Aug 14

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (or, One Rollercoaster of a Week)

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For weeks I began planning a trip up the East Coast to visit some of the amusement parks that I had never been to so I could ride some rollercoasters.  Included in the plan was the tallest coaster in the world (which is also the second fastest in the world), one of the highest rated wooden coasters, the second gigacoaster1 built in North America (I had already ridden the first one built), the first inverted launch coaster and the tallest drop tower in the world.

For weeks leading up to the planned trip, I watched the long term weather forecast…when I would check one day it would show rain for most of the week, when I would check the following day it would be clear…so the ups and downs have already began.

Finally on the Friday before the planned week, the forecast looked good enough to actually do the trip, with only one day of significant rain predicted.  A minor adjustment made to the schedule means an early Sunday morning departure to make up for the rain expected on Tuesday.

Up early on Sunday, while eating breakfast, I’m sitting at my desk reading my email like I always do and I see where a client has emailed me needing something “quickly” taken care of.  A simple shutdown of the server, minor adjustment to the configuration, and startup, so how difficult can it be to just take care of it this morning?  After shutting down the server and making the configuration change, the server will not start, throwing an error.  What!?  And, now the config file is no longer accessible too?  No!  Eventually rebooting the host server frees up the config file, and then backing out the change gets the server to boot.  The requested change will need to be handled later when I have more time.  Hopefully this doesn’t foreshadow the week to come.  Boy was I ever wrong…

Park One – Six Flags America

I’m on the road only 15 minutes later than planned, and all is going well until getting on I-95 in Virginia, where traffic is worse on this Sunday morning than my usual weekday commute on I-485 in Charlotte.  Ah, construction outside Quantico is the cause, so once past the road construction traffic frees up some.  I arrive at Six Flags America (just east of Washington DC) about an hour later than planned, but there’s still time to get plenty of riding in before the park closes at 9 pm.  I get my season pass processed and purchase my Flash Pass (which allows me to skip a majority of ride wait time) and then head into the park to get started riding.  Six Flags America is a smaller park with older rides (the last “new” coaster was built in 2001, with two older coasters moved to SFA in 2012 and 2014 from other SF parks).  I ride three coasters near the front of the park and head back to the rear where the newer rides are, but security is stopping everyone.  What’s going on?  I make my way to Voodoo Drop (a 140ft drop tower) to get a bird’s eye view of that part of the park, and notice that one of the trains on Joker’s Jinx is stuck at the top.  I go ahead and ride the kiddy coaster and old woodie near the tower since they are open, and then make my way back to the front where I started to find that those are being blocked now as well.  No!  What can I do but pay for an overpriced meal and wait it out.  It is much later that the coasters near the front reopen, but the back coasters are never reopened so I ride the front coasters repeatedly until the park closes.  I found out at the hotel that night on the TV news that it was after 7:30pm before the fire department was able to free the last of the riders stranded on top of Joker’s Jinx, so I guess my day could have been worse.  The foreshadowing continues…

Park Two – Six Flags Great Adventure

I spend the night in a hotel on the road to Six Flags Great Adventure, which is situated in New Jersey about half way between Philadelphia and New York City and about 3 hours from Six Flags America.  SFGA bills itself as the largest amusement park in the world (when you count the 350 acre Safari park which is accessible as a “ride” from within the regular amusement park) and consistently has coasters ranked high in the annual Golden Ticket Awards (one of the major amusement park award ceremonies).   SFGA is home to the tallest coaster in the world, Kingda Ka, at 456ft.  Kingda Ka is also the second fastest coaster in the world (and fastest in the Americas), reaching a top speed of 128mph.  Attached to the vertical supports of Kingda Ka is Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom, which is the tallest drop tower in the world, at 415ft, with a top speed of 90mph.  Also at SFGA is El Toro, ranked the number one wooden coaster in 2012, which when it opened in 2009 had the steepest and highest drop for a wooden coaster (at 176ft) and was the fastest wooden coaster in the world (at 70mph) until earlier this year.

My season pass to Six Flags America is good for all SF parks, including SFGA, so when I arrive all I had to do it pick up my Flash Pass.  I go for the Platinum pass, which cuts wait times by 90% and allows “double rides” on all but the new drop tower (meaning, once you are seated you ride twice before you have to exit the ride).

I spend all day Monday riding all of the coasters, starting with two straight on Kingda Ka and two on Zumanjaro before making my way through the remainder of the coasters.  I close the park with 10 more rides on Kingda Ka (for a total of 12 on Monday) since it was the main purpose of coming to SFGA.

Park Two – Day Two – Six Flags Great Adventure

Tuesday calls for rain to begin around noon and last throughout the remainder of the day. At the last minute I decide to go to SFGA until the rain begins.  Since I only plan on being there a couple hours, I do not purchase a Flash Pass, and choose to just wait in line with everyone else. I head straight to Kingda Ka and begin cycling through it, immediately getting back in line as soon as I finish a ride.

After the third trip, I notice that the bag that held my truck key and my wallet was missing from my pocket.  Where did it go?  Did it fall out on the ride, or something else?  It’s the only ride I’ve ridden all day, so it has to be somewhere around here.  I report the loss to the ride operator, park security and finally Lost and Found.  Diane in Lost and Found tells me that no matter how hard it may appear, the best thing to do is to go back into the park and enjoy myself for a while before checking back to see if anyone turns in my wallet and key.

On my way back to Kingda Ka I run into the person I was riding Kingda Ka with when I noticed the lost bag, and she suggested I go up Zumanjaro and see if I can see my bag.  I do, but don’t see anything.  I next ride through the Safari, since it takes about one hour and will kill some time. Half way through the Safari trip it starts to rain, so I’m soaking wet when I get to the ride exit.  I make my way back to Lost and Found, where Diane is having a discussion with a couple who also lost their vehicle key; however, they knew exactly where it was and wanted someone to immediately go retrieve it.  They were pretty upset that no one in the park would go get their key (it is against policy to enter the secure zones while the rides are operational so they would have to wait until the park closes before someone could retrieve their keys).   Diane pointed me out and said they had nothing compared to me, with no money, no vehicle key and no one within 750 miles to help me out in any way.  Once that couple calmed down, Diane let me know that nothing had been turned in yet, and suggested I see Guest Relations to see what they could do to help me out.

Guest Relations gave me some bottled water, a meal voucher, a list of phone numbers, and access to a phone to make some calls, as my cell phone was locked in the truck glove box, along with some extra money (I hoped).  A call to a lock service let me know that while they could open the car door they could not open the glove box without damaging it.  That money would just have to wait.

I call the office to see if Brandon (who drives for a transport company and is constantly making trips up and down the East Coast) would be up my way any time soon, but he was still in Miami and wouldn’t be in New Jersey until Thursday or Friday.  We then conference in Lisa and go over our options on how to get the spare truck key up to New Jersey.  It’s a 10 hour drive, so that was out.  A one way airline ticket was over $1000, so that was out.  A call to UPS results in a guaranteed delivery by noon Wednesday for under $100, so Lisa goes to UPS to get the key overnighted to me once Guest Relations tells me where to have it shipped to.  Now I needed to figure out what to do until the key arrived.

Guest Relations needed to do some research on some sleeping arrangements which would take some time, so I dropped off the UPS tracking number to Diane at Lost and Found, and then went to use the meal voucher to get something to eat.  While standing under a tree trying to keep dry, and searching the park map for one of the four locations authorized on the voucher, the couple with the lost keys walked up and asked if I had had any luck finding my stuff.  I let them know I hadn’t.  He noticed me shivering under the tree and offered to buy me a sweatshirt to help keep me warm and dry.  I declined, but he insisted and bought me one anyway.  He then wouldn’t provide a name or mailing address for me to repay him.  Thanks to kindness of strangers I wasn’t going to freeze to death.

After a meal I returned to Guest Relations to see about a hotel for Tuesday night, and transportation to and from the hotel.  The closest hotel is over 10 miles away. I give them a call and while they wouldn’t accept a credit card over the phone without swiping it when I arrived to check-in, they would accept a faxed authorization with signature and photocopies of a driver’s license and credit card. Good thing we have fax to email capabilities at the office!  I had the hotel fax the authorization form to my personal fax number, called Lisa, walked her through retrieving it from my email, walked her through scanning copies of everything into my computer, and then helping her send an email with all the attachments that resulted in the required fax to the hotel.  A call to the hotel confirmed I now had a reservation for the night.

Now that I have a place to sleep, I just need to find a ride to and from the hotel.  A call to the taxi service results in a reservation over the phone; with a pickup in 30 minutes outside the park (the taxis are not allowed past the parking booths, so you have to walk to the outside of the park).  It’s still raining and about a mile through the parking lot to the taxi stand.  I wait and wait and wait, and no taxi arrives.  The security guard at the taxi stand isn’t allowed to carry a cellphone, so I borrow one from a dad waiting to pick up his kids.  A call to the taxi company reveals that my credit card was denied and since I did not have a phone on me they could not call me to let me know.  (Later I determined I had given the wrong expiration date, since I was giving them all the info from memory).  I run back to Lost and Found, call Lisa, and get voice mail.  It’s almost her bed time, so she must be in the shower, so I wait 5 minutes and call again.  I write down her credit card info, call the taxi company back, and have them run the card immediately before I trudge the mile back to the park entrance in the rain.  This time the taxi shows up and I’m on my way to the hotel.

While attempting to sleep that night, all I can think about is: Did I really leave any money in the glove box, or did I put it all back in my wallet Tuesday morning?  What if there isn’t any money in the glove box?  How am I going to pay the turnpike and bridge tolls or put gas in the truck?  I thought I had left money in there, but what if I didn’t? I didn’t get much sleep that night.

In the morning, I have the hotel staff verify that UPS Tracking reports the package with my spare key is in fact on the truck for delivery before noon today (Wednesday).  I then call the taxi company, go through the same process to authorize Lisa’s card to get a ride back to the park.  When I arrive, I immediately go to Lost and Found where Diane is already at work.  She had picked up a bag of items from Dispatch that were found overnight, and glancing in the bag I notice what appears to be a Honda key. I point it out, so she pulls out that bag and it also has my wallet in it! Yeah!  Upon opening the wallet it is apparent someone has gone through it, as all the money is missing, including a folded up $1 bill hidden between the insurance cards (it had five ‘7’s in the serial number, so was good for playing that dollar bill game).  At least my driver’s license, credit cards, and everything else (except the money) was in it.  Oh what a relief.  I can at least use the credit cards to put enough gas in the truck to get home.  Diane checks with Dispatch, but the UPS truck hasn’t arrived yet, so I let her know I was going to the truck to change clothes, put on some deodorant, and to call Lisa.

When I get to the truck, I did find that I had left some money in the glove box, so I was set for the remainder of the trip.  An hour later I check with Diane and she had the package from UPS with the spare key, so I was finally able to leave New Jersey and head back south.  I was now back in business.

Park One – Trip Two – Six Flags America

Since on Sunday I was unable to ride three of the coasters at SFA, I decided to stop by on my way past to ride those three before moving on to Park Three.  I arrive a couple hours before closing, so don’t bother with a Flash Pass, and make my way straight back to the rear of the park that was closed all afternoon Sunday.  The ride that had the failure (Joker’s Jinx) was still closed (they were doing sand or water dummy testing on it), but the other two were open.  I ride Superman-Ride of Steel (a hypercoaster2 with a drop of 205ft and max speed of 73mph) and Batwing.  Load times on Batwing were taking at least 5 minutes for each trip (and the ride really wasn’t worth it), so after one ride I returned to Superman and spent the rest of the night until closing riding it.

Park Three – Kings Dominion

After spending the night in a hotel halfway between SFA and Kings Dominion, I arrive at opening, process my season pass, and obtain a Fast Lane Plus pass which includes quicker access to the rides, with the “Plus” adding access on the two most popular rides, Volcano and Intimidator 305.  I start my day at Volcano, a launch coaster with a 70mph launch and a 90o vertical “thrust lift” (versus drop).   I ride 5 straight times with almost immediate return access to the ride once I finish one.  Next I’m on to Intimidator 305, the second gigacoaster1 ever built, with a drop of 300ft and a top speed of 90mph and a max of 4.5Gs in the first corner.  I wait for the front row on the first ride (front row access is not available for Fast Lane use).  Once that was complete I start using the Fast Lane and sit further back for a total of 5 rides, most on the back row which was better than the front anyway.  I make my way through the rest of the park, riding all coasters, most at least twice (once in or near the front and once in or near the back).  I end the day with 5 more rides on Volcano and with 4 more on Intimidator 305 before they cut off the line at the 8pm closing time as I was running around from the exit back to the entrance to get that 5th time in.

After one last night in a hotel, I stop in Williamsburg VA to the closest Handel’s Ice Cream shop to North Carolina, pick up several quarts of ice cream, and head home to see the wife and cats.

All in all, it was a rollercoaster of a week, with lots of very high “highs” and at least one very low “low”…just like every good rollercoaster.


1Gigacoaster refers in general to coasters between 300 and 399 feet in height. There are four coasters in existence that meet the strict criteria of a gigacoaster.

2Hypercoaster refers in general to coasters between 200 and 299 feet in height.

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