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Led Zeppelin: The Ride

J. M. Smig

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Christening of Led Zeppelin - The Ride

Posted on Mon, Dec. 17, 2007

Hard Rock gives coaster a whirl

'We don't break champagne. We smash guitars.'

By Claudia Lauer and Jonathan Tressler - The Sun News

Visiting the Led Zeppelin roller coaster at the new Hard Rock theme park has been a ritual for Steve Ammons over the past few months, even though the park and the ride are still several months from opening.

"I'm a big fan of the manufacturer of this roller coaster and a big fan of Led Zeppelin," said Ammons, an Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., resident who came to watch the first public test run of the roller coaster from the street Sunday afternoon. "I've been watching the construction on the Web site and we try to stop by every month just to see how it's coming along."

Steve Ammons' wife, Carrie, and 5-year-old son, Garrett, also watched from the fence surrounding the park on George Bishop Parkway.

"We travel around the country going to roller coasters," said Carrie Ammons. "My husband is a bit of a fanatic."

Steve Ammons wasn't the only enthusiast watching the test run Sunday. More than 30 cars lined up along the road and the median to watch park officials christen the ride during a press conference before its premiere voyage.

Unlike a ship's christening, the rockers at the theme park opted not to destroy a good bottle of booze. They broke something a little more fitting before they let the coaster roll.

"This is the Hard Rock Park. We don't break champagne. We smash guitars," said Jon Binkowski, the park's chief creative officer, minutes before park chief executive officer Steven Goodwin slammed what looked like a Fender Stratocaster to pieces on one of the ride's concrete anchors.

A litany of "oohs," "ahhs" and at least one "ALL-RIGHT!" followed.

One Hard Rock Park employee said although the coaster itself is "awesome," he thought a special group of participants Sunday deserved some recognition.

"Right now we are risking the lives of the water dummies," said Edgar Hill, a manager in the Hard Rock Park's Backstage Tour department.

Hill explained that water dummies are white, plastic jugs filled with water and strapped into roller coasters' seats to mimic people for testing before the rides are people-approved.

"You've gotta give kudos to the water dummies, man," he said.

Before the water dummies took their plunge down the ride's initial, 155-foot drop, Binkowski highlighted some of the roller coaster's key features.

Each of the ride's three trains has a built-in, 64-speaker, 1,200-watt sound system. While the ride itself only lasts 90 seconds, the "Led Zeppelin - The Ride" experience lasts the entire 5½ minutes of the band's 1969 hit song "Whole Lotta Love."

The ride's peak is as high as the Federal Aviation Administration will allow. It's partially over water and it features a 120-foot-tall loop, a 90-foot cobra roll - an inverted roll that takes a rider upside down twice - and a 75-foot-tall zero-gravity roll - a hill with a twisted track at its peak that turns the roller coaster car 360 degrees.

For Connie David, a 51-year-old Hunter's Ridge resident, the music will be the best part of the roller coaster, and the park in general.

"I graduated from high school in the '70s, so this is my music," said David, who lay across the roof of her car taking video of the test run with her cell phone. "I'm going to show this to my 14-year-old. I'm trying to get my daughter to come with me to the park when it opens."

David, who was wearing a Styx T-shirt and had several Beatles posters and pieces of memorabilia in her car, said she wishes the roller coaster were taller, but that doesn't mean she won't enjoy the ride.

"I wish it hadn't had the height restrictions because of the airport. I've been on much taller roller coasters," she said. "I think the music should make the ride really cool though."

David said her children don't listen to the same music as she and her fiance, who are already trying to buy tickets for a Moody Blues concert scheduled at the park's venue.

"They'd like it if there was an alternative or modern rock part of the park, but hopefully they'll come with me," she said.

Some younger fans also lined up to sneak a peek at the roller coaster. August Erbland, a 14-year-old Myrtle Beach resident wearing John Lennon sunglasses, tried to jockey his position to see the ceremonial guitar smashing.

"I've been on, like, 43 roller coasters. This one is really fast. It has a lot of loops," August said.

"He's been telling us he wants to be the first one to ride on the roller coaster when it opens," his mother, Pam Erbland, said.

She said the whole family is excited to see the bands the venue will also bring to town.

"We were sad to see the old Pavilion go, but this is going to be pretty cool," Pam Erbland, 49, said.

Despite the enthusiasm over the ride itself, for a lot of the people gathered at the demonstration, the music will be the most exciting part.

"I'm completely excited about the park focusing on the musical experience," said Dawn Owens, a 34-year-old Myrtle Beach resident who took a break from work to walk to the park and watch. "It's about time that music really got its due recognition."

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