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Airborne in Indiana

by Paul Ruben
06 February, 2007

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Santa Claus, Indiana, was the only major theme park in America that I hadn’t experienced until recently. As the season was coming to an end, I finally visited and met the town’s namesake, pictured here (he’s the one with the beard).

What a revelation this visit was! If Disney wrote the book on theme park guest service, then Will Koch, Holiday World president and CEO, has written the sequel.

I have never visited a park where the visitor is treated better. Koch offers free parking, but many parks still do that. He recently introduced free soft drinks (just help yourself to any of 12 flavours in a generous 12-ounce cup), free refills and free sunscreen in the waterpark. I understand Konge Parken in Norway does something similar.

But what about this nugget: While most parks do not allow you to carry loose objects aboard their rides but offer coin-operated lockers nearby, Koch has installed free lockers on the loading platforms of his rollercoasters. The ride attendant courteously accepted my camera, locked it away and gave me the key on a wrist strap before dispatch. That’s simply amazing guest service, and according to Koch, good for business. He explains why elsewhere in this issue.

The downside is that this thoughtful service lulled me into a false sense of security before I rode Voyage, the first of four new coasters for me that day, numbers 719 through 722 if you wish to keep count. I do wish, not that I’m compulsive. Designed by The Gravity Group, Voyage was introduced in 2006 and is a combination of out-and-back and twister style wooden coaster. It’s 173ft tall and 6,442ft long with a 154ft drop set at a 55-degree angle. I was not ready for what followed.

Just for reference, the world’s record for the most moments of negative gravity, where you feel lifted off your seat, was 12, held by Roar at Six Flags Marine World. At least that was the record until this year when it was broken — no, shattered — by Voyage.

I don’t know why Koch bothered to buy coaster trains with seats. Once we dropped off the lifthill I rarely used mine. There was a draft under my pants 24 times on Voyage. During my 95 seconds in the thrill zone, I was airborne more than 24 seconds, a world record. Work it out for yourself. During more than a quarter of the ride the seat was superfluous.

Bottom line: Voyage is the best wooden rollercoaster on the planet! But I was so shaken by my ride aboard that I immediately fled to the relative serenity of the park’s only remaining original ride from 1946, the Freedom Train. Filled with parents and their offspring, it slowly transported me past a series of nursery rhyme characters.

The diabolically extreme Voyage and the gentle and predictable Freedom Train represented for me the yin and yang of amusement parks. Together they, and with everything that followed, made for a memorable day.