20 in 2020: Millennium Force at Cedar Point

20 in 2020: Millennium Force at Cedar Point

The next stop in our 20 in 2020 series takes us to the Ohio peninsula of America’s Rockin’ Roller Coast. High above the shores of Lake Erie sits what might be the most popular roller coaster of the past two decades, Millennium Force. When it opened in 2000, the Intamin-built ride made history as the world’s first “giga coaster”, a roller coaster to top out at over 300 feet tall. Let’s relive the history of this legendary coaster milestone.

The iconic silhouette of Cedar Point’s Millennium Force

Millennium Force History and Design Challenges

In the late 1990’s, speculation ran high as to what the next big thing coming to Cedar Point would be. The last major coaster built on the peninsula was Mantis in 1996. Cedar Point wanted to maintain their status as the best coaster park in the world. The rumors started flying as to if the new coaster would be a B&M product like Raptor and Mantis or another Arrow ride like Magnum and Gemini.

A new coaster was pitched to the board of directors in Cleveland in November of 1998. John Hildebrandt tells the story in his memoir, Always Cedar Point. “What Dick (Kinzel) wanted was a ride that would surpass Magnum but would carry the same genetic code: steel structure, tubular steel track, no inversions, high capacity, world class stats: highest, steepest, fastest.” A location was identified on the bay side of the park though some “feared cramming a huge coaster in this space would kill the ambiance of the Frontier Trail, though the ambiance had been in decline for decades.”

There were two coaster companies competing for the project.

According to Hildebrandt, “B&M was not considered because their expertise (at the time) was restricted to inversion coasters.” Maybe unknown then but B&M were developing their first non-inverting hyper coasters, Apollo’s Chariot and Raging Bull, that would open in 1999. And “they were committed to several new coaster projects that would make it impossible for them to do the project within our timeline.” B&M opened six new roller coasters in the year 2000. While Intamin would only do one additional giga coaster for Cedar Fair, Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion in 2010, B&M would eventually go on to produce three giga coasters for Cedar Fair: Leviathan at Canada’s Wonderland in 2012, Fury 325 at Carowinds in 2015, and Orion at Kings Island in 2020.

D.H. Morgan was the first to bid on the 300 foot coaster for Cedar Point. Cedar Fair had already worked successfully with Morgan on three hyper coasters: Wild Thing at Valleyfair, Steel Force at Dorney Park, and Mamba at Worlds of Fun. “It was basically a done deal,” according to Dana Morgan on The Season Pass Podcast Episode #389, until Intamin came in with a lower bid by several million dollars (and a shorter ride). Morgan negatively described Intamin’s design as having “way too much energy coming into the station and just put a bunch of brakes to scrub it off.”

Of course, Morgan probably didn’t want to admit the other reason why Intamin was ultimately chosen: technology.

In Tim O’Brien’s book Roller Coaster King of Cedar Point Amusement Park, Dick Kinzel said Morgan engineers were not able to solve two problems: “how to get the cars to the top of the 300 foot summit quickly and how to come up with a more durable material for the wheels”. One of the limiting factors of building bigger and faster roller coasters is the design of the wheels. Sandor Kernacs of Intamin, along with the help of Monty Jasper, VP of Construction and Maintenance for Cedar Fair, were able to solve the issues. In contrast, on the podcast Morgan did say they knew they had to make the wheels bigger and scale other components up, such as the diameter of the rails.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to solve was the lift hill. A 300 foot hill would take up a large amount of real estate. The 205 foot tall Magnum XL-200 uses a traditional chain lift and takes 90 seconds to get to the top. Hildebrant explained “adding another 105 feet to the lift will would mean a longer ride up. It would significantly impact the capacity of the ride.” Morgan’s solution to the problem was the same system they ended up using on their record breaking coaster, Steel Dragon 2000: two chains as opposed to one monstrous one. The speed and space required was still an issue however.

Intamin came up with the more creative solution: the cable lift. A cable was wound on a giant drum much quicker than a chain could be ran, plus the lift hill angle was able to be steepened to take up less room. Riders reached the 310 foot peak in a little over 20 seconds, climbing the 45 degree lift at 13.5 miles per hour. “At the time it really was a gamble, it really hadn’t been tried so it was a big risk for the company,” Jasper said.

The gamble paid off. Intamin got the job.

Construction and Opening

On June 2, 1999, Cedar Point trademarked the name Millennium Force. One week later Intamin track appeared on the worksite. The record breaking coaster was announced on June 22, 1999.

Construction of Millennium Force began in earnest in August and took nine months and included the relocation of the Giant Wheel from its original location to an area along the beach. Test rides began in April of 2000. It opened to media on on May 11, 2000 in order to give maintenance and operations a day to recover, and then to the public on May 13 as the tallest and fastest continuous circuit coaster in the world. The previous record holder was the 259 foot tall Fujiyama.

Local newspapers reported exaggerated wait times of seven hours, though three to four hour waits were more realistic. According to Rolling Through the Years, “the park tried a ‘Ticket to Ride’ appointment system for a few weeks in June where guests could get a ticket to return during a specific time frame. Issues with the ticket due to weather and maintenance down time, as well as guests trying to sell the tickets in the park, resulted in the program being discontinued.”

Steel Dragon 2000 Steals the Spotlight

Millennium Force’s tallest coaster title was short lived. When Morgan lost the bid for Cedar Point, they began serious discussions for a 300 footer with Nagashima Spa Land in Japan, having already done much research and development into building a massive ride. Because Morgan had been working with Cedar Point, they had a good idea of how tall they needed to make a record breaking coaster for their new client. The Japanese were superstitious and they worked in meters. Thus 97 meters was the height chosen: 318 feet.

Steel Dragon 200 opened on August 1, 2000, around three months after Millie and just eight feet taller, taking the tallest and fastest records from Cedar Point. “They were hot,” Morgan said of the Cedar Fair officials when learning of the larger ride, whose statistics had been kept secret. Millennium Force opened first because the ride was contracted first. Morgan admitted they wouldn’t have built Steel Dragon if they had gotten the Cedar Point contract.

Morgan claims Cedar Fair officials told him at a later IAAPA tradeshow “I wish we had bought the ride from you guys,” which he considered to be very high praise. Morgan’s opinion was “the ride they got was a good ride, but not as good as the ride we would have built for them.” It would be interesting indeed to see the layout Morgan had designed.

Steel Dragon 2000 twenty years later is still the longest roller coaster in the world and possibly the most expensive coaster ever built (excluding theming), coming in somewhere around $40-50 million dollars (a $50 million dollar price tag is typically reported but up to 10 million of that may have been other improvements to the park).

Millennium Force – Records Broken

Upon its opening, Millennium Force broke several world records, which included:

    First full circuit coaster to hit the 300 foot barrier
    Tallest full circuit coaster in the world at 310 feet
    Longest drop on a complete circuit coaster, 300 feet
    Steepest non-inversion banked turn, 122 degrees
    Fastest complete circuit coaster, 93 mph

*These records are full/complete circuit because of Superman the Escape at Six Flags Magic Mountain, a 415 foot tall, 100 mph non-complete circuit shuttle coaster that opened in 1997*

Cedar Point was also able to claim other world records such as most steel coasters in one park, most total rides in an amusement park, and the most coaster track in a single park (44,013 feet at that time).

It’s often incorrectly reported that Millennium Force was the first roller coaster to use magnetic braking. According to RideMan, it was actually another Intamin coaster, Superman: Ride of Steel at Darien Lake, that opened the year prior in 1999 that was the first roller coaster to use magnetic brakes. Intamin first pioneered the technology on their freefall towers before transitioning it over to coasters.

Ride Experience

Millennium Force’s station was designed differently then many of the previous coasters at Cedar Point. Magnum, Raptor, and Mantis all had stations where guests got on and off the ride in the same location. The new giga coaster had separate unload and load areas, meaning guests could no longer bring any belongings and leave them in the station. Guests were required to place loose objects in lockers near the ride’s entrance or with a non-rider. Hildebrant said “The revenue was considerable, as were the complaints, but there was no going back.”

Adding to the thrill factor is the open and exposed design of the trains with only a T-bar shaped lap bar restraint and seat belt to hold you in.

The technological advances of roller coaster design from 1989 to 2000 were quite evident. Hildebrandt summed it up nicely: “The difference in smoothness between Magnum and Millennium Force is stark. Magnum feels almost Stone Age after riding Millennium Force.”

When sitting in the Millennium Force station, it appears like the lift goes straight up into the heavens. Unlike a lot of other coasters out there, getting to the top takes no time at all due to it’s cable lift hill; flying out of the station and climbing up that first hill is as much of the experience as the rest of the ride. The views (although brief) are sensational on your journey up, as the coaster sits about as close to the Lake Erie shoreline as possible. Sit on the left to feel like your hanging out over the water. On a clear day you might be able to see Canada.

After cresting the top, you plummet down 300 feet at a top speed of 93 mph. It is easily one of the best drops on any coaster, you are out of your seat the whole way down. Immediately you are thrown into a huge 169 foot overbanked turn that launches you (and makes some riders grey out) back down to ground level into the first of two tunnels.

The first airtime hill is next, at 182 feet, taking you across the lagoon and onto an island at the center of the park. There you maneuver two more overbanked turns before hitting another airtime hill taking you back to the mainland. Here we hit the second tunnel and bunny hill before running into the straightaway for the overbanked turn finale, sometimes referred to as the “victory lap” for the way it circles around the queue area, which in those early days was always jammed full of thrill seekers.

Millennium Force has everything you want in a coaster, probably helping it be the #1 Steel Coaster in the World for so long. It has views, height, speed, airtime, tight turns, and my favorite, low-to-the-ground moments. The speed is carried throughout the entire ride and the pace never lets up.

Millennium Force began the Cedar Point tradition known as “the running of the bulls” when hundreds of guests would make a mad dash to get in line for the record breaking coaster. “…we had to create a holding area just inside the main gate to avoid a crush at the turnstiles” said Kinzel. It’s a quarter mile from the main gate to the ride’s entrance. Hildebrandt described it as “Guests ran as if bulls were chasing them for one reason: to avoid waiting in line for two or three hours to ride Millennium Force. The coaster was king of the midway.”

The ride wasn’t without its issues. Intamin thought the cable used on the lift would last for two seasons. It didn’t even make it through one. It broke on Labor Day weekend and the park’s maintenance team got a spare cable installed by the following weekend.

One of the supports on the first overbank turn didn’t have enough clearance to the passenger envelope. A rider reaching out with a long arm at the right moment could touch the support. A clearance shape was scalloped out of the existing tubular support and a piece of bar steel welded to the back to reinforce it, which can still be seen to this day.

Millennium Force’s Legacy

In it’s first year, Millennium Force gave over one million rides and averaged about 1.1 million riders in the following seasons. It generated 3.4 million visitors for Cedar Point in 2000. Two factors that probably prevented those attendance numbers from being even bigger: a $5 increase in ticket price and the re-branding of Six Flags Ohio into Six Flags Worlds of Adventure with the addition of four new roller coasters.

Coaster101 writer Nick Weisenberger attempted to ride it early that summer: “We stood in line for three or four hours and the ride broke down so we didn’t get on that day. Luckily, I was able to make a return trip during Halloweekends where a much shorter line and smooth operations allowed me to finally get on. It was an amazing and memorable ride, especially since the park was shrouded in fog.”

In the Golden Ticket Awards for Best Steel Coaster, Millennium Force has ranked first or second every year from 2000 to 2019.

The ride is not without its critics, with some coaster enthusiasts making up nicknames like “Millennium Farce” and “Millennium Force-less.” Most negative reviews of the ride are systemic of all giga coasters: the scale required to keep the G-forces in check and expense of those large elements mean they are fewer and farther between than smaller, more dynamic coasters. Most of the world’s giga coasters only have between 7 and 10 drops while smaller coasters could have double that.

The most popular criticisms of the ride are nicely summed up by Roller Coaster Philosophy: “If you like height and sustained speed, Millennium Force is still your ride. But like the Beast before it, more refined coaster connoisseurs have learned that despite the record-breaking statistics there’s not much in terms of substance and have begun to turn their nose up at the once adored, the ride’s continued popularity attributed to nostalgia or a lack of awareness of more aggressive, dynamic coasters at other less-visited parks.”

To many, Millennium Force is more than a roller coaster – it’s an elegant work of art.  Ironically, it’s probably partly due to the less intense ride experience that broadens the appeal of the coaster to so many. Nostalgia also plays a big role in the continued reverence for Millennium Force. The timing of the project was perfect, concurring with the rapid growth of the internet when many coaster enthusiasts were discovering there were other super fans just like them on online forums where the status of the coaster could be followed from announcement through construction to opening.  Just uttering the name Millennium Force invokes passion from fans and critics alike. One could argue it is the most influential and important roller coaster built in the past twenty years.

Millennium Force Stats

    Height: 310 feet
    Drop: 300 feet
    Length: 6,595 feet
    Speed: 93 mph
    Descent: 80 degrees
    Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds
    Cost: $25 million (includes cost to move the Giant Wheel)
    Nickname: Millie
    Busiest year: 2001 with 1,954,163 riders

Millennium Force stats courtesy of Cedar Point: Rolling Through the Years.

Have you ridden Millennium Force? Where does it rank on your list of coasters? Let us know in the comments below or on one of our social channels.

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