I knew I would head South on this October Sunday. But where? I had visited Kentucky Kingdom twice this season. I had spent many days at Kings Island. So which would it be? 220 miles to Louisville, or 90 miles to Kings Mills?
Mother Nature decided for me. With projected high temperatures in the 40's, I knew Kings Island would have its steel coasters shut down. To the best of my knowledge, Kentucky Kingdom has no such rule. I picked up John and Brad, and off we went to Kentucky.
The trip was unexpectedly eventful. Just outside of Louisville, we heard a strange noise come from the back of the car. I pulled over and got out to look. Though nothing but the noise indicated any trouble from the driver's seat, the right rear tire had failed catastrophically. On the inner sidewall (that is, the sidewall facing the vehicle), a series of radial fractures had formed, extending from the tread inward all the way to (but not through) the rim bead. At one point there was a perfectly square opening in the sidewall big enough for me to put my fist through. Further examination of the tread revealed excessive tread wear on the inside edge of the tire, suggesting that the tire had been overdue for replacement. It took only a few minutes to replace the blown tire with the vehicle's doughnut wheel, which, fortunately, was properly inflated. Given my car's reaction to a shredded tire on a non-drive axle, I am inclined to think that blown tires will not be a major problem for the new S&S coaster project.
It was already about 1:00pm by the time we arrived at the park, so instead of going in, we located a suitable auto service center and obtained a new tire. Adjacent to this service center was an equally suitable fast-food outlet, so we had lunch as the tire was replaced. The timing was imperfect, but not too bad. It was a bit after 2:00pm by the time we walked in the front gate at Kentucky Kingdom.
Over the front gate is a gigantic Jack-O-Lantern, and now that I think of it, I am pretty sure it has two faces on it, one pointing into the park, one facing out. Just inside the gate are large "stone" walls bearing the names and lifetimes of great horror writers and directors. Instead of the Animaniacs and Loony Tunes music I have come to expect from the park, the PA system was broadcasting all manner of eerie sounding stuff. I'm not talking about that Monster Mash garbage that I am getting really tired of this year; I'm talking about organ riffs, strange sounds, and music that actually sounds a little creepy, almost like Phillip Glass concoctions played backwards. A large sign warned that the "Brutal Planet" haunted house was a $3 upcharge (which we had already decided to decline). Instead, we stepped around the costumed children (who were loading up treat bags at marked stations throughout the front end of the park) and visited the Hellevator.
Hellevator is the first Intamin Giant Drop I have had the opportunity to ride since the Great America accident. Kentucky Kingdom has, to nobody's surprise, added safety belts to theirs, similar to the belts on inverted coasters...except that these are adjustable. I tested a couple of theories as I secured myself in the ride, and I suspect I now have a pretty good idea how the incident happened. I'll bet the kid was a bit skinny; he was slouched in his seat and partly submarined between the seat and shoulder bar. When the car hit the brakes, the effective down-force would be enough to send such a rider hurtling out of his seat. I believe the official investigation is still incomplete, but I will not be surprised if the investigators decide that there is a design flaw with the ride. Assuming, of course, that they are conducting a ,proper investigation. It is California, after all.
All that said, Hellevator is really the only kind of tower ride that makes sense at Kentucky Kingdom. The park is located on the grounds of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, and is surrounded on three sides by the expo center's gigantic parking lot. The ride hauls you up 150 feet so that you can look out and realize there is literally nothing to see here. Just acres of asphalt, as far as the eye can see. Just as you are thinking about how uninteresting the view is from the top of the tower...
You plunge down the tower, to an amazingly smooth stop at the bottom. I don't remember whether Hellevator is the first Giant Drop or not, but it is one of the earlier ones, and it really is a good ride. I think I like the Moser Gravity Tower a little better...it has a much more sudden stop than the Giant Drop...but the Giant Drop has more comfortable seats. I'm hoping Moser will fix that on their next tower.
We proceeded around the front of the park. Vampire (Vekoma Boomerang) and the swinging ship ride were both down due to the haunted house, but we rode the Rainbow and the Enterprise before crossing the Damn Bridge [Footnote 1]. We walked past the Giant Wheel and headed for Chang [Footnote 2]. We climbed the stairs to the platform and nearly filled the seventh (last) car of the train. It was refreshing to be able to ride one of these things without the seat gouging into my thighs. Chang was running as well as ever, and a lot better than any of the rides I had on Mantis: The Coaster Formerly Known as Banshee this season. Chang is still looking good in its purple and green color scheme, really much more striking than the old yellow paint was. Thanks to Kentucky Kingdom's location and surroundings, the new paint scheme is also more obvious as you approach the park from any of the surrounding expressways. Chang is really a sharp looking coaster, and the ride isn't half bad, either. It doesn't hurt that half of Chang is remarkably similar to half of Mantis:TCFKAB. I do miss the S-curves, though. Mantis has two of these violent S-curves which are my favorite part of the ride; Chang doesn't have them at all, substituting instead another boring inversion.
When Chang was constructed, it opened up a previously undeveloped space adjacent to the waterpark, completed the loop around the back of the park, and made the lack of a stairway at the end of the Damn Bridge slightly less irritating. It also reversed the typical traffic flow towards the coaster T^2. This is important when it comes to understanding a strange bit of signage. These days, because of the way the paths run, the 'front'...or midway side...of T^2 is actually the back side of the ride, where the loading station is. Behind T^2 is a new theater housing a Batman Stunt Show. Accordingly, a large Batman logo sits next to the path leading to the plaza in the middle of T^2. Since the coaster has been painted black, it seems likely that it will eventually be themed and renamed "Batman: The Ride"...in fact, that was announced in the park's brochures this season, but it didn't actually happen. If you turn at the Batman logo and head to the middle of the T^2 plaza, then turn around to enter the queue, you need to look carefully to the right of the queue entrance. There you can see one of the tallest ride signs I have ever seen. It's probably about 20' tall, a silver and red "T^2" logo which is actually difficult to see.
T^2 is the second of the Vekoma Suspended Looping Coasters, the first to be installed in North America, and largely the reason that the design has become known by such phrases as "hang-N-bang." T^2 was the first, and quite possibly, the worst of its kind. Or at least that is how it has always been before. Unlike the newer SLCs, T^2 has only seven cars to the train. Brad and I sat in the last row, John sat in front of us. Off we went up the nearly silent chain lift.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THIS RIDE??? T^2 is supposed to buck, shudder, bounce, shake, rattle, clatter, slam, and bang its way through the course. Its axles are supposed to be shuffling uncontrollably, the cars are supposed to be producing a fore-aft bumping that is downright unpleasant. After all, this is T^2, the worst of the Hang-N-Bangs, right? So why was T^2 actually giving decent rides? Where did all the banging go? How did they manage to fix this thing? Oh, sure, there are still spots where it shudders a little. The motion I saw of the guide wheel above my head indicates that there are still some points where the axles pitch illogically. T^2 is still no Serial Thriller [Footnote 3], but finally, T^2 is actually FUN TO RIDE! Once again, Kentucky Kingdom gets my vote for "Most Improved Coaster of the Season" with the late-season T^2.
We rode a couple of times, then walked the old path past the new rapids ride and behind the waterpark to Thunder Run, my vote for Most Improved Coaster the year they junked the trailered train. Thunder Run has deteriorated a little since the last time I rode it. I am not sure whether it is because of the cold weather, or if the track work is wearing out, but Thunder Run has picked up some excessive wheel-hop and is shuffling more than usual. It's just a little bit of unnecessary roughness especially on the high-speed turn at the bottom of the first drop. But the ride is still very fast, with a load of airtime particularly on the three hills after the first drop. It seems that Kentucky Kingdom has also shortened the seat belts on this one a little, which I found annoying as it makes it extremely difficult to get the darned things fastened. It's not that the belt won't reach; it's that the outboard, non-adjustable end is short enough that once I'm seated it is almost impossible to get it to connect...and with the shortened belt my "fasten, around legs first, then sit down" trick doesn't work. Apart from that, Thunder Run is a darned good ride.
We tried out the Flying Dutchman, which no longer has lap bars in the tubs, and we commented on the fact that while Kentucky Kingdom has both the Flying Dutchman and a Zeppelin ride, it could use a feet-dangling circle swing such as a Wave Swinger or Yo-Yo. We rode the carousel, and I learned that adults need to stick with the horses and possibly the chickens. That Vekoma carousel has some of the smallest figures I have ever seen on an adult carousel. Well, I suppose the rocking chariots or rotating tubs would be okay...
The carousel is right across from the Roller Skater. There were a few mystifying things about this ride, like the kids who simply stayed aboard for another ride instead of surrendering their seats to the people waiting in the station. Then, when I got on board, I pulled the lap bar down a notch, and it sprung back to the same position it was in when I started. The operator shoved it down two more notches, but it didn't make any difference. Go figure. It's still 'down'. Then our train was delayed in departure. Why? Because there was only one rider in the last car. The operator was adamant on that point. This is one of the dumbest policies I have ever heard of, and I thought Six Flags had abandoned it this season. In any case, it is one area where I think they have their priorities mixed up.
We finally went back to Twisted Sisters. Well, Twisted Sister, anyway. With the small crowd and staff, Stella (teal train, more airtime, less laterals) was shut down for the day, but Lola (pink train, less airtime, more laterals) was doing quite well. Twisted Sisters is (are?) a really good ride, with non-stop action from the time the train leaves the station until it crashes into the ready brakes uptrack of the station. "Crashes" is a good word for it as the coaster comes to literally a brick-wall stop. The trains are doing well enough, but some of the handlebar padding is badly torn up. The trains are the biggest problem with this coaster, as the seats are inadequately padded, the space under the lap bars is too narrow, and in general, the cars are not real user friendly. After the 80+ rides I took a year ago, I learned some defensive riding tactics, but the simple truth is that it is an aggressive ride, and the Gerstlauer train is, from the rider's perspective, not well suited to that coaster. It seems to run well enough, though; with some changes it would be a great train.
We took a spin on the Thriller Bees, then a trip around on the Giant Wheel. To say that the Wheel was being incompetently operated on this cycle would be a compliment. They were using only two groups of tubs, and they couldn't seem to get them lined up right. It was when we were supposed to unload that things got hairy as we watched an accident almost happen as the operator attempted to reposition the wheel while the attendant was unloading tubs. Suddenly Cedar Point's shouts of "CLEAR!!" don't seem so strange. We weren't involved, as our tub had overshot the loading area completely, but I know I was hollering when I saw what was happening! Luckily disaster was averted.
There were no shops open on this side of the park, and John wanted one of those wild Twisted Sisters shirts, so we crossed the Damn Bridge once again and went the rest of the way around the loop. We rode the almost-new Reverchon Himalaya, and I decided that if I were running a park I wouldn't want that model of ride anywhere near it. I found four points of potential serious injury before I even sat down. For me, the biggest problem was that at 10 RPM (rather than 12), it was a boring ride. Really, I'm surprised that SFKK has this one...at least that they haven't made any changes to it...
We checked out the shops and rode the Break Dance. It's kind of a Scrambler on acid, a neat ride from Huss. At that point, it was about 6:00pm and we had ridden almost every available ride in the park, and we hd two hours left in which to do it all again. So that is exactly what we did. John found his shirt, but chose not to buy it until later. The coaster crews were very nice about allowing "platform-standby" and rerides, saving us a lot of walking as we did lots of riding. Multiple rides on Lola, Thunder Run, T^2, and Chang, and we left ourselves just enough time for John to get his shirt. Unfortunately he ran into some bureaucratic trouble involving SFKK's merchandise couponing program (highlighting yet another reason why I hate couponing in all its forms). In a nutshell, he was told that while the shop would not honor the coupon he had with him, they would honor the one he had in the car. But the front gate staff wouldn't let him go get the other coupon. A little complaining to the right people got the problem resolved, and he got the promised deal on a great shirt. The 8:00pm close seems really early, but when it is a 4+ hour drive back to Columbus, it is just about right. Unless there is something going on at SFOG during IAAPA, my Six Flags season is finished for this year. It was a good day to visit Kentucky Kingdom. They've got some places where they need to get their act together, but they've got themselves some pretty good rides, and that's worth something. I wonder what they'll do next year...
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: For those of you unfamiliar with Kentucky Kingdom, the park is bisected by a parking lot access road. To get from one side of the park to the other, one must cross the road by means of the Damn Bridge. I refer to the high, long, narrow span in that way largely because while there is a spot for it, Kentucky Kingdom never built a stairway at the one end, thus forcing everyone to use a very long, winding ramp that looks like something right out of RollerCoaster Tycoon. [Return to text]
Footnote 2: Chang: The sound of a lift chain breaking. [Return to text]
Footnote 3: Geauga Lake's Serial Thriller is easily the best-running of all the Vekoma SLCs I have ridden, with the possible exception of Kings Island's Face/Off...but that isn't really an SLC, it is an Invertigo... [Return to text]
Back to the 1999 Park Visits index
Back to Dave's Adventures
Back to Dave's page...