The Keystone, Timbers, and Vengeance Tour - Part 3

Edited: August 6, 2018, 12:15 AM

To read the previous report from Cedar Point, click here.

Despite careful planning, it sometimes doesn't take much for things to go awry. As we left from Cedar Point around 2 P.M., our plan was to drive to Kings Island and spend the evening there, as a friend of mine was at the park that day (before heading up to Cedar Point for the following couple days). Unfortunately, Kings Island received a torrential downpour that afternoon that shut down almost everything in the park, so while en route I get a message that my friend has decided to leave Kings Island early to get a head start on the drive to Cedar Point. For all I know, there's a fair chance we passed each other on the road, though the GPS took our group in a slightly different route than expected. Naturally, we eventually encountered the same storm as it made its way north, though the intensity level was somewhat diminished. That, however, was not the worst of our problems.

As I mentioned earlier, Joshua had not been feeling too well at Cedar Point, and as we drove his condition worsened. When debating whether or not we still wanted to visit Kings Island that night, he informed me that he would likely find a bench near the entrance and remain there for the duration of the evening, as he felt unfit to even walk around the park. Exactly what was wrong with him I don't know...my suspicion is a combination of stomach issues, dehydration, and exhaustion due to not sleeping, along with a bit of anxiety over the possibly of a worse illness (he does tend to make a big deal out of small things). In any case, as trip organizer I figured it was my responsibility to handle any issues that arise, so while having dinner at a conveniently located McDonald's I came up with a new plan: I would drop Douglas, Evan, and Kevin off at Kings Island, drive Joshua down to that night's hotel in Florence, KY, then drive back to Kings Island for whatever time I had left. This only gave me about an hour and a half at the park (I blame Cincinnati traffic), but given the situation it was the best option available.

So, how was that 90 minutes at Kings Island? You'll have to wait until next time to find out. For now, we are going to jump ahead to the following day (Wednesday, June 27th, to be precise), where we decided to do a double-header daytrip from Florence, Ya'll.

The Keystone, Timbers, and Vengeance Tour
Part 3: Kentucky Kingdom & Holiday World

Despite our busy itinerary for the day, this actually ended up being one of the later starts, allowing Joshua to get the sleep he needed and be fully recovered for the fun. At around 9:15, we departed from our Quality Inn in Florence to make the drive to Kentucky's largest city, Louisville. An unremarkable place on its own, Louisville just happened to be en route to our main destination for the day. It was also home to this trip's second coaster by RMC. That coaster is Storm Chaser, and the park is Kentucky Kingdom.

Built on the grounds of the Kentucky Exposition Center, Kentucky Kingdom is a mid-sized park with a troubled past. The park was originally built in 1987 as a permanent midway for the Kentucky State Fair, but after a couple years it went bankrupt and closed down. After sitting closed for a year, a group of investors led by Ed Hart purchased the property and expanded it into a full amusement park, reopening it as Kentucky Kingdom in 1990. The park was successful, and grew year after year until it caught the eye of Six Flags, who purchased it in the late 1990s. Despite being owned by a larger corporation, the park never received quite as much investment as the larger properties in the chain, and over the years their attendance stagnated. When Six Flags declared bankruptcy, this park was arguably the one that suffered the most...several major attractions were removed, then Six Flags cancelled their operating contract with the state fair board. Kentucky Kingdom sat idle for several years, with multiple plans to revive it (including one by the Holiday World owners), but none of them came to fruition. Finally, in 2012, Ed Hart returned to the park, fixed it up, and reopened it in 2014. Since then, the park has grown to become a decent place for the local audience to spend a day.

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I visited Kentucky Kingdom in 2014, the year that it was revived. At that time, only about 2/3 of the park was operational, and while I wasn't blown away by anything I saw, I always hoped to return once it was fully rebuilt and see the park as it was intended to be. Therefore, when the decision was made to include Holiday World in this trip, I immediately started looking for ways to shoehorn Kentucky Kingdom in. After all, one does not drive within 20 miles of an unridden RMC and not stop to ride. However, with Kentucky Kingdom opening at 11 A.M. and Holiday World closing at 8 P.M., and with the parks a little over an hour from each other, time was a bit tight. Fortunately, due to the way time zones are laid out, we gained an hour traveling west, so as long as all were okay with only a half-day at Holiday World it was doable. Ultimately, I put it to a vote...full day at Holiday World, or a couple hours at Kentucky Kingdom followed by a half-day at Holiday World? The latter won, helped in part due to the availability of an out-of-state discount ticket to Kentucky Kingdom.

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So, back to that day, where we wait outside the gate for opening. 11 A.M. arrives, and we headed inside and made a beeline directly for Lightning Run, the park's "hyper coaster."

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While not a true hyper due to only standing 100 feet tall, Lightning Run contains exactly the same elements you'd expect to find on a ride of that type. The first drop is ridiculously steep for such a short lift, and the remainder of the ride is a series of twists and airtime hills. It's a short ride and not quite top tier, but it is still a ton of fun.

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After lighting comes thunder, so after our ride we quickly made our way back to Thunder Run, the park's wood coaster. A fairly family-friendly ride, Thunder Run is an out-and-back woodie that's a bit rough around the edges but still provides a few fun moments of airtime. This is one of the few remaining rides from Kentucky Kingdom's early days and could use some track work to get back into top form, but it's still a decent ride for those new to the world of coasters.

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With the two coasters I'd ridden in 2014 out of the way, it was now time to get some new credits. Choosing the closer of the two, we headed to T3, the first Vekoma SLC in North America. SLC's are stock inverted coasters, built for parks that want big rides with small footprints and price tags. As a result, they are notoriously inferior to the original B&M product, often providing a rough and unpleasant ride. As we approached with dread, we discovered that this experience would be delayed due to technical difficulties. Not to worry...we all took advantage of the free soda included with the out-of-state special, and within 15 minutes it was time to ride. Joshua sat out as the rest of us took our places on the highly unusual train, featuring harnesses reminiscent of those found on a jet fighter.

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So, how was the ride? I don't like to say this about coasters, but it was pretty awful. While the trains did prevent the headbanging typical of this model, they shook and jostled so much while negotiating the track that it was essentially like sitting in a shaking chair for a minute and a half. Upon exiting and looking at the on-ride photos, not a single person on the train was smiling. Most were either bracing for pain or simply angry at the unpleasantness of the ride, though we did see one or two screaming in agony. Grateful that we survived the experience, we promptly made our way to the main ride at this park.

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Storm Chaser, at the time of its announcement, was the smallest RMC built. Standing just 100 ft tall and with a relatively short ride time of 1:40 station to station, the ride doesn't sound like much. However, it packs quite a punch for a smaller ride, delivering more thrills than the similarly sized Joker and containing an arguably more interesting layout than many larger RMCs. Yes, as far as IBox rides go, it ranks in the middle of the pack, but even a middle of the pack RMC is still in the top 30 or so on my list of 450+. This ride also nearly claimed my cell phone, as I had accidentally lost a button on my pocket and the airtime lifted it right out (huge thanks to Joshua for saving it). With only a station wait, we rode twice, then the group split off to spend our remaining 40 minutes at Kentucky Kingdom in a few different ways:

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-Kevin and Evan did a third lap on Storm Chaser, then went to grab the kiddie credit. I think they got a flat ride or two in there as well.

-Douglas re-rode Storm Chaser a couple times, then casually made his way up to the gate.

-Joshua went to ride the Raging Rapids, which he proclaimed as very good but a little wetter than he preferred.

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-I went for a second ride on Lightning Run, but upon finding the line to be about 25 minutes due to one train operation, I settled upon some flats.

At the agreed upon time of 1 P.M., we all met at the exit of Kentucky Kingdom. Leaving the park, we made a quick stop at a local southern fast food chain called Indi's (not recommended...it was subpar to KFC in my opinion), then headed off to our next destination in rural Indiana.

Deep in the endless cornfields of Indiana lies one of the most remote major theme parks in the United States. Over an hour outside the largest major city and a good 20 minutes from even a small town, this park relies largely on its reputation to attract visitors. The approach is surreal...nothing but farmland as far as the eye can see, then suddenly you turn a corner and come upon a monstrous wooden roller coaster towering 15 stories into the sky. This place is Holiday World, one of the last true independent parks in the United States.

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Holiday World began in 1946 as a small Christmas-themed kiddie park known as Santa Claus Land. As the park expanded, additional areas themed to other holidays (Fourth of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving), as well as the Splashin' Safari waterpark, transformed this small children's playground into a regional destination. However, what put Holiday World on the map is their trio of legendary wood coasters...the Raven, the Legend, and the Voyage. Three spectacular rides, any of which would be in the top two or three coasters at all but a few theme parks around the world.

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After parking in the free parking lot, we made our way over to the entrance. It's immediately obvious this place is not a corporate park, with a willy-nilly design aesthetic and extremely friendly staff members (including a couple in management) waiting to greet you. With plans to get to Splashin' Safari before it closed but an urgent desire to tackle at least a couple coasters first, we quickly made our way down to the lockers to stow our gear, then grabbed some free sunscreen and free soft drinks before wandering over to Thanksgiving and queuing up for the Voyage.

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I have visited Holiday World twice before...once in 2011, and once in 2014. In 2011, the Voyage ran quite rough, and while I enjoyed the ride I could only handle a couple rides on it. In 2014, it was running a little better, but it was still a challenge to ride. This time, the ride was running as good as it gets for such an aggressive coaster...so good in fact, that we all stayed aboard for a second trip across the seas. Voyage is not a tame coaster...159 ft tall, 6,442 ft. long, and with a nearly uninterrupted 2:45 ride, it is about as wild as a traditional woodie comes. While not as impressive as newer machines like Steel Vengeance, I personally feel that Voyage provides a better overall experience (if it is running well). This is one we came back to revisit later in the evening, and Douglas even proclaimed it the best ride of the trip (Joshua said it tied with Millennium Force).

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But there was another reason we started with Thanksgiving. A couple days before my 2014 visit, Holiday World announced a new roller coaster...Thunderbird. The park's first major steel coaster, Thunderbird is a launched B&M wing coaster that soars above Voyage and out into the woods. While lacking the length of GateKeeper, it makes up for it with a bit more intensity. Having now ridden all four wing coasters in North America, I can say that Thunderbird is my favorite of the bunch. Evan and Kevin agree, and we all take several rides due to the lack of a line. Douglas and Joshua, the less coaster-savvy members of the group, both prefer GateKeeper, and are satisfied with a single ride.

With the two coasters down (as well as the cheesy yet fun Gobbler Getaway dark ride), our focus shifts to Splashin' Safari. We return to the lockers to change into swimwear, then head off into the waterpark, one of the best included waterparks anywhere. Our attention is drawn directly to the two signature slides...Wildebeest and Mammoth, two massive ProSlide Hydromagnetic Water Coasters. As the first of the two, we start with a spin on Wildebeest, a traditional inline raft slide with numerous hills and drops. Not only is it a spectacular water slide, it's more fun than a fair number of actual roller coasters. However, it is only the appetizer for Mammoth, which features the same ride but in round six-passenger rafts. It may not seem like it at first, but riding this ride as a big group and watching each other throughout adds an extra dimension of enjoyment to the attraction. This is, at least in my experience, the best water park attraction out there.

With short lines as the waterpark empties, we try several other slides. All are fun, though they are mostly standard rides that are blown up to Holiday World proportions. Of the bunch, Zoombabwe is the most noteworthy...a 10 story enclosed raft slide that once held the distinction of being the longest enclosed slide in the world. While not a wholly unique attraction, it is much longer and more thrilling than other similar rides. At 6 P.M., the waterpark closes for the day, but we take advantage of our swimwear and tackle Holiday World's rapids ride and log flume (both fairly standard examples of their type with a little added theming) before switching back into street clothes. Time is ticking, but there's still a couple more coasters to enjoy.

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Halloween is where it all started for Holiday World, at least for the coaster enthusiast. Here stands the Raven, an early CCI creation that was often considered the world's best wooden coaster at the time of its construction. While small in stature compared to rides that have come since, the Raven still features a wild ride through the woods that is just a little on the short side for my tastes. Next door, however, stands the ride's sequel...the Legend. This ride does not get the same level of praise it's older sibling does, but to me it is the better coaster...a lengthy race through the woods loosely themed after the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Indeed, the ride is filled with bridges and tunnels that could turn you into the headless, er...PTC-man should you fail to heed the safety rules. It is much more about laterals than airtime, but few other coasters can make those a focus and still be as enjoyable as this one.

The coasters conquered, we head back to Thanksgiving for a proper Thanksgiving dinner at the Plymouth Rock Cafe. The signature restaurant of Holiday World, here guests can get the traditional turkey and stuffing all summer long at a very fair price by theme park standards. Joshua, Evan, and Douglas all opt for this, while Kevin and I substitute chicken...neither of us are big on turkey. While not as good as grandma's cooking, the food is still excellent and the meal is very filling.

After dinner, we all take another spin on the Voyage, then part ways until closing. Evan, Kevin, and I go for rerides on Thunderbird and Legend (Evan sits out the latter), while Joshua and Douglas wander through Fourth of July and pay Holidog a visit. We regroup at the exit at closing and say goodbye to this wonderful one-of-a-kind park before making the drive back to Florence.

As the designated evening driver, I was the one responsible for getting us back to the hotel in a timely manner. Little did I know that this drive would be the most memorable of the trip. As we crossed into Kentucky, signs warned of construction in Downtown Louisville, so Joshua's GPS re-routed us across a toll bridge. Unfortunately, this is a pay by mail toll, and paranoid Joshua started worrying about non-payment fees and suspended registration because the bill would never arrive (he'd be moving just a couple weeks after returning from the trip). The only thing that could distract him was what we called the crazy bus driver.

As I'm driving down the interstate, cruise control set at my usual 6 MPH above the speed limit, I come upon a couple tour busses driving in the right lane. No big deal, I simply pass them and keep going. A few miles down the road, I look in my rearview mirror and see a vehicle approaching on the mostly deserted freeway. Lo and behold, it is the same tour bus I just passed, now doing 85 in a 70. Not wanting to annoy them, I move over and let them past. In another couple miles, I start to approach another vehicle, which turns out to be...THE SAME TOUR BUS! I pass them again, and five miles later...THEY'RE COMING UP BEHIND! This continues for the better part of an hour, with my suspicion that those aboard the bus are getting into it. I know we all were. Unfortunately, a Joshua-mandated rest stop caused us to lose the crazy bus driver once and for all, and the remainder of the drive was fairly uneventful.

It was just beyond midnight by the time we got back to the hotel. With a full day at Kings Island the next day, it was off to bed for everyone. A long and very full day, but an enjoyable one that broke up the coaster-heavy parks a bit.

Kentucky Kingdom Coaster Rankings:

B Tier:

1. Storm Chaser x2
2. Lightning Run

C Tier:

3. Thunder Run

F Tier:

4. T3

Holiday World Coaster Rankings:

A Tier:

1. Voyage x3

B Tier:

2. Thunderbird x3
3. Legend x2
4. Raven

Next Time: An unexpected day at Kings Island

To read Douglas's report from these two parks, start here. His report is now complete, but I'll continue linking the appropriate installments as mine continues. Kevin's Kentucky Kingdom photo report is now available, but he has not yet gotten to Holiday World.

Replies (5)

August 6, 2018, 12:05 PM

The last time we went to Kentucky Kingdom was in its last year as a Six Flags park (shortly after the Superman drop tower incident). I had wanted to ride Chang pretty badly, because it was the only B&M stand-up in the US I hadn't ridden. Unfortunately, it was closed for the entire day. However, at the end of the season, Chang moved to SFGAdv, so I ended up riding it a couple of years later as Green Lantern.

I'm surprised you only devoted a half day to Holiday World. The park usually doesn't have huge lines, but I've found that even after a full day, I'd wish I had a few more hours in the charming park (and we've never even done Splashin' Safari).

August 7, 2018, 1:36 AM

The decision of how much time to spend at Holiday World is one that we debated for some time. In my opinion, Holiday World is a half day park if you only do the ride park and a full day park with Splashin' Safari, so with a couple waterpark fans on the trip I originally planned a full day for the park. At the time, the day we were scheduled to be in the area Kentucky Kingdom was closed for a private event, so it didn't factor into the equation. However, after the trip itinerary and dates changed, it became possible to include a stop at Kentucky Kingdom, but only at the expense of time at Holiday World. I therefore pitched two options to the group: full day at Holiday World and no Kentucky Kingdom, or two hours at Kentucky Kingdom and the rest of the day at Holiday World. I abstained (though I would have voted for Kentucky Kingdom), and among the others I had two in favor, one against, and one neutral. With Douglas, the only person who had not visited Holiday World previously being the neutral party, and as Kentucky Kingdom would be a new park for three of us (with nobody visiting post-Storm Chaser), we opted to include the stop. As nothing at Holiday World except Mammoth and Wildebeest had more than a 5 minute wait, we had enough time for the park, though it would have been nice to have another hour or so just so it was a little more of a relaxed pace. Not ideal, but better than omitting the park completely (which was considered but decided against).

August 8, 2018, 1:49 PM

Great write-up, AJ! I haven’t checked out Part 1 or 2 yet, but I’ll be catching them in reverse.

I remember the torrential storm on the 26th. Luckily for us, we were in Dayton at the National Museum of the USAF when the bottom decided to fall out, and the weather had calmed down by the time we left and continued on our way to Sandusky.

Despite not knowing much about it (other than what a quick google search could tell me), I had initially considered fitting Kentucky Kingdom into our plans. I was also looking for an excuse to get close enough to Holiday World too, but those plans were nixed. It looks like a nice local park though. I’m assuming the wait times were similar to Holiday World for the most part. Also was T3 the worst coaster of your trip? Like is it worse than Vortex?

August 8, 2018, 11:52 PM

Glad you're enjoying it, Shane. Looks like you picked the right place to be on the 26th.

Kentucky Kingdom really isn't that great of a park (it's not bad...just not great), and probably isn't worth going too far out of the way for. That said, they do have a RMC (albeit one on the weaker end of the spectrum), so if you happen to be nearby it's worth a half-day stop. We fortunately got in and got out quickly so lines weren't an issue, but by the time we were heading out the coasters probably had 20-ish minute waits (largely due to one-train operation). The park does get quite busy on weekends...Lighting Run was a 45 minute wait with both trains running on my previous visit. As for T3, yeah...that was the worst non-kiddie coaster on the trip. Much worse than Vortex.

Holiday World is a fantastic park, and I highly recommend including it in your next visit to the Midwest. It was definitely in the top tier of parks on this trip, though I think Cedar Point still has the title of best on the tour. It's smaller and not quite as travel-worthy as some others if you're not into waterparks, but they've got some of the best waterslides and wooden coasters ever built.

August 13, 2018, 7:05 AM

T3 worse than Vortex? Felt a twinge of pain after reading that. Oof.

At the very least, Kentucky Kingdom sounds like a manageable diversion then. If my girlfriend and I were in the area, I’d make time for it because the roller coasters are smaller in stature, so she’d be willing to ride everything. Even though I love how our trip panned out, I’m still disappointed about not heading over to Holiday World. Like you said, there’s always next time.

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