We were very late arriving into our hotel yesterday evening, making the idea of an early start particularly unpalatable. It was for this reason that we arrived at Hersheypark just after eleven, by which time there was already a three quarter hour wait had for Comet (#812). With the sun baking down the idea of a shaded queue line was appealing, even if the ride might have a shorter wait later on, so with that in mind we decided to wait. There were two teenagers in the line behind us discussing their favourite coasters, which made for a moderately interesting conversation to eavesdrop on. It seems the top of the pile was Nitro, which speaks well of their judgment if not their eyesight; for reference, should they be reading this, it is in fact not the tallest coaster in the world, being more than two hundred feet smaller than another ride in that same park. The ride wasn't bad by any means, and it was tracking well today, but the layout felt a little bit on the dull side with no air time to speak of and only limited physical forces. Its location in the park, right at the front, is probably the only reason why it gets long queues, as it is the first roller coaster that guests come to on entry.
We found near walk-on conditions on Sooperdooperlooper (#813). I am particularly fond of coasters that make the most of the surrounding terrain, and thus I was predisposed to like this one; Schwarzkopf heritage was just an added bonus. Apparently this ride was the first looping roller coaster on the east coast, and was originally scheduled to be longer than it was; the park decided to cut the layout short in order to ensure that it opened before the competition. From there we went to Great Bear (#814), a B&M inverted coaster with an unusual opening which eschewed the typical first drop in favour of a left hand helix. This gave it points for novelty value which it proceeded to lose on ride length; though statistically it isn't the shortest of the B&M inverted coasters, it was over almost before it started, with far too much energy being wiped away in the brake run.
With three coasters completed it was well on course to being another excellent morning, when things abruptly went pear-shaped. Bad weather is a reality of life, and in the world of amusement parks it can put a real damper (pun intended) on your day. Lest anyone get the wrong impression from the upcoming rant, it is not in my view the responsibility of the park owner to compensate guests who are put out by events that are altogether out of their control. There are ways, however, to minimise the inconvenience, and unfortunately the good people in Hersheypark did absolutely none of them.
We had been queueing for Storm Runner for about half an hour, and were about two trains away from boarding, when it was announced that the ride was going down due to inclement weather. Guests could choose to remain in line until after the storm passed if they wished. We chose to do just that, and had a birds eye view of the spectacular thunderstorm from within the shelter of the coaster station. In due course the weather cleared, the staff dried off the trains, and they made an announcement that they would be reopening shortly as soon as maintenance had arrived to perform some test runs.
So far the staff had been exemplary and done their best to keep guests informed. Unfortunately, things went downhill quickly. After twenty minutes, there was glorious sunshine outside and no maintenance men. The operators had retreated up into their booth, where it looked like they were playing cards. Ten minutes later, one of the other guests waiting inquired politely if these maintenance staff were arriving by camel. There was a brief moment of levity when a rather attractive female arrived in the station; George remarked that this was high maintenance. Then a rather large female arrived (heavy maintenance). All the while, the guests standing around were getting increasingly agitated with the staff hiding away in their booth.
An hour after the weather cleared, two maintenance engineers finally arrived. They walked part of the track, and ran one test train, before announcing that due to an oncoming storm this ride will not be reopening for now. Better yet, the queue was being emptied out and all those present should go somewhere else; oh, and by the way, guest services is just over there if you wish to make a complaint. That's right folks; we had waited a cumulative total of more than two hours, most of it due to maintenance taking a ridiculous amount of time to arrive, and we were being summarily thrown out of the queue without so much as an exit pass. There were only about thirty people in the station anyway; it wouldn't have been that hard for the park to come up with something for them. Alternatively, they could have easily run one train to clear us all; as it was, the storm didn't arrive for another ten minutes. There were some very angry people walking out of that ride, and rightly so; we had lost more than two hours of time in the park, more than twice what the weather should have cost us. In the end we decided not to waste more of our day by making a complaint at guest services, but I'd guess a lot of people did, and with major justification.
We decided to wait at the entrance for Roller Soaker (#815), reasoning that a wet coaster should in theory be less affected by bad weather than everything else. It too was closed due to the rain, but reopened only a few minutes after we started waiting for it. This allowed us to make it all the way into the station without getting drenched, which as anyone who has seen the ride will know, is no small achievement. Roller Soaker is, fundamentally, an inverted coaster surrounded by water pistols, geysers, and waterfalls. There is no such thing as a dry seat, and those walking under the track need to also look out for water bombs dropped by the cars. It is, in short, a lot of fun, and a good way to cool off on a hot day. It's also an effective way to get hypothermia when ridden on an overcast day in the aftermath of a storm, but fortunately the sky brightened up again relatively quickly!
Our favourite ride in the park today was the superb twin tracked wooden coaster, Lightning Racer (#816). With two trains on each side of the track there was no wait whatsoever even for the good seats (back!). The two tracks are very similar to each other, and both have been looked after well. There is a certain amount of repetition between the different GCI coasters, but in this case it is not a bad thing. This design could easily (and successfully) be cloned elsewhere.
We were impressed by the speed of operation on Wild Mouse (#817), where the cars were kept moving constantly, riders loading into a slowly moving vehicle to encourage no delays. Dorney Park could have learnt something from this one. The ride itself was pretty much as predicted, being fun but not something we needed to do more than once.
After the other two wooden coasters we had high expectations for Wildcat (#818), notable for the fact that it was the first wooden coaster to be built by Great Coasters International. Unfortunately, it is was in a sorry state today, with the back seat brutal enough to cause pain; once was definitely enough. The only worse ride in the park was Sidewinder (#819), though to be fair, that was expected. That left us with Trailblazer (#820), which on first appearance this appeared to be a not terribly interesting mine train. On riding, it turned out to be an uncomfortable torture device; while out on course my lap bar closed two notches to far, leaving me extremely sore on disembarkation. This should not have been possible, but seems to have been triggered by one of the jolts on course. Whatever it was, it took more than half an hour for the pain to go away.
It was at this point that we met up with Derek, who lives in the area, and who, for some reason best known to himself, wanted to spend an afternoon with us. He suggested we try out the new for this year dark ride Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge, which, as he put it, was not very good. This is as diplomatic as you can get; the attraction set new standards of mediocrity, with low quality scenes and a difficult to follow goal; there were apparently two teams competing for a high score, but nobody has any idea which team they're actually on.
We finished up the day with two rides on Storm Runner (#821), which had reopened at this point. This is one of those rides that really only comes alive in the front of the train; a seat half way back didn't do much for me, with the awful restraint system doing its best to hurt me. The front row, however, was a different story; good airtime, only minimal neck-banging, and the full effect of a high speed breeze blowing in my face. Of particular note was the inversion after the inline twist; the name escapes me as I write this, but the motion was highly unexpected and great fun.