Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip: Kings Island

July 21, 2009, 3:18 PM · Is it possible for a roller coaster to be too smooth?

That's what popped into my mind as the train hit the brake approaching the station on Diamondback, Kings Island's new Bolliger & Mabillard mega-coaster. Diamondback's all about natural speed - a celebration of the vertical drop, the element Theme Park Insider readers selected last year as their favorite on a roller coaster.


We rode in the front row of the second car, allowing us a peek over each hill before a burst of acceleration kicked in as the train crested. And what acceleration it was - up to 80 mph of pure, natural, gravity-driven power, sweeping us into the next element on the track. Natalie declared, "It's so smooth, it didn't even mess up my ponytail."

She's right. Diamondback is pure Bolliger & Mabillard butter - smooth, silky and satisfying.

And yet...

I didn't find it exhilarating, the way the greatest coasters can be. Maybe it was the lack of inversions. Maybe it was just... too smooth and two-dimensional to really fire up a coaster pro like me. But I didn't have same giddy feeling that I enjoyed when I got off The Voyage last weekend. Don't get me wrong - it was very good, just not an all-time, world-class great like The Voyage.

And that's the way I felt about the rest of Kings Island. It's a good regional amusement park, with some moments well worth recommendation, but little these days to elevate it to "must visit" status for folks outside the U.S. midwest.

Kings Island

I brought the wife and kids to KI today, both so that I could experience Diamondback and so that I could show the kids one of the parks that I spent a great deal of time in as a kid.

Goal one: accomplished within 15 minutes, thanks to arriving at the front gate 10 minutes before the park opened. Goal two, though, initially appeared to be a total failure.

This isn't the same park I last visited on grad night in 19*coughcoughcough*. The half-scale Eiffel Tower, The Beast and the Racer are still here - otherwise Kings Island's various owners over the past decades totally have remade this park. The safari is gone, as are coasters such as The Bat, The Screamin' Demon and the King Cobra. The Hanna-Barbera land was consumed by a much larger Nickelodeon Universe. And what little Disney-esque theming once existed is slowly giving way to a more generic iron park, much the same as I am seeing at its Cedar Fair-owned sister park, Knott's Berry Farm in California.

None of that makes Kings Island worse than it was when I frequented it as teenager living in Indianapolis. Just different. Heck, if Kings Island were the same park it was in the Brady Bunch episode that my kids have committed to memory, fans would have abandoned this park years ago, and justifiably so. Parks should change.

Diamondback's a great addition to a line-up of solid coasters that offer an impressive variety of experiences, from the indoor coaster Flight of Fear to the heels-over-head fun of the six-inversion Vortex. Heck, today's Kings Island coaster line-up knocks the smack out of what it offered when I was a kid.

The Beast used to tower over the other rides in the park. Today, it stands meekly in the shadow of Diamondback, barely clearing the treeline of the surrounding woods. I'd forgotten how much this once-pathbreaking wooden coaster emphasized straight-line speed over airtime, unlike more modern, world-class woodies.

As we stood in the gate, waiting to board, I told Natalie that I was her age, 12, when I first rode The Beast, as she would be doing today. The Beast was the coaster that turned me on to a world beyond kiddie and family rides, a love that became a lifelong passion when I rode the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg later that year.

Natalie took her first step into that world with a ride on Knott's Ghostrider earlier this year. And I could see her apprehension as she agreed to try The Raven with me at Holiday World last weekend. She was game for The Legend, after that, but not yet ready to tackle The Voyage.

She said she'd give Diamondback a go, after watching the YouTube video of it yesterday. As we came back to the station this morning, while I was wondering if the ride was too smooth for me, Natalie yelped.

"I love big drops!"


By the time we got off The Beast, I could see the coaster fever in her eyes. A week ago, she wasn't sure about thrill rides. Now, she's a dedicated fan.

These were the perfect next coasters for her, for where she's at as a roller coaster fan. So while my daughter didn't see the same park as I did when I was 12, she saw today a park that did the same thing for her as it did for me back then. So I guess goal number two was accomplished after all.

That's the value of Kings Island. You can't drag most kids straight onto an extreme coaster and expect those kids to become coaster fans. More likely, if you put a kid on a coaster that's too advanced for them, you'll turn 'em off coasters for life. Regional parks like Kings Island give kids (and some grown-ups) the opportunity to experience a variety of coasters and thrill rides, attractions that can help give them the fever to chase the most unique thrills all over the country, and the world, as they grow older.

Our next stop on that path? C'mon, can't you guess?

Join us next week on Theme Park Insider's Summer Roadtrip, as we visit... Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

You're gonna love it, Nat.

Replies (27)

July 21, 2009 at 4:31 PM · I really want to ride Diamondback now, after reading.
July 21, 2009 at 5:08 PM · I have to agree with you on Cedar Fair's de-theming. CF is an amusement park company and it seems they really believe in as little theming as possible. I really wish, however, that they would do something more than nothing. In my opinion landscaping would be better than open space if they do not want to do theming. But it is highly disappointing that they do not do theming!!! My trip to Kings Island and Cedar Point August 10-12 is coming up soon! I plan to ride Diamondback! I am really excited! Is Son Of Beast re-opened yet? Any updates on that? I have not seen anything online anywhere.
July 21, 2009 at 5:18 PM · I agree with Adam. The only US companies in the theme park business that seem to care about theming are Disney, Universal and Anheuser-Busch. Robert, I hope you enjoy Busch Gardens. I would like to hear about Curse of DarKastle.
July 21, 2009 at 6:08 PM · So, what did you think of some of the other coasters? Specifically I was looking forward to your comparison of Flight of Fear vs. Rock 'n Roller coaster. I know the layouts are different, but the ideas are similar, so what did you think? Also, as far as your kids thought, how did the theming and ride selection of the Nick area compare to what they are used to at Fantasyland? After all, Amusement Today rates King's Island as having the best kids area in the world - not that I put much stock in the Golden Ticket awards, but I am curious to get their review. Also, was the park crowded? How was the food? Any customer service details worth sharing? I appreciate the report, Robert, but do you have any other details for us? Inquiring minds want to know! ;)

To the fellow who asked about Curse of the DarKastle, I enjoyed that attraction quite a bit when I re-visited BGW last year. I was very impressed with Busch's attempt to replicate IOA’s Spider-Man. I do think they fell short in the attempt, but the ride is well done, fun, and worth your time.

Oh, and by the way, Robert, I was really looking forward to re-riding Loch Ness last year after a near 20 year absence, and honestly, my memories of the ride were much better than the reality! However, it is my 9 year old son's favorite coaster to date, so I totally concur with your sentiments about slowly bringing the kids along and not just forcing them on the biggest, baddest coaster you can find! ;)

July 21, 2009 at 5:57 PM · I don't want to get off on a rant here but I went to Kings Island over the 4th of July weekend and I was able to ride every coaster and thrill ride there in a single day...some rides more than once...including Diamondback. Diamondback is a very smooth coaster but it had great air time, some great drops and hills, and I loved the splashdown at the end. While they have lost a bunch of the themeing that they used to have, the park still has a lot to see and do. Most of the themeing that has been at Kings Island belonged to its former owners, Paramount. Cedar Fair was not able to keep the themeing past 1 year after purchase of the park due to Paramount not selling rights to use the themeing that was a major portion of what the park was.......During my trip there I did find myself calling alot of the rides that had previously had movie titles and themes associated with them under Paramount but since had to be renamed, by the names they had under Paramount. I think Cedar Fair has done a great job of keeping the park as close to what it was as they have done, and adding to the park 2 great coasters in 3 years. I see Cedar Fair attempting to expand this park into another record holding , massive park like Cedar Point. While there are various things that they can do to add some theaming to it I dont think it really needs a lot of themeing as the coasters and rides speak for themselves. It is a great park and while i do miss alot of the old coasters that have left the park I welcome the changes and hope to see more great rides added to the park soon. Thats just my opinion...I may be wrong, the balcony is now closed and The Beast is still the best wooden coaster of all time. Thank you and goodnight!!!
July 21, 2009 at 6:07 PM · I will always prefer thrills AND theme (story + decoration) to thrills alone. However, if the park is clean, fun, well maintained, well managed, and continually updated, then I have no issue with it. Not every park has to be like Disney or Universal, and honestly, there are times when I too just want the no-nonsense thrills of a good 200 ft drop and a 75 mph helix.
July 21, 2009 at 6:24 PM · I do like your observation of the "de-theming" of the park. One could say this is a Cedar Fair Phenomena, but let's face it, there has never been a lot of theming. It seems to me that what lures me to a place like Disney is that it is all theme which is different than my local park - Kings Island. Cedar Fair and Cedar Point seem to be more about the ride experiences.

I do miss Screamin' Demon. I remember climbing up and down the stairs over and over. This was a platform coaster. Down a hill, loop, up a hill, then do it in reverse, done!

Cobra - ahhh, my first ever stand up coaster including a loop and helix at the end. Too short, but fun!

Safari - well, the parts of it are at Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield, OH - an adventure all its own.

I would give a mention to history that's still there. The Racer is a classic out-and-back that feature two mirror tracks that "race". It was honored with by ACE a few years ago.

Perhaps you should point out that the game Greg Brady played trying to pick up on that groovy Cincinnati girl is still there in Coney Island. The throw the football through the receiver's arms game.

July 21, 2009 at 6:25 PM · Oh, James - totally agree with you!
July 21, 2009 at 6:27 PM · Thanks, Andy...that has never happened to me before! =D
July 21, 2009 at 6:57 PM · I have to agree with other that it is a shame that Cedar Fair does not do Theme. Theme parks set themselves apart from others by offering a unique experience only available at that park. The former KECO parks did a nice job of trying to theme and then Paramount wiped that out and CF is just totaly destroying their individuality they once had. Such a shame to only focus on Thrill.
July 21, 2009 at 7:01 PM · As a follow-up to James' question above (compare Flight of Fear to Rock and Roller Coaster), I'm curious: I think Flight of Fear is basically the same track layout as Poltergeist at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, which is certainly similar to Joker's Jinx at Six Flags America. Does anyone know? A big difference is that Poltergeist is outdoors and JJ is sortof outdoors (roof but no walls if I remember correctly).
July 21, 2009 at 8:19 PM · Great trip report, Robert.

The de-theming of the Cedar Fair parks are sad. However, Paramount was already removing a lot of the character of the Kings parks before Cedar got involved. While Volcano is a solid coaster, I will always mourn the removal of the Haunted River and Smurf Mountain at Dominion.

I agree with James that The Loch Ness Monster has a better memory than reality. The tunnel effects no longer exist and the coaster has slowed down and become more bumpy with age. However, it is still a great first coaster for the kids and it may be the most photogenic coaster on the planet.

Robert, can you try to find out any info on the rumored removal of The Big Bad Wolf? The Wolf is another great family coaster and I would prefer to see it updated instead of removed. It is perfectly integrated into the unique landscape of BGW and, like Loch Ness, is a classic.

July 21, 2009 at 7:55 PM · Rhys, FoF is exactly the same layout as Poltergeist and Joker's Jinx. Rock 'n Roller Coaster is the same layout as Xpress at Walibi World (Netherlands).

And just to clarify my previous comment (and to keep my Theme Over Thrills Club membership intact), while I do indeed love a 200 ft drop and 75 mph helix, I would trade any coaster at my local Cedar Fair park, Worlds of Fun, for Expedition Everest (DAK) or Revenge of the Mummy (USF), without a second thought.

July 21, 2009 at 8:00 PM · The detheming isn't necessarily a bad thing in this case. Paramount's attempts at theming started off well when they took over the park in the early 90's (Top Gun, Flight of Fear, Nick Central), but towards the end of their occupation, the themed rides they were building were falling short of the mark. My belief is that they simply weren't spending the money to push these rides over the top. The park was headed nowhere under Paramount by the end. That being said, I would much rather have a company like Cedar Fair come in, build great thrill rides, and bring an element of service and great management ...than have Paramount continue a path of mediocrity and strip the park of it's personality.

It's too bad that you didn't get the front seat. That's the money seat. Robert you have totally dated yourself with your reference to The Bat and Screamin Demon, and Natalie...welcome to the dark side. The Beast has a way of doing that.

July 21, 2009 at 8:07 PM · Derek is right. A good theme (again, that's decoration AND story) costs money to implement, and if you don't have the dough, don't waste the time (ya hear that Six Flags?). Thrills are cheaper than theme.

Raul, I would cry if Big Bad Wolf was removed. Were it not for the near dead stop in the middle of the ride, before the final drop, that coaster would absolutely make a run for best ride in the park. And the low height requirement (42") makes it the best (and only) whole-family coaster at BGW. I would hate to see it go.

July 21, 2009 at 8:28 PM · I'm going to write about kids' areas, but I'm going to wait until later in the trip. You'll see why when I write it.

The original theming of KI was such an obvious Disneyland rip-off (with a Coney Island-style addendum - hey, KI beat DCA to the punch!), that I'd have been happy with KI going in a new direction. But there's no consistency or flow to what's been done over the years.

Overall, I'd have to say that KI's better park for thrill fans today than it was when I was a kid. But in other respects, it's still lacking.

One *big* one I do want to bring up is food. Sorry, TPI readers, but I have got to smack y'all down for the 9s (!) you've given to LaRosa's and Skyline.

You. Have. To. Be. Kidding. Me.

I don't know how LaRosa's is outside the park, but here it's barely a step above frozen pizza quality. And the prices are just ridiculous. I thought it pretty weak, overall.

As for Skyline, I didn't grow up with it, so I'm just not used to sweet chili that tastes like cinnamon. But hiding the stuff under two inches of cheese doesn't exactly express confidence in the taste of one's chili. If you're a Cincy native with a hankering for the stuff, I could see going as high as a 7. But for anyone else, it's a 4 - tops.

Under no circumstances should counter service joints be getting a 9. C'mon, folks.

On the food topic, does anyone else remember when there was restaurant above the main entrance? I never ate there, but remember that one was up there and I'm curious.

July 21, 2009 at 9:13 PM · Ah the International Street Restaurant. I remember it being a pretty nice place. We used to have breakfast there in the morning during our trips and the Hanna Barbera characters would make an appearance and take some pictures. In the evenings it was the best dinner spot, primarily due to it's location overlooking the fountains and it's view of the fireworks...and the bar. They should seriously reopen it and give the park a really good restaurant option.

Here are some photos of the former International Street Restaurant

July 21, 2009 at 9:14 PM · I really enjoyed hearing how it was a while ago. My mom always talks about the Racer. Flight of fear is about the only themeing and that stuff is collecting so much dust. The scooby doo ride however is themed pretty good. I suggested going to the Rivertown Hall buffet, sure beats the gassy chili!
July 21, 2009 at 10:55 PM · Ah, Robert, sorry you don't like skyline! It must be an acquired taste I suppose. I love Skyline chili, but finding it here down south is a challenge. But yeah, it definitely isn't your normal chili. And if you like hearty, bean-y chili, you won't like skyline.
But, great trip report! Can't wait to read the next ones! I can't remember though, did you say you were going to Universal Orlando? And if so, I hope RRR is open for you! :)
July 21, 2009 at 11:22 PM · Hmm, that's wierd that Larosa's would be that bad for you. It's usually extremely good. At least it was when I had it last year...
July 22, 2009 at 6:11 AM · I went to KI ages ago, but from the description, it sounds WAY differnt. Of course I was like 8 the last time I went there.

I am interested on how you thought the roller coaster was too smooth. Two of my favorites, Krakken of SWO and Raging Bull of SFGA are both very smooth and more for the sweeping and dropping element than inversions (ok Krakken has a few). I think its the up and down that lets you see the whole park that makes it so great. Did it give good views?

July 22, 2009 at 6:55 AM · Another great report.

I have to agree about the counter service remark. I don't think any theme park food, including the fare at renowned locations like Epcot, should get anything above an 8 (maybe a 9 if the service and surroundings are exceptional). It's theme park food. Mass-produced and shoveled out.

Theme park hotel food, contrarily, can be excellent.

July 22, 2009 at 8:59 AM · I look forward to riding Diamondback, but I suspected it to be exactly as you described. Living in Louisville, KY I'm filled with pride to be only an hour away from the best little theme park in the middle of nowhere, Holiday World, and its family owned and operated charms. The Voyage is the best wooden coaster in the world.

You know what I miss most at King's Island? It's another type of Voyage. THE ENCHANTED VOYAGE! That boat ride was pure magic. It was replaced over the years by other dark rides; first the Smurf boat ride (laid right on top the Enchanted Voyage), then the fairly cool Phantom Theater and finally Scooby Doo and the Haunted Castle. The Scooby Doo interactive ride is cool (I love the Castle facade), but nothing will ever replace the Enchanted Voyage.

July 22, 2009 at 3:06 PM · I was telling my kids about Enchanted Voyage while we were waiting in line for Scooby Doo, and they refused to believed that the building once was a Small World-style boat ride. I'll have to dig out an old picture to prove it to them, I guess.

Laurie reminds me that I should give props to the Starbucks on International Street, which she reports has made the best latte she's had in the Cincinnati area. She's a coffee freak, and always tries to order a vanilla latte with one-and-a-half shots of espresso. She said that not only did the KI Bucks people not look at her funny, they nailed the order. So there ya go.

The Skyline thing pains me a bit, because I like to endorse local food options around the country. But I just can't reconcile the taste of that chili with anything they serve it with - hot dogs, spaghetti and especially cheese. Perhaps if I could get a small cup of it, plain, I might be able to appreciate it. But I am past wanting to try. For folks who grew up with it, or who like massive quantities of cheese... enjoy. It's all yours.

July 22, 2009 at 3:53 PM · I agree with the comment Robert left about the food at the park. My sister and I went for the 4th of July weekend and decided to try LaRosa's pizza because of the ratings it had received on here. Gross. We were both incredibly disappointed. I understand that you have to pay more for food in an amusement park, but to pay THAT much for THAT pizza? No thanks.

As for Diamondback, I say you MUST ride in the very back of the train. That makes for a much different & much more intense ride experience. I personally prefer coasters that aren't as smooth as glass, but the force and the airtime delivered in the backseat of Diamondback won me over.

July 24, 2009 at 7:37 PM · To each his own, Robert -- that's the glory of diversity. And it's no wonder that Skyline is diverse -- the more you eat, diverse it gets...

Good report, but a minor correction is in order -- the Eiffel Tower is a one-third scale replica (this was a question on the Ride Warriors scavenger hunt earlier this season).

And while Diamondback isn't as eye-watering as Apollo's Chariot, it DOES have more air time. I'm guessing you had the lap restraint too tight. The trick is to keep it three fingers loose, then you'll feel the rise out of your seat over each of the hills. And sit in an even-numbered row -- those are outside seats, allowing you an unobstructed view of NOTHING on the side but air. Flap your arms like a birdie!

I've been blessed to be able to try many different parks, so I appreciate another point of view on some of those I've visited. I just wish I had a gimmick to make the trips tax deductable like you...

Oh, and Kaycee -- PM me an address and I'll mail you a few cans of Skyline Chili!

July 26, 2009 at 5:16 PM · First time visit on July 9. I liked LaRosa's pizza. Dimondback was a fun coaster. I went to the park with Cincinnati natives. They called the rides by the old Paramount names. If you all think that Cedar Fair has no themeing at their parks just look at Cedar Point. It is the second oldest park in the US, but you can't see hardly anything that is old.

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