Trip Report: Paramount's Kings Island
Mason, Ohio - 04/16/2000
Our timing is perfect!
This was the long-awaited start to the Ohio roller coaster season. Accordingly, the crappy, nasty, cold, wet weather we've had here for the past month moved along and left us with a glorious weekend. Temperatures in the mid 70's, a little overcast perhaps, but no sign of rain. I got off to a slightly delayed start, but I also had to pick up John Peck (who was more delayed than I was) and Dave Bowers. So we missed the customary morning walkback. Knowing this, we stopped for a quick breakfast, and arrived at the park just before 11:00am.
Kings Island is starting to tread on dangerous ground this year. The already-ridiculous $6 parking fee has been raised to an outrageous $7. To add insult to injury, the section of the parking lot normally used by travelling coaster nuts has been fenced off to create a $10 "Preferred Parking" area. Folks, for $10, we ought to be able to park in the Tram Circle. Clearly I am not the only person who feels this way...the Preferred Parking area had perhaps a dozen cars it it all day. I wonder how long it will be before the fence comes down. I say this is dangerous ground for the park, as it serves to make people mad before they even get inside the gate.
Once inside, the first thing you can't help but notice is the background music, which is so incredibly loud on International Street that it is impossible to carry on a shouted conversation. This was so annoying I stopped at the Guest Relations window to mention it. The conversation went something like this: Footnote 1
GR shouting:MAY I HELP YOU?
Me also shouting:I WANT TO TELL YOU THE MUSIC HERE IS ENTIRELY TOO LOUD.
Me: I SAID, THE MUSIC IS WAY TOO LOUD.
GR: WHAT DID YOU SAY?
Me: I SAID THE MUSIC IS TOO DAMNED LOUD HERE!!!
GR: I'M SORRY, I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE MUSIC.
Me: OH, TO HELL WITH IT...
We stopped for the photo ambush (I have taken to walking through the gate with my camera out and ready for this reason) and stepped into the entrance plaza, attempting to find a spot where we could actually hear each other and decide which way to go. We headed for the Racer, figuring it would be a good way to start our day.
We took our seats. The train took off. The train has new lap bar return springs this season that are even wimpier than the springs they used last year. The train flew over the course, and we were much gratified to find that the mid-course trim was off. But as nice as it was to get a brakeless ride, the trackwork on the outbound run is getting intolerably rough. I mean, Racer is making Mean Streak look like a smooth ride. At the very least, it is not living up to Kings Island's usual (high) standards for wood coaster performance. This was a bone-jarring, spine rattling ride the likes of which I have never before experienced on the Racer. What a nasty shock!
We exited the North Racer and decided to give the recaR htuoS a try. The difference between Racer and recaR is like the difference between night and day. The South (backwards) track got the extensive re-capping that the North track so desperately needs. It flew through the course, also brakeless, but smooth and fast just like it is supposed to be. Aside from running backwards, this is what the Racer is supposed to feel like. A classic-style wood roller coaster, not an unlicensed chiropractor.
We decided to continue down the midway, and we stopped at the Monster. I've always liked these rides, and Kings Island's is in beautiful shape. John and David took one tub, I took another, and we were off. I noticed that the seats in the tub now have a non-slip surface on them, which makes it slightly more difficult to throw one's weight around. I was the unlucky one whose tub wouldn't spin, but I suspect it had something to do with my position on the spider, as John and Dave spun wildly and continuously throughout the ride. I think I prefer the ride of a Spider to that of a Monster because it is easier to get the tub to spin on a Spider. But Kings Island's Monster had something that you don't usually get on a Spider: a distinct feeling of airtime!. I suggest that the Monster is well worth a ride!
It is more or less at this point that Scott, Ray, and Larry enter our story, saying, "Hi, Guys!"
Scott, Ray, and Larry: Hi, guys!
Dave, Dave, and John return the greeting.
It seems we were heading in opposite directions, but since we hadn't gotten very far, we changed gears and joined the threesome. We went back to the Racer and recaR for another ride, then on to Adventure Express. For a change, we sat up front. Much of the themeing on the ride is not working properly, most notably the audio on the second lift hill. The winking guy [Footnote 2] at the top of the lift had his mouth moving, but no sound was coming out. Also, the drums were strangely silent, but we made up for that by beating on the coaster car body ourselves, in sync with the big squeaky-armed stone guys on either side of the lift.
While Adventure Express is a good Runaway Train coaster to begin with, its setting has changed dramatically. Previously, its secluded site was bordered on one side by its own station and an embankment, on the one side by its own lift hill, and on the other two sides by trees. Now, it is surrounded on two sides not by trees, but by WOODS. It's actually a deeper cover than the trees provided because the woods are some 200 feet tall. On Adventure Express you can get up close and personal with Son of Beast. The dense top-of-lift structure is mere inches from Adventure Express, and at one point you can get a darned good look at Sonny's loop. Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that Adventure Express is going to be more popular than ever among coaster nuts?
Ray and Larry were in a little bit of a rush, so we skipped King Cobra on our way back to Top Gun. I didn't make it back to King Cobra, but I can report that there is indeed a new safety strap on the shoulder loop. Again, I didn't ride, but Scott Short reports that he was able to ride without too much difficulty. The single train operation and the now-more-cumbersome-than-ever loading procedure made for a long, slow moving line, so I skipped it for now. I'm not a big stand-up-coaster fan anyway.
Our target, of course, was Top Gun. This suspended coaster is arguably the best coaster in Kings Island's arsenal at the moment, at least in terms of running well, running painlessly, and being a lot of fun. We all queued up for the front seat, as we had been told to expect some fantastic views. And we were not to be disappointed! We headed up the hill, down the drop, pu the second hill, down the drop, and on down, along the hillside. Then, there is was, right in front of us...the Son of Beast station structure, seemingly just inches away, with hard-hatted workmen directly below. Around the bottom-end turnaround, and we were heading directly towards the end of Sonny's transfer table structure, averting the inevitable collision at the last instant for the leap into Top Gun's station brakes. Wow! Top Gun seemed faster and wilder than ever, although the car we were riding in was screaming for grease in the swing pivot bearings. Scott alluded to a discussion he'd had Saturday with Jon Smith about the guide wheels; I am pretty sure Top Gun has always had the 12" guide wheels. I pointed out the safety pins and the two metal hoops that will catch the car when the poor greaseless pivot bearings fail. We also noticed a slight programming change: Now when the train arrives in the station, it stops before the shoulder bars are released. In the past, the bars typically released a couple of seconds before the train stopped.
We made our way down the exit path. I don't know who saw it first.
Scott: Dave! Get your camera!
Before I even knew what the fuss was about, I had pulled the camera from its holster. Then I saw it. Parked on the bridge over the Top Gun paths was a flatbed truck. On the back of the truck were two unmistakable red objects.
Sonny's trains were here!
We watched as workers attached the one car that was already on the track to a small crane, and pulled it off. Many of those present ran to their cars to collect their cameras. Dave Bowers and I stayed behind and watched and rolled video as they proceeded to remove the one car from the track. That car dangled for a while at the end of the crane, and rotated lazily in mid-air.
I wandered a bit and took pictures of the car sitting on the flatbed truck. The cars are three-row, six passenger cars with four wheel assemblies per car. To my surprise, there are only three wheels per wheel assembly, and it appears that the only articulation is a roll pivot in the rear axle. Can these cars possibly negotiate this twisted layout without binding up? I suppose we will find out soon enough. From the ground, I was even able to get a profile view of the lap bars. They appear to be a standard U-bar, with a tall teardrop-shaped pad on the end much like the lap bars on Cedar Point's Snake River Falls. Funny, I think I suggested something exactly like that for looping coasters some years ago. I wonder what it would take to get Premier to put a set of them on Outer LIMits...
Dave and I took another Top Gun ride, and met the rest of the gang...along with Magnum Man Jerry Fleming and his entourage...at the ride exit. Now everybody was snapping pictures, but the window of opportunity soon closed as the crew backed the truck off of the bridge in order to clear the access road. We decided that now would be a good time to make use of the Eiffel Tower.
since the crowd was small, they were only using the lower deck of the Eiffel Tower. The tower provides a bird's eye view of the entire park, including the Son of Beast construction site. From there, we watched as the first car was hoisted onto the track and pushed to the station. The process was repeated several times, and by early evening there were at least six cars on the track.
By this time, my videotape supply was exhausted, and we were ready to ride some coasters. From the tower, we noticed that the Beastie was operating, contrary to the sign we saw posted at the park entrance gate. We dumped our cameras in our respective cars, and proceeded to the Beastie.
Loading a car onto the track
On our way back, we passed the Phantom Theater.. There is a sign on the entrance which states that anybody taller than 60" must be accompanied by a child. There was no one at the entrance checking heights, but we didn't try.
Beastie is, of course, one of those Paramount junior coasters, designed by John Allen, and essentially a mirror-image of Allen's first coasters. It's got PTC junior cars on it that can barely accommodate an adult. Kings Island has done a real hatchet job on the trains this year by installing seat belts. Now, I've said in the past that there is really nothing terribly wrong with seat belts on coasters. It's just the way Kings Island installed them that is...for lack of a better word...suspect. Instead of bolting a couple of long straps to the car frame, they chopped rectangular holes in the sides of the car and attached two retractors to the sides of the seat. Then, they attached two short straps with buckles to the center of the seat. The part I haven't figured out yet is the third strap attached to the same anchor as the buckles, running down the center of the front seats, and attaching to a bolt on the floor. Huh??
Anyway, all the strange modifications don't change the fact that The Beastie is a fun junior coaster. I'd like it better if it didn't have that trim brake on the front-end turnaround. But then, this is Kings Island, after all.
Last week, while taking the Kings Island Office Tour, we happened upon some shipping crates from Caripro, crates about the size of a Batflyer car. With that in mind, we headed over to Scooby Doo's Ghoster Coaster even though the ride was down mechanical...and according to the sign in front of the park, not expected to open. I couldn't see much from the ride entrance, so I walked over to the side next to the platform and exit. The cars have undergone significant changes. The structure at the back of the car is different, and the rear wheel assembly is redesigned, hinged, and now has a couple of cylinders attached. As I gawked, several men in blue shirts emerged from the equipment room at the back of the platform. There was a flurry of activity. Then the young man at the controls said the magic word:
Young Man: We are OPEN!
Once again, our timing was perfect. We walked through the queue, and seconds later we were shoehorning ourselves into the four tiny cars. The chassis modifications have made the ride significantly smoother than it was late last season. All riders...male riders in particular...be wary of the trim brake at the middle of the ride. This is the only coaster I think I have ever "white-knuckled" and that's because I knew how quickly the little car would stop at the end of the ride!
Of course, the strange thing is that it took this long to finally get back to The Beast. It was a bit of a wait...about twenty minutes for our longest wait of the day. But of course, the wait was worth it...after all, we were about to ride The Beast. The train squealed a bit on the curve from the station to the transfer switch, but that was the only spot. The roar we could hear last summer at the top of the lift is gone, but so is the annoying recording telling us to stay inside the car. I'm not positive, but I think the brakes on the first and second drops were very loose or even off, but the mid-course brakes were very tight. The spectacular part, of course, was the helix at the end of the ride. All of the brakes on that 141-foot-high 18-degree drop were off and we thundered through the double helix. I don't remember it ever being quite that fast last season. The Beast got a lot of new lumber this year, particularly on walkboards and handrails. I hope they eventually get around to staining the new lumber to match the rest of the ride [Footnote 3].
From The Beast we headed for Vortex, but not without first stopping at the Flying Scooter. The crew is to be commended for not attempting to pair any of us big coaster nuts with each other; I truly hope this style of operation lasts through the season. I had thought that I had avoided the "Flyer Back" syndrome, but today, 24 hours later, I am sore enough that I am not so sure. Just a little more swing and I'll be able to get the tub turned completely around.....
The Troika (whatever they call it) was down mechanical, so we proceeded to Vortex. As is customary for Vortex early in the season, the wheels were doing a lot of squeaking. The first half of the ride is excellent, as usual, but the mid-course brake hits so hard that in the last half of the ride, riders literally get dumped from their seats on the last four inversions. I don't think that is supposed to happen...! Of course, the biggest question is, "when will Vortex get a much-needed coat of paint?". Apart from that, the ride runs well, and most important is a whole lot of fun. It's one of the better examples of Arrow Dynamics' best work.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Premier Rides' Outer LIMits: Flight of Fear. The queue extended only to the top of the stairs inside the saucer, where the excessively loud rumble is, I suspect, slowly destroying the stairway. That one noise is annoying, deafening, unnecessary, and worst of all makes it almost impossible to hear the preshow dialogue track. At least this time I didn't have to wait in the hangar where it is impossible to get away from it. Instead, I walked on through the saucer to the front seat queue.
Last week's serious problem with the shoulder bars has indeed been fixed. By the end of the ride, I almost wished it hadn't been. The launch seemed much faster than I remember it, and the first half of the ride was halfway decent, but the new, oversize shoulder bar pads actually served to make the headbanging slightly worse than in years past. We stopped on the mid-course brake, then rolled slowly through the end of the ride including the final inversion. Moving that slowly, riders get dumped from their seats into shoulder bars which then support the rider's entire body weight against an arm, neck, or ear. How much more rideable this coaster would be with the lap bars off of Son of Beast! Dave Bowers had the right idea as he exited the ride:
David Bowers: That is a ride with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
I'm not sure that I completely agree with Dave, but he certainly has a good point. Outer LIMits is the kind of ride that Jack Falfas [Footnote 4] would describe as "not the kind of ride we want to have in our park." I wonder what Kings Island's GM thinks of it.
Aside from some rerides on the various coasters, the other major activity was to get a ride on Drop Zone. Yes, indeed, Drop Zone was operating. Our gang was next in line to ride. We climbed aboard. We pulled down our shoulder bars and fastened the safety belts. Then I got the bad news. I have very few non-negotiable rules when I visit a park, but one of them is that in the interest of my own comfort and safety, I wear my eyeglasses whenever I am riding. The only exceptions I make are swimming pools and waterslides. Unfortunately this ironclad rule prevented me at the last moment from riding Drop Zone. So I still don't know what that ride is like. I'm just glad I was with fellow coaster nuts and didn't waste the time I spent waiting in line. I can't understand, first of all why parks insist on such ridiculous policies, and second, why they refuse to post such policies at the ride entrance instead of ambushing customers with them at the loading platform.
Of course, the good news is that the gang reported seeing workmen loading water bodies into the still-unconnected Son Of Beast train. A large crowd was still gathered at the top of Sonny's second hill. We were beginning to wonder, given the size of the crowd, if it was some kind of finishing-off ceremony up there. In any case, Son of Beast was clearly very close to completion, and as I type this I wonder if perhaps a train has already dropped from Sonny's lift hill. Or perhaps it's just wishful thinking.
In any case, it was a good day at Kings Island. There are some issues the park needs to address fairly quickly, but for us it was a day of impeccable timing and a little bit of dumb luck. We got decent rides, and we had a good time. And isn't that what is most important?
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: Please note: This is a dramatization of a less-entertaining conversation which actually took place at the end of the day.
Footnote 2: The guy at the top of the lift has red glowing eyes. One of them is dark, suggesting that perhaps he is winking. This is the guy who normally says, "You have disturbed the mwbghlidden mwrblghed. NOW YOU WILL PAY!!
Footnote 3: In case you didn't already know, The Beast is stained with a lovely redwood color.
Footnote 4: General Manager, Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, California.
--DCAjrBack to the 2000 Park Visits index