In terms of new rides, the addition of Cedar Point's new Wild Mouse probably doesn't feel that extraordinary. But the addition is part of a reimagining of one of the park's greatest assets, its waterfront. The new coaster is only part of the important change. They collected some of their fantastic flat rides all in one place, and built a new food and drink venue that leans into the greatness of the location. This is extra hilarious for me as a founder of PointBuzz, because back when it was still Guide To The Point, I seeded this silly rumor about how they were planning to redevelop the whole area into a boardwalk, based entirely on some concrete pressed to look like wood back around the turn of the century. I can't believe I've had a website for 25 years.
I'm going to go in order of interest, but stick around for the food and my look at Sawmill Creek, the golf resort that Cedar Fair acquired in 2019.
Let's start with the new Wild Mouse roller coaster, built by Zamperla. This Italian manufacturer is not new to the park. They made most of the rides you'll find in the Camp Snoopy area, opened in 1999. In the last two years or so, they've really leaned into building roller coasters. I don't know the whole progression of intellectual property ownership for the spinning mouse, but as I understand it, French manufacturer Reverchon, which built the now-classic spinning mouse coaster that you can find all over the world (where it's still operating), went bankrupt in 2005 and Zamperla acquired the IP. With their wider ambitions to build larger rides, this was a slam dunk for them as they proposed new layouts. Cedar Point's ride is a fantastic example of this, going beyond the horizontal switchbacks and doing near vertical turns helices. It's a really dynamic layout... that you may not even see if the car is spinning hard enough.
Let me address the elephant in the room... the reliability of the ride during the media day wasn't great. The first hour was fine, but then it set up for some reason, stopping cars in three places on the track that had to be evacuated. After it resumed, it happened again, with me on it. My friends and I got stopped on the last block before the final turn to the final brakes, so we had walked down about ten feet of stairs and off the ride. No big deal. I am not surprised by this. It happens with new rides.
Now, if I'm to speculate about the problem, my guess is that it had to do with centering the rotating cars before returning into the station. The Reverchon mice had an elongated centering mechanism in the last section of track down the long side of the ride, and the cars would move continuously through unload and load. This Zamperla model does the unload/load on the short side of the ride. The car centering happens on the little track switch just before the turn into the station. This mechanism has a motor assembly that leans into the car and rotates it until it senses the centered position. I think it's this that was failing. On the first stop, they took the offending car off the circuit. Even after that, one car sent to test didn't center, and they had to do it manually in the station. Whatever the issue, with Zamperla on-site, I'm sure that they're going to figure it out. It's unfortunate that some of the press focused on this.
Despite our stoppage, that first lap was pretty crazy. I could generally track where we were headed, but it was just enough to be disorienting. Our second ride, however, was in another category. Riding the cheese themed car, not named for a mouse like the other cars, is apparently the ADA accommodating car, with a larger door and different weight distribution. I didn't see this myself, it was suggested after the fact. But I can tell you, without question, that it makes sense. By the time we came off the second switchback up high, the rotation continued in an extreme way until the end. I can't tell you how many times we went around, and I can't count in the video either. It didn't make me sick, and me and my party had just left the grand pavilion, loaded with food. But it was amazing and disorienting, and showed how this little roller coaster punched well above its weight. I absolutely loved it, and I want every park to have one of these now.
The boardwalk concept is long overdue. I started a fake rumor back around the turn of the century in the forums about how a boardwalk project was going to be a thing, because I was convinced it was obvious. Apparently it was only obvious in recent years, but hey, two decades... I was still right! The flat rides relocated to this spot feel like they always belonged there, despite being many decades old. I didn't get a chance to ride them, and I regret that, but I was stuck waiting for Wild Mouse to come back online. I can't tell you the last time I've been on any of them. In particular, seeing the Calypso back in its prime is wonderful. I give so much credit to the park and its maintenance folks for restoring these great rides to their best form.
The park has a number of "streemosphere" folks doing performances on the midways. I love this for so many reasons, not the least of which is it gives theater nerds a work they might not otherwise have. It also shows that the company is no longer scared of tattoos. Dread sneaks in though, wondering how long the park will keep this up. Live entertainment has a mixed record with the current leadership.
The Grand Pavilion is what it sounds like. Leveraging the extraordinary position of the park on Lake Erie, the new venue builds on their recent revitalization of culinary efforts around the park. The new restaurant offers fantastic proteins like turkey and hand-breaded chicken tenders and pork, and even some seafood, along with staggeringly good sides that are not from a frozen bag. I spoke briefly to the corporate VP for food stuff, and she made a good case that humans love food, and eating, and the social parts that involve food. Some years ago they started a long-term initiative to rethink food in the parks. Grand Pavilion is an extension of what has already gone on at places like the Farmhouse and BackBeatQue. This is not ****ty theme park food. I would argue that they're exceeding what you find in counter service at Disney, and it aligns with what Universal has done in its Harry Potter locations (though they still suck everywhere else).
Upstairs, you'll find a huge bar with a ton of inside and outside seating. This place was made for volume, and judging by their staffing level on a day when they weren't even making the drinks with liquor (sad face), this is going to be fantastic. The drink menu they've made includes a lot of classic. Most of is uses lower-shelf liquor, but it looks like they've adopted good tequila, Casamigos, and I saw St. Germaine and some other "better" bottles. If this is successful, I hope that they learn from it and improve the resort situation at Breakers. In my visit last May, not even the busy season, the demand at the Surf Lounge and Friday's was off the charts. They're leaving money on the table, and that wasn't even peak season.
I was on the ground for barely a day for the media event, and Sandusky is notoriously terrible for "good" hotel facilities. I decided that I would try Cedar Fair's latest acquisition, Sawmill Creek. It's a golf resort that has been around for as long as I can remember, but prior to the buy in 2019, wasn't what anyone would describe as "good." I can happily report that the renovation is generally solid. I can nit-pick about some things (would it kill them to repave the parking lot and road in?), but the rooms are what I would describe as "business class," on par with any Holiday Inn Express or Marriott brand that has been recently renovated. It's not luxury, that category simply doesn't exist in Sandusky, but it's solid. I paid $203 for a standard room, and it was only a little less than I paid at a Marriott Westin in Lake Mary, FL, in March. I thought it was reasonable, especially in Sandusky.
It was cold, so I wasn't hitting the outdoor pool, and I given my tight schedule, didn't really enjoy it as much as I could have. I spent the night before mostly working. I did venture down to the bar, and had a drink that I dictated to the bartender, who happily made it. I scanned their collection, and saw that they had Chambord and St. Germaine, key ingredient so to a cruise cocktail that I like. The barkeep was super friendly and excited to try making it. Somehow it only ended up being $9 (other ingredient were Citron, like and club soda). I was sitting next to a person that might have been the GM at Kings Island, judging by the conversation, but I'm not one to insert myself into conversations.
The one thing that I will observe, and this is true for all of the hotel properties, and some others, is that the interior design seems to stop just a little short of where it should be. This is hard to define, despite my brother-in-law being an architect for a several big hotel chains that you would know. For example, if you're standing in the lobby, or the atrium just off from there, you see all of these beautiful textures of brick and wood, but it needs something else. It's not fully decorated. Even in the halls, there's random stock "art" on the walls. Same in the rooms. It needs something else, and Cedar Fair's design lacks whatever that is.
Overall though, it was a fantastic, if super brief visit. Cedar Point has something great to celebrate this year. I understand that Castaway Bay has been renovated, so combined with Sawmill and the classic Breakers, the park has a complete and awesome package. My only hope is that ride operations are better than last year. That's where they need to focus attention next.
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