The Summer of My Life
By: The Skateboard Philosopher
I’ve been to Canada’s Wonderland, my home park, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada so many times I lost count years ago. I spent my thirteenth birthday in Florida and was fortunate enough to experience Disney World, Epcot and Busch Garden’s them park in Tampa. I have always loved theme parks, roller coasters and losing myself in the experience. I would often day dream about taking a road trip to all the legendary parks, my own endless summer. Finally nearly 30 years later I was able to live this dream. Although it wasn’t the half year trip from my teenaged fantasy, I did get to take four trips during the Spring and Summer of 2016.
First trip was early April. My wife Chris and I set our sights on Doswell, Virginia. The home of Kings Dominion. I am a complete rollercoaster junkie so this park was a perfect fit. It has the near perfect mix of speed, uniqueness and pure fun coasters. From Avalanche – their bobsled ride to Volcano – a hanging launch coaster that blasts out of an amazing manmade volcano it was epic! There was ice and snow covering everything when we left Ontario, but by the time we hit this latitude it was full-blown Spring time with blossoming flowers. The park has great atmosphere, awesome rides and cool themes. We only had one day but luckily this time of year the weather is great and the crowds were minimal.
The next stop on this trip was the pride of the Carolinas, Carowinds. As you walk up to the main entrance you see a line down the center of the park. North Carolina sits to the East and South Carolina to The West. Their attraction ride is Fury 325. This is a 325 foot tall metal monster. Not only is it one of the biggest, fastest coasters in North America, it’s also the only coaster to cross a state line.
The second time I was able to sneak away from work for a while was in June. I used it to zip across the border to Michigan’s Adventure. My wife and I had just fulfilled our dreams by purchasing a camper van and this was our maiden voyage. We stayed at Muskegon State park nearby and had two great days at the park. This is by far the smallest park in the Cedar Fair chain and unfortunately it was apparent that it doesn’t get a lot of love. The rides are a little old, but the park is clean and their selection of water attractions was amazing. Even though it was a little chilly to be splashing around, we still spent an afternoon on waterslides. The parks saving grace is Shivering Timbers, the 5th longest rollercoaster in the world and ranks among the best woodies on the planet. Shivering Timbers is probably the attraction that enticed us to visiting this park in the first place. There is more airtime than an NBA slam dunk tournament and it’s by far the best wooden coaster I have ever ridden.
In mid July I squeaked out a few days of camping, well camper vanning to be honest onsite at Six Flags Darien Lake. I feel like theme park junkies like to bash on Six Flags a little, but this was one of the best experiences I’ve had at any park. It was during a serious heat wave in New York state so their massive waterpark was the destination multiple times a day. It’s not the biggest park, but it has some unique rides like their hypercoaster Ride of Steel, a blast tower and the Orange County Choppers themed Moto Coaster. The latter being a unique Zamperla motorbike coaster where you actually ride miniature sport bikes. The lines were short and the campground was well kept. Their nightly laser pyrotechnics show was mind blowing! The other plus is that the campers entrance has no attention paid to it by staff. A variety of coolers full of food and drink were rolled right on into the park every morning as parents would stake their claim of quality, shaded spots at the water park. Fathers would huddle in circles as their children ran amok all day long in this chlorinated paradise.
In between all these trips I was of course still faithful to my home park in Toronto, Ontario – Canada’s Wonderland. The love I have for this place could fill ten blog posts, but I wanted to make mention as it filled in all the gaps between road trips and kept my coaster count climbing. As most coaster enthusiasts know we need to top up the adrenaline rush frequently.
My wife and I had a cycling trip set as our last vacation in August but being the incredible wife she is, the suggestion was made to trade riding bikes for riding coasters. After 3 decades of longing I finally fulfilled my 13 year old dream of going to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Again, we jumped in our beloved camper van and hit the road. This time joined by fellow coaster junkie, my brother-in-law Mat. We found a KOA Kampground just around the corner to call home base. In reality this was just a place to park for the night, cook a meal and shower. We were at the front gates of Cedar Point by 8:55am each morning and stayed until every coaster was parked for the night. This place was everything I imagined it would be and it certainly lived up to its title of “Roller Coaster Capital Of The World”! There is too much to get into here and to demonstrate that point even further we spent 3 entire days at the park and hadn’t even made it to every corner. I’ll highlight some of my favourite rides though and give my impressions of the park.
As you drive in you see the skyline of twisted steel tracks along the horizon. The variety of coasters is absolutely mind boggling. It’s a perfect blend of styles, sizes, manufacturers, materials and design. There is truly something for everyone. We screamed on Intamin’s Maverick with it’s 95 degree initial drop and high fived competing passengers on Arrow Dynamics steel hybrid racing coaster Gemini. We held our hands high on the drop of the world’s first giga coaster -Millennium Force, braved Top Thrill Dragster’s G-forces and dangled over the precipice on the brand new dive coaster Valravn. We rode the 100 foot tall giant swing Skyhawk more times than I can count. It’s one of my favourite rides of all time and also one of those rides where every time you pass by the minimal line up draws you in for a quick swing. The park is dazzling at dusk where we enjoyed the combined view of a breath taking sunset and flashing midway lights from their drop tower. By the time we dragged our exhausted bodies from the park on the last night, heads spinning from loops, banked turns and giant drops, we all agreed – annual trip!
My 13 year old self would be beaming with pride and most likely teary eyed to know that I was finally able to make that youthful dream a reality. That all these years later I still haven’t fully grown up. That I’m still able to laugh like a kid, see the world through the lens of youth and lose myself if only for little bursts of time.
The Skateboard Philosopher