Sunday, June 23, 2024

Thea Classic: Cedar Point

A legacy of excellence and world-class thrills

by Rick West

ABOVE PHOTO: Millenium Force at Cedar Point. Photo courtesy of Cedar Point

Cedar Point is set to receive the Thea Classic Award from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) in April 2018, and the honor is more than fitting. Few parks anywhere have meant so much to so many people for such an amazing span of time.

The renowned Cedar Point amusement park is situated on the shores of Lake Erie in Sandusky, Ohio. It dates back nearly 150 years, to 1870, making it the second oldest operating amusement park in the US (the oldest being Lake Compounce in Connecticut, which opened in 1846). Cedar Point began as a vacationing and fishing hot spot. The shift to an amusement destination began in 1890, with the debut of the property’s first ride – a water toboggan-style attraction.

In 1892, the first roller coaster opened at Cedar Point: the Switchback Railway, standing 25 feet-tall at its highest point, sending riders careening down its humped track at a pulse-pounding 10 miles per hour – definitely tame by today’s standards! Nevertheless, with Switchback Railway commenced a lifelong legacy of scream machines that would transform the peninsula into “America’s Roller Coast.”

Throughout the mid-1800s and early-to-mid 1900s, scores of parks and attractions popped up across the US, following the “Big Bang” of New York’s Coney Island. Over time, many have closed, especially those situated along boardwalks, waterfronts, and pleasure piers.

But not Cedar Point. It has unequivocally withstood the test of time. Cedar Point has thrived; it has grown; it has become famous and it is the flagship of its parent company, Cedar Fair, one of the leading park operators in the industry.

What is Cedar Point’s secret? What is its key to longevity and prosperity? We would say it’s a combination of focused leadership, a devoted workforce, dedicated fans who return season after season, and an impressive history with leading vendor-partners such as Bolliger & Mabillard, Intamin, Vekoma, and back in the day, Arrow Dynamics, to name a few. Cedar Point knows its audience – and that is absolutely the essential ingredient in the park’s continued success.

Generations have grown up with Cedar Point, witnessing various milestones in the park’s evolution that have become their personal experience with the park. It’s nearly impossible to select just a few bullet-point moments from the Cedar Point story when you’re dealing with nearly 150 years of history, but here are some that stand out for me.

• Hotel Breakers – Long before amusement or theme parks were designed or planned as integrated resorts, Hotel Breakers opened in 1905 on the shores of Lake Erie. During its 113-year operation, Hotel Breakers has served as home base for Cedar Point visitors – including historical figures such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Annie Oakley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abbot and Costello. However, the hotel’s most important guests are those loyal families and fans who return each season to stay and play on America’s Roller Coast.

• Blue Streak –1964 saw the opening of Blue Streak, built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. This wooden scream machine signaled the revival of roller coasters at Cedar Point. More than a decade earlier, the park’s Cyclone coaster was removed, leaving Cedar Point without a roller coaster until Blue Streak came online – a blip in time that seems almost impossible to imagine today, looking at the park’s famous skyline. Blue Streak remains operational, and is a fantastic coaster experience for the whole family to enjoy.

• FrontierTown – In 1967, Cedar Point’s beautifullythemed Frontier Town (now written “FrontierTown”) opened at the northern end of the park. This Old West section of the Point was literally carved out of the heavily-wooded landscape, which set the stage for really stunning natural surroundings. The arrival of FrontierTown was significant for Cedar Point, which at the time, like many other parks across the nation, was inspired by Disneyland to begin thinking and planning in terms of themed areas and experiences. FrontierTown also blazed the way for several of Cedar Point’s most distinguished coasters. Cedar Creek Mine Ride opened in 1969, and was one of Arrow Dynamics’ new and exceedingly popular tubular steel-tracked roller coasters. Today, the Mine Ride is Cedar Point’s second-oldest operating roller coaster. In 1991, Mean Streak opened; it was the tallest wooden coaster in the world – one of Cedar Point’s many record-breaking coasters over the years. Mean Streak closed in 2016; however, that’s not where its story ends (more on that below.) Maverick, a steel, launch coaster by Intamin, opened in 2007, featuring a 95-degree drop – the steepest in the park.

• Corkscrew – This Cedar Point classic opened in 1976. Another partnership with Arrow Dynamics, the Corkscrew was known as the first roller coaster in the world to have three inversions, one of which was Arrow’s first vertical loop. The coaster still spans the park’s midway.

• Magnum XL-200 opened in 1989, becoming the world’s first hypercoaster, with a height exceeding 200 feet. At the time, Magnum was also the world’s tallest, fastest, and steepest roller coaster, drawing international attention and record numbers of thrill seekers.

• Millennium Force – One of the greatest steel coasters in existence today, Millennium Force stunned the world when it made its debut in 2000. Redefining the Cedar Point skyline, this Intamin scream machine broke six world records when it opened. It was the first fullcircuit coaster to top 300 feet in height, becoming the world’s tallest full-circuit roller coaster as well, making it the first giga coaster in existence; had the longest drop on a full-circuit coaster at 300 feet; at 93 miles per hour, it was the fastest complete-circuit coaster on the planet; featured the steepest non-inversion banked turn on a roller coaster at 122 degrees; and was the first roller coaster to utilize a cable system rather than chain to haul its trains up its mammoth lift hill.

• Top Thrill Dragster – Always looking to break existing records and reach for the clouds, Cedar Point thrilled its followers with Top Thrill Dragster, opening in 2003. Built by Intamin, Dragster was the first fullcircuit coaster to exceed 400 feet in height. Its 120mph launch speed keeps it firmly in place among the fastest and most exhilarating roller coasters on Earth.

• GateKeeper – This stunning wing coaster began thrilling Cedar Point guests when it opened in 2013. GateKeeper marked the third B&M installation at the park, and this striking metal monster was also a component of a breakthrough redesign of the main entry plaza (the modern era of digital ticketing has redefined the traditional turnstile and entry experience, and this is a pioneering example – see “Tickets to Ride,” InPark issue #48, link below). One of the most exciting aspects of the redesigned entryway is the two support towers that the coaster trains pass through, which fans enthusiastically refer to as getting “keyholed.” GateKeeper features the world’s highest inversion, with its 170-foot Wing Over drop. This amazing B&M achievement is a glass-smooth ride; an incredible, floating experience.

Tickets to Ride

• Valravn – In 2016, yet more world records were broken by Cedar Point with the opening of yet another impressive B&M coaster, Valravn. At 223 feet-tall, Valravn is the world’s tallest, fastest, and longest dive coaster, reaching a top speed of 75 mph. This massive beast also carries the distinction of being B&M’s 100th roller coaster creation since the company began in 1988; it’s fitting that such an honor goes to a Cedar Point project.

• Steel Vengeance continues the legacy of Mean Streak, as Rocky Mountain Construction has been converting the record-breaking wooden terror into a brand-new hybrid experience that will open as Steel Vengeance in early 2018 in FrontierTown. Utilizing much of the original Mean Streak wooden structure, Steel Vengeance incorporates RMC’s unique IBox Track technology that enables the coaster trains to careen at nearly 75 mph along a track of outrageous twists, turns, and four inversions.

Personality, people and scale Walking along the park’s meandering paths and main thoroughfares, one cannot help but think of the millions of fans who have taken in the same sights and sounds over the decades, and how the park itself has continued to grow and change to meet the needs of today’s fans and guests, while staying true to its rich history.

While the “personality” of Cedar Point may be found in its rides and attractions, the park has had great character as well – or characters, in the case of the Peanuts gang. Most guests visiting Cedar Point today have literally grown up with Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the rest of the gang. The partnership between Cedar Fair and Peanuts Worldwide has lasted three decades, and was recently renewed through 2025.

Year of the Dog: Peanuts and Cedar Fair

Cedar Point has had great leadership through the decades, including the likes of Richard Kinzel (CEO of Cedar Fair through 2012) and his successor Matt Ouimet (succeeded by Richard Zimmerman earlier this year). And the greatness of Cedar Point extends well beyond its parent company’s executives, to the men and women who come to the park each day every season, and bring it to life – ride operators, mechanics, entertainers, food and beverage representatives, cooks, marketing personnel, landscapers, sales, retail staff, hotel crews, and everyone else who proudly wears a Cedar Point nametag. It’s people who make Cedar Point a real, breathing entity – a fantastic, world-class destination for guests of all ages that will, no doubt, continue to elicit screams and laughter for the next 150 years. • • •

Rick West ([email protected]) is founder/ editor of Theme Park Adventure, creative director of Midsummer Scream, and is a professional creative director/ show writer in Los Angeles for the themed entertainment industry.

Intamin and RMC weigh in

“It is safe to say that without Intamin, Cedar Point would look different today – and without Cedar Point, Intamin would not be in the position it is today,” says Patrick Spieldiener, CEO of Intamin Worldwide. “Reaching back many years, so many record-breaking new rides and technologies have been jointly developed and successfully put in place. Intamin helped Cedar Point in its realization of outstanding, state-of-the-art, key attractions that stayed on top of the lists for many years – if not decades.”

“We are blessed to have the opportunity to work with Cedar Fair on this record-breaking coaster,” says Fred Grubb, founder and CEO of Rocky Mountain Construction. “Fans can expect a smooth, thrilling ride with a record-breaking drop, and plenty of airtime! It is definitely a one-of-a-kind project, and we are grateful to everyone who has worked so hard to make it happen.”

In the words of the Point

Jason McClure

“The last few years have been an exciting challenge while we try to connect the various Cedar Point legacies, particularly as we approach our 150th Anniversary in 2020,” says Jason McClure, Vice President & General Manager of Cedar Point. “Maintaining the coaster legacy has grabbed the headlines with the record-breaking additions of Valravn in 2016, and Steel Vengeance this summer – both the tallest and fastest coasters of their kind in the world. Meanwhile, reconnecting guests to our original legacy on the Cedar Point Beach has been just as rewarding. Multiple initiatives, like the renovation of Hotel Breakers, bringing park guests closer to the beach with thrill rides like WindSeeker and GateKeeper, launching Cedar Point Shores Waterpark, and introducing a wide variety of family and nighttime activities on the beach, all provide the foundation to achieve our goal: that while Cedar Point is rightfully known as the best place to ride roller coasters on the planet, we also want to be known as a unique destination for an amazing getaway. Cedar Point is a beautiful and breathtaking natural location along Lake Erie, and it’s also the destination for the world’s greatest thrills and FUN.”

Richard Zimmerman

“Cedar Point is the flagship park of the Cedar Fair portfolio, and its future is bright,” says Richard A. Zimmerman, President and CEO of Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. “While the skyline of this park has changed over the years, the heart of who we are has not – providing our guests with the ‘Best Day’ experience, each and every time they visit. We’re making investments that showcase Cedar Point as the highlight of a multi-day stay in the region, where families can enjoy record-breaking roller coasters, unique culinary offerings, an array of accommodations from luxury hotel rooms to lakefront cabins, and our unmatched beachfront activities. Inside the park, our teams constantly challenge themselves to keep Cedar Point as ‘The place to be for FUN’ by creating immersive experiences that combine attractions, innovative technology and placemaking to enhance the guest experience, while remaining true to Cedar Point’s history. It’s this combination of respect for the legacy with the drive to constantly push the envelope that makes Cedar Point a place like no other.”

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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