Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cedar Point -- It's worth the trip

After several amusement parks which I've already covered, we arrived at the mecca of the roller coaster world--Cedar Point. 17 coasters. Despite having gone to 6 other parks before this, there were some completely new roller coasters. The ones that stood out as truly special are Millenium Force, Magnum XL200 and Maverick.

Millenium Force was aptly named. We leveraged the "stay in our park, enter 1 hour early" card and only had to stand in line for 20 minutes. That was 20 minutes well spent. 310 feet tall, speeds over 90 miles/hour. When I got off the ride, my arms from the elbows forward were completely numb. I can't decide if it was just the velocity of the ride, or the grip with which I held on to the lap bar (no shoulder harness!). It was a real force of nature.

Magnum XL200 was a new coaster 20 years ago. Today, it was still great. While waiting for the ride, they played 80's music which was a total hoot. It was 200 ft tall and still far more extreme than anything at SCGA, and apart from Accelerator at KBF, more extreme than that. What I most loved is that it would set up an expectation of motion, throw you in a tunnel and then jig that expectation. It was full of surprises. Excellent ride, probably my favorite until...

Maverick. Wow. I have been on nothing like it. I waited in line 45 minutes, it broke down, we bailed. 6 hours later I waited in line another 50 minutes. Totally worth it. I can't describe the number of new motions that I went through. I had no hope of getting my hands in the air. It was absolutely brilliant. It was voted the best roller coaster of 2007 in an amusement park trade magazine. I understand why.

About the park. It is huge. And it is the first non-Disney park which felt like it could compete with Disney for customer service, albeit for an older crowd. Every single ride was run by operators who were psyched to be there. They would describe the ride in detail, rile up the crowd and get you pumped. We went on a sky ride where the line was probably 50 yards long and 3 ft wide. A similar line at SCGA would take 45 minutes. We know, we've waited. We were on in 8 minutes. Even the "jungle boat ride" was run by operators telling the inevitable lame jokes but with spirit and a sense of timing. Clearly, working here is a priviledge, not an obligation.

For the non-coaster goers, the park was very good. There were too many non-coaster rides for me to count, and most rides could be boarded immediately or after one round. There were 4 kiddie areas which meant that the parent on duty was not thoroughly bored after 1 hour. There also was a water park which James said was the best yet, though Martha is baffled how/why he could say that. Half of the park had a great big beach where one could hang out on Lake Erie.

As Martha put it, we're coming back when Sarah is bigger. The other two places about which she has said that are Disneyland and the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island. It is an rarefied list which Cedar Point richly deserves inclusion.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tim Hortons v. Dunkin Donuts

"When are we going to have the doughuts" is the refrain I hear from the kids every time they look at the blog. "I thought we were going to have doughnuts on this trip?"

It was time for the taste test.

En route from Canada to Cedar Point, we picked up a dozen Tim Hortons doughnuts in Brantford (where they are made daily before being shipped around Canada) and then a corresponding half-dozen from Dunkin Donuts somewhere south of Detroit. To be fair in the freshness department, we waited 2 hours after leaving the DD before the official taste test. However, we must admit to quelling a serious rebellion by sampling several of the non-matching Tim Hortons in the DD parking lot. We were not arrested.

To illustrate the power of doughnuts in the world, we were in the Cedar Point RV Park with the sound of happily screaming kids plummetting 200+ ft at 80+ MPH and there was no interest in getting to the park. Our judges had one thing on their mind. Doughnutty goodness.

The methodology was simple. Matching doughnut types were cut into 5 pieces and put on two different plates, Martha did the cutting and placing and the rest of us had no idea which plate came from which vendor. Each person would sample a type from each and then vote which plate was their favorite.

The judging was very close, but even Martha voted for the Dunkin Donuts over the Tim Hortons slightly more. To give you an idea of how close the voting was, of the 3 types of a potential of 15 votes, 7 of the votes were "I'm not sure."

Even so, our local Los Gatos donut vendor was agreed by all to be the better doughnut. Neither Dunkin Donuts nor Tim Hortons make their doughnut on site any more, and clearly the quality has suffered.

A very different farm

While in Brantford, we were lucky to visit with some of Martha's extended relatives who also own a farm. This farm has been running for at least 10 years by a family that has been in farming (and politics--he is the Mayor of Brant County) for much longer. One of the suprising items at the farm was a 1947 Packard which Ron Eddy recently acquired. It needs alot of love, but I'm sure that a vehicle of this nature will get it. Sarah and I got a quick ride down the gravel road at about 60 MPH, and we felt nary a bump. They don't make cars like that anymore. Or perhaps I haven't been lucky enough to ride in one?

The original draw for us was the newly born colts who were only 2 days old. I don't think I have ever been so close to such young horses. It was cute watching how untested their gait was around the pasture. This farm was 160 acres with a beautiful farmhouse that was 120 years old. This farm was certainly easier to maintain with only cattle and horses in the livestock department, minimal vegetables (just for the family) and corn, hay and soybean for crops.

Wave pools actually can be realistic

One of the things that has always bugged me about wave pools is out unrealistic they are. I've been to the ocean many times, but I've never seen nonstop waves like the the average wave pool. I've been to the Indiana Dunes many times, and the waves occasionally rise a half inch.

I was wrong.

Evidently Port Dover, Ontario has waves just like they make in the wave pools. True, we had a 30 knot wind coming directly over the narrow part of Lake Erie which shoals rapidly and then has a long run into shore. Even so, I was amazed to see 1-2 ft waves pounding the shore ever second or two. Fortunately I have a picture. Or more accurately, Martha took a picture, and I am sharing it.

Apart from that observation, we had a great time at Port Dover. There is something about sand, waves and kids that just gets everyone going. And that night, everyone slept well. Victory.

Small Cameras

Looking back on the last blog postings I realize that I have been really quite lame about taking pictures. The bad news is that I'm currently in Joliet on Aug 12 and my last post was on Aug 7, so there are plenty of pictures that I have missed taking and likely will continue to miss.

Fortunately, Martha has been taking pictures all along and while she was sleeping this morning, I scanned them all in. I think the biggest factor in the photo deficiency is that her camera clocks in at 1 lb and is a hand me down (w/ excellent optics) whereas mine is just shy of 3 lbs and I spent too much money on it. Therefore, I keep my camera in its padded bag, hidden in a back closet of Landshark. Martha keeps it in a ziplock bag (we did learn from the phone incident!) wherever the puts it down. Ergo, she has many more pictures than I do.

The only drawback to her camera that I see is the delay in taking a shot, usually there's a 1 second pause to focus & calculate. And as you see, Paul (aka "Dash") has learned to take full advantage of a 1 second pause. If I remember it right, he was sitting at the table when she picked up the camera. He got up, ran behind me, behind Martha and still made it into the frame well after the focus had decided what was important.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Break in Brantford continues

Our break from being on the road continues in Brantford, ON with a visit to Martha's mother. The bountiful access to TV and internet is a crowd pleaser as is Mrs. S's wonderful cooking. We have not eaten so well in some time. Yesterday's activities included a visit to a friend in Hamilton (where the Phoenix Coyotes will go if the RIM head has his way) and the Ontario Science Center.

The house in Hamilton was great fun having been built in the early 1900's and with all sorts of interesting renovation ideas over the years. Ruth and Russ are working towards returning the house to its updated glory. I found it very interesting trying to figure out what walls were where originally, and what the flow was like. Forensic architecture. Not unlike inheriting a long misunderstood code base. Fun.

The Ontario Science Center was our best visit yet. Previously the place has always been great, but the crowds plentiful. Yesterday, we arrived at nearly 4p to more people leaving the museum than arriving. I can only assume that most did not know that the museum is open until 8p on Thursdays, and they were rightly terrified of the Toronto traffic. In any case, they had a fun exhibit on snakes and lizards as well as "the tools of spys." I really enjoyed the last one as it had lots of puzzles and forks in the activities as one attempted to infiltrate an enemy corporation. So one could go through the exhibit a few times and discover something new. The biggest hit with the kids was a rock band studio where people could grab fake guitars, pick current music to blare out and control the lights while everyone watches on a TV. Our budding rock star, Sarah, very much enjoyed this.

The ride back was uneventful and long even after departing Toronto past 8p. We complain of traffic frequently in the Bay Area, but it is nothing compared to Toronto. No matter the hour, I have always hit at least one slowdown. At least with the traffic sensitive GPS, one can accurately project how long it will take.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Waiting in a Canada Wonderland...

The Rubino boys got a break from girl stuff (or at least girl inability/lack of desire to do the big roller coasters) yesterday and headed off to Canada's Wonderland.

Looking at the park itself, it is a great park--10+ roller coasters: 3 kid level, 4 wooden (one of which was a "kids coaster"), a hyper coaster (80+ MPH, 78 degree fall), a flying coaster (lie on your stomach and fly like superman), 2 suspension style, etc. There appeared to be several shows including ice skating and free diving (we didn't see any of them). The food options were numerous, and we admit to having a funnel cake. The funnel cake took a while to make, but was excellent. They had a funnel cake guy whose job was to pattern the batter into a funnel cake shape. No automation there. In fact, the service was excellent throughout with people clearly taking pride in their work. The coasters were all fully staffed including a person confirming height before people got in line. I saw at least two supervisors (or higher? one wore a suit) walking the park and picking up trash themselves.

The only problem was all of the lines. The park was packed. From the time we got to the entrance of the park until we got in was nearly 20 minutes. Security, of course, was the problem as they had to confiscate any/all sodas and sandwiches, but snacks and water bottles were OK. What-ever. All lines but one were at least 30 minutes and our record was 80 minutes for "Scooby's Haunted Mansion."

But enough kvetching. The weather was perfect. Sunny, low 70's, light breeze. I loved "Time Warp" not because it was a great roller coaster, but because the flying motion was just so much fun. The Behemoth was good as well and the drop was a doozy. The pedistal seating for such a big drop & speed was alarming. I admit to not having my hands up for any of the drops. I think that's the first time I have done that since I was in 4th grade.

CW's waterfall ride was an amazing soaker. I've been on probably 6 of these and they can get wet, but typically those who get wet are the people on the observation bridge. On this one, there were jets that shot water at us as we were going down the hill. And then the splash at the bottom managed to soak us. And then the bridge over the track (which usually gets the full brunt) was angled, so the water that landed on the bridge proceeded to pour over us as we went under it. All the electronics were in the backpack which did not go on the ride, so all was well.

One more ride that CW "did right" was called Rip Tide and was a variant on Firefall at GASC. Unlike Firefall which has a fountain which looks like it will do something, but doesn't. This one had the jets turned up well past 11 and soaked everyone on the ride. At least once on the ride, people are inexorably lowered, upside down into these jets of water. Brilliant. I wonder if there was some stupid lawsuit/fear in the US which prevented all the US parks from having the ride do that....

Another thing I really enjoyed about CW was the diversity of people. There were muslims with their various scarves (one doesn't see that in the US as often). There were also a few groups of Africans with the full robes. I also enjoyed that there were several grandparent aged people going on roller coasters, some apparently for the first time. Either Canadians don't stop living when they switch demographic groups, or they aren't marketed to as heavily on a demographic level, so they feel free to cross "boundries" in the US.

The boys naturally had a good time, and Paul thanked me several times during the day. Apparently McDonalds on the way home, funnel cake at the park, and just the day itself put him in a thankful mood. I had to wake up James for McDonalds, and both were sound asleep by the time we got back to Nanas.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Return to civilization/the internet

We arrived into Brantford, ON late to see the fairly shocked face of my mother in law, Marilyn. I'm still a little shocked at the size of Landshark relative to a neighborhood which I have walked around extensively. One gets used to thinking of Landshark as small relative to all of the other motorhomes, 5th wheels, trailers and so on in your average RV Park. However, driving around a neighborhood which allows parking on only one side of the street is an adventure...

We had a great night sleep, all became re-addicted to screens of various types (internet & Canadas version of the Cartoon Network) and finally pulled ourselves away for a bike ride up the Grand River and time in a playground. Tomorrow we're thinking the Toronto Museum of Science, Wednesday is likely Canada's Wonderland for the boys and Golf/Haircuts for the girls. Thursday and beyond are still TBD. We leave for Cedar Point Saturday or Sunday. That too is TBD. It's nice having options.

Crossing the border

Checking out ones brain completely to the GPS does not always work out. As I've mentioned before, there is a traffic system in the GPS. Whenever we got to cities, it faithfully informed us of impending traffic and if requested, rerouted us.

MSN Direct, unfortunately, does not do border crossings. There are 3 border crossings to Canada around Buffalo, and the time to cross is documented online. We checked. Since that was known, and MSN Direct had been so effective thus far, I assumed that the GPS would route us correctly. It was not to be. 175 minutes after getting 1 mile from the border, we were across. The other crossings were reported at 0-20 minutes, but the one to which we were routed was 90-180 minutes. Throw in a little more stop & go traffic for the first 10 miles of Canada and we had 16.5 hours on the road. Ugh.

But as I have said before on the upsidea of travelling in the RV, it is excellent. While creeping along that mile, Martha was able to clean up the dishes from breakfast & lunch (served enroute), fry up some burgers, feed everyone dinner, clean up the dinner dishes, clean the bathroom, vacuum, mop the floor. The RV looks great.


After finally having come to terms with our not planning to touch the Atlantic after crossing the country, we changed our minds again and decided that we can't not see the Atlantic after having driven so far. And due to a fluke of the mid-Atlantic geography, our shortest path was to drive to NYC and see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

But as Bobbie Burns once said, the best laid plans o' mice n men gang aft agley.

Instead of leaving at 6a, I slept through my alarm (and roosters) to finally wake a 7.15. I quickly grabbed 3 energy bars & a coke and started the engine. Sarah commenced the aforementioned wailing and gnashing of teeth and we drove off under leaden skies. As we got closer and closer to NY, the rain got heavier and heavier. Looking ahead at the weather reports, heavy rain was expected in NYC and a small craft advisory (therefore, no fun on the ferry ride, unlikely to see the statue of liberty from shore). So, 2 hours out from the NJ shore, we adjusted our course 180 degrees for Buffalo and the crossing into Canada.

I was depressed and took a nap while Martha took over the driving. There is a definite upside to voyage en RV.

Life on the farm

Our trip to Greenakeys Farm was a great hit. As we drove off from the farm 36 hours later, Sarah was crying at the top of her lungs "I don't want to drive. I love the farm." Greenakeys was started by my friends from High School, Mike and Annette Akey. They decided a year or so back that the most prudent use of their 401k's and IRAs was to start a farm. Good call. Now they have 60 acres, 20+ cattle, 300+ chickens (1 flock meat, 3 flocks egg producing), 3 goats, 20 sheep, 27 lambs, 3 dogs, several barn cats, one house cat and probably more that I cannot remember. Such is the danger of participating in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group.

James really got into the farming. He wanted to "do rounds" twice a day to collect the eggs, feed the chickens, feed the cattle, etc. Each time there were 80-100 eggs collected. By the end, he got a driving lesson on "The Mule" by Annette who is far more patient than me. And he got to "do rounds" three times.

Dad got to leverage some of his sailing skills by re-attaching the tube for giving the pigs fresh water. The lines were still holding 1 day later, so that likely worked out. I also used my electrical skills by installing my favorite home improvement feature of all. A timer for a bathroom fan. No bathroom is complete without it. Martha did four huge loads of laundry and cleaned out Landshark thoroughly. It was a real pleasure to sleep in Landshark that night.

The food was incredible. Everything we ate grew or was raised on the farm. Eggs were part of every meal as you would well imagine, but the taste of the eggs was awesome. Every egg tasted like it was prepared with a substantial amount of butter even when they were merely boiled. The chicken was to die for. We had potato salad with potatos picked that morning and so on.

There were plenty of kids around with our 3, Annette & Mike's 3 and a neighbor's 2. Fun for all. We also visited Gettysburg with half the kids contingent. When we went to the visitors booth, I received a withering look from the ranger when I asked what to do there given 2 hours. Talk about losing ground after saying that we drove out from California to be there.
In the end, Emily (the 11 year old daughter of Mike & Annette) was our tour guide and took us to the "best for kids" locations. Considering that it settled down two very cranky kids (both ours :( ), Emily has a future as a tour guide or teacher. Not sure which.

We finished with a bonfire to burn all of the wood we carried from California and did not use on our trip, but were prohibited from bringing into Canada. The farm is the highlight of the trip thus far.