By S.L. Stoddart
Saturday is an unofficial holiday for many in southeastern Michigan: Opening Day at Cedar Point. While thrill seekers wait all winter long for this day to arrive, this year’s opening is undeniably special for CP lovers across the planet for one reason — GateKeeper.
GateKeeper is the park’s 16th roller coaster and their first winged coaster. In true CP fashion, the $30 million ride crushes several world records – including track length (4,161 ft.), drop height (164 ft.) and most inversions (six). The track dramatically flies above the main entrance of the park, passing over arriving guests with two rolling flyover maneuvers as the train narrowly slides through a “keyhole” for near miss excitement.
CP graciously opened their doors for a special media preview of GateKeeper on Thursday, days before the public would rush the Sandusky, Ohio island. Park operators gave us unprecedented access to the ride, which I think I rode about 10 times throughout the day.
When I say unprecedented access, I truly mean it. Not only were we allowed to walk right onto GateKeeper, but they gave us access to places usually off-limits to guests. I was actually able to stand underneath the “Wing Over Drop” from the lift hill and watch as a train full of 32 riders came hurling toward the ground at speeds of more than 65 mph.
The first thing anyone should know before riding the GateKeeper is you’re going to wait in line for a long, long time. This is definitely the park’s most in-demand ride, and probably will be for the next few seasons. Not only is it brand-spanking new, but GateKeeper is in the front of the park and is absolutely impossible to miss. Everyone is going to want to ride this coaster, which means you’ll be waiting in line for over an hour at peak times.
That being said, the queue area is in almost 100 percent direct sunlight. Of course, you get stunning views of the beach along Lake Erie, but looking out over the water is going to make waiting in line under the hot summer sun that much worse.
Outside of the queue, CP has installed lockers (available on an hourly basis) for bags and loose items you won’t want to lose on the ride. But if you don’t feel like shelling out a couple bucks to secure your stuff, the ride does have bins on the loading dock.
So, you’ve waited in line and no doubt have a sunburn if you decided to pass on the sunscreen. Now, you must decide if you want to ride on the left or right side of the train. Riders sit suspended from the train on either side of the track, as to mimic the sensation of flight. I rode on both sides and honestly, either way you won’t be disappointed.
Once you reach the top of the lift hill, the coaster train rotates 180 degrees to the right, turning riders upside down before plummeting toward the ground. If you’re on the left side, you get completely flipped over the track before zooming down the hill. If you’re on the right side, you just kind of get tucked under, since you’re on the inside of the rotation. Personally, I think the left side is better just for that extra little thrill.
From there, prepare to be flipped over, turned around and experience several G-forces. The ride goes through several complex manuevers, which puts a lot of strain on your body. However, ride technology has improved vastly over the last decade, and GateKeeper is probably the smoothest coaster you’ll experience at the park.
One of the coolest moments on the ride is passing through the keyhole above the park’s entrance as you go through a Zero-G-Roll. You’ll then get flipped around and come back over the front gate as you go through a 360 degree In-Line-Roll. Riders said for a moment during the second pass over the entrance, it felt as if they were floating on air.
The restraints used to keep riders safe are actually quite nice, in the fact that they conform to each rider’s individual size. You feel very secure, and there’s no gap between your shoulder and the top of the restraint. You only have to sit next to one person, so there’s plenty of arm room. And the seats seem to fit larger passengers too, as opposed to the older rides with small seats that some guests can’t fit into.
The biggest complaint I heard about the ride, however, is at the end – those few moments when you’re waiting for the train in front of you to unload so you can get off the ride and on with your day. Well, as you can imagine, those shoulder restraints tend to tighten up throughout the ride, as forces push against the rider in their seat. Several riders complained that as they waited to get off the train, the restraints dug into their collarbone. Others said it was so tight, it was almost hard to breath, while some female riders said the restraints uncomfortably smashed their chest down.
GateKeeper is unlike any other at the park and for that reason alone, is worth the experience. As much as I enjoyed my time on GateKeeper, I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite ride in the park. I mean, it’s kind of hard to top Millennium Force. But GateKeeper can’t really be compared to the other coasters at CP because it’s just that unique.
All I can say is there’s a reason Cedar Point has been named the “Best Amusement Park in the World” by Amusement Today for the past 15 years. The brilliant brains behind the park are constantly working to create new rides that leave everlasting impressions on anyone who experiences them. After riding GateKeeper, you’ll see why CP will most likely be extending their reign on the top of the charts for a 16th year.