Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom
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
This was my first visit to Kentucky Kingdom since 1997, during its pre-Six Flags days. I hadn't really intended to return any time soon based on my poor experience then, but due to being in the area for Stark Raven Mad and the ACE-sponsored ERT on Thunder Run, I figured I might as well give the park another chance. Its only major additions since 1997 are the 1998 C.C.I. dueling woodie Twisted Sisters and the 2000 Maurer Sohne mad mouse ride, Roadrunner Express. The park was open until 9PM.
Our group arrived at the park around 4PM due to staying at Holiday World for the photo walkback Saturday morning, then driving to Louisville which is a one-time-zone jump eastward. After going through the main gate (where we observed the interesting process of entry gate staff "de-gang-symboling" incoming park patrons, including bandanas and other clothing-related gang indicators), we immediately saw moderate crowds and fairly extensive queue lines, which could mean only one thing: Kentucky ride ops haven't sped up any since 1997. This was one of my major complaints about the park back then, and it still is now. Waits for rides averaged 45 minutes each. Hellevator was only running 2 of 5 sides (8 of 20 seats) and the lone ride op was going about his job at an obviously leisurely pace, uninterested in keeping the queue lines moving. Chang's cycle times, despite running 2 trains, were terrible. Thunder Run was running one train. Even the park's giant Intamin ferris wheel was cycling slowly, but only because the clueless ride ops couldn't stop the wheel at the proper point and repeatedly overshot the platforms, requiring them to put the ride in reverse to properly load/unload. Only Twisted Sisters and Roadrunner Express processed people at a reasonable rate.
Line jumping was common, but since our group was so tired from being up until 2-3am following ERT at Holiday World, we didn't put up much of a fight.
Now, we've all seen idiots who insist on sitting on the railings (and we've all heard ride ops pleading incessantly with the crowds not to do so). However, this was the first time I've ever seen members of the general public WALK across the tops of the cattlepen railings to avoid walking through the entire queue. They didn't even sneak under the railings - like complete morons they WALKED on top of them. I'm amazed no one was seriously hurt attempting such a foolish move.
Is it my imagination, or are some of the patrons at Kentucky Kingdom some of the strangest-looking folks anywhere? Nine-year-old boys with pierced ears chewing tobacco and spitting on the concrete queue floors. Preteen girls with full-back Harley Davidson tattoos chainsmoking and wearing "I'm Easy" backless halter tops. Bizarre clothing that could best be described as a cartoonish hip-hop style, including bright red faux-suede high-top tennis shoes? Frankly, I've never seen so many tattoos in my life. I was constantly scraping cigarette butts out of the tread on my Teva sandals...gross.
The best things about this park are the ridiculously cheap Six Flags season passes ($44.99, which makes me wish I hadn't bought mine for $85 at SFMM in January, oh well) and the $3 parking, courtesy of the adjacent fairgrounds/expo center (the park shares a common lot). Park lockers are 75¢ each time you access the contents.
For reference, note that in July 1997 when I visited the temperature was in the 90s and the humidity was insane. The park was largely OUT OF ICE and its lone air-conditioned indoor sit-down restaurant had about six tables. Combined with the two-hour queue waits that day, our experience that time was absolutely miserable.
Thankfully, the park now has several sit-down restaurants now, and a good variety of food. Unfortunately, we didn't eat a bite since we spent five hours in line for six rides on four attractions. We even missed the ACE picnic which was supposed to have been at 7pm according to the flyer but according to our meal tickets was actually at 5pm. OOPS!
I'm still amused by the bizarre layout of this park. For those unfamiliar with SFKK, it is built on 60 acres of fairgrounds property that is bisected by the main four-lane access road for the fairgrounds/expo center/Six Flags. As a result, there is a modest pedestrian bridge that must be about a quarter of a mile long that must be crossed to get at all of the major rides with the exception of Hellevator (which is directly in front of you at the entrance plaza) and Roadrunner Express (which is slightly off to the left after entering the park). The "back" part of the park is an ENORMOUS oval, wrapped around the central waterpark area, with no central cut-through. Theoretically, it looks like there should be a way to cut through the middle near Thunder Run, but the park blocked that path near Twisted Sisters. Is this normal? If it is, it's poor policy because it makes the major ride area - an enormous linear path, in effect - take forever to navigate.
About the only novel rides at SFKK are the mind-bogglingly cool "Quake" (which I believe is the lone U.S. example of a Vekoma Waikiki Wave?) and Top Eliminator Dragsters, an extra-price attraction that is actually pretty neat to watch from the adjacent bleachers.
After nighttime ERT finished on Thunder Run around 10PM, we wandered back to the front, stopping at the pop machines (which were thankfully still on) along the way. Unfortunately, the machines did not dispense product after being fed the $2 they demanded. Sweetening the pot with a third dollar bill did not fix the problem, and Guest Relations was a ghost town. Front gate security tracked down an employee to refund my money, however.
The park's front section is attractive and enjoyable. The back section has no shade trees, mostly because there never were any and the area (with the exception of the 1990 Thunder Run/Northwest Territory sections) is too new to have grown any. It's a huge sea of concrete and asphalt. The park isn't particularly exciting, and the ride ops certainly didn't do anything to help that.
In typical Premier fashion, they were filthy, and in a neat extension of the theming of the restrooms, the hallway leading back to them was like walking through Krazy Glue. There were no mirrors on the painted concrete block walls, but you could see the outlines of where they used to be.
T^2 (1995 Vekoma SLC) N/A
We didn't bother with this ride, a standard 5-inversion hang 'n' bang, due to the excessive queue lines. There are better attractions in the park! The post-1998 black paint job is so boring compared to the bright red paint job it had in 1997. You can see the red peeking through all over the structure where the train's wheels have worn through the new paint job.
Hellevator (1995 Intamin Giant Drop) +1
The smallest (and the first) Giant Drop. Fun but not worth the one-hour wait. Why the park would run only 2 of 5 sides (8 of 20 seats) during large crowds is beyond me.
Chang (1997 B & M standup) +1
Chang, with its Medusa-like green and purple paint scheme, is easily the most imposing structure in the park. However, even with two train operation, the sloooooow ride ops kept cycle times at atrociously slow levels. We even had to endure a 20-minute delay as maintenance staff hosed out one of the trains after a park patron puked in one of the middle cars.
Chang may be bigger than Mantis, and have fewer brakes interrupting the ride, but it carried none of the power I associate with Mantis. It was mostly smooth, with only a little headbanging in the corkscrew elements. The inversions occur as follows: vertical loop, dive loop, inclined loop, corkscrews in opposing directions. Riding was a nonevent - very little excitement whatsoever. This was a significant change for the worse from the wonderful rides I had on it in 1997.
Twisted Sisters (1998 C.C.I. dueling woodie) -1
I had such high hopes for this steel-framed, wood-tracked C.C.I. since I expect so much from Custom Coasters as a rule of thumb, and boy was I disappointed. Lola (pink) and Stella (blue) were unbearable. The track on both sides needs grease like nobody's business and the sound of the coasters as they negotiated the track ranged from a screech worse than Mean Squeak, errr, Mean Streak, to an absolute low groan during the second half (the 2nd half was ridiculously slow on both sides). The ride was painful mostly due to overzealous ride ops who insisted on stapling me in, making the ejector air on the first two hills (the only air time on the entire ride) extremely unpleasant.
The only upside to this ride was the beautiful Gerstlauer trains, make up to look like '50s automobiles. The trains have been retrofitted with the 2nd-generation single-piece lapbars.
Roadrunner Express (2000 Maurer Sohne mad mouse) +1
This new attraction looks fun enough from a distance, but once you're on the ride you realize how poorly it compares to Kennywood's Exterminator or Hersheypark's Wild Mouse (my gold standard for mad mouse rides). This uninspired ride has brakes in all sorts of places, effectively snuffing out any air time on the final drops. Laterals are also effectively killed.
Thunder Run (1990 Summers/Dinn double out-and-back) +2
This was running so much better than it did in 1997, and it jumped at least a dozen spots on my woodie rankings! Too bad I only got three rides on this wonderful very compact, smaller woodie due to the huge ACE crowds during our 1-hour nighttime ERT and the unfortunate single-train operation.
Following the lift hill, the train makes a 180 degree left turn and goes down the first drop, which unfortunately is not designed to give any air time at all. At the bottom of the first drop, the train makes another high-positive-G banked 180 degree left turn, then heads immediately in to a series of airtime hills, including one in which the train makes a sudden direction change to the right while riders are still separated from their seats! The second half of the ride consists of some less exciting 180 degree left turns and several smaller bunny hops.
The trains are comprised of 7-car, 2-bench PTC trains with individually ratcheting lap bars, solid headrests (you might as well have a 2x4 there), seat dividers, and lap belts, which are impossibly short on some seats even for average size people!
The ride ops were uninteresting and hardly into their jobs. I've always viewed ride ops like emcees of an event, and during ERT (well, really, any time) when they only spew the scripted corporate spiel over the mike I am kind of disappointed. They did lift UP on lap bars to check them, though!