Coaster101’s 2020 Year in Review

Believe it or not, we have finally reached the end of the roller coaster of a year that was 2020. Please remain seated as we dismiss the train one row at a time in order to promote social distancing, and we’re going to be experiencing a brief delay in operation while the train is sanitized.

It seems like just yesterday five years ago that Disney World was going to close for two weeks, regional parks would delay their opening by a month or so, and this whole thing would be over by Easter! So…that didn’t happen, but…most of the Coaster101 team managed to get in at least one park visit in, masks and all, and we’re here to give a quick rundown of the highlights of our year.


Andrew

Parks Visited in 2020: Walt Disney World, Carowinds, Kings Dominion, and Busch Gardens Williamsburg (albeit when the park was closed.)

 

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New Coaster Credits in 2020: 1. (Singular. lol) – Wacky Worm at Adventure Landing in Jacksonville, FL.

Favorite New Ride of 2020: While I didn’t get any rides on any of the new-for-2020 coasters, I love a good Easter Egg, and Orion’s queue is full of them!

Favorite “New To You” Ride of 2020: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Rarely do I ride a ride and get off speechless, but I lucked out, got a boarding group, and had an amazing experience. No spoilers, but it’s truly a jaw-dropping experience!

Favorite Coaster101 Posts of 2020: While there were so many articles on Coaster101 in 2020 talking about the benefits of hand sanitizer and floor stickers that are “about” six feet apart, we actually put together a lot of quality content in what many would consider an “off” year. I loved Eric’s deep dive on How Every Wooden Coaster Traces back to One Company and interview with Carlye Wisel, Shane’s look at the Star Wars Hotel, and John’s Pros and Cons of visiting Disney during COVID. Selfishly, I loved doing deep dives on the history of attractions at Carowinds (Intimidator, Carolina Cyclone) that celebrated milestone anniversaries in 2020, as well as sitting on the secret that Carolina Cyclone would receive new trains, by way of Kings Island’s Vortex, once the ride is operational again.

Top 3 Highlights of 2020: 

  1. Tasting The Season at Carowinds and Kings Dominion: December 5, 2020 marked 10 months since I was last in a major amusement park, which is a gap I hope to never have to repeat. (But, being responsible and limiting non-essential travel during COVID felt good too.) Once my home park, Carowinds (and later my home-away-from-home park, Kings Dominion) announced that they would be opening for a limited engagement winter event, I knew it was my chance to try and squeeze what little normalcy I could out of this theme park season. The food was great, the lights and entertainment were festive. Above all, it was great to be in a park again.
  2. Supporting Give Kids The World: Just like everyone else, in March, Give Kids The World had to temporarily close their doors due to COVID-19. After postponing more than 700 wishes each month that the village was closed, they finally will be able to go ahead and re-open in January 2021. Throughout the pandemic, I’m proud of the work that Coaster101 has done on behalf of Give Kids The World, including sponsoring their annual “Coasting For Kids” fundraiser (alongside industry heavy hitters S&S-Sansei, Premier Rides, and The Gravity Group), raising $1,700 through sales of our annual calendar, and raising more than $2,200 myself to “participate” in Coasting For Kids – good for top Fundraiser at Lake Compounce!
  3. The Coaster101 Podcast and Quarantine Content: 2020 has been an interesting year, and caused me to step out of my comfort zone a little bit. We’ve been kicking around the idea of a podcast internally for awhile, but as someone who can’t stand the sound of their own voice, it was never something that I really had interest in. But once quarantine took hold of our lives and we had done enough crossword puzzles and “listicles,” it was officially time to start a podcast. It’s now 25 episodes strong, and we’re very appreciative of everyone who tunes in to listen. (And if you’re not — www.coaster101.com/podcast!)

John

Parks Visited in 2020: Dollywood, Kings Island, Kentucky Kingdom, Six Flags St. Louis, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.

New Coaster Credits in 2020:

  • Adventure Express at Kings Island
  • Banshee at Kings Island
  • Flying Ace Aerial Chase at Kings Island
  • Invertigo at Kings Island
  • Mystic Timbers at Kings Island
  • Orion at Kings Island
  • Racer (red side) at Kings Island
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom
  • Slinky Dog Dash at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • Space Mountain (Alpha) at Magic Kingdom
  • Woodstock Express at Kings Island

Favorite New Ride of 2020: Orion at Kings Island was my favorite new-for-2020 coaster, while Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was by far my favorite non-coaster ride of 2020.

Favorite “New To You” Ride of 2020: I’ll give Orion a break and proclaim that Mystic Timbers was my favorite “new to me” ride of 2020. While I’m a huge fan of Great Coasters International (GCI) coasters, I didn’t think it would blow me away as it did. The coaster’s layout was so unconventional, especially for GCI. It moved in ways that I’ve never seen a GCI move before. I hope that I can return to the park in the near future to ride it at night.

Favorite Coaster101 Posts of 2020: This is always a tough one. Despite a raging pandemic, my fellow writers all contributed some really great stuff. A few of my favorites include Andrew’s piece about the repurposing of Kings Island’s Vortex trains on Carolina Cyclone at Carowinds as well as Eric’s coverage of Rise of the Resistance opening day at Disneyland and his tracing of every wooden coaster to one company. My Fitbit enjoyed Nick’s piece about the longest walks to ride a roller coaster. Lastly, I thoroughly enjoyed my interview with coaster modeler Jonnie Rothfus.

Top 3 Highlights of 2020:

  1. My Rescheduled Trip to Disney World: I was scheduled to depart for a week at Disney World and Universal Studios the day that Disney announced that it was closing its parks. Having been planning the trip for well over a year, it was a gut-wrenching loss (of course, one that paled in comparison to what so many have been through in 2020). But miraculously, we were able to reschedule the trip for October. I didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off, but we did and we had a great time. I was very impressed by how well Disney followed its stringent safety protocols, especially face mask compliance. It wasn’t a perfect trip — there are pros and cons of visiting Disney World during a pandemic — but I was so grateful for the second chance.
  2. My First Coaster Ride of 2020: Like everyone else, I wasn’t sure when (or even if) I would ride a roller coaster in 2020. So when I took my first ride of the year — Lightning Rod at Dollywood in June — I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little emotional.
  3. Orion at Kings Island: I’m a sucker for B&Ms and gigacoasters. So it’s no surprise that a ride on the newest B&M gigacoaster was a highlight of 2020. The coaster fits so well into Kings Island’s lineup, and its pacing is second to none. I can’t wait to go back to Kings Island to ride it at night.

Eric

Parks Visited in 2020: Disneyland back in January. And some not-fully-open or behind the scenes things.

New Coaster Credits in 2020: Zilch.

Favorite New Ride of 2020: Even if the pandemic hadn’t shut everything down, Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland (I realize the Florida one opened in 2019, but don’t care).

Favorite “New To You” Ride of 2020: See Above.

Favorite Coaster101 Posts of 2020:

Top 3 Highlights of 2020: 

  1. Rise of the Resistance: This one is easy, especially in retrospect. Very glad I decided to go on opening day at Disneyland, and very thankful I planned for two days at the park to make sure I would make it on! It really is an experience unlike any other. It’s weird thinking it was this year since it was so long ago, and it kind of salvages 2020 theme parks for me remembering that. If you’ve ridden it or don’t mind spoilers, these are the parts of it that really stood out.
  2. Great Interviews: Interviewing people in the industry is one of my favorite things about writing for Coaster101. This year I loved getting to talk to Carlye Wisel, not once, but twice. Her enthusiasm and curiosity about theme parks is infectious. Highly recommend reading our interview, listening to our podcast with her, and subscribing to her show, Very Amusing. I also loved talking to Scott Simmons from ScareHouse about the new Old Mill at Kennywood. I love refreshed classic dark rides, and can’t wait to get back to Kennywood some day to ride it.
  3. 15 years of Coaster101: Since I didn’t really get to go to parks for much of the year, taking a look back at park history and the history of Coaster101 was a solid way to fill the time. Back in June the site celebrated its 15th anniversary by looking back on some of our favorite posts over the years. It was fun to go back and revisit those, and to whittle down a surprisingly large amount of content to our favorites.

Shane

Parks Visited in 2020: Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Hersheypark, Quassy

New Coaster Credits for 2020:

  • Apocalypse the Ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain (SFMM)
  • Batman The Ride at SFMM
  • Candymonium at Hersheypark
  • Flight of the Hippogriff at Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Full Throttle at SFMM
  • Gold Rusher at SFMM
  • Goliath at SFMM
  • Little Dipper at Quassy
  • New Revolution at SFMM
  • Ninja at SFMM
  • Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Riddler’s Revenge at SFMM
  • Scream! at SFMM
  • Superman: Escape from Krypton (Right) at SFMM
  • Tatsu at SFMM
  • Twisted Colossus at SFMM
  • Viper at SFMM
  • West Coast Racers at SFMM
  • X2 at SFMM

Favorite New Ride of 2020: This was an easy one for me, since I technically only rode one brand new ride, Candymonium at Hersheypark. It was my first B&M hyper coaster, and it totally blew away my expectations.

Favorite “New to You” Ride of 2020: This one is extremely tough, because in the first few months of this year, I got to visit two of the best theme parks on the planet, Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain. As far as coasters go, it’s a though choice between X2 and Twisted Colossus, but I’m going to go with Twisted Colossus for the rerideability factor. And for regular rides, my choices would be either Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Transformers: The Ride-3D, both at Universal Studios Hollywood, but those don’t really count since I’ve already done them in Florida. So, my pick is going to go to Jurassic World – The Ride. As a huge Jurassic fan, it was awesome to see an updated version of the classic ride, with flashier effects and modern theming.

Favorite Coaster101 Post of 2020: For my own posts, I’ll pick my in-depth look at the Star Wars hotel or the overview of the new attractions coming to Universal Studios Beijing, because I’m a big fan of both and they were a lot of fun to research. I also was thrilled to get the chance to interview Kevin from Defunctland about his new documentary. But besides my own, I loved Andrew’s “tame to thrilling” ride overview of Busch Gardens Tampa, because I love the coaster collection at that park. John’s tragic article about not getting a boarding group for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance was especially relevant for me, since I did not get to visit Disneyland at all, my trip was cancelled due to the pandemic, but I still have my ticket, and hope to get out there in the coming year. I also liked reading Kyle’s article about Reese’s Cupfusion, because that was a big hit for me too when we visited the park for Canymonium’s media day.

Top 3 Highlights of 2020:

1. My First Visit to Universal Studios Hollywood: The highlight of my 2020 by far is the time I spent living in Los Angeles from January until March, interning at a production company. I loved being so close to so many parks, but the one that stands out to me most is Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando is my favorite theme park, and I haven’t been since 2013, so I was eager to get back to a Universal park. I was so impressed with the Hollywood park, and it was amazing to get on Jurassic World – The Ride and get back on my favorite ride of all time, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. By the end of my trip, I visited the park 4 or 5 times, and I never got tired of it, but nothing will beat that first time, being in the sister park of Islands of Adventure, and experiencing some of my favorite attractions of all time.

2. Candymonium Media Day: I went to Hersheypark last summer for the       first time to attend the announcement of Canymonium, Hersheypark’s new B&M hyper coaster. This year, I got to return to the park with Kyle to ride it, and of course get back on my favorite coaster, Skyrush. Candymonium was my first B&M hyper, and I absolutely loved it, I was blown away by the smooth layout and the roomy clamshell restraints.

3. Visiting Six Flags Magic Mountain: One of the other parks I was able to visit in California was Six Flags Magic Mountain. Every enthusiast should have this park on their bucket list, it is the park with the most coasters in the world, and has some real top tier rides like X2, Twisted Colossus, and the newly opened West Coast Racers. It was so great to finally ride some of the coasters I had been hearing about for my whole life as an enthusiast, and I got 15 new credits to add to my collection.

Kyle

Parks Visited in 2020: Dollywood, Hersheypark, Kennywood, Kings Island, and Cedar Point

New Coaster Credits in 2020:

  • Lightning Rod at Dollywood
  • Whistlepunk Chaser at Dollywood
  • Dragonflyer at Dollywood
  • Railrunner at Anakeesta
  • Laser Gun Coaster at Rowdy Bear (Pigeon Forge)
  • Ski Mountain Coaster at Ober Gatlinburg
  • Rocky Top Mountain Coaster (Pigeon Forge)
  • The Mountain Coaster at Wisp Resort in Maryland
  • Candymonium at Hersheypark
  • Skyrush at Hersheypark
  • Lightning Racer at Hersheypark
  • Lafftrack at Hersheypark
  • Farenheit at Hersheypark
  • Orion at Kings Island

Favorite New Ride of 2020: I think I will have to go with Orion on this as well. While the length of the ride is a little disappointing, it made up for its lack in ride time in speed and intense forces. It definitely has one of the best drops on any coaster out there!

Favorite “New To You” Ride of 2020: Skyrush blew me away. It has always been on the top of my coasters-to-do list and I finally was able to get on it this year. It was easily one of the most intense rides I’ve ever been on and was simply a blast.

Favorite Coaster101 Posts of 2020: So many to choose from! I enjoyed all of our coverage on the Rise of the Resistance openings with Eric’s coverage of Rise of the Resistance opening day at Disneyland and John’s disappointing story on coping with not getting a Rise of the Resistance boarding group. I also enjoyed Andrew’s article on repurposing the Kings Island’s Vortex trains on Carolina Cyclone at Carowinds. I also had fun helping Eric out with some graphics on his tracing of every wooden coaster to one company. My favorite article I did this past year was putting together a comprehensive guide to the Alpine Coasters of the Smoky Mountains. After getting on every single alpine coaster in the Smoky Mountain area I was overwhelmed with how to differentiate them and wanted to be able to explain to others where the best ride experiences were and what the best fit would be for different families.

Top 3 Highlights of 2020: 

  1. Buying a Witches Wheel ride car from Cedar Point: My top highlight from this year actually wasn’t a visit to a theme park, but rather finally purchasing a ride car from the retired Witches Wheel attraction at Cedar Point. I had my eye on it for awhile since a local Sandusky area car dealership posted the cars for sale. After a few years I finally pulled the trigger and now own a piece of amusement park and Cedar Point history!
  2. Visiting Dollywood’s Season Passholder Preview: I was fortunate enough to get to Dollywood the only day they were open prior to the Covid closing for the Spring and beginning of Summer. My son had just hit the 39 inch height mark and since Dollywood has several kid coasters at that height restriction we had to get our little thrill seeker there to get some big-kid rides in. His favorite coaster was Firechaser Express. We also got to ride several alpine coasters in the Pigeon Forge area and had a really great vacation right before all of the craziness of Covid hit.
  3. Visiting Hersheypark for the first time in 18 years: I have been trying to get back to Hersheypark since my last visit in 2002 and I finally made it this year! Shane and I met up for Candymonium media day and had an awesome time. The new coaster was incredible and finally getting on all of the coasters I missed was a huge plus!

Mike

Parks Visited in 2020: Epcot, Universal Studios Florida, Universal Islands of Adventure

New Coaster Credits in 2020:

  • Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts at Universal Studios Florida
  • Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
  • Pteranodon Flyers at Universal’s Island of Adventure
  • Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster at Universal Studios Florida

Favorite New Ride of 2020: With Icebreaker and Iron Gwazi pushed to 2021, I didn’t get the chance to experience any of the new coasters this year. I’d probably go with Orion had I gotten the opportunity to ride it this year.

Favorite “New To You” Ride of 2020: I’ll go with Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure over Escape From Gringotts (sorry Nuthouse Coaster). I had high expectations for Escape From Gringotts, and kept myself from looking at any videos of it so it would be a completely new experience for me. It was definitely a great experience that I’d recommend to anyone. However, I thought it would have a tad more pure coaster elements and was expecting something closer to Revenge of the Mummy, only with added visuals. As a pure thrill seeker, it was a good ride, but not something that will be a must-ride for me, especially if the lines are long.

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure was about what I expected. The thrill of riding a motorcycle-style coaster wasn’t new to me (Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster at SeaWorld San Antonio is similar), and neither was the Devil’s Snare “surprise” element (similar to Verbolten). However, it was definitely a cool ride and I loved it from a Harry Potter fan’s perspective. I still found myself missing Dueling Dragons after riding it. Hopefully, Velocicoaster will take it’s place as my favorite coaster at Universal Orlando Resort!

For non-coasters, I’ll have to thrown in a mention of Transformers: The Ride 3D. I was fully expecting a Spider-Man clone with a coat of “newness” thrown on top of it. But I was not expecting to enjoy the ride even more than the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. The cheesy action never lets up in the ride, just like a Michael Bay movie!

Favorite Coaster101 Posts of 2020: I’ll also have to go with John’s article about coping with not getting a Rise of the Resistance boarding group. Being a Central Florida local, I know firsthand about dealing with the ridiculous crowd sizes and missing out on rides. I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody, especially tourists coming from out-of-town. Eric’s tracing of every wooden coaster to one company was also definitely a cool read as a roller coaster junkie. Reviewing and trying out some recipes from The Unofficial Disney Parks Cookbook was also a blast for me.

Top 3 Highlights of 2020: 

  1. Finally returning to Universal Orlando Resort: I know Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure weren’t exactly new this year. However, it had been quite some time since I’d last visited Universal Orlando Resort. Now that my son is a little older, it was nice to finally getting back to Universal to experience these rides. Plus I got the chance to let my son experience some rides he was finally tall enough for. Plus, it was cool seeing the construction of Velocicoaster progress.
  2. Night of a Million Lights at Give Kids The World Village: It was a last minute invite for me, but I am glad I got the chance to experience this event at Give Kids The World Village. Andrew puts a lot into contributing to GKTW, so it was cool being able to visit the park as a representative of Coaster101.
  3. Making some treats from The Unofficial Disney Parks Parks CookbookThis is another experience I got to enjoy with my son. I’m looking forward to trying even more of the recipes in 2021!

Larry

Parks Visited in 2020: Kings Island

New Coaster Credits in 2020:

  • Orion at Kings Island
  • Woodstock Express at Kings Island
  • Flying Ace Aerial Chase at Kings Island

Favorite New Ride of 2020: Since travel was very difficult for me, Orion definitely was my favorite “New for 2020” ride since it was the only one I was able to get to.

Favorite Coaster101 Posts of 2020: Having not been able to attend any media days or such this year, definitely some of my favorite posts have been the research and history ones. Eric’s post about how all of the wooden coaster manufacturers are connected was definitely a highlight. And I do have to say, the “20 in 2020” posts definitely are a great look back at the coasters that opened now 2 decades ago. Man, did those make me feel old.

Top 3 Highlights of 2020: 

  1. Visiting Kings Island: This was a trip that I didn’t think it was going to happen, but it did. Was my only major trip I was able to do this year, but it was definitely something I did not expect: going on 4th of July Saturday and the park being very mild in terms of crowds. Was still able to get on many of the coasters, including a few rides on Orion itself. The new policies that Cedar Fair put in for the pandemic made the whole trip feel very safe.
  2. Indiana Beach: Oh man, did this park have its own type of roller coaster this year. Not only did we have an announcement that the park would permanently close in February, but then we got the great news 2 months later it was purchased and would open for the 2020 season.But that wasn’t even the end of the Indiana Beach saga. In November, they announced that they purchased the defunct Quimera roller coaster from Mexico and would be bringing the triple looping Schwarzkopf to the park that is only a few hours away from me. To say I’m excited for that, it’s an understatement.
  3. The Industry: To say this was the hardest year for the amusement and theme park industry is an understatement. There were several times where I was wondering if anything would be able to open at all, but a number of parks were able to open partially or fully under local and state guidelines. Even though some parks this year never were open for 2020, we did get a few surprises such as Kings Dominion and Carowinds for the Holiday in the Park events that they’d open from November to December with a very limited ride list and attractions. Let’s hope that going into 2021, we will see those parks that were not able to open this year, open and able to bring the fun back that some of us missed in 2020.

Nick

Parks Visited in 2020: Walt Disney World, Kings Island, Scene75 Columbus, Columbus Zoo, Dollywood, Anakeesta

New Coaster Credits in 2020: 

  • Orion at Kings Island (x7)
  • The Goat Coaster at Goats on the Roof (x1)
  • Dragonflier at Dollywood (x1)
  • Whistlepunk Chaser at Dollywood (x1)
  • Rail Runner at Anakeesta (x1)

Keep track of your own coaster credits and statistics by using our Coaster Counter Excel template.

Favorite New Ride of 2020: The only new for 2020 roller coaster I rode was Orion at Kings Island, so by default it wins! Although I may be checking out Scene75 Dayton next week so Tsunami (SBF spinner) might give it a run for its money.

Favorite “New to You” Ride of 2020: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Favorite Coaster101 Post of 2020: Lot’s of good ones to choose from. I had a good time writing about Millennium Force turning twenty years old,  Fly opening at Phantasialandlongest walks to ride a coaster, and top 10 coasters I wish had been RMC’d rather than destroyed. I loved reading about the G-Force movement supporting and empowering women in the coaster community. Other posts I think you’ll enjoy as much as I did include how to avoid the slowest line at amusement parks, Guide to the Alpine Coasters in the Smokies, and ruin a coaster name by changing one letter for the laughs.

Top 3 Highlights of 2020:

1. Surprising my kids with a trip to Disney World. It was hard to keep the secret but we did somehow. And now the trip is even more magical knowing just a few short weeks later the world turned upside down and all Disney parks throughout the world would be closed for a period of time.

2. Celebrating my ten year wedding anniversary with a trip to the Smoky Mountains. We stayed in a luxurious Dollywood cabin, rode mountain coasters, visited The Island, were just feet from a black bear while hiking, experienced Anakeesta for the first time, and of course, went to Dollywood where my kids picked up some new coaster credits.

3. Orion First-Rider event. Was my only visit to a theme park between mid-February and mid-October and while the new giga coaster was the only ride open but it is a great ride, great food, and was all for charity.


Finally, we want to give a huge thank you to our readers and supporters. 2020 was a crazy and difficult year yet we can’t thank you enough for continuing to support us throughout. Here’s to getting back on track in 2021!

If you want to hear a recap of some of our 2020’s on The Coaster101 Podcast, click the link or listen in the player below!

How was your 2020 coaster season? Hopefully you were able to get at least a few coaster rides in. Feel free to share your highlights below using the same format we did!

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