Happy Holidays everyone! Apologies for not posting at all these past few months. I’ve been working a ton at my job with not a lot of days off so I’ve been exhausted. That being said I was working on this post a little bit at a time, and I finally got it done. I’m hoping to get more consistent with my content in the future.
Love it or hate it, Cedar Point is a special place. It’s been around a long time (147 years as of 2017), and for many roller coaster enthusiasts, it’s mecca.
There’s a good reason for that, and his name is Dick Kinzel. As the former President and CEO of the Cedar Fair chain, Kinzel was obsessed with roller coasters. He learned very quickly that if you build them and build them big, people will come in droves to ride them. Starting in 1976 with Corkscrew, nearly every roller coaster added to the park broke at least one world record.
Arguably the most historically important roller coaster to open during this time was Magnum XL-200, the world’s first hyper coaster (pictured above). Up until then, the tallest and fastest roller coasters were all inversion machines, because flipping riders upside down had been the formula for success for around 15 years. Magnum changed all that, being the first full-circuit coaster to break 200 feet in height, as well as the first coaster of that scale to focus entirely on big hills and airtime, with no inversions whatsoever, and people went nuts for it.
The introduction of Magnum kickstarted what many in the industry called “The Coaster Wars.” Over the next decade, amusement parks fought in a battle of supremacy, building coasters even higher, faster, and longer.
Years later, Kinzel sought out to repeat his success. With the new Millennium approaching, Cedar Point was ready to go big. Really, REALLY big…
This video was created by the park to announce to the world that the world’s first giga coaster, Millennium Force, would open in May of 2000. To this day I still get chills watching this as it’s one of the best ride announcement videos I’ve ever seen.
Since the internet had become a regular part of people’s lives by 1999, Cedar Point’s marketing team realized that they could have media content go directly to the general public through their website, so they created a webpage where people could access a live webcam pointed at the lift hill, and regular photo updates that showed every step of construction. Now with the internet having an even bigger presence in our culture, this formula is now the gold standard for driving the hype machine, and Cedar Point was the first to do it.
Here’s a time lapse from the webcam set up for viewing construction.
When Millennium Force opened, it felt other-worldly. No one had ever seen a roller coaster so massive, so intimidating, and perhaps most importantly, so modern. The ride somehow perfectly captured what the new millennium was in that moment. The future had arrived.
Designed by Werner Stengel and built by Intamin of Switzerland. 310 feet tall. A 300 foot drop at 80 degrees. Top speed: 93 mph. 6,595 feet long. 4 overbanked turns. 4 great moments of airtime. To say the coaster is impressive would be an understatement.
My first visit to Cedar Point was in 2001 when Millennium Force was still the hot new kid in town. I was only 9 years old and still warming up to larger coasters, so while I was excited to try out classics like Raptor, Blue Streak, Corkscrew, Gemini and the like, I was terrified of Millennium Force. I was really scared of heights at the time, and it seemed so impossibly large to me, so I couldn’t for the life of me sum up the courage to get in line. My dad and my sister waited over 2 hours to ride it that day, and I remember my dad getting off the ride proclaiming he found his new #1 roller coaster, but I decided to wait to try it myself until our next visit.
Two years later in 2003, we return to the park on my 12th birthday. With Top Thrill Dragster now being the tallest and fastest in the park, Millennium Force seemed a little less intimidating, but I was still nervous to ride it. At that point I just decided to tough it out.
While in line I couldn’t help but notice this unified sense of energy and excitement buzzing through the queue. Trains were rushing right by us as the final section of the ride surrounds the queue on all sides, giving those in line an extra dose of adrenaline for each train pass. I was stunned to see how fast the trains were still going by the end of the ride (around 60 mph I believe), and every single train that hit the brake run erupted in cheers. At that point I knew this would be a special coaster. Unfortunately I think we ended up waiting almost 3 hours thanks to a ride breakdown while in line, and my nervousness turned into frustration as I just wanted to get the darn ride over with, but finally we get into the station, I get on, and we take off.
I was shaking the entire way up, but once that train started falling down the first drop, I released all that tension in one giant euphoric rush, so overwhelmed by the crazy speed and the massive elements. That first ride felt legitimately life-changing. I had found my new favorite roller coaster.
Even today, people still go wild on the ride when coming back into the station, despite the fact that several taller, faster, and more intense roller coasters now exist. It takes a special kind of roller coaster to pull that off for going on 17 years.
Inside the station, a futuristic techno beat is thumping through the overhead speakers, and the ride ops are pumping up the crowd. The trains on Millennium Force are very sleek and aerodynamic. They feature open-air seats that sit low with a simple T-shaped lap bar that is very comfortable. The seat backs don’t tip back much at all, so when you sit down, you’re kinda forced to sit straight up, which psychologically keeps you very alert and ready for action as opposed to being tipped back and relaxed like on a B&M hyper coaster.
(POV filmed by Cedar Point)
The lift hill is pitched at a steep 45 degrees, and thanks to an elevator cable lift system, it’s a very quick and quiet ride to the top, but still long enough for the height of the ride to really sink in. It’s WAY up there. I still find the trip to the top pretty harrowing since there are no side panels of any kind on the trains, allowing you to look straight down to the ground from over 300 feet up. Millennium Force’s lift sits right on the west shoreline of the Cedar Point peninsula, meaning you get a fantastic view of the park to your right, but on your left you see nothing but water, and you realize that a tiny seatbelt and lap bar are the only things keeping you from plunging to your death.
It’s not long before you start to free fall 300 feet down the nearly vertical 80-degree drop. The radial curve of the first drop is large and gradual, perfectly designed to make you feel like you’re falling forever. In the back seat you get catapulted into the lap bar and stay there for the duration of the drop, while in the front you can feel yourself falling forward in your seat before gravity has its way with the train and you start floating. Eventually you reach the bottom and feel every bit of that 93 mph in your face. Experiencing that kind of speed completely open to the elements is exhilarating.
The valley of the first drop transitions straight into a giant overbanked turn to the right at 169 feet tall and banked at 122 degrees at its peak. The banking on this turn allows the positive g’s gained on first drop to be sustained all the way through the turn with little to no lateral force, resulting in riders experiencing a visual paradox of being plastered to their seats while being tipped nearly upside down. Sometimes it can make me grey out depending on the day, but nonetheless it’s a very cool sensation.
The exit of this turn slingshots the train back down and into a ground-hugging turn to the left, speeding between nearby trees and the giant support towers of the first drop. Riders rush in and out of a tight tunnel before zooming straight up into a massive 182 foot tall camelback hill, providing a few long seconds of sustained floater airtime, a nice transition moment into the next section of the ride.
Dropping out of the sky, the long train swoops to the right and rises into another overbanked turn that then dives down underneath the valley of the big camelback hill. The track then veers left into yet another overbanked turn, this one a little taller and much tighter than the last. Dropping out of that turn, riders take a quick dog-leg to the right that lines the train up for a second camelback hill parallel to the first one, providing a shorter but slightly stronger moment of airtime.
The pullout of this hill is long and gradual, sending riders straight into a second tunnel, inside which is a turn to the left and the on-ride photo. Emerging from the tunnel, riders are now rushing right past the queue into the station just a few feet away. There’s a very quick and low airtime hill, followed by a dog-leg to the left, then a long straightaway that sets riders up for one final 68 foot tall overbanked turn, before gliding into the smooth magnetic brake run. Congratulations, you’ve just experienced the greatest roller coaster in the world.
Well, at least according to some…
Just like Kings Island‘s renowned Beast, Millennium Force seems to have generated a little bit of controversy on whether it really is the greatest ever. There are enthusiasts testifying that the ride doesn’t provide enough airtime, the forces are too weak, the ride is too smooth, and they’re tempted to fall asleep. “Millennium Forceless” has made the rounds online as a blunt jab at the attraction, claiming that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.
People that have this opinion seem to only enjoy coasters that melt their faces off with forces. They want to black out from positive g’s, and their thighs crushed with negative g’s. The more forceful, the better, and since Millennium Force is a giga coaster, it ought to be super forceful, but it’s not. I admit that in my teens I started to lean this direction, finding my rides on it to be fun, but not face-melting. As I’m getting older though (approaching my late twenties now), and my taste in roller coasters continues to evolve, I’ve come to the opinion that strong forces are overrated.
Now, hear me out here. I enjoy those ultra-intense roller coasters as much as the next guy, but I don’t find those rides all that re-rideable. When it comes down to it, the coasters I enjoy the most are both comfortable AND thrilling. Yes, the forces may be light overall on Millennium Force, but ultimately that’s what helps it be so good in the long run. The pacing of the ride is speedy yet graceful, making it one of the least nauseating large-scale roller coasters out there. The forces don’t tire the riders out, and the energizing thrills come through the incredible speed that is beautifully sustained from the moment you drop off the lift, all the way to the final brakes.
That speed, combined with the smooth track and openness of the trains, makes you feel like you’re riding on the back of a supercharged rocket flying through the air, dodging trees and pathways close by. In this context I don’t give a flip about how strong the forces are. That experience alone is really freaking amazing.
This is why Millennium Force is arguably the most popular roller coaster in the world. The ride is thrilling, yet very smooth and easy on riders, which makes it approachable for everyone willing to try it, and the fact is that while there are taller coasters out there now (even one in the same park), 310 feet is still really freaking high, so the ride still feels incredibly imposing. That initial climb and first drop may be dreadful for some, but once you ride out of it, all your anxiety is released, with the rest of the 60 second ride serving as the most satisfying payoff for your brain.
In this case, that makes Millennium Force a truly fundamental roller coaster in the greatest sense. It allows you to face those fears head on and conquer them in grand fashion. That’s honestly rare for a modern roller coaster, as most rides being built these days seem to focus on throwing as many hills, twists, and turns at you as fast as possible, giving you almost no time to process what you just went through, but Millennium Force is different. It manages to make riders hyper aware of their surroundings, with their brains totally conscious of everything the ride is throwing at them. I can’t think of another roller coaster that does that so well.
By finding that perfect balance between thrills and comfort, Millennium Force is the yardstick to which all roller coasters are typically compared. It is the pinnacle of the first generation of modern steel coaster design with its ultra-smooth drops and curves, and a layout sequence that is beautifully symmetrical and complete. A true legacy coaster.
2000 was a massive year for roller coasters across the board, with the total number of new coasters around the world being 148, 55 alone in the USA. As of 2017, the year 2000 is still the only time in amusement history where the height and speed records for full-circuit roller coasters were broken three times in one year, starting with Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Goliath in February, then succeeded by Millennium Force in May, and again succeeded by Nagashima Spa Land’s Steel Dragon 2000 in August.
But of those three, Millennium Force was arguably the most important, given that it literally and metaphorically broke new heights for what roller coasters could do. To this day it still stands as one of the best coasters in the world, and still considered by many to be THE best, and I honestly cannot disagree.
MILLENNIUM FORCE RATING: 10 / 10 (Perfect!)
Feel free to let me know what you think of Millennium Force in the comments below! Do you agree? Disagree? Think I’m nuts? Let me know!