A long wait for David DeLong

David DeLong has waited – impatiently – for Thunderbird’s first launch since last July.

We first met David almost exactly nine months ago. He was the “new guy” at WFIE-TV and was excited to cover our big “what’s new for 2015” announcement.

Over the months, David checked up on Thunderbird construction nearly every week. Together we trudged through the construction-site mud time after time, doomed to endure the taunts of our peers when they noticed our “hard-hat hair.”

And so it was great to see David arrive bright and early last Thursday morning, ready for his first flight on Thunderbird:

David DeLong rides Thunderbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do believe David’s gleeful shouts are still echoing in the woods and through Thunderbird’s fly-through barn.

It’s going to be a noisy summer!

Thunderbird flips Joe Bird

I was so tickled to hear Joe Bird was coming up to cover our Thunderbird Media Preview on Thursday.

After all, he’s not only a reporter whose name is Bird, he’s a meteorologist.

And Thunderbird is all about the weather, and who really controls it. I just knew Joe would dig Thunderbird in a very special way.

Joe, though, wasn’t exactly eager to be a flipped bird. But duty called, and away he flew:

Joe was a good sport and rode Thunderbird like a champ. His photographer, Ashley, was all grins and ready to ride again and again.

Our news coverage was nothing short of fantastic; we’ll be sure to share articles and videos with you in the coming days.

Meanwhile, it’s finally Launch Time – don’t be late!

He is always on our minds

Rayvon Owen in Rejoice! 2011

If you follow us on social media (especially Twitter!) you know that each Wednesday night, we’re cheering for park alum Rayvon Owen on American Idol.

Rayvon OwenFor the past three weeks, Rayvon has received the “Twitter Save” from fans and continued on to another week in the high-stakes competition.

That first time, my iPhone nearly exploded. Between Matt, Eric and countless others, there was a plea for an immediate Twitter lesson.

But the clock was ticking and I had four accounts to push to #SaveRayvon. “Take it to Facebook!” I hurriedly typed. “You know how that works and I bet lots of your followers are on Twitter. Hurry!”

The next week, Rayvon was again in need of saving. I texted Matt, “Should this go on our Facebook page?”

“Yes,” he texted back. “He’s one of our own.”

And so, as another Wednesday approaches, I asked Matt to jot down his thoughts about our alum who keeps smiling and singing with complete sincerity week after week.

As we get ready to open our biggest season ever, it’s always a bright point to see the shining smiles of our Host and Hostesses as they start their “careers” with Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari. We take pride in the fact that we touch the hearts of so many Guests – but we also touch each other’s lives in this fun “roller coaster” of an industry that we love.

A perfect example of this is our very own Rayvon Owen. Rayvon joined us in 2011 as an Entertainer in our “Rejoice” show, a Christian celebration that is unique to our Park. Rayvon was a ray of sunshine all season. His presence alone would light up the stage and our Guests felt his sincerity. That sunshine is still shining for Rayvon as he has now made his way into the hearts of millions, making it now into the Top 6 on American Idol.

Throughout this process, Rayvon and I have communicated back and forth and I am still in awe of this young man. He is truly astounded with how well he is being received by his fans. He repeatedly offers thanks. The grace and humility that he has shown, and the true goodness that is in his heart, shines through with every performance. He takes nothing for granted, appreciates all of life’s experiences, and has never once forgotten the path he has taken to get him to where he is today.

We are so blessed to have been a part of that path, and will continue to root for him – as well as all of our Hosts and Hostesses – on their journeys to success.

 

Thunderbird fever

Thunderbird's Immelmann Loop

Thunderbird's Immelmann loopSeriously.

A few of our invited guests for Thursday’s Thunderbird Media Preview have mentioned calling in to work this week, sick with the Thunderbird Flu.

My version of this mysterious illness? Sleeplessness (note the time of this post) and an inability to type the word Thursday at the first try.

Somehow, it always comes out spelled Thunderbird the first time.

And so, as we close in on opening our season on Saturday, senses are heightened and grins are uncontrollable.

We finally did it. A big steel coaster. A B&M coaster, at that.

Wow.

This was a nice cherry on the sundae yesterday:

Thanks to all for the endless cheers of encouragement this past year. We’re just days away now and can hardly contain our excitement.

And we think it’s contagious.

Let’s help Give Kids The World even more!

Thunderbird and Give Kids The World

New deadline: 3pm CDT on Monday, April 20!

When Kaylee from Give Kids The World called to tell us we’d raised more than enough to fund a family’s week-long visit to their incredible Village in Florida, most of us got a little misty-eyed.

Families with children who have life-threatening illnesses deserve a blissful week of carefree fun.

And so we’ve decided to raise enough to sponsor a second family.

With your help.Thunderbird and Give Kids The World

Although Thunderbird’s First Flight Auction has concluded, there are still plenty of rides to be had during the rest of our Media Preview Day on Thursday, April 23.

Would you like to be one of those riders? You’ll get to ride all day long on Thunderbird, Voyage, and Crow’s Nest, take a behind-the-scenes tour – plus we’ll throw in a few surprises. Oh, and some really good food. Including Thunderbird Ice Cream.

All it takes is a $50 donation per person and we’ll add you to our Guest List for the day. (Participants must be at least 52″ tall but no taller than 6’6″ to ride Thunderbird.)

Here’s where to make your donation to Give Kids The World. We’ll follow up with an emailed agenda.

We’ll accept up to 100 of these $50 donations through this Sunday night at 11:59pm CDT, so please don’t wait.

Thank you. Just … thank you.

The long-awaited Thunderbird POV

For the uninitiated, let us explain:

POV = Point of View

POV footage at a theme park customarily shows the viewer what the rider sees while riding.

A birds-eye view, if you will.

But in this day and age of selfies, we just had to take a Reverse POV of our adventuresome test dummies riding Thunderbird just as the sun set one evening this week.

They could hardly contain themselves!

Oh, you thought we were ready to release a standard POV of Thunderbird? Soon. Very soon.

Confessions of a screaming grandma

Staff rides Thunderbird roller coaster

Ever since we announced Thunderbird last July, I’ve been asked over and over:

So. Are you gonna ride?

And my answer has not wavered: “I honestly don’t know.”

As excited as I’ve been about Thunderbird ever since I was invited into the “cone of silence” 18 months ago, the thought of riding it was, frankly, incomprehensible to me.

You see, I have a long history of complicated relationships with rides.

It started when I was just three years old. My family lived in Connecticut at the time and we visited Quassy Amusement Park (then called Lake Quassapaug) for the day.

There was this incredible attraction – a helicopter ride – that I was determined to ride. Looking back now, I realize it was a kiddie ride, but back then it was the hugest, most daunting ride out there.

“Are you sure?” My parents knew me well enough to ask this and I stubbornly insisted it was the only ride that mattered to me.

And so they tucked me into my own little helicopter and started up the ride.

Only thing is, no one mentioned that clutching the bar and pulling it down toward me would make my helicopter soar into the upper stratosphere.

And stay there.

And so I screamed.

And screamed.

So much that they stopped the ride mid-cycle and let me off, still screaming.

Flash forward to my teenage years. We’d moved to Indiana and there was this park a few hours away called Kings Island. The Brady Bunch went there, and so did we. (Although, truth be told, I was more of a Partridge Family kind of gal.)

A bunch of us from Carmel High School convinced our parents to let us take a day trip. First stop at the big Cincinnati park: The Racer.

Once again, I was overcome with an uncontrollable need to scream. Something in my psyche trips a switch, telling me the only way to endure the terror is by wailing from the lift hill to the brake run. The only way.

The Racer has two trains. Upon exiting our train, I continued screaming like a banshee, calling to the riders in the second train to reconsider their decision to ride. “It’s terrifying!” My embarrassed friends dragged me away before Security was called.

And so, as I’ve told my boss repeatedly, I have no business working at a theme park.

The thing is, I’m a very bad rider. I don’t relax and let the train carry me away. I clench and grip. And scream. Twenty years ago, I rode the brand-new Raven with a reporter and grabbed her lap bar as well as my own.

Irrational, I know.

It’s not a safety thing – I know the people who build and maintain our rides. They ride them, too – and bring their families.

Is it a height thing? Sure. An “I’m not in control” thing? Oh, probably.

It’s definitely a scream thing.

But, being in the position I hold here, it wouldn’t feel right for me not to ride Thunderbird. How could I describe it here on the HoliBlog, on our website, in conversations with reporters, with only hearsay to guide me?

And so, during our staff breakfast yesterday morning (thank you, Lori!), when Matt announced we could ride at 3pm, my heart skipped a beat. Joy filled the room and nearly everyone cheered. Angie in Guest Services beamed like never before and our Attractions management team grinned from ear to ear.

By three o’clock, I still hadn’t decided.

I told Matt, “You know, I was working on the ride-announcement scripts today and now that I’ve read through them, I think I may have developed all the warning signs – a crick in my neck, a touch of high blood pressure – and you know, I just might be pregnant!” He laughed a little too hard at that last part. I’m a grandma, after all.

After working the crowd and watching Dee Ann and Vanessa overcome their fears and ride, it was time.

“Hey, Eric – wanna ride?”

His face broke into what I can only describe as a look of glee.

“Sure!”

We clambered on board and the train slide into the launch room.

The special effects are incredible. A simulated storm, complete with fog and rolling, then crackling thunder.

And screaming.

Who has time to scream when you go from zero to 60 in just over three seconds? It was incredible.

I continued my terrible riding habits by not only screaming throughout, but also riding with my eyes closed. Tightly.

Whoa! Upside down – and again! I’ve studied Thunderbird’s layout and construction process well enough to know what was happening and what was ahead.

Four inversions.

The fly-through barn. That’s still ahead. And we go through it twice.

Staff rides Thunderbird roller coasterI must say, it’s incredibly smooth. And non-stop thrilling. And comfortable. Really comfortable. Even when you’re upside down. Which happens four times, have I mentioned?

That last inversion – the barrel roll – felt surreal. As we pulled into the brake run, several riders from seats behind us shouted, “Paula, was that you?!”

“No way! That was Eric!” I hollered back. My cracking voice betrayed me, though. I’d blown my pipes.

As Thunderbird slid back into the station, Eric hopped off his seat, with a grin the size of our Immelmann loop.

“That was the BEST coaster ride I’ve ever taken!”

Still in my seat, still clutching the restraints, I had to admit: It was.