aero360, as well as some of the other flats in that area for a bit. We popped into a random store and grabbed some great fridge magnets for Phantom and Jack Rabbit, and of course a Kennywood arrow. This park has lots of little nooks that lead to random areas so its easy to get lost in random fun stuff.



 

  

One of the missus' favorite childhood rides was when the Paratrooper would come to her local fair and she had been stoked leading up to the trip to try the installation at Kennywood. Since it was in the area we were in, we hopped on. 


One cycle wait. This was fun but I'm not a huge fan of spinning things. I was OK, but if the cycle was any longer I might have hurled. Again, their flats are very well maintained, and this, as well as the huge, gorgeous carousel next to it really made me wish we could spend some time here after dark. You know a park has great lighting packages when you notice them in the bright sunlight.




Well, time flies when you are having fun and we had to get on the road soon for the main course of our trip. We had an hour left and still many flats we wanted to try. But on the other hand we could go to Phantom and get another ride in since it's amazing, so that's what we did. 



Another 20 minute wait, not too bad for the longest of the day. The missus decided to join us this time and insisted I ride with her closer to the front of the train, but was quickly reminded of why she hates giant steel coasters with lapbars, promptly bugging out on the way down the enormous 2nd drop into the ravine. 



I, on the other hand, was thankful we sat toward the front as the ejector air over the bunnyhills at the end of the ride is flat out ludicrous, and definitely more forceful than our earlier ride in the back of the train. Not sustained airtime, but violently tossed like rag dolls up and out of our seats. So. Much. Fun.




The clock was ticking and stomachs were again rumbling as it was approaching dinnertime so we headed towards the front of the park skipping Exterminator (I hate spinning mice), Swing Shot (my favorite flat, but a decent sized line we just didn't have time for) and Black Widow (we knew we could do MaxAir at Cedar Point so we felt we weren't missing anything).


We did spot Garfield's Nightmare on our way out and having read about this historic yet very weirdly themed ride, we all agreed we should give it a quick shot. On one hand it felt like a total waste of time, on the other, how could you pass up such a completely random ride?

 

It's an old dark boat ride that is currently themed to... well it's pretty self explanatory. Upon boarding you get 3D glasses and the entire ride is black lit. The themeing is SO WEIRD it made this a completely hilarious and surreal experience. 




Upon exiting it was bathroom break and out to the tunnel to get on the road... but WAIT! Sky Rocket is a complete walk-on! So Tom and I jumped into the back seat for one last quick ride at this awesome park.



What a blast Kennywood was! We loved it and I would totally go back in a heartbeat. Very non-corporate, quirky, folksy, mom & pop type of place with loads of charm and some incredibly well maintained, classic rides and coasters.



The abundance of trees and shade goes a long way. Ops were pretty good and employees friendly and pleasant for the most part. Next time I will certainly plan to spend more time here. If you find yourself in the area do not pass up a chance to pop in here (just make sure to stop at the Giant Eagle around the corner for $30 tickets!)
 



Ride count:
Phantoms Revenge 2x
Jack Rabbit 2x 
Skyrocket 2x 
Thunderbolt 1x 
Bayern Curve 1x 
Paratrooper 1x 
Racer 1x 
Garfields Nightmare 1x

Our captain was deadset on eating dinner before the second leg of our pilgrimage at this place called Nadine's in downtown Pittsburgh that was featured on the television show 'Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives'. I had checked out the menu online when he had suggested this a few weeks before our trip, and while it looked like basic bar food it was cheap!


When we arrived, the exterior definitely fell into the "dive" category, and when we stepped inside, the locals all gave us the old up and down and you could almost hear them all thinking "they came because of the TV show". That was OK because they were right. This place is the very definition of a dive bar: a dark, grimey, long and skinny room, with a few tables scattered on one side and a long bar on the other, which happened to have 4 seats wide open for the coaster crew. The entire establishment was run by one woman behind the bar - serving up all drinks and cooking each and every food order right in front of you.


Since "Nadine" was operating this entire machine alone, it took a while for our food to be ready but we were able to sit and enjoy some Iron City lager, relax for a bit and watch her prepare our (and everyone elses) dinner right in front of us. Pretty cool to watch her juggle all of this at once while barely breaking a sweat. Tom tried the fried bologna sandwich (featured on the show), Al tried the burger and said it was very dry, while the missus had a BLT w/ fries and said the sandwich was not bad, but just average, and the fries were more mushy nonsense. I got a grilled cheese w/ tomatoes and bacon w/ a side of tots. Because you can never have too many tots. Overall it was a good hearty meal for a very cheap price. Since we were there at Friday happy hour - with all the food and two beers a piece our bill only came out to $40 for the four of us. Not bad at all!


With that we paid our check and hopped back on the road following the setting sun into Ohio for our final and shortest leg of the journey. 



We maneuvered our way through downtown Pittsburgh to get back onto the turnpike to complete our journey to the mecca. This area has a lot of hills and a lot of bridges. They also seem to love the color yellow.




It was another 2 hour drive from Pittsburgh to Sandusky, Ohio, and during this leg we passed many signs for Toledo, Ohio. In an effort to stay awake and alert, our captain began and continued shouting full blast "HOLY TOLEDO" at each sign we passed, accompanied by fist pump dance jams to keep the crew wide eyed until we reached our destination.  

 


After stopping at a rest stop for gas, coffees and dessert we encountered some absolutely views as we followed the setting sun into the west, into Ohio. Next stop: America's Rockin' Roller Coast!






We were booked to spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night at the new (read: refurbished) Hotel Breakers, and with our two-day admission to the park we also had early entry on Friday night, anytime after 4pm. Our plans to stop at Kennywood Friday afternoon likely wouldn't allow us to utilize those tickets, but Tom and I joked the whole way that as long as arrived a half hour or more before closing, we were going to run down into the park to jump on something - anything. By the time we made the two and a half hour drive from Pittsburgh though the guts of Ohio and up to the coast of Lake Erie, it was just about 10pm. No dice.


This was made up by the fact that we were able to drive across the Cedar Point causeway well after dark, but while the park was operating, an absolutely chill inducing moment for me. Seeing infamous, world class rides like Millennium Force, Top Thrill Dragster, and Gatekeeper twisting across the night sky right in front of my eyes. I'd finally made it to the legendary Cedar Point, the roller coaster capitol of the world!


Nice to finally know that you are actually real, Millennium Force   

We were all completely exhausted from all the driving and riding all day, so we took our time checking in (ballin' in a lake view suite, yo!), finding our room and settling in. The hotel itself was great. Everything felt brand new. The lobby is beautiful with carousel horses as centerpieces, artsy photos of the coasters around the balcony, and behind the check-in counter is a really cool black and white panoramic shot of Breakers when it was first built. Keep in mind this was our first time here so I can't compare to what the hotel used to be, but in my research leading up to this trip I read quite a few horror stories. In fact the recent renovations had a huge hand in why we chose to stay here.


Check-in was a cakewalk, and the girl who waited on us was awesome, providing our room keys, whipping out a park map, and map of the hotel/grounds to show us where everything was. She sorted us with our park tickets, showed us where to enter the park, gave us the rundown on the BBQ/Craftbeer fest that was happening all weekend in the Lakeside Pavilion, and even insisted we had to ride "The Gatekeeper", which she said was her favorite. When she asked if we preferred a lower or higher floor, before we could answer she noticed we splurged on the lake view suite and told us she'd put us way up - on the 8th floor, then promptly informed us they had no elevators (she was kidding). I'm probably wrong but I think her name was Marissa. Later on in the weekend we got her again when we needed something from the desk and she was just as pleasant as the night before. She was the first of many CP employees we would encounter that went out of their way to make sure we enjoyed our stay. A smile and positive attitude really goes a long way.



View from our hotel parking spot: Millennium Force & Top Thrill Dragster
  
We found our room, cracked open some beers, yanked out the munchies we brought, kicked off our shoes, and relaxed for a bit. Our room was a little smaller than it looks in the photos on the website, but knowing we wouldn't be spending much time there, it was more than adequate for the four of us. It was clean, though we did see a couple spiders, which we'd rather have than any other bugs (more on this later). The vibrant bedding and coaster themed headboards are a really nice touch. It had a small kitchen with a dorm-sized fridge, sink, and microwave. We brought a huge cooler on wheels packed with beers so we were able to use the small fridge for the snack foods we packed. We had a screened-in balcony looking right out on the beach and lake, and we'd find out once the sun was up we could look to the left to see Soak City and Magnums' 2nd camelback. Very cool.


The ladies hung back in the room while Tom and I ventured downstairs and out to the boardwalk/beach to check out the scene. We passed the indoor and then outdoor pools, the hot tubs, and the nice new firepits. On the beach we spotted a sand replica of the hotel that Tom was dying to go Godzilla on (we caught some kids taking care of that the next day). We found the TGIFridays that is part of the resort, and was actually on the boardwalk, right beneath our room. Side note: the boardwalk is not actually made of wood here. Just sayin'.


We popped inside TGIFridays for a few beers and celebratory shots in honor of actually having our feet on the Cedar Point peninsula. It was here we encountered Cedar Point's lame but not all the surprising 'no serving two drinks at once' policy. When we ordered the shots the bartender testily snatched our beers off the bar and put down our shots, telling us "You can have your beers back after the shots, I can't let you have both at once". What was lame about this is that he disappeared for a minute and once we took our shots, our beers (to chase the shots with) were sitting behind the bar and we were pretty sure it was illegal to reach back there and grab them lol. No matter, he reappeared and gave them back to us. This guy was totally cool, he seemed more bothered by the policy than we were - we pressed him about it and with a few giant eyerolls he began to give us the low-down on why working at Cedar Point sucks so much. I won't go into details or name names, as he was a totally cool guy and he didn't put a damper on our experience at all.



The bar closes at midnight so we settled up, and took a slow stroll down the boardwalk toward the "beach" entrance of the park where you can get all up close to Windseeker, Wicked Twister and the Ferris Wheel. 



Even late at night the park has the lighting packages going so we got a couple of photos and decided to head back up to the room as we didn't want to sleep in on Saturday. We had a full day planned, starting with early entry on what would turn out to be a very special roller coaster!

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