Category Archives: pittsburgh

Kennywood’s Steel Curtain coaster packs thrills, frights, fun into ride

I don’t know if I’ve laughed as much and at the same time been as apprehensive as I was today taking my first ride on Kennywood Park’s record-breaking coaster, The Steel Curtain.

Kennywood offered a first look to media and some very important guests before the ride officially opens Saturday to the public.

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Special thanks to my friend Kristina Serafini for capturing this shot of me buckling in for the ride.

In a name that pays homage to the Pittsburgh Steelers and its thrilling run of the 1970s, The Steel Curtain is packed with inversions, corkscrews, speed and thrills that are only for the best football fans in the nation. (There was a woman in a Detroit Lions shirt and some guy in a Cleveland Browns shirt today and I have many questions.)

Check out the stats for this beast:

  • Nine inversions (the most of any roller coaster in North America)
  • World’s tallest inversion at 197 feet high
  • Pennsylvania’s tallest roller coaster at 220 feet
  • Lift Angle: 50 degrees
  • Length: 4,000 feet
  • Duration: 2 minutes
  • Passengers: 24
  • Speed: 76 mph

Several current and former Steelers players had a chance to ride today, including Matt Feiler, whose first attempt didn’t go so smoothly. The 6-feet, 6-inch and 330-pound guy had to have ride staffers configure the seat for him, but it kept him from riding with fellow Steelers players.

In between his first attempt and his actual ride, I talked with him a bit. He told me he enjoys coasters, but it’s difficult to find ones he’s able to get on.

At the end of his ride, he told me The Steel Curtain was “awesome.”

Craig Wolfley, Cam Heyward and John Banaszak were among members of the Steelers family who took first rides.

No Steelers event is complete without “Renegade” blasting and a Terrible Towel wave. The song plays in short snippets as the train heads up the lift hill. And, of course, it was the lead song for today’s press conference and ribbon cutting ceremony for Steelers Country, which is a new themed area that ties two of Pittsburgh’s greatest institutions: the Steelers and Kennywood.

And Bill Hillgrove got the crowed amped with a Terrible Towel wave right before Kennywood Park officially opened Steelers Country’s big attraction, The Steel Curtain. (The park is finalizing other great experiences to be part of Steelers Country, and plan to use the area for a variety of events … some Super Bowl parties would be fun, *hint* *hint* get to the Super Bowl, Stillers *nudge* *nudge*.)

Oh, and, of course there were fireworks! What Pittsburgh celebration would be complete without fireworks? Even if it was like 10 in the morning.

OK, so what about the actual ride, you ask?

I tried to explain the experience in today’s edition of Inside Pittsburgh (which yinz should subscribe to!). But it’s hard to really put into words how incredible this coaster is.

The lift hill slowly pulls you up for as few moments before jutting you to the top. And from there, you’re just taken through the twists and turns of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the Steelers D line. (But for those wondering, it is a totally smooth ride!)

From my piece in today’s Inside Pittsburgh newsletter:

The Steelers-themed train offers no enclosure, so riders are left feeling vulnerable — which is part of the thrill. Only a seat belt and lap bar hold passengers in. When I looked to my left, I saw what had to have been the steepest set of stairs I’ve ever seen. The faint sounds of that Steelers amp-up song “Renegade” by the Styx only added to the excitement up the lifthill.

After that, the entire ride was as heart-pumping as the final seconds of a Steelers-Ravens clash, with twists, turns and inversions only fit for the toughest football fans in the nation. The zero-G inversion was thrilling, but there wasn’t much time to enjoy it as we roared into a set of corkscrews. Near the end of the ride is a bump akin to the bunny hops near the end of Phantom’s Revenge.

If you’re heading to the park this weekend or any time soon, hit me up: I’ve got a season pass and will be your ride partner on The Steel Curtain.

 

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Kennywood Park at 120

This year marks Kennywood Park’s 120th anniversary.

I visited the venerable Pittsburgh area amusement park on Saturday as part of its Season Passholder Appreciation Weekend.

Among the major changes the park will see this year include a multi-million dollar Thomas the Train addition, dubbed Thomas Town. You can read more about that addition here.

Changes to the train (part of the Thomas Town addition) meant Laffin’ Sal — the somewhat creepy character who has cackled loudly for a few decades in front of the train — was relocated. She’s not part of any ride right now, but park goers will have easier access to selfies with Sal!

Of course, 2017 was the final year for the very popular Log Jammer log flume ride. It was the park’s first $1 million addition when it was built in the 1970s. The park has not yet announced what will be located in that corner of the park. But there is reason to believe that a roller coaster will be placed on and around the land. Hopefully we’ll know soon!

Along with the park’s 120th anniversary, they will honor the Thunderbolt, which is in its 50th year. Fun fact, the trains for Thunderbolt are from the original coaster on that site — Pippin!

And, get this … Exterminator is 20 years old this year. I’m now at the age where hearing things like that makes me feel old like a life expert.

Kennywood opens May 5 for weekends, and will open for daily summer operation later in May. Find all of the details at kennywood.com.

A brief history of Pittsburgh Light Up Night

The Incline — a digital news site in Pittsburgh — offered a brief history of Pittsburgh’s biggest party: Light Up Night.

The Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership told Incline that the first “Light Up” event happened April 9, 1959, in honor of the Pirates.

The event took a nine-year break beginning in 1973 in an effort to conserve energy. Light Up Night returned in 1982 to help lift morale as the steel industry collapsed. By the way, a few years later, Gimbels closed.

What was most surprising to me was how few people used to attend! The PDP told Incline that 25,000 people attended each year before 1998 when about 50,000 people showed up.

The low turnout makes sense as the 90s saw major changes in Downtown’s retail sector. (Anybody remember the failed “Fifth and Forbes” plans?) It was also a time when suburban shopping malls really solidified their dominance over Downtown.

But something happened since then … the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership has grown the event — along with the help of many other groups. Last year, half a million people celebrated Light Up Night.

It’s Light Up Night, Pittsburgh!

Are you ready for it?

Today marks the 57th annual Light Up Night in Downtown Pittsburgh!

This is the granddaddy of all days in the holiday season for me — yes, even bigger than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Light Up Night evokes fond memories of Pittsburgh’s past, and helps to usher in a new holiday season for Pittsburgh’s future.

Oohing and ahhing over beautifully designed department store windows at Kaufmann’s, Horne’s and GImbels no longer is part of the spectacle that is the region’s official start to the holiday season. After all, Light Up Night began as a way for the department stores to get people excited to come into the city. Though Kaufmann’s and others created holiday windows and welcomed Santa for many years before Light Up Night began, the event has grown into a wonderful tradition.

But some of those memories (at least ones attached to the Kaufmann’s store) are part of what keeps Light Up Night ticking for me. I always enjoyed getting lunch at Tic Toc or Arcade Bakery in Kaufmann’s on Light Up Night (or at other times). I remember spending time in the early afternoon up on an upper floor at a small cafe near the book department with friends before heading into the streets. Seeing the Santa display and hearing carolers throughout the store was such a throwback, too!

Light Up Night 2015 was a tough one to swallow. That year marked the first Light Up Night without a major downtown department store. Macy’s had closed in September of that year. Admittedly, Light Up Night that year was a bit sour. Yes, it was festive. Yes, there were good times had. Yes, there were windows.

In a blog post about Macy’s announcement to close the 128-year-old store, I wrote this line that I still think of: “There will be no window encouraging passersby to believe.”

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In retrospect, Light Up Night 2014 (photos above are from 2014) actually was one my more memorable events, as I spent so much time inside Kaufmann’s (well, Macy’s) with friends. Macy’s hosted events all over the building and outside! Though, the windows had become the same old same old from them, which was disappointing.

My mother explained to me a few nights ago how Light Up Night “isn’t the same” as when she was growing up. (Obviously.) She noted the demise of the behemoth multi-story department stores with activities throughout the many departments as a reason it no longer is special for her. But, she’s also not been to Light Up Night in many years.

So she has no idea how this fantastic day has morphed from a night encouraging the start of the department store holiday shopping season into what probably is Pittsburgh’s biggest party of the year!

The Horne’s tree still lights up. There will be some form of windows at the Kaufmann’s building. Market Square will be jam-packed with shoppers and browsers and cute little art. The CBS people will do their thing at the Do Not Call It Light Up Night Where Santa Throws A Fireball At A Tree And Poof, Fireworks Begin at Point State Park.

And I will — once again — be part of a very moving Tribute of Light ceremony with the American Cancer Society to light the tree at PPG Place. This year, seven-year-old Gabriel Aguirre of Rayburn Township, Armstrong County, will light the 65-foot tall tree! The folks at Highwood Properties (the owners of PPG Place) do a wonderful job helping to coordinate the evening.

If you’re coming, the Robert Morris University figure skaters take to the ice a little after 4:30 with the East End Kids choral group performing at 5 p.m. with the tree lighting immediately after.

Light Up Night can be overwhelming, too. For several years, I tried making it to every lighting/window unveiling and trying to eat dinner and watch fireworks. And that was after coordinating with a large group of people to go. Was fun but stressful and I never saw anything.

Now I try to mosey my way around and try to meet up with folks along the way.

But if you’re looking to see some of the tree lightings and ceremonies, here’s my advice:

  • Arrive at City-County Building tree lighting on Grant Street at 4:55 p.m.
  • Leave Grant Street at 5:15 p.m. and hustle down Fourth Avenue to PPG Place to arrive by 5:25 p.m.
  • Stand on Fourth Avenue with Market Square to your back.
  • Watch the PPG Place tree lighting and ceremony and at 5:45 p.m., turn around, walk a few steps toward Market Square and watch the Season of Lights Countdown.
  • Afterward, you’ve got about an hour to take in Market Square and visit Linda Barnicott’s little Christmas hut to buy some ornaments.
  • Then pop down to the old Horne’s building to watch the Horne’s tree lighting at 7 p.m. (It’s officially called the Highmark Unity Tree.) This ceremony involves ROOFTOP FIREWORKS, PEOPLE. Go inside Fifth Avenue Place to see Mr. McFeely!
  • Then go grab a place to stand on Fort Duquesne Boulevard for the 8:30 p.m. Andy Grammer show and the 9:30 p.m. fireworks.

Also, take the T or bus. Yeah, it’ll be crowded. Yes, there will be people who haven’t used the T since last Light Up Night, but if you don’t take public transit, you’ll be a Grinch sitting in traffic hating the holidays. I always feel so awful for people stopped on the Parkway East as I’m on the transit bridge above cruising along. And after the fireworks, stay in town a bit — get a drink, walk around … do something, because otherwise your trolley ride back will be so packed you’ll know the exact brand of deodorant of the eight people next to you.

The Trib offers some great advice for navigating Light Up Night.

And here is the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership PDF, detailing all of the information, including schedules and descriptions.

And don’t just visit on Light Up Night. There’s not enough time to see the gingerbread houses at the PPG Wintergarden or all of the great little artists and vendors at the Holiday Market at Market Square. Come Downtown for the holidays!

Light Up Night still excites

IMG_4450Light Up Night.

It’s been the official start of the holiday season in Pittsburgh for 55 years.

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The Horne’s tree still will be lit. And the windows at Kaufmann’s will be unveiled as they’ve been for more than 70 years.

  
But 2015 marks the first Light Up Night without a major department store Downtown. Macy’s closed the nearly 130-year-old Kaufmann’s store in September.

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Sure there is Burlington and Brooks Brothers, some small shops and a bunch of drug stores.

But gone are the anchor stores that helped bring people to all of the shops Downtown.

In many ways, Light Up Night is more important now for Downtown retail than ever before — events like this get people into town and maybe get them to return throughout the season.

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Everybody seems to have their own belief for why department stores no longer exist Downtown.

No matter the reason, though, Light Up Night goes on, even if it seems strange to reveal holiday windows under the Kaufmann’s Clock and have no inside activities. (Kaufmann’s and Macy’s always had wonderful inside events on all of the floors.)

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I’m excited for Light Up Night — for the American Cancer Society and PPG Place tree lighting, for the cute shops and dancing lights at Market Square, for Wintergarden at PPG Place, for the old Horne’s tree and to see the reincarnation of the Kaufmann’s windows.  

Like I have for many years, I’ll enjoy all of the festivities to kick off my favorite time of year in the greatest city on earth.

Happy holidays, Pittsburgh!