cedarpointIn my son’s teen world, the ability to ride the highest, fastest, scariest roller coaster is a highly prized skill.

Too many outings—the middle school band trip, the 8th grade end-of-the-year event, friends’ birthday parties—revolve around a trip to an amusement park. The kids who haven’t learned to love a coaster walk sullenly around while the others wait restlessly in yet another snaking line to climb aboard yet another swooping ride.

As my son edged into the teen years, his fear of heights still very real, I knew it was time to share with him my need for speed. We headed to the roller coaster capitol of the world: Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

Home to 17 coasters, each more incredible than the next, he would learn to love the thrill of a coaster or spend a long, boring weekend sitting on a bench while his (younger) sister and I lost our voices screaming as we raced along the tracks.

powertowerHe started the day a little leery… and ended it by dragging me to a place even I hadn’t planned on going: the Top Speed Dragster. It’s a ride that takes you from zero to 120 mph in 3.8 seconds, then shoots you 42 stories into the air, crawls over the top at 10 miles per hour, and lets gravity pull you back to earth at 100 miles per hour.

Start with the easy coasters

The key to his success: starting slow and giving him a few alternatives.

We walked into Cedar Point and spent a little time getting the feel of the place. We checked out the coasters as we passed. After rejecting several, we settled on the Iron Dragon, a relatively tame coaster with a macho name. I held my breath as we stepped off, waiting to hear his reaction.

“That was kind of cool,” he said in his understated 13-year-old way.

And we were on our way.

By the end of our three days there as guests of Cedar Point, our goal was to ride all 17 coasters. As our trip drew to a close, we realized we had missed one, the Cedar Creek Mine Ride. No big dips, no huge hills, no upside down moments. Just the sort of tame ride he might have chosen before his coaster weekend. No longer.

“That was really boring,” he said as we stepped off.

Helpful Hints about Cedar Point

Most coasters have height limits—52 inches for the more thrilling rides. You can’t be too big, either. If your waist is a little large or you’re really tall, try the test seat at the front of the line before waiting an hour only to be ejected from the ride because the belt or shoulder harness won’t fasten securely.

carouselConsider staying in one of the resorts on the property– Hotel Breakers, Breakers Express and Sandcastle Suites, Lighthouse Point cabins (which have a small kitchen and sleep up to eight), the RV-friendly Camper Village or Castaway Bay, which has an indoor waterpark. From there, you walk to the park or take a free shuttle. Even better, staying “on property” allows you into the park an hour early. Most of the biggest coasters open early and when we stayed, we did all of the best rides before the park opened to the public. Lead by a Cedar Point veteran who planned a precise route assured that we ended up at the point in the park that is furthest from the main entrance, so we did a half-dozen other rides with virtually no lines before the crowds caught up to us.

This season, staying on site also entitles you a $15 or more break on the admission price. Check the Cedar Point Web site for coupons, deals and other news.