Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Casino Pier: Xolo Loco Update and Visit Report June 2021

So the last time we had gone to Casino Pier was before Superstorm Sandy completely battered Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, vastly changing the landscape of these two towns, along with destroying the other park that once occupied this boardwalk, Funtown Pier, which memory serves was home to four coasters, an S&S Drop Tower, and a great go-kart track which I loved as a teenager. The Funtown/Seaside Park end of the boardwalk is now occupied by newer buildings and new real estate development that is in development. The Seaside Heights boardwalk, on the buildings side of the boardwalk, is more recognizable with longtime institutions like Lucky Leo's Arcade, the gloriously delicious Kohr's Frozen Custard (which was originally founded in Seaside Heights), and more. Casino Pier is very different, with the pier not extending beyond the water's edge and the stunning Dentzel Carousel no longer serving as the gateway portal to the park. Thankfully the carousel will be reborn at some point in the future thanks to a preservation effort by the borough of Seaside Heights. We look forward to experiencing that stunning carousel again. 

The current incarnation of Casino Pier is lots of fun, with a giant Ferris Wheel beckoning riders at the entrance to the pier. 

Hydrus, a beautiful Gerstlauer Eurofighter, is a silky smooth and fantastic little ride. 

Pirate's Hideaway, a super strange Wisdom Coaster that is the Jersey answer to "what is in the shed?", was somehow and inexplicably spared from the destruction of Superstorm Sandy, and I have to say that we were laughing the whole time on this ride. If they added some lighting and funhouse/dark ride elements to that coaster, it would be great. The other major highlight to the park for us was the SPECTACULAR Centrifuge, which is an indoor scrambler in darkness with strobe lighting that is set to music. It is incredible just how much better a scrambler is in an indoor setting. The only other time I ever experienced an indoor scrambler was at Funtown in Maine and that is a similarly awesome ride. On our ride on Centrifuge, they played two Beastie Boys songs, which was absolutely bonkers. 

We seem to have missed the opening of the new Xolo Loca, a SBF spinner with the new hamster wheel cars, by a matter of a few days to a few weeks. They were working hard on getting the coaster assembled when we were there, with the track work completed and the trains on the track. Mechanics seemed to be doing adjustment work on it. I do not know about you, but I really love the SBF spinners. When running well, they feel like a tilt-a-whirl on a roller coaster track. I can only imagine how wild the hamster wheel cars will be. Be sure to get to Casino Pier to check it out once it is set, which should be any day now. One of our old favorites, the sky ride, was down for the day. 

Casino Pier is well worth going out of your way to visit. Hydrus is so much fun, along with Pirate's Hideaway, Centrifuge, and more. There is no excuse for not visiting this park if you are in the Great Adventure or Jersey Shore area. It is 1.5 hours from Morey's Piers, an hour from Playland's Castaway Cove, and 45 minutes from Great Adventure. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Playland's Castaway Cove, Ocean City, NJ: GaleForce Epicness & More

I have heard nothing but praise over the years for Playland's Castaway Cove. Galeforce looked like an odd and eccentric creation. We got our first chance to visit the park this past week and were amazed at just how great the park is. I am pleased to say that Galeforce is an absolutely incredible ride that moved into my personal top tier of steel coasters in an unbreakable tie with Magnum, Phantom's Revenge, Superman at SFNE, Fury 325, Alpengeist, and Nitro. 
Nothing about this coaster looks like it should work. It has a minimal footprint, strange and wild looking transitions, and a generally short layout. Joe Draves hit it out of the park with this eccentric creation, like he did with Lightning Run. It is about as intense of an experience I have ever had on a coaster and its footprint is so small. This is the kind of addition that is perfect for a landlocked seaside amusement park. I enjoy Sky Rocket II coasters, but this unique creation has maximum thrill factor.

On that note, is incredible how many rides they have managed to add into what is probably one of the smallest overall spaces that an amusement park has to work with. The entire footprint of the park, give or take, is about the size of a midsized seaside resort. For places that are challenged for space, Playland's Castaway Cove should be the gold standard to follow when it comes to space management. GaleForce and Wild Waves were both built in the small footprint of two old off-the-shelf and non serviceable, run-of-the-mill coaster clones, a Flitzer and an old Pinfari Zyklon. In that space they were able to build two giant, unique, and ridiculously great rides, with room to spare for a little SBF spinner clone (and I love SBF spinners, especially because they feel like a coaster version of a tilt-a-whirl). Three coasters in the footprint of two small coasters. For how shockingly great GaleForce was, I was even more surprised with how awesome Wild Waves is, a custom Miler "family coaster" that packs a ton of fun and ridiculously great airtime. 
It loops around GaleForce twice with seemingly endless airtime hills. It also seemed to be just as popular as its neighbor as well, to the point that we heard people playfully argue about which coaster they wanted to ride next. There is something different about the energy of this park. Not only does the park have four coasters, they have a series of excellent flat rides, including several state-of-the-art rides including a Zamperla Air Race and a Technical Park Aerobat (which looks like a high speed version of a paratrooper ride, with the size and speed of an Enterprise) in addition to a small Hopkins log flume. A Ferris Wheel stands at the entrance of the park and gives stunning views of the park, the classic architecture filled boardwalk, and the beach. The park dealt with adversity this past winter with the loss of an entry building at the front of the park that housed an arcade, offices, and more. They are right back at it, building something new in that spot already. 

We had a wonderful evening at Playland's Castaway Cove and highly recommend going out of your way to visit it. This little park has soul and is a pretty magical place. Both GaleForce and Wild Waves are ridiculously awesome and the park is just down the boardwalk from Jenkinson's Boardwalk, another boardwalk amusement park, within 30 minutes of Morey's Piers in Wildwood, 20 minutes of Steel Pier in Atlantic City, just over an hour from Great Adventure (Jersey Devil review at this link), and an hour from Casino Pier. There is no reason to miss this park, Morey's Piers (Newly revamped Great White coaster review at this link), and Casino Pier if you are in the Jersey Shore or anywhere in the vicinity of South Jersey and Great Adventure. Our next installment on our Jersey trip will take us to Casino Pier.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Morey's Piers: Great White Coaster Revamp Amazingness and June 2021 Trip Report

We spent the better part of a week in Wildwood for a nice vacation, starting with a visit to Great Adventure (with a review on the Jersey Devil Coaster at this link) on the first day of the Jersey leg of our trip and then another visit as we headed out of Jersey. We hit Morey's Piers, Playland's Castaway Cove, and Casino Pier while we were down at the shore. Today we will cover our time at Morey's Piers, which we did over several days on the trip. To me, it really does not get much better than the vibe of visiting a seaside amusement park and boardwalk area. I love the ability to go ride some waves for a while and do beach things, then decide to get dinner and ride a coaster and a few rides, and play some games, all in an aimless fashion. The fun feels more organic that way, as opposed to going to a single park for a day and having it feel akin to work. Morey's Piers is perfect for this chill kind of atmosphere. 

This was our first visit to the park and it was awesome. The highlight of the park's piers is CCI's Great White coaster. The heavy track rebuilding work over last offseason has this ride running absolutely incredibly. This is a balanced ride with a variety of intense lateral forces, right from the pre lift section before the station, right through the end, coupled with a great mix of floater and ejector airtime. 

This coaster is on point and just fantastic and it is definitely one of my absolute favorite wooden roller coasters. I do not rank my coasters, but I pick my top tier and mid tier favorites. This ride, hands down, comes into a tie within my top tier for overall favorite top tier wooden roller coasters. This list includes Voyage, Ravine Flyer II, Phoenix, Legend, Twister, Swamp Fox, Conneaut Lake Park's Blue Streak (fingers crossed it comes back), and now Great White as well. 

Riding off into the sunset on this ride, right on the beach, is about as great as it gets. I was not expecting this ride to be as ridiculously great as it was. The heavy duty revamp project on this ride has it riding smooth and intensely. Rumors were that they were going to add Timberliner trains to the ride, but I hope that does not end up being the case. The coaster is absolutely superb and it should be on any coaster seeker's bucket list. Everything about this ride is just perfect.

I had heard talk for years that the Vekoma Boomerang and Vekoma SLC at the piers actually run well and I am glad to say that those reports are correct. I had my first enjoyable Boomerang ride in more than a decade, and my first excellent SLC ride ever. Both have the advanced shoulder straps that cut away any uncomfortable head banging, and Great Nor'Easter, the park's SLC, had its track completely replaced recently. 

I saw the full potential of what an SLC can be with this ride and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It was a definite rush and I loved it. While it still does not hold a candle to the compact and intense B&M Batman invert clones, I am glad to say that I had the chance to enjoy an SLC clone at the finest it can be. 

While I was unable to ride, other dummies were able to ride DooWopper. No big deal though because I really do not like standard Zamperla Wild Mouse rides, no Twitter cryfests over here for "missing out on a credit." Rollies Coaster, the park's non looping Pinfari Zyklon was painful, but it is pretty hard to bat a thousand when it comes to notorious clone rides. The park has figured out a way to keep their boomerang and SLC in fun and fantastic shape, which I have never seen pulled off before. 

Another big surprise with the park was just how awesome the Runaway Tramcar coaster is. For those of you who have never visited the Wildwood boardwalk, they have these shuttles that run up and down the large boardwalk, similar to a parking lot shuttle at a theme park, that you pay to shuttle you up and down the boardwalk. As it traverses the boardwalk and anyone gets close to being in the path, a notoriously flinty and sarcastic recording of a voice yells out "watch the tramcar please." For other Star Trek geeks, you may recognize the voice as being that of Majel Barrett doing the voice of the computer on the Enterprise D in Next Generation. Anyways, the Runaway Tramcar coaster is a Zierer and it is a dynamic and fun ride with a really compact footprint. It is a great midsized family ride that has terrific pacing.

One of the coolest things about Morey's Piers is the lighting packages on most of the coasters and rides, and the way they have built as many rides as humanly possible within small pier footprints. The care they take to appearances makes this place a unique and stunningly beautiful place. Just thinking about this vacation time makes me want to go back immediately now that I am back to reality this week. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Jersey Devil Thoughts and Overall Great Adventure Trip Report, June 2021

We were able to get a visit in to Great Adventure for the first time in many years, dating back to the Summer of 2010 to be exact, when rumors were swirling about the demise of Great American Scream Machine. It had also been about that long since we had gone to the Jersey Shore as well, so this year we changed all of that. We had a great vacation in which we split a day's worth of visits over a Sunday and a Thursday. It was a vacation of pretty great surprises with all of the parks that we visited, and lots of changes overall. 

Nitro powered its way into being one of my absolute favorite steel coasters. I remember it being a great ride, but it really felt like it was particularly terrific on this visit, with ridiculous airtime on every hill and that midcourse helix feeling super intense. I do not really keep a top ten, but rather a running list in my head of my favorite coasters. When it comes to steel coasters, the real top tier standouts for me are Magnum, Phantom's Revenge, Superman at SFNE, Alpengeist, Steel Vengeance, Fury 325, and as of this past week, Gale Force at Playland's Castaway Cove in Ocean City, NJ, and Nitro, with all of them in an unbreakable tie because I just enjoy them so much. Nitro had always been a mid tier steel coaster for me, along the lines of Diamondback, Thunderbird, Apollo's Chariot, Raptor, the Superman twins at Darien Lake and Six Flags America, Lightning Run at Kentucky Kingdom, Sky Rocket, and more. Nitro powered its way into being one of my absolute favorite steel coasters. 

Superman also looks incredible and is running terrific to boot. That coaster still runs like new and the new paint job looks fantastic. I hope they follow suit and paint Batman and Nitro. Batman was also running really well. Both of them round out my three favorite and most enjoyable coasters at Great Adventure.

Additionally, on the positive side of things, ride operations and rider throughput were excellent across the board with minimal train stacking, especially on Nitro, Kingda Ka, and El Toro. 

Equally surprising was just how poorly El Toro and Kingda Ka have aged. El Toro was still enjoyable, but those trains just do not seem to be tracking well on that track, with high speed shopping cart style shuffling, but the airtime and laterals are ridiculous enough that they overcome the roughness of the ride. The trains feel like shopping carts going over that track. I still enjoyed it, and its greatest moments, the first three hills and the turns heading back to the station feel like a junior version of Voyage, sans trains that track well and a layout that just seems to quit way too quickly. 

Kingda Ka has aged horribly, with it being almost unrideable and rough. I do not think the coaster will be sustainable in its current condition and I would not be surprised to see the coaster get removed at some point, or have something drastic done to it, such as a track replacement by Intamin to their heavier duty track like they used on Intimidator 305, or to see a whole new concept be used utilizing the tower structure. On the flip side, this visit was also the first time that I rode Zumanjaro, which currently retains the title of "world's tallest drop tower." To me, rather than riding like an intense drop tower, it felt like going down the park's parachute ride or even an observation tower. I know the advertised speed is 90 MPH, but it really did not feel that fast. The views are cool from it and it is relaxing and seeing a Kingda Ka train launch at the same time was pretty cool. 

This visit was my first time riding a 4D Freespin coaster with a ride on Joker, but for as much of a rush it was for me, it was definitely a one-and-done ride. These coasters feel like a tracked and less fun version of a Huss Top Spin, and not really in a good way. They are a definite rush though. 

This was also my first time riding Green Lantern, and while my second generation B&M stand-up credentials are limited without having ridden Georgia Scorcher or Riddler's Revenge, I have to say that I definitively like this coaster better than Mantis (prior to conversion) in regards to mid 90s second generation stand-up coasters, and I absolutely despise the first generation B&M standup coasters. Green Lantern is absolutely huge and it could be great if it had vest restraints instead of those horse collar head banger restraints that it currently has. Several of the transitions are pretty rough and a more forgiving harness could make that coaster decent. Did it have those transition problems when it was at Kentucky Kingdom?

As always, Great Adventure was rough around the edges. The theming that came with the additions of Kingda Ka, El Toro, and Dark Knight, and the addition of theming with the repaint of Medusa/Bizarro were admirable and a nice change in at least attempting to do theming. Over the years though, that theming has not been refreshed and the additions of the Joker and the Jersey Devil Coaster are swift departures from having at least some theming or stuff that adds to the ride experience. Even close calls that add character to the ride or at least landscaping help out the ride experience so much, think of the boulder covered ground on Hydra at Dorney, the Key Hole thing over Cedar Point's entrance with Gatekeeper, or the barn thing on Thunderbird at Holiday World. 

The oldest sections of the park, in and around the Boardwalk, main midway, Frontier Adventures, and the Ferris Wheel area, retain the original shade trees and decor and they are the primary areas of the park that feel like they have the soul of an amusement park. The lake area adjacent to the entrance for the Skyride (a true Von Roll masterpiece) and El Toro is such a serene place to take in the park. Throughout the rest of the park though, on a hot day, you are in for sunburn when visiting the park, and waiting in line for Superman or Green Lantern feels like standing in a parking lot, devoid of shade and much of any theming. I feel like the park is missing opportunities to enhance the feeling of speed and disorientation on Superman. Some sort of "close call" theming could do so much to enhance the ride experience and the queue line experience. I also feel that the lakeside setting of the park is not used to its fullest potential. The area in between the Joker and the lake, all the way down beyond Jersey Devil, could be a terrific midway area with picnic tables, games, some flat rides, and more. 

Since our last visit, the park is down to only one pre 90s coaster, and it was pretty weird to not see Rolling Thunder and Great American Scream Machine. Strange seeing how a queue line and grass replaced Rolling Thunder. Hopefully that land gets used for something big again someday. 

ANYWAYS! Back to the new ride, Jersey Devil. On the first day of this trip, the ride did not operate at all, which seems to be a trend with RMC additions. We went right at opening to see a couple of mechanics working at the top of the lift hill. We waited in an overflow line about 300 feet from the queue line entrance and decided to head out because things did not look promising. The ride did not end up opening that day, but we jetted over to the other side of the park and snagged two walk on rides on El Toro. We went right at opening on the next day that we visited, later in the week, and waited about 40 minutes, with a 20 minute breakdown when were about 50 feet from entering the station. In the times that the ride was open, the line really seemed to move. The trains slowly move through the station as it loads, and the speed on the lift hill adjusts to account for the blocks on the coaster, so if the prior train has not cleared the mid course block brake, the train on the lift hill significantly slows down until it has passed. Four trains go at once because of this system, but it seems like this adds a technical hangup that produces a ton of downtime for the ride. Until they get this timing straightened out, any theoretical efficiency gains of this new system are offset by its downtime. I would not be surprised to see them go down to three trains to cut down on these ride faults. It is nice to see RMC attempt to make efficiency a priority though, because most of their rides have dismal rider throughput.

Aside from ride operations, my thoughts on this coaster is that it is fun and fills in a niche in the park as a gentle family ride. It joins Dark Knight, Runaway Mine Train, and Skull Mountain as an excellent family addition to the park. I do not think that this is a thrill machine akin to Nitro, Batman, or Superman, but it is a decent middle-of-the-lineup coaster for the park and an excellent family ride. The first drop and the second element have okay airtime in the back, but the rest of the ride seemed to blend together. If I had closed my eyes, I would not even be able to differentiate anything about the elements. The elements mostly felt oddly rampy and gradual with almost no snap to the transitions. Each element seemingly involves a long stare down a relatively straight piece of track and aside from the first element, the other two inversions involve a long and gradual straight track rise with the inversion visible from a distance. It was strange. The trains also have a fishtailing shimmy to them as they go on the track. Watch any video POV and you will see it illustrated. 

Additionally, the trains felt like they were crossing over door thresholds, bumpy spots on highways, or speed bumps at a high speed over some of the track transitions. A brand new coaster should not feel like that. I can only imagine how rough those track spots may feel a few years down the line. With all of this criticism though, I do not think the ride is bad, I just think that the layout is more geared towards being a family ride instead of a high thrill ride. While the ride is underwhelming as a thrill ride, it is definitely a decent family ride and a great addition for the park.

I was really pleased with this visit, with Nitro running much better than I remembered, to the point that I consider it a top tier ride now. As always, my favorite non coaster ride at the park is the Skyride, and Superman and Batman have aged really well and give fantastic rides.