Saturday, August 3, 2002 5:49 PM
We hit KW on a 94 degree day in Pittsburgh and 100 in the park with dripping humidity. Parking lot was full but somehow park didn't seem crowded and lines weren't long. We only visit parks east of the Mississippi so our rankings don't include any Western rides.
Access. KW is really hard to get to. Locals grow up learning how to navigate confusing road system, but visitors struggle. Famous KW arrows have mostly been lost with new bridges and utility poles. Fortunately, help is on the way with new Mon Valley Expressway, which will run from interstate straight down the river to the park. But it's a few years away. Allow extra time to find the park.
Parking. Ah, yes. Free for most patrons, $4 for priority near entrance.
First Impressions. You're not an amusement park enthusiast until you've walked through the KW Tunnel and emerged into this unique world. The history, tradition, and magic are in the very air.
Thank goodness the tornadic microburst back in June didn't destroy the century old trees. Disney brought his imagineers here in 1950 and again in 1970 and told them to recreate this atmosphere. They failed.
Turnpike. We rate this the # 1 Turnpike anywhere. Most others roam in a large circle but by crossing over itself twice KW squeezes more distance and a longer time into a smaller space. Great landscaping and impressive CoGo gas station add flavor. Great cars.
Old Mill. A boat ride through the dark with skeleton scenes. Nostalgia deteriorating into senility. Like your beloved grandmother with Alzheimer's, KW keeps this ride around for what it represents, but it is more tacky than charming. Needs a good retheming. Surely they can keep a 1900 feel with 21st century technology.
Kangaroo. The only one left. A great ride. For coaster lovers, they've packaged airtime without the rest. Deceptive. While riding, you think you're dropping about 10 feet coming over each drop, but watching from the sideline you realize the distance is much less.
Carousel. We rate this # 1. It has four rows instead of the usual three, more horses moving, three levels of intricately carved and painted sculpting instead of the usual one, a historic building over it, a far superior sound system, and a longer ride. This was built for the World's Fair, and was the last one built by Dentzel.
Paratrooper. We rate this # 1. Its seats are more comfortable. The structure is in better shape. It has full metal umbrellas overhead for shade. It runs smoother. KW runs it faster, which gives you that stomach flutter on the rising side of the circle. They also give you a longer ride.
Boats. KW filled in half the lake a while back, so this isn't the ride it used to be.
Jackrabbit. Maybe it was the week of heat and humidity, but the rabbit was smoking, especially on the famous double dip. Talk about airtime. We were floating up against the strap every time. This is a magnificent coaster greatly unappreciated by young coaster fans overawed by height and steel. It also has one of the most elegant designs of any coaster ever built. There is an awful lot of ride squeezed into a small space here. These are also among the most comfortable coaster seats still operating. This is the ultimate terrain woodie.
Racers. Celebrating 75th anniversary. What an incredible experience. This is much faster than a lot of woodies that get a lot more hype. And the design is beautiful. How cleverly Miller wrapped all these drops and turns into a tight ravine with two coasters running side by side. People in line had warned us the Racers were running as fast as they'd ever seen, and they were sure right. I would rather ride these two coasters all day than any other two adjacent woodies anywhere except maybe Raven and Legend. Mean Streak and Gemini ? Racers and Beast ? Not even close.
Sky Coaster. Standard ride. Not notably different from all the others.
Log Flume. We rate this # 1. Its two drops are higher, steeper and faster. It is more scenic and offers a longer ride. It lacks HW's tunnel, and PKI's forest, but compensates with great views of the Racer and Jackrabbit.
Aero. Round and round and upside down. Packages the inversions of a steel coaster without the rest. Lots of people love this ride but it leaves us lukewarm.
Huss Swing Around. Standard version of this ride but its position high atop the old Rocket pedestal allows views of the entire park and gives it an extra zest.
Kiddieland. KW has worked hard in recent years to upgrade this area, opening up the squeezed feeling, adding more landscaping, and increasing the ride mix. Our rugrat delegation thought the Bus, Pounce Bounce, Kiddie Turtle, and Bouncer were the best attractions. They thought the Little Phantom needed replaced by a Paramount Taxijam or Woodstock Express. And they thought a Runaway Reptar or Scooby Doo Ghoster Coaster ought to be the next big addition.
Auto Race. The last one still operating. Great ride. Faster than expected. Cars are a bit uncomfortable, but hey, they're real antiques, and they were designed for kids.
Train. Built for the Philadelphia World's Fair so historic in its own right. No park in America offers the scenery of this ride, looking down a high cliff over the Monongahela Valley's locks, dams, steel mills and several towns, as railroads and boats move far below. However, KW should extend the trackage around the perimeter of the park like Disney and BGW and upgrade to a Crown train like CP, PKI, and BGW.
River Rafting Ride. We rate this # 1. It offers a longer ride, steeper descents, and rougher water.
Goldrusher. Dark ride badly in need of retheming.
Thunderbolt. What an experience. It would be worth visiting KW just to ride the Tbolt. And like its brothers across the park, this woodie was blazing fast today. No park in America has three woodies to match KW's. The new part of the ride gives it added thrills, but I love the lower section which is John Miller's original Pippin.
KW should erect a statue of John Miller with a detailed plaque explaining his contribution to roller coaster history. It should go between the Racer and Jackrabbit.
Turtle. Not many of these left, and this one is celebrating its 75th anniversary. KW's is in excellent condition, runs faster than the others, and you get a longer ride. I could ride this over and over just like a roller coaster. Why isn't someone still making these ?
Noah's Ark. Historic dark walkthrough on a rocking ship balanced atop Mt. Ararat. Interesting for first time patrons but most longtime KW visitors agree the ride was actually better before million dollar renovation of a few years back. Unique as it seems, there used to be several of these across the East. This is the only one surviving.
Phantom. Magnificent steel monster, flashing around and through Thunderbolt and Turtle trackage and into and out of wooded Ravine. Airtime. Gs. Inversion fans look elsewhere, but sheer speed freaks can ride this all day.
Rolloplane. A classic antique. Not many left and this is in wonderful condition.
Drop. We think KW and CP have the two best drops in the country. This one is especially scenic looking out over the cliff across the Mon Valley. It and CP are higher and drop faster. Whether you like the outward lean of CP's version will determine which one you prefer.
Exterminator. Wow. Basically a Riverchon Wild Mouse on steroids, running in the dark inside a three story building, with extensive theming and cars that spin as they dip and turn. Usually has the longest lines in the park (we waited 40 minutes). I love rodent coasters and dark rides, so I should love this. I'd love it a lot more if they upholstered the hard plastic seats to absorb some of the forces as you spin and drop. I think whiplash is a real concern here. In the dark riders cannot anticipate car movement and lean or brace accordingly. Veteran riders learn to grab one of the two inside seats on the four seat bench. The outer seats experience more of the whipping motions. But this might be the best dark ride in the country right now. It's the ride Tomb Raider hoped to be and did not become. This is a Scooby Doo Haunted Mansion for adults.
Whip. Sort of forlorn looking without its roof, which the tornadic microburst back in June removed. Nevertheless, this is the best Whip still operating anywhere. The cars are fully upholstered, with full metal fittings. The framework is in great shape. This Whip has a longer run and wider turns than its brothers. KW also gives you a longer ride.
Plunge. Only Disney's boat drop is higher and steeper. BGW's is better themed, with its block long tunnel. But this is definitely worth at least one ride, and on a hot day, it sure cools you off.
Swings. I would like to enjoy this ride. But the seats are a problem. They're designed for little kids. Adults (I'm 6-0) cannot lean back, get comfortable or get a real grip on anything solid. The thrill of the ride ought to come from the height, speed and rise and fall, not from feeling like you might fall out of the seat at any time. All the parks with versions of this ride ought to install solid seats with high backs and full armrests.
Circle Rides. Three rides in a row which go round and round very fast. They are all standard versions and offer about the same experience. Himalayan climbs up a little higher in the back.
Pirate Ship. Standard version.
Scooters. KW now calls it the Gran Prix. This is the best we've seen. The floor is bigger and removing the center strip makes it seem bigger yet. The ceiling is in good shape so the current is consistent. The cars are fast, quick and in good shape. KW gives you a long ride.
Flying Carpet. Bizarre. Whips you around and up and down a lot faster than it looks from watching. Definitely worth a ride. In beautiful shape.
Food. KW, CP and BGW have the best food we've found, and KW has the best prices. We especially like the fruit cups (three kinds of melon, peach and strawberry slices in juice and whipped cream), Lemonade, Potato Patch Fries, made in front of you funnel cakes, elephant ears and cafeteria line items.
Staff. Especially on a hot and humid day, we found the ride ops efficient, friendly and professional. The only exception was the Plunge, where two girls were using the mike for personal jokes rather than business.
Shows. Poor. Might be KW's weakest aspect. Even Idlewild is far better.
Conclusion. This is still Everybody's Home Park. We've visited every major park east of the Mississippi and if we could spend a week at one of them, it would be Kennywood.