Paramount's Kings Island
WEATHER: Cool, partly cloudy, low 60s-mid-70s.
ABOUT ME: Male, age 37. Coaster rider since 1977 and fanatic since 1986. I have more than 330 adult coasters on my "track record". I generally prefer wooden coasters to steel because airtime is one of my big criteria. Also, I don't mind a little headbanging on coasters.
RATING SYSTEM: I subscribe to the ubiquitous Griswold scale, which rates coasters and parks on a scale from -3 to +5. Zero indicates a mildly positive rating.
THE PARK: +1
I didn't expect to return to Kings Island again so soon after last year's two-day visit merited by the opening of the disappointing Son of Beast. However, with Indiana Beach having to delay the opening of Cornball Express a week, there really weren't many other places within a short distance of Holiday World/SFKK to visit, so off to PKI it was. Two of our group had Paramount season passes, and I'm an ACE member, so the small price of entry made the decision to go pretty easy. The park was open until 9PM.
Our group arrived at the park around 9:15 AM so I could take advantage of the morning walkback to either The Beast or Sonny. I checked at Season Pass Processing to see if Paramount offers a discounted season pass renewal (I had a Paramount pass in 2000), and with an August PKD visit in the works I would have gladly purchased a season pass renewal priced at $50 or $60, but their disappointing insistence that all passes are $80 regardless of whether or not it's a renewal sealed the deal and I instead got in for $19.95 with my ACE membership card. I was also quite surprised that Paramount didn't direct-mail its 2000 season pass holders to try to encourage renewals, too. That's just good business sense, I would have thought.
On entry to the park, I was amused to note that Paramount has outfitted its front-gate photographers with Canon PowerShot G1 digital cameras (equipped with IBM Microdrive storage solutions), the identical digital camera setup I have used since January! They picked a darn fine unit, if I do say so myself. At any rate, I opted to visit The Beast during this morning's walkback since I really couldn't justify wasting a walkback on a wooden coaster I've ranked the third worst of all time. Once our walkback hosts arrived to escort us around 9:45AM, we proceeded back, only to wait another 15 minutes. The general public reached the Beast before we even got in one ride, so I got in one front-seat ride and that was it. I chalked up my experience, which was less than impressive, to the fact the ride hadn't warmed up yet for the day.
By the time I returned to the entrance plaza following the walkback, I could easily see there were going to be some ridiculous crowds at PKI for a mid-May weekend. However, in predictable PKI fashion, all queue lines kept moving quickly (15-30 minutes for everything except Drop Zone, which had a 45-minute queue) and all rides ran at top capacity. On a side note, though, I am amazed that a park this size doesn't have a Ferris Wheel (at least, not since the Zodiac was ripped out years ago) or a log flume ride (since KCKC was ripped out this past winter).
The in-queue "QTV" video feeds are as ridiculous as ever, and do not represent an acceptable substitute to the queue line music the park used to have in its pre-Paramount days. The endless repetition (the video loop is perhaps 30-40 minutes long) makes for a really boring queue experience and the speakers can't be heard beyond a 4-foot radius in front of the TV sets. Not that I really needed to hear Britney Spears over and over again, though. I just remember the awesome time we used to have in the Beast loading station back in the late '80s with the tunes blaring, lots of hand-slapping, and so on! Everything is so sterile...no personality, pizzazz or differentiation.
Another disappointment was that the International Street fountains were neither lit up at night nor did they dance. Is this normal now? The gorgeous fountains used to be such a centerpiece for the park. Speaking of disappointments, what happened to the hanging basket that used to be in the paths leading from the Eiffel Tower to Rivertown? There was a 1000-pound (?) hanging planter basket that I remember as far back as my first visit (1986) which I could no longer find anywhere.
We all know Paramount parks are about as corporate as they get, but I was thoroughly disgusted by the new level of commercialization/corporatization/moneygrubbing Paramount has stooped to with its Top Gun ride. PKI has gone beyond simple, subtle signage indicating corporate sponsorship of a ride and now has "Gillette Mach 3" signs at top middle on the big Top Gun aircraft carrier sign in the queue and has also put Gillette Mach 3 decals on the back of each car in Top Gun's two trains. Even worse, the returning riders are greeted by the ride ops with "Gillette Mach 3 welcomes you back..." This was a tremendously disappointing change of policy.
Everything in the park gas gotten more expensive. Lots more expensive, in fact. For example, I was amazed to see the prices for the Hi-Striker on the Coney Island midway section - $5 for three strikes and $10 for 7. This is a damn carnival game with the same stuffed animals as every other park on the planet, right?!
At the end of the night, I stopped off at Guest Relations, hoping to make off with a poster as noted on the ACE membership benefits page on the ACE web site. A PKI bike cop asked me what I wanted as I stood behind several others in line at Guest Relations, and after explaining the poster thing to him he ducked inside to talk to GR staff, only to return with the sad news that they were "out of posters." Thppppppppt.
As with everything else at PKI, food costs have escalated out of control. A small cup of popcorn chicken and a small cup of french fries cost $8.25, including 71¢ just for a single small tub of barbeque sauce! At least it tasted good, far more so than the usually reliable LaRosa's Recipe pizza in Rivertown. Our whole pepperoni pizza, $15.99, was visually appealing but my three pieces had something notably absent: pizza sauce. Oh, there was a little in certain spots, but it was basically devoid of one of the biggest flavors one expects out of a pizza. Also, 20 oz. sodas are up to $2.50 from the vending machines now. Egad!
As I walked through the PKI of today I remember back to the way it was during my 1986 and 1988 visits, and how from an ambience perspective each of the last four visits have been progressively worse, with 2001 being so unpleasant I have no intention of returning any time soon. The park used to have so many neat little details - there was so much attention to little things, and that made Kings Island an absolutely wonderland. The theming. The water spritzer inside the helix on King Cobra. The operating sluice gates in and around the Beast station and pond in the center of the Beast's track as it exited the station. The beautiful landscaping and extensive flower beds. The truly International flair of International Street and the Oktoberfest/Festhaus areas. The novel Safari section and monorail. Now, everything has been bastardized. A garish Nickelodeon facade has been tacked on to one of the International Street stores. Safari is gone, replaced by a sea of concrete (Paramount Action Zone) and a worthless pile of wood. The monster hanging basket is gone. The cool double ferris wheel (Zodiac) is gone. Their excellent wooded log flume (Kenton's Cove Keelboat Canal), arguably one of the finest log flumes anywhere, is gone. The International Street fountains don't light up or dance any more. Vortex has an airtime-killing midcourse brake. The Racer doesn't race (and is now slooooow as well). The Racer and The Beast have been retrofitted with those ridiculous PTC trains bearing all the terrible accoutrements - individually ratcheting lapbars, seat dividers AND back dividers, headrests... Perhaps worst of all, the formerly insane Beast has been turned into a family attraction with the use of on-lift, in-tunnel, in-shed and in-helix lights, halogen lamps on tall steel standards in the back woods, lots of skid brakes (I counted at least four sets - coming off both lifts, the second hill, and the enormous brake shed in the back). This coaster used to be like the Holiday World Raven is today, and it pains me every time I ride it because I remember what it was like unleashed and unlit. I fear the PKI 2002 attraction development going on next door to it because once the adjacent trees are gone, so goes the spirit of the Beast.
Every possible way one might rank a park has been knocked down several notches over the last decade at PKI. Every ride seems quite a bit "off" from how I remember them and how I know they could be again. Sad.
One thing you can't fault Paramount on: they keep their bathrooms impeccably neat. No complaints.
Racer (1972 John Allen/PTC single out and back) 0
Unlike my 2000 visit, PKI wasn't racing the Racer. Trim brakes kill any momentum this coaster could possibly gather, making the ride a total nonevent devoid of air time. All of the old, traditional dull red/blue PTC trains with front chevron emblems, which were still in use in 2000, have disappeared. Have they been phased out? One nice gesture made by the Racer ride ops was to shut off the in-station fans, which in the mid-60s weather were freezing those waiting in line for the back seat. The Racer is running two 5-car, 3-bench PTC trains with individually ratcheting lap bars, seat and back dividers, and headrests.
The Beast (1979 Summers/Dinn/KECO terrain coaster) +1
For the first time in six visits to PKI, five rides on The Beast could not deliver more than a barely enjoyable experience. The Beast has been reduced to a mine train through the PKI backwoods instead of being a bat out of hell. No airtime on the pre-brake shed hills, and the positive G's on the right turn into the hill leading to the 2nd lift were barely of note. I so miss the days in the '80s when you were going so fast in the back section that the train made it halfway up the second lift hill before engaging the chain. Even the helix is less impressive due to a monster skid brake on the drop into the helix, which slows down the ride enough to make the headchoppers far less exciting. I counted no fewer than four sets of skid brakes. Depressing.
The Beast runs three 6-car(!), 3-bench PTC trains with individually ratcheting lap bars, seat and back dividers, and headrests.
King Cobra (1984 Togo standup) +2
King Cobra, despite its age and small size, is still (I feel) one of PKI's signature attractions. As always, King Cobra delivers great air time in at least five (if not six) places - and that's on a STAND-UP coaster! For those unfamiliar with this 1984 TOGO ride - the first successful stand-up coaster in the world - it goes as follows: lift, turnaround, drop, vertical loop - from there the fun begins with a speed hill (ejector air), a 540-degree helix, another speed hill, some strange twisted track, a turnaround, and several quick bunny hills each offering awesome airtime.
Vortex (1987 Arrow Dynamics multielement) +2
My complaints from last year have been partly answered - it has been receiving a new coat of paint, but the horsecollar restraints are as hard as ever (no give whatsoever). Vortex remains one of the finest Arrow megaloopers ever built, right up there with SFGAm Shockwave and WoF Orient Express. Good pacing, good choice of elements, and a picturesque setting over a ravine. The ride feels a great deal smoother than last year, without most of the violent headbanging I experienced in the pre-vertical loop snap twist or in the entire second half of the ride. Vortex has six inversions: two consecutive vertical loops, a corkscrew, and a two-inversion Kamikaze Kurve similar to Worlds of Fun's Orient Express and the former Steel Phantom. The ride's midcourse trim brake, immediately prior to the corkscrew element (inversions 3 and 4), eliminates any chance of air time when dropping off the turnaround into the corkscrew...the way it was when it opened. Say, what happened to the Vortex logos on the front of the Arrow trains?
Adventure Express (1991 Arrow Dynamics Mine Train) N/A
I did not ride this during my visit. I know, "I WILL PAY!!"
Top Gun (1993 Arrow Dynamics suspended coaster) +1
Top Gun is short but one of the best examples of the Arrow suspended genre. The swing action and speed toward the very end of the ride is the best anywhere. Though I was riled up by the ridiculous "Gillette Mach 3" in-your-face sponsorship of the ride (see main trip report), I had a good time on this smooth, exhilarating coaster.
Flight of Fear (1996 S&MC enclosed) +2
What a change! This used to be my all-time worst steel coaster, and with the removal of the OTSR, this coaster has taken on an entirely new life. I liked it! It was disorienting, I could see around me (not that I could tell which way was up as the coaster ran its circuit), and the dramatic snap twists the train followed were a thrill to watch from the back seat.
Face/Off (1998 Vekoma SLC Boomerang) N/A
As much as I enjoyed this one last year as well as its older sibling Invertigo, there wasn't enough time to mess with it.
Drop Zone (1999 Intamin Giant Gyro Drop) +2
This ride was insane last year, yet this time it didn't feel like it was as fast of a drop nor was the upward WHOOSH that pushed my legs upward as forceful. Fortunately, this year the ride ops were far more efficient than last year's ride ops, who took their time loading and despite the 40-person capacity of the ride could not keep the lines moving at an acceptable speed. The carriage also ascends the tower much faster than the pokey speeds observed just last August.
For those unfamiliar with the differences between standard Giant Drops and the Gyro Drops, imagine a 40-passenger "ring" around the drop tower instead of several four-passenger carriages. The "ring" spins two full revolutions as you ascend the tower, giving a wonderful view of the surroundings. Once you finally drop, the amount of air forced around the carriage as it drops forces your legs up immediately in a sudden whoosh. Folks queued up below should beware because the gust caused by the drop is enough to knock over small children! Items left on the platform by riders regularly go flying--stuffed animals, sweatshirts, hair scrunchies, souvenir cups, etc.
Son of Beast (2000 RCCA terrain coaster) -1
With all the work that was performed on this ride in the offseason, I hoped against hope that they could find a magic bullet to save this ride. Unfortunately, it is stil unrideable...at a level only matched by PGA Grizzly and CP Mean Streak. This coaster is terrible. One front-seat ride again confirmed it loud and clear. Rule 1: Helixes alone don't make a ride. Rule 2: When the best part of the ride is a swoop-turn and a quick 180-degree banked turn to the left BEFORE the lift hill, you're in trouble. Observations: the lift hill is nowhere near as loud as last year, and any air time there ever may have been toward the ride's end has been quashed by a trim brake that must be new for 2001. As it was last year, the ride is simply painful and accomplishes nothing more than rattling the teeth out of your head. The smoothest part was the loop, which was a nonevent in the overall scheme of the ride.