It may have taken me longer than I anticipated, but I finally got to visit the new Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach this week and we had a blast. The weather was great and as many have reported so far this summer, the crowd levels at Hard Rock Park are fairly low. This makes it incredibly easy to enter the park for the day and just enjoy it at your own pace and never feel rushed. (Note - Photo and Video Galleries are posted at the bottom of the review.)
From the moment you set foot in the entry plaza of Hard Rock Park you can feel the modern theme park design aspects. The quality and look of all the buildings and set pieces is easily on par with any of the big Orlando theme parks, which makes sense because most of the same companies who design and build attractions in Orlando also worked on Hard Rock Park. This includes a blatant self promotional set piece from Nassal on the water tower in front of Eagles: Life In The Fast Lane.
If you take a moment to look around yourself anywhere in the park you are also sure to spot some of the massive Peavey park audio speakers. Today most modern theme parks either take the time to camouflage their speakers to be hidden from view or to use a greater number of smaller speakers to be less obtrusive. Hard Rock Park almost seems to take a perverse joy in using massive concert sized speakers just can’t be missed, mounting them on every single tower and available building throughout the entire park. They are big, powerful and really just reinforce the Hard Rock Park brand image. Rock on!
There are also lots of visual gags spread throughout the park such as an empty “Free Air Guitar” stand near the entrance, or the funny electricity quotes on the yellow bumper stickers applied to every large green box throughout the park (Electricity is really just organized lightning! – George Carlin). Of course the visual gag you may remember most could involve a trip to one of the park’s restrooms, such as the “broken mirror” delayed video camera feed you’ll find near the Paradise Grill or the huge mural of female onlookers you come face to face with in the men’s room between the Whammy Bar and entrance to Cool Country.
The park is divided into five music themed zones and the All Access Entry Plaza. Entering the park you’ll encounter the I Want Candy store, the Amp’d Coffee stop, The Whammy Bar before you come to the water’s edge where you make your choice between Rock and Country.
A quick left turn will take you right into the pearly gates of Rock & Roll Heaven though you may get a bit of a mixed message at first since the first things you see would be more appropriate to a Reggae themed land (such as the Reggae River Falls water fortress). The area also contains the Malibu Beach Party show as well, which is actually quite a fun little show, heavy on the comedy and girls in bathing suits. The fast paced show makes sure that the action and jokes never stop until the very end. In addition you get to see some motorcycle stunts, high diving and an aerial acrobatic act. Of course you wouldn’t have come to Rock ‘n Roll Heaven if it wasn’t for the park’s skyline dominating roller coaster, Led Zeppelin – The Ride. At first glance this may look like your standard B&M sit down coaster, but there seems to have been some interesting tweaks added here and there. For starters, it wouldn’t be a Hard Rock without a soundtrack and they’ve added in some huge speakers to blast Led Zep in your face for the entire ride. If you take a look at the profile of the lift hill and first drop you’ll also notice that it has a rather steep lift hill, and while I don’t know the exact angle of it, visually it seems to be on the same level as the steep lifts used on the B&M Dive Machines, so you’ll go up fast and down even faster. While some have claimed that the layout is uninspired, that is a comment you will only hear from a coaster “enthusiast” who has ridden well more than their fair share of B&M coasters. To the average guest who I watched come off the ride, they were breathless and completely satisfied by the end of the run. The first drop is great and feels like what you would expect from a Hypercoaster instead of a looper, but your soon entangled within the coaster’s six inversions, five of which you hit back to back, all while listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” which actually fits the experience quite nicely for the majority of the ride. In fact… I’ve got to admit that the combination of the wailing voice and music that begins with the awesome first drop all the way through to the cobra roll gave me chills. By the way, someone tell Six Flags that the lockers they have set up at the coasters at Hard Rock Park are also free for the first two hours.
I have only two “complaints” about the ride. Led Zeppelin – The Ride used a rather interesting loading procedure where guests are assigned a letter and number that correspond to a seat on the train. I can deal with that, since it actually works well and kept the line moving, but from here you are sent to wait in front of a door before you enter a pre-show room where you watch a five minute video clip of historical band interviews and concert footage while waiting for your turn to ride. This is fine for the first couple of rides, but this experience also acts as a bit of a deterrent for anyone wanting to jump in line and ride again. I wouldn’t mind seeing something like a “single rider” line put in place that would let you skip the pre-show film and just wait to fill in a hole somewhere on the next train out. My other more serious complaint is that unfortunately, Led Zeppelin – The Ride is suffering from a bad case of the infamous “B&M Rattle” that plagued all of the North American B&Ms built in 2003 and 2004. The good news is that this problem is fixable as it seems to have been solved on all of those previous rides, and in the case of Led Zep, the seriousness of the vibration problem also depends on which train you are riding. I tried out two different trains and while on my first run I felt no vibrations until the entry of the Zero-G-Roll, but on the second train the vibrations were much more intense and begun right at the bottom of the first drop. But again… this is just something being commented upon by a coaster enthusiast who has ridden far more than my fair share of B&M coasters. Hands down, between the great first drop and a nice collection of inversions, Led Zeppelin in a great coaster in my book. Don’t forget to stop by the interactive water fountain just outside the ride where you can play Stairway To Heaven by plucking at the “strings” of water before you venture off into the British Invasion.
Crossing the bridge over the park’s central lake you’re sure to notice what may look like a giant Ferris Wheel at first, until you see that six-passenger automobiles are actually taking a ride up to the top of the wheel. Say hello to Maximum RPM, which is perhaps the most unique roller coaster in all of Hard Rock Park. Instead of using a traditional lift hill or even a launch for this automobile “test track” themed creation, Premier Rides came up with an entirely new idea. Take the basic concept of a Ferris Wheel… but use it to lift the coaster cars up to the top of the first drop in much the same fashion that bullets are loaded into the barrel of a revolver and you get what I like to call, the “Revolver Lift”. Like all of the Hard Rock coasters, this one comes installed with a killer sound-system that plays a mixture of Gary Numan’s “Cars” while taking your trip up to the top of the revolver lift and upon being pushed out and onto the first drop the ‘radio’ changes stations and begins to play Wang Chung’s “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”. The trip up the lift is a little unsettling, complete with a brief pause half way up so you can watch the car in front of you get dispatched and make the plunge. Upon reaching the top, you can’t help but wonder just what in the world is keeping your car from rolling backwards and crashing onto the roof of the station far below. Fortunately the lift works very quickly and before you know it your dropping down that very steep looking first drop and into a series of high speed banked turns and suddenly your in the brake run for a brief trip through the “car wash” before you go back into the station. Maximum RPM is great fun and butter smooth, but unfortunately it’s a little short for my tastes. Given the speed that the car seems to have at the end, they could have doubled the ride’s length. I also have to mention Max RPM’s queue… which feature’s the world’s first Karoke Queue Line where YOU are the entertainment. Yes, at one point in the queue there is a small stage area set up on a ledge where guests are invited to come on up and sing for the crowd below, and it was actually quite entertaining.
There are a good number of other attractions worth noting in the British Invasion area, including the Magic Mushroom Garden (Huss Airboat) ride, Phonehenge (a recreation of Stonehenge make out of red British phone booths), the London Cab Ride (Huss Breakdance), All The Kings Horses (carousel), The Punk Pit (indoor inflatable play area), Garage Jam (foam ball warzone), the Roadies Stunt Show and finally Moody Blues – Nights in White Satin: The Trip. The Moody Blues ride has got to have the longest ride name in theme park history though “The Trip” more accurately describes this unique dark ride experience set to the song “Nights in White Satin”. Wearing a pair of 3D glasses you set off into the dark in your two-row car which is actually able to rotate while traveling through ‘The Trip” in much the same fashion that you experience on Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Don’t look for laser guns or monsters to jump out at you, this is meant to be more of a relaxing experience allowing you to “see the music” as well as hear it. Finally I have to give a big thumbs up to the Roadies Stunt Show, like the Malibu Beach Party show this performance moves along at a very quick pace, throwing jokes and fun stunts at you left and right, along with a nice pyrotechnic finale. Don’t miss this one… it’s fun for all ages.
Up next is perhaps the park’s most hidden land… Lost In The 70’s, which seems to mostly be contained indoors and mainly seems to consist of a gift shop, the Pinball Wizard arcade and Alice’s Restaurant. I believe this was the land where the Bump ‘n Slam Bumper Cars were supposed to go as well before they were cut from the park’s opening lineup. In all seriousness though, I don’t think anyone misses them, if they even remember that they were once announced at all.
Just outside is the Born In The USA area of the park, which features the Live Amphitheater for your concert performances, the FunkyTown Midway games, Banana Splitsville (two kiddie rides), the Shake Rattle ‘n’ Rollercoaster (Vekoma Roller Skater kiddie coaster), the Kids Rock! State Park and the interesting Slippery When Wet suspended coaster. First off… if you’ve got kids then be sure to take them into the Kids Rock! State Park area. In addition to a massive playground wilderness fortress they can climb on (with some rather interesting slides) this is also where you will find some of the water cannons to shoot up at the Slipper When Wet coaster passing above you. For the kids with no fear there is also a very interesting “ropes course” attraction that is completely free (I believe they were charging for this when the park first opened). Our oldest son (6) wanted to try it so we took him over and after getting his climbing harness put on he was off. It was only then that we looked over at the rest of the course and started to get a little worried, as the later parts of the course looked a little too challenging for him. To my surprise, he did the whole course with almost no problem at all, aided by our encouragement and tips from the great employee stationed up there to help out. Of course your visit isn’t complete without a ride on the Slippery When Wet coaster, where you come under fire from water cannons below, geysers and pass though a waterfall and a mist curtain before the ride is over. Premier Rides did a great job with this coaster too as it seems able to load and dispatch riders very quickly, along with a very speedy and rapid loading elevator lift system that is more efficient that any other elevator lift system I’ve seen to date. Taking a moment to compare this ride to the old Setpoint rides, the seats are far more roomy and able to accommodate much larger adults with ease. A quick word of encouragement to my fellow coaster fans out there who have to use the “big boy” seats on the B&M coasters, Slippery When Wet has a posted max weight of 230 pounds, but don’t pay this any attention. Since I’m well over that limit I was just going to take my son up there to ride it by himself when I was informed that the posted weight limit is really just a conservative warning and that if the lap bar can lock down, your fine. As of this trip I weighed in at 280 pounds and I was able to fit without being stapled to death, so when in doubt give it a try. The ride was actually quite fun and speedy, but my tip to everyone is when the line gets long wait until after dark to try it if you can, the line went from a posted 45 minute wait in the afternoon to being walk on after dark.
Our last stop of the day is Cool Country which features the Country On The Rocks ice skating show (the only show I missed), the talking interactive Rock-Cow Billy statue (great fun), Just A Swingin’ (Wave Swinger), Muddin’ Monster Race (themed Huss Bee Bee) and a couple of the park’s better eateries: The Wheelhouse Canteen and Rockabilly BBQ. A quick note about the restaurants: You will notice that the food can be quite pricey at times, though the quality and quantity of food you receive was quite good in my experience. While I obviously didn’t try out every restaurant in the park, I did notice that most of them offered a completely different menu experience, so you really need to check them all out if one doesn’t have what your looking for. I found this enjoyable as well as I’ve become tired of having every theme park restaurant offering up almost the exact same menu as the one down the pathway. I did notice that many of the restaurants I checked out also seemed to lack a cheaper ‘kiddie meal’ option, which may be something they should look into in the future.
Cool Country is also home to the last of the park’s five coasters called Eagles: Life In The Fast Lane. You may also remember this ride under the name it was first announced as, “Midnight Rider”, which I still think is a much better name. This is a Vekoma Mine Train coaster based on a customized version of the 785m model that features two side by side lift hills, all done while the on-board sound system rocks out to a custom mix of Life In The Fast Lane. This is a great family ride and one that my son enjoyed quite a bit as he ended up taking a total of 7 rides on it throughout the day. It’s also nice to see that the previously barren “dirt lot” under the ride is now alive with plant growth, giving the ride some much needed character that it didn’t have when it first opened. While it offers a fun daytime ride experience, Life In The Fast Lane is one of those special coasters that offers a much better ride experience after dark.
Speaking of after dark… while things are likely to change as the park adjusts their operating schedule, Hard Rock Park typical summer hours the week I visited were 10am to 1am allowing plenty of time for after dark riding. Like many attractions in the Myrtle Beach area, it seems that the crowds really don’t start to come in until late in the afternoon, leaving you plenty of elbow room in the morning and late night hours. The park’s big finale of the night is the Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen) fireworks show which is well designed and offers a combination of low and medium altitude pyrotechnics and perimeter effects mixed with some laser and light effects coming from the massive Gibson Guitar tower. The show takes place in the park’s central lake and can be seen from just about any location. While the show didn’t take place until 10:45pm that night, it was well worth staying to see.
Seeing a new theme park these days in America is a unique experience as the local markets are just so saturated. Theme parks also change and evolve so quickly, so it was a pleasure to see Hard Rock Park in it’s initial “first year” state. Business seems a little slower than the park would like of course, as the locals are perhaps a bit set in their ways and visiting the same old attractions, golf courses and beaches that they have for years. Before too long I think they are soon going to take notice of Hard Rock Park and I can’t wait to see what kind of follow up performance the band is cooking up in the studio.