Which is Better: Holiday World or Kings Island?

April 16, 2020, 6:29 PM · Today we are introducing a new feature on Theme Park Insider: Which is better?

In each article, I will write about two theme parks, attraction types, or practices and then ask you to vote for the one your prefer. Then I will invite you to add your own perspective and analysis, in the comments. My hope is that these questions will help create a useful planning tool for all of you for when the parks reopen, as well as an engaging topic for discussion while they remain closed.

First up: I'm setting up a face off between two Midwestern theme parks that happen to have been the closest thing to a "home" park that I had when I was going to high school in Indianapolis. Which is better: Holiday World or Kings Island?

Which is Better?

In some ways, these parks could not be more different. Holiday World is a family-owned park in the tiny town of Santa Claus, Indiana - located an hour's drive away from anything that could be called a metropolitan area. Kings Island is part of the Cedar Fair theme park chain, located in the Cincinnati suburbs and built years ago by Cincinnati's Taft Broadcasting Company, which helped the park to launch with national television exposure.

Kings Island has been part of three corporations over the years, while Holiday World remains the property of members of Indiana's Koch family that founded it more than 70 years ago. (They're not part of *that* Koch family, by the way. But if someone would like to reward the Holiday World Kochs with a billion dollars to build us the complete B&M line-up, well, I'd get line for that. Just sayin'.)

But both Holiday World and Kings Island share a commitment to world-class roller coasters. Holiday World got on fans' radar back in 1995 with the opening of Raven, a CCI coaster that immediately won great reviews. The park followed with another CCI production, Legend, five years later. Then it rocked fans in 2006 with Voyage, a hybrid coaster that features a wooden track atop a steel frame and delivers one of the great rides in roller coaster history. Holiday World opened its first steel roller coaster in 2015 with B&M's Thunderbird, the first launched wing coaster in America and another all-around winner for the park.

Over at Kings Island, the park was getting ready to open Orion, a 300-foot, 91-mph B&M giga. It will be the park's third B&M coaster, following the inverted Banshee and hyper Diamondback. But if there's one coaster most associated with Kings Island, it's the Charlie Dinn 1979 classic, The Beast. Overall, Kings Island's 14 coasters puts it tied for fourth for the most coasters of any park in the United States.

You can't go wrong with either park, really, which is what makes this question fun rather than anything mean-spirited. Both offer deep and diverse line-ups of thrill and family rides. You can find plenty of signature food, from Skyline Coneys at Kings Island to Thanksgiving dinner all summer long at Holiday World.

But the parks' differences are real and potentially significant for fans. Superficially, Kings Island follows a much more traditional design, with an entry plaza leading to a "weenie" (in this case, a scale replica of the Eiffel Tower), with attractions surrounding. Holiday World's design - such as it is - is more organic, following a series of expansions from its roadside attraction origins as Santa Claus Land.

Beyond that, Kings Island offers the benefits of being part of the Cedar Fair chain, meaning that Platinum passholders from its other parks can enjoy free admission and benefits here, while Kings Island passholders can buy the same pass to enjoy access to the other Cedar Fair parks around North America, including Cedar Point, Canada's Wonderland, and Knott's Berry Farm.

Meanwhile, Holiday World counters with some pretty impressive value of its own, including free parking, free sunscreen, and most notably, free soft drinks throughout the park. The adjacent Splashin' Safari water park, with its record-setting line-up of water coasters, is included with Holiday World admission, instead of being a separate gate, as water parks are at most other theme parks.

So it all comes down to your preferences, and how you judge the value, convenience, and line-up offered by each park.

Let's hear your thoughts about these parks, in the comments.

Replies (11)

April 16, 2020 at 6:53 PM

I'll give my vote to any park who recognises that keeping its guests hydrated and free of sunburn is important enough to include in the ticket price any day/

April 17, 2020 at 5:08 AM

Holiday World is my favorite independent park, as well as one of my top ten overall. It gets my vote here for much the same reasons stated above. While Kings Island is still a very good park and somewhere I'll visit any time I'm in Ohio, it is not a park I would likely go out of the way to revisit as there isn't enough present that can't be found at most of Cedar Fair's major parks. Meanwhile, Holiday World is a one-of-a-kind experience at a park that truly puts guest service at the forefront and is worth making a special trek to Indiana a couple times a decade to experience.

April 17, 2020 at 7:14 AM

I'm sure one will be better than the other for whatever reason, but in a time where theme parks are closed and have a tough time to survive I think this is in bad tast. These parks, any park, does need our support.

April 17, 2020 at 8:37 AM

Holiday World is somewhat of a trendsetter... they had the first dedicated "smoking areas" and their offer of free soft drinks, sunscreen and parking (well, it was free the last time I was there) sets them apart as a friendly, family-run operation.

KI is attractive for its array of rides and coasters, and of course its inclusion in the CF family of parks, and that is a lot for a CF Platinum Passholder like me. While I truly love both parks, I voted for KI just because it works out better for me personally. As with all of these things, your mileage will indeed vary.

April 17, 2020 at 9:15 AM

I wanted to vote for KI, but it's hard to go against the charm of Holiday World. Holiday World doesn't necessarily have overwhelming levels of theming compared to KI, but the park just has "it" when you think of a nearly perfect theme park experience.

KI has a solid lineup of coasters (though I still have yet to ride Mystic Timbers), but I just don't think Orion is going to dramatically change the park's overall appeal to a coaster junkie. Holiday World's lineup is nowhere close to KI's, but is unexpectedly good for the park's size and lack of investment from a national chain.

April 17, 2020 at 11:07 AM

Which is better? That's a loaded question. It depends entirely on what you want to get out of a park. In a way, comparing these two is akin to comparing apples and oranges. If you want ambience, charm, the aforementioned free drinks and exceptionally accommodating team members, Holiday World is the better park. If you're a roller coaster junkie and want to experience a solid collection of thrill rides, Kings Island is the better park. (This will have changed to some extent with the removal of Firehawk & Vortex.) The staff at Holiday World was great, to the extent of drawing me a map which showed how to get back to Evansville easily and quickly via two major highways. (The GPS in the rental car insisted on taking me from Evansville to Santa Claus via back roads.) The staff at Kings Island, in contrast, was not very accommodating when a malfunction caused me to get stuck on the lift hill of Firehawk in a supine position for an hour and a half on a cold, wet night. After my fellow riders and I were evacuated - I had to climb over the three seats to my right and then climb down a ladder - all the park offered us was a glass of water and a skip the line pass for one ride. So if you're looking for quality of operations, Holiday World is the better park. If you're looking for coasters in quantity, Kings Island is the better park. This is why I did not vote.

April 17, 2020 at 12:09 PM

Having only memories of the two parks -- Holiday World aka Santa Claus Land in the 1960's and King's Island in the 1970's -- my choice is based entirely on nostalgia. So Holiday World gets my vote, as my memories of there are pleasant, enjoying the many attractions that existed at that time, as opposed to the King's Island experience of long wait lines, malfunctioning rides, and outright theft by a park employee who was SEEN removing cash from a lost wallet...

April 17, 2020 at 12:37 PM

I really want to like KI more than I actually do. By the book its the kind of park i'd really like, its large and beautiful with a fair amount of things to do and a great selection of coasters classic and new. When I went back last year though the coasters were all so god damn rough, with the exception of Mystic Timbers which was really smooth, every coaster there beat me around like a ragdoll. Even Banshee and Diamondback had heavy vibrations that gave me a headache.

Although I do love the Beast, its definitely an iconic coaster that should never be touched other than the standard retracking and maintenance. Outside of Beast and Mystic Timbers KI needs a lot of work to make it the park that it should be.

I haven't been to Holiday World in over 10 years and I really liked Legend, loved Voyage, and thought Raven was over rated. I'd rate it in the "meh" category as a park but they definitely seem to care about the upkeep of their rides a lot more than KI so they get points there.

I'll give KI the edge now because now because its bigger with more to do and two B&M Hypers in addition to their two great woodies (i'll take a hyper over a wing coaster any day), and Holiday World isn't really my kind of park. I've always liked big fleshed out parks with nice landscaping and a lot to do, not as a big of a fan of the "bunch of rides out in the middle of a giant field" vibe I got from HW (not saying its a bad park, that's just not my favorite kind of park).

But KI definitely still has work to do to make it a great park.

April 17, 2020 at 12:50 PM

Being from Indianapolis and fairly local to both parks I visit them both at least once a year. That being said I have to agree with Bobbie Butterfield this is like comparing apples to oranges. IMHO they are both great but each appeals to me for different reasons.

April 17, 2020 at 3:21 PM

I can only vote for the park I've actually been to, and that's Holiday World. The coasters were fun, but were starting to show their age when I went in 2014. Hopefully, they can find a way to get RMC to do some retracking or something. Everything else about the park is wonderful as well, even the underrated stuff like the Dive show. Do they still have that?

April 17, 2020 at 9:14 PM

James Trexen they still had the dive show when I went last summer.

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