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Planet Snoopy debuts at Virginia's Kings Dominion

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Published: April 30, 2013 at 11:19 AM

Kings Dominion always has been a haven for coaster fans. The Doswell, Virginia park has one of the most complete collections of roller coasters on the east coast. Its most recent thrill machine, Intimidator 305, opened in 2010, and despite some initial design flaws, it’s still one of the most intense roller coasters in North America. So, when Kings Dominion gathered press to the park last fall to make an announcement for the 2013 season, there were rumors circulating that another world-class roller coaster would be on its way. Instead, they decided to go after the thrill seekers of tomorrow, with a renovated and refreshed children’s area named Planet Snoopy.

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Planet Snoopy is billed as the world’s largest Peanuts-themed children’s area, and it features a total of 18 rides (eight of them brand new for 2013). Kings Dominion’s goal was to create an area where families can enjoy rides together. As many parents may have found, most kids’ rides are designed for little kids, while adult rides are designed for full-sized adults. Rarely do theme parks outside of Disney specifically design rides to accommodate guests of all ages and sizes. The previous kids’ area at Kings Dominion had mostly small rides that children had to ride by themselves. This revitalization effort of the nearly 14-acre area was specifically aimed to solve that problem.

While most of the holdover rides still segregate children from their parents, all eight of the new rides can accommodate just about everyone. Not only that, but a few of them are pretty intense for “kids” rides. Of the remaining rides, only Boo Blasters on Boo Hill (a Sally indoor shooting gallery dark ride) did not get some type of Peanuts overlay or new name (Joe Cool’s Driving School was given a Peanuts overlay a few years ago). Snoopy vs. the Red Baron now features the iconic image of Snoopy as the Flying Ace above the ride.

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Great Pumpkin Coaster (formerly Taxi Jam), Peanuts Road Rally, Peanuts Turnpike, Flying Ace, Woodstock Express (formerly Ghoster Coaster), and Lucy’s Crabbie Cabbies all got new names, signs, and a fresh coat of paint. In fact, tons of new signage is spread across the new area featuring the Peanuts characters.

Additionally, many of the new signs feature facts and trivia that teach kids a little bit about what’s going on while they ride (think Physics Day year-round). The signs are all part of Kings Dominion’s FUNtastic Guide, which helps parents guide their children through some of the basic principles that govern our world like space relations, gravity, force, motion, and reaction.

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Of the 8 brand new rides, only two of them are not accessible to people of all ages and sizes. Snoopy’s Junction, a Zamperla train ride, is a little small for adults, and the engine can only accommodate children. While it’s a squeeze, parents can ride in most of the cars on this miniature locomotive.

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Linus Launcher, a spinning flat ride that places riders in a flying position, cannot accommodate children under 42”. The ride is rather intense, and most kids 4 and over should be tall enough to take a spin on this pretty unique spinner.

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Snoopy’s Rocket Express, the cornerstone attraction of Planet Snoopy, is an elevated track ride that gives riders a 12-foot-high view of the new kids area. The ride does have an extremely low capacity (4 people per car and 3 cars at a time), and one would assume that some type of netting or safety device will eventually be added to prevent riders from dropping items on unsuspecting guests below. This ride is similar to The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride at Islands of Adventure, without the narration and story. Some guests may be disappointed to wait in a 30-minute line for a simple 90-second lap around an elevated track, but kids will probably love it.

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Woodstock Whirlybirds is a spinning teacup ride that is probably the most underwhelming of the new attractions. Not only is the ride platform elevated (I’m sorry, but every teacup-style ride should be flush to the ground), but the cups only have two spinning axes (most teacup-style rides have 3), and the cups themselves are really hard to spin with the tiny, slippery wheels.

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On the other hand, Charlie Brown’s Wind Up was far better than expected. The spinning swing ride features bench seating that allows a parent and child to ride together. The ride is very much like full-size swings with a relatively fast rotation and a tilted axis that provides an up and down motion.

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Snoopy’s Space Buggies is by no means the most extreme ride, but it sure is a clever one. It’s a standard flat vehicle spinner, but each car is mounted on an air suspension system that allows the vehicle to bounce up and down when it reaches a small ramp. I was surprised by the design of this ride, and while it probably has the smallest profile of all the new attractions, it was far more interesting than it appeared when it started moving.

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Flying Ace Balloon Race is a pretty standard elevated spinning teacup-style ride, but I found these vehicles far easier to spin. Not only was the wheel slightly larger than the one on Woodstock Whirlybirds, but the rubber-coated grip made it far easier to grab and spin.

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The final new addition is Lucy’s Tug Boat, which is a pretty standard half-pipe ride. However, I was impressed with the improved theming compared to other installations I’ve seen. Not only was the vehicle made to look like a tug boat, but they carried the design into the base (looks like a wave) and the surrounding area, complete with sand and lashed rope on the wooden light and sign poles.

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Kings Dominion’s Planet Snoopy is not the must-see addition of 2013. The eight new attractions are all off-the-shelf rides that will probably only thrill guests under 10, and the old rides just got new names and some new paint. However, the subtle changes that the park has made, to allow parents to ride with their kids on rides that are not quite as tame as your run-of-the-mill kiddie ride, should make the new Planet Snoopy a success. Combined with the new FUNtastsic campaign by the park to involve parents in their kids’ theme park adventure, Kings Dominion is on its way towards creating the next generation of theme park fans. After all, kids are tomorrow’s theme park customers, and without earning a new generation of young fans, theme parks cannot survive.

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Readers' Opinions

From Robert Niles on May 1, 2013 at 11:14 AM
Thanks for bringing this to us, Russell!
From Tom Rigg on May 1, 2013 at 11:56 AM
I will begin with the disclaimer that i am biased, but i just think this is a half baked renovation that only seems amazing because it was expansive in the ground it covered.

Now for the bias part. I am a BGW pass holder, have been for years now. This really seems like the KD response to Forest of Fun at BGW in an almost tit for tat way. Don't get me wrong, I think it is great that they put in the work. And maybe I am bitter about the inevitable demise of Yogi Bear's Cave. But, I just don't think there is anything exciting about this beyond, it doesn't look run down anymore.

Another issue I have with KD as compared to BGW in regards to kids rides is that KD has every last kid ride aside from traditional family rides like the carousel and ferris wheel all piled into one place. This means that essentially parents can't go anywhere too far from this area if they want to ride an adult ride and keep the kids happy. BG on the other hand has two separate kids themed areas on opposite sides of the park and they have other kids rides peppered throughout the park too. Essentially, the only part of the park without a kid-centric attraction is France and New France.Ireland has dining with Elmo, Scotland has the Lil' Clydes, Festa Italia has the Elephant run, San Marco has the gliders and the balloons, Pompeii has the Forest of Fun off to the side, Oktoberfest has the roto baron and the junior autobahn, and finally, Rhineland has land of the dragons.

Ultimately, I just think KD is not a family park and if they want to be they have to try a little harder and think a little more about the whole park rather than just fixing up their current kids area.

From Russell Meyer on May 2, 2013 at 1:39 PM
I would agree that parks with designated kids areas end up being dumping grounds. I will admit that while I could ride many of the new rides in Planet Snoopy with my son, I left him with my wife for 20 minutes when the park officially opened that day (media got an hour head start to peview the new area) to ride Volcano. I do very much prefer the parks, like Busch Gardens, that have kids' rides scattered throughout the park. However, Kings Dominion does have a few rides through the rest of the park that are family friendly like Americana (ferris wheel), Carossel, Scrambler, Flying Eagles, Blue Ridge Tollway, and the Shanadoah Log Flume. Depending on how tall and daring your child is, there's also Ricochet and Triple Spin.

Honestly, I don't think Planet Snoopy was a response to Forest of Fun. The old kids rides were far beyond their usefulness, and many dated back to the old Hannah Barbara theming when the park first opened nearly 40 years ago. The old miniature pirate ship, jeeps, cars, and mini swings were really showing their age. If nothing else, this was a necessary upgrade to replace some rides that would have needed to be removed in the next 3-5 years anyway.

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