June 28, 2016

Partly sunny

Breaking in GateKeeper, Cedar Point’s newest rollercoaster

Braving the ride

The old guy still has it.

After psyching myself out of a Media Day ride aboard Millennium Force in 2000 and never even thinking about strapping in for the 120-mph Top Thrill Dragster (not doing it), I was determined to make up for my past sins of omission by conquering Cedar Point’s GateKeeper.

Not to worry.

On Thursday, lucky thrillseekers rode Cedar Point’s first new rollercoaster since 2007, ahead of Saturday’s opening day. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY BRUCE BISHOP)

I did — twice — during Thursday’s made-to-order, sun-drenched, 70-degree day during the debut of Gatekeeper, the park’s first winged rollercoaster.

Maybe it was the gorgeous day and the relaxed, uncrowded atmosphere, but riding Cedar Point’s 16th major rollercoaster was a walk in the park, thanks mostly to a pair of incredibly smooth, quiet trips that take you up 170 feet only to turn you upside down as you plummet back down the 164-foot lift hill drop, zip you along at top speeds of 67 mph and experience a series of corkscrew inversions, and one big 360-degree loop.

Then there’s the admittedly unnerving sensation of being pulled through the eye of a needle when riders are flipped vertically to roar through openings in two huge pylons as Gatekeeper soars above the heads of people streaming into the park’s newly designed front entrance.

With the breeze flowing over you as you twist, turn, rise and fall, there is something of a feeling akin to what soaring birds must feel.

One note of caution: GateKeeper has the tightest, most constricting harness apparatus I’ve ever worn on a thrill ride.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad it’s there, but it feels like a giant hand pressing you back into the seat so hard that makes drawing a deep breath no piece of cake.

I rank GateKeeper ahead of Raptor for a similar-but-superior ride experience. While smoother and shorter, the ride already is among my Cedar Point favorites alongside Maverick, MaXair and Power Tower.

Contact reporter Steve Fogarty at (440) 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com .

Cedar Point’s newest thrill ride ‘living up to expectations’

He hasn’t ridden GateKeeper yet, but Eric Gieszl predicts Cedar Point’s newest thrill ride is destined to rank alongside Top Thrill Dragster, Millennium Force and Maverick as the Sandusky park’s best rollercoasters.

“They have really been high quality,” he said. “They really stand out. I consider them some of the best rides ever built.”

Gieszl is the creator of the exhaustively detailed Ultimaterollercoaster.com, which sports an encyclopedic wealth of information about the ever-expanding world of rollercoasters, other thrill rides, and theme and amusement parks across the country.

Gieszl assessed the new ride after watching the animated point-of-view videos posted by Cedar Point.

“It’s living up to expectations even from a distance,” Gieszl said.

The ride boasts the usual Cedar Point superlatives, including records for longest winged or floorless rollercoaster at 4,164 feet, and the world’s tallest lift hill drop of 164 feet.

Seating 28 passengers on two “wings” projecting out from a central frame for each of its three bronze-and-purple trains that travel a light blue steel track, GateKeeper is part of a $30 million investment for 2013 that includes a major facelift of Cedar Point’s main entrance plaza.

Gieszl couldn’t make the trip for Thursday’s big debut of the ride from his Austin, Texas, home, but he definitely plans to get to Cedar Point sometime this summer to check it out in person.

Gieszl has experienced the similar Wild Eagle winged coaster at Tennessee’s Dollywood Park near the Great Smoky Mountains.

“I think it out-does the other winged riders to date,” Gieszl said of GateKeeper, because of it being “bigger, longer and more intense.”

Gieszl already is calling GateKeeper iconic because of the manner in which it dominates Cedar Point’s new entrance by passing above and to either side of the newly designed entrance plaza.

“It’s flying right above guests’ heads as they stream in underneath it,” Gieszl said. “It sets the mood for the day.”

At the same time, GateKeeper is definitely not an entry-level ride.

“It might actually scare a few people,” he said.

GateKeeper is Cedar Point’s 16th rollercoaster and first since the $25 million Maverick opened in 2007.

Since then, the park has made other investments ranging from the $10.5 million Shoot the Rapids flume ride in 2010 to the 300-foot-tall Windseeker swing ride in 2011.

As much as he admires what mega-amusement parks such as Cedar Point can offer visitors, Gieszl laments the fact that “the big corporate themers around the country” have led to the demise of so many smaller, quainter, family-owned parks.

Cedar Point opens for the 2013 season Saturday.

Contact reporter Steve Fogarty at (440) 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com .