On paper at least, the idea of visiting Myrtle Beach in the height of the summer is not an altogether smart plan for those used to temperate climates. One of my former colleagues spent a summer here a few years ago and had passed me horror stories of temperatures exceeding one hundred and ten fahrenheit. With that in mind, the start of this trip was one portion of the holiday that left me with very mixed feelings; on the one hand, it featured some parks that I wanted to visit; on the other, there was the very real prospect of burning up. Thankfully, a brief and spectacular downpour just as we arrived kept the overall temperature down to an altogether eminently pleasant eighty five, hot enough to be warm, but cool enough to be still pleasant.
Myrtle Beach Pavilion
23rd July 2006
Myrtle Beach Pavilion is scheduled to be razed in the near future and replaced with apartment blocks. Though the business has been thriving the sad reality is that the land it sits on has become too valuable to justify its continued operation as an amusement park, especially with the nearby Hard Rock Park under construction. The latter like a rather odd idea to me, but it will probably be successful given how well the restaurant chain of the same name seems to do.
With closure imminent it was evident that maintenance had ceased on Hurricane (#772), a CCI-built wood coaster that looked fairly impressive from the road but which felt like a wheelbarrow on cobblestones. The only comfortable part of the ride was the first drop; for the rest of the course the train bounced about so violently that it had to be causing serious damage to itself, not to mention the victims passengers. Sitting in the second row of the front car was enough to appoint it my new least favourite wooden coaster, placing it below even that travesty of a lumber pile in Walibi Lorraine. We went from there to Little Eagle (#773), a custom-designed family coaster from Mack with intricate theming. The ride was running in as new condition, probably because steel coasters require far less maintenance than wood. One can only hope that it finds a new home somewhere.
In hindsight the quality theming on the kiddie coaster should have hinted that the dark ride might be a step above the average seaside fare. The Haunted Hotel was built in 1978 by an American company, and from the outside looked not a lot different to the average fairground ghost train. One should not judge a book by its cover, however, and this ride was a perfect demonstration of that maxim, featuring three separate levels of scenery, all of it high quality. It was, in fact, the single best attraction we encountered all day long, and a ride which should definitely be saved after the pavilion passes into history. Small parks with no dark ride could do an awful lot worse.
It was at this point that the rule of it's a small world came into play. The profile of a coaster enthusiast is the same worldwide; a dodgy park or club t-shirt, a camera of varying size, and an ongoing animated conversation liable to put any member of the proletariat into immediate coma. Two faces fitting into the above category were walking up the path towards us, and it only took me a few moments to recognise Jeff and Tim, two people who I had last met four years ago during the ACE European Coaster Odyssey trip. To be fair, the world probably isn't quite as small when the venue fits into a category like an amusement park, but either way it was very pleasant to meet up with some old friends especially when we were not expecting to.
We had a single coaster left to ride, the Arrow-built Mad Mouse (#774). Having ridden such a model earlier this year at Valleyfair we were not expecting a great deal. Much to our surprise, however, this unit was streets ahead of the Cedar Fair version, due to the fact that all the trim brakes were switched off. The net result was a great deal fun, albeit with a corresponding hit to rerideability due to the powerful lateral forces involved.
At this point, having finished with the various rides, we decided to walk around one final time taking photographs of the park. Both of us spent extra time than usual to get decent shots, given the fact that there would not be another opportunity. The overcast conditions didn't make things easy, but we did our best. We had a few left over ride coupons, and following Tim's advice we elected to use these in the second to back car on Hurricane. Apparently that car was the best on the train, and while that might indeed have been so the description is like saying that the front seat of an off-roader provides the best comfort while driving over mountainous terrain. It was still without question the worst wooden coaster I've been on, and one which cannot really be considered a loss when the park closes.
Myrtle Beach Grand Prix
23rd July 2006
Myrtle Beach Grand Prix is not, in fact, in Myrtle Beach. It is ten miles away in a town which, which has, imaginatively enough, been named North Myrtle Beach. Much like my home city of Dublin, it seems that all the lower budget attractions can be found on da north side. This particular park was no exception, with three of its major attractions out of commission; two spin rides, and the one full size coaster, Crazy Mouse. On first inspection it looked like this ride might have been in operational condition, but a closer inspection revealed the truth, namely no chain on the lift hill.
This meant, of course, that we were facing a somewhat embarrassing situation. We'd driven a substantial distance for a Wacky Worm (#775), a bog standard model with nothing special about it whatsoever. The ride operator made fun of us as we boarded in the nicest possible way; you're mighty big kids. It was true, of course, but we decided to ride it anyway. There is no shame at all in such things, not even when you've paid more than three dollars (plus fuel) just to ride a coaster aimed at five year olds.
Family Kingdom Amusement Park
23rd July 2006
Family Kingdom Amusement Park only opens its doors for the day at four in the afternoon, reflecting the laid back atmosphere and clientele in the whole Myrtle Beach area. It is located just a few miles away from the Myrtle Beach Pavilion, to the point that each is visible from the lift hills of the respective wooden coasters. In this case, the coaster is Swamp Fox (#776), and it features a large sign proclaiming that it is rated the eighth best wooden coaster in the United States. This marked the first occasion on a two week trip when we would see signs on a coaster listing a rating. By our reckoning we rode three self proclaimed number one coasters, and assorted other top ten rides, only a few of which were worthy of the name. This one however invited particular ambiguity, as there was no indication that we could see saying who or what had assigned it this label. My initial impression was that it might have been Paul Ruben, but then we realised that in that case the ride could only have been the best wooden coaster in the world. Until the next media interview somewhere else, that is.
Ambiguous rating notwithstanding, however, Swamp Fox proved to be an enjoyable coaster. There was a nasty pothole at the bottom of the first drop, but aside from that it provided good air time and a good pacing; the two principal requirements for a quality wooden coaster. It was certainly rerideable, which is more than you could say for the awful pile of firewood earlier in the day.
Though the kiddie coaster was of the same layout as the one we had we had ridden just hours before, there was a posted height limit of 50" here and we were not allowed on board. Though sometimes height limits like this are put in place arbitrarily and without good reason, this installation featured very compact trains and there was no way short of amputation that an adult could possibly fit on board. In that situation, though, the newly shortened enthusiast would not have sufficient body control to ride safely. In other words, this ride was for children only, and that was that.
The final attraction for the day was the park Ferris Wheel, which looked like it might provide the best vantage point for an overview shot of the coaster. Unfortunately, however, it simply wasn't tall enough to see over the lift hill. It would only have taken another ten feet of wheel, but then the park probably didn't plan for crazy coaster enthusiasts when they made their installation, as the view in the other direction showed quite a lot of Myrtle Beach.