TR: Kings Island

Mason, OH

May 6, 2012

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“I take back some of the good things I said last time”

 

The second weekend of Kings Island’s season looked a whole lot better than the first. Instead of 50’s and rain, we are looking at 80’s and sun. With that bright outlook, Dave Althoff and I headed back up to the park on Sunday May 6, and arrived shortly after noon. This is our usual arrival time anymore, and it has worked out great as we usually get there just before the church crowd, but after the morning “quick in quick out” crowd has left. This has had the unusual benefit of offering us a close in parking space more often than not. I noted parking is $12 this year, and they handed us a receipt even though we used a parking pass, and the toll collector noted we should hang on to the receipt in case we wanted to leave and return, and to keep it out of the sun. In other words, unlike what most venues want you to do with the parking ticket, and slide it up on your dash. We entered the lot and a sign announced that there would be traffic assistance ahead. Wow, I thought, Kings Island is returning to the day of parking attendants. Well, there was one guy that directed us to use the road that runs along the outer perimeter of the lot instead of the road that goes down the center of the lot, and that was where the traffic assistance ended. A row of cones encouraged us to proceed to the north lot, and we tried our usual tactics of searching the first few rows of general parking for that freshly vacated parking space. Saw a few people heading to their cars for tailgating, but no one leaving, and the lot looked to be pretty busy with a swarm of cars doing much the same thing we are. We head back to the center row, and head to the former Gold Pass parking area, which is no more, and has been returned to general parking. Shame the same thing didn’t happen to the Premium $20 parking lot. The South lot was looking just as bad, but on the outer edge there is a little strip that has been added on where they put tiny 3-4 space wide rows over where the tram path and stops used to be. Not much interest in this tiny lot add on, but with the very faint striping people may not have realized they are spaces, so in the end, yes we scored another decently close parking space. We headed to the front gate, this time coming from the south, so instead of the more congested north side, which contains the ticket office, season pass center, pet kennel, and picnic area (such as it is), the South side is apparently where they allow outside vendors to set up county fair type booths. In the past I gave the park grief for having these kinds of vendors setup inside the park, and when I once again noted how tacky I felt it was for a first class theme park to lower itself to this, Dave did remind me that they aren’t inside the park, so I guess that’s something. It didn’t help that this week’s vendor was Smart Travel, whose reputation on the web is astoundingly bad as a shady time share broker that loves to run dubious contests, such as the one they were running at the park. I ask, this is the kind of organization Cedar Fair would like to associate itself with?

 

We headed into the park, avoided the photo ambush, and soon found our way back to Diamondback. Ugh, let’s see perfect weather day, it should come as no surprise Diamondback had a full queue. The week started off much like last week, where instead of riding rides, we spent time trying to find a ride, any ride that had a short line. Beast, Backlot Stunt Coaster both were sporting long lines, Vortex didn’t look too bad, just a bit longer than the week before, but we weren’t feeling it at the moment. Windseeker still isn’t quite ready to run, but it looked in better shape than last week when it had a bunch of tool chests surrounding the ride. We noted the Dinosaur’s Alive area has changed their marketing plan from last year. Last year, the 3D movie component was marketed as an add on companion film to the walk through, and signs dotted the walk through encouraging you to add the movie to your walk through experience for just $2 more. ($4 if purchased separately). This year the 3D movie is free, and is being used to market the walk through. A sign at the top of the path back to the theatre advertised the free 10 minute film, and if you like it, you may want to try the walk through for just $5. Heading up Coney, we noted Dinosaur Alive is still there as well as its themed party area on the pad where Flight Commander once stood. What is missing is the ticket seller for the walk through. A sign directs you to a bank of vending machines to get the tickets for the walk through, or if you prefer the human touch, the Dinosaurs Alive gift shop can sell you the tickets.

 

 No interest in the walk through, we headed down the mall and took the obligatory walk back to X-Base, so we could honestly say the rides had long lines, on the order of 90-120 minutes each. The park is clever in the regard and has stocked the photo booths for both Firehawk and Flight of Fear with a supply of Fast Lane wristbands, and if you get up to the main ride entrance and complain about the long line, they direct you to the photo booth at the ride exit where you too can purchase the Fast Lane ticket and skip the regular line for this and many other park attractions. It’s somewhere between marking genius and a blatantly tacky money grab. We opted to not upgrade to Fast Lane but noted the booths seemed to be doing a brisk business in selling the wristbands. We continued around the park until we found ourselves in Oktoberfest. The Coca cola Market has been slightly upgraded with fruit stand looking displays rather than putting the iced produce in repurposed soft drink coolers, and the stand seemed to be doing a good business. We also parked ourselves at the exit of Outer Hank’s Burrito Shack, and noted the serving sizes looked to be quite large. (It’s a Chipotle imitation for $7.50, and may turn out to be a great new food stand for the park. I may even try it some time) We finally headed for our first ride of the day, Adventure Express. It has the benefits of having a short queue area, that is also well shaded. We clocked the wait at about 15 minutes and were soon boarding the front seat of the back car. The ride is seemingly getting some care this year, as the final show lift is the best it has been in years, with them finally fixing that door that never seemed to be closed, letting all the light in. As we headed to the platform, a quick glance caught a look at the log they are using to keep stats on the Fast Lane program. Up until 1 PM – the ride had hosted 16 Fast Lane riders. One of the operational changes Fast Lane has brought to the rides, is the addition of a merge point between the Fast and Main lanes. A side effect of this is they are keeping the platforms mostly clear, letting maybe a train or two worth of riders onto the platform at a time. They have also made the merge staff position a value added position as they also check for rider eligibility, and group riders. All that is missing is a turnstile at the entrance to the station and you would have your typical legacy Cedar Fair park operations.

 

 In the case of Adventure Express, Fast Lane riders enter via a new path at the bottom of the exit ramp, which cuts over to the entrance ramp and runs alongside the main entrance for the entire covered section of the queue. The merge is at the station platform where the main line used what was the :Back of train” lane, and Fast Lane uses what was “front of train” From Adventure Express we headed toward Action Zone, where we noted Delirum had a full queue, but Drop Tower had an empty queue, as in the ride was closed. We took the long walk back to Flight Deck, and found the line to be backed up to just about where the original reride gate is. In other words, longer than you would like to wait in, but you’ve come so far you don’t want to turn back. We waited it out, and some time later were passing by the old lower level queue area, and noted the stair chair that was on the stairs from unload to the long disused themed portion of the queue has been removed, and that some minor theming has returned in the form of the model jet fighters that had disappeared a few years ago, leaving an empty mounting stand in the queue area The model jet fighters are flanked by some model warheads, and the model base and fencing behind the display is camouflaged in well camouflage netting. A United States flag completes the scene and serves as a backdrop. Up on the upper level, aircraft carrier style landing stripes have been applied to both the brake run and station areas. Who would think that Cedar Fair is doing a better job with the theming of this ride than Paramount did in their later years. A ride in the front seat of the back car soon followed, and we received the usual fun but short ride. One oddity is that it did not get the Fast Lane treatment.

 

 The other Action Zone rides were, for the most part, part of the former Gold Pass Speed Lane, which means the second line was already there for Delirum and Drop Tower. Delirium Fast Lane path runs right alongside the main path, except it doesn’t go through the switchbacks, and merges at the seat assigner. Drop Tower has a short entry lane next to the main entrance that leads to a second gate just before the main line goes into the main queue house. I’m not sure what they did for Congo Falls, and Invertigo got a brand new path that cuts through the yard underneath the rides cobra roll through a fabric covered tunnel to join up right at the boarding platform., Then we had the long walk back to International Street. On the way, Dave spotted something interesting at the Ice Cream Zone Recall, in last week’s trip report we told the story of wanting to try their new upgraded hot pretzel product, Bavarian Pretzels, and we concluded that they may indeed by great pretzels if not for the fact they were served not only merely warm, but tending towards cold. The Bavarian pretzel is actually made by the same people that make the more common Super Pretzel. The difference is that instead of the all too perfect tubular cross section of the super pretzel that makes it look like a machine made pretzel, the Bavarian Pretzel claims to look and taste more like what one would get in Bavaria. To that end the bottom is much mulkier in terms of being more solid and it looks more homemade, even if it isn’t. As we said, it may be a great pretzel if they start to serve it hot, or at least give us access to a microwave. Of course, we are being nice, in that both of us have had the privilege of going to Bavaria, and enjoying pretzels in Bavaria, and knowing exactly what they should be like. While these, serving temperature aside, come close, they still aren’t quite there. It’s something about the dough, texture and the salt that differ from the genuine article. You may have noticed me commenting a lot on the food, and that is with great reason as the park is embarking on a campaign to improve food service. It seems that, as of late, the parks answer to new food product had been to either bring in an outside vendor, or obtain the franchise rights for either a local or national chain restaurant. While this is good in that people pretty much know what they are going to get, and with the local flair options (LaRosas, Skyline, and Graeters) tourists can sample some of the local favorites. (Though for the first two, they would do better to find a location outside the park), its bad in that people know pretty much what these products should cost, which makes the usual park markups stand out that much more.

 

This year they are rolling out several food initiatives, some of which I have already mentioned in this report. The big news is the Outer Hanks Burrito Shack, which is the park’s take on the trendy and popular Chipotle concept. We haven’t tried it yet, but it looks great. Right across from that stand is the new Coca Cola Market, which as I may have already said is a fruit and salad stand much like those seen at those big Florida theme parks. This I have tried, and it seems to be a big hit. Upgrading to the Bavarian Pretzel, and be assured they have put a Bavarian pretzel stand anywhere they could fit a display case, is another example, as is going to another trendy item, the “Fresh never frozen” hamburger, which along with ‘gourmet’ toppings has taken over at the parks three major hamburger stands (Stunt Crew Grill, Festhaus, and Juke Box Diner) . Is it just me or has the hamburger even replaced the hot dog as the typical park meal, let alone Bratwurst and Mettwurst, which seem to sell exceedingly well at every major venue in Cincinnati except Kings Island, which is not too shocking given the towns big German heritage. Part of that is the availability of brats, we ran into a park food services director last week, and he told us they would be available at Soak City, but as of now not available in the ride park. Just this week, the park installed a Freestyle Coke machine in the Burrito Shack, and that’s only a small part of what the park has done with soft drinks. Dave mentioned to me that the park made an announcement regarding rolling back the pricing on soft drinks. Which is true, the 20 ounce bottles in the machines and shops went from $4 opening weekend to $3.50 this weekend. Not quite as low as I’d like, but it’s a step in the right direction. Looking at fountain drinks, it looks like the price on a regular may have gone down about 20-30 cents. But Dave pointed out the myriad of options available with the souvenir container program. I can’t really call it a cup, as its more of a beverage vessel, with a 44 ounce capacity, and shaped more like a thermos or giant bottle. It seems you can pay $9.99 to buy one of these, and it comes with a fountain drink. Okay, not a great deal, but you can have these refilled for $1.99, which is a great deal. Better yet, for an extra $5 on the day of purchase only, you can have unlimited refills. Now, this just may bring drinking soft drinks in the park down to a reasonable level. Take your typical family of four. One round of drinks would cost the family $14 (bottles or regular size fountain drinks), for just one dollar more, the family can buy the souvenir jug for $9.99, put a $5 refill program on it, and for $15 that family can have all the soft drinks they can stand. They only need to figure out a way to get cups into the park. OR, just get the free water cups. Sure they are small, but with 4 people involved that 44oz jug comes out to 11 oz a person, perhaps two of those tiny medicine cups full of coke each. At any rate, it caps the families expense on soft drinks to a set limit, and the get to take a souvenir home with them, all for $15.

 

Of course, I’d still rather have the $10 wirstband drink program they offered a couple seasons ago, as then you don’t have to tote around the big jug, which is nice when you are alone, or with just one other person, both of whom are riding. We headed up to International Street, and noticed the name of the show in the Kings Island Theater, something about magic and mayhem, and we noted that sounds more like something for haunt. Speaking of Haunt our next stop was Boo Blasters, but not before noticing the park took out the big planters in the middle of International Street outside of LaRosas and Skyline which really opens up those two areas for more seating. Boo Blasters had a Gold Pass Speed Lane entry so that is used for Fast Lane and runs alongside the main line, except again, for skipping the switchbacks, and merges right before the final turn of the queue. The ride had a full queue house and the line was just past the drawbridge, the sign was posting 30 minutes, but then it should be a Scare Conditioned line. The ride safety sign claims the cars can seat 5, say what? At any rate they only have three Boo Blasters per car. The good news is most of the stunts are working, well except for the simple looking one where the skeleton is chasing the guy in circles, and the mist screen projection. The mist screen was there, just not the projection. The cars seemed to be moving slower than usual, which caused some timing issues in the skeleton rooms at the end, but did allow us to get higher than average scores. Our car didn’t have any audio from the Boo Blasters, but on the other hand they were more accurate and functionally were better than average. As Shaggy would have said, “Try to hit the targets Dead On!”

 

From Boo Blasters we went to Woodstock Express, another coaster which did not get Fast Lane. The Express must come from the tire launch out of the station. The queue for this classic PTC junior coaster was about 2/3 full, and for reasons I won’t get into seemed to be taking longer than it should have. Still, the park seemed to have done some trackwork on its wood coasters this off season, and Woodstock Express is running great, so great, that perhaps they could consider getting rid of the mid course trim brake, which is not installed on 3 identical coasters the chain operates. From Woodstock Express, we headed to Surf Dog. Surf Dog got a new Fast Lane path that cuts right through the infield between the main queue and the loading area, via a new stairway. You may recall the ride had two loading gates, of which it only used 1 the last couple seasons. Now Fast lane goes to one gate, and the main line to the other. All told, up to now Fast Lane really hasn’t been an issue. We saw 3 or 4 families come up for Fast Lane during our wait for this ride, and maybe 1 or 2 families for Boo Blasters. We were particularly lucky that there was no one for Fast Lane when it was out turn as we were destined to the first people loaded on a cycle, which meant we got end seats in Row 1, an outer row, which means we got the best Surf Dog has to offer. When you sit here it’s a great ride, the center of rows 3 or 4, not so much. From Surf Dog, we noted the water maze was closed, and more or less skipped the area with Flying Ace, Race for your Life Charlie Brown, and the Kite Flyer, and headed back to Diamondback, Ugh, still a full queue. We’ll try again later.

 

 We did note that as part of the new food program, the Snake Pit seemed to be doing a good job at selling its new Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. I just wonder if that stand will be too small to meet the demand. We were approached the train just as it was arriving, so we took a no wait ride on the train. We had a much better narrator this week, and I noted some work has been done on the western town scene. It’s minor work, but at least they are doing something with it. One of the new businesses in town is the mortuary “You Stab Em, We Slab Em” I did a double take when I actually saw that on the sign for the mortuary. From the train, we noted the former site of the Crypt, and that a photo booth has been placed blocking the path up to the ride. We headed towards Beast but it was sporting at least an hour wait and a full looking queue. I noted the portable merchandise cart sitting outside the ride was offering Fast Lane wristbands for sale.. We did take a walk through the arcade, and at first I commented “The prices on the games really look reasonable” Then, I noticed the price of game tokens has gone up to 50 cents. In Rivertown, Fast Lane is using the former single rider line for Diamondback, I would presume Race for Your Life is using the former Gold Pass entrance, Beast is curious as they redid the queue after discontinuing Gold Pass Speed Lane. So Beast is a real weird one, you go about halfway up the exit ramp, to just before the three wooden ramps up to the unload deck, then the signs direct you through what was a service gate, where you walk along what was a service path, which ultimately leads you to a staircase and you enter the platform through a gate by the back seat lane. Similar to what they had done at a few ERT events to shorted the walk around. Backlot still had a sizeable line, so we started lap two. I noted Three Point Challenge has been visited by Mr. Dowdell but he has only managed 13 points so far this year, then again it is only the fourth day of the season, give him time to warm up. Running alongside the back wall of the game is a hall of fame of sorts listing all his perfect games. Yeah, that’s sort of cool, to have the game do your bragging for you.

 

As we enter Coney to finish up the Fast Lane entrance remarks, Backlot Stunt Coaster is using the former Gold Pass Speed Lane, Shake Rattle & Roll is using the ride exit, Windseeker has a new entry gate so they cut/merge into the gueue right at the seat assigner, and Vortex has a new bridge over the track at the downtrack end of the station. You enter by the exit, cross over the track, and then down into the station where you walk along the station perimeter to the middle of the back of the station, and then merge in. Vortex had a line like last week, so we got in line and waited. Last week Vortex was going out with empty seats as the station congestion caused by everybody trying to enter through one lane meant people couldn’t get through to the end seats This week they are trying to fix that problem by assigning seats. Of course, they still can’t assign the seats fast enough, so trains are still going out with empty seats. Even worse, for those with long legs this means a 50% chance of a seat that at best will be uncomfortable, and at worst you can’t ride in. Great. We are usually back car riders, but the fickle seat assigner sent us towards the front. Wow, it’s a lot smoother and more pleasant in the back. From Vortex we headed to catch the 3D Dinosaurs Alive movie. You could see the remnants of the ticket takers work station, and we had a one show wait. Inside the theater, the motion bases have been removed, and you can tell where the floor has been patched up, and along the back of each row, it looks like they fashioned some benches out of carpeting over a wood box type structure. It looks like a real cheap redo, but hey they could have just used folding chairs like Ghost Town in the Sky did. At the conclusion of the movie, we compared notes and commented that its most redeeming quality is 10 minutes in a cold, dark theatre. Nap Time, if only the movie were about 5-10 minutes longer. They were nice enough to put a loud sound effect at the end of the movie to wake you up

 

 We made our way through the much thinner exit path now that haunt has claimed half the building. We checked in on the Goblet Toss game, you know the one, throw the wiffle ball at a table covered with goblets, get the ball to stop in the correct color goblet, win a prize. Yeah, it’s mostly a game of chance. This year they have gone all Angry Birds with it, even having Angry Birds banners, which is strange as down the midway they have a slingshot game that all but screams Angry Birds and they are going out of their way to not make the association, They have made Goblet Toss harder by putting in a rule that the particular Angry Bird you get is based on the color of the goblet. Want the full set, you need to cover all the different colors. And no prize trading either. We checked in on X-Base, still way to long of lines here, for Firehawk the Fast Lane is also the ADA access path, and for Flight of Fear, you also pretty much use the ADA entry, at least to totally shunt the waiting area, and you get placed in line right at the seat queues. Dodgem uses the new exit they put in just last year, returning the exit to its rightful spot, Scrambler has a new gate in back of the ride, and Monster has a new gate next to the exit nearest the arcade. Racer has a new path that runs between the ride and the queue house and sends people up the former Red Racer entry. Racer actually benefits from this in that they removed part of the fence down the center of the station, so now when you get to the top of the ramp it is much less congested, and you can choose a seat on either side. Racer and Vortex in particular could both stand for a queue area redesign if they decide to make Fast Lane permanent, as both have lost as much as half of their queue area. We took a walk past Carousel, and noted they are still using recorded band organ music, instead of using the live band organ, and went to see the park from atop the Eiffel Tower.

 

Well, we got into a conversation with a worker up top and spent way more time than we had planned on, but it was a nice time, so I’m not complaining. I did notice that on Backlot Stunt Coaster the white train was consistently much slower looking than the other two. From Tower, we noted we had about an hour left, so we headed to Diamondback, and indeed the line had died down to the point where it was only using two or three switchbacks in the covered queue house, as well as both switchbacks in the second queue area. Still we waited about 30-40 minutes and were rewarded with a firm seat assignment in the worst seats on the train, dead center. “We’ve been Bucked!” And just last week, I was praising them for getting rid of the seat assigner on this ride. After that ride, Dave and I Split up, he took another Diamondback ride, and I headed to Beast. By this time Beast was down to 15 minutes and the line was completely inside the top queue house. To my chagrin they were also assigning seats here, but hey at least fate shined on me, and I was the first out for my particular train, so back row for me. Beast received its lift approach flag back (it was missing opening weekend), and out on the course a lot of track work was evident between the second trim brake and the former brake shed (still a brake in there, of course), as well as the ground hugging part between the U-Tunnel and lift 2. Like Racer and Woodstock, the ride is running as best it has in a while, that said the ride still isn’t too exciting. I made my way back to Diamondback, where I think Dave was on almost the last train of the night, as I saw him in that same miserable center seat when the train pulled into the station.

 

 On our way out of the park, we decided to try another one of their food improvements, the new funnel cake recipe. We each had the a funnel cake with strawberry topping (which they said is now made in house from real strawberries), whipped cream and powdered sugar. Very good actually, and I see funnel cakes have not lost any of their luster as being end of the night park snacks. From the funnel cake stand, we headed up International Street, I noted the new overly complicated looking electronic lockers, and we headed out the gate and to Red Robin for burgers before heading home. All told, we were at the park for about 7 hours, and managed to partake in 11 attractions. I guess that’s better than last Sautrday where despite the bad weather and smaller lines, we needed 9 hours to accomplish that much.

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