Gently nestled on the shores of Lake Erie, amid Toledo and Cleveland, lies the lair of one of Cedar Point Park’s more intransigent residents, the Iron Dragon. Located in the Celebration Plaza area of the park, this soaring lizard may look tame from the brochure or website, but an up-close glance at this metallic thrill ride may turn the bowels of the stoutest dragon slayer to water.
Knowledge Is Power?
Some may like to research the beast before climbing on. Think it will help? Here’s the rundown on Cedar Point’s popular steel suspended roller coaster.
Cedar Point is a seasonal amusement park, and it was the most visited of its kind in the United States, with visitors estimated at around 3.6 million in 2017. It is home to 17 roller coasters. Hitting the scene way back in 1987 when Michael Jackson began singing about how bad he was, the Iron Dragon first supplanted the Monster circular ride, taking up its space in the park. Designed by eminent coaster engineer Ron Toomer of Arrow Dynamics, the Dragon boasts 2800 feet of track, built over one of the park’s artificial lagoons.
Following a relatively new trend at the time, Toomer eschewed the railroad-track style of roller coasters past and opted instead for an overhead steel track upon which the cars were suspended, allowing the rider a greater feeling of openness and flight. It is classified as a terrain coaster, as it more or less follows a flight pattern through virtual woods and other simulated natural elements.
By the time the red and silver paint finished drying on Dragon, the bill had come to a whopping 4 million in 1987 American dollars. Given the popularity and endurance of the ride, it seems to have been 4 million well spent.
Committing to the Beast
Let’s say all those facts and figures make you feel much better about the ride. Sure, the signs have painted dragons and the warnings are profuse, but you – a rational person of the modern age – know it is all just hype and storytelling, right? There is nothing to fear in a professionally engineered thrill ride, correct?
Regardless, you have committed yourself now. You are in line. You have moved past the first sun shelter, and there are at least a couple of hundred people now behind you who are taking the same risk. You can’t walk back through the line—not past all those fine people who will stare at you in mocking disdain, thoughts of “coward!” somehow telepathically forcing its way into your mind. So you put aside the thoughts of upchucking over the side and persevere.
The line goes pretty quickly these days, especially since the park introduced a virtual reality game playable through your smart device. One can participate in “The Battle for Cedar Point” while waiting in line rather than slowly inching along, thinking about the heat and how you wished you’d stopped by the restroom before getting in the queue. The game is playable all day at the park, with each guest getting sorted into virtual clans. Opportunities are available for participants to pick up points at each ride by scanning them from afar and then playing the games designed around each attraction.
Once you are through all the people-sorters and up the stairs in the station, one of the park’s helpful employees will direct you to one of seven four-passenger cars. Groups of three and five, be prepared to experience the ride with strangers. At this time, the waiting is nearly over and the flight is about to begin. You pull down your safety restraint, which is a pretty traditional padded harness that slips over both shoulders and holds you in securely. There are safety regulations, tests, and statistics to show you that to date, no one has ever died – or even suffered significant injury – on the Iron Dragon.
On the Wings
The moment has arrived! The employee at the controls waits for winks and nods from his crew, verifying that they have done their job and have checked the restraints of all passengers. You hear a single pneumatic hiss like that of a scaly beast of yesteryear exhaling in satisfaction, and you start your roll out of the station into a gentle downward right turn.
Immediately you notice the chain-lift driven hill. That starts you on your flight. The lock engages and the clack-clack-clack of the chain is heard over the noises of suspense, excitement, and a little fear. Fathers grip the hands of younger children, while the more easily excited let out little screams of anticipation. As the climb takes you under another of Cedar Point’s favorites, the Rougarou, you might be lucky enough to see a train full of upside-down screaming passengers pass overhead.
Thoughts of other people on other rides quickly pass as the chain pulls you over the top. The car hovers suspended for just a moment as stored energy lifts you over the hump and gravity claws at you, taking over from the chain.
Your speed picks up, and you feel that initial rush of falling freely – but only for a brief moment. This dragon does not do nice, graceful dives! Instead, it swings to the right, turning your car at a 90-degree angle to the ground. You suddenly realize that perhaps all those warnings about leaving your sunglasses behind were a lot more than hype as you lose your $70 Ray-Bans to the catch-net strung below.
Then as the afternoon sun blazes all the brighter in your eyes, the dragon’s flight continues onward and around, swinging you a full half circle to the other side so that all the change in your right pocket has a chance to free itself and make its way below.
A straight hundred feet later, the dragon takes you dangling over the park’s outdoor theater. There’s no time to take in a show just now, though you may glance at an attendee looking up briefly from the performance to note your dire straits.
Another sharp swing to the right brings you to a slight respite where the Iron Dragon pauses for a breath of fresh air. Your car hooks up to a second pull-chain. Again, the clack-clack-clack reverberates over the sound of the happy crowds milling about six stories below, and you brace yourself knowing that the dragon isn’t quite finished with you yet.
Now over the hill, the chain releases the cars, and once more gravity reasserts itself on the helpless train, pulling it downward into a controlled soar. The dragon is relentless as it swoops to the right! Then to the left! Indecisive as mammoth flying lizards are wont to be, it seems as if you’ll never stop swaying back and forth until you approach the lagoon. The ride takes you through a frantic flight over the water, nearly dipping you in as it corkscrews at a 45-degree angle, jerking you once more to the left, when suddenly you realize that you’re flattening out, slowing down, and lazily pulling back into the station.
You exhale in relief. The screaming and laughter all subside, and passengers regale each other with their personal views of the adventure as the train finally stops.
The Dragon Evolves
Though a wonderful roller coaster in its own right, the ride was modified a few years back to involve a virtual reality element. It was used sparingly for test participants during limited hours back during its inception in 2016. Though the ride itself is unchanged, a visual program, delivered to the rider by means of a virtual reality helmet viewer adds a new dimension to it, taking the rider to a predictably medieval world filled with dragons (what else?), fleeing peasants, and club-wielding ogres. The riders become the protagonists in a narrative about trying to make off with valuables in a wheeled cart.
The VR is optional and is offered after 6 pm and until the park closes. It’s a wonderful alternative, especially after dark when you’re not going to see so much of the forest and lagoon anyway.
The Iron Dragon has now been flying for over three decades, but it’s nowhere near retirement. After a makeover back in 2004, where it received a shiny new yellow finish, it continues to be a favorite among Cedar Point’s fleet of roller coasters. On the right day, the lines might not be as long as others, giving the rider a real value for his or her thrill-seeking time. There’s nothing quite like going on the ride again!
The future looks good for the Iron Dragon, and there’s little to no doubt you will enjoy your time spent on this unique attraction. The virtual reality function has breathed new life into the ride, attracting riders who might otherwise find their ways to higher and more modern roller coasters. At Cedar Point, the Dragon still remains a great start for those who have never ridden a roller coaster – giving them a great thrill without introducing an incurable phobia.