To read the previous report from Kentucky Kingdom and Holiday World, click here.
It is not uncommon for visitors to plan multi-day stays to destination theme park resorts, such as Walt Disney World. However, for the most part, regional theme parks are not multi-day parks, and with the exception of quasi-destination parks like Cedar Point, they can generally be completed in a day or less. Kings Island is one of the rare parks that doesn't fit that rule, as it is challenging to do everything at the park in a single day without Fast Lane. On the flipside, the park doesn't offer enough for two full days, which can make planning a bit tricky. We therefore opted to do an evening at the park after driving down from Cedar Point, with a full day a couple days afterward.
Of course, plans can sometimes go awry, and as mentioned last time Joshua wasn't feeling well on the drive down to Cedar Point. By the time I returned to Kings Island after dropping him off at the hotel, I had only a little more than an hour to spend at the place. Fortunately, the rain earlier in the day had cleared the park out completely, and in roughly 80 minutes I was able to ride half of the park's non-kiddie coasters and one or two flats. It was a great tease for the full day that was to come.
The following day was spent at Kentucky Kingdom and Holiday World, then on Thursday, June 28th, we made our full day visit to Kings Island.
The Keystone, Timbers, and Vengeance Tour
Part 4: Kings Island
Excluding Cedar Point, Kings Island is likely the most famous of the larger Cedar Fair parks (Knott's Berry Farm is more of a mid-size park). The park began life as a relocation of the popular Coney Island amusement park, which suffered from regular flooding and limited expansion space. Opening in 1972, the park quickly gained attention after appearing in popular TV shows of the time. Over the years, the park has grown steadily and changed ownership a couple times. Today, it is Cedar Fair's third-largest park and a major destination that draws from much of the Midwest.
In 2014, Kings Island opened Banshee, and as a result it was a major destination on my trip that year. On that visit, I was visiting as part of a group tour, so many perks were included. Unfortunately, this time it would be just the five of us, so bonus perks were non-existent. I prepared the group based on my previous visit...expect 45-60 minute waits for major coasters, don't be surprised if we have limited time for re-rides, etc. What we got ended up being completely different in a very good way.
As it is the newest coaster at the park, our day started at Mystic Timbers, a GCI creation out in the woods behind Rivertown. Some have called this ride one of GCI's finest creations, and most agree that it was the best coaster installed in North America in 2017 (a year with few noteworthy rides). Mystic Timbers was my 11th GCI, and while I don't know that I'd call it their best ride (that honor belongs to Dollywood's Thunderhead), it is certainly near the top of the list. Much like Gold Striker, the ride never loses momentum as it flies through the course, with plenty of airtime and twists throughout, but it lacks a little bit of the intensity found on some of GCI's more compact creations. Despite many warnings, the ride ends by venturing into an abandoned shed, giving the potential for a really unique ending but ultimately leading to disappointment. As the new ride, this was consistently one of the longer lines at the park, but it never got much above 15-20 minutes during the day.
With the new coaster complete and the park now fully open, we made our way to the lower capacity coasters before the crowds moved in. First up, Firehawk, an outdated Vekoma Flying Dutchman. Having ridden all three installations of this particular model, I can say with confidence that they beat the B&M flyers on intensity but fall short on quality. Firehawk stands as the best of the three as it runs a bit smoother than the others, but it still falls short of being a must-do attraction for anything other than the uniqueness.
Next door stands Flight of Fear, an indoor Premier LIM Launch coaster. Originally themed to the Outer Limits, Flight of Fear is the predecessor to Disney's Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and provides much the same thrill but with a lot more intensity. The ride is short and mostly occurs in unthemed darkness, but there is not a dull moment on the coaster. If it tracked a little better this would be one of the park's best rides, but as it stands it's a solid second-tier coaster among the park's lineup.
At this point, Douglas made the decision to go off on his own...he had ridden most of the other coasters previously and wanted to stick with re-riding his favorites. As Joshua needed an intensity break, the rest of us made our way to Adventure Express, an Arrow Mine Train coaster. Starting at the high point of the ride, this coaster has an unusual layout as you race up and down the hillside past some ancient adventure theming. By Cedar Fair standards, this coaster has some very impressive theming, yet sadly the buildup is wasted as the final lift leads only to a 10 foot drop and a turn into the station. This may be my favorite of Arrow's Mine Train coasters (it certainly beats the Cedar Creek Mine Ride), but sadly there are limitations to how good a lightly themed mine train can be.
As we exited Adventure Express, I received a text from Jarrett, a friend local to the park. He had just arrived and wanted to meet up over at Banshee. Naturally, we all headed in that direction, and after a short 10 minute wait we boarded B&M's largest inverted creation.
Enthusiasts tend to be split on their opinions of Banshee. After riding it in 2014, I immediately declared Banshee my favorite B&M Invert. However, with rides on Alpengeist, Afterburn, and Montu since, I wasn't sure how it would hold up. The verdict? Banshee ranks 2nd, falling just a bit short of Afterburn due to having slightly less intensity, but beating Alpengeist and Montu due to sheer scale and a very unique layout. Banshee is largely one inversion after another, but it follows a very different sequence from many B&M coasters and features a couple elements not seen before on the company's rides. It is forceful, though not to the level of a Batman clone, and it is a nice long ride enjoyed in relatively comfortable trains. It did feel a little shakier than it was when new in 2014, but nothing worth complaining about.
Following Banshee's intensity, we went for a spin on the less intense Bat. An Arrow Suspended Coaster, this ride blows Iron Dragon out of the water. After a large drop, the coaster races through a ravine, turning back and forth to maximize the advantages of the swinging train design. It's not a long ride, but it is long enough. Evan declared this his favorite coaster at the park...an unusual opinion, but an understandable one.
With the front of the park complete, it was now time to backtrack and try to grab a couple more coasters before lunch. Unfortunately, Racer was only operating one side, so we bypassed that and headed instead for Backlot Stunt Coaster. The little brother of Flight of Fear, this is an outdoors non-inverting multi-launch coaster that looks like a family ride yet delivers some serious forces. With more working effects than its Kings Dominion counterpart (though a rougher ride than Canada's Wonderland's installation), it's a fine ride though nothing to write home about. This was the last coaster installed by Paramount before they sold the parks off, and it shows that had they cared the place could have become a legitimate fully themed park.
After checking in with Douglas and making plans to meet at the Eiffel Tower in 30 minutes, we headed over to our final ride of the morning...The Beast. A legendary ride often known by non-enthusiasts as well, the Beast is a monster of a wood coaster. 7,359 ft of track race through the woods, every inch of it crafted in house by Kings Island's railroad engineers. As a traditional coaster, the ride itself isn't the most thrilling...two drops lead to a series of low to the ground curves, then another large drop off a second lift hill sends rides swirling around a massive double helix. However, much like the coasters found at Disneyland, the setting of this ride really makes it work, and the result is an epic race through the woods on an out of control train. Some say that this ride should receive the RMC treatment, but I say blasphemy...it works because of what it is, and delivers something different from what can be found on any other wood coaster on earth. It's not the fastest, nor the tallest, nor the most extreme, but it is still an excellent ride.
At this point, it was time to make plans for lunch. Realizing that we'd already done about 3/4th of the park's major attractions between Tuesday evening and the first three hours of Thursday, we opted to save money and leave the park for lunch. Our destination of choice? Skyline Chili, a regional fast food chain. Known for their Cincinnati-style chili (which is more of a chili meat sauce), the restaurant has a simple menu consisting of coneys (chili cheese hot dogs) and ways (chili-topped spaghetti with cheese). As someone who's not the biggest fan of pasta, I opted for a couple coneys, while everyone else got a three way or four way (number indicates topping count...onions and beans can be added). As someone who doesn't particularly care for chili, I was a little bit skeptical on what I'd think, but the food itself was good...not spectacular, but not bad either. The hospitality, on the other hand, was unmatched...free samples to make sure we'd enjoy the chili, outstanding service, and gift bags for first time customers. I wouldn't got out of my way to return, but if it's convenient I definitely may stop by again on my next Cincinnati visit.
Returning to the park, we decided to take it slow and do Boo Blasters on Boo Hill before heading back to the coasters. The ride has better theming than similar installations at other Cedar Fair parks and features a unique omnimover system, but sadly the blasters on this particular installation aim poorly and don't always work. With working guns, this would be a perfectly adequate shooting dark ride for a regional park. Sadly, it is instead a ride simply to kill time and escape the heat for 30 minutes or so.
Heading back to the coasters, we opted for the nearby Diamondback next. A B&M hyper, Diamondback is very similar to counterparts Behemoth and Intimidator. In my opinion, it is the best of the three...a little bit of a rattle at points, but full of perfect parabolic floater airtime hills. B&M hypers are my favorite class of pure steel coasters, and while this one isn't the best it is still a very enjoyable ride with only a 20 minute wait despite sub-par operations (double-stacking on most cycles). Some will disagree, but this was my favorite ride at Kings Island.
After Diamondback, Douglas again opted to split from the group. For the rest of us, only two coasters remained to conquer. First was Vortex, an Arrow looper from the late 80s when bigger often meant better. Like all Arrow coasters, this ride is a bit of a blast from the past. It's not smooth, but it has a feel that can't be replicated by modern computer-designed rides. Jarrett ranked this as the park's worst coaster, while I wouldn't go that far...I wouldn't wait more than a few trains for it, but I still enjoy it more than some other Arrow loopers (Anaconda, Corkscrew, ...), though not as much as others (Loch Ness Monster, Viper, ...).
Now operating the way it should, it was time to ride our last coaster at the park: Racer. The original coaster at Kings Island, Racer is a masterpiece when it comes to out-and-back racing coaster design. Two trains depart together and roll side by side over a series of camelbacks, some of which provide mild airtime. At the end of the track, the trains turn away from each other, then race back toward the station over more airtime hills. The outbound structure separating both tracks helps to build suspense, allowing brief glimpses of the other train but making it impossible to determine a winner until both sides pull onto the brakes. Sure, there are many better wooden coasters that have come since, but older rides like this still have a place in the industry, and it would be a shame were RMC to start destroying classics like the Racer.
Our coaster tour complete, Jarrett took off to head home while the rest of us occupied ourselves with various re-rides. We also did a handful of flat rides, including Drop Tower, a very good Intamin Gyro Drop and potentially the best non-coaster ride at Kings Island, as well as a couple water rides (one of which got us quite wet...I won't say which). Being less fond of rerides, Joshua went to find Douglas after a second spin on Flight of Fear, and the two of them ended up re-riding Beast several times while Kevin, Evan, and I took in a few other coasters.
With a consensus that short lines had rendered the park complete ahead of schedule and an early morning looming the next morning, we opted to forgo staying for night rides and head out of the park around 7 P.M. To satisfy Joshua's urge for chicken strips, dinner was simply at a fast food place known as Raising Cane's. To me, this is nothing special...there's one 5 minutes from my house. For others on the trip, however, it was a new restaurant (or, in Joshua's case, a rarely visited one). The best meal ever? Not even close, but a satisfactory option for travelers on a budget. Plus, it allowed us not only a good view of the famous Florence Ya'll water tower, but the discovery of a local mini-golf place that had a mini-Florence Ya'll right on the course (one of my regrets on the trip...not stopping to play a round).
So, how does Kings Island stack up? It is difficult for me to place this park, as it has a lot of things going for it but also a few glaring weaknesses.
With the exception of Cedar Point, Kings Island has probably the best coaster line-up in the Cedar Fair chain. However, they are lacking in truly unique stand-out coasters, with only the Beast serving as something that can't be found at most regional thrill parks. They arguably have the best Cedar Fair dark ride not located at Knott's Berry Farm, yet the ride is not maintained well and as a result often provides a subpar experience.
As a whole, the park's non-coaster ride selection is quite good (they often boast about having the best kid's area in the country), but again there is little that stands out as particularly unique.
Landscaping and theming is top notch for a Cedar Fair park, but much of that is due to the park's setting or due to elements added before Cedar Fair took over. Lastly, employees at Kings Island were probably overall friendlier and more into their jobs than those at Cedar Point, though efficiency wasn't quite as good with lots of double-stacking on three train coasters.
If forced to answer the question, I'd probably say this...on the whole, Kings Island is not my favorite Cedar Fair park, but it is near the top of the chain. It doesn't have a whole lot that makes it unique compared to other thrill parks in the country, but it does much of what it has very well. For a well-traveled enthusiast, the park is not likely to blow you away. However, you will still have a very good time, and for that reason it is well worth including a day here in any Midwestern theme park road trip.
Kings Island Coaster Rankings:
1. Diamondback x3
2. Mystic Timbers x4
3. Banshee x3
4. Beast x3
5. Firehawk x2
6. Flight of Fear x2
7. Backlot Stunt Coaster
9. Bat x2
11. Racer x2
12. Adventure Express
Next Time: Kennywood, my most anticipated park on the tour
To read Douglas's take on Kings Island, follow this link over to WDW Magic. Kevin has fallen a bit behind on his trip report, but when it is posted a link will appear on the homepage of Incrediblecoasters.Tweet
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