Andrew: For a total of five seasons, I have had the pleasure of working for Cedar Fair in the Ride Operations Department. I was lucky enough to work world class attractions such as Millennium Force, Top Thrill Dragster, Gatekeeper, Magnum XL 200 and much more! Throughout the seasons, my crew and I learned fascinating things about the public.
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1- Top Thrill Dragster vs. High Winds and Downtime
I worked at Top Thrill Dragster in 2016 and 2017 for a decent amount of days, I quickly learned that this ride could be a nightmare. First thing that was the biggest pet peeve of everyone was high winds. Dragster goes down at 25 mph steady winds, there are two wind monitors, one at launch, and one on top of the 420-foot tower. Wind speeds at 420 feet are stronger than winds on the ground and most people do not understand that. With high winds, Dragster can become dangerous as traveling at 120 mph with high winds would cause wind burn on riders faces. This is probably the biggest concern for safety out there with dragster. Another thing would be the ride clearing the tower. High winds can cause a larger range of “time over tower” speeds. This would create uncomfortable riding experiences, since Dragster is only designed to clear the tower at 5-8 miles per hour. Yes, high winds can cause a roll back, (and I know everyone dreams of being on one), however, multiple rollbacks will cause the launch system to fault out and the ride will go down.
Mechanical Downtime is another thing that is very frustrating with Dragster. This ride has over a thousand proximity sensors that monitor the placement of the trains, the location of the acceleration brakes, and how the ride is operating according to the PLC Programming. Prior to launching the trains, the computer system is checking the speeds of the trains, trip times for the previous train, the hydraulic oil temperature, location of the catch car, catch car brakes and their current state (extended or retracted) and of course the current wind speeds on the tower. If any of these factors are out of the range that is programmed, the ride will throw a fault, also known as an “auto-stop”. This essentially stops movement of all trains on the track in their current locations. This is mainly to protect from a high-speed collision, or any unsafe conditions for riders. It’s a common misconception that dragster is unsafe, because it breaks down all of the time. That is not the case, “breakdowns” and “auto-stops” are there to prevent a safety issue from occurring. Guests always ask three things when this happens:
“How long is it going to be down?”
“Why is the ride down?”
“And when will it be back running?”
2- Bins vs. Lockers
This is probably the biggest complaint within the guests in the park. As a former operator and current enthusiast, I see both perspectives in this situation. In this instance, were going to look at this pet peeve from an operational standpoint. Some rides have high capacity or fast dispatch times. It really comes down to how the station is set up and the operating procedures for each coaster. For example, Millennium Force and TTD board in one station and return in another. Bins are not really a logical thing to have in these stations. It would cause a cluster of people running around from unload and load platforms and that is not something that is very safe. Now let’s take Valravn for example, the station is small, you enter on the left side of the station, and exit on the right. This station is an efficient method in the loading and unloading process of this coaster. The downfall with Valravn, is the combs (floors) move slowly, and advancing the train after starting the dispatch process takes about 22-25 seconds. Train out to train in. Valravn’s theoretical “Interval” is about 50 seconds. 50 seconds from the time the new train parks, to the time that train is advancing out of the station. I will contest that 24 people grabbing things from the bins, and 24 people putting stuff in the bins makes it almost impossible to hit interval. Most people don’t realize that interval is a key part of the ride operations, if you want the line to consistently move. This is the reason that Valravn is a coaster that requires all loose articles, bags, large items to be left in a locker or a non-rider. I do agree with most people, I think charging for each locker for each attraction is annoying and inconvenient. Cedar Point has implemented ways such as the all-day floating locker, which is a good deal. In my defense, I would rather pay a few extra dollars and wait in line for a ride that has efficient operations. So, in conclusion, the second biggest pet peeve is definitely the fight between bins and lockers.
3- Rider Restrictions
Another important aspect to amusement ride safety is rider restrictions. This is something that is intricately factored into the engineering of all modern coasters and is carefully followed throughout the amusement industry. The biggest complaint I received from guests were about the height requirements. These standards are set per manufacturer and are decided depending on the type of ride, type of restraint system, and the intensity of the ride. For example, most Rocky Mountain Construction coasters are a minimum of 48” tall to participate, however, Steel Vengeance is an exception. It was decided by the park that it would raise the limit to 52” for the safety of smaller riders. This was a decision mainly due to the intensity of the ride and for the comfort of the rider.
The biggest challenge with rider restrictions was the proper use of restrains and seat belts. Rides with lap restraints most likely have seat belts, that secure the riders lower torso into the train. The lap restraint essentially prevents the rider from moving or standing in the train. These safety systems are the reason why rides have amusement parks have specific operational procedures to ensure everyone is safe while participating in attractions. While these procedures vary slightly from park to park, they all are followed by the manufacturer’s standard procedures.
With that being said, the most frustrating situation was when guests would force themselves to meet these requirements. Height minimum especially, it was absurd of the number of parents that would add objects to their child’s shoes to make them “appear” to be taller, when they were well below the minimum rider requirement. If the minimum requirements are not adhered to, the restraint system would not necessarily work properly. This is a large safety concern and it was monitored very closely at Cedar Point.
The second most difficult aspect of rider restrictions was the minimum position of seat belts and restraints. Everyone is unique, and there is honestly a small range of body proportions for some rides. While Bolliger and Mabillard coasters are quite accommodating, Intamin coasters are not as much. Intamins usually have shorter seat belts, and different mechanisms that prevent larger riders from participating. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to ride any ride desirable, but unfortunately due to these engineering and manufacturer restrictions, that is not always possible. I always hated to turn people away due to a restraint or seat belt not being fastened properly. Some folks were cool about it and others put up a fight. Most of the ride host on my crews did a decent job on using the individual rides resources such as test seats and height measurement systems, in order to prevent such actions from occurring. While this is an unfortunate circumstance, the operators and the park are not the ones who decided these limitations. The manufactures set these limits solely for safety reasons.
4- People vs. Long Wait Times/Breakdowns
Alright, long lines. We get it, Cedar Point is one of the most popular regional parks around the world, folks come from all over just to ride our attractions. For the most part, all of the larger coasters update wait times frequently. While these wait times are constantly changing due to weather changes, mechanical breakdowns, times of day, and operational changes, crews would do their best to minimize wait times in the best ways possible. Most key factors that would prevent a slow down in operations would mainly be caused from the guest standpoints. Not everyone gets to frequently visit parks like enthusiasts do, so essentially everyone must be informed on how each ride operating procedure works. Some rides have the loose article bins, and some do not. Certain restraint systems may cause confusion, i.e. Valravn and Gatekeeper’s vest restraints. Ride Crews would do their best to make informative announcements (also called spiels) to engage riders while they are participating in the attraction. Operators can spiel all day long and honestly, its up to the guests to make note and to pay attention. This was easily the most frustrating thing, when trying to communicate instructions for fast, efficient, and safe operations, and they were not being followed. Quite frankly, if one doesn’t pay attention, I believe one does not have the right to criticize on how “slow” or how “inefficient” the operation is running. Every crew must follow procedures, and they are not able to delineate from them. No exceptions, and this is for the safety of you and everybody else around. I know that sounds blunt, but it’s the truth. Fast and efficient operations are easily derived from everyone’s cooperation, including the ride crews.
5- Fake Hand Signals and Fake Emergencies
This is another safety topic I’d like to address. Throughout my five seasons, I have observed multiple instances where a guest has caused an emergency stop, or a ride stop for illegitimate reason. I understand that some people are afraid of rides, however, if you get into the seat, fasten the restraint, and were in the middle of dispatching a train, you’re riding. You chose to wait in line, you watched the ride run through the course, and you walked all the way up to the platform. Its on you. I know that can be harsh but there are warning signs posted throughout the attraction and at the entrances of the attractions stating the nature of the ride. Another thing that will create a huge safety issue is unbuckling a safety restraint while operators are in the dispatching procedure. This action infuriated me, especially when the ride was halfway out of the station. We cannot back the ride up in most cases, and once you leave the station, you must return. Operators will lift stop or ride stop the ride, go up to the train and fasten your restraint again, and you will ride. There is no such thing as evacuating one person off the train and I would not perform one unless it was a medical emergency or an extended ride breakdown. So with that being said, just remain seated with your seat belt fastened and your arms and legs inside the train at all times.
Let’s discuss fake hand signals. Yes, thumbs up means “all clear”, however, for the operators it is a non-verbal form of communication that is essential to YOUR safety. Each station is different, the number of operators on the platform is different, and of course the stations are usually loud. There is a certain order that each operator puts their thumb up (or “Clear” as we formally call it) to confirm that all seats in that section is checked, everyone conforms to the rider admission policy, and that he or she is clear from any potential dangers such as the train moving. The biggest issue I’ve had was at Magnum XL 200. I was on the load side and yes, we stand behind the station pillars, and it is extremely hard to see. I was checking the middle of the train and a guest thought it would be funny to throw up a “clear” and the “all clear” signal was given. Luckily, we had an amazing and efficient crew that looked out for one another, and they spotted me assisting guests in the train. Had anyone not been paying close attention, the train could have moved, I could have been hurt, and the guest could have been injured as well. So, in short, please don’t put up hand signals to confuse the operators. If you are not an operator at any park, do not put two thumbs down, the ride will immediately be stopped as that is the emergency stop signal.
In conclusion to the top five Cedar Point pet peeves, I encourage everyone who visits amusement parks to take a step back and think of the numerous factors that go into the safe operations of roller coasters and thrill rides. Its not just “button pushing”, it is hundreds of specific procedures to keep everyone safe. Safety is always the top priority, but that begins with the riders themselves. So just keep many of these “pet peeves” in mind and it will go a long way!