"Amazing what a little water can do!"
The plan was simple enough: get up early on Sunday morning, go to Kings Island, spend the day with a bunch of coaster nuts, ride the coasters, have a good time...Real basic stuff. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans...
I slept in on Sunday morning and got a slightly late start. It was just after 10:00am by the time I walked through the front gate, meaning I missed the traditional coaster nut meeting. But I had a pretty good idea where to find the coaster nuts. I made a beeline for the back of the park where I promptly made a wrong turn before circling back around to The Beast. Whoops! I guess it's been a few months since I'd been here...!
Anyway, my guess turned out to be correct. I arrived on the lightly-populated The Beast platform where I immediately encountered Sean Flaharty and his entourage (Chris, Jerry, Scott, and several others). Weren't those guys going to Kennywood today?! Then Dave Bowers sneaked up behind me while I wasn't looking. Yup, this was where all the coaster nuts went! I stepped into the front-seat queue. Kings Island has replaced the small double gates on the The Beast platform with single-hinged 'fence style' gates. Personally, I think the new gates are a bit excessive, not to mention slow. The train stopped in front of me, and the passengers got out. I waited. The 36 people who had just left the train started down the exit ramp. I waited. The gate began to open. I gave it a shove (without much success) and squeezed past it. I sat down in the train. Well, not so much 'in' the train as kind of on top of it. The Beast has an old PTC train with the old narrow seats, but Kings Island has retrofitted it with two seat dividers (one in the middle of the bench cushion, one between the back cushions) which leaves not quite enough room for an adult to sit. I did what I could and pulled the lap bar down until it latched. You know, I am not a big person. But that was a really tight fit. I mean, I had a lot more room on Thunder Run.
We left the station, rounded the bend, and headed up the first lift. On up the lift. By this time I noticed that while the trains were painted in the off-season it wasn't what I would call a 'new paint scheme'. And the only 'audio effects' I heard going up the lift was that same old recorded announcement: "CAUTION: PLEASE KEEP YOUR HANDS AND ARMS INSIDE THE CAR AT ALL TIMES." Hmmm...But then, the claw prints on the midway haven't been repainted yet, either. We crested the lift.
"RUMBLwisssssssssssshERUMwissssssssssshBLEwissssssshRUMBLE RUMBLE RUMBLE!" The train tried its darndest to roll down the hill, but that's kind of tough with brake skids lifting the road wheels clear of the track. Worse yet, as the train reached the bottom of the drop and headed through the pull-out, it started to do this little "chugga-chugga" dance number as it cruised around the curves. Heavy brakes on the second hill turned this roller coaster into a scenic railway. Up to the brake shed at the top of the third hill...I think Bowers got out a paddle and tried to start rowing, but it didn't help. We finally drop out of the shed and crawl through the two fastest spots on the ride. Fastest? Yikes! Over one more hill, and...folks, from there it is a long uphill stretch to the bottom of the second lift, and I was starting to wonder if we were actually going to make it without rolling back. This was truly awful, even by The Beast's classic low standards.
Another lift, another announcement, and one of the most visually effective drops of any coaster. It's only eighteen degrees, but it drops 141 feet, and the speed builds steadily as the....er...Well, the speed would build steadily if it weren't for the brakes all the way down that drop. Then the train is moving slowly enough through the tunnelled helix to give you time to admire the work lights illuminating the tunnel. From the helix, we climb slowly and stop short on the safety brake uptrack of the station. There we wait.
We watch as the train ahead leaves the station.
We watch as the train ahead rounds the bend past the transfer switch.
We watch as the train ahead passes us on its way up the lift.
We feel the brakes release as we roll forward slightly. Over the next minute, we move slowly into the station, stopping three or four times before reaching the alignment mark.
Folks, The Beast is 7,400 feet long, and it is officially supposed to be a 3:40 ride. But this trip took more than five minutes, not counting the extra two minutes spent on the back brake waiting for the station to clear. It takes more than a minute and a half from the time one train clears the station before the next one even arrives. By comparison, a typical Cedar Point ride has an interval (that is, dispatch to dispatch) of under 75 seconds! Why does Kings Island persist in maltreating this ride? The Beast should be one of the finest wood coasters in the country. It should be running fast and furious. It should be making people step off with cries of astonishment. Well, it does that; people are astonished that it can produce such a mediocre, uncomfortable ride. So, The Beast is 20 years old this season. In its present form, does anyone really care?
We were offered re-ride opportunities, and we took advantage, riding in different seats for each of our four early morning rides. We could have continued riding, but my ribcage and back were starting to hurt from the divider and seatback. We abandoned The Beast in favor of greener pastures.
Or purple, as the case may be. Our next stop was the purple-with-orange-trim Beastie, which was running only one train. Not that it mattered, since the six or eight of us coaster nuts were the only ones riding. I grabbed the back seat. I squeezed into the little train and pulled down the lap bar. Why is it that I have more gut space in a junior coaster car than in the big one? Perhaps because, apart from the brake fin, this train is still configured more or less the way it came from the factory?
Whatever the reason, we were on our way. Out of the station and up the lift, as someone commented on the trim brake on the turnaround over the station. The train zipped down the hill and through the tunnel. We came around for a second pass, travelling over the inactive trim brake. Hey, sure it's only 70 seconds...but the Beastie is a whole lot of fun. It was running the way John Allen intended, and it renewed my faith in Kings Island a little.
|At one of the entrances to Hanna-Barbera Land, there is a sign which claims that, "Kurfees Paints are used exclusively in Hanna-Barbera Land." The funny thing is that right below that is a notation indicating what retailer carries Kurfees Paints. Wait a minute...if I go to a retailer and buy a gallon of Kurfees paint, am I then required to use it in Hanna-Barbera land? I mean, if I use the stuff on my garage, then it isn't used exclusively in Hanna-Barbera Land, is it?! 8-)|
It was more or less at this point that we decided by concensus to check out Face/Off and the Paramount Action Zone. From the entrance plaza and the Paramount Theater, it is a short walk to the freshly-reworked area they used to refer to as Adventure Village (or AdVil, for short. Funny, that's a name better suited to Outer LIMits, which is on Coney Mall...).
The 'new' space is anchored by a huge performance space with a water tower in the middle. The water tower seems to be a general purpose tower; I saw fireworks and flame effects shooting off the top of the tower; the tank section supports a large number of speakers; and a quantity of water seemed to be dripping from the bottom. The stunt show was not yet going on, but a rope cordoned off the entire performance space. Surrounding this space is a new movie regalia shop behind, and an ice cream joint to one side, next to the Go-Kart track. Across from the shop is the old Cafe Killimanjaro, now called the Stunt Crew Grill. Well, at least it is easier to spell now...! They have also hacked away at the nice sculptured sign for Amazon Falls...they removed the word "Amazon" and replaced it with a tensioned-fabric sign with the word "Congo." Personally, I think the new sign looks like a last-minute change...they should have either carved themselves a "Congo" to match the word "Falls", or they should have done away with the carved sign altogether.
If you walk down past the Stunt Crew Grill and the adjacent restroom building, you can't miss the red and yellow behemoth at the end of the midway. There is a sign on Face/Off, but this ride needs no introduction. The bad news is that the ride runs at about 400 PPH and there is a queue house to handle about 75 minutes worth of customers. Well, at least it is shaded. But in the peak of the summer when it is about 90 degrees, that cramped space is going to be the second least pleasant place in the park [Footnote 1]. I wonder about this short queue space, particularly since the midway leading to the ride is necessarily congested, so there is really no overflow space. The only thing I can figure is that there is quite a bit of space in the station which is presently unused as an attendant is assigning seats at the station entrance.
The queue house is particularly uninteresting. It is a crowded, noisy space...so noisy that the ubiquitous QTV monitors are mercifully silent. From the queue house there is a covered walkway right beneath the vertical loop which leads to the station. The station itself is minimalistic...basically a big pole-barn surrounded by a chain-link fence. Except right up next to the ride. There, queue chutes lead to six-foot doors with 'solid' mesh panels. You can almost but not quite see through these. I hope this isn't a sign of the future of coaster platform gates! Not only are they big and intrusive, they are also extremely SLOW. Not to mention UGLY.
Now, Face/Off is a Vekoma Invertigo. The interesting thing about this ride is that it has seven cars on the train, each car suspended from the centerline of the wheel assembly. Each car seats four people, but unlike a more traditional car, on this car the riders sit back-to-back, two in each row. To add to the confusion, the train goes both ways during the ride. Kings Island doesn't help, as they have a pair of signs in the station like these:
Fortunately, Vekoma did give us something to work with. As with the Suspended Looping Coaster, Vekoma left an extra axle trailing behind the train, so for descriptive purposes, I shall refer to the end of the train with the 'spare' axle as the "back". With that in mind, I took my first ride in the "front" seat. The seats appear to use the same basic components as the Suspended Looping Coaster (SLC), but the bottom cushion seems to be positioned closer to the seat pillar. This means that you have this unnerving feeling that you are about to go sliding off the front end of the seat. Also, Face/Off has the same 'updated' shoulder bars as the SLC, complete with those soft-padded ear-ratchet pads around your head. Am I the only person who dislikes this excess padding, particularly on rides that have no need of it? I wish Vekoma would go back to the old bars on the SLCs. They don't all ride like T^2!
|Vekoma calls Face/Off an "Invertigo". It is an inverted Boomerang-type shuttle coaster with face-to-face seating. I submit that "Invertigo" may be the physical condition which you hope the ride DOES NOT induce in the person seated across from you.....|| |
Once seated, most riders' feet are well clear of the floor, but as the train is hauled out of the station, the floor is lowered another foot or so just to be sure. The train is hauled backward up the first lift at a remarkably high rate of speed. Upon release, the train coasts down the hill, through the station, through the two inverted Sidewinder inversions, then through a vertical loop, then up the second lift, parallel to the first. Then the whole ride repeats in reverse, very much like a Boomerang, but with your feet dangling.
Now, part of the problem with the Boomerang is that the Sidewinder...basically a vertical loop twisted 90 degrees at the point of inversion...is the most violent of the three basic inversion elements (vertical loop, half-Corkscrew, Sidewinder). The twisting motion produces a lateral kick which usually results in a quick blow to the head thanks to the shoulder bar. It's a problem with the action of the inversion; even B&M have not been able to completely eliminate the snap in their cobra rolls. So I was expecting this, and had prepared for it as we headed up the first lift. We paused only a moment before WOOSH! We were off down the steep hill, face/first through the station and up into the sidewinders. But this wasn't what I expected. That snapping action that usually results in sore ears? It wasn't there. I don't know what Vekoma did to the Sidewinder, but somehow they fixed it. This thing is a smoother ride than Geauga Lake's Serial Thriller! The Boomerang element is now a purely visual experience, with just a little vibration as the train comes out and heads for the vertical loop. Nice strong forces at the bottom, then we're in for another suprise as the train coasts up the second lift. When the lifting mechanism connects, it makes no noise, there is no bumping, there is no shaking, jerking, or anything else. The effect is that the train defies gravity and climbs to the top of the lift without slowing down until it reaches the top. I don't know how they did it, but it is truly amazing. At the top, something lets go, and we head through the whole course in the opposite direction. This time there is just a little bit of shaking through the elements; I am guessing this is because the vertical loop is taken slightly faster and the Boomerang is taken slightly slower for this trip. Even so, the ride is far less violent than Alpengeist or even Raptor. Another suprise comes in the station where there is no braking at all; instead, the train is collected by the lift mechanism...again without noticeable jerk, bounce, or noise...and carried to the top of the first lift. This mechanism then quickly but carefully lowers the train back into the station and parks it in front of the entrance doors. The level of refinement in this machine is absolutely incredible, particularly compared with the ever-popular Boomerang. Face/Off is truly an amazing ride. It isn't perfect; I already mentioned the seat cushion problem, and as with the SLC, the thick pad on the inside of the shoulder bar is unnecessary and should be eliminated. And of course the biggest problem is the low capacity, but unfortunately there isn't a whole lot that PKI can do about that. That doesn't change the fact that the ride is one of the best loopers around!
Of course by the time we'd waited to ride Face/Off, it was time to get some lunch. Again acting on concensus, we headed for the large cafeteria-style restaurant across from the swinging-ship ride. Here we chose from the menu of chicken fingers, pizza, and hamburgers, which we consumed while sitting at long wooden tables and watching movie clips and other QTV fare on four huge projection screens. What I don't understand is why they call this place the "Festhaus".
After lunch, the park had warmed up a bit, and more of the coasters were waking up. Our next stop was Adventure Express, the last coaster added by KECO. Well, the ride was running, but it was only running one train. We also noticed that for some reason, the train was consistently undershooting the station, and I wonder if this is the reason they were only running one train. Their workaround was to bring the train into the station, unload it, then use the DISPATCH control to jog the train forward to line the seats up with the queue chutes before opening the gates. Odd problem, that...
Adventure Express is a neat ride with a classic Runaway Train layout and several themed tunnels. It is considerably less wooded in back then it used to be, due to a HUGE land-clearing project directly behind. The ride is fast and furious, and it seems that more of the gags are working than usual. And with single-train operation, our anticlimactic trip up the second lift was not interrupted.
From Adventure Express, it was back to the PAZ for a few rides on Top Gun. As usual, a wonderful suspended coaster with an extremely long walk to get back to ride it. I am very happy that PKI seems to have abandoned this "queue path from hell" concept, but the legacy remains with Top Gun and the simulator. Top Gun is looking very nice in its new grey paint scheme. That alone is unusual; I think all of the other Arrow suspended coasters have red track. Top Gun is now two shades of grey...dark supports and light track. The bottom curve on Top Gun has lost its trees to the Big Project, though admittedly cleared land fits the theme better than the woods did anyway.
Speaking of the Big Project, Kings Island is doing something interesting. The cleared land is adjacent to the Top Gun exit path, and while they could have easily concealed it, the way they are doing the work makes it almost look like they want the Top Gun exit to be a viewing platform for the project. I guess the announcement will be in late May, at the same time that Drop Zone opens.
King Cobra was closed all day, in accordance with the sign at the park entrance. It does look good with its new paint job...the structure is dark green, and the rails are painted in sections of yellow and light green, with a thin red stripe between the sections. A very detailed paint job, to say the least. Oh, well, that it wasn't running means I didn't have to contort myself into the Togo seat pillar, which is a good thing. We moved on to Vortex.
Now I know for a fact that Vortex got new wheels before the season started. I mean, I saw the wheel assemblies with fresh new wheels attached back in January. So it must be the cold weather that was causing the ping-ponging action and the squeaking on the curves. Vortex was not exactly running at its best. Its other problem is that it comes to an almost but not complete stop on the mid-course block brake, then finishes the course by running S L O W L Y through the full-Corkscrew and boomerang. Did nobody tell Kings Island that dangling riders from their shoulder bars is a BAD thing to do? I hope warmer weather loosens Vortex up a bit. Oh, it is also worth noting that the Vortex trains have gained an extra assembly pinned on the last axle of the train. I wonder if this is an Arrow bulletin item brought on by the two dropped-axle incidents last season. Previously, the last axle was the only one that didn't have a 'catcher' on it to keep the axle from separating from the train if the coupler should come apart. Interesting, in light of the Six Flaga Great America incident last spring.
During the course of the day, I took only one flat ride, and that was on the
Flying Scooter. I forget what Kings Island calls theirs now, but it is
right across from Vortex's boomerang. Anyway, last year I got some decent
rides on this thing, complete with cable snapping and (only once, mind you)
tree-trimming. The six or so of us entered the nearly vacant queue and were
about to approach the ride when the heaviest rain of the day hit. But Kings
Island doesn't generally close the ride down just because of rain!
"How many?" aske the attendant.
"Just one," I replied, knowing as I do a thing or two about the Flying Scooter
"I might have to pair you up..." he replied.
"I wouldn't if I were you," I replied. I headed for one of the vacant tubs and took a seat. Moments later, Dave Bowers appeared. "Go away!" I commanded.
"But he said......" Dave replied, as he began to squeeze into the tiny tub. Dave and I are of similar size, weight, and build (actually he's slightly taller, I think). This means that each of us is big enough to fill a tub on that ride alone. We squeezed, and stretched the seat belt to its physical limit. We worried that we were testing the physical limits of the suspension cables! Of course, it was pouring down rain, making the ride difficult at best; the extreme weight of our tub meant that we didn't get much action out of it. Grrrrr...It's back to the same problem I had a couple of years ago at Kennywood on the Log Jammer. I can understand parks trying to get maximum capacity out of their rides, but they MUST be reasonable about it. Folks, I must ride in a seat by myself on certain rides; there just isn't enough room for a friend on some of these things!
After the disaster of the Flying Scooter, we proceeded to do more riding on everything. Our immediate destination was The Beast, where the sudden downpour provided us with a ride that was actually fairly decent. But a second ride was rougher and slower than ever, so we gave up on the ride for the day. Dave and I rode Face/Off again, this time near the front, but facing the back of the train. We rode the Racer, noting that the second chain lift was operating and the turnaround brake was not (!). Ultimately we decided to finish the day with a couple of rides on Vortex.
Kings Island was not at its best last Sunday, but it was only the second day of the season, and the weather was most uncooperative. King Cobra and Outer LIMits didn't open at all, and we had cold weather and sporadic rain showers all day long. Yes, I had a good time. Yes, there are problems with operations throughout the park. I expect that much of this will improve over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: Unless, of course, Outer Limits isn't running and its trains are therefore vacant... [Return to text]
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