Of all the parks I have visited over the years, none have a bigger place in my heart than Paramount's Kings Island. This is the park that I grew up with, the park that I took my first coaster ride in at the ripe age of four. This is the place that started this whole love affair of mine with all things amusement related, so when the oppurtunity came around to celebrate the birthday of The Beast...the park's crown jewel wooden coaster, I knew that I just couldn't pass it up. I decided to break my rule of never going on a Saturday and went.
This was a coaster club sponsored event. For those of you unaware, it's the kind where a couple hundred coaster freaks get together and discuss the fine points of airtime and the innerworkings of a B&M train (believe me we actually know this stuff), and the letters ERT are holy. Despite my infatuation with the roller coaster, this was my very first coaster club event. Kings Island has a reputation for rolling out the red carpet for these people, and that day was no exception.
I started the day by arriving at about 8:30 am. Not many people beat me to the park, and I enjoyed pulling right up to the front gate and taking the best parking spot the lot had to offer. I got my little Beastbuzz kit, complete with lanyard, mealticket, and schedule, and walked to the ACE star in the front of the park. When we had all assembled, we were greeted by PR staff and their head honcho Jeff Siebert. They would be our hosts for the day, and I will be the first to say that the PR team at PKI is top notch.
After we had all assembled, the group made their way back for the first ride of the day on The Beast. After managing a couple of uninterrupted rides before the crowds came, I found myself with a little time to spare before the next event. I decided to grab a ride on Vortex, an old school Arrow megalooper. It's not as smooth as it once was, but still better than most of it's kind. I left with a smile, remembering when the line stretched all the way back to the entrance gate.
Walking around the park. i took notice of how clean and tidy it was. All the flowers were bright, the paint was fresh, and the walkways were clean. The heat was already rising, so I found a drink stand, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Beastbuzz party got free cups of water for the day.
This was a day of firsts for me. After 20 years of visiting this park, I got to see some places that I had never seen before. The next activity was a behind the scenes tour of Tomb Raider The Ride. This ride is a heavily themed Huss style gondola. We visited the control rooms, asked some questions, and got a peek at the ride in action. It was pretty cool to see this massive gondola spinning amongst fire and special effects.
It was then time for the scavenger hunt. The PR team had concocted up a scavenger hunt that consisted of 40 random questions about the park, everything from the number of lights in the Vortex sign to the serial number of the White Water Canyon boats. Of course the questions weren't so random. They were designed to be a sightseeing tour, forcing us to ride a few rides and see a few shows to get some answers.
I rode a number of rides while on the hunt...one in particular was White Water Canyon. It was hot, and we got soaked. The ride delivered some relief, and we headed over to the newly themed Boomerang Bay water park. The old Waterworks section had gotten a facelift, and I must say that it looked pretty good. There were a few more things that could have been done...some slides still needed a new coat of paint, and there still is a rather long walkway that sort of divides the waterpark, but the theming made it look much much better. PKI has been getting more and more into theming, and they did a good job with BB. Also on the scavenger hunt were rides on the Backwards Racer...much more fun than the forwards one, Top Gun, a relatively short Arrow suspended, and Spongebob 3D, a motion sim ride.
I went to lunch around noon. I helped myself to the array of cookout foods that the park had provided for us, stood in for the group photo, and listened in on a guest speaker. They had a big cake for the Beast. Other than that, nothing special here, so I left the picnic section and went back to the park. Since I was going to get ERT on four rides at the end of the day, I decided to soak in the atmosphere a little bit.
I took a walk through the kid areas. Nickelodeon Central and Hanna Barbera Land. I must say that I was impressed at how good they have become. There were rides galore, all brightly colored and full of kids. There is considerably more theming here than there is anywhere else in the park, and it all looks great. Easily the best place outside of Disney and Legoland to take your kids. The crowds were getting pretty thick, so I retreated inside LaRosa's pizza for a slice. Still some of the best pizza made in my book. By then it was time for the second behind the scenes tour.
We all assembled for a tour of the Beast. This was essentially a hike through the woods, as all of the land around the ride is undeveloped wooded terrain. We got up right next to the coaster, and got to see it at some angles that nobody else has gotten to see it at. The PR crew answered our questions and I moved on.
By this time, the park was absolutely packed (it was Saturday after all). I was getting tired, and quite frankly I needed some refreshment. A Mike's Hard Lemonade took care of that quickly, and after some more water, I geared up for another tour. This time it was for Son of Beast. This coaster isn't the greatest ride, but one thing is for sure, it sure is a beautiful structure. Once again we went to some restricted areas, and got right up next to the track. After more pictures, I decided to take a ride. The ride is still very uncomfortable in places for taller riders. I was told that they are halfway done with reprofiling the track. For what it's worth, there was a noticable difference between the first half of the track and the last half. It was smoother than last year, hopefully it gets even better next year.
It was about 10 pm by this time. We all assembled in the Paramount Theater for a history of The Beast video. That enabled us to chill while the rest of the park cleared out. I must say that I enjoy ERT. The idea of having the ride all to yourself makes you feel well treated and special. I enjoyed two night rides on Delirium, a Huss giant frisbee. This ride really is something...a bit short, but very cool to ride at night. After that I headed next door for a couple of rides on Drop Zone. This is an Intamin free fall gyro tower, and is extremely fun for the thrillseekers. Dropping 275 feet in about 4 seconds is a rush. In this case it was a cold one, because the heat had given way to midnight.
When we were done there, the group took a walk back to Flight of Fear, an indoor launch coaster. It was an hour past closing time, and I found it a little strange that the park was almost pitch black and quiet when we were walking back. It was kind of like we weren't supposed to be there. The park was in a state that most don't see it in. The rides on Flight of Fear were as good as they have ever been. Some Virgina folks remarked that this version was much better than the one at Paramounts Kings Dominion...mostly due to more theming bells and whistles being on the PKI version. It was now time to head back to The Beast.
For those of you who don't know, a night ride on The Beast is quite the experience. Its a ride through a mile and a half of thick woods, all in pitch black. A ride at 10 pm is cool, so naturally a ride a 1 am is even better. I rode front seat twice, middle seat once, and back seat twice. I was dead tired, my feet hurt, and my shin splints were bothering me, but I rode over and over, indulging myself in one of the best wooden coasters on the planet. After all, it's not every day that PKI graciously lets a few nutballs ride their coasters until 2 am. After the last ride of the night, security escorted us to the gates, amidst people with hoses, zambonis, and guards. A long day to say the least, but one that I won't soon forget. We got the royal treatment from PKI, not just because we were a coaster club, but because that's what PKI tries to deliver to all of it's guests. I'm glad to say that I throughly enjoyed my day at the park.
My unbiased conclusion about the park is this. PKI has become a well rounded park. It's a place where the thrillseekers can go. They need a new coaster, but the assortment of thrill rides they have there is wide. It's a place where the kids can go. Disney aside, kid areas in other park chains don't even match up to PKI's. Even those who appreciate theming will come to like this park. Every year they theme more and more. All told, Paramount's King's Island has become a well rounded theme park that is worthy of anybody's time.