The Great Roller Coaster Tour of 2013

Our son Joel has always loved rides. Starting from the week he was born, he loved his cradle swing. He would stay in it for hours every day (and sometimes all night). For years, we would go to the park, and he would always want to swing – Faster! Higher! We started going on rides at theme parks on his second birthday (a trip to Disneyland, of course), and he could never get enough. By age four, he became enamored with roller coasters. He carefully monitored his height, knowing exactly how many inches he would have to grow to ride each coaster. He began to read about and research roller coasters all over the country (and the world), wanting to go on the tallest, the fastest, the ones with the most inversions, etc. He put a poster of the top ranked coasters in the U.S. on his wall and memorized all their details. I told him that when he turned 10 years old, I would take him on a trip to ride the best coasters in the country, thinking that by the time that day arrived, he might have moved on to other interests.

I was wrong.

Joel never forgot that promise, and has been counting down the years, months, weeks, and days to his double-digit birthday in May 2013. At school last year, he did a presentation on roller coasters… that lasted 35 minutes. In early 2012, I realized that I needed to start seriously thinking about this. Where would we go? How would we do it? I knew that any trip had to include Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio (most roller coasters of any park in the U.S. outside of Southern California) and Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ (home of the tallest, fastest coaster in North America), but I didn’t know what would be in between.

Then it happened. I opened up the Sunday Los Angeles Times last July (yes, I still get a newspaper on Sundays) and saw it. Brady MacDonald, the Times’ theme park blogger, took his wife and daughter on a roller coaster tour, starting at Cedar Point and ending at Great Adventure. They visited eight parks and his daughter declared it to be the vacation of a lifetime. Most importantly, his wife was still apparently talking to him after they returned. “Honey!” I called out to Vivian. “I know what we’re doing with Joel next summer!” I showed her the article.

“That’s wonderful,” she said with mild amusement. “I’m sure you two will have a fantastic time.”

I was incredulous. “You’re not coming?”

“Well, I don’t like roller coasters, and the two of you can have a special vacation together.”

Fair enough. I started to research the trip, plotting out the 900 mile drive across three states. After our trip to Orlando over spring break this year (where we visited 11 parks in 9 days), Vivian said, “I’ve reconsidered. I would like to come on your trip. I would miss you guys too much.” Music to my ears.

So here I am, sitting on a plane to Cleveland, ready to embark on one crazy adventure. I just hope my back, neck, and stomach all hold out.

This trip never would have happened without three people:

My friend Richard Kraft, who took his son Nicky around the world to ride hundreds of roller coasters. I don’t know anyone who understands how to enjoy every day of one’s life more than Richard does, and he truly inspires me.

Brady MacDonald, who took this trip with his family, and whose L.A. Times article pushed me to do the same. Brady is a great writer (and rider) and has tremendous passion for theme parks and the joy that lies within them. He personally shared his tips and experiences with me, and I appreciate his time and kindness. Check out his theme parks blog here.

My father, Ted Zachary, who took me on trips in my youth that have since become my fondest childhood memories. I swore to do the same with my kid one day, and since Joel was four years old, we have always gone away together at least once each year.

Tomorrow we hit Cedar Point. Look out, Ohio. Here come the Zacharys.

Cleveland Airport

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