This morning I awoke without the benefit of an alarm. Turns out I failed to set the darned thing on Friday night. I still didn't feel like getting up as I had not slept real well, so I turned on the radio and dozed for another hour. Finally, with 9:00am fast approaching, I jumped into the car and headed South.
Normally I wouldn't be so foolish as to head for Kings Island on a Saturday, but Mom unexpectedly booked me for something else for Sunday, I wanted to go to a park this weekend, and with very few open parks to choose from within driving distance, Kings Island was the obvious choice. I arrived not long before 11:00am.
The weather report said today would be cold (high approaching 60 degrees F) and probably rainy, with rain ending early tomorrow and a high of 79 degrees. With this in mind I expected a light crowd. Guess again! The entry plaza between the tram circle was mobbed. A sign proclaimed, "Welcome Girl Scouts." Another sign proclaimed, "Welcome Boy Scouts." Another sign taped to the ticket booth window explained that today was the Spring Festival featuring concerts from three bands I had never heard of. "Oh, great...!" I thought, remembering what happened last week at Great America [Footnote 1]. I entered the park and headed to the left.
King Cobra is now completely gone except for the electrical transformers, some concrete footers, a few miscellaneous bits of wood and metal, and a large dumpster. Son of Beast was sporting a long line, and the Action Zone was generally crowded so I failed to check on the other rides back there. As it happened, I never made it back there again today. Instead, I took a ride on Adventure Express, where a gullible young lady behind me was well taken in by the last drop gag.
Racer was the next ride around the bend, so I took a ride. This time I got smart and secured the lap bar to the grab handle with a safety strap. I had forgotten about that nice pop of airtime on the last hill before the turnaround; usually at that point I'm yelping in severe pain. I don't like the trim brake on the turnaround, but the return run is still passable except for that long flat place where the final dip used to be. "Now You Will Pay!"
I got off the Racer and opted to visit Fort Cooper for a ride on Flight of Fear. I noted how in each successive year from 1999-2001 the ride went from being the park's worst coaster to second-worst to best. This time the hangar was nearly full and I had to stand through the preshow a little more than one full cycle. It just seems odd to not have that one section, "There is nothing wrong with your equipment..." This time I rode in the left-front seat, where I rode most of last season. I think that seat must have an extra short safety belt on it or something; I don't think I'm any bigger than I was two weeks ago. The ride has become amazingly consistent. The fact that all seats are not the same, along with a cumbersome safety belt arrangement is seriously hurting loading times. That doesn't change the fact that the ride is finally living up to its potential.
The line for Vortex extended out almost past the end of the fence, which really isn't a long wait for that ride, but even so I opted to skip it for the time being, proceeding instead to the Flying Scooters. The line was short, and a couple of pros were already flying. I took the next cycle and showed off a bit, then rode a few more times. Every park needs a set of these.
I took a ride on The Beast in the front of the train. In the past two weeks there have been changes. Most notably, the exit speed from the mid-course brake is noticeably higher, meaning the train doesn't feel like it's going to stall in the second tunnel anymore. This becomes more obvious when the train makes it a full train-length up the second lift before the chain clutch engages. The result is a significantly better second-third of the ride than two weeks ago...instead of running in "average day mode" they have it tweaked up to "good day mode."
From The Beast it was back to the Scooters for a while, as the rain started. I went to my car and dropped off the camera, then opted to "do" the other side of the park with rides on Beastie and Rugrats Runaway Reptar Roller Coaster (which with its pinch-wheel lift surprised me by being open in the rain). I was getting soaked so I decided to duck into Phantom Theater. Obviously this was a popular choice this afternoon, so popular that I had to hang out in the lobby for a few minutes. There, the Maestro sat at his organ and played for us. Once down the hallway and into the inner lobby I took a seat in one of the 56 ride vehicles, completely unaware of the surprise that awaited me.
The surprise? For the very first time that I can remember, EVERY stunt in that theater worked. Sone of the lighting has been tweaked. The two video projections have been fixed. Various known and unknown fixes and patches have been applied to the show audio so that the various comments made by the animated figures are actually understandable. In the years I've been visiting Kings Island, I don't think I have ever seen the ride looking quite this good!
This, of course, fuels speculation on my part. I have heard a persistent rumor that Phantom Theater is to be removed in favor of a new interactive dark ride. But the extent of the rehabilitation on Phantom Theater leaves me wondering if the real plan is to install a new interactive dark ride elsewhere in the park, leaving Phantom Theater intact.
On the other hand, they just painted King Cobra a couple of years ago, too. We saw where that ended up!
I took a walk around the park the long way, taking another ride on the Flying Scooters. But the rain had become downright unpleasant. I looked at my watch, and opted to bail out. Maybe if the weather improves I'll return. Meanwhile, I think I'll check out Cincinnati's newest roller coaster.
I arrived at the Forest Fair Mall a little after 5pm. The vacancy rate in this place has improved a little, but that isn't saying much. It's a gigantic mall, two levels in all, filled with a whole lot of vacant space. Originally it had several zones to it; one area had a supermarket and a couple of stores, another section held a movie theater and a couple of night-club type places, and a large section contained a full FEC with a few carnival rides, a mini golf course, Laser Tag arena, arcade, and kiddie play area. Across from the FEC was a small food court. The rest of the mall was basically empty.
Well, the food court is still there, smaller than ever. The FEC has been replaced by a second movie theater. Mall occupancy is up, but much more spread-out, so the place still looks incredibly empty. And the FEC is gone! Wait a minute, it has to be here somewhere.....
Ah, yes. On the lower level, tucked into an out of the way corner. Instead of being a wide open court FEC, it's a storefront FEC with a line of people stacked up at the cashier's counter waiting to get in. Inside, it's a good-size rectangular space. On the right side, taking up about a third of the space, is a cafe and a kids climbing structure. In the center is a good size video arcade (with one pinball machine, but even that is a Pinball 2000 unit with a video screen), a Red Baron-type ride of unknown origin, and a set of battery-powered bumper cars. The leftmost-third section is the only section with a two-story ceiling, and this section contains the Boa Squeeze roller coaster.
The Boa Squeeze costs $2 in tickets to ride, and appears to be very similar to Zoooooom at Oaks Park. The ride has a generally oval layout, but with a single-revolution circular counter-clockwise helix in the middle of the back side. The top of this helix is crammed in against the back wall and under an overhang so that adult riders such as myself could easily whack the overhead light fixtures. It's a Miler coaster, and as such accommodates adults with ease. A couple of the lap bar release knobs were missing, including the one for my (the extreme back) seat, but the shaft is easy enough to manipulate without the knob. I dropped the bar to the first notch and the operator had no argument with me, though he did ask if I was comfortable with it. Naturally, I said I was.
The snake-like train fully loaded, the lift started and we proceeded smoothly out of the station. Most all of the ride is spent in varying degrees of left-hand turn. It's a smooth enough ride, but also a violent enough ride that it had me grabbing the sides of the train on the first drop. It's a little coaster, but like all the other recent Miler coasters I have ridden, for its size it's a whole lot of fun.
When the ride was over, I bought a game card and played a couple of games of pinball. An annoying thing about this FEC's pricing structure...game points are $0.01 each, and must be purchased in $1 increments...but the games are priced in such a way that you can't spend a dollar's worth of points, with most games priced at 55 points. This means that for the $2 in game points I bought, I was able to play three games of pinball at $0.55, one game of Ms Pac Man at $0.30, and now I have five points left over.
I looked around the FEC a bit. The bumper cars had a bit of a line, but only two cars were in use. The arena is small, but using a third or fourth car would not only increase the capacity, it would free up some floor space. Then I noticed what was unusual about these cars. These bumper cars look like ordinary Majestic cars, but it turns out they are battery powered and radio controlled. I wonder if perhaps the other cars simply weren't fully charged. Oh, well...It's not as though I was planning to ride these cars anyway.
I strolled around the mall a bit, then went out to my car. The rain had abated significantly, so instead of going up to take a look at LeSordsville Lake as I had considered, I returned to Kings Island. There, I took a ride on The Beast, then spent most of the evening on a set of mostly-desserted Flying Scooters. As I exited the ride and planned to go finish the night on Flight of Fear, I met DJ from rec.roller-coaster who was spending the day at Kings Island on the eve of his first day working at Cedar Point. At his preference, I rode Vortex instead. I do think Vortex is running just a little faster out of the mid-course brakes this season, and that is a good thing.
Weather-wise, it had been a miserable day. But I made the best of it, doing a lot of Scooter flying, and riding my 194th roller coaster. I found The Beast running better than two weeks ago. And I found Phantom Theater looking better than ever. It was another good day in the park.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: A bunch of hoodlums attending a hip-hop festival at Paramount's Great America started fights in the park which quickly escalated to a small scale riot, forcing the early closure and evacuation of the park. [Return to text]
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