Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hersheypark Happy

I decided to go to Hersheypark yesterday, since I didn't get to go last month when I originally planned to do so. Actually, I was going to go on Tuesday, but when I looked at how the weather was going to work out, Tuesday was still going to be hot and nasty humid, but a cold front coming through was supposed to make Wednesday gorgeous.

I made the right decision.

Of course, I started the day at Chocolate World.
The cows are kinda dumb
This isn't as good as it used to be, since they took the heat lamps out. 
The roll refiners are as chocolately as ever
So is the conch machine 
I liked the old "kiss" machine better, as it really looked like it was dropping the kisses
I get totally disoriented when entering Chocolate World now, since they renovated the entrance to the ride and took out a lot of the good stuff about the history and the cacao trees. I guess I go prior to a trip to the park out of nostalgia anymore.

I had arrived pretty early to avoid traffic and because I wasn't sure how bad the Baltimore beltway was going to be. It was an easy drive up with relatively few slowdowns, so I was done with Chocolate World by 9:30. The park didn't open up until 10, so I still had time to kill. I wandered around one of the Tudor Square gift shops (do they even call that area "Tudor Square" any more?), and then waited with the rest of the crowd until 10-on-the-dot. It was still slow going due to a bag check, which was less involved than entering Verizon Center for a Caps game, then I was in.

And for the record, I was allowed to bring in my "collapsible water bottle" (essentially a water "bag") full of water. This was nice as I just refilled it throughout the day instead of paying stupid prices for water.

After getting into the park proper, I stopped by Hospitality Services to inquire about the "Fast Track" pass. The analogous pass at Cedar Point allows you to bypass lines at most of the coasters all day, and a special (read : more expensive) version allows you to bypass lines at all of the coasters (specifically Top Thrill Dragster and Maverick) all day. Cedar Point also doesn't restrict pass users to specific seats.

Hershey's version, frankly, sucks. For $60, you can bypass a line on nine of their coasters (not Laff Trakk) once, and only during specific hours, starting at 11AM. And you can only sit in lanes 4 and 5, not the front. So, for a true roller coaster aficionado, it is worthless. If you're just looking to make sure you can cross a ride off your to-do list, sure. But while the Cedar Point Fast Lane pass is more expensive ($75 for a single Fast Lane, $95 for a single Fast Lane Plus, but they do offer discounts for buying more than one at a time), the unlimited nature of it, plus the fact you can sit in whatever row you want, makes it a much better deal.

So, it was time for rides.

First up was the good old Comet.
There is something awesome about wooden roller coasters and the feel of the car twisting and straining to remain on a track that varies ever-so-slightly over the years due to warping of the wood. This coaster was originally built in 1946.

The line was fairly short, and even for the front seat, I only waited about 15 minutes. I figured that even though the Comet is the coaster closest to the entrance, most people were probably going straight to Laff Trakk, the new coaster at the park.
Going up the first hill
Since Skyrush is right next to the Comet, that's where I went next. I'd downloaded the Hersheypark app, which said the wait time was about 20 minutes. Well, if I wasn't a rollercoaster snob and in line for the front, it would have been close to that. As it was, it wasn't for another 45 minutes before I got seated.
A weird perspective shot, but this is the first hill of Skyrush, the tallest ride at Hersheypark
Skyrush was the new "wing" coaster at Hershey three years ago, and I remember liking it then. I also remember thinking I liked it more than I did the similar Gatekeeper coaster at Cedar Point. However, it has not aged well, and the ride was very jerky and uncomfortable, to the point that it had me remembering my first ride on Kings Dominion's Outer Limits, where my head hurt so badly after being slammed around that I thought I had a concussion and spent the rest of the day on the Lazy River. I didn't want to spend my day nursing a headache, and the wooziness subsided while I was in line for the sooperdooperLooper, but needless to say, I didn't go back to Skyrush the rest of the day.

And yes, since SDL is right next to Skyrush, that's where I went next, and like Comet, the line, even for the front, was short.
Cell phone insurance covers loss, right? ;)
When I was little, the g-force going into the loop used to cause me to almost black out, probably due to my low blood pressure. Some rides still do cause the "tunnel vision" I associate with the struggle to stay conscious, notably the Millenium Force coaster at Cedar Point.

It's hard to remember a time when Hersheypark didn't have the sooperdooperLooper; it's been there since 1977, and I am pretty sure the first family trip we took to the park was in 1976. The coaster was a big deal at the time, as it was the first looping coaster on the East Coast.

From the Hollow, it was time to climb the hill towards the Kissing Tower and the next coaster on the list, Great Bear. I'd been told at Hospitality Services that the ride wasn't running, but I'd seen it in action (with riders), so I knew it had been fixed. The app said the wait was 20 minutes, and once in the front row line, I waited a total of about 30 minutes before riding. The app was very accurate with the wait times it was giving, which was why I was apprehensive about trying out Laff Trakk or Fahrenheit when both of them had wait times from 45-75 minutes every time I looked.

I considered wandering over to ZooAmerica, after Great Bear, but decided against it. They have some turtles and tortoises, but I've seen pretty much anything they have to show. In fact, I see a lot of it close up on my own, such as last weekend in Paw Paw!

I was feeling a little hungry, so I grabbed a quick lunch in the former Minetown area, then it was down into the original Pioneer Frontier, where the Trailblazer resides. Shockingly, the line was ridiculous for the little coaster, and once I was about to ride, I found out why; only one train was running. The other train had braking issues and couldn't be put into service. I seriously waited longer to ride the Trailblazer than I did Skyrush or Great Bear, and that's kind of embarrassing.

But, like going through Chocolate World, there are some things I must do on a trip to Hersheypark. Riding the Trailblazer is one of those things.
Recreating a photo I took many, many years ago with 126 film
It's interesting to note that the Trailblazer is the second oldest coaster in the park, having opened in 1974.

Storm Runner was up next on my docket. The app had been reporting wait times ranging between 10 and 20 minutes, and I spent less than 30 waiting for the front line.
It starts off like Top Thrill Dragster, but only goes up 150ft
I really like Storm Runner; it's tucked away far enough from the rest of the park and 10+ years old now, so it doesn't get ridiculously crowded. While the first part (the launch and the "top hat" hill) are similar to Top Thrill Dragster, this ride is literally twice as long, as the hill is followed with a few inversions.
Storm Runner doesn't have issues clearing the hill
I considered Sidewinder for a few minutes, but usually I find the boomerang coasters to be pretty rough rides with little reward. I skipped it in favor of heading over to the Midway area for some more wooden coasters and maybe Laff Trakk.
I skipped Sidewinder
Wildcat was first, primarily because it's the first one you get to as you enter the Midway area. Having opened in 1996, it's seasoned in pretty well.
Wildcat, version 2.0
Then it was to the Lightning Racers. I chose Thunder first, as the line for the front for either train appeared equal, but Thunder was apparently the big winner for the day.
The first drop. Lightning's track to the left.
Bottom of the drop. I actually didn't intend to take this photo. I think I was in the process of putting the phone away after the previous pic.
Thunder came in first, as to be expected. I exited, looped back around and rode Lightning, which lost by maybe two feet.

I decided at this point to try out Laff Trakk, as the park's app said the wait time was 60 minutes. I figured it wasn't going to get any better, plus what I knew of the ride, there wasn't exactly a "front seat" to wait for.
"Laffing Sal" at the ride's entrace. This mannequin was creepier than a clown.
It took just over an hour from getting into line to exiting the ride, so again, the wait times on the app were pretty much spot on. Was it worth an hour? Meh. It's inside, and decorated with blacklights and lots of fluorescence, reminiscent of an old-time funhouse. Even the queue line includes a house of mirrors.

The biggest attraction of the ride is the "spinning car," which really doesn't "spin" because it's limited to a 50 degree turn. So, in some of the curves of the track, the car rotates so that you feel like you're going through sideways. For a car person, it's probably akin to drifting through a turn. In any event, the rotation means that you'll actually never experience the ride the same way twice, but because the rotation is limited, if you're facing backwards from the start, you're not actually ever going to be facing forwards on the ride. I was in that backwards facing seat, and maybe once the excitement dies down, I'll try the front seat to see if it's any better. Otherwise, this isn't worth an hour's wait, to tell the truth.

I considered waiting for Fahrenheit after this, but that coaster just doesn't appeal to me enough to wait over an hour for the front row. Maybe I'm jaded after the last time I waited for it, and saw multiple instances of line-jumping and idiocy that annoyed me to no end. But I walked on by and went to chill for a little while by riding the Dry Gulch Railroad and the Monorail.
The ridge above this has several "Indians" ready to snipe this guy
Crossing over the footpath and Trailblazer
Where the crossover loop used to be
I remember when the ride included a little skit here that my brother and I both earned "marshal" badges for participating in 
Kissing Tower ascending, as seen from the Monorail
Cocoa bean storage
The original factory smokestacks
I went back to several of the coasters I'd already ridden afterwards, plus the Wild Mouse, then called it a night around 9PM. I was going to try to grab some beer at Troegs for Pat, but it turns out that their General Store closes at 8PM. 

As per my usual, the last thing I rode was the Carousel.

Built in 1919 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company
I grabbed some chocolate I haven't seen around here (vanilla creme Kisses -- oh my god, so good!) and then I hit up the Warwick Hotel for dinner before making the struggle home. I should have gotten a room, as I don't remember most of the trip back. Yikes.

So now, it's time for final preparations before the road trip. As I said before, this will be the longest week and the shortest week ever. Right now, it feels very, very short.

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