"Just one thing they didn't count on..."
Thursday was the official media preview for Italian Job: Stunt Track at Paramount's Kings Island. Kings Island took the unusual (but not unheard-of) step of issuing a "cattle call" invitation to all ACE members to help celebrate. Kingda what [Footnote 1]? I had already ridden the Italian Job, and I knew this was going to be a good ride. I had also been to Kings Island press previews in the past, so I knew this was going to be a good party, as well.
I arrived at the park on-time and checked in. I was directed, along with other arriving guests, to a red carpet flanked by theater ropes and poles. This led to the plaza at the west end of International Street. A continuous procession of formal limousines was collecting passengers at the end of the rug. We entered through the right-rear door and were carried down the South side of International Street, right at the ampitheater and around the back side of the Italian Job ride. Music from the Italian Job film played, and as we approached the Rivertown junction, a recorded announcement played welcoming us to Kings Island and to the Italian Job preview. Just as the announcement ended, the limo rolled to a stop adjacent another red carpet and set of poles. In true amusement park style, we exited through the left-rear door: opposite the way we entered. What impressed me, though, was the precision with which the music track and the announcement had been matched to the ride time.
On exiting, we were directed down the red carpet to the plaza in front of the ride entrance. Many of the ACE members in attendance did as they always do when in a park, and formed a queue. This made it easier for me to do as I often do in such circumstances and work the line to say 'hi' to friends I had not seen in a while. More Italian Job music played on a sound system, and we were told to look overhead. So naturally we all looked to the clear sky over the ride, very nearly missing the small airplane and the three skydivers who jumped out of it over the Vortex behind us. Two of the skydivers, one carrying a large Kings Island banner and one carrying a large Italian Job banner, managed to get themselves redirected to come down in front of us and land near Coney Mall just as the music ended. The third skydiver, carrying a large American flag, seemed to have some trouble, and appeared well after the other two, landing under the Vortex well after the music ended. I suspect that the wind conditions were not quite what they planned for. More about that later. On the ground an armored car pulled up, pursued by a Mini. Both vehicles parked in front of us, the hatch on the back of the Mini opened and out came Jeff Siebert. Jeff proceeded to introduce the two stunt drivers, then brought out the mayor of the City of Mason to say a few words and to issue a proclamation in honor of Kings Island and the Italian Job attraction. Then, instead of a ribbon-cutting, a series of explosions rang out as pyrotechnics went off along the fence line. I guess it was supposed to be a bit like that one scene in the movie, only in this case the Brinks truck did not unexpectedly fall through the midway.
Within a few minutes we were all able to queue up and take a ride. There were enough people present that lunchtime came up quickly, so most of us only rode once. I talked a lot about the ride in my last Kings Island report, so I'll spare you the details now, except to note that there was still no "down the stairs" effect. Oh, and they were stress-tsting the on-ride photo system by printing ALL of the photos. They kept the ride running as long as they could, even though it was officially time for lunch.
Instead of showing off the "new" Happy Days diner, lunch was a catered affair which kept up the Italian theme of the event. A buffet was set up in a tent on Coney Mall and featured (as close as you can come with a buffet) a full-course Italian dinner. It proved to be a good thing that this was in a tent, as conditions soon became quite unpleasant. The wind picked up, lightning flashed, thunder rolled, dark clouds filled the sky, and it rained. This wasn't just your basic summer storm, this was a hard, nasty, wrath-of-God sort of pounding rain that turned Coney Mall into a small stream. We all tried to keep dry as best we could. The park passed out orange rain ponchos, we all enjoyed the food, and a lot of people gave up and left. Unlike the working media (who, as the term implies, were working), I had the whole day off, so I was in no rush to leave. My patience paid off. The sky cleared just as suddenly as the storm came up. I had gone back to the Italian Job exit plaza to check at the photo booth and see if my photo from my earlier ride had been printed (it hadn't). Suddenly, a siren sounded. To my amazement, the park started the ride up again. They didn't run it for long, but for the few of us who remained to the bitter end, they treated us to a few extra cycles on the ride. Remember, at this point, practically all of the media and dignitaries, and even most of the coaster nuts, had been chased away by the rain. There was absolutely no reason for Kings Island to run the ride for us, but they did. As always seems to happen to Kings Island, they had a big show that was carefully planned, beautifully executed, and severely hindered by circumstances that just couldn't be controlled. But once again, Kings Island demonstrated that no matter what, they can put on a good show, they can throw a great party, and they are willing to go far above and beyond the call of duty to show their guests [Footnote 2] a good time. They didn't have to fire the ride back up again. I think we all would have been perfectly happy if they hadn't. But they did...and the reason they did it was not because someone was going to talk about it on the Internet. They did it because that's Kings Island's idea of "hospitality." It's a modern, corporate theme park, a cog in a gigantic multimedia machine. But at its heart, Kings Island just keeps on demonstrating that its core value is showmanship, in the classic, George Tilyou sense.
So here is what we can take away from this visit to Paramount's Kings Island: The park loves an opportunity to show off. They constructed a new coaster with very little fanfare, with a set of mediocre statistics, and a few gimmicks, then once it was ready, they hyped the heck out of it. The ride, while it doesn't have particularly impressive statistics and it doesn't appear to be anything spectacular, turns out to be a whole lot of fun to ride, and exclusive of all the gimmickry, is still a pretty darned good coaster. It's a bit like the spinning coaster that Waldameer installed last season: I didn't expect much from it, and it handily exceeded all my expectations, in this case, even to the point of living up to its own hype. And finally, when Kings Island throws a party, they pull out all the stops, and they go well above and beyond what is expected to make sure that everybody has a good time.
If you get a chance, go to Mason and ride Italian Job. It's a lot of fun, and it's well worth a ride.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: By a strange coincidence, this was the same day that Six Flags Great Adventure decided to hold the press preview for Kingda Ka. This was probably coincidental, as Kingda Ka's press preview had been postponed whereas the Italian Job preview had not. [Return to text]
Footnote 2: And in this case I really do mean "guests"! [Return to text]
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