NOTE: This article was originally going to appear in the August issue of The Streak, but I was asked to remove it due to the potential for conflicts of interest. While I disagree with the decision for many reasons that I am not going to go into, I didn't want to not post it somewhere, so it found its way to my blog (with some modifications to make it more personal to my experience).
The 42nd annual edition of American Coasters Enthusiasts’ biggest event was held from June 16-20 at Six Flags Magic Mountain (SFMM) and Knott’s Berry Farm. Not only was it an awesome event at both parks, we couldn’t have been any luckier with the weather over the course of the event. I’ll take 75-85 with a little breeze in Southern California in June any time!
Participants checked in at the Hyatt Regency Valencia where they were also able to visit the ACE General Store, register for the Rubber Ducky Regatta, Midway Olympics and Photo Contests as well as pick up pre-ordered t-shirts for the event. There were also several vendor tables selling various items.
After registration, most people headed over to the park.
Now, Sundays at parks can be hit-or-miss and despite being bring-a-friend-free day at SFMM, the crowds were very light for almost the entire day. GOCC Past President Jason Hammond, former GOCC President, Secretary (and many other positions) Michael Burkes and I were all in attendance for the entirety of the event.
When I arrived, I met up with Jason and we headed over to Full Throttle and then to Viper and X2. Now, I will say that the only coasters I've ever been nervous prior to riding were Intimidator 305 (because of the whole history of people graying/blacking out) and X2. That said, as soon as I hit the first drop, I was laughing hysterically the entire ride. X2 is such an insane and different ride, that it easily jumped up to my second favorite coaster ever behind Steel Vengeance. Viper was very fun in the front row. For as much as people complain about it, I really enjoyed all five rides I had on it during the event. Full Throttle was pretty cool. The only part that sucks is the braking coming down the top hat at the end. We also had a chance to ride a couple rides with Brendan from IG: @koasters_incoming who is a really nice kid. Give him a follow.
After those rides, we walked over to Twisted Colossus, which I was really looking forward to riding. Twisted Colossus is a good ride anytime, but when it is dueling, it is incredible. We did not get a dueling ride at this time, but it was still a blast.
When I got off the ride, I got to meet a local guy named Chris who runs the Airtime Thrills channel on YouTube (SUBSCRIBE) and IG: @airtimethrills. He hung out with us for several hours until our dinner, letting us have his Twisted Colossus one-time flash passes, getting us lunch early on and showing us around the park. It was awesome for him to do all that, let alone hang out with us. His YouTube channel is great, I wasn't kidding when I say subscribe now. After Twisted Colossus, we went to Scream, which is running only 1 train this summer and still had no line. First off, its pretty much in the far back area of the park -- I know its against the parking lot but you have to walk in this big circle to get to it once you get in the park. The ride itself was just meh. It is an okay floorless, but nothing special. I didn't ride it again during the event.
My favorite thing Chris said to me during our time together was "Tatsu's pretzel loop will rip your face off". Well, we went to Tatsu and he was absolutely right. First off, Tatsu would be a #1 coaster at many parks, it is really that good. As we rode, I was amazed by the views and smoothness of the ride, but as I'm yelling "AHHHHHHHHHHHH" on the ride, we hit that pretzel loop and well, my mouth was open but no words were coming out. That might be the most intense element I've ever experienced AND IT WAS SUPER COOL.
At 6 p.m., attendees were welcomed to the park with the opening dinner. The menu for the event included steak, shrimp, chicken, grilled asparagus, baked potatoes, green salad, cookies, soft drinks and a cash bar (over-21 attendees were given two free drink tickets). Raffle tickets were sold for a Monday morning lift-hill walk on Goliath. While we were eating, several people briefly spoke about the event before we were welcomed to the park by SFMM Park President Neal Thurman. I also ran into my Coasterographer friends Mac (IG: @mac.rides), Keltan (IG: @savage.coasters) and Max (IG: @rollercoaster.crew) who I hung out with here and there throughout the event.
After dinner, there was a little bit of time to kill before the first ERT which included Superman: Escape from Krypton, Tatsu, Gold Rusher, Riddler’s Revenge and use of the Helpful Honda Express. There was also a “lights on” walking tour of the track and ride areas of Justice League: Battle for Metropolis. I met Jack from @ThrillingMoments Photography (Twitter) and his dad Ben and spent some time shooting pictures and riding some rides with them.
Quick thoughts on some of the other rides (since I'm adding my personal stuff to this article after the fact):
Superman EFK: Overrated, one trick pony. Still fun, but very overblown.
Riddler's Revenge: Some said its the best stand-up -- I didn't like it one bit. I rode in the front, back, 2nd and second-last rows and it was rough and super head-bangy in each row. Not a fan.
Gold Rusher: It was fine for a mine train. The helix was really cool though.
The kiddy coasters: whatever.
Batman the Ride: SUPER intense in the front row. Probably my second favorite Batman clone after the SFOG one.
Goliath: Very cool ride. Could be better without such heavy trims, but still really fun, especially at night.
Ninja: Definitely better than Iron Dragon and The Bat, but that second lift hill is such a buzzkill if you don't know that its the end of the ride.
NOTE: On the morning of day 2, I crossed the street by my hotel to go to the McDonald's across the street and I was chewed out by a homeless guy for jaywalking. Interesting start to my morning.
Day two began with ERT on Riddler’s Revenge, New Revolution, Superman: Escape from Krypton, Justice League: Battle for Metropolis and CraZanity. Lunch was served in the Paradise picnic pavilion and included cheeseburgers, pulled pork, chicken strips, mac and cheese, baked beans, corn on the cob, potato salad, cole slaw, brownies, soft drinks and various ice cream products. During lunch (and continuing in the same area since it was used as the ACE lounge on both Monday and Tuesday), attendees could vote for the photo contest. We were also given a Six Flags refillable cup which was able to be refilled at any drink station or in the ACE lounge. At lunch, I met a young man that has been talking to me for about two years now but whose path I never crossed, Anthony from @hershey_fanatics (IG). He and his dad had just flown in after a few hours at home near Philly after having previously been at Disneyland Paris. We hung out for most of the rest of the event at MM and Knotts, which was pretty cool for me because I was at the event alone.
Shortly after lunch, a group picture was taken near the front gate before backstage tours began. We were taken behind the scenes at Twisted Colossus, Willoughby’s Fright Fest maze, the West Coast Racers construction site, the Cycle Shop (maintenance area) and for some groups, Scream. Also available was a photo opportunity with the Six Flags “Bus” as seen in the famous “Mr. Six” commercials.Monday’s evening ERT included Twisted Colossus, Scream, Goliath, Batman: the Ride, Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom, Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth and the Flash Speed Force. We were also treated to Dippin’ Dots sundaes as a snack that night. As a side note - the ride ops at Twisted Colossus did a wonderful job to make sure the trains were dueling/racing as much as possible. It is pretty tricky to get the dispatches right, but they worked hard to rush everybody onto the train and check all the restraints quickly.
The final day at SFMM included morning ERT on X2, Viper, New Revolution, Goliath, Full Throttle, Speedy Gonzales Hot Rod Racers, Road Runner Express and Canyon Blaster. It is always an entertaining sight to see so many adult enthusiasts riding kiddy coasters together to get the coaster credits.
Walking on X2 over and over again with minimal wait was also a great way to start the day. During the middle of the day, many attendees chose to attend the ACE annual business meeting, the ACE video contest and several presentations in the Gearworks Theater.
Around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, June 18, attendees flocked to the water park for the Fourth Annual Rubber Ducky Regatta in the lazy river. Never did I ever think I would see so many people get excited to watch a bunch of rubber ducks float down a slow-moving waterway, but it was incredible fun.
After the regatta, we were treated to a farewell dinner of BBQ beef brisket, oven-roasted chicken, cheese enchiladas, Spanish rice, chips, fruit, green beans, macaroni salad, soft drinks, various ice cream and other sweet treats. During the dinner, the Midway Olympics and Rubber Ducky Regatta Winners were announced, a couple wheels from the original Colossus were sold, the host plaque was presented to SFMM and the silent auction took place.
The final ERT of the night took place on all operating coasters besides Magic Flyer. For me, that meant a big loop between X2, Tatsu and Twisted Colossus. I took a couple rides on other coasters like Full Throttle as well. They also treated us to funnel cakes with toppings as our snack. At 11 p.m., our time at SFMM was over. I want to personally thank Neal Thurman and the SFMM team for their hospitality over the three days in the park. The staff went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. They literally rolled out a red carpet for us opening night and it stayed that way for our entire time there.
Day four of Coaster Con 42 moved over to Knott’s Berry Farm. After going through security and checking in, we were treated to morning ERT on HangTime, Xcelerator, Coast Rider, Sierra Sidewinder, Jaguar, Supreme Scream and a few other various attractions in the Boardwalk, Fiesta Village and Camp Snoopy areas of the park. For me, I rode Sierra Sidewinder first, being that it was in the front of the park and that I needed two more coasters to hit 300. Had GhostRider been part of our ERT, I would have picked that, but I instead went with Xcelerator. After riding, I knew I made a great choice. What a ride.
At this time, a local kid that I had met at Carowinds showed up to ride some stuff and show me around the park. So the first thing we did was get in line for Coast Rider for the credit. That ride can burn to the ground for all I care. The restraints are horribly uncomfortable and the ride did nothing for me. After Coast Rider, we decided to head over to GhostRider, which was probably my biggest remaining bucket list coaster of my entire trip (including the two parks up North). It didn't let me down. It would be the best ride I had at Knotts until later when I rode it at night. Its a shame the line moves so slow. I would have loved to have more rides.
After that, we went back over to HangTime to get a ride on that. Let me tell you - riding in the back row on HangTime - you get WHIPPED over that drop. It is extremely smooth and the double down in the back half is really cool. This was a perfect addition to Knotts with their lack of land space. Very fun (and one of the best nighttime light packages I've ever seen).
Lunch was served in the Lagoon picnic area from 12:30-2:30 p.m. and included Mrs. Knott’s famous fried chicken, boysenberry BBQ meatballs, baked ziti, mashed potatoes with country gravy, corn on the cob, California green beans with lemon butter and sunflower seeds, boysenberry pie and soft drinks. This was perhaps the best meal of the event. The boysenberry BBQ meatballs are incredible and were my favorite item served. During the event, we were also treated to a mock gunfight between two of the Ghost Town Alive actors. Also during lunch, the host plaque was presented to park management and another silent auction took place.
During midday, Knott’s Berry Farm historian Eric Lynxwiler gave presentations titled “From Boysenberries to Roller Coasters” and “Knott’s Bear-y Tales” in the Boardwalk Ballroom. In between those two presentations, attendees were able to have a “meet and greet” with the ACE Executive Committee. I didn't attend any of this however, as I was riding Knotts awesome log ride and the Calico Mine Ride, which was also very cool.
From 10-11 p.m., our first ERT session occurred on HangTime, Xcelerator, Coast Rider, Sierra Sidewinder, Montezooma’s Revenge, Jaguar, Supreme Scream and other select rides. We did not have ERT on GhostRider per se, but attendees were allowed to enter the GhostRider queue until 11 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. like regular attendees, so that effectively served as ERT.
The final official day of Coaster Con 42 took place on Thursday, June 20. At 8:30 a.m., attendees met by Montezooma’s Revenge to present the landmark plaque to the park and coaster.
After the presentation, attendees were treated to ERT on the same rides as the previous day. At 10 a.m., once the ERT ended, attendees were given an ACE-only Calico Railroad ride. At this point, I had to run a few miles away to pick up my friend Ryan from the train station after he flew in from Connecticut. I did that, came back to Knotts and re-rode a lot of the attractions with him.
At 3 p.m., attendees were given priority entry into Beach Blanket Beagle in the Charles M. Schulz theater.
My thoughts on the other Knotts rides:
Pony Express - Pretty boring overall - not nearly as fun as Darien Lake's Motocoaster. Broke down A LOT.
Jaguar - Okay family ride. Thought it was cool it went through the loop on Montezooma.
Montezooma's Revenge - Was broken down much of day 1 of the event. They got it up and running that evening and man, what a cool ride. I'm sad there are barely any of these left. The intensity of going backwards through the loop was absolutely amazing.
Sierra Sidewinder - The helix was fun, but that's about it. We barely spun.
Silver Bullet - Very different B&M invert. Not nearly as forceful as the others, but also very smooth and some of the elements were quite different that those commonly seen. The final helix over the water is really sweet.
Timberline Twister - One of the best kiddy coasters I've ever ridden. I rode in the back and you get crazy pops of airtime. I imagine if I had ridden this as a young child, it would have been the greatest thing ever.
The final event of Coaster Con 42 was the annual banquet. At the banquet, David Mandt gave the keynote address followed by several presentations, the awarding of the Coaster Con Photo and Video Contest awards (I took 2nd and 3rd in the photo contest and Jason accepted the plaques in my honor).
Thank you to Knott’s Berry Farm for hosting us the final two days of the event. The park is such a unique, immersive, well-themed place that you forget you are even in a park sometimes. I enjoyed every minute I spent there, and I’m sure most of the attendees would agree with that sentiment.
Following Coaster Con, many attendees took the opportunity to attend additional add-on events at SeaWorld San Diego and Belmont Park. I was unable to attend, but from what I’ve heard, it was an awesome time.
Although its a bit pricey, I definitely recommend Coaster Con. I wasn't sure what to expect out of my first ACE event, but it was really really cool. I'm already looking forward to next year in PA and 2021 in my own backyard.