Cedar Point has finally opened its much-delayed new attraction for the 2011 season, WindSeeker. Was it worth the wait?
When Cedar Point's marketing campaign began to hint at a blast from the past arriving on the famous park's sandy shores for the 2011 season, rumors of classic wooden rollercoasters modeled after the park's countless scenic railways abounded. Historians and enthusiasts were delighted by the idea of a coaster built by GCI to emulate the park’s century-old origins. It’s easy to understand, then, why initial reactions were mixed when the park instead announced that their historical tribute was to a classic "chair-o-plane" attraction that operated on the beach in the early 1900s.
However, in true Cedar Fair style, it's the immense scale of the new WindSeeker that is truly breathtaking. Standing 301 feet (97 meters) tall, WindSeeker is a massive monument that is both visually striking and immediately intimidating (and what a testament to the park’s innovation that WindSeeker can be either of those things when it is only the third tallest ride there). Computer animations can’t truly represent the sheer size of the ride, whose massive central tower is so wide, it creates the illusion that it’s shorter than it really is. When the carriage begins to rise, however, the immensity of the attraction comes to light.
Open at last
Rumors of WindSeeker first surfaced late in 2010 when reports noted that Cedar Fair had trademarked the name Stratosoar. Seemingly a take on the strato- prefix used to describe the park's own 400 foot tall Top Thrill Dragster, speculation was that Cedar Point planned to again assert their dominance in the “tallest, fastest” categories by constructing a 400 foot tall StarFlyer, a tower-swing ride by the Funtime Group. When WindSeeker was officially announced in August 2010, however, it was Dutch manufacturer Mondial whose prototype tower was chosen for its steel arms (as opposed to a StarFlyer's seats suspended by chains), which could theoretically operate in the windy conditions that Cedar Point's peninsula location is prone to.
Shortly thereafter, Cedar Point’s sister parks Kings Island (Kings Mills, Ohio), Canada’s Wonderland (Vaughan, Ontario) and Knott’s Berry Farm (Buena Park, California) announced with little build-up time that they, too, would open identical WindSeekers. The three Eastern parks planned to have their WindSeekers ready to go on their respective opening dates (Kings Island’s on April 30th, Wonderland’s on May 8th and Cedar Point’s on May 18th). All three were delayed, citing a particularly wet and stormy spring season.
Though Cedar Fair has not come forward to say otherwise, speculation is that weather was not the only cause of delays; with four identical prototype rides being built at once, mechanical issues appear to have plagued the towers ultimately resulting in each being delayed by a month or more. After the alleged introduction of a chain-protector, all new wiring, and hydraulic dampers, Cedar Point’s ride opened quietly on June 14th (a full month after its May 14th expected opening).
Overlooking the water
Of course, the most noticeable part of WindSeeker that its cousins at Kings Island, Canada’s Wonderland, and Knott’s Berry Farm could never replicate is its waterfront location. Cedar Point appears to have taken great care in placing WindSeeker where its provided panoramic view can inspire the most awe, relocating the Ocean Motion swinging ship to the front of the park to make room.
While Ocean Motion may have been a "best kept secret" when tucked away behind the Extreme Sports Stadium, WindSeeker has no qualms about making its presence known. Cedar Point appears to have taken great care to open up the plaza in front of the ride, which naturally draws dozens of curious onlookers and really makes the ride a spectacle.
The queue line creates a semi-circle around the base of the tower. As on many large, circular flat rides, an attendant assigns seats to riders, who then pass down two holding queues that travel back behind the ride. There, visitors are quite literally sandwiched between the lapping waters of the beach, and increasingly intimidating grey tower.
Each arm of the swing holds two seats, which gives the tower a massive 64-person capacity that even the largest HUSS Giant rides or Intamin Gyro Drops can’t compete with. While hydraulic dampers are positioned on each arm of the swing to prevent collisions in-air, the seats do sway wildly while boarding. Perhaps another issue is that, like nearby Wicked Twister, the idea of the raising and lowering floor has been dismissed, with riders instead needing to awkwardly hop up into the seats. I, for one, missed a few times when trying to lift myself over the tremendous horn that's placed between riders' legs.
The restraints on WindSeeker are actually very ideal. A large, cushioned lap bar is in place that has a massive metal bar to hold onto. The lap bar is also secured by a seat belt. As far as accommodating larger riders, I can’t speak to WindSeeker’s versatility. The seat feels large and the restraint itself is free enough, but ride attendants on each of my rides literally placed both hands on the lap bar and put all their weight on it, mashing it down as tightly as possible. Of course, that might be in search of a tight fit for each individual and not a picky computer system.
The ride itself is incredibly serene. The carriage ascends between 50 and 75 feet up the tower before it begins to spin. That portion of the ride is a very peculiar sensation, as visually you can see yourself rising (and quickly!) though you physically experience no forces. It almost feels as though the world is sinking around you. Regardless, it’s an unexpected and unplanned optical illusion that does well to throw you off guard.
Spinning to the music
It's also at this point that the music begins. WindSeeker has a playlist of 18 different songs that play during the ride cycle. I found many to be instantly recognizable, like “Hedwig’s Theme,” the de facto theme song of the Harry Potter film franchise. There was also the theme from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and “Flight of the Valkyries.” The addition of music was a welcome surprise from the enthusiast community (which had admittedly doubted Cedar Fair’s commitment to details like music and lighting). Perhaps most surprisingly, the audio is truly “on-ride,” with speakers located on the carriage so that the music ascends with the riders. And while none of the tracks seem to be timed specifically to the ride cycle, all that I heard ended up matching quite well. You don’t have to be a fan of Harry Potter to be spellbound by those first few xylophone notes that we’ve grown so used to in movie trailers playing as the ride begins to ascend at night. It truly makes the ride even more like a relaxing lullaby.
As you might expect of a flat ride at a high-throughput park like Cedar Point, I found that the ride was a little too short. When videos of the ride testing first debuted and folks complained about the length, my initial reaction was, “Well how many times did you want to go in a circle?” But the view at the top feels neither repetitive nor tiresome. With each revolution, I made note of my position relative to Top Thrill Dragster, Power Tower, Wicked Twister, Millennium Force, or the shimmering Lake Erie. Occasionally, I’d catch myself looking at the tower itself, completely enamored with the dozens of moving parts and the drive-tires turning the carriage. That is to say, there was plenty to look at, and another revolution or two would’ve felt very natural and fulfilling.
There is a sense of weightlessness throughout, as the speed of the revolution sends the swings outward at a 45-degree angle (which is really a massively thrilling position when you consider being 300 feet high and over the water), and the constant speed of 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) is refreshingly quick, and (mixed with the winds of the altitude), plasters a smile on your face quite effectively.
After about a minute of full-speed revolution, the ride begins its descent to the loading area. The descent stops at that 50-foot mark once again as the drive tires in the carriage slow the ride and re-align it to its home position. Once the ride is completely motionless, it is quickly and smoothly lowered back to the ground, where riders disembark.
Lighting up the night
As impressive as the ride’s height is during the day, its real claim to fame shines most brightly at night. Both the top and bottom of the tower are illuminated by incredibly strong LED spotlights that slowly fade between colors and give the tower structure an ethereal glow against the night sky. But once the ride cycle begins, the lights of the tower gracefully fade away and hand the stage over to the real star...
The carriage itself is covered in LED lights, with bars of them running out from the tower and down each of the ride's steel arms. While these lights flash and fade during the loading and unloading like a “screensaver,” they take on a life of their own once the spinning begins. The lights create intricate patterns and shapes, seemingly dancing to the on-ride audio and enthralling spectators who have gathered to watch. The ride sort of appears like a massive, illuminated spider as it rises up the tower. It’s truly a sight to behold, and one of the greatest details I’ve seen in a Cedar Fair park since Maverick’s launch tunnel (which, by the way, no longer employs its trademark special effects).
WindSeeker at night is truly a sight to behold, standing out proudly among Cedar Point’s famous skyline. It’s easily the most noticeable of all the attractions come sundown, and possibly one of the most visually captivating flat rides I have seen. You can get a sense of this from the video below:
Of course, WindSeeker's greatest feature may also be its biggest detractor. The park is known for its massive bug infestations during the humid summer months, as short-lived Mayflies and Junebugs literally swarm lampposts and spotlights. WindSeeker is essentially a massive, flashing LED light, and the insect population notices. A gigantic cloud of bugs quite literally rose up with the carriage, hovering as it began to spin and causing riders to swing right through them as they gathered on the half of the ride that’s suspended over the water. Of course, there was a point where they could fly no higher, but they were eagerly awaiting us as the gondola descended.
But that's just what happens when you build a ride covered in LED lights next to the water on an island in the summer. And honestly, the ride is so beautiful at night that it may even be worth it.
Was the wait worth it for WindSeeker? I say, absolutely. Cedar Fair has finally embraced the idea that a ride can be as fun to observe as it is to experience. WindSeeker is perfectly placed, and the inclusion of on-ride audio and such an exemplary lighting package is more than anyone expected or could’ve asked for. Perhaps most importantly, it fills an important niche at the mega thrill park. I think with a lower height requirement than the lofty 52” (1.32 meters, 4” taller than the requirement for Millennium Force) and some insect protection, the ride would be ideal.
I imagine WindSeeker is a ride that will treat different people in different ways. One with sensitivity to heights would likely find the ride nerve wracking if not terrifying. Those who don’t mind a day of low-key attractions may find it right up their alley. Even thrill seekers will have much to enjoy in WindSeeker. At its core, it is arguably exactly what Cedar Point needed – a ride that truly offers a bit of everything. It has earned its place in the Cedar Point skyline, and that is not an easy thing to do.
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