TR: Halloween Haunt at Kings Island
September 28, 2007
T-Shirt of the day: Knoebel's Phoenix Phall Phunphest sweatshirt - the black one with the skeletons riding the Phoenix. Seemed appropriate for an amusement park Halloween event.
This year, Cedar Fair announced that they were upgrading the already successful "Fear Fest" Halloween event at Kings Island to the bigger and better "Halloween Haunt" event. The event to include 13 horrifying attractions, including 7 haunted mazes, 3 Fear Zones (which may as well be haunted mazes due to how they are run), 2 special live shows, and 1 special ridefilm in the Action FX Theater. From the past, I know that opening day is really the best day to go, partially because it's in September and people really aren't in the mood yet, it's a Friday so they don't get the use of the parks rides all day before the event, and all that.
With the circumstances of scary I-71 traffic on a Friday night, the desire to have dinner before arriving at the park, and other complications, I decided to leave for the event right after work. So I left work, threw the aforementioned sweatshirt on over my dress shirt and headed to the park with a meal stop along the way. Hmm, Skyline Chili! The event hours were 7pm-1am, so I thought I was doing great when I pulled into the parking lot around 6:45.
I made my way to the front gate, passing a haunted parking tram with skeletons as crew and passengers, shortly beyond that I stopped. The line to get in was clear back to the parking lot. Looking things over it looked like they only had one, maybe two metal detectors in use. Then I realized that even the one line wasn't moving. Man, I'm glad I can use this season pass and don't need to waste more time getting a ticket. This is how the situation stayed until right around 7pm. Being back in the parking lot, I missed the much talked about "Wall of Monsters" opening show. On the other hand shortly after park opening security finally decided to come out and man the metal detectors, except I don't think all of them were security, some looked like managers who were more interested in getting people into the park than screening people.
Thus, even though I was clearly far back in the original line, I was past security just a couple minutes past opening, and then I came to the front gate. The front gate had scareactors positioned next to the ticket takers so you had to come up close and personal with a scareactor to get into the park. As you might expect this slowed throughput down somewhat. I saw a clear path using the stroller gate in front of me, and scanned in that way. I had just noticed that some poor guy was getting the ultimate hot seat with an electric chair positioned where the map rack usually is when I started feeling vibrations in my own pocket. Uh oh, what can this be.
I pulled the cell phone out of my pocket, and looked at the screen "Rideman", I'll take this call. Okay, seems Dave and April are also coming to the park tonight, but their arrival time is currently estimated at 9:00. We agreed to meet up somewhere then, and I proceeded to International Street.
On International Street, this year instead of the tombstones memorializing attractions of the past, the flower beds instead tease the haunted attractions you will find in the park, with each section themed to and advertising a specific haunt. The bandstand has been themed to a haunted bar, the Tomb Raider statue has been decpaitated and the poor guy is being made to hold his own head. Welp, I guess since they won't be needing that statue next year if rumors are correct, so why not have a little fun with it before you send it back to Viacom, in pieces. I'm sure Viacom will love the alteration. Even the store windows have been redone. The coaster camp scene in front of the Emporium for instance has been changed to Death's office in a setting that stirred plenty of message board controversy with Death's hit list.
With that, I decide to take the contrarian approach. I figure most people would be heading for the much talked about Club Blood, so I headed to Nick Universe. There was only one attraction open in Nick Universe, and that was CarnEVIL, which from reports is a slight retouch of the former Circus of Horrors. CarnEVIL was staged in a long disused space that used to be the Enchanted Theater, which was a live performance venue located next to the Phantom Theater dark ride. The queue was routed in through the Little Bill's Giggle Coaster queue, the went through some temporary switchbacks that were setup in front of the Giggle Coaster by its photo booth. I followed another party in to be the first group of the night. Except one person ahead of me decided to invoke the "I hate gratuitous walking" rule and jumped over the ropes, unfortunately the security guard who was there decided to be a stickler for the rules, and made the person go through the attraction exit, then back through the line again the correct way. Mind you the 6 of us were, in sum, everybody at the attraction. Then the grouper took us inside and passed out 3D glasses. We got the usual safety rules, then she hollered in a loud voice "The person wearing is being a troublemaker, make sure they get special attention". With that our esteemed troublemaker goes darting out the entrance as if the building was on fire.
CarnEVIL is a good fit for Nick Universe. For one, it's the only haunt that has the lights on for most of the maze, all the better to see those special "3-D" patterns along the walls. I don't think this would scare anybody, unless you are of those people that has a distinct fear of clowns. The place is bright and cheery and themed to a fun house. You have the hall of doors, (plenty of good jump out opportunities there), a fortune teller, the light tunnel where you cross a bridge through a revolving drum and the light patterns along the wall make it feel like you are moving instead of the walls. My favorite scene in this one was the room that is all black with polka dots all over the walls, standing dead ahead of you is a scare actor dressed up in exactly the same pattern as the walls, add a strobe light to that and you have a great effect, such a good effect that it has been a staple in haunted houses in the area for quite some time. On the way out, you are allowed to keep your glasses, or toss them in a bin. I note nothing special or collectible about the glasses, so I toss them in the bin, and go up the exit ramp which comes out by the Scooby Doo Meet and Greet. With that, I have Nick Universe out of the way. I walk through what literally seems like an empty park until I come into Rivertown. The only other guest I see is someone who is just being admitted to Redbeard's Revenge, and then the door closes and I am literlly the only guest, I do a panoramic 360 look at the area. Strange.
I head to Redbeard's Revenge, which is a make over and retheme of last year's Cowboy Carnage. I note the former General Store is NOT a part of the attraction, except its porch and the entire pathway between the general store and the little sign carver's booth (man, I remember when that was the Rib Pit!) was filled with a rope queue maze for RedBeard's. Duly noting what happens when you try to short circuit the unneeded portion of the queue maze, I dutifully grumbled as I walked through the entire thing, did I mention it was empty? When I got to the gate, I got some grief for being alone. "Ya should have brought a crew with Ye" Soon enough the gate was opened, and I made the lone journey into the unknown. The first part of the attraction is outdoors in the space formerly used as the Back Porch Stage. I admit this area didn't quite work well in bright sunlight. About 30 seconds into the haunt, one of the Scareactors calls out to me by name. Did I leave my ID Badge on? A quick check reveals I did not. Creepy. I make my way at a fast clip though the boat dock themed outside area, as there was really nothing to obscure the path. Then I headed into the former Mining Company building which is the inside of the haunted pirate ship. The transition from sunlight to a dark building was brutal on the eyes, and I needed a bit of guidance to find my way into the indoor maze. Ah yes, this is more of a haunt than the fun filled CarnEVIL. I think my favorite scene is when you see, I think its the captain's wife looking all pretty in bed and just as you are looking at her someone else pops there head in through a slot right above the bed telling you to get moving on. Distraction, its a wonderful device in haunting. So I made my way through the haunted pirate ship and soon find myself back out on the midway next to Wings.
I headed through a sparsely populated Rivertown, noting that the log flume and white water canyon are closed as well as all the Nick rides. I cross the bridge and look at the train station. There is a haunt tied into the train ride that is infamous for being really bad at capacity. So bad, its been encouraged to try to ride it when it first opens. Well, it's not open yet, as its an outdoor haunt, so it doesn't open till 8pm, by which time it should be dark. I check my watch and it's like 7:20. I note nobody is in line yet, so I decide to chance it and go ride Beast. I note Tomb Raider is still closed, and head to Beast. I start wondering if Beast is open as I head up into the station. There might have been two people sitting in the Beast train, I jump into the second seat, and soon the three of us are off on a Beast ride. It wasn't a particularly noteworthy Beast ride, but it killed a few minutes. But tonight is more about the Haunts not the rides. After Beast, I remind myself how thankful I am that the fence between the Beast exit and Beast entrance has been removed. This meant I was able to get back to check on the train station without going up and down hills. Still no line for the train.
I take another chance, and head to a walk on Italian Job. Okay, they had a few people but everybody fit inside the station, and with the small crowd, I got in the front seat line. Italian Job gives airtime in only one seat, the front seat. So I had a rare thing, an Italian Job ride with airtime. Still, as I said, this isn't really about the rides. I head back to the train station.
This time there is one family in line, and a check of the watch reveals 7:50. I get in line for Tombstone TERRORtory. The usual train ride queue area has been augmented with a huge rope queue maze set out in front of the train station. At first we are held at the start of the queue maze until just before 8pm. At that time we are walked through the rope part of the queue maze but told to wait in front of the ice cream stand. 8:00 comes, 8:00 goes, and a train goes empty, after the train is out of view, we are invited into the train station. We go through the normal train queue area and a rope has been setup down the middle of the train station so in effect you go through the turnstiles, then have to walk all the way to the potato works end, then all the way back to the canyon end. In theory they will only open the loading gate at the far end.
A train arrives, and the one gate is open, we board the train, just in time to see the impatient crowd open all the other station gates and start a mass crush towards the train. How did they NOT forsee that happening. Anyway the train was loaded, and they seemed to take their own sweet time about it too. I don't think we pulled out of the station till 8:15. During the train ride the narrator tells you a rather lame ghost story to kill time. At least they have dropped the charade of the train breaking down, now the story is you have arrived in some abandoned ghost town. Ah, that does work better considering the train does stop at a train platform. You know that train platform you see on the left just past white water canyon wihen you ride the train, thats where the train stops and they tell everybody to get off the train. You exit to the platform then the directions were to exit the train and go to the left through the gate, well there are gtes at both ends, and I followed a crowd that went through the gate to the right into the grass field where the pumpkin patch is during the day. I think the crew is learning they have to take more control of the crowd as they didn't sound that happy. So we walked through the grass field and rejoined those that took the proper gate. The train returns to Rivertown empty.
You are then led down a paved road, and I know what is coming, so I am jockeying for position all the way down the road, but so are other people. At the end of the paved road, you cross over the railroad tracks, and go through a service gate that leads to the very back of the White Water Canyon observation area. The back part of the observation is a queue area where you again have to wait in line. Seems that now that they brought hundreds of people here at a time, they now want to group you into small groups. This works out about as well as you might expect, and soon you realize that its now 8:20, you were on the first train out, and you are now standing in a 10-15 minute line. In short this takes almost 45 minutes to get through, even with no line in front of you at the train station, I also suspect going back and getting back on the train is not an option.
They dutifully group us into our group, and we enter the walking part of the haunt. Which has some old west themeing and winds through the canyon observation area. Then they have what could have been the feature of the haunt, its a simple device where they have a small one person wide tunnel built with several sheets of burlap about 2' apart, oh and they are constantly blowing artificial smoke into this contraption. So you can't see whats ahead, you are worried that just beyond that next burlap sheet is a scene worse than death, but all in all nothing jumps out at you in this device. What actually happens is that people take it so apprehensively that they are going through it one at a time, and a huge bottleneck forms trying to get through it. This means that by the time you get out of it at the other side, the rest of the haunt is a long 'conga line' of people. Which means for the majority of the haunt you just have one long solid parade of guests going down the White Water Canyon exit path. From here on out the scareactors are innefectual at best, because you can see ahead what is going to happen, you just don't know who its going to happen to. I think it richly deserves the rating of SUCKFEST it received in the message boards. Oh it had its moments like the hanging heads in the covered bridge, or jumping up at you on the rampway up, but all in all this one did not end with a "It's over already!", it ended with a "Thank goodness thats over with"
Well Rivertown is out of the way. Anyway Rivertown is now the shrine to dead attractions tht was moved from International Street. It also has its moments like the BBQ across from the pizza parlor. Except its cannibals bbqing other humans. For a time, the Chick-Fill-A sign was moved to this area, and "Eat more Chicken" was changed to "Eat More Human" That disappeared, so I am supposing Chick-Fill-A told Cedar Fair that contrary to its "No limits" advertising,t here are some limits.
I head up into Coney Mall (Coney Maul for the event), and brreze through so fact I fail to reaize the overriding theme of the area. I head to Death Row, and by now I have caught up to the crowd. The line for Death Row was wrapped back to just after the Racer underpass. For those that remember the former haunt in this area (the asylum), the entrance and exit have been reversed, so you now enter through the door next to Firehawk, and exit through the door next to Racer. Death Row was also when the effects of the VIP Media Night promotion started showing. You see, members of the press and other VIP guests were accorded front of the line privileges, instead of having a private media night as had been done in past years. So the line moved even slower than it would normally, as I seemed to hit this at about the same time as the media. But it wasn't a bad place to be stuck, they had setup a stage in front out Flight Of fear and had a DJ there, and the DJ was trying to get people to embarrass themselves by getting up on stage and dancing. That and the guest services people who were running the media event were working at getting regular guests grouped so everybody was ready to go by the time we got to the door. Here a convict gives the safety speech, and tells us that they have Paris Hilton and OJ Simpson inside, Welcome to Death Row, as you enter he screams "We have FRESH FISH!"
Death Row, unlike the other haunts, is a true maze, complete with dead ends and everything. Its a maze made up of chain link fencing, mirrors, and black curtains, some of which you can go through, and some of which you can't. It's very diorienting and confusing, add to that a constant loud alarm siren, the fact that the only lighting in the maze is strobe lighting, and it can start to create a sense of panic almost immediately. I noticed that in this, as in other mazes, the mandated "Hands on the shoulder of the guest in front of you" lasts for maybe 15 seconds. In this maze, more than in other mazes, the group you enter with and the group you exit with may be two different things, as when people realize its a maze people seem to follow their own hunches. I think I score points for finding an off limits part of the maze, we pushed through a black curtain, and found an ordinary looking water cooler and some chairs, then we pushed through another black curtain and had started to continue our tour when the scareactors informed us we went the wrong way through a restricted area, and have to go back through and follow along the correct path. By the end of that experience, I most wanted to put that constant siren out of my misery. The scareactors here are mostly about keeping order in the maze, with the confusing panic enducing maze being the main attraction here. I exited out the door nearest Racer, and started to head towards Trail of Terror or whatever its called now, when I felt that familiar vibration in my pocket.
Ah, Dave and April are inside the park, we agree to meet in the middle of Coney Maul by the path back to X-Base. They take a little longer to get to me as they could not resist a walk on Drop Zone ride on the way back. We all meet, and we all head to Flight of Fear as a group. The Flight of Fear line is back to the entrance door, but it is going the short way. While waiting for Flight of Fear, April tells me she is sad to hear I can't make it to Knoebles. Hey, I was waiting for a perfect lead in, and April just handed it to me, I make the announcement that contrary to what I told Dave Monday, I AM in for Phall Phunphest next weekend. There was much joy and celebration and a little planning going on, which means the 20 minute wait for Flight of Fear went by like it was a few seconds. First I take a solo ride in the front seat, then Dave and April take the next train. If it weren't for that full stop on the mid course brake this would be a great ride, but remember today isn't about the rides.
After Flight of Fear, we head to Trail of Terror. To get to Trail of Terror you go through a service gate between Firehawk and Death Row, then down the long path to the Trail. Well first you have to pass the insulter in the little house that used to be Scrooge's house at Winterfest. I won't get onto the insulter except to say that element of Haunt has caused more controversy, flame wars, thread deletions, hurt feelings than anything else here. I'll just say that making fun of peoples handicaps should never be fair game, even if it is a "no limits" event. You know, usually when there is someone on a midway paid to insult you, the patron usually has a means of retalliation, there was no such outlet here. Yep, the insulter is usually sitting in a dunk tank, and they are paid to insult you to the point where you lay down good money to throw a baseball at a stiff target in the small chance of sending the insulter into a tank of what you hope is ice cold water.
It took a good 20-30 minutes wait for Trail of Terror, and you wait in a single file line down a service road to the entrance of the trail. To add further uneasiness there was somemysterious object making noise behind the chain link fence along the road. Eventually we were admitted to the Trail of Terror, it has a bunch of redneck themed scenes involving outhouse humor and so forth. This is where Micheal Vick's doghouse was moved to (it was along the midway in Action Zone) I though the outhouse labeled "Marshall University" was a bit gratuitous, must have been a UC fan/student that added that touch after their team lost to Marshall a week before the event. They did the usual gross looking port a potties, where the door opens and you get wet. Part of it was a hillbilly wedding, and here two the walking through dangling skulls was an element. Anther noteworthy element was the crawl, here you were expected to crawl through a dank dark musty sewer pipe for a ways, there never was a payoff to this other than walking crawling through a sewer pipe and feeling vulnerable, unlike the crawl in the old Curse of the Crypt where you crawled over a glass floor which lit up to reveal live snakes. I can also report there was a bypass for those that couldn't take it. This haunt ended with our first encounter with the chainsaw weilding maniac of the night, which had you running out of the train, right into the loving caring home of the Insulter.
After Trail of Terror, we stopped for some soft drinks and cheese coneys at Skyline, before continuing our little tour. Next up was Worksite, called a FearZone, it works like a maze. Instead of open access from either end as the fear zones used to be, they have been turned into one way paths, with a grouper at the start grouping people into small groups, which therefore means they have a queue area. There was a very short line by Antique Treats, and I love the fact they used an electronic road constnstruction sign as the marquee. This is the work zone from hell, with upended police cars, and construction equipment, and of course chainsaw guy was here as well. Orange barrels defined the pathway, and we found the whole thing so pointless we were breezing through it when a Scareactor said "Slow Down! You are proceeding too fast through this zone!" So we stopped to let the group ahead of us get some distance "I didn't say to STOP!!!" Well, make your mind up, either we follow right behind the group ahead of us or we don't. Worksite was pretty stupid.
What was stupider is that the line for CornSTALKERS was backed up up the hill and back to the Tomb Raider statue. Sure, we wanted to get to Italian Job, but not have to wait in that line to to it. We headed around Eiffell Tower to get back to Coney Maul, when we realized Cemetary, another Fearzone, was a walk in. Cemetary was setup in the old Paramount Story, or Tower Gardens before that. As soon as we entered Cemetary, we noticed something. All the scareactos were huddled in one spot talking with each other since they were obviously very bored. No other guests were in the entire haunt. They all had to dash out to their places, and then since nobody came in after us, they proceeded to all follow us through the maze. We were laughing so hard at how lame this was, then we found the exit and came out next to the Attitudes shop, which again this year is offering the "Have your photo taken lying down in a coffin" photo op. From here we walked down Coney Maul noting the old Phantom Theater props as well as some pieces from other former Hana Barbera rides that did not make the transition to Nick Universe.
The highlight of the area was the area in front of the Skeeball building, where the Carnival from Hell was setup. With a skeleton ticket seller, you entered an area where they had Whac-A-Skull instead of Whac-A-Mole, (no not to play, they were just props, other palces like Kennywood would have had an actual Whac-A-Skull game at their event if they wanted one), Scatterball had eyeballs in the game instead of the usual silver balls, peach basket had hollowed out stuffed animals as prizes. Posters advertised sideshow acts. Then there were the food concessions, the soft pretzel warmer had snakes in it, the shaves ice machine had something that was meant to be shaved flesh, the soft drink booth had a fountain head with such products as "Backwash", "Vomit", "Dr. Phleghm" "Snot Zero", "Blood" and "Diet Sewage"
We proceed to take rides on Beast and Italian Job, before heading up Coney Mall towards Oktoberfest. Its 12:30 when we come across a closed Adventure Express, then we go take a ride on Delirium. Finally at 12:45 we head to a closed Top Gun. Here, "Rideman" decided to go ride Son of Beast, while April and I tour Club Blood. There was maybe a one group wait for Club Blood. It also explained why Top Gun was closed, becuase Club Blood took over Top Gun's queue line, so you went down to the Top Gun chicken chute, then walked back the Top Gun line in reverse. Tonight there were being merciful and had a gate open just past the underpass.
Club Blood is the newest maze, in a brand new building loctated behind Extreme Ekyflyer. It is the much talked about R rated haunted maze. We enter and first you head down an ally towards Club Blood where the actors talk openly about drugs and the like, then you pass a bouncer to enter the club where scantily dressed women are doing exotic dancing and cages and poles are invovled but they do keep their clothes on. Hey, this is a family park after all. You then go though the very gross haunted clubs bathroom, where some ppor schmuck is worshiping a very nasty looking toilet. The second half of the attraction seems to be a haunted hospital, and the key scene is a nurse appearing to give head to a cadaver. Scary, no, risque yes, and potentially disturbing, yes.
It winds up that we all met back up by the Extreme Skyflyer at about the same time. We noted that Skycoaster was priced at only $5, so we decided to ride Skyflyer, mind you it is like 12:55 on a 1AM close.
We buy our tickets, and get in line behind maybe 3-4 groups in front of us in line plus the ones inside the attraction. They only had one side of Skyflyer open, and only a minimal crew. That means they same people that were walking groups out to a flight area (and they were using the FAR one by Drop Zone too), and guiding them through their flight, were also the ones running the harness shed. At first they were literally taking one group at a time all the way through the process before starting on the next group. We inquired about just calling the whole thing off and getting a refund, but they would not go for that. So finally, I guess when the waiting line to just us and the next group and us, they take both groups in and gets us harnessed up.
Then they walk us out to to the flight area. By the time we are invited to walk out onto the lift, it is 1:45 by my watch, The park has been closed for 45 minutes, and security is standing at the Skycoaster booth eager to get the area clear. The Skycoaster crew is also none to pleased to be working 'overtime'. They had little patience for our silliness, but we eventually start our way up to the top of the launch tower. We get a countdown, do I pull on command, of course not. I like to catch my groups off guard. He He. So we fly, and after having only made 3 or 4 swings, they are already all "Grab this loop when you fly back over" What, already, we still have tons of speed and momentum behind us. Now, I KNOW they probably think we were being smart asses and not cathing the ring, but the honest truth was that we were honestly trying to catch the ring that they were holding just a little bit out of reach, and we were going too fast. Avert trying this like 4 times, they grab the manual pole. At least the guy with the manual pole seems to know the right hight to hold it, the bad news is he was trying to stop a LOT of pounds of coaster nuts swinging. That approach failed when he let go of the pole just before wiping out on the lift. Yep, the Skycoaster crew REALLY loves us now. But eventually we get stopped, and escorted out. We turn in the harnesses and they shoo us out right into the waiting arms of security who gives us a personal escort out to the parking lot, seeing as the park is already all closed and cleared except for us.
Next up: Knoebels Phabulous Phoenix Phall Phun Phest.
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