Eleven years ago this summer when I was 20 years old, I took an adventure that changed my life forever. While some people take trips to Europe, volunteer in Haiti or join the circus, I ran away to work in an amusement park in the United States……
First a little history
As a 6th grader, I was part of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets that took a group trip to Detroit, Michigan. Somewhere along the way at a gas station or something, I remember spotting a Cedar Point brochure with Mantis on the cover.
After reading it cover to cover, I got back from my trip and begged my dad to take us to this amazing place. Look at the coasters, the rides, the shows! Everything looked amazing. Eventually, the next summer we took a trip and it was amazing. Not only did we visit Cedar Point, we did a whole amusement park trip with stops at the now-defunct SeaWorld Ohio & Geauga Lake.
Fast forward to a couple of years later, I’m bored in class in my last year of college and thinking of what to do in the summer. I decided that it would be cool to work at Cedar Point and that’s what I was going to do. I immediately applied online and much to my amazement they hired me. No interview, no phone call. A simple email confirmation that I was to start at the end of May. Little did I know how this would change my life.
Getting a work visa
I spent a couple of months dealing with getting my J-1 visa so I could work in the United States. It’s a temporary Visa for Summer Students so they can work with the intention of returning to their home country. I had to prove I had the job by getting a confirmation letter, and also how much money I had in the bank so I could support myself. In addition, the Visa cost me around $500! Yes, I paid $500 to go work a minimum wage job at an amusement park.
Just as I finished school, I packed up my stuff into my red Neon and drove to Sandusky, Ohio. Known only for Cedar Point in the summer, and nothing else!
This was my first time away from home, so it was both exciting and terrifying. Most people move away to school, I was moving to another country to an apartment & job sight unseen.
After crossing the border, getting my visa and driving 6 hours to Cedar Point, I headed straight to H.R. Checked in (processed as they call it) and they showed me my home for the summer: The Cedars. Was I in for a surprise! Let me explain: The Cedars was a hotel at Cedar Point way back in the day, we’re talking like 100 years ago that they converted into dorms for the summer employees. Featuring no heat or air conditioning, and communal bathrooms, this was the most terrible place I’d ever step foot into and it was my new home.
At first, it wasn’t pretty. My first roommate was a pothead who eventually got fired and the second was a big oaf of a dude who was just a weirdo. One day after I met some neighbours, I moved in when one of their guys moved out. It proved to be the best choice I’d ever make.
We made the terrible housing work, I mean we were 20 and had never lived away from home. Being away from adults was worth its weight in gold.
I brought my TV and DVD player, we had a fan running all the time to make the summer heat bearable, and we bought a fridge to keep our snacks and food in. We even bought a snow cone maker to cool ourselves off. When I say I lived in a simple room, that’s what I mean. No kitchen or bathroom, simply a bed, bunk bed, dresser and hangar on the wall that acted as our closet. Oh yeah, and a phone. So where did we cook our food you ask? Their idea of cooking facilities was one microwave in the common room for hundreds of people. Luckily they had a staff cafeteria in the park with cheap food for employees, but not very healthy. I ate A LOT of pizza that summer.
First day of work
I was assigned to park operations, which meant I got to work on the rides. It was awesome. In the pecking order of the amusement park world, park operations is second only to entertainment in social status. It’s glorious. The minimum wage version of being a rockstar!
While I didn’t get to work on any of the star attractions, I ended up working a couple of classics that allowed for us to have fun and mess around without always being super busy. I started on Mine Ride, but quickly realized it was too easy to get an operational, so I requested to be moved. An operational is a safety violation, and the way the lap bars and seat belts were designed it was almost impossible not to get one. I wanted to keep my job so I moved to Snake River Falls.
Snake River Falls is a giant boat ride that takes you up a giant hill, around and splashes you into the lagoon below. Perfect for a hot summer day. The crew at the ride had all started before me, but I quickly became great friends with them. I happened to be the only Canadian working there, so I was given the very creative nickname “Canada.” I was proud to represent my country and be known as the Canadian guy.
Best summer ever
Did it suck sometimes, of course! I’m looking back at it with rose coloured glasses. We put up with terrible housing, getting paid American minimum wage ($6.25 per hour), early hours, late hours, crazy guests, and much more. However the experiences, people and memories overshadow any negatives. We’d eat food at 1am at Steak n Shake, visit the crappy mall, see movies in the outdated movie theatre and take trips to places like King’s Island and Geauga Lake on our days off. It was a much simpler time and our goal was to have as much fun as possible. This was right before social media and smartphones became a thing, so we were isolated from the world and in our own little bubble.
Outside of our actual jobs, Cedar Point ran a lot of awesome staff events. They would do movie nights, ride nights for staff only, beer & water park night, and of course Big Bash, which was the end of the summer party for staff. The back half of the park was open with rides, games, free food and awesome activities. It really was amazing!
I woke up to the sound of roller-coasters in the background every morning and left work walking past a laser show with fireworks. Who wouldn’t love that? I was just a kid when I left, turning 21 while working there.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Adventureland”, you can sort of get an idea of what working in a park is like. Living, working and partying with the same group of people all summer long.
I met some of my best friends there and had the best summer of my life. To this day, some of my closest friends are from that amazing summer. The only thing that has topped that experience is Working at Walt Disney World. I’ve been back to visit a couple of times and the place still gives me the same feeling as the summer I worked there. However visiting Sandusky during the fall is a very different experience than summer. It’s a very seasonal town, Cedar Point is the reason that town exists. Translation: the place sucks in the off season!
To wrap up, it was the best summer I ever had and it changed me for the better. It helped me grow, learn new skills and meet awesome people that became lifelong friends. Cheers to 11 years later Cedar Point!