At Busch Gardens Tampa during the holidays, the wait time for Cheetah Hunt was 50 minutes. It was 35 minutes for Cobra’s Curse. The Quick Queue shortens wait times by allowing guests to pay to bypass lines.
What if you could bypass long lines for roller coasters anywhere in the country or world? You can. The American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) organization exists to find ways for its members to ride roller coasters without waiting in line with the general public (called the “GP” by members).
The secret? During ACE events, participants pay to have access to a theme park before it opens and after it closes to ride roller coasters and other rides for an hour or two. Often they arrive before 8 am and leave after midnight. The camaraderie and excitement are palpable: riders cheer, clap and scream while ride operators give the thumbs-up sign as the coaster trains leave the station. These roller coaster enthusiasts may be sleep-deprived, but the adrenaline rush they get from riding their favorite coasters keeps them going. ACE also provides breakfast snacks and late-night treats to riders.
What compels roller coaster enthusiasts to travel thousands of miles for a two-minute coaster ride? Many ACE members try to ride every coaster in the United States and beyond, just to say that they did! They bond quickly with other members over a common love or hate of particular coasters and greet each other like long-lost friends at subsequent coaster events.
Some riders love the thrill of the dropping feeling, or negative g-forces. They love the smells, sounds and beautiful designs of wooden coasters. They love the clang, clang, clang of the chain as a wooden coaster slowly climbs the lift hill. The owners of Fun Spot America in Kissimmee allowed my husband Tom and other adventurous participants to climb the lift hill of the new wooden coaster, Mine Blower, at last November’s local event.
Other riders love towering, sleek, speedy steel coasters with magnetic lift hills. Still others love flipping upside down, riding floorless, zooming up and down at a 90-degree angle (Sheikra at Busch Gardens Tampa), etc. The possibilities are endless, thanks to advances in computer roller coaster designs.
I joined ACE after Tom and I started dating. Tom was 10 when he took his first ride on the Comet, Fontaine Ferry Park’s wooden coaster in Louisville. He was thrilled by that coaster so much that he operated the Comet as a teenager. My first coaster was the much smaller Little Dipper at Kiddieland in the Chicago suburbs. As a new Floridian, I loved Disney’s Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain Railroad. I quickly added more coasters to my repertoire after Tom and I became season passholders at Busch Gardens Tampa, Sea World Orlando and Disney World. I screamed loudly on the first drop of my favorite rides. It was exhilarating!
On an ACE coaster trip in 1996, we traveled in a four-bus caravan to ride coasters all over England and Wales. We loved the camaraderie as we rode wooden, steel and stand-up coasters at seaside theme parks, such as Blackpool Pleasure Beach; Disney-like theme parks, such as Alton Towers; and rural theme parks, such as Oakwood Theme Park in Wales.
On our 1999 honeymoon, we stayed at Buffalo Bill’s Hotel and Casino in Primm, Nevada, to watch riders on Desperado, a hypercoaster which is built around the hotel! Our small wedding party rode the Manhattan Express at the New York, New York casino in Las Vegas immediately after the ceremony.
Together we have attended ACE events at such popular parks as: Cedar Point and Kings Island in Ohio; Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm in California; Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh; and Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia this year.
What do theme parks gain from hosting these roller coaster events? Positive publicity, hopefully. Typically, theme parks that want to advertise a new roller coaster are the most likely hosts.
Busch Gardens Tampa has hosted several ACE events. Tom was interviewed by a local television station when Busch Gardens Tampa hosted a coaster event before the opening of Kumba, a steel roller coaster with seven upside-down elements. Busch Gardens Tampa also hosted coaster events which coincided with the openings of Montu, an inverted steel coaster with seven upside-down elements, and Gwazi, two wooden coasters which run simultaneously.
Besides seeking publicity from the mainstream media, theme park staffers know that a more powerful force is at work in attracting riders: the opinions of ACE members. Riders have always told their friends, who tell their friends and so on. Nowadays, social media transmit coaster reviews instantaneously. Tom anxiously reads the Screamscape website before his first cup of coffee to find out the latest theme park and ride news. He also watches unauthorized POV (Point of View) videos of coasters posted on YouTube.
To get the latest information on ACE membership and events, check out www.my.aceonline.org.
Diane Russell joined OLLI in 2014. She has taken OLLI courses on leadership, radio, life story writing (This article is an example.), Tai Chi, healthy aging, literature, science, politics, sociology, and humanities. Diane volunteers as a proofreader for the OLLI Course Catalog and for OLLI Connects. And when this doesn’t provide enough excitement, she rides roller coasters.