"Shouldn't this be a really busy day?"
Christmas, New Year's Day, and Independence Day are unusual among holidays celebrated in the United States in that among major holidays they are the only ones currently tied to a particular date...the 25th of December, the 1st of January, and the 4th of July. As opposed to, say, the last Monday in May or the first Monday in September, or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, or the fourth Thursday in November, or whatever. This year, by a shocking coincidence, July 4 fell on a Friday, making it a perfect lead-in to a three-day weekend. We finally have summer-like weather, it's a three-day weekend, it's a Federal holiday, the park is scheduling a spectacular fireworks show and is open to Midnight...it has all of the makings of a really crowded day at a popular park like Kings Island. So who in his right mind would want to be part of such a mob of people?
As you've probably guessed by now, me. It turns out that Dave Bowers is equally crazy, so he joined me. We were prepared for huge crowds; I packed my swim trunks just in case hanging out in the park's mediocre wave pool turned out to be the most sensible thing to do. I brought my camera, figuring if nothing else I could take pictures.
We parked right next to Tram Stop #1. A long hike to the gate, but if transportation is supplied, who cares? Remember what I said about "preferred parking" after my last Kennywood visit! I noticed that the tram route to the North Parking Lot has changed, now the tram goes to Tram Stop #2, then Tram Stop #1, then makes a quick run to the Campground, which used to be a separate shuttle. It was interesting; I'd never been in the Kings Island campground before. Oh, speaking of parking lot trams, Wolf has commented lately on the elegance of the engineering of Arrow's log flumes. I suggest that the mechanical design of their humble parking lot tram is even more impressive. How does the last car "know" exactly when to start around the curve? Those things can navigate "keyhole" turns with the third car following the tug's path precisely!
Before boarding the tram, I made suitable preparations, emptying my pockets of everything but my (underloaded as usual) billfold. At the security checkpoint, apparently something still beeped when I went through the me_al detector. I can't tell you how much safer I feel in the park knowing most of the security staff is busy wanding bags at the front gate. Well, I could tell you, but that kind of language is generally considered unbroadcastable.
Once inside the park, I was in for a shock. I've been at Kings Island on days when they had 60,000 people before lunchtime. This holiday Saturday wasn't even close. We walked on to Adventure Express. We could have walked on to Racer and recaR (did later, in fact). We waited one cycle for the Flying Scooters, and nearly walked on to The Beast. Flight of Fear was down mechanical when we first tried it (though we got to ride later), and Top Gun was down all day for unidentified reasons. We walked onto Vortex and Beastie and Rugrats Runaway Reptar. Even Scooby Doo and the Haunted Castle barely had a wait.
On Scooby, I noticed that even though the targets would frequently fail to respond when I fired at them even at point-blank range, I would often see the indicator flash, perhaps suggesting that I had, in fact, hit the target, but was locked out from scoring on it. My new theory is that the gun has to reset between shots. All I know for certain is that I outscored Dave, who, later in the ride was pulling his trigger a lot faster than I was pulling mine.
The major change to the park this time around is the completion of Bubba Gump's Shrimp Shack and Captain Dan's Back Porch Bar. The bar is not quite a full service bar; they serve beer and frozen alcoholic novelties, but no mixed drinks. The disappointing thing is that they now serve only one sort-of-local brew, Ted's Pail Ale (Montgomery Inn Red), instead of the three or four available in the bar's previous incarnation. Having apparently learned nothing from my previous (bad) experiences with the Columbus Brewing Company Pale Ale, I had a Ted's and thought it good until the last ounce or so hit me like a slice of lemon wrapped 'round a large brick. Ewwww...that wasn't fun at all! I'd best stick to the German-style brews.
Later in the day we returned to Bubba Gump's for dinner. I'm pleased to report that you can once again get decent food at Kings Island. That's the good news. The bad news is that once again, it's a cafeteria-style joint with no inside seating, which means that while the breaded and fried fish is decent, on a miserable day the coaster nuts are still going to head for the *!@% Festhaus with its bad burgers and worse pizza.
Bubba Gump's features fish and shrimp in various configurations. All sandwiches and all dinners are seved with fries and slaw. The slaw flavor is OK, but instead of thinly sliced cabbage, they puree'ed it. The worst part of the meal was the "seasoned fries", again served with everything on the menu. They were almost completely cooked, which is unusual for food-service type fries, they were not limp and soggy, but they were also not very hot. The real problem here was the "seasoned" bit. It seems that someone used seasoned salt in addition to the usual dose of plain sodium chloride, resulting in fries that were REALLY REALLY salty. The fish is a mild whitefish, beer-battered and deep fried; I counted six pieces about the size of that little square thing McDonalds sells in the springtime, just right for hand-held consumption. Along with the fish was a generous cup of tartar sauce which was also decent. Overall, the place looks good and the food is good, though I miss Oktoberfest Gardens, which previously had the best food in the park. Oh, one thing I noticed: Watch the pricing carefully! I had the fish and chips dinner for about $7, and as noted, that was quite a lot of fish, served with fries and slaw. For nearly a dollar more, I could have had the fish sandwich, served with fries and slaw...but I find it hard to believe they could possibly put as much fish on a roll as I had in my basket.
I do think they should consider taking steps to make it possible to weatherproof part of the back patio, perhaps some kind of a 'garage door' arrangement around the bar and the portion of the patio that has a real roof. After all, the park operates for seven months out of the year, five of which tend to feature cold, miserable weather.
Speaking of which, this month happens to be July, and it finally isn't cold anymore. But that doesn't mean the weather wasn't miserable...and I'm not talking about the heat and humidity. Well, not the heat, anyway. Humidity is another matter, except that when it precipitates out of the air, it isn't called humidity anymore...it's called rain. And when that rain is coupled with electrostatic discharges that make a lot of noise, it's called a thunderstorm. Add high winds and it quickly becomes a *severe* thunderstorm. Which is what started to brew to the West in the early evening, in an effort to wreck the park's plans for "Nites of Fire," their (day-after-)Independence Day expanded fireworks show. Announcements were made over the park's PA system, noting that because of predicted severe weather the 10:00pm show would be rescheduled to sometime between 8:30pm and 11:00pm. It seemed kind of odd, as the weather was nice with clear skies all day long. It was right around 9:00 that they announced that the show would start "in ten minutes." We all scrambled for good vantage points, then just as the show was set to begin, another announcement: "Severe weather is upon us, and the fireworks will go after the storm." Just then, a light rain started. That became a strong wind and a heavy rain, then it ended and right around 10:00, the skies were so clear we could see stars. Finally, after yet another brief rain shower, the show started...only ten minutes behind schedule. Dave and I had sought shelter in the Animation Station shop in H-B/Nick Central, figuring it would be slightly less crowded than the Emporium and other buildings along International Street. That proved to be the case, but unfortunately I had not remembered accurately from last year. Our ultimate vantage point put the fireworks directly in front of us, but seemingly a bit low, with all but the highest shells partly obscured by the tree line. Perhaps I'm a little jaded, as two nights earlier I had witnessed the City of Columbus fireworks show from a vantage point no more than 500 feet from "Ground Zero". Kings Island's show looked like it was being fired off from clear down by the Miami river, well behind the park. So it was a quieter show than the one I had seen Thursday night, but the park made up for that with trucked-in sound systems playing an audio track at deafening volume. Speaking of which, Kings Island deserves some recognition for once again declaring its independence from Lee Greenwood, and proving for the second straight year that you CAN produce a patriotic-sounding fireworks soundtrack WITHOUT including God Bless The USA. Bless you, Kings Island!
Besides being tragically misspelled [Footnote 1], this year's "Nites of Fire" event was smaller than last year. I think perhaps there were more shells on the Eiffel Tower, but the entire Northern show was eliminated. Last year, there were two nearly identical pyrotechnics shows, one set off from the nightly fireworks site behind the Racer and Flight of Fear, and a second show set off from behind The Beast, these shows combined with rockets blowing off the tower in the center of the park. This year it was simpler, with the big show to the South of the tower. While it's slightly less impressive that way, it was probably a good decision...the double display made for an ENORMOUS chunk of sky, and it was pretty much impossible to see all of it. So they concentrated on the most visible part. It probably looked a little lopsided from International Street. But the big display last year pointed out the problem with one of Kings Island's best features. Even though it is a fairly new park, Kings Island is heavily wooded, meaning that for an aerial pyrotechnics show, the tree cover kind of gets in the way.
Still, it was a decent show. As an American I thought it fitting to pump my Canadian car full of Venezuelan fuel, drive down to Kings Island and drink an English style beer, ride Dutch and German rides, and watch them use Chinese Roman candles to "blow up" the Eiffel Tower. Then I capped it all off with a ride on Delirium, a big new German ride. Somehow, it seems appropriate.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: I am almost certain that last year it was "Nights of Fire." [Return to text]
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