Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wisconsin Dells

Wisconsin Dells
September 3 and 4, 2005

"Where else can you look forward to a trip to Hades?"

Looking at the Wisconsin Dells brochures and from Jerry's own practical experience, we knew that it would be about a 4 hour drive from Jerry's house to the Dells, we also knew that Mt. Olympus opens at 10AM.  Therefore we got up at an insanely early time of the morning, and arrived at Mt. Olympus shortly after 10AM.

Last time I went to the Dells, the park now known as Mt. Olympus was known as Big Chief Kart and Coaster World.  Big Chief promoted itself as an FEC that had a few rides, mainly wooden roller coasters thrown into the mix. About a year or so ago, the park decided to promote itself as an amusement park, and became the Greek themed Mt. Olympus.  That's not to say there wasn't a Greek theme at Big Chief, just that its now more pronounced.  Then earlier this year, Big Chief's purchased the neighboring waterpark, which had already promoted itself as two waterparks in one since they had an outside waterpark, then a hotel resort based indoor waterpark. Thus was born "Mt. Olympus Water And Theme Park"  Okay they now want to market themselves as a mega park, so this means I have to discard the easier "FEC Rating and Evaluation Sheet" and go for the much tougher "Theme Park Rating and Evaluation Sheet"

Mt. Olympus' coaster skyline can be seen as you round the corner for the park, and zip past the Washington DC themed haunted attraction.  Hades can be seen right away for the gimmick that the coasters turnaround sits out in the parking lot alongside the road, with some Greek temple theming surrounding the drop where it ducks back underground.  The rest of Hades and most of the other coasters can be seen just past the parking lot.

We pull into Mt. Olympus' parking lot where I am happy to report they are not collecting a parking fee.  Not only that but the parking lot has been moved and freshly paved and striped, and to seal the deal they have parking attendants to guide you into a parking space.  So, the parking lot is currently above the standards I would expect from a theme park.  

We park the car, make final preparations, and head to the Rides Side gate.  Yep, now that Mt. O views itself as a theme park, they have erected a fence around the park, and instituted a general admission charge.  The park has gone and applied a Greek temple façade to most park buildings, with classic columns and all.  We walked up to the ticket booth that had the shortest line and proceeded to ask about 2 Day admission tickets   In 2005, a one day wristband was $32 and the two day wristband was $48, so we figured on a $16 Hades wake-up call tomorrow morning. From their website it looks like the 2 day offer has been eliminated for 2006, which is just as well considering how much they discouraged its use.

So we ask the ticket salesperson about 2 day tickets to learn that not only do they not sell 2 day tickets at her window, they don't sell 2 day tickets at either the Rides Side gate or the Water side gate.  To get a two day ticket, we have to go to the park offices, specifically the Group Sales office.  We ask where we can find the Group Sales office.  We learn we have to get back in our car, leave the parking lot, drive down the street, and pull in the driveway to go to their waterpark parking lot.  Which we do. But the Group Sales office is more located across from their resort hotel, and we can see the parking lot is quite a ways back.  Figuring we would need about 10 minutes at the office, we park in the hotel parking lot and are promptly confronted with parking lot security on the way to the Group Sales office.  After explaining that we were NOT parking for the day, only long enough to conduct business with the parks office, he reluctantly let us park in the hotel lot.

We walk up to the small plain building labeled Group Sales and let ourselves in.  It was like walking directly into somebody's office, and those of us who have private offices at work know how much we love strangers barging into our office.   The Group Sales person was, however, friendly and when our turn rolled around, she sold us the 2 day tickets.  The two day ticket consisted of today's wristband and the cash register receipt upon which she wrote "Two Day Pass - 9/3/05".  Ready for the next piece of bad news, we were told that when we returned tomorrow that we would have to return to her office to exchange the cash register receipt for that days' wristband.  I was starting to get fed up with the inane way they handle park admissions at this park.  Wristbands affixed to wrists, and receipts in hand, we dash out to our car before the parking lot guard has second thoughts and decides to tow our car.  We dash out of the hotel parking lot, and drive back to the rides side parking lot where we were to begin with.

After having parked our car for the third time, we walked up to the front gate, and past the ticket booths. We see the disused bank of front gate turnstiles, with the large gate next to them opened up.  Admission gate security apparently consists of one bored employee sitting on a folding chair overseeing people walking into the park.  This is manageable since everybody gets a wristband, even Grounds Only tickets get a wristband.  Of course the grounds only wristbands are a different color.  Speaking of Ground Only admission, the POP wristband is $32, the Grounds Only wristband is $10. $10!!! Mind you there are no shows, limited shopping and limited food.  This in a city where FREE admission is the expected standard.  Then again, another common theme with Dells attractions, is to offer pay-as-you-go plans that are specifically created to be BAD deals, at Mt. O. the Grounds ticket is $10, and then ride tickets are $4, so if you plan on taking 6 or more rides  the wristband is the better offer.  (And in 2006 it looks like the ride tickets are going up to $6 each!) Okay, we proceed to walk down the ridiculously steep hillside down to the park.  I feel for those who visit this park with strollers, wagons, wheelchairs or the like, because the hillside from the parking lot to the park is extremely steep and long.  I think its created so that if you think about leaving for lunch, you take a look at that hillside and have second thoughts.  While most of the park is pretty flat, the end that houses the wood coasters is on a steep hillside.  Luckily the park has maximized the use of their hilly terrain in the design of their coasters.

At the bottom of the steep hill, is a cluster of buildings consisting of a gift shop/coffee bar, snack bar, ice cream parlor, restrooms, and a ride ticket booth.  These more or less surround an entrance plaza where the American flag and the Greek flag fly proudly.

One of the things that the park has done in its transformation to a theme park is to redo a lot of the midways so that they aren't plain blacktop walkways, and for some reason the park decided to go with a streets and curbs style midway, where the outer edges of the midway have raised curbs and sidewalks.  This kind of path construction works thematically if the area looks like a streetscape, lined with buildings and such.  Here, though it looks like an unneeded extra expense and in some places they just look silly, and they create an unneeded tripping hazard.

We take the first right at the bottom of the hillside, and walk past Cyclops, past Dive to Atlantis, past the pathway leading to the Cyclops service area, which is not fenced off, and merely guarded by an "Authorized Personnel Only" sign, past Poseidon, past Zeus, and follow the blue and yellow signs pointing they way to Hades.   Hades is located at the far end of the new coaster midway area. We note that Hades has hours of 10am-9:30PM, remember that, it plays a role later on in our little story.  

We enter the rides queue area through a short tunnel located underneath the rides first drop, and proceed to walk uphill on a paved path that cuts through the center of a gravel filled infield for Hades, the path then turns and gets steeper until it curves around and we reach the bottom of the great staircase.  Contrary to common thought about Hades the large stairway to Hades leads UP not down. In fact there are 43 stairs on the stairway to Hades, broken into 4 flights of stairs. The flights occurring all in one long row with a landing every so often.  We climb the stairway, and not too much longer are climbing aboard Hades.  Hades is the first full fledged roller coaster project to come out of Gravity Group, Gravity Group was formed by several former CCI designers, and while they have done some consulting work, ride renovation, and non coaster related jobs, this is their first roller coaster under the Gravity Group nameplate.  

Hades runs one 5 car 2-bench PTC train, the train is red, but it’s a darker red, not the fire engine red usually associated with PTC trains.  The rides name is written on the front of the lead car in yellow, and the cars come equipped with seatbelts, ratcheting lap bars, seat dividers, but no headrests.  The seatbelt situation is interesting, in that there is a mix of two different seatbelt styles on the train.  Most of the seats have push-button buckle, however on a few seats, lift-latch style buckles are used.  It should be noted that on most of Mt O's coasters, lift latch style buckles are used.  It should also be noted that on newer PTC trains, it seems that PTC has switched from the lift latch buckles to push button buckles, including the new train on Raven, and the train on another newish coaster I will ride later today. I wonder if Hades train shipped with push button buckles, and as the seatbelts need to be replaced, Mt  O is replacing them with their stock of spare seatbelts, which happen to be of the lift latch variety.  (Who else but coaster enthusiasts could write a whole paragraph about a ride's seatbelts)   It is also noted that some of the trains upholstery, especially the unload side of the back seat looks to be in rough condition.

Hades is mostly of an out and back layout, with some interesting elements thrown in at the beginning and end.  The ride experience is as follows: The ride begins with a drop directly out of the station, after which you curve to the right and climb up a short hill.   This is to set you up for the double down  to begin what is basically a circular loop that sits next to  the queue area and serves as the rides lift approach, so after the double dip, you proceed to take one more small dip, effectively creating a triple down with three short dips alongside this circular bit of track, which provides some nice pops of airtime.  After the third small dip, which is the rides fourth drop, you finally start curving to the left and approach the chain lift that more or less runs parallel to the station. It is to be noted that the lift chain does not extend all the way to the bottom of the lift hill and at that the train climbs several feet up the lift chain before it engages. Yep you just experienced 4 drops and at least 3 airtime pops and you haven't even gone up the lift yet.  This part of the ride seems to have been dubbed the "pre-lift show"  You then proceed to climb the 140' chain lift. At the top of the lift, you have a brief moment to look out and take in the beauty of the Dells area.  You then start to look down and you see the turnaround sitting on the other end of the parking lot, then you usually see a group of spectators standing just at the edge of the parking lot right above the tunnel entrance. You then feel a sudden urge to raise those hands high in the air, at least for the big drop into the tunnel.  Hades has one big long tunnel that runs underneath the parking lot, in fact it’s a double wide tunnel so that it can accommodate two tracks, and serve ass both the outgoing and incoming tunnel.  You drop into the pitch black tunnel and soon learn that this is not your ordinary coaster tunnel.  You will learn that there are two curves and at least one drop inside the outgoing tunnel.  This drop apparently makes the total spread from the top of the lift 160'.  After the drop you go through the rides signature 90 degree banked curve.  Too bad its totally in the dark, because it goes by so fast that unless you were trying to find it, you'd never notice it.   The 90 degree curve leads to a short rise to take you up out of the tunnel, then you double up a larger hill to crest the turnaround curve.  The turnaround is a curving drop that runs alongside the road outside the park, you then go up a hill, and go down an airtime filled diving drop through the greek temple columns and back down into the tunnel.  Two more curves in the tunnel, and a short uphill pop before you come back out right next to the first drop.  You crest another large hill, where you dive through the support beams of the lift hill structure creating some nice headchopper moments as well as airtime.  You crests another hill for the station fly by, then enter what amounts to an elongated figure 8 section of track that surrounds the ride queue area and serves to get the train back up to the final brakes.  It is in this figure 8 section that the train experiences some shuffling, but nothing major.   Yet, even though the brake run is so high in the air, the trains till comes in with tons of energy.  The train is then stopped, then allowed to coast down one final dip into the station area.   What we have here is an excellent ride.  And I just crossed a Coaster Enthusiast Track Record Mile Stone: Hades was Coaster #250 for me!!!!!!!

We proceeded to take 4 more rides on Hades, each time having to walk down 43 stairs which end in a midway that serves as a joint exit ramp for Hades and Zeus as both rides exit stairs end at the same place.  Another thing the park eliminated in the transformation from FEC to theme park was the famous Big Chief Double Ride, you now get one lap just like practically every other park. In my first 5 ride session on Hades, I determine that I think I like the ride better in the front, and oddly enough row 2 seems to have roomier seats than row 1. This means that I took most of my rides in row 2.  I'm also happy I stayed away from looking at many photos or any video of Hades so that the ride could surprise me, and I could have a really fun ride without the risk of anticipointment. After our 5 ride set on Hades, we moved on to see the park.    

Moving next door, we took a ride on Zeus.  When a Greek themed ride decided to call an attraction Zeus, it had better be one of the top experiences the park has to offer.  When Zeus was built, it was the greatest ride experience in the park, but that title has since gone to Hades. By now Hades' line was about halfway down the stairs and Zeus was waiting for people to come ride.  We climbed the 42 stairs to Zeus, and got into the front seat.  We learned that the shared seatbelt in that seat was  too short so we split up.

Zeus is a traditional out and back coaster, and features a series of hills and valleys with nice gentle floater airtime throughout the ride.  It is not a bad ride by any stretch, but its location right next to Hades will mean that Zeus has been eclipsed.  So I got in and took what would be my only Zeus ride of the trip.   Zeus starts with a curving drop right out of the station, then up the lift, a turn to the left and you go over the outbound series of hills and dips, turnaround then back the inbound series of hills and dips.  As I said its mostly an out and back coaster.

Well, after a 4+ hour commute, dealing with the park admissions process, and taking 6 airtime laden coaster rides, we decided we needed to take care of some business.  I am happy to report that the park finally did something about the awful restrooms they had in the Big Chief's days.  I was a bit concerned when the sign on the fancy looking restroom building read "RESTROOM" but rest assured its now a nice clean high capacity facility.  Larger than some I have seen at some parks, in fact.  Upon leaving the restroom we noted the statue right next to the snack bar.  It’s a statue of a hot dog that is squirting mustard and ketchup on itself.  

We decide to see the lower end of the park, since we are this far, so we go down the much shallower hillside, past some go-kart tracks and the Little Titans kiddie coaster.  Little Titans is your standard Miler Coaster Co. kiddie coaster, and I already have this credit, so we can move right past it. If one were to follow the midway now, they would wind up right in the lake.  I mean there is a sudden end to this path.  You have to jog to the right to continue along the midway, past the batting cages and into an area that a long time ago was Crazy King Ludwigs.  CKL was another go-kart FEC type operation that long ago was bought by the Mt. Olympus empire.   In the parks transformation CKL's castle has been transformed into the Greek style of architecture, and no longer has a go-kart track racing around it.  In fact, unless I am mistaken it seems like the park has removed some go-kart tracks, as well as abandon their other go-kart only location.  

But the former castle building is now park of a boardwalk themed area, okay maybe a boardwalk in Athens, but still, a body of water on one side, and a row of shops, eateries and arcades on the other, with a couple rides lining the waterside.   The eateries have cute names like "My Big Fat Greek Pizza Joint", and yes there is a gyro stand mixed in there.

We stop at the first ride along the boardwalk, which is a Zamperla Disk'o. Disk'o and Skater share a lot of characteristics in that they are both built on an oversize Rockin Tug frame.  The ride vehichle travels back and forth along a curved track in a pendulum motion, while the vehicle spins.  Whereas Skater and Rocking Tug have rows of seats like a traditional pirate ride, Disk'o featured a large round car as the rides name suggests.  The riders face outwards along the outer edge of the round car.  The seating is unique in that the seats look like motorbike seats, so you sit down on one, and your instinct is to curve your legs back, with your chest leaning up against the front of the seat.  On a rider with centrigifal forces, like this one, that ought to be enough.  To make sure you don't come out the restraint bar pops out from its hidden pocket in the back of your seat almost at the base, and curves up and then tightens against your back to form a backrest.  It’s a unique idea and quite effective.   The ride starts spinning, and maybe Mt, O, runs their Disk'o for a decent length of time, maybe because it spins at a nice rate of speed, and maybe since they let the ride spin in both directions, but I much favor the Disk'o to the Skater.  Then, I liked it so much, we rode it again. (And duly note that with ride 8 of the day over with we have made even on the Day 1 wristband)

We continue down the boardwalk, and I peek in the arcade, and we come to the other ride along the boardwalk.  The RoboCoaster.  RoboCoater is basically a robotic arm with a couple of seats mounted to the end.  It’s a low capacity attraction at only 2 riders per cycle, but its customizable with the rider being able to select between 5 different ride programs.  Your wristband includes Level 1 which is the tamest program, to ride the more advanced programs you have to pay a $2 fee, per rider.  Seeing that people have not found the RoboCoaster yet, we watch a few cycles, then its our turn, we pay the $2 each and ask for Level 5.  Unfortunately for us we could only get two clicks on the shoulder bars, and I think the ride required 3, and they will not shove down for you. So the operator apologized, gave us our money back, and we took the walk of shame.  

It should be noted that the end of the boardwalk area by the Robocoaster also marks the start of the waterpark area.  This makes this area a wise choice for the park to have its high concentration of food stands as people make their way from one activity to another. The long building also houses changing rooms, locker rental and more restrooms.  I also note that the area around RoboCoaster is lined with coin operated waterguns, which have the range to hit the Robocoaster.  I feel a sudden urge, and insert a quarter into one of the waterguns right as the ride was starting.  I took out my frustrations of not being able to ride by mercilessly soaking someone who could.  And as a bonus, it seems that Mt. O has set the timers on these coin operated waterguns so they more or less work for about the same length as a robocoaster ride cycle. To paraphrase Shooty and Bang-Bang on the TV version of Hitchhiker's Guide, "I didn't enjoy that at all".

We stop by the candy store and get some cold drinks.  I believe I had the Raspberry Lemonade.  Ah. Time to head back up the shallow hill back to the coaster area   We head towards Cyclops.  Cyclops is the parks original wood coaster, and is a short coaster,  but it packs a punch. It also only has about 11 stairs to ride, and it looks to be the only coaster in the park to which some attention was paid for special needs guests.  To be quite clear, Mt. Olympus, is not a wheelchair friendly park, I offer that as an advisory for those who may be in that situation.  Several major rides there are accessible only by stairways, some in the neighborhood of 4 flights of stairs.
Anyway, we enter the Cyclops boarding area.  In the station there is a part of the queue where you go down an abrupt ramp then back up an abrupt ramp, for no apparent reason.   The only thing I can think of is maybe this is to discourage running in line. We enter the platform and proceed back to the 18-and-over car.  Cyclops has had a long standing rule that the back car is restricted to riders who are 18 and over, and yes we saw this rule being enforced.  We climb into the back seat, fasten the shared belt, drop the traditional style double lap bar and away we go. A quick right out of the station to go down a short dip and then up the lift hill, then you turn to the left and go down a "train oulled out from under you" sudden airtime moment as you go down the first drop, then through a turnaround to the left, a couple more dips, then you come to the crest of the tallest hill, again overlooking the parking lot.  In a land of tourist traps, you want your major attractions to be clearly seen by passer-by.  You pause for moment to reflect on the natural beauty as the train turns to the right.  Then suddenly you go down the BIG DROP where the seat is YANKED away from you as you experience one of the single greatest airtime pops on a coaster.  (Well if you are 18 and over anyway, the big airtime moment seems to only occur to back car riders) Then just as you are landing back into your seat, the train makes a sudden curve to the right as it flys through a trench right alongside the midway.  Just as you are waiting to see what the ride does for an encore, you circle the loading station and come to a stop on the brakes.  You then make another slow turnaround back into the station. As I said the ride is very short, but it has that one airtime moment that makes the whole ride worth it.   In fact, we unload, and get right back in line to have another dose of Cyclops in the back seat.

After Cyclops ride 2, we head over to ride the parks other wooden coaster, Pegasus.  On our way to Pegasus we noted the parks original entrance has been sealed off such that you can't really tell it was ever the main entrance.  The Trojan Horse go-kart track has been reconfigured now that it no longer has to tunnel under the parking lot.  We also note that Mt, O still does a thriving go-kart business with the go-karts easily having longer lines than all the coasters except for maybe Hades and Dive to Atlantis.   Also in this part of the park is their kiddieland with an assortment of children's rides. Pegasus is the parks junior wood coaster.

We follow the windy pathway under the lift hill and around past an abandoned go-kart station to come to the stairs up the loading area.  Continuing with the theme that this is a junior coaster, the handrails on the stairs are at a child's height. But yes there are stairs, it would not be a Mt. Olympus wood coaster without stairs. There is even a theory circulating that the park deliberately has long stairways and steep sloped midways to discourage repeat riding.   We enter the station and wait a to ride Pegasus.  We note the queue gates are in sets of three and the ride runs 2 bench trains, leading credence to the theory the ride used to run 3 bench cars, but that train did not work out for them.  Contrary to the fact that it is meant to be a junior coaster, it uses full size PTC 2 bench cars.  Capacity is somewhat diminished in that experienced riders all want to ride on the unload side of the train.  In the train I was on I think for 4 or 5 rows straight there were single riders, all on the unload side.  This should serve as a warning for what is to come. We exit the station, make a curve to the right and up the lift hill.  The ride has no big drops to speak of, it just sort of meanders its way down.  The top of the coaster structure serves better as a nice flag pole rack for several international flags.  Well it adds color and motion to the coaster anyway. What the ride lacks in sudden drops, it gains in laterals.  For some unknown reason the ride acts like it is squaring off the turns, so that every turn is abrupt and slams the riders into the left sidewall of the train.  Yep, every curve is to the same side.   I just don't understand it, I don't understand how the ride gets speed without any big drops, I don't understand why the curves are so brutal, I don't understand why CCI could make a coaster that is so awful, I don't understand why I rode this coaster this year, after not really enjoying it on my last visit.   Apart from being a great flagpole holder, the ride does score some coolness points in the station in that the mechanically activated lapbars are controlled by a big lever in the station, placed at the downtrack end of the station.  In fact, it looks just like it should be a Big Old Brake Lever.   The exit stairs also have the short handrails and lead right next to the snack bar.  I quickly run over to ride Cyclops for some reassurance.   Hey that Cyclops ride is ride #12 of the day and 12x4 = $48, I have now made good on the whole two day pass investment.  Time to pull ahead.

We go over to Hades, and by this time the line is to the bottom of the stairs so that’s about 45 minutes. Hey this actually helps as I am not out of breath when I reach the top of the stairs.  We proceed to take a few more rides on Hades, finishing up around 3:30 or so. It is time to set in to motion a very carefully timed sequence of events.  It's time for dinner.  We head back around to the main plaza, and hike up that big tall steep hill to the parking lot.  We climb into the car and proceed to drive to the Moosejaw Lodge. The Moosejaw is, according to its full name a pizza shop and microbrewery.  Don't let that stop you they actually offer a pretty robust menu.  Moosejaw must be a Canadian chain (The Canadian flag in the vestibule should have told you…), that and the servers pronounce "?" as "Eh"   Moosejaw  looks like a hunting lodge inside with stone fireplaces, animal heads on the wall, lots of light woods in their construction, drinks served in mason jars.  Also, in addition to microbrew beer, they also make their own house brand soft drinks on site.  I proceed to have a super gigantic black angus cheeseburger with all the trimmings, and a mountain of French fires.  Very generous portions, and the pizza we saw go by looked to be of the very deep dish variety. Overall it was a very satisfying and relaxing meal.  To remind yourself you are in a tourist trap zone, their delivery car has a moose head on top.  

We finish up a nice relaxing lunch/dinner, and proceed to take care of our hotel arrangements.  We had made reservations well in advance but figured that now would make a great time to make sure everything is as planned.  We proceed to the Best Western Ambassador Inn   I'm happy to report that after a brief painless check in procedure we learned that everything was up to specifications, and proceeded to move our bags into the room, which would spare us that chore late at night.  The Ambassador Inn is conveniently located by all of the Dells roller coasters, and offered us a comfortable room at a great price, and offered the right set of amenities. Though we did not take advantage of it, I noted the rustic themeing of the indoor recreation area which consisted of a pool, game room, and exercise room, the on-site Denny's restaurant, free internet access, a great brochure rack, and the interior corridors to access guest rooms with access security. In keeping with the ambassador theme, the front drive to the hotel is lined with various international flags.  So after making sure our room was in order, we note that its just about 5pm.  What did I say about that careful timing.

We left the Ambassador  and proceeded just a few doors down the street to Timber Falls. Timber Falls is an FEC.  It was primarily marketed as a miniature golf and games that used a log flume ride as its unique hook.  Today, I think the rides have eclipsed the mini golf in their brochures, not that 72 holes of mini golf is anything to sneeze at. Today the FEC offers 4 mini golf courses, bumper boats, game room, the namesake log flume, Skyscraper, and a wooden roller coaster.  Timber Falls is a textbook case for proving that a midsize wooden coaster can be a fantastic ride, and that you don't need a large area of vacant land to build a wood coaster.  This installation will remind you of the Indiana Beach school of amusement ride construction, in that the coaster is sort of built on a second level above the rest of the FEC, and is built so that it circles around the perimeter of the Timber Falls log flume.  Avalanche is an S&S product, which should seem strange since S&S is best known for shot and drop tower type rides.  Yet, when CCI folded, while some of the principals of CCI went on to form Gravity Group, some others joined the S&S crew to form S&S' wood coaster division.  I admit I wasn't that impressed when I first saw the ride as we were pulling into Timber Falls parking lot, but we're here and I have heard lots of good things about it.

It also just so happens that Timber Falls offers an after 5pm discount rate. (Careful timing, I tell you!) While Timber Falls normally charges $6 per ride, or $20 for the POP, after 5pm the POP can be yours for only $13.  We eagerly pay the $13 at the clubhouse.  You see, Timber Falls is setup like the typical FEC, with a multipurpose building in the front center of the park that contains the ticket office, snack bar, arcade, restrooms, and such.  The ticket booth is front and center when you enter, and also handles the souvenir sales.  To the right is the snack bar, to the left is the arcade, if you walk around the side of the building to the far left you will come to the well hidden restrooms.

Having seen suitably banded, we head towards the right and up the stairs to a big wooden deck that serves as the parks second level.  It contains some picnic seating, access to the 2 miniature golf courses that lie within the log ride (the other 2 mini golf courses are across the street from the park, but then it is hard to tell whose mini golf is whose as there is Pirates' Cove mini golf next door) Once we reach the upper deck, we proceed up the series of ramps to the coaster station.  In the coaster station we see a ride operator, an empty PTC train and ourselves.  Now THIS is what I call Exclusive Ride Time!  Avalanche runs 1 3 car 2 bench PTC train, red exterior with cream color upholstery and equipped with ratchet bars, seatbelts (push button buckles), and seat dividers.  We climb into the front seat ant a short bit later we are departing the station.

Avalanche rides like a classic profile out and back coaster, except that instead of being straight its wrapped around the perimeter of the park. Out of the station and a quick left turn, (like all turns on this coaster) and we are heading up what RCDB claims to be a 88.5' lift hill.  At the top of the lift, the train dives down, crests another dip, then makes a left turn, the rest of the ride can be summarized as, the train turns left, the train goes through a few drops, the train turns left, the train goes down a few drops, then train crests for the billboard turn, the train turns left, the train dips one the train flies over the park entrance and performs a station fly by, then another left turn more dips, another left turn still more dips, another left turn, and a few more dips before coming into the final brakes.  Yeah, it’s a perfect profile, and it is designed to provide nice quality airtime on just about every drop, and nice laterals on every turn.  The park should have called this ride Heaven to be the counterpart to the other parks Hades.  I mean this is more like my ideal wood coaster. It's airtime heaven!!!

We return to the station, and we are still the only riders, however unlike Mt. Olympus, the Avalanche crew allows us to stay on board.  Yep, I'm in coaster heaven, somebody pinch me, I must be dreaming. We take a total of 5 rides in the front seat without getting out of the train until some more potential riders arrive. We move to the back seat without having to walk around.  We start having to shift seats every now and then, but we do at least 16 rides straight before we have to exit the station.  As an added bonus touch you have to love a park that flashes "NO LINES" on their electronic billboard, and means it..  

Since we had to exit the coaster, I decide  to try out the parks namesake signature Timber Falls Log Ride. I'm sure most of you are familiar with a gimmick that certain parks engage in where they route a ride exit through a gift shop, arcade, on ride photo booth or other gift stand.  Timber Falls may be the only ride that you have to walk through the arcade to get into line. It's a nice shortcut so that you don't have to walk clear around the building, as the loading dock for the log flume is directly in back of the ticket booth.  Jerry decided he doesn't need to experience Timber Falls, so I walk through the arcade, and get into the line.  Well I watch the people in front of me get into a log, and by the time I make it to the loading dock its my turn.  The park uses a continuous system where the logs never stop moving.  I climb into a log and proceed to head out onto the course.  On the way to the lift I am a bit concerned about the pool of water that has formed inside my log. I leave the loading dock, turn left, where you go up the first life, then down the first drop, you then go through a series of tunnels and rock formations that are really quite well done. The ride even has a volcano in the center that uses real flame fire effects to simulate an eruption every now and then.  Impressive, I mean how many big time parks risk using live fire effects. After curing in and out of rock formations, tunnels, and the mini golf courses, I arrive at lift 2, then the big final drop, then one last turn into the load/unload area.  I am happy to report that I much enjoyed the log ride, without getting more than just slightly moist.  In fact I was just about dry by the time I met back up with Jerry who was observing the bumper boat operation.  

Timber Falls bumper boats are just outside the perimeter formed by Avalanche.  The pool is nothing special, just a plain rectangular pool, and the boats are a bit interesting as they have onboard water guns. What caught Jerry's attention is that due to the low crowd conditions, the usual timer based operation was suspended and in effect was a "Climb in a boat, have fun, come back to the dock when you are done" relaxed style of operation.

After the Timber Falls Log Ride, we head out the parking lot.  Sitting in the parking lot is a Gravity Works Skyscraper.  While the Skyscraper is not included in the POP package, the Skyscraper crew is willing to make special deals with Timber Falls POP customers.  Half off, to be precise, which gets it down to $10.  Jerry and I proceed to purchase Skyscraper tickets, then instead of heading to the Skyscraper we head to the car to secure all loose articles. We then head back to Skyscraper, tickets in hand, where we walk past the bleachers that have been setup for spectators and enter the "Rider Lounge"  The Ride Lounge is the holding area for ticket holders who are waiting for their ride.  The area is filled with benches for you to sit and relax while you wait for your ride, and you are separated by a fence and gate from non-riders. The ride seems to have a crew of two, one operator/loader and one ticket seller. The loader does a good job at calling people up to the ride when its their turn, and pairing up singles.

For the uninitiated a Skyscraper is a ride that is kinda like being strapped to the end of a propeller blade, a propeller blade that is 160' long and spins at 70mph. As if that wan't enough the chairs are mounted on swivels and are free to roll forwards and backwards, which means yes you can, and usually do go upside down.  Its kinda like an oversized Roll-O-Plane, but with an extra surprise element.  The loader had fun with groups of squeamish girls by flipping their chair upside down right after loading them,

We waiting for some time and finally it is our turn.  We are called to climb up the stairs to the ride deck.  The ride deck consists of the loose article bins, operator console, and the access way to the ride itself.  We step off the wood deck onto the metal platform and then hop into the chairs provided.  It takes some time to get ready to ride Skycraper thanks to the complex harness arrangement. After the operator makes sure you are sitting all the way back in the chair, no slouching, he proceeds to strap you in.  The harness system on Skyscraper is similar to but not totally like having two 3 point automotive harnesses, one located on either side of you.  They key difference being the belts are not on retractors and are manually adjusted. So I sit down and the operator pulls two thick pieces of black padding out from the sides of the seat and ask me to hold them over my lap.  He then reaches over my right shoulder and proceeds to cross that strap across my chest so that it fastens into to a clip/buckle mounted on the left side of the seat, this is also connected to a lap belt.  He proceeds to tighten this until it is snug but not tight. He then reaches above the left shoulder and pulls out a similar looking belt that runs diagonally across your chest and fastens to a clip located on the right side of the seat.  This means the two shoulder belts form a large "X" across your chest, and you effectively have double lap belts for added redundant protection. The operator proceeds to pull these belts snug but not tight.  He then takes a moment to make sure everything looks to be correct with the safety harness, and then goes in and yanks on all the adjustors with all of his might to get all the belts as skin tight as he can get them.  You then realize those two big black pads sit directly under the buckles and adjustors and they protect your legs from any nasty gashes from the buckles.  This would also be a good reason to make sure your pockets are empty to make sure the thick straps don't crush any hard objects into your legs.  The last step is to take the anti sub strap and to affix it to the front center of the lap straps.  Men are thankful this belt is not tightened.  He proceeded to step next chair and harness Jerry to his seat in the same manner.  After all the harnessing the operator takes a step back to make one final visual inspection while thinking "Now I have you two right where I want you, you guys aren't getting out of those chairs until I let you, so for the next few minutes you belong to me and whatever I can dish out"

Well, now that we have let some stranger strap us tightly into this ride, we may as well enjoy ourselves, so we start rocking the tub back and forth while the loading platform is pivoting away to the side.  Then the ride starts, and they way the ride works is you make several revolutions in one direction, pause briefly at the top to enjoy the view, then several revolutions in the opposite direction.  The more revolutions you get, the better.  Normally you can count on getting maybe one flip per revolution, that’s where rocking the chair comes into play.  Remember all those warnings about not rocking Ferris Wheel seats because the tub might flip over, well here that’s exactly what we want to cause happen.  With aggressive tub rocking we got way more than just 1 flip per revolution, and we even got some neat flips where we stalled out upside down, almost in the Superman flying position soaring above the earth, well except that our head was lower than our ankles. At least once, this happened on the downswing of the ride, so we got the added bonus of seeing the ground rushing up at us.  Total coolness! It also seems that we developed some play in the shoulder belts, I guess from the constant abuse, but the lap belts held.  It was just enough to be disconcerting but not dangerous. After awhile our play time had to end, and we were brought back to the loading platform, the loading deck pivoted closed. The ride operator came around and I releases the belts and lets us get reacquainted with our deep old friend, the ground.

After our Skyscraper ride, we stop at the main park ticket booth to shore up our evening plans.  According to our meticulous research, Mt. Olympus was set to close at 10PM, and Timber Falls at 11PM, which would suggest that we could get night rides on both coasters.  Unfortunately that plan appeared to have crumbled when the Timber Falls office did not confirm an 11PM close, and instead informed us that they were going for a 10PM close tonight.  Well, if we have to decide between night rides on Hades and night rides on Avalanche, Hades wins.   We start regretting that two day ticket to Mt. Olympus, as that extra $16 would have put us well on the way to more Timber Falls action in the morning, but what's done is done.  We go up to Avalanche and take a few more rides, and proceed to ride marathon style till about 7:20.

We then make our way back to Mt. Olympus. We pull into the parking lot, park the car, head in the gate, down the hill of doom, around the corner, and continue all the way back to Hades.  By now the Hades line is about 45 minutes long.  Our first ride would be in twilight, and our second two rides in darkness.   While waiting for Hades we learn that Mt. Olympus attracts its share of obnoxious patrons.  The smoking is out of control, line jumping is an issue, but what took the cake was the group of guys who were playing with lighters, while standing on a wooden stairway, surrounded by a wooden coaster.  I'm not just talking about lighting and relighting them, I mean goofing around with lighters,  

So we got our first ride of the set in around 8:10, the second around 8:50, while waiting for the third ride of the set, we met up with some fellow coaster enthusiasts that were apparently told flat out that 2 day tickets don't exist.  That scores well for a park when you can't trust information given to you by an employee, we also talking about Hades closing policy.  The signs clearly state "Ride closes at 9:30 PM"  But in the world of amusement parks, that sign still manages to be ambiguous, I mean does that mean the line for Hades closes at 9:30, so that the queue can clear out without keeping the ride open too long after hours, or does it mean, this ride ceases operation at 9:30PM, no matter how many people may still be in line.  Unfortunately, all of us had received conflicting reports on this issue, so the answer is still unclear.  I recall reading a report where they had loaded the train, locked the lapbars, the clock struck 9:30, and they unlocked the bars and mae them exit without a ride, not to mention the line of people on the stairs.  We clearly did not want to get into a situation of waiting only to be told "Sorry guys, you can't ride because of the asinine way we run this park", we also did not want to risk getting stuck in the middle of an angry mob scene, if they pulled that kind of hard close. I thought the best way to get a direct answer of exactly what would happen tonight would be to ask the Hades crew.  So as we passed through the turnstile I asked the ticket taker "Does the line close at 9:30 or does the ride close at 9:30" All I got back was a grunt of "9:30 close"  Thanks that really helped. I would not class the Mt, O employees as rude, mean or nasty, but I would class them as indifferent, unfriendly and unhelpful.  They seem to go about their duties in silence, and your just another body they have to get through the ride.  We started out ride at about 9:15, and so at about 9:20 or so we were standing at the point of getting back in line, or heading elsewhere.  We noted the queue entrance was still open at 9:20, we could also see the ride still had a sizeable line.  We decided that instead of risking a potential really negative experience, that we would use the final half hour to get those Avalanche night rides after all.  I'm still happy with the Mt. Olympus experience overall,   I figure I got 11 rides on Hades, 3 on Cyclops, 1 on Zeus, 1 on Pegasus and 2 on Disk'o. That’s 18 rides at a value of $4 each comes to $72 value.  Throw in the $10 gate charge we would have had to pay for pay as you go, and its an $82 value, a little less than the value I got out of my last Big Chiefs visit, but that was only a one day wristband, and that was with double rides that were worth $6 each.  And hey I can get some more rides in tomorrow!

So we drove back to Timber Falls, parked, and climbed up to the coaster station.  Wow things have changed here, they now have enough riders to fill every train, so while the wait is only 1-2 trains long at most, there are always enough people waiting so tht walking around every time would be needed  The ride even managed to pick up some speed since this afternoon.  Don't pinch me!!  I don't want this dream to end! This may well be the perfect midsized ride!  We rode a few more times, it got to be 9:45, we start running down the exit ramp and running up the entrance ramp. 9:50, RUN down, RUN up, its 9:58 as we board the train, we are sure its going to be our last ride of coaster heaven.  The ride ends, we RUN down, the queue entrance hasn't been blocked, we RUN up they let us into the station.  Its 10:03 we take another ride. We exit, we run down, we see the log flume trough is drained, we run back up.  We score another ride.  We hold our breath as someone mentions "I thought you were closing at 10PM"  Coaster operator responds with "That's news to us! We thought we were scheduled to run till 11PM"  Cheers erupt. Soon after the crowd starts dying down and marathon riding can resume.  Jerry and I are chanting lap numbers as we go through the station.  When it was all said and done, we managed to get 35 rides in on Avalanche this evening . And let me tell you what, Avalanche is the perfect coaster in another way.  We took a lot of those late night rides in the middle car.  On a lot of three car wood coasters, the center car is notorious for being dull.  Not on Avalanche, they seemed to have learned something about short trains, in that every seat on the train has the great airtime and great laterals.  Its perfect I tell you!!!  Counting my ride on the Timber Falls Log Ride, and my $10 Skyscraper discount, for $13 I received 36 rides at $6 each that’s $216 value + the Skyscraper discount.  $226 value out of a $13 after 5 wristband.   I think that almost qualifies as Pay-One-Price Wristband abuse.

We calm down and head toward the Ambassador Inn, where we surf the web, we watch some TV, I watch Robb Alvey's Hades video clip that I had been denying myself.  You did a great job on that one Robb!  We then get ready for bed, and take a well needed sleep.

Day #2

We awake nice and early, pack the bags, load up the car, check out of the hotel, then go have breakfast at Denny's.  We have calculated this morning to get us to Mt, Olympus at around 9:30AM.  The timing was great, the Group Sales office was open but the Treasure Island parking lot guard was not on duty yet.  There are those that have conjectured that while in general the Mt, Olympus employees that have a Big Chief heritage are generally unfriendly, those that came from Bay of Dreams or Family Land Waterpark are generally very friendly.  I think this may be the case, as the group sales office is on the Family Land side of the operation, and the two people in the Group Sales building may be the friendliest employees we saw in the whole complex, with the candy shop clerk being a close second. We walk into the Group Sales office, and are greeted with a hearty "Welcome back guys, you're here on a two day pass, right?"  We exchange receipts for new wristbands, go out, climb back into the car and drive over to the rides side parking lot.  That was fast and so we are into a parking space at 9:35. We figure there is no need to get out of the car just yet, the park clearly isn't open yet, and besides we can watch the wood coaster maintenance crew working on Hades first drop.  Wait! They are working on Hades first drop, I sure hope they get it ready by opening.  At around 9:42 we head up to the front gate just in time to exchange morning pleasantries with Nick L. , as in the general manager/owner of the park. At 9:45 the gate opens and we head directly back to Hades.  We camp out on the benches just outside of Hades entrance.  The crew is still working on Hades so we expect someone will be by to tell us when the ride is open.  Shortly after 10:00 the crowd starts heading for Hades, and since the chain blocking the queue is open, we decide to stay ahead of the crowd and enter the queue, up the stairs, where we are held at the turnstile as we watch the morning test runs take place.  Which puts us into the front seat on the first train of the day. It  has to warm up again, but its still a nice ride even early in the morning.  We proceed to take advantage of the lack of lines and manage to get 4 more rides in before the line got back down to the bottom of the stairs.  Nick had warned us that he was expecting a very busy, if not the busiest day of the season.

We started walking towards the other coasters and I note that Dive to Atlantis only had about 8 people in line. I decide to ride Dive to Atlantis, and Jerry, decided to sit the water ride out.  Dive to Atlantis, well you know those log flume rides in early versions of Roller Coaster Tycoon?  The ones where the logs move at about 1mph, or agonizingly slow.  Well Dive to Atlantis is THAT log ride.  But let me back up, Dive to Atlantis is NOT a log ride. And you will not see logs anywhere on it.  Dive to Atlantis is a watercoaster, as evidenced by the fact the boats leave the water to traverse a dry section on steel coaster track.  Mind you the out of water section consists of the lift hill, a turn, the first small drop, the second hill, another turn, and the big drop, but it still counts as a Water Coaster.  In fact that makes it Coaster #252 for me.  The entrance is a Greek column and capital, with the rides name and a graphic of people riding through  a flooded out city  in a hewn out section of a Greek style column, complete with cracks.  The ride vehicles on the ride are white, and look more or less with a little imagination like chunks of stone columns, with the cracks painted on them to match the sign.  I also not ethat signway must have originally been somewhere else because you can make out the remnants of the old sign "PARK ENTRANCE"  

I wait for some time and then I join 2 other riders and board my column section. We depart the station, make a turnaround to the left, and cruise past the observation deck.  The park must know the ride has an obnoxiously low capacity as they have taken away a lot of what looks like it was meant to be the queue area for the ride. As we travel alongside the observation deck, take notice of that pipe and nozzle pointed directly into the center of the trough.  Not only is that were the water reenters the trough from the filters it also serves as the rides only water-element, other than the big drop.  There aren't even any coin operated water guns on this ride, and they seem like they would be a perfect fit. After the water spray, it’s a turnaround to the right, and you then start to realize how slow the boat is going.  Somebody get me a pair of oars or a gondolier's pole! This is agonizingly slow.  I mean you go straight back, then a turnaround to the right where you come very near the station, then a turnaround to the left to head to the lift hill.  I am NOT kidding when it takes 7 minutes to go from the loading dock to the lift hill.   This would be fine if their were exciting water elements, scenery or an ingaging theme, but none of those were present.  The trough looks homebrew, more like something you would see on a lazy river attraction.  At least they somehow manager to have the boats stay on a steady course, which is more than I can say for Hopkins rides.  After about 7 minutes, you finally leave the water and head up the lift.  It kinda feels like riding in a Jet Star car, and it feels just as vulnerable, sitting high above the rails.   We climb the lift, we turn to the right, we go down a short drop, then we go up a short hill, and by golly, they managed to have airtime on this ride!   You realize the vehicle is moving at a rapid rate of speed and then you hit what feels like a trim brake, or is it something to make sure your vehice stays on the track, the upstops hitting perhaps, at least I HOPE there are upstops.  Anyway with a slight diminished speed you go flying around that next curve to the right at a speed that proves this is no log ride, then you go down the DROP.  One huge drop straight down into the splash pool below.  And yes, splash pool is quite the right term.   This ride needs no other ride elements, as this splashdown finale is more than enough to make sure that every rider gets off totally soaked.  You sail past another observation deck and at this time are thanking Zeus, Poseidon, and Triton all for the lack of coin operated water guns.  You meander around alongside the midway, the back into the unload area  Another check of the watch reveals that the whole ride took just under 15 MINUTES.  Folks, they only have 5 4-passenger boats, and that’s only on busy days. That’s 80PPH!!!
Whose to blame?  According to the dataplate, we can blame this one on the Miler Coaster Co.

Well, after getting totally drenched the next thing to do is to head down to Disko to dry off.  We take 2 Disko rides and that combined with the nice warm weater gets me mostly dry.  We head back up the hill to Cyclops.  We realize that even Cyclops is going to be a bit of a wait today, but wait all we have to do is get into the station and then we can leap back to the 18 and up car.  Which we do, for a total of two rides, yes walking around between rides.  By this time I have dried up enough, and the lines are starting to get out of hand, so we bid farewell to Mt, Olympus.  As we leave Mt, Olympus, I note one of the Dells several Ducks rides.   A duck ride is an amphibious land/sea vehicle that are popular in touristy areas as they allow both a city tour, then you can dive right in and explore the nautical beauty of the area.   In fact I had ridden a duck just a couple months prior in Biloxi, MS. Even though I did not ride the duck in the Dells, the operation is nothing short of a well oiled machine, with a whole fleet of ducks loading at very regular intervals from a custom built station that allow for level access into the duck.  

We stop past Riverview Park on our way out.  Riverview park is your traditional amusement park.  Its lined with go-karts, carnival games, carnival rides, an ejection seat, and a waterpark.  Also true to the Dells pay as you go is a raw deal compared to the wristband.  Although they had some interesting stuff: Spinning Ferris Wheel, Catch N' Air, Galaxi, they just didn't have enough to make the POP investment seem worth it, and at almost $4-$5 per ride, we decided to just pack it up and head back to Minnesota.

We enjoy the ride home listening to the NPR version of Star Wars: A New Hope.

Catch you later for TR's on Valleyfair! and Camp Snoopy.


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