by Vanessa Thomas
When people find out I’m a roller coaster enthusiast, they sometimes ask what the scariest coaster is that I’ve ever ridden. It’s hard for me to answer, because I don’t find roller coasters scary at all. The Wisp Mountain Coaster is another story, though. I’ve been riding this mountain coaster for years, at nearly every Mountainfest event hosted by ACE Mid-Atlantic. The ride never fails to thrill me, and this year was no exception.
Most years, the Sunday afternoon of Mountainfest is a chilly, sometimes snowy affair. But on March 8, 2020, an unusually warm and sunny day welcomed a dozen ACE members to Wisp Mountain Resort. After signing our waivers for the mountain coaster, we each received four ride tickets. We walked to the ride station and gathered for a group photo, then got in line. A short mechanical delay gave us extra time to socialize, some of us discussing the previous day’s Coasterbash event in Pittsburgh (hosted by ACE Western Pennsylvania) and our upcoming coaster plans for the year. But the wait was not long, and we were soon riding up the lift hill, one by one.
I’m always grateful to have four ride passes at this event, because it allows me to get a bit braver on each ride. The rider is in control of how fast their cart goes, and I tend to be a little hesitant on the first run, applying the brakes when flying around the ride’s sharp curves. I can’t help it, because it truly feels like the cart and I might fly off the rails if I don’t. But if you’re brave and don’t apply the brake too much, you can experience the full thrill of the coaster and even get a little airtime over the ride’s short dips if you’re going fast enough.
After each of us completed our four runs on the mountain coaster and gathered at the bottom, most of us felt that we weren’t quite ready to go home. So we decided to gather for lunch at a nearby pizza place. We shared each other’s company over some good food, talked about our rides on the mountain coaster, and swapped stories of our amusement park experiences and adventures. When the meal was over, we finally said our goodbyes and parted ways, some headed east and some west, all taking home new memories of a good day of off-season coaster riding.
Thanks to Bill Galvin for organizing the event year after year. I know I’ll look forward to gathering in western Maryland and riding the Wisp Mountain Coaster with my fellow ACE members again next year.
Welcome to all our new Mid-Atlantic members in January! We look forward to seeing you at events this year.
Kenneth & Joshua Brown of Hayes, VA
Randy Davidson of Newport News, VA
Jim & Ben Hanchett of Williamsburg, VA
Scott Hayes of North Chesterfield, VA
Christian Hayes of Baltimore, MD
Bill Kite of Chesapeake, VA
Patrick McElroy of Williamsburg, VA
Myles McNutt of Norfolk, VA
Alli Mintz of Chesapeake, VA
Alexandra Moseley of Baltimore, MD
Ethan & Amy Palmer of Richmond, VA
Christopher Reynolds of Richmond, VA
Kyle, Meryl, Julia, and Jovis Sarrecchia of Palmyra, VA
Krystal Sarson of Falls Church, VA
Zac Smallwood of Chesapeake, VA
Jordon Smith of Leesburg, VA
Robert & Ethan Thomson of Seaford, VA
Brian, Rani, and Daniel Wachter of Williamsburg, VA
Scott & Kaeden Weersing of Virginia Beach, VA
Brooks Westfall of Baltimore, MD
by Elizabeth Ringas
Sad news from Kings Dominion… or is it? Last week Kings Dominion released the news that the Crypt will be removed before the 2020 season. It is a true loss of a ride that many loved, but ridership was low and dependability of operation had decreased significantly over the years. The Crypt is located in the Safari Village area of the park that housed Volcano: The Blast Coaster until its removal during the early months of the 2019 season. Maggie Sellers, Communications Manager, shares, “We recently announced on our blog that we will be removing the Crypt as we make room for future expansions. We’re sad to see this ride go after nearly 4 millions rides, but are excited for what the future holds for the park.”
by Billy Tyson
Growing up in Newport News, my siblings and I were fortunate to have two quaint little amusement parks not very far from us on opposite sides of the Chesapeake Bay, one in Hampton and the other in Norfolk. True to form, they were a source of great amusement with their rides, games, attractions, novelties, and oddities. Although these parks are now just a distant memory, I have fond memories of my parents loading us up in the station wagon and heading to either Buckroe Beach or Ocean View Amusement park. I especially enjoyed the Dips and the Rocket roller coasters but also enjoyed the Dodgem Bumper Cars with that unique smell of the crackling electricity. I remember the laid-back atmosphere and the sights and sounds of a wonderful carnival. I heard that at Buckroe Beach some people would try and bribe the operator of the Cascades and the Old Mill Stream (or what it was more commonly referred to, the “Tunnel of Love”) to have it break down at the opportune moment. Popcorn, cotton candy, candied apples, and all sorts of goodies were available.
I can remember in 1977 when the movie RollerCoaster came out showcasing Ocean View and the Rocket. I so enjoyed watching those opening scenes as they panned the park and the coaster. As you saw Timothy Bottoms’ character scaling the Rocket checking the track, it was surely a site to see. I can also remember in 1978 when Ocean View was closing, and they were filming the Death of Ocean View Park. The opening scenes of that movie showed the park and the Rocket. This movie is where they would blow up the park along with the Rocket rollercoaster. Well, the Rocket was stubborn and refuse to go down. I read that a demolition team rigged the coaster with plenty of explosives and that the explosion was so loud that it shattered windows in nearby buildings, but that the Rocket was still standing and would not come down easily. They tried it again but to no avail, as the Rocket once again remained standing. The third attempt finally took down the Rocket as the demolition team sawed through the Rocket’s supporting wood structure and pulled them out with a tractor as the explosion took place. With all its faults the movie had many good views of the park and the Rocket. I sometimes think of these parks as I travel down Interstate 64 and cross through the Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel.
Both parks date back to the 1890s, when Virginia Electric and Power Company (VEPCO) would develop its street car line and the railroad would add tracks that would make it feasible to bring throngs of people from all around to the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay and to the amusement parks for decades of fun well into the later part of the 20th century. These old-fashioned parks were called trolley parks since they were at the ends of the trolley or streetcar line. Buckroe Beach was always known for being more of a family park, whereas Ocean View during World War II was more of what they called a sailor’s park due to the volumes of sailors that would visit from nearby bases. This was a mixed blessing to the park as it led to the games and other entertainment vendors offering a seedier class of attraction to draw in the sailors and their money. Dudley Cooper, the owner of Ocean View park at the time, was able to get rid of the concessionaires, who effectively acted as independent contractors, and their seedy operations. The post-war years brought a more friendly park.
Buckroe Beach’s first coaster was a small one called the Jack Rabbit, which was replaced by the Dips roller coaster designed by Miller/Baker and built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1920. Buckroe Beach had an elaborate Kiddy Land with rides such as a boat ride, a car ride, a small Ferris wheel, and a train ride to name a few. Buckroe Beach had other rides such as the Scrambler, the Octopus, the Paratrooper, an adult Ferris wheel that provided a spectacular view, and other rides. There were many games of chance and skill including the popular Pull A String. Along with the coaster, another great ride Buckroe Beach was known for was its 1920-vintage Carousel, this antique merry-go-round features 48 intricately carved horses and two stately chariots. It was at the park for nearly 65 years, and after the park closed the park owners had an offer to sell it to a group in Portland, Oregon, but the city of Hampton convinced them to sell it to Hampton to keep it in the area. It is now housed at the city’s downtown waterfront and was restored to its original beauty back in 1991. Perhaps the only thing left in Buckroe Beach of the amusement park (except for the memories) is the Miniature Lighthouse.
Ocean View was known for the Rocket and other coasters like Serpentine and Leap the Dips that had graced its shores along with other rides such as the Carousel, the Ferris Wheel (which gave you a wonderful view of the Chesapeake Bay), a Tunnel of Fun, and a Sky Ride with a nice view of the park. Not to mention Ocean View’s unique collection of sideshow-type attractions. Performers came in all varieties — human and animal, legitimate and bizarre. Ocean View also had a wonderful Kiddy Land with several rides for the children. Ocean View grew piecemeal over many years into a collection of fun rides and silly diversions. Ocean View also had its share of carnival games and the trinkets they had.
Due to factors such as the high cost of rides and their maintenance along with insurance, the profitability of the parks eventually declined because they were not the go-to destination anymore. Then in the mid-1970s, newer, larger theme parks opened in the region, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and Kings Dominion in Doswell near Richmond, and the people were going there. So, in 1978, Ocean View Amusement Park received visitors for the last time, as did the Buckroe Beach Amusement Park in 1985.
It is sad that these parks were lost to the bulldozer, but with the technology of today we can revisit those days at the park and remember the fun times they provided.
Here are just a few links to the past of Buckroe and Ocean View.
by Jill Morris
General recommendations for travel in China
Although it may be tempting to visit China simply for all the parks, appreciating Chinese amusement parks is really a matter of first appreciating and understanding China and then visiting the parks with that understanding. Comparing many parks directly with their American counterparts (unless they are very new) might make the Chinese ones disappointing (strange operating procedures, open construction zones, etc.). However, once you are able to separate “this is normal here” from “this park’s operations are strange,” you can enjoy these parks despite any differences between them and American parks.
Look for restaurants with picture menus (and point) if you don’t speak any Mandarin, take photos of the item you want and show it to the cashier at quick service restaurants at parks, or use a translation app (see below) to communicate with people with whom you do not share a language.
Getting money exchanged/paying for entry and other items
There are money exchange facilities in most major airports. However, it may be easier simply to withdraw RMB directly from your bank account from a Chinese ATM. Not all ATMs will work with foreign bank cards, but some do, and I have found this is the easiest way to get money. If the ATM asks for a six-digit PIN it will not work with your card no matter what the signage around it states. Others only ask for a four-digit one and will work fine.
Foreign credit cards also do not work in most places, including those that are owned by foreign companies (the exception is Disneyland). You will need cash to pay for almost everything. Most Chinese people will pay for all transactions using their cell phone (Alipay or WeChat Pay), but this won’t be available to tourists or even people on short-term work permits or business visas. Some businesses will not be happy about accepting cash but most do (far more than accept foreign credit).
Wifi and cell phones
Although SIM cards are sold at the airport in vending machines, these worked for some of the professors in my group better than others. Most SIM cards have to be tied to a Chinese national ID (which most visitors will not have unless they are immigrating), so our luck with using these has varied. If you will be in the country for a month or more and have a Chinese friend that can get a card for you with a normal plan, that will likely be your best option. Be sure to return the card to them so it can be properly canceled when you leave. Most plans will be 40 USD a month or less.
I recommend using ExpressVPN if you absolutely need Facebook, Google, etc. access while in China. It is not free, but it is worth the money. You will need a VPN to get past the country-wide firewall and visit many American websites. For a short trip this would not be required though. Additionally, if you travel close to any major anniversaries for the country or protests (like the ones currently in Hong Kong), the VPN may not work or will need updating before it will work.
Preload your phone with a translation app. It won’t be perfect but it will help. Be sure to download both languages (English and Mandarin) so it will work offline without a VPN if you are using Google Translate. It is not unusual to communicate back and forth with someone in a store this way. Most people know a little English (yes/no, hello, etc.) but not much. Staff at Disney need to know more, but don’t expect this at other parks. I also use pictures to communicate when English and Mandarin fail. (As an example, there are many different ways to ask for a bathroom in English in China: bathroom, restroom, water closet, WC, etc., but a picture of a toilet always works.)
Before going to China, set up a WeChat account for yourself, as this is how people communicate with one another in China. It has free voice and video chat for free too, so if you have people at home you want to communicate with, using WeChat is a great way to do so. WeChat can also be used to sign into free WiFi (including at the Beijing airport and many buses and businesses), so having an account is highly recommended.
Unless you are fluent in Mandarin, using ride sharing services like Didi is incredibly difficult as most drivers will call you before picking you up. Additionally, Didi needs to be tied to a payment service through a cell phone. Most foreigners cannot receive a driver’s license in China either, so driving yourself is not an option (and honestly, you probably would not want to).
Public transit in China is fantastic though, so in big cities you won’t need to worry about driving or using Didi. Both buses and subways will be available to you, so look up whether the park you want to visit is reachable by one or the other. Subway ticket machines will usually have an English option. Both are very very cheap (100 RMB = $14 USD right now) as a bus ride in Changsha was 1.4 RMB. Subway ride prices vary by length, but are still incredibly affordable. Chinese subways tend to be new, and they run often and are very clean. They may be full (just shove in with everyone else), but are the best way to get around.
The only and most important issue to know with public transit is it will shut down at 11 pm (give or take) in most cities. Therefore, if you stay off property at Disneyland and need to get back to your hotel on the other side of the city, you may need to leave by 8:30 or 9 pm when the park is open much later. Plan for this when visiting any city. Look up when public transit stops running and make plans to make it back all the way while it is still running. Keep extra cash and the address/name of your hotel (and a photo of the front) in Chinese in your phone in case you decide to stay late and need a taxi.
Traveling between cities: The two most popular methods of traveling between cities is by air or by high-speed rail. If you are traveling between cities that have mountains between them, unfortunately your best option will be an airplane. However, if the cities are not on either side of a mountain, then you should be able to purchase high-speed rail tickets.
Personally, I love the high-speed rail system in China and can’t say enough good things about it. Trains are clean, fast, and run on time. Furthermore, they are relatively inexpensive, so they are a great way to get between cities and visit multiple parks. They will also be connected to subways in major cities (small stops in the country might not be so connected), and so it is easy to get between your hotel, high-speed rail, and subway.
To purchase high-speed rail tickets, go to Trip.com. Your receipt will come to your phone or email, and you will need it to get your tickets at the window when you get to the station. I recommend that you pick up tickets a day or two before your trip if you can (not possible if you are flying into the country, but picking up tickets before your trip will keep you from getting stuck in a long line at the window and missing your train — this happened to me once). You will need the passport of all members of your party and the receipt in order to pick up the tickets, especially if you do not speak any Mandarin. Multiple tickets can be picked up at once though, so if you are going to multiple cities just show multiple receipts and they will print the tickets for you at the train station.
Chinese nationals say that once you have picked up your tickets at a station, your passport will be “in the system” and you can pick them up at a satellite location. This has never worked for me, despite having been on the trains multiple times. Don’t wait until the last minute assuming one of these other locations will work.
If you are picking up tickets on the day of your train, arrive at the station 2-3 hours early. Lines can be long to pick up tickets. Treat it like a plane until you have tickets in hand. Once you do, you can get there later. Trains will arrive and leave precisely on time though, so be careful to be near your gate at your scheduled time and check the board often.
Air travel is not as well scheduled. Many of the professors in the group I have traveled with have struggled with canceled and late flights, which are not a terrible problem when traveling to/from the country, but could be if you only had a day or two in a city to sightsee and visit parks. If you have to take a plane, try to do so in the early morning (so a delay could push you back to a later flight that same day). Although you can bring many checked bags on international flights, you can only bring one on flights within China (plus two personal items and a pillow). You will be charged if you have to travel with more luggage within the country, so plan ahead and find the desk to pay for an extra bag before checking in for your flight. It is not as expensive as checking an extra or overweight bag in the US. (Extra baggage on a train can be stored in the luggage racks near the bathrooms or over your seat.) When checking into your plane, look for a board that tells you which check-in counter to use for your flight and be sure to go to the one that your flight has been assigned. Also be aware that some subway stops do not have elevators or escalators, so do not travel with more than you can carry if at all possible. Some airports are also not connected to the subway system, and you will need to either take a maglev train to another part of the city or take a taxi. Also, if your flight lands late the public transit may be closed and you will have to take a taxi to the hotel you are staying at. Have everything pre-written in Chinese and saved in your phone. (People also tend to ask me how stressful it is to get through customs, but since the people who work there don’t seem to speak English I have not found this to be a problem at all. I give them my passport and entry card that I get on the plane, smile at the camera, and everything is fine.)
While this advice might make travel in China sound stressful, in reality, following this advice would mean that you are really unlikely to run into any major problems and it should be completely smooth. I travel at the end of each of my semesters in the country, and learning some of the tricks of the system has enabled me to be completely comfortable doing so without a Chinese guide.
Many people in China will be excited to attempt to speak English, so expect that random people will try to help you or will just want to practice with you (at the same time, don’t rely upon others knowing English if you can help it). This means that people will come up to you and want to talk and take photos with you. If you are comfortable doing so, let them. It will make their day.
Many of the problems that people report in traveling to China to visit amusement parks can partially be attributed not just to culture shock, but to not understanding what is cultural and what is a peculiarity of a specific park (also the time difference/jet lag can be extreme; from EST it is 12 hours). Complaints about bathrooms, odd knock-off coasters, strange food (I was not allowed to buy a pork bun at Happy Valley and I still don’t know why) and stranger operating procedures are real, but spending a few days in the country proper and seeing how things are before beginning to go to parks can help with the jet lag and beginning to get a feel for what China is like in general. Doing so will make for a better day at any park that you happen to visit.