Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip: Kings Island
Published: July 21, 2009 at 3:18 PM
That's what popped into my mind as the train hit the brake approaching the station on Diamondback, Kings Island's new Bolliger & Mabillard mega-coaster. Diamondback's all about natural speed - a celebration of the vertical drop, the element Theme Park Insider readers selected last year as their favorite on a roller coaster.
We rode in the front row of the second car, allowing us a peek over each hill before a burst of acceleration kicked in as the train crested. And what acceleration it was - up to 80 mph of pure, natural, gravity-driven power, sweeping us into the next element on the track. Natalie declared, "It's so smooth, it didn't even mess up my ponytail."
She's right. Diamondback is pure Bolliger & Mabillard butter - smooth, silky and satisfying.
I didn't find it exhilarating, the way the greatest coasters can be. Maybe it was the lack of inversions. Maybe it was just... too smooth and two-dimensional to really fire up a coaster pro like me. But I didn't have same giddy feeling that I enjoyed when I got off The Voyage last weekend. Don't get me wrong - it was very good, just not an all-time, world-class great like The Voyage.
And that's the way I felt about the rest of Kings Island. It's a good regional amusement park, with some moments well worth recommendation, but little these days to elevate it to "must visit" status for folks outside the U.S. midwest.
I brought the wife and kids to KI today, both so that I could experience Diamondback and so that I could show the kids one of the parks that I spent a great deal of time in as a kid.
Goal one: accomplished within 15 minutes, thanks to arriving at the front gate 10 minutes before the park opened. Goal two, though, initially appeared to be a total failure.
This isn't the same park I last visited on grad night in 19*coughcoughcough*. The half-scale Eiffel Tower, The Beast and the Racer are still here - otherwise Kings Island's various owners over the past decades totally have remade this park. The safari is gone, as are coasters such as The Bat, The Screamin' Demon and the King Cobra. The Hanna-Barbera land was consumed by a much larger Nickelodeon Universe. And what little Disney-esque theming once existed is slowly giving way to a more generic iron park, much the same as I am seeing at its Cedar Fair-owned sister park, Knott's Berry Farm in California.
None of that makes Kings Island worse than it was when I frequented it as teenager living in Indianapolis. Just different. Heck, if Kings Island were the same park it was in the Brady Bunch episode that my kids have committed to memory, fans would have abandoned this park years ago, and justifiably so. Parks should change.
Diamondback's a great addition to a line-up of solid coasters that offer an impressive variety of experiences, from the indoor coaster Flight of Fear to the heels-over-head fun of the six-inversion Vortex. Heck, today's Kings Island coaster line-up knocks the smack out of what it offered when I was a kid.
The Beast used to tower over the other rides in the park. Today, it stands meekly in the shadow of Diamondback, barely clearing the treeline of the surrounding woods. I'd forgotten how much this once-pathbreaking wooden coaster emphasized straight-line speed over airtime, unlike more modern, world-class woodies.
As we stood in the gate, waiting to board, I told Natalie that I was her age, 12, when I first rode The Beast, as she would be doing today. The Beast was the coaster that turned me on to a world beyond kiddie and family rides, a love that became a lifelong passion when I rode the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg later that year.
Natalie took her first step into that world with a ride on Knott's Ghostrider earlier this year. And I could see her apprehension as she agreed to try The Raven with me at Holiday World last weekend. She was game for The Legend, after that, but not yet ready to tackle The Voyage.
She said she'd give Diamondback a go, after watching the YouTube video of it yesterday. As we came back to the station this morning, while I was wondering if the ride was too smooth for me, Natalie yelped.
"I love big drops!"
By the time we got off The Beast, I could see the coaster fever in her eyes. A week ago, she wasn't sure about thrill rides. Now, she's a dedicated fan.
These were the perfect next coasters for her, for where she's at as a roller coaster fan. So while my daughter didn't see the same park as I did when I was 12, she saw today a park that did the same thing for her as it did for me back then. So I guess goal number two was accomplished after all.
That's the value of Kings Island. You can't drag most kids straight onto an extreme coaster and expect those kids to become coaster fans. More likely, if you put a kid on a coaster that's too advanced for them, you'll turn 'em off coasters for life. Regional parks like Kings Island give kids (and some grown-ups) the opportunity to experience a variety of coasters and thrill rides, attractions that can help give them the fever to chase the most unique thrills all over the country, and the world, as they grow older.
Our next stop on that path? C'mon, can't you guess?
Join us next week on Theme Park Insider's Summer Roadtrip, as we visit... Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
You're gonna love it, Nat.