The Koehl Family and Rao Family Visit The Corn Fields of Santa Claus, Indiana! - Part One

Edited: February 15, 2016, 8:52 PM ·

[Editor's note: Robert here to apologize to James for completely forgetting to post this for him when he sent it to me a couple of months ago. It's a fun post, and I hope that you will enjoy it! Sorry again that I didn't get this to y'all sooner.]

Today, your favorite roving TPI reporter, Johnny On The Spot, author of such notable articles as Dr. Smartmove or: How I Learned to Stop Arguing and Love Both Disney and Universal, and Of Mice and Mean: The Life of Michael Eisner, is here to bring you another article of the long running, and highly lauded series, Meet the Insiders or: Here’s Another Offering to the God of TPI, Robert Niles, for Which I Will Receive Less Than Minimum Wage, but I Am Still Grateful. In today’s Meet the Insiders, our victims subjects are James Rao, hailing from the great Show-Me-State of Missouri, and Jim Koehl, heralding all the way from the shores of Ohio’s perch infested Lake Erie. These two illustrious Theme Park Insiders have graced us with a number of fantastic articles in the past, most notably Mr. Rao’s way-too-long epic Rao Family vacation trip reports, and Mr. Koehl’s lovingly crafted and overly romanticized tales of Cedar Point’s overly romanticized past. But today they are here to talk with us about their summer trip to Louisville’s Kentucky Kingdom and Santa Claus, Indiana’s Holiday World.

Johnny On The Spot (JS): Gentlemen, thank you for joining me today. It is a real pleasure to speak with such stalwart Theme Park Insiders! Mr. Koehl, as you are obviously the elder statesman in this duo, let me start with you. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your son Anton, and shed some light on why in the world a hard core coaster boy like you would use valuable vacation time to meet up with (for the second year in a row) a bunch of Mickey-ear-wearing mouse lovers like the Rao Family?

Jim Koehl (JK): What’s to tell?  I live in Ohio, a state that has been totally occupied by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company ever since it overpaid purchased Kings Island and stole scavenged pillaged re-landscaped Geauga Lake into a lovely park called Greyfield Land (look it up in Wikipedia).  I suppose it could be worse – Six Flags cut their losses and pulled out of the state in 2004 and Disney (unlovingly known to many around here as the Black Rat of Orlando) has no interest in any location that has all four seasons in one year (sometimes in one day).  So we have Cedar Point and Kings Island, two parks that between them have enough coaster track to connect Orlando and Anaheim...and exactly two dark rides.   But it is home.  My son, Anton, is sixteen, and if they ever create a coaster with a built-in, on-line, gaming computer in the lap restraints he will have found his Nirvana.

Now seriously, I first went to Cedar Point in 1964, where I rode my first roller coaster, the Blue Streak, in its first year.  I was eight years old, and I’ve loved Cedar Point ever since.  I feel fortunate to be able to watch how it has grown from a small local park with some rather ordinary rides, some beautiful old buildings, and the longest beach on Lake Erie into what is one of the premier amusement parks in the world.  My wife Lin and I adopted my son Anton from Kazakhstan in 2004 when he was five years old, and as he has grown both in height and stature – he’s a fine young man. And I have always been amazed at his remarkable (and sometimes frightening) lack of fear.  The first year he was tall enough (by 1/4 inch) to ride Millennium Force I looked over at him as we started up the 310 foot lift hill and he had his hands up already, gave a huge yawn, kept his hands up the entire ride, then at the end complained that it made his legs tingle.  Anton is what Cedar Point calls a Ride Warrior.

Why would I want to spend a vacation with the Rao family?  I could make some snide remark about how good it makes me feel to be 5’10” tall and still be six inches taller than James.  I could comment about how much fun it was talking him into trying one of Cedar Point’s amazingly-delicious Perch sandwiches and the equally amazing shade of green he turned when he saw the fish comes with the skin still attached.  I could mention that I loved how he mispronounced just about every town name in Ohio.  But those would be cheap shots.  I won’t do that.  Once again, seriously, James and his family are among the nicest people I have ever met – after ten minutes together his sons, Jacob and Jeremy, and my son, Anton, acted like life-long, best friends.  His wife Robin and daughter Emma are as charming as they are attractive, and James has an almost fanatical love of and knowledge about coasters and theme parks in general.  And as much as he complains about flat spinner rides he rarely passes up riding one.  They’re a great family, and after spending two days at Cedar Point with them last summer I knew that making our first visit to Kentucky Kingdom and Holiday World with them would be a memorable experience – in a good way!

JS: Thank you, Jim, for the background story about the Koehl/Rao reunion.  I hope that James paid you more for those kind words than my editor will be paying me for this lame a-- story. Now, James (not to be confused with Jim), it’s your turn.  Tell us about yourself, your family, your strange addiction to photographs of food and your passionate love of all things themed and rideable.

James Rao (JR): Well, Johnny, most TPI regulars know my story:  I was born of goodly parents and spent the first twelve years of my life in California (Simi Valley and Fremont respectively).  I cut my teeth at parks like Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (where everybody has a good time) and Marriott's Great America.  When I was almost thirteen we moved to Annandale, Virginia, where I visited Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens Williamsburg a few times before settling in Missouri – near Kansas City – when I was about 15 years old.  I am now 47 years old and have a family of my own: my wife, Robin, and three kids, Jacob, Jeremy, and Emma.

As a family we made our first trip to Walt Disney World (just the Magic Kingdom) in 2002 right around the 4th of July, and while it was busy, I had a rudimentary touring plan so we had a fantastic adventure.  We've been hooked on WDW and highly themed, narrative theme park experiences ever since.  And while we love the immersive nature of a WDW vacation above all others (not to slight Universal, SeaWorld, or Silver Dollar City, they do a pretty good job too), we are also huge coaster fans and usually look outside of Orlando when we want to satisfy our more thrill oriented needs.  In 2014 we visited Kings Island and Cedar Point where we toured with the amazing Koehl family, and this year we could hardly resist a trip back to nearby Holiday World – which is about six and a half hours from KC – when they announced they would open the World's first launched wing rider.  Additionally the budget would not allow for the all-encompassing Florida trip percolating in my head – Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, and BGT – nor would we be able to visit with our new found friends from Ohio, Jim and Anton Koehl, who are decidedly against all things CaliFlorida – a term originally coined by Jim but made famous by his plagiarizing buddy, Jeff Elliott. Therefore the trip to Holiday World became a no brainer, and with newly re-opened Kentucky close by, it was added on as an afterthought to get a few extra coaster credits.

As for my, “strange addiction to photographs of food,”I will respond with a question of my own:  what TPI regular DOESN'T take food photos?  Come on, Johnny, you know better than that!

JS: Agreed. Now, James, tell me why a coaster boy like you and the rest of the Rao family coaster boys – except for the girls, who are, well, not really coaster boys, but....uh…you know what I mean – why would you decide to go to a, I use there term loosely, theme park like Kentucky Kingdom, which is not really world famous as a coaster mecca?

JR: I guess you could say that with the birth of the Holiday World trip came the inevitable afterbirth: the Kentucky Kingdom trip.  Basically KK was close by, had a one year old coaster I was interested in riding – Lightning Run – and seemed a cheap add on to an already fairly inexpensive trip – we spent around $1,250 on the whole excursion.  And, with still less than 200 coasters under my belt, I could use the additional coaster credits.  As it turned out, we probably should have just visited Kings Island again instead, but I am sure we'll get more into that subject later.

JS: Thanks, James.  Your answers so far have been both extremely long and amazingly boring.  I guess that's what I deserve for not asking you yes or no questions.  No chance I will get an award for this piece to be sure.  Sheesh.

JR:  Hey waitaminute....

JS: Moving on...Mr. Koehl, tell us about your time in Kentucky.  Where did you stay, what restaurants did you visit, and how did you like your day at Kentucky Kingdom?

JK: I’ll try to keep it a bit briefer than James.  Anton and I decided to visit Kings Island on our way to Kentucky, so we left a day early and spent that evening and the following morning riding some great coasters.  Anton had not been there since he was five years old and didn’t remember anything about it, so he added ten coasters to his coaster count on that visit.  We left early afternoon and headed down I-71 towards Louisville, KY.  Traffic was not too bad, and we arrived at the Embassy Suites that James had chosen as our home base.  It was easy to find, but was in the middle of a business park.  A rather strange location, but the hotel was beautiful, reasonably priced, offered large suites, a really nice pool/hot tub and work-out room and a restaurant where they served a terrific breakfast buffet with a chef preparing grill items to order.  The Raos arrived about an hour after we did, and after meeting up with them we headed out to discover downtown Louisville.  I let James drive, since he had a minivan that could hold all of us, and since he had done a huge amount of planning for this trip I assumed that he knew where he was going.  His idea of knowing where he was going involves punching in random addresses into his phone, setting it on the dashboard, cranking up Fall Out Boy and randomly weaving between lanes of traffic while driving in the general direction of some tall buildings he saw that might be located near downtown while singing at the top of his lungs.  Mean Streak at Cedar Point was less stressful and less painful...but not nearly as much fun.

God exists, because that is the only way we safely arrived at a parking garage only a block from our destination, a terrific restaurant called The Troll Pub Under the Bridge.  It’s not hard to find the restaurant – it is located under a bridge, and there is a huge statue of a Troll towering over passersby directing them to the stairs that lead down to the pub’s basement entrance. There was an hour wait for a table because there was a concert by NKOTB at an arena just a block from the restaurant.  We left our phone number with the restaurant to call us while we walked around the area and checked out the sites.  Downtown Louisville is a really exciting place, with a huge number of sidewalk cafes, microbreweries, fancy restaurants, etc., but we decided to stick with our decision to eat at the Troll because it was reputed to have one of the best Hot Brown sandwiches (an open-faced sandwich with turkey and bacon covered with Mornay sauce, then broiled until the bread becomes crispy) in Louisville.  We got a call from the restaurant just a short time later – several parties cancelled or left early and they had a table for us.  We got there, got seated, checked out the menu, then were informed by our really terrific waiter that they were out of waffles (so no chicken and waffles) and...believe it or not...they were also out of bacon.  No bacon.  That meant no Hot Brown Sandwich.  James was shocked, disappointed, whining, but finally accepted the inevitable.  We all found something else on the menu to try – I had fish and chips, not as good as Lake Erie perch but adequate, and my son Anton decided to do something stupid and ordered a burger with buffalo hot sauce and jalapeno peppers.  The meals were wonderful and we all enjoyed them, even Anton...for a while.  After leaving the restaurant we returned to the car and headed to a local ice cream parlor called the Comfy Cow.  As we careened through the streets of Louisville admiring some of the most beautiful homes we had ever seen Anton got really quiet.  By the time we got to the Comfy Cow he was not feeling very well...the buffalo sauce and jalapenos were doing a number on his stomach.  He decided not to press his luck and passed up some of the best ice cream I have ever had (outside of Toft’s Ice Cream at Cedar Point).  This fun, eclectic corner ice cream parlor had an amazing selection of flavors to choose from.  I had a chocolate-dipped waffle cone with a huge scoop of Chocolate Fudgesicle sherbet topped with a scoop of Fresh Ground Coffee ice cream.  I lost track of what everyone else was eating – I was too focused on the terrific tastes in front of me. Anton was a trooper and sat with us, quietly sweating and just a little bit green.  After finishing our ice cream we headed back to the hotel and burned off some of the calories by checking out the pool – even Anton joined us.

The next morning started out pouring rain, but by the time we had finished breakfast and had planned on leaving for Kentucky Kingdom the rain had stopped.  We boarded the Raomobile and soon found ourselves driving around the totally unsigned drives that wander through the parking lot of the Kentucky Exposition Center, which shares a parking lot with Kentucky Kingdom.  Somehow we found the right lot and were able to park quite close to the front gate of the park.  I’ll let James go into detail about the technical specs of the park, coasters, etc.  I’ll just give my opinion of the park and its aesthetics, layout and overall appearance.  It’s a rather strange layout, with the park divided into two sections by a public street.  A single pedestrian bridge crosses the street connecting the two halves of the park.  As far as appearance, it’s a very attractive park, although there is nothing that I saw that reminded me of a “kingdom” other than two thrones in the children’s area for people to sit on and pose for pictures.  That being said, the park was very clean, the buildings looked freshly painted and well maintained, the landscaping was mostly well-tended and even the bathrooms appeared to be clean and odor-free.  I know that this park was closed for a few years, and it looked to me like management has spent a lot of time and money on making it look fresh, new and in good condition.

Did we have a good time there?  Yes, but there really isn’t much to do there, at least yet.  I suspect that a few more years of investment and refurbishing of old attractions SBNO will help this park a great deal, but it seems to share a problem that many “downtown” parks such as Elitch Gardens in Denver has- there is no place to grow.  It seems to be hemmed in by development and by parking lots of the exposition center.  A large part of the park is occupied by a water park (included in admission) and since we didn’t go there we didn’t spend as much time in the park as we theoretically could have.

So much for keeping it short.  I’ll turn this over to James and let him bore inform the readers of this article (if there are any still awake) about the attractions we rode, the absolutely breathtaking 17D movie experience we discovered, and how his daughter Emma actually drove one of the self-driven Tin Lizzies off of the track.

JR: ZZZZZzzzzzzzz…..

JS: Uh, Mr. Rao…. You’re thoughts about Kentucky Kingdom and your stay in the great Louisville area?

JR: Uh… huh… sorry… I must have dozed off during Jim’s “short response”. My apologies. Anyway, before I dozed off I heard Jim say a few things about the Embassy Suites, my driving, the Troll Pub, and the Comfy Cow, so I would like to add my two cents on those topics before moving on, if I may?

JS: Sure, anything to add to the extreme length of this interview – I am sure our readers are just dying to hear your two cents. Please do continue.

JR: So, Jim, surprisingly enough, is correct: the Embassy Suites we choose for the first two nights of our excursion was outstanding. $125 a night for a meticulously clean, sizable, six person suite, a free made to order breakfast, a good sized indoor pool, and a well-appointed workout room was a steal in my humble opinion. Yeah, the hotel was a little bit off the beaten path, but I would consider its location a bonus as well. I highly recommend this particular hotel if someone needs a place to sleep in downtown Louisville.

Now as for my driving, yeah, I do like to belt out some FOB tunes while cruising (who doesn’t?), and I sometimes get a little distracted by all the sights and sounds of a new city, but never was anyone in any danger of anything other than bleeding ears due to my slightly off kilter vocal stylings. And for the record, I did try to include Jim in a few FOB songs, but whenever I gestured to him that his line was upcoming (“Light ‘em up up up, light ‘em up up up, -- TAKE IT JIM -- I’m on fire!”) Jim just sat there slamming his feet into the floorboards as if I needed some help with the vehicle’s braking system. Weird. Anyway, later on during the Holiday World part of the interview, we’ll discuss some of Jim’s five miles under the speed limit driving mannerisms. We all have our quirks.

The Troll Under The Bridge Pub is a fine establishment. I will just add that my sons and I ordered the Beer Cheese Burger, which was delicious, my wife ordered a BBQ burger with no bun (low carb dieting), and my daughter feasted on the Hot Brown Pizza (minus the bacon, sadly). All of the food was excellent. A stop at the Troll Pub is recommended by this Insider. And for dessert, the Comfy Cow is a must visit if you are an ice cream fan (who isn’t?) – just make sure not to pass on the humongous bon bons they lovingly craft in house as they are a delectable, not to be missed treat.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and ventured up to Jim and Anton’s room where Mr. Koehl, the famous armchair theme park designer, took out his lovingly crafted, oversized, suitable for exhibition at a theme park museum version of Americana 1900: America’s Grand New Theme Park, and took us all for a tour. It was quite an impressive presentation, and to be completely honest, I would LOVE to visit Mr. Koehl’s imaginative and immersive theme park. If you’d like to read more about the “rough” draft of his park, check out the TPI 6.1 Discussion Threads on – and know that what’s included on the site is only half the story. If we could somehow come up with about $1B to build his dream park I am sure it would be a runaway hit.

Now, moving on to Kentucky Kingdom…

JK: Finally some real theme park talk…jeez.

JS: Agreed. Wake me up when this nightmare is over!

JR: Hey, not fair. Jim practically gave us Shakespeare’s To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy in his last long winded response, so give me a break. Gosh!

Now, Kentucky Kingdom is not a good park, let’s just get that fact out of the way right up front. Other than Lightning Run and Thunder Run the park offers little in the way of rides that can’t be found at a county fair or in a grocery store parking lot. However, one has to respect what the owners are trying to do in slowly bringing the park back to life after years of horrible management by the Six Flags folks. And you can tell that both the ownership and associates care about their park because it is clean and mostly well-tended, despite a lack of headliner attractions and real estate.

As Jim noted we arrived at the park in the early afternoon with storms threatening and made a beeline for Lightning Run, the park’s $7M 2014 Hyper GT-X Coaster addition, built by Chance Rides (out of Wichita, Kansas, no less) specifically for Kentucky Kingdom. And for $7M, it is a darn good ride. Sure it is compact and offers a short ride, but it has some great airtime, decent speed, and is very smooth. We rode Lightning Run about a half dozen times over the course of our two hours in the park, and it is easily the best ride in the park. I wouldn’t consider Lightning Run to be a true headliner in a more established park with a larger coaster collection, but it is a good second tier coaster and a very fun ride.

From Lightning Run we made the long trek to the back of the park to Thunder Run, the park’s one operating wooden coaster (Twisted Twins is getting the RMC treatment for 2016 – and it looks like a good candidate for that procedure – but right now it is SBNO). Thunder Run was built in 1990 by the Dinn Corp, makers of such atrocities as Mean Streak at Cedar Point and Timber Wolf at Worlds of Fun, but despite its questionable pedigree, Thunder Run is not a bad ride, in fact, it has some nice airtime moments, some tight turns, and ultimately offers a short but fun ride. It is easily the best non-iron horse treated Dinn Corp coaster I have ridden in the last decade. We rode twice then moved on, sadly our day was nearly complete after just two rides – there simply is not much of interest at this park.

Before leaving the area we took a moment to hit the park’s third coaster, Roller Skater, a youth coaster similar to Gadget’s Go Coaster at Disneyland. It is a pretty lame ride by anyone’s standards – and after riding this kiddie coaster, my son, Jeremy, told me we should subtract a coaster credit, not add one - it was that bad.

Moving on we stopped at the last attraction on the touring plan: The Wizard of Oz 5-D experience. This 12 minute retooling of the classic film is billed by the park as a state of the art 5-D experience featuring special effects and “many surprises”. In reality is an extremely lame, abbreviated retelling of the original feature film which is digitally projected on the screen and timed with slight, all too infrequent movements of the individual seats for the riders. To be brutally honest, our local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema pipes out massive amounts of bass through speakers under your seat and produces more of a chair bouncing effect than Kentucky Kingdom’s highly self-touted 5-D cinema. Really, the only fun part of the ride is the initial twister that transports Dorothy to Oz. Afterwards, visitors are simply waiting and wondering if the ride will get better – and then it ends. I am guessing the theater is a decent venue from time to time, but the Wizard of Oz is probably not the best material for this type of attraction. Swing and a miss, Kentucky Kingdom, swing and a miss.

After our questionable 5-D experience we forced ourselves to ride a few of the flat rides scattered around the park just to justify the cost of a visit (although I chose to skip the Himalaya because the ridiculous 60” height requirement – yes, sixty freaking inches – was a bit too steep for my daughter – WTH??!!). Then, after a few final rides on Lightning Run and a short jaunt around the track of their Tin Lizzies Model A Roadster attraction (where, as Jim mentioned, my daughter actually jumped the rail with the front tire before masterfully navigating us back on course), we bolted to a local mall (Oxmoor Center) where, incidentally, my daughter purchased fifteen minutes of ride time on some primitive animal scooter which she loudly proclaimed as the best ride she experienced that day. Ouch.

For dinner that night we stopped at a local Smashburger. Of all the fast food burger joints, Smash is my favorite – I like their burgers better than Five Guys and In-N-Out. Whataburger is a close second because you can order Texas Toast for your burger, but the Smashfries (tossed in rosemary and garlic) tip the scales back to Smashburger. Anyway, all the Rao’s ordered the local Bluegrass Burger (Wild Turkey BBQ Sauce, applewood smoked bacon, melted cheddar, and fried banana pepper rings on an egg bun) and a couple orders of Smashfries to share. I can’t remember what the Koehl’s ordered, but they also ordered shakes because, I supposed, two nights in a row at the Comfy Cow wouldn’t work for them. However, my wife, my daughter, and I all stopped at the Comfy Cow later that night for dessert.

We ended the day with a few hours in the Embassy Suites Pool, before heading up for a good night’s sleep then checking out and heading to Santa Claus, Indiana, the next day.

JS: Alrighty then. Mr. Koehl, anything else to add about your Kentucky Kingdom day before we move on to Holiday World?

JK: What can I say – Rao covered it all. He’s brilliant. A genius in his own mind. James, you owe me $5 for that comment.

JS: Right...ok, uh... Mr. Rao, you mentioned that Mr. Koehl had some strange driving habits which you discovered on the way to Holiday World. Please elaborate on that story now, but please do it quickly, as I am so bored right now I am almost willing to watch Jurassic World again.

JR: Uh, right. Well, we left the Embassy Suites at about 9:00 AM hoping to get to Holiday World by 9:30. Now it is about an hour and a half drive but due to the time zone change between Louisville and Santa Claus, you get back an hour along the way. Anyhow, we hit quite a bit of construction along the way, and some late rush hour traffic, so after we cleared the worst of it I sped up a little bit to make up for lost time. The speed limit was 70, by the way, and I only sped up to about 72 – hey, don’t judge! I received so many tickets in my youth it only made sense for me to change my ways and slow it down a bit.

After a few minutes of going 72, I looked in my rearview mirror to check on Mr. Koehl who was supposed to be following close behind. However, he was nowhere to be found. I grabbed my iPhone and told Siri to text Jim’s son Anton (Jim had busted his cheap Android knockoff at Kentucky Kingdom) asking, “what’s up?” I received back a litany of curses and hate filled messages from Mr. Koehl who felt my crazy driving would lead to several deaths on this stretch of mostly empty road. The messages ended with him telling me he was desperately trying to ensure that both Anton and Jeremy (he was riding with Jim) arrived at Santa Claus alive. I slowed to about 50 mph and eventually, after waiting for what seemed like hours, Jim’s car came “roaring” into view. Once he caught up I accelerated again, but this time more slowly, thinking that if I increased speed at a less drastic pace he would keep up without knowing it, like a lobster who is slowly cooked in hot water until he just falls asleep and dies. Maybe not the best analogy, but anyway, no dice. Once I got above about 67 or 68, Jim rapidly started to disappear. So I slowed to match his pace and we finally arrived in Santa Claus about twenty minutes later than anticipated, but still early enough to make rope drop. No harm no foul, I guess, but jeez, what a party pooper!!!

JS: Hmmm… nothing like two paragraphs of information having nothing to do with theme parks to make the interview go even further south, James. Great stuff. No, I mean it, really great. So, Jim, this trip was your first visit to Holiday World, right? What were your first impressions of the park (if you do impressions), and how ridiculously childish was James acting while you were waiting for rope drop?

JK: I knew I'd have trouble following James in my Subaru Outback when I saw that his license plate number was NCC1701A. I tried to keep up with him, but he kept engaging his warp engines and I kept losing him in the blue shift as he went to light speed. Then I hit a debris field where he had destroyed a fleet of U-Haul trucks and that slowed me down even more. Finally we met at the predesignated coordinates – I mean at the Holiday World parking lot (sorry, I got caught up in the whole Star Trek thing), where a combination of a change in time zones (Louisville is in Eastern Time Zone, Holiday World is in Central) and James' use of warp speed meant that we had actually arrived before we left, so we had plenty of time to hit the restrooms, find our prepaid tickets, get doused with sunscreen, and try to follow James as he weaved back and forth trying to find the exact perfect shortest fastest ticket line. He finally settled on the perfect line, the one with the prettiest young lady taking the tickets.

James is a trip planning fanatic – he tries to plan out park visits in the most efficient manner to limit waiting time, eliminate having to retrace steps and make the most of a park visit. He had been vocal about the fact that Holiday World opens at 10 a.m. and that everyone rushes to the coasters at rope drop, then at 11 a.m. they all go to the water park and the rest of the park is deserted. The best, most efficient way (according to James) to experience the park is to let everyone rush to the coasters while we took in the general atmosphere of the park, perhaps hit some of the smaller rides and attractions, and let the mobs fight over the coasters until 11, when they would all go to the water park and we would then walk onto all the coasters.

What really happened is that at rope drop James and all of the kids (my Anton and his Jacob, Jeremy, and Emma) engaged their own personal transporter devices and disappeared into the crowds heading towards Thunderbird, the new wing coaster (and winner of TPI's award for Best New Coaster), leaving Robin and I in the cosmic dust as we decided to take it easy and head towards Thunderbird at our own pace.

We arrived at the beautiful Thunderbird loading station, rested and refreshed from a nice stroll, and soon met up with James and the kids after they had ridden Thunderbird something like fourteen times. The station is a remarkable building, constructed to look like a huge frame and field-stone barn with a stone silo, and is one of the most beautifully themed coaster structures I have ever seen. The line was not long, and we soon were boarding Thunderbird for our first ride of the day (and the fifteenth of the day for James and the kids).

Since James is the real Alpha Coaster Geek I'm going to let him go into the technical details of Thunderbird and the rest of the Holiday World coasters (Raven, Legend, and Voyage). That means that many of you might want to use the little bar on the side of the post to fast-forward to the more interesting parts of this trip report, the ones that start with the letters JK.

Part Two

Replies (8)

February 15, 2016, 4:58 PM ·

Nice report! Do you think Kentucky Kingdom will be worth it in a few years?

Edited: February 15, 2016, 5:43 PM ·

James & Jim: Sounds a bit like Rowan & Martin or Abbott & Costello. Nice report. It's fortuitous that Robert forgot to file your report since we have terrible weather outside, so this is kind of a godsend of interesting reading. But, why in the world anyone would waste a day of time and money to go to Kentucky Kingdom is beyond me. James, you would have been better served to use that park/ hotel/ restaurant money to add a park to park pass on your 2017 Universal Orlando trip to ride some real attractions. LOL

Edited: February 15, 2016, 7:32 PM ·

Thanks for reading, gang, you have my condolences for lost time that you will never get back!!! Especially if you read all three parts of the adventure!

Jaiden, Kentucky Kingdom is probably never going to be a great park, but it's not a bad stop on the way to somewhere else. And hey, they're trying!

Rob, I spent less on my admission to KK than the upcharge to ride Hogwarts Express! It's a cheap ticket - relatively speaking! ;)

February 15, 2016, 9:11 PM ·

Kentucky Kingdom kind of reminded me of a theme park trip in the 80's. When I was a kid we went to our local park Kennywood. Of course, as an adult I had heavy nostalgia for the attractions I rode as a teenager, but many were no longer in the park since Kennywood almost always added a new attraction each year. I was reading a newspaper article about Conneaut Lake Park, which is near Erie, Pa.The article said many of Kennywood's retired rides were active there. So my GF at the time, and I decided to take the long drive up to Conneaut Lake Park to re experience my childhood nostalgia. When we arrived my jaw dropped. It was one of the ugliest dirtiest parks anyone could imagine. Yes, it had many of those old Kennywood rides, but they were rundown, needed painted and were resting in bare dry soil or cracked concrete. One in particular, Dodge Em, a bumper car type ride enticed me to ride since I always liked it. So we climbed in the cars and proceeded to bump into the other cars, as my memory recalled. Well, you think we just robbed a bank. The ride operator stopped the ride and threw us off. He said this is a "dodge" cars ride and we weren't allowed to bump into the other vehicles because we might damage them. We didn't stay but a couple of hours, the park & food being so horrible. That messed me up so bad I didn't go to a amusement park for four or five years. My past nostalgia was shattered. It was like the old saying "you can't go home again'.

February 15, 2016, 10:25 PM ·

Clearly, the writing talents of JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling have been surpassed by their successors: JR #2 and JK #2. Good work fellas. :)

Someone suggested to me last year when I was planning my maiden Holiday World visit to head over to Kentucky Kingdom and get a couple rides in. Sounds like it may have been a mistake to have skipped it.

February 16, 2016, 12:33 AM ·

Excellent trip report, and one of the most entertaining I've read in some time. While I did start to drift around the end of part 2, I read the whole thing and don't regret it one bit. I'd heard about this trip previously, but it's nice to see a full report.

I was going to reply to each part individually, but for simplicity I'll just put it all here:

Kentucky Kingdom: I visited this park in 2014 en route from Kings Island to Holiday World. Personally, I thought it was an okay park. It was fun and I'm glad I got the chance to visit it, but there really isn't a reason to return to the park unless I'm passing right by it. That said, my visit was just after the park had reopened from being closed for 5 years, so I'd like to visit again just to see what progress they've made, as they seem to be on the right track. Lightning Rod is impressive, and is probably one of the best coasters of its size. While not a top 25 coaster or anything, it's a really good and surprisingly intense ride, and though it's a tad short I'd like to see more coasters like this at smaller parks that can't afford/can't fit a full size hyper coaster. The rest of the park was average at best (Thunder Run wasn't bad and is a great family woodie), but it's a shame you skipped the waterpark. There are a few good slides there, and Deep Water Dive (the 121 ft trap door slide) is not to be missed. That ride may be scarier than any roller coaster I've ridden in recent years, and it takes a lot for a ride to scare me. Plus, if you don't do the waterpark, Kentucky Kingdom is really a 3 hour park for the traveling enthusiast.

Louisville: I unfortunately didn't have any time to check this city out, but I'll keep the Troll Pub and Comfy Cow in mind for my next visit. I also agree with Smashburger being the best quick service burger chain.

Holiday World: I've visited this park a couple times and it is one of my favorite parks (and probably my favorite independent park). The three wooden coasters are great (Voyage is probably one of my top 5 wood, and the others are above average), and while I haven't had the chance to try Thunderbird yet I've heard it's the best of the B&M Wing Coasters. While there aren't many other standout rides, What this park lacks in attractions it makes up for in charm, price, and guest service. Additionally, Splashin' Safari is a great water park with two of the best slides I've ever ridden (Mammoth and Wildebeest) and several other above average rides for their type (though there are a couple disappointments, namely Zinga and Hyena Falls). Incidentally, I've found that if you wait until mid-afternoon to do the waterpark it's typically less crowded. On my first visit, I did Splashin' Safari opening to 2 P.M. and encountered long lines (up to 45 minutes) for many slides, but on my second we did it 3 P.M. to close and other than the water coasters nothing was more than a 20 minute wait. The food at Holiday World is also really good, especially at the Plymouth Rock Cafe, and free soft drinks are an excellent touch.

Santa's Lodge: I've stayed in some pretty dumpy hotels, and while this isn't the worst it's definitely in the bottom tier. Some of my friends call this place Satan's Lodge, and on my more recent trip I just stayed in Owensboro and drove to Holiday World for the day (then moved on to elsewhere in Indiana that night). It's too bad there aren't really any other good options within 30 minutes of the park. Holiday World makes it pretty well known that they are not affiliated with this hotel, but it pretty much has a monopoly on Santa Claus (unless you camp, that is).

Once again, great trip report. I enjoyed your previous trip reports and hope I get to read another Koehl & Rao adventure following 2016's Cedar Point reunion.

Edited: February 16, 2016, 4:44 AM ·

Thanks to Rob, James, and AJ for your comments. Really appreciate the kind words (the fact that anyone made it all the way to part three before dozing off is pretty special if you ask me!) and the sharing of info (loved the anecdotes Rob, and the follow up assessment, AJ). And I totally agree with AJ's point that Kentucky Kingdom may have been a better adventure had we even attempted their water park. Our review was simply based upon the amusement rides the park has to offer, completely skipping what looked to be a slightly better than run-of-the-mill water park along the way. If you take in the whole park, it probably is a better value for the buck. Plus, since we left, T3 was reopened (not that riding a Vekoma SLC is ever a good thing) and Storm Chaser is on the way. And really, it is all about expectations - if you set them low enough, how can you ever be disappointed? At least that's what I told Jim every time he worried about how well this trip report would be received by Mr. Niles and the TPI community.... ;)

And AJ, "Satan's Lodge" is just too perfect. I am kicking myself for not thinking of it!!!

February 16, 2016, 6:29 AM ·

Up here we got Kentucky Kingdoms supposed "best" coaster Chang (now Green Lantern), and if that was the best there... well, Green Lantern is my least favorite coaster. Its even worse than the Manhattan Express!

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