Travel Note

8th August 2018

Our morning began at Long Beach Airport, a small facility to the west of Los Angeles that I'd never passed through before. I was unexpectedly given access to TSA PreCheck, making the security process a breeze, and once through we sat down in a large outdoor seating area for a light breakfast. The flight aboard JetBlue was vastly superior to our usual European budget travel experience, and as a result we landed into Salt Lake City feeling both relaxed and refreshed. Our bags were waiting for us by the time we got to the belt, making for a significant improvement over my last visit to the area. We were a little worried by a series of large signs inviting us to "Say Hello to the new SLC", but then we remembered the airport code and breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Long Beach Airport

In a perfect world I'd have planned to spend the full day at Lagoon, but my visit was constrained by the need to be at a hotel in Las Vegas some four hundred miles away by a vaguely sensible hour. Megan had no such limitations, and for this reason we picked up two separate rental cars so that she could stay at the park until close. We made a brave attempt to drive in convoy to the park, but this proved to be a fools errand in a part of the world where the concept of lane discipline has yet to be discovered.

 

Lagoon

8th August 2018

The vast majority of the world's roller coasters are designed and manufactured by companies specialising in the field. The prime reason for this is the obvious one; when parks decide to spend millions of dollars on a new amusement ride it makes good sense to order through a company that (in principle at least) knows what it is doing. Lagoon is one of a handful of parks that has chosen to go it alone, producing two steel coasters in house using local steel fabrication contractors. Both rides were at the top of our list today.

Before I write about our day I'd like to comment briefly on some of the park's operational policies, which could do with some work. There are no storage bins available on coaster platforms, and though free single-use lockers are available (a very good thing) there are nowhere near enough of them at the smaller rides. We encountered this issue for the first time when an employee at a ride entrance told Megan to find somewhere else for her bag "as these are full" without any indication of where that might be. This message was conveyed in a dull monotone, and I'm sorry to report that the bored delivery was entirely representative of the staff that I spoke to during my visit, raising questions about the park's customer service training.

Readers should also be aware that some of the coasters do not allow single riders at all. Others do not allow them in the front seats, and others do not allow them in the back seats. I'm given to understand that these policies developed as the result of accidents that took place at the park in times past, and while one can sympathise with the desire to avoid a repeat, the fact is that identical coasters operate in other parks and countries without restrictions of this type. Furthermore, the signage that lays down the law is both blunt and actively hostile; it wouldn't have taken all that much to replace "Absolutely no single riders" with a "We're sorry, but single riders are not permitted. If you need assistance finding a partner please speak to a ride host who will be happy to help".

Bombora

Our first stop was at Bombora (#2489), a custom-designed family coaster that is broadly equivalent in size and scale to the large format Roller Skater. The two comfortable trains feature lap bar restraints and an elaborate design featuring sculpted sea creatures that light up at night. They also carry an onboard sound system that plays one of six different tracks. Through the magic of Shazam I can tell you that we got Wipeout (The Surfaris), and it worked very well with the layout, which was negotiated effortlessly. Other options include Let's Go Surfing (The Drums), Ride The Wild Surf (Jan & Dean), and three tracks from The Beach Boys.

With the minor credit out of the way we made our way to what was always going to be the highlight of our day. Cannibal (#2490) is a two hundred and eight foot high custom coaster that has been on my bucket list since it was built, thanks to a 116° first drop that (until next year) will be the steepest in North America. The layout also features an enclosed elevator lift and somewhere between four and five inversions depending on your point of view. The trains seat twelve riders in three rows of four, with passengers held in place by comfortable lap bar restraints that are quite a bit larger than those produced by the mainstream manufacturers.

On dispatch a sharp right turn leads into a room with a sculpture of Taa (whoever that might be) and the lift, which features a slight tilt during the ascent to allow two platforms to pass within the same structure. There is a brief pause for guests to admire the view before the train rolls forward onto the drop, which is handled without even the vaguest hint of jarring. The angle of descent is very noticeable, unlike many of the the Eurofighters, making the drop particularly thrilling. The track that follows consists of two inversions, an airtime hill, a trim brake (boo!), a tight turnaround, and a block brake, and this portion is decent if somewhat anticlimactic after the magnificent beginning. It is the second half of the track where things get interesting again, with the so-called Lagoon Roll: a slow twist to the left that changes direction part way, flipping back to the right. This element was handled very well, with some exceptionally good hang time. It exits into a series of forceful helices around and through artificial mountain theming.

The ride is well up there with the very best coasters in the United States, if not worldwide, and I rather suspect it would rank higher in coaster polls if it had been installed somewhere a little less off the beaten track. The only negative for me, and a significant one, was a ridiculous one way system at the ride exit that forced those wanting more than one lap (or access to anything left in their lockers) into an artificial and entirely pointless two minute walk past the Sky Scraper Ferris Wheel. Why any park management team would do something so unequivocally detrimental to the guest experience is beyond me. Most guests today were ignoring the system and squeezing past a no entry sign back to the locker area, and though two staff members were in place to prevent this in theory they'd evidently decided it wasn't worth arguing over.

One Way Stupidity

Our next stop was at the wheel for some overhead photos. The ride has two queues side by side, a slightly strange approach that resulted in a group arriving after we did getting to board first. I'm quite sure that this wasn't a deliberate slight by the operators, who were evidently more interested in flirting with each other than guest throughput; after we took our seats it was more than half a minute before the wheel began to move as their animated conversation continued apace. The sun was in the wrong place for pictures of Cannibal, though we were able to get some nice shots of Samurai, a themed Mondial Top Scan. The breeze at the heights was also rather refreshing.

The park is home to one of just three remaining examples of the Schwarzkopf Jet Star 2, the second generation of a classic design that has been slowly disappearing from the world's midways over the last few years. The model at Lagoon is the least travelled of the extant versions, having been first installed in nearby Spokane for the Expo '74 World's Fair and relocated to its present home in 1976. The original control system was replaced in the late eighties, but otherwise the ride today is as it would have been over four decades ago, delivering a smooth yet forceful thrill that we really enjoyed. As an added benefit, we came to a stop in the brake run without bruising my rib.

We took the Sky Ride to the far end of the park for the second classic Schwarzkopf. Colossus the Fire Dragon is now the only Doppel Looping coaster still operating with original trains, and that makes it a true classic; the difference in comfort between the factory rolling stock and the Sunkid abominations on Teststrecke is enormous. Our back seat ride was absolutely wonderful, as the unobtrusive restraints allowed us to enjoy the powerful layout without having to brace for the turns. I've since learned that the ride has a bonus helix at the end that isn't present on its German brother, and though I didn't notice it while riding one can never have too much Schwarzkopf!

Time was getting on at this stage, but I couldn't leave without at least one lap on Wicked, which eleven years on remains the only installation of Zierer's Tower Launch Coaster. My trip report from 2007 noted that the ride had quite a few potholes, and expressed the hope that they might be smoothed out during the off-season. That may well have happened, but sadly plenty of issues remain, not least a particularly heinous crunch at the base of the first drop. The comfort level was degraded further by the operators pushing down on the lap bars prior to dispatch, and given that I wasn't at all sorry when our ride came to an end. On the positive side, there was a nice surprise on the brake run as the restraints opened one notch, making the wait to disembark far more pleasant than it would otherwise have been.

On my way to the exit I noticed that there was no queue for the wooden Roller Coaster, and it would have been unimaginably rude of me to look the proverbial gift-horse in the mouth. The classic ride is in the midst of a major renovation by Great Coasters International. As of this writing work has been completed on the first half of the layout; the remainder is due to be worked on this winter. In addition two shiny new Millennium Flyers have replaced the old three-bench PTC trains, and they handle the rails with ease.

Roller Coaster