Part 4: Kentucky Kingdom & Beech Bend-July 26th, 2014
Nobody was fully awake on Saturday morning. I would be surprised if anyone had managed more than 5 hours of sleep (most probably got closer to 4). However, when the bus leaves at 6 A.M. and is going out of state, you do not want to miss it. The early departure combined with a helpful time change allowed for Saturday to be a two park day. Our morning began with a 3 hour bus ride to Louisville for a visit to the recently reopened Kentucky Kingdom.
When Kentucky Kingdom closed following the 2009 season, I didn't think I'd ever get to see the park. There were attempts to reopen the park, but after they all failed (especially the Holiday World attempt) I was certain the park would become just a memory. Fortunately, I was wrong. Under the leadership of Ed Hart, Kentucky Kingdom has reopened to continue its reign as Kentucky's largest amusement park. It is clear that Ed cares about the park, as he spoke with our group about the park and even asked for our opinions on the park's rides.
Our day at Kentucky Kingdom began with a two hour film shoot on the park's two main coasters. Originally we were to film on Lightning Run first, but due to technical difficulties we started with Thunder Run. After 45 minutes of riding (during which I rode three times), Robb had all the necessary footage and we moved over to Lightning Run. Four rides and one hour later, the park opened to the general public. I spent the morning riding the few rides I cared about. After the group lunch at noon I headed to the waterpark, Hurricane Bay, for the remainder of the visit.
Kentucky Kingdom's coaster selection is fine for the park as it is now, but is below average compared to similar sized parks. Lightning Run and Thunder Run are a great duo, but that's all the park has right now. For 2015, the park will be reopening T2 as T3, but given the reputation of Vekoma's SLCs it would surprise me if the ride is anything but average. However, with a Rocky Mountain treatment supposedly underway for Twisted Twins in 2016 the park is on the right track as far as coasters go.
Thunder Run: Thunder Run has received a re-track for the reopening, and the ride is now running better than ever. While not the greatest ride ever built, it is a solid coaster with some airtime, decent laterals, and a relatively smooth ride. The ride does get less and less thrilling as it goes on and it is a little on the short side, but I still enjoyed this coaster and it is absolutely the best Dinn ever built (at least in my experience). When Ed Hart asked, I told him 7/10, which translates to a B-.
I wasn't expecting much from this ride when it was announced, but it turned out to be a top tier coaster. The ride is short, but it offers loads of airtime and is very smooth.
The one issue I have with the coaster is the trains, which are highly uncomfortable and make it difficult for more than a couple rides in a row. If the trains were modified, this coaster would possibly make it on my top five list, but as it is I still consider it a top ten coaster. I'd give this 9/10, a score equivalent to an A on my scale.
Roller Skater: This is just a standard Vekoma Junior Coaster, and probably the worst I have been on due to a lack of theming and only one lap. If you count credits and there isn't a line, go ahead and ride, but otherwise it is just a waste of time. As usual, kiddie coasters don't get an official rating, but this one would be a 4/10 (D-). Surprisingly, it wasn't the worst coaster of the day.
Kentucky Kingdom's non-coaster selection is pretty bland without anything noteworthy, so this is where the park needs to focus their new additions in order to be competitive. Fortunately, 2015 will be bringing a few new flats and a refurbished water ride, so Kentucky Kingdom is going in the right direction.
As for their current rides, I did not ride too many simply due to time constraints and lack of interest. The best flat I tried at Kentucky Kingdom was Fearfall, a very good drop tower despite its short stature.
In addition, I enjoyed both Breakdance (a standard model, though slightly less intense than some) and Professor John's Flying Machine (one of the better Larson scooters, though the cycle felt a bit short). The only other non-coaster I rode was Tin Lizzies, a fairly average antique car ride with some good views of Lightning Run.
There were about a half-dozen other family/adult flat rides, while the rest appeared to be for children. In addition, Kentucky Kingdom does have one current water ride (Mile High Falls, a splash boat), but if you want to get wet you're better off at the waterpark. Speaking of which...
On its own, Hurricane Bay would be just okay as it is a medium sized waterpark with some redundancy in attractions (2 wave pools, 2 lazy rivers, etc). However, at Kentucky Kingdom it is the star attraction. I spent roughly half of my 5 hours of free time at Kentucky Kingdom in Hurricane Bay and if I were to go back I would definitely spend more time here as I missed out on several major slides, including Deluge (the world's first HydroMagnetic water coaster), Plummet Summit (the new family raft slide), and Tornado.
Wikiwiki Wai: This is the park's new ProSlide tube slide tower, featuring a serpentine slide, a bowl slide, and a funnel slide. My favorite of the three was Kilawaya, a half enclosed/half open slide that featured three mini funnels. The ride was actually more intense than I expected and I ended up being flipped off my tube in the last funnel. Waikiki Wipeout was a standard ProSlide bowl, though the ride was made more thrilling by rubbing my foot on the flume, causing the tube to spin while going around the bowl. Calypso Run, the serpentine tube slide, was good but not great, as it consisted mainly of slow helixes. Overall, I thought this was a pretty good slide complex.
Speed Slides: Kentucky Kingdom's speed slide tower features the tallest slide in North America, Deep Water Dive. This is a trap door slide with a 12 story free fall. I loved this ride, and it is probably the best at Hurricane Bay, though it didn't feel any different from the standard sized versions. Wave Runner was great as well, as the slide was really smooth and gave some airtime.
Mt. Slide Hai: This is Hurricane Bay's original slide tower, featuring serpentine body and tube slides. By the time I made it over here the lines were getting longer and I was running out of time, so I only had time to try Vanishing Falls. Fortunately, this ended up being one of the best serpentine body slides I've been on, as although it's a bit short it does get going reasonably fast without going fast enough to blind riders with water. The tube slides all looked pretty standard, so I don't think I missed much.
I had a nice time at Kentucky Kingdom, but overall I thought the park was just okay. The ride selection is decent, but there needs to be more, as the place is only worth about 3 hours if you don't do the waterpark. There are landscaping issues, as many of the newer rides are simply on concrete pads with dirt around them.
While none of the lines were extreme (Lightning Run looked to be 30-45 minutes), the park definitely would have capacity issues if it was much more crowded than it was on the day I visited (note: While the ride park was busy but not terrible, the waterpark was packed, but other than Deluge and Tornado nothing was more than a 20 minute wait). I'm not sure how food quality is in the park, but this was my least favorite of our fried chicken and hot dog lunches. The layout of Kentucky Kingdom is a bit confusing, though I'm not sure if that can be helped. Shade was a little hard to find, particularly in the front portion of the park. Finally, while operations were nothing to complain about they were a tad on the slow side and the employees were merely average.
Now, I may have a number of negative things to say about the park, but I will also say that those alone do not represent the whole picture. Yes, it was the park's reopening year and it did show. However, Kentucky Kingdom managed to exceed many of my expectations, and it was not the write-off park I expected it to be. Given all that the park had to deal with they were doing great. The guests seem to love the park, and based on what Ed Hart told us and next year's plans I have faith that Kentucky Kingdom will do nothing but improve. I doubt Kentucky Kingdom will ever be a major park, but who knows? Perhaps in ten years it will have grown enough to seriously compete with Holiday World and Kings Island. In short: Kentucky Kingdom as it is now is a 6/10 park, but after all the improvements are complete and everything is fixed up I could easily see it reaching an 8/10 or possibly higher.
At 4 P.M. the bus pulled out of the parking lot. Thanks to a favorable time change, we arrived at Beech Bend just an hour later. The good news: Beech Bend's management was very welcoming, perhaps the most of any park on the trip (though several other parks, especially Holiday World and Knoebels would give them a challenge for that). The bad news: We had less than 3 hours of free time here, and we happened to be visiting on the busiest day of the year!
Beech Bend was the smallest official park of the trip, and it is not a place most would know of if not from the area. The park started out as the world's largest campground, with the ride park being added to attract customers.
For the most part, rides are what you would expect to find at a typical carnival, but the park has a good balance between thrill rides and family rides. The park's employees are great as well, and for the most part operations were efficient.
Being with a group of coaster enthusiasts, we started off by collecting the credits. First stop in the park: Dragon.
Dragon is a Wisdom kiddie coaster, specifically the double helix Orient Express model. The coaster is so small it can only accommodate 3 or 4 adults per train without a rollback. To put it bluntly, this was the worst coaster I rode on the whole trip, but now that I've got the credit I never need to ride again.
The park's other credit coaster is Wild Mouse. a Zamperla spinning mouse. This wasn't the worst of this model I've been on, but still only gets a D since the ride didn't spin much. It did seem to be having operational issues, as the coaster broke down multiple times during the 45 minutes I waited in line.
Due to limited time, I only managed to ride three other rides at Beech Bend: the dark ride, log flume, and drop tower.
Beech Bend's dark ride, Haunted House, was a good old-school dark ride that felt completely home-built. This ride also is the only dark ride I've ever seen operated as a cycle ride: all four cars are loaded, they all go through the ride, and then they are unloaded all at once.
Beech Bend's Log Flume, White Water Express, is just a standard carnival flume with two lifts and two drops.
Lastly, Zero-G, the park's drop tower, was virtually identical to Fearfall at Kentucky Kingdom.
I really wish we had more time at the park, as there were several other rides I would have liked to try, including Vortex, Sea Dragon (which came from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch) and Scat 2, an insane looking flat that was broken down most of the night.
We had a catered dinner at Beech Bend, consisting of hot dogs and fried chicken once again. Of all the hot dogs and fried chicken, however, this was probably the best, and they also had fresh brewed sweet tea instead of soda (Fun Fact: Beech Bend is an RC Cola park).
This doesn't have much to do with anything, but I just had to include the picture. Don't ask why there's a random door at the top of the picnic pavilion.
The park manager held a Q&A session at dinner, followed by a raffle of various park souvenirs (I won a T-shirt). They then announced that we were going to have two backstage tours: a tour of the Haunted House followed by a tour of Kentucky Rumbler.
After dinner I walked around the park to take a few pictures, then it was time for the Haunted House tour. Dark rides are my favorite type of non-coaster attraction, so I loved getting the chance to walk through one. This one felt like it was built inside an old barn and while the ride was quite simple it was good. The only negative is that everything must be hidden behind chicken wire due to disrespectful guests.
Spoiler Alert: The following photos were taken inside the Haunted House. If you do not want to know what waits inside, skip the following set of photos.
Scroll through to see the inside of the Haunted House
Following the tour, I headed over to Kentucky Rumbler. Due to darkness our tour on the ride was cancelled, but the park made up for it by extending our hour of ERT to 90 minutes. Once the park closed and guests were cleared, ERT on the ride began.
I am a fan of GCI coasters, so I've known about this ride for some time. It is probably the company's least known American project, but that's a shame as the ride is really good. Some went as far as saying Kentucky Rumbler is the best GCI in North America. In my opinion, it's right at the bottom of the top tier of GCI coasters, and just barely misses a spot on my top ten wood list. The ride is a little on the short side and isn't quite as crazy as some of the new GCI coasters (particularly Gold Striker), but it is still an excellent coaster that makes the trip to Beech Bend well worth it for any wooden coaster enthusiast. A-
Our ERT on Kentucky Rumbler was unlike almost any other ERT session I've done. On each run, the park manager would give us tasks to complete during the ride. These started out relatively simple (count the airtime moments, etc.) and got progressively more difficult with each run (we eventually got as far as count the nails). After about 30 minutes of riding, the coaster started to get faster and faster so we attempted something from TPR's Scandinavia trip a month before. Dubbed the "Fat Train," the goal was to load the train with as much weight as possible, get into an aerodynamic position, and see if we can break the speed record around the track. Despite our best efforts on several runs, the fastest time we got was 79.5 seconds, not a record but still pretty good for a ride that typically runs 81 to 83. One other game attempted was the coaster chain: Everyone links arms with the riders in front of and behind them and you see if the train makes it around without breaking the chain. The group that tried this was successful, though I heard it was a painful experience. As if all this craziness wasn't enough, toward the end of ERT it started to rain and lightning could be seen in the sky. Normally this would have halted operation, but we just kept going around and around. Yes, this is how TPR does an ERT session.
During the course of the 90 minutes of ERT I managed 15 rides. Eventually it was time to call it a night, so with the small group of people who made it the whole time I headed out to the bus and the tour headed off to the hotel. Overall, Beech Bend was a decent park, though with the exception of Kentucky Rumbler there isn't much worth traveling for here. That said, I did enjoy the park more than Kentucky Kingdom and wish we had more time to explore the park. I have a feeling three hours would typically be sufficient for the place, but we just had the misfortune of hitting the park on the busiest day of the year.
That night, an unpleasant TPR first happened. Our hotel for the night was supposed to be Santa's Lodge right next to Holiday World. Elissa had called them several times over the past few days, verifying all the details of our arrival and ensuring our rooms would be ready. Well, when she called the hotel after leaving Beech Bend, we discovered that due to a computer glitch the hotel didn't have rooms for us. Fortunately, we were able to find a Days Inn in Owensboro, Kentucky that had enough rooms for our group with a little creative rooming (Elissa managed to fit 26 rooms of people into just 19). Trust me, it could have been way worse. The owner of Satan's Lodge (as it was known for the remainder of the trip) was very apologetic for the incident and offered a substantial refund for the inconvenience, but I have a feeling it is unlikely TPR will use the hotel on any future tours.
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