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The BLOGFlume—Bottom of the Barrel

Italian Job debuts, trouble in China, and fight club in Valencia.

Written by Russell Meyer
Published: May 25, 2005 at 8:48 PM

Take This Job
Cincinati Post 5/19/05

With all of the other big openings and news over the weekend, it seems that one new attraction has been overlooked. Paramount’s Kings Island officially opened The Italian Job Stunt Track over the weekend. When it was announced last fall, Italian Job was one of the most anticipated new attractions of 2005, but it seems that its opening has been overshadowed by much larger and more glamorous machines: SheiKra and Kingda Ka. In fact, reviews for the new highly themed coaster are rather difficult to find, and are not as positive as one would have expected. Italian Job’s trains look just like three bumper-to-bumper Mini Coopers, complete with operating doors. Linear induction motors on three different sections of the ride launch the trains through a parking garage, subway station, and a splashdown section. The cars feature flashing lights, rear view mirrors, and an interesting feature that allows the cars to “spin” out around tight corners. From the descriptions, Italian Job Stunt Track sounds like the coaster of the year, but apparently, the relatively slow 40 MPH top speed and fake-looking special effects and cardboard-like props cannot live up to the hype. Instead of being one of the best themed and most exciting roller coasters in the country, it turns into an overblown kiddie coaster. However, a number of the reviews I have seen are from “coaster” people who may have been expecting something more exciting, and with two incredibly intense coasters also making their debut, Italian Job might seem like a letdown compared to SheiKra and Kingda Ka. Paramount’s Kings Island may be shifting its focus from coaster fans to families, and the early reviews from coaster fans do not represent the target audience for Italian Job. Paramount may not have been able to get as much nationwide publicity with the opening of its new coaster- however, by the end of the year, Italian Job Stunt Track could end up being the biggest hit for families as coaster fans gravitate to New Jersey and Tampa.

In the Soup
Reuters 5/22/05

It appears that Hong Kong Disneyland may have found itself in some hot water, or should I say hot soup. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has slammed the park before it has even opened its gates for wanting to serve Chinese specialties in its restaurants. The main dish in question is a rather popular delicacy in China, shark fin soup. The main ingredient of the soup is harvested in a rather inhumane way by slaughtering the entire shark by removing just its fins. The sharks are also frequently overfished, as they are an important species of the ocean near the top of the ecological food chain. Disney has said that the special menu items have been reserved for special banquets at the guests’ request. The soup is a staple of Chinese wedding banquets, and if Hong Kong Disneyland wants to hold these events, they must have the soup available. Disney has been put into a corner, and no matter what decision they make, they will not be able to make everyone happy. While the negative publicity around the world will slightly scar the Disney name, taking the soup off the menu could severely affect their business in a market that they are trying to attract for the first time. Perhaps Disney could find a way to harvest the primary ingredient in a more humane fashion, but until they can find another way, soup’s on.

A Really X-Treme Park
The Signal 5/23/05

Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California is often referred to as the X-treme park. With 16 roller coasters- granted, they never all run on the same day anymore- and some of the most unique designs on the planet, Magic Mountain used to be on of the top parks in Southern California. However, over the past few years, the park has seen its image tarnished by uninspired employees, non-existent ride maintenance, and unbearable lines. Now the park must deal with a new problem, fights. This weekend saw a fight that involved 25 park guests, some incurring a number of minor injuries, and it was not the first instance of fighting in the park this season. For the 2005 season, Magic Mountain lowered its season pass price to the cost of a standard daily admission. This single move could be the cause of these incidents. With a park overcrowded with people who have paid very little to enter, the repercussions of being ejected are not even enough of a deterrent to prevent miscreants from wreaking havoc. While the lower price of season passes is great for those who live on a tight budget, those cut-rate discounts have turned a once promising park into a gang-riddled playground.

What can Six Flags do to fix this obvious problem?

They could quickly solve the problem by adjusting the price of their season passes and daily tickets. They could lower the single day admission to a thrifty $35-$40, and raise the season passes back up to $100 or more. The guests who pay for single-day admissions are more likely to be families or tourists, and are probably less likely to misbehave in the park. By increasing the season pass price, the park ejection and pass revocation penalty for misbehavior is also increased, and could lower these type of incidents. However, Six Flags really cannot change its policy halfway through a season, and must come up with a way to deal with these problems now. They first need to start with their employees, who always seem to turn a blind eye to misbehavior and lawlessness. Six Flags had supposedly hired a new staffing firm that would be more selective when hiring new employees, and provide more comprehensive training for all park employees. Six Flags needs to identify employees who are willing to report dangerous activity, and enforce park rules, and place them in locations where incidents are more likely to occur. They also need to find employees who turn their back, and show those employees the door. I’ve seen it on a number of occasions where park employees, not just at Six Flags parks either, who allow guests to break rules because they are afraid of not being cool, or are afraid of being ganged up on by rowdy guests. Whatever they decide to do, Six Flags needs to put their foot down, and let it be known that these types of incidents are not acceptable in their parks. Without a firm stance, line cutting, smoking, and fighting will continue, and could lead to something much more serious.

Readers' Opinions

From Kevin Baxter on May 25, 2005 at 10:40 PM
SFMM's security has long been problematic. While all the front-gate procedures are more than welcome, those undesirables are still coming in with their undesirable attitudes. SFMM has attendance problems every year now. You think it might have something to do with the fact that most of us don't want to spend a day of fun amongst a bunch of gangbangers, thugs and wannabes? (And those come in all skin colors!) Screw the lame "No More Sexual Deviants" rhetoric and start advertising BETTER SECURITY. And back it up! SFMM will never recover until people feel safe there.

As for Italian Job, I think you nailed the problem there. Except you left out Curse of DarKastle, which is getting even more press, and is probably closer to the Italian Job coaster than the other two, being it's more of a family ride also.

That said, I did some of my own perusing and almost everything I discovered was positive to very positive. Shortness was the only real complaint, as most people, even coaster people, realize this isn't meant to compare to the likes of Kingda Ka or SheiKra (which is the correct spelling, so everyone else start using it!).

From Russell Meyer on May 26, 2005 at 5:56 AM
The main publicity problem that PKI has experienced is that, to no fault of their own, two much bigger and more glamorous projects debuted on the same weekend. Kingda Ka should have made its debut three weeks ago, and most of us would be talking about its inconsistant operation by now. A lot of the top coaster media were at the other two premiers, so the press is very thin on Italian Job. I have seen some possitive reviews, but a lot of the coaster boards (not the most reliable source for opinions I know) are not terribly impressed, and were hoping for something more along the lines of the Mummy attractions only outside.

One day this summer, I'll hopefully make it over to Cincy and take a spin so I can experience for myself.

From TH Creative on May 26, 2005 at 7:19 AM

"No soup for you!"

I look forward to the Mainland China Disney park where we can dine on panda steaks.

By the way, congratulations to Robert Niles for having been quoted in the latest issue of Readers Digest. When I read the quote I assumed that was also his photo on the cover. In fact it turned out to be Tom Cruise.

From Robert Niles on May 26, 2005 at 9:43 AM
By the way, allow me to take responsibility for not assigning a freelancer to write a staff review of Italian Job for TPI. That was a brain-fade on my part, sorry. I hope one of our Cincinnati-area readers will grace us with a trip report and review soon.

I don't know how much family appeal Italian Job would have, given that the source was a relatively grown-up film. But not every coaster need be an extreme stomach-pumper. Coaster-based attractions like USF's Revenge of the Mummy ought to be welcomed. Again, it's all in the execution of the show elements.

As for Magic Mountain, the best security force in the world is mothers. When SFMM abandoned the family market for "extreme"-seeking teens, it forsook the stability and security that a park filled with families provides in favor of park filled with... extreme-seeking teens. And, gosh what is this? They like to fight? Wow, what a surprise.

Six Flags can hire all the security officers it wants. But unless it wants the park to have all the charm of a maximum security prison, the company would better spend its money on dark rides and family attractions that would bring the mothers back.

From Jason Lester on May 26, 2005 at 5:36 PM
Dark rides and family attractions just aren't MM style. They go for the huge scream machines that draw in gangs and violence and make the rides fun, but the park suck. MM liks to be bad from the lack of effort to make the park nice.

And yes, I do like the idea of dark rides.

From Robert OGrosky on May 26, 2005 at 7:06 PM
Why no mention of other new coasters that have come on line recently, like Hades at Mt. Oympus in Wisc. Dells or Power Keg at Silver Dollar City. Both have gotten excellant reviews and the latter has very good theming for a coaster and for a luanch style coaster a height limit of 42 inches which makes it better for the whole family to enjoy.
From Derek Potter on May 26, 2005 at 7:49 PM
I plan to get to Kings Island in the very near future (possibly as early as Memorial Day), and will be sure to fill everyone in.

The reviews are indeed hard to find for a couple of reasons. First, it's not what one would call a coaster enthusiast's dream. The 40 foot tall 40 mph stats aren't an immediate attention grabber for those who usually immediately review coasters. Despite the fact that it's themed after an adult action movie, Italian Job is indeed a family coaster that's built for young riders. Second, despite PKI's growing status in the theme park world, it doesn't garner the attention that a park in Florida or California gets. My theory is this. There are three kinds of attractions that attract the media....record breakers, first of a kind rides, and new rides in Florida and California. Maybe that would explain to you why parks like Cedar Point, the Six Flags franchise, and other regional parks are always building record breakers. I have always contended that there are a handful of parks in the midwest and the east that are better than many of the superexposed Florida and California theme parks, but they either don't get the attention they deserve because of their location, or are dismissed because of their location.

From what I have read, there are three kinds of reviews. Most of the reviews are good...most of the local PKI familiars like the ride. There are some haters who wanted the next giga coaster and don't see the ride for what it is....dismissing the ride because it's not 300 feet and 80 mph. A few are still sour about the flying eagles as well. If there are any notions about cardboard cutouts and such, I wouldn't listen to them. I've yet to go and see the finished product, but I do know for a fact (from the second construction tour and pictures) that there are real police cars, real barrels and road signs, and the helicopter that "shoots" at the cars is real as well. The target audience here certainly isn't ACE, it's the family, so I would expect many reviews to be biased. The coaster has only been open for about a week anyway, and I would wait a little while before passing judgement. I suspect that the ride may be a little tame for my liking, but so is Adventure Express, another family coaster at PKI. Adventure Express is the second most ridden ride at the park, and Italian Job will be a family hit this summer.

My next question is this. What isn't wrong with Magic Mountain? You can't count on rides being opened, you can't count on customer service...now you can't even count on being safe? The ticket price increase would probably help the problem a little bit, but as long as people think that they can run free at the park, the problem will always be there. This park needs a few dozen extra bouncers who aren't afraid to get physical or crack some skulls if necessary. I realize that an amusement park is no place for violence, but if the problem is that bad, than MM needs to get control immediately.

Finally, here's a link to an aerial shot of PKI's Italian Job on Media Day.

http://photos.pkicentral.com/displayimage.php?album=lastup&cat=0&pos=21

From Kevin Baxter on May 27, 2005 at 4:43 AM
Valid points all, but that doesn't explain why Italian Job and DarKastle got ALL the focus when it came to rumors but aren't getting the focus the two coasters are getting now that they are open?

A lot of that has to do with us. Just look at TPI. WE were probably the biggest site to jump all over both THEMED rides, but we didn't give short shrift to Kingda Ka. Maybe we didn't focus on SheiKra enough, but we did cover the entire remodeling over there. Why did we do this? Because people on our site are extremely interested in the themed rides. Coasters are all well and good, but if you want to get dorky over a coaster, there are much better sites for that. We cover the whole experience, and as such, we tend to cover rides and attractions with more experience.

That said, once all the rides opened, suddenly coaster talk comes alive. Maybe because it's exciting to wonder what will be in a themed ride, but by the time it opens, we kinda know what to expect. Coasters on the other hand, aren't really all that interesting until they're built. Then you can start to imagine actually riding them.

Then again, if these weren't such major coasters, no one would be paying much attention to them here at all. Just like those other ones mentioned. Just my philosophy.

From Russell Meyer on May 27, 2005 at 5:36 AM
To answer Mr. O'Grosky's question, I did write on the other two coaster additions near each coaster's opening day. I wrote about Hades just before its opening on May 15, To The Other Side and Back and I wrote about Powder Keg on March 27, Happy Easter.

Sadly, I cannot make it to the opening of every coaster, and I do have a full time "day job," so I cannot burn all of my vacation traveling all over the country covering attraction opening media days. I live in Alexandria, VA, so I can reasonably cover media events at Kings Dominion, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Six Flags America, Hersheypark, Six Flags Great Adventure, and Dorney Park. I would love to take a spin on every new attraction every year, but I have to set priorities, and I can only manage one or two big theme park trips per year, and that usually means hitting the bigger parks in California and Florida every year or two since most of the activity occurs there. I'm in the middle of planning a pretty big trip to Orlando later this year, and hope to make it to Dollywood, Carrowinds, Kings Island, Six Flags Darien Lake, and possibly Six Flags New England. There are a lot of the theme parks on my list to get to in the near future, and Silver Dollar City and Mt. Olympus are definitely two of them, but until I can make it to experience them, I can only write on reports from reputable sources and general opinions from fan sites. Unfortunately while both of those coasters were highly anticipated in the coaster community, because of their geographic locations, not a lot of people have had a chance to get to them yet. Anyone who would like to submit a review of either or both of those great looking attractions, feel free to post a trip report.


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