Sunday, June 25, 2023

Playland's Castaway Cove in Ocean City, NJ: The Most Thrills Per Acre Anywhere

The building under construction out front will be the platform for yet another coaster in the next few years!

I have no idea how they pack this much awesome in such a small spot. They had more operating full size coasters than Lake Compounce did earlier in our trip, in a space that could be contained within the front entranceway and midway to that park. To top all of that off, they have two signature coasters that cannot be found anywhere else or even remotely close in style. Strange and awesome coasters, and a flat ride collection that most parks should be envious of. All while managing to have wide open midways that do not feel overcrowded and spectacular lighting packages on all of their rides, making it really pop in a beautiful boardwalk setting. 

I got a major case of "dirty lens" on this evening, and I left my equipment behind and did not have an extra battery, but you get the gist of it. Their custom Miler coaster is unique and wild at the same time. with a ride, airtime, and lats that are reminiscent of a wooden roller coaster. The photos in the second half are phone shots, though there is minimal difference in quality, to be honest. 

Pano mode on the phone was pretty weak, but it is what it is. How they manage to fit a log flume in this space is just amazing. This park and Indiana Beach are just masters at packing in the thrills per acre, this park especially though. You could easily fit it within the entry plaza of most 70s era suburban amusement parks. 

Riding the Ferris Wheel and seeing what they have accomplished is really amazing.

They even manage to fit a small train ride within the park.

I get a smile just thinking about this park. It is such a treat to visit this joyful park. GaleForce is just phenomenal. Between the extreme airtime and inversions, this ride has it all. On this trip I had ridden Premier, Intamin, and S&S compact vertical launcher coaster creations, all in the matter of a few days. S&S and the epic design of Joe Draves hit out out of the park. This ride is absolutely bonkers and there is really nothing else quite like it. Then they run it 2-3 times through the cycle and the thing is just wicked. Wild airtime and hang time that leaves you wondering what happened at the end. This ride alone is worth a visit to Jersey, all the other boardwalk parks and Great Adventure are just icing after this. Highly recommend checking out this park and relaxing down at the Jersey Shore. For more info on the park, check out our last trip report from there. 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Morey's Piers Trip Report, June 2023

Now we head to the main part of our trip, in Wildwood and the Jersey Shore. Morey's Piers is a pretty awesome place to check out if all of the piers are open, which sadly was not the case when we decided to go visit this year. Great White is a world class ride, especially since it got so much retracking love from GCI. There is nothing quite like a wooden coaster running in peak condition with PTC trains. We arrived in Wildwood on a Sunday night, which was the only night all three piers were open during our visit, so we rushed to get a couple rides in on Great White on Sunday night, then got in a ride on the Ferris Wheel on Mariner's Pier on one of the nights during the week. We took a much more holistic approach to visiting the Wildwood boardwalk and spending our entertainment money in the different arcades and food joints along the boardwalk instead of centrally spending our money at Morey's Piers, since two of the three were not open on June weekdays until the third week of June. The website says the piers will be open daily through Labor Day now, so the rest of you will probably not face that problem this season. 

Mariner's Pier has a Boomerang, an SBF Spinner, and a janky Zyklon, along with some flats and a giant Ferris Wheel. This was the only pier that was open during the week. We only ended up riding the Ferris Wheel on this trip, for the views up there are so spectacular.

Seaside Pier has a Vekoma SLC, and a quirky and fun Zierer family coaster called The Runaway Tram, themed to the venerable Wildwood Tramcar. We did not get over there on this trip.

I am the guy with the hands up in the back seat.

Adventure Pier is where it is at for coaster lovers with the spectacular Great White, a CCI built woodie that has been restored by GCI and runs with PTC trains. The views are great and it has a really out-of-control ride experience. For returning visitors, this is the reason to go to the park once you do sweeps of he other coasters. The Vekomas around the piers are solid and run smooth, but still are not intriguing designs to me. 

A view of the three piers from a Whale Watching Sunset Cruise in Cape May.

Great White is a spectacular coaster that is up there with the best of them since it has gotten track work from GCI. I am glad I was able to snag a few rides on it on Sunday night when we arrived to Wildwood. I would have probably ridden this nightly had the pier been open throughout our trip. For a more thorough trip report from this park, specifically at a time when all of the piers were open check out our last visit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Nickelodeon Universe at the American Dream Mall Trip Report, June 2023

We stopped by the American Dream mall as the next stop on our road trip and got some redemption from the lousy experience we had at Lake Compounce with some quick laps on their new coasters.

As for the park overall, my first thought is expensive, but not bad. Individual ride options are now available. Last time we went through the area we opted to skip the park since the day pass was for somewhere in the ballpark of a hundred bucks. The individual ride tickets are not cheap by any means, but less expensive than that if you are looking to just go and ride the rides. 

The collection of coasters is fun, but there was some random and unexpected rattling and roughness on both TMNT Shellraiser (Gerstlauer Eurofighter) and Sandy's Blasting Bronco (Intamin LSM Shuttle Launcher with turntable). I have to say that they are pretty loosely themed, with probably even less theming than Six Flags does, since they at least have some plastic board cut outs of superhero figures. Either theme the rides fully or just give them random names. The weak theming does not detract from the ride experiences, but it would probably be way cheaper to not have to buy rights to use IP. The "Green Coaster" or the "Purple Coaster" are how I referred to the rides anyways. 

The Purple Coaster (Shredder? Is that a themed name?) was the first thing I rode. I loved it. More parks should have these modern Gerstlauer spinning coasters. They offer enough thrill to satisfy a thrill seeker, but are light enough that they are a real crowd pleaser. Might have been my favorite ride at the park. Had no rough spots at all unlike the two other European coasters in the park. 

The orange coaster, Nickelodeon Slime Streak, was great. I am glad to see they picked Chance to make another ride. This is definitely a sleeper ride with some light and fun airtime. If it were any bigger and more intense, it would easily be the best coaster at the park. They probably could have fit a Chance Hyper-GXT along the lines of Lightning Run in at the park. They probably still could. We really need to see more Chance creations like this. I love the coasters that Draves has done. I have ridden five of his seven completed coasters, and aside from Steel Curtain, I think they are all brilliant. Steel Curtain would be a fine ride if they could get it to run reliably and quickly in regards to operations. All of the other rides of his are absolutely brilliance.

Sandy's Blasting Bronco and TMNT Shellraiser are strange rides that would be much better if they did not rattle so much or have some random and unpredictable rough spots. Shellraiser specifically would be one of my overall favorite rides for how strange it is, but the rough spots are not good. It has just about every kind of awesome gimmick they could add, from an inversion right out of the station, to a hidden launch into a giant inversion and twisted layout, plus a vertical lift with a holding brake that gives views out the windows onto the NYC skyline, and the world's steepest drop on a coaster. Even with all of that, the ride's rough spots discourage you from going for a second ride. I do not know if it is a maintenance problem with the park, installation issues, or manufacturing imperfections, but the park should work with Gerstlauer to smooth out these problem spots and get the ride running well, because they have a real winner on their hands otherwise. If the problem spots are due to track issues, Gerstlauer should refabricate some track. S&S has done similar refabrication of track for GaleForce to rectify early issues. This is a new ride, it shouldn't have this kind of roughness. 

Samdy’s Blasting Bronco had some strange deep rattling on the edges where it goes vertical that were way beyond normal roughness. Get it together, Intamin. The ride program was disappointing too. I feel like it would be better if it went through the course twice in each direction. GaleForce by S&S at Playland in Ocean City, NJ is far superior with a program that goes through the intense course a few times. Even the Premier Sky Rocket 2 coasters are superior to this. I expected more. 

Actual quote from the store "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning for the sweet life, and I will give you IT'S SUGAR." This is absolutely dystopian. Reminds me of something out of Glass Onion. 

The atmosphere of this park is odd too. The whole mall feels like an approximation of what American culture is, if the only thing you did was go on Instagram and look at influencer posts. Almost like a less fancy version of the house in Glass Onion. Do not take that as a negative, it is definitely an experience. It would have been a letdown if it were at the old "all day rate" of a hundred bucks, but for individual ride tickets, which were still pretty steep, it was definitely worth checking out. I feel like if they lowered their price point more, the park would be hopping. Another strange thing about the park was that this was a prime Sunday with huge crowds, yet many stores in the mall were closed, and the ones that were open had no one purchasing anything. Not a good thing for the long term viability of such a giant facility. I feel like the future of this facility as a whole might be more as a daily destination place for activities, and with some restructuring, this could be a booming place. 

Add some craft breweries and beer gardens, epic playgrounds, and more, and you have an excellent place. They had these e-bikes fashioned as animals to ride, and they were swarming all over the place. People were waiting in line to ride them and super excited about them. One of the central points in the mall had this karaoke thing that feels like it is specifically tailored to a North Jersey/New York crowd. I feel that with some fine tuning, this place could be flourishing. The days of shopping malls flourishing are long over in this country, which makes this entire development a head scratcher, since malls have opened and already closed in the span that this mall was announced, built, and completed. I think in the 21st century retail environment, you need to be leaner and meaner with store offerings, specifically with store offerings that offer a unique experience that is worth leaving your home. They will need to lean into that if they want to be viable as a retail destination, but I really think the true future of this place is in expanding the entertainment offerings. With some tweaking, restructuring, additions, and rethinking, this could easily be the premier entertainment facility of the Northeast. With its prime location in the center of North Jersey and the NYC metro area and year round entertainment capabilities, I feel like they could really grow this place into a premier entertainment center for the region, but I also see it being a potential white elephant as well. Only time will tell. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Lake Compounce Trip Report June 2023: A Disappointing Visit + Floating Concert Stage Update With Everclear Concert

A photo of what heartbreak looks like. Please excuse a bunch of the photos on here, I expected to be doing a lot more riding so I mainly did phone shots in this report. I also pledge honesty on here, which is tough when that honesty has to be pretty negative. 

I am conflicted with this trip report because while the park was operated in a completely lousy way, the bones of the park are good. They put in place some good things, namely in the creation of the floating stage, and what looks to be recent sprucing up of the midways and changes with the campground. They have some good concepts going, but appear to have really dropped the ball with the fundamental structural running of an amusement park. I don't know if budget crunching has decimated the maintenance and ride operations at the park or what not, but I have never been as outwardly angry and agitated about a park before in all of my years of visiting amusement parks. I have wanted to ride Boulder Dash for decades and the ride was down. I get it, a ride being down once in a while is an inevitability. I have worked in park operations before and I get it. The operations at the park were downright unacceptable. Only one of the park's four coasters operated all day, and one other (Phobia Phear Coaster) ran for about an hour, intermittently. 

I get that Wildcat is down for the season for refurbishment, but the announcement of this was strange as well, as if it were some haphazard decision to not operate the coaster, and not have a plan to get it fixed either. No work appears to be going on with that ride.

Almost the entire upper half of the amusement park rides were closed, aside from the Carousel, Bumper Cars, and Ferris Wheel. For a park that is light on rides to begin with, this made the visit pretty miserable. If any of this was about staffing, maybe they could go down to one or maybe two "skip the line" pass cashiers and move the remaining three or four extra workers to rides, or move an extra worker or two from the fully staffed games, or move a few people from the overly staffed and mediocre food stands to get enough ride operators and attendants. On the topic of food, they should try to convince Costco to have them open up a few of their snack bars around the park. A Costco hot dog would be 100 times better than the park's food offerings.

Another fundamental thing that I do not understand with this park is why they have so few coasters and even adult thrill rides in general. If the park had another signature ride aside from Boulder Dash, the day would have been okay, though I would still be disappointed. For example, even though this has never happened to me at Knoebels, if Twister were down, I could go ride Phoenix, or vice versa, and I would have a just fine day. Even at Lake Compounce's sister park, Kennywood, Steel Curtain is an unreliable machine that is often down, but the ride collection is just fine that it is not a big deal if the ride is closed, since there are four other perfect coasters at the park. It is baffling how they have not taken the care to have an additional signature ride at Lake Compounce. If I were in charge at that park, I would have a plan to get another basic off-the-shelf design coaster like their Premier Sky Rocket II (Phobia) and their Boomerang. A Wild Mouse would be a fine addition to the park. Then get plans in place to add something big, like maybe a Chance Hyper GT-X coaster like they have at Kentucky Kingdom, or even another modern wood coaster from GCI or Gravity Group to have as a second blockbuster coaster for the park. The park has no lifeline if their main ride is down.

The new Titan Track on the epic looking Boulder Dash, which sat there as eye candy all day. We went to ride the Ferris Wheel, but no purses or bags were allowed and we were not going to leave them out. You could not leave them on the platform either, the ride ops were insistent on them being placed in the mulch patch at the bottom of the stairs. Not worth walking down to a locker to go ride the Ferris Wheel or to have a purse swiped by leaving it in the mulch on the midway. Since the park seems to love to have money spent at it, it would be a nice thing if they opened up a set of lockers at the top of the hill in the park as well. 

The new Titan Track looked pretty neat on Boulder Dash. I was very much looking forward to riding on it for the first time but it was just not meant to be. 

What I do not comprehend about Lake Compounce's approach with adding the track is that they did not appear to give any major attention to the historically problematic final airtime hills, which appeared to be the problem that maintenance was working on throughout the day. There did not appear to be a single new board within that track layering. I can't imagine that maintenance did not anticipate there being any issues in that section this year. I think maintenance needs to go on a field trip to Knoebels and Holiday World, or even Kennywood, to see how wooden coaster maintenance is done. I am sure the Titan Track will make a big difference with the ride. Upkeep the rest and I am sure that you would not have the star attraction of the park down in the prime time of the season. 

Now for the positives at the park:

The setting at the lake is beautiful and the wooded property at the bottom of a mountain is terrific. This is a special park that is just not being managed well at the moment. The potential for this park is sky-high, with it being in the midst of one of the largest markets in the country, within two hours of Boston and New York, and in the middle of a bunch of cities in Connecticut, there is no reason that if they did not do some expansion and effective advertising, this park would be booming.

The carousel is breathtaking. It had no particular visible style to it that tipped me off to who the manufacturer was. It is relatively plainly adorned but still beautiful and unique. The horses had great details that would look great if it were refurbished. It lacked the flamboyance of the Coney Island style that Looff put into his later machines. This Looff machine was relocated to the park in 1911 after opening at Savin Rock Park in CT back in 1890. It also has a Wurlitzer organ. Sadly, the paint is sadly in disrepair on the horses. WRF Designs and the Carousel Museum are located within 15 minutes of the park in Plainville and they do world class carousel restorations. I feel like the park should give them a call. 

The historic trolley ride is awesome. To have a historic machine like this running in the park, along the water and Boulder Dash, is truly something special. 

The newer Chance produced train with a long course around the lake is nice. These were probably my favorite rides in the park.

Some good attention has clearly been given to refreshing and beautifying the midways. I like when attention is given to these kinds of fundamentals. Let's put that same focus into ride maintenance and operations. As I look at the photo above though, I am reminded that it was a few minutes after opening time that they actually opened the gates. Not that there were many open rides to run to anyways. Of the three rides in view in this photo, only Phobia ran, and that was intermittently for about an hour.

We did snag a ride on Phobia Phear Coaster, which is the park's Premier Sky Rocket II coaster. I was fortunate to catch it in the hour or so that it ran on this day. It is a fun ride, but by no means a signature ride. 

We also caught a ride on their Boomerang coaster, which was just fine and ran relatively smooth for this model of coaster that can be notoriously rough, though there was a little bit of head banging in the cobra roll. I didn't ride 8 hours to ride these coasters that can be ridden anywhere though. 

The campground was cute. The cabins were a tad expensive, but not terrible, but I figured the premium that they charged would be more than worth it for the opportunity to ride Boulder Dash, though my hopes were dashed on that and I was thoroughly heartbroken. 

Seeing Everclear play on the new floating stage was the clear highlight of the day. The idea is decent and will definitely help to bring in more people, though the chorus of angry people I heard exclaim "I am never going here again" is probably going to balance that out. Hearing Everclear play "Santa Monica" helped salvage the day at the end. I can just imagine if one or two more things went right on our visit, that it would have been an excellent and memorable day, maybe even one of my best. 

The park needs to get their maintenance and operations in order. Palace should send management on trips to well run independent parks like Knoebels or Holiday World, and to other chains to get an idea of how to run a park. I would hate to see this park nearly slip away again like it did in the past. I would really like to take another trip to this park, but to blow hundreds of dollars on lodging and day passes again to have it be wasted without a ride on Boulder Dash gives me huge hesitation, though that coaster has been on my bucket list for a very long time. I hope I get back someday and the coaster actually runs for it looks like one of the best in the world. 

I always pledge honesty on here, and the downside of that is when you have to be negative. Seldom has a park visit let me down as hard as this one has, scratch that, no park has ever let me down as hard as this, but that's life. One of the other things that got on my nerves is that the park did not say "hey, I realize a bunch of our rides are closed, here is a pass to get a free meal or something." If three of your four main coasters are down for the day, you should give a 75 percent refund for a day pass. I passed by a guy who was walking into he park entrance with his two little kids. The dad asked the kids what they wanted to do first and they excitedly yelled "Wildcat!" I did not have the heart to break the bad news to them, or about the other disappointment they were set to see with the bulk of the other rides being closed. Lots of people were upset around the midways all day. I spent a good chunk of change for us to have a good day at the park, and that is nothing compared to what a large family paid for a day out.  They did not even have an attendant out at the end of the queue of Boulder Dash all day to give updates. Lake Compounce knows what it has to do to be adequate. If this keeps up, they will be losing a good chunk of their repeat attendance for years and they will need to be earned back. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Twister Track Work Update and Knoebels Trip Report, June 2023

 We started off our summer road trip at Knoebels as a quick stop on our way up to Lake Compounce then down to the Jersey Shore and the Eastern Shore for a relaxing vacation. Knoebels was a last minute add, but you just can't pass up getting a rest stop halfway at Knoebels. I am glad that we stopped too, because Lake Compounce ended up having just about nothing open on the day we visited, which was very disappointing since we have never ridden Boulder Dash. Thankfully, Knoebels took care and priority in having their rides running.

Knoebels is the same old awesome park as always. They completely rebuilt the track on both helix sections in the spaghetti bowl of Twister, after doing some major structural work and bolstering around it in the last few years. It is always pleasant to see how much care the park puts into the coasters. The train itself though seems to lose some momentum in this section now though, which is particularly noticeable at the end as it coasts into the final break run. 
I will be curious to see how the coaster rides as it breaks in over the coming year. Instead of being the out of control and super intense ride it has been over the last few years, it is a more leisurely and fun ride. I love it either way, just would love to see it gain back its intensity as the season wears on. I did not snap a picture, but the new Bayern Kurve ride is still in the midst of being assembled.
After riding Twister, we went and played Fascination. We went on the half hour a few times and Brit won Coverall two times in a row! What a great way to kick off the road trip vacation. 
On the flip side, for the first time in many years, Phoenix took back my heart from Twister. For a while I went back and forth on which one I loved more, but for the last 5 years or so, I preferred Twister. This year Phoenix won me back. They did not do a ton of trackwork on it this year like they have in other years, and the track has worn in pretty nicely. Some great surprise pops of ejector early on in the layout that have not been there in a while, and the final run is as strong as ever. 
Always love seeing these majestic PTC trains. There is nothing quite like a wooden coaster running in top form with PTC trains.
We wrapped up with a ride on the carousel and a late yummy lunch at the Alamo Diner before we headed off to Lake Compounce to be pretty disappointed.