"A transition period"
I'm a coaster enthusiast from Cincinnati, and its opening weekend for Kings Island. Sounds like a natural to be, and although I got started a little bit later than planned, a fun day was in store for me.
When I arrived at the park, I started looking for changes. This is the first full season under Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, so I was eager to see if they put their fingerprint on the park yet. The first thing I noticed is that the giant marquee sign still reads "Paramount's Kings Island" this did not come as a shock as I had heard at an off season event that the big sign was not going to change right away. This sign was replaced just a few years ago and has a very distinctive look, it is meant to look like the front gates of Paramount Studios. Therefore, perhaps just removing the word "Paramount" isn't going to be enough. I did note that the parking prices so far are the same as last year ($10/$15 for "Premier" close in parking).
One of the first changes I noticed concerns the passenger drop off area. It seems that Cedar Fair isn't in favor of the gratuitous use of American flags as decorations. Last year the drop off area sported to United States flags, and two State of Ohio flags, this year it sports four brand new Cedar Fair logo flags. I proceeded towards the park when I noticed the chain link fence around the preferred parking area has been replaced with a ranch style split rail wood fence. I'm all for starting a chain link fence removal project, Paramount had an affinity with that stuff, sure it’s a cheap solution, but chain link fence has no place in a theme park. I also muse that the new fence will be easy to knock down if that preferred parking doesn't work out for them.
I head up to the entrance plaza. The movie posters on the right hand side have been removed, cases and all, but I was disappointed not to see "Kings Island" written in topiaries return. Give them time on that landscaping though, as there was evidence in the park that a landscaping project is in progress. For example a nice arrangement has been setup around the big light post in the center of the front gate plaza. And in regards to my earlier comment, yes they did leave the oversize US flag on its pole out in front of the park, lowered to half staff today in honor of the Virginia Tech tragedy. There were a couple improvements to the front gate plaza that didn't make sense to me. The first one concerns the concrete curbs that used to separate the tram lanes from the pedestrian lanes. Those concrete barriers are still there, less than a foot high, and with new vivid yellow paint. Obviously they felt the need to point out these trip hazards, but why not get rid of them all together since trams hardly run at all, and when they do they no longer go up into the old tram circle. I'm hoping this is a stopgap measure waiting for Cedar Fair to begin one of its blacktop removal projects. Kings Island has far too many blacktop midways.
I also noted the ride safety signs out in front of the park have been replaced with brand new ride safety signs, you know the ones that list the height requirements for all the rides and the general park rules. The new signs are missing a place to list which rides are closed, which seemed to me to be the most useful part of the old signs. I noted the canopy with the new logo has been installed over the entrance to the season, pass processing area and also noted some scary looking lines. I had processed last week, so it was forward and through the metal detector with no problem, and into the park. I also noted the "Park will close tonight at: " signs have been removed. It seems Cedar Fair is reluctant to share some basic information I would find useful before entering the park. I had no trouble entering the park with my faceless Maxx Pass, and since I was joining friends at the park I first glanced at some of the new shirts in the gift shop next to the gate, then grabbed a park map to look at.
The map is of the same basic appearance as the maps used to be. Sure, Son of Beast has been redrawn to remove its loop, and Firehawk has been added, but the same basic map is still there. What did change is the style template. Instead of using a Disney-like style, they used a Cedar Fair style. The park services icons changed to those that Cedar Fair tends to use, ride names are now printed directly on the map, and the ride safety guide, as well as the general park information has been moved to the back side of the map. I think a benefit is that the map drawing itself is actually a bit larger than it used to be. The brochure also includes an operating calendar, a show schedule, an acknowledgement of the 35th anniversary, and a blurb about Fear Fest. Soon Dave, April, and Rob had arrived so we headed to Action Zone. I noticed the return ticket booth still had its Winterfest alpine chalet look, and that nothing had happened at the Paramount Theatre. Oh, the keyhole photo people were still there in full ambush mode as well.
We entered Action Zone and I noted the water tower is still Paramount logoed, but the movie posters have been changed to ride and event posters. Our first ride was Drop Zone. Drop Zone was about a three cycle wait and there were no noticeable changes to the ride or the theme in the area. For the record I was able to fit, but it took operator assistance. At least the Cedar Fair "You must fasten it yourself" policy hasn't taken hold yet. I find it funny that Drop Zone is featured in the parks new television spot, and as they show Drop Zone the narration goes "Defy gravity!" I thought that Drop Zone was a demonstration of gravity. Maybe its because I am so tightly stuffed into my seat, that I actually like the smaller drop tower rides at carnivals and fairs better.
I looked over at Congo Falls where things appeared to be going normal and unchanged, then we walked past some more basically unchanged things: On Location Shop, I Scream Zone, Days of Thunder, Extreme Skyflyer. Son of Beast is still closed, but we took a trip on Top Gun. Top Gun lost the Mach 3 razor sponsorship, and new seat belts have been added that feed up between your legs and fasten to the bottom center of the shoulder harness. These belts will prevent some riders who were able to ride this ride in the past from riding again. I did not have any problems with it, and we rode a Top Gun which other than the modifications indicated is running about the same as it did last year.
As we exited Top Gun we craned our necks to look at the No Loop on Son of Beast, then headed back to the Action Zone proper. We made a stop for some Smurfy Blue Ice Cream ($3.50!), then headed towards Italian Job. We passed through Oktoberfest which didn't look to have changed. We noted the signs indicating that the Festhaus would soon add a Chinese station to the Italian station (in the form of LaRosas Pizza) , and the American station (burgers and chicken sticks). It's a building in Oktoberfest, themed to a German bier hall, and yet I don't think you can get a hot dog, let alone a bratwurst or mettwurst, and don't even think about schnitzel with noodles or sauerbraten. At least you can get bier in there as you sit in a subdued silence, as the German bier hall style entertainment has long been laid off, and in fact any live entertainment hasn't existed in here for over a decade, except for a brief stint during Winterfest. Come on Cedar Fair, turn this into a German themed Red Garter! Viking Fury was still swinging, and then we hit International Street.
The Emporium is still going strong, and are those Ohio Lottery tickets on sale. I also noted additional keyhole photo booths have been added one in front of Emporium, and the other next to Starbucks, bringing the total count to 4 pick up locations. We walked around Tower where the flags have been replaced by either Kings Island or Cedar Fair flags. I noticed the info booth is gone, the International Showplace is being prepped for its show to open later in the summer, and there is a tropical island set on the bandstand. Cedar Fair gutted Paramount Story, but left the gigantic Tomb Raider sculpture. We headed back to Italian Job but it wasn't open. I noticed the gas pump style bulk candy machines have been replaced with units that look like giant globes.
With Italian Job closed, we headed to Beast. We first had to dodge an ambush by one of those discount vacation booths, you know the kind that typically end in you having to spend part of your cut rate price vacation attending a high pressure sales pitch for a timeshare, condo or vacation club arrangement. I was hoping that would be gone, as I think it cheapens the theme park experience, this is the kind of thing I would expect to see at a state fair, not a major theme park.
We approached Beast, and the Cool Zone has been removed as well as some of the vending machines in the queue. The vending machines that remain have been lowered from $3.25 last year to $3.00 this year. The concession stands are selling soft drinks for $3.50 this year, and have a souvenir cup deal. You get a real low quality souvenir cup for $6.99 that makes you eligible for refills for $1.99. Of more importance for those of us that don't like needless steep hills, the fence separating Beast Exit and Entrance has been removed. This makes getting a second ride a little easier. Now if we could get rid of the tacky chain link fence for the Gold Pass Speedlane. I say get rid of the chain link, and post a greeter at the Speed Lane entrance. We headed to seat 1.2 of Beast. Same seatbelts as last year. On the ride one could note some new perimeter safety fence going up around the ride, and it looks as if there was a retracking project between tunnel 2 and lift 2. It's not glass smooth, but I've felt it run a lot worse.
We exited Beast, and stopped for some Bowler Roller fun, before heading to Italian Job. I noted the pizza stand is now advertising hoagies as a food choice, which is a good upgrade. We arrived at Italian Job and it was open with the line just reaching back to the queue maze. We were able to request and receive the front car, which is the only car of the three to get airtime, and the front seat is a lot better than the back seat in that same car. I was eager to see how this ride has gone special effects wise. Well the on board audio is still out, and it looks like they are removing the speakers from the cars. We launched, and I near grayed out in that first helix. It disoriented me enough that I was taken for a surprise that when we entered the s curve where you swerve around the police cars, not only did the police cars lights work, but their sirens as well. I don't recall those cars having sirens before. We went around the 90* bank curve, down the dip, scored a hint of airtime, and down the subway drop (still no subway stair effect), and into the show scene. The show scene looked to be running a bit better than it did at the end of last year, though the cars headlights still don't come on in the long tunnel, and the water splash finale was turned off as well. Not a bad ride by any means, we'll see how long the special effects hold out though. Oh, and the ride didn't get seatbelts yet.
After riding Italian Job we ran into some other coaster enthusiasts and chatted for a few moments, then headed up towards Coney. We watched the Three Point Challenge, otherwise known as "License To Print Money" before heading to Skyline Chili. We grabbed a lunch of cheese coneys and water before looking over to see the Dodgem cars still have those ridiculously short shoulder loops, and I took a look at the flags in the middle of Coney. I was wondering what was going to happen to these. Last year they had eight flagpoles and on them they had a United States Flag, and Canadian Flag, as well as flags for Ohio, California, Virginia, Ontario, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The places where you could find the original KECO parks, and then by association the Paramount Parks. I was wondering how they were going to add in the new states, but they didn't, they are now solid yellow or purple flags, similar to what Cedar Fair used for decoration in their other parks. The decorative flags above the Coney Mall arch received a similar treatment. Some more Bowler Roller was played and I noted that not only did the rides get brand new Cedar Fair style safety signs, but the games received new uniform signage, with fun shaped yellow signs. The gift shop in Coney has returned to being a teen rock type shop, called "Attitudes", and the other one is a candy shop. It's Fried is now Midway Treats and Eats featuring paninni sandwiches.
I also started to notice that the practice of a persons uniform matching their job function is returning to the park. Sweepers are in yellow, guest services in hunter green, games people are wearing referees stripes, and so forth. It adds a fun and colorful new look to the park. We then headed back towards Flight of Fear. This areas vending machines have also been removed. I for one appreciated the very low perimeter fence around the Firehawk construction site, allowing for a commanding view of the area. Can’t wait for that ride to open up.
We entered Flight of Fear and the hangar was about half full of people. I hear it was about a half hour wait, which did include holding out for the front seat. Contrary to rumors I had heard the seatbelts on Flight of Fear hadn't changed, and in fact may have gotten a tad longer. What also hasn't changed is the fact they are bringing you to a near halt on the mid course brake. In other words, its running about as it did last season, but hey there was a sign promising on ride videos soon, that should be interesting to see.
We headed from Flight of Fear to Racer. For the first round on Racer, Rideman scouted out the forwards side, translation being he doesn't care for backwards Racer (recaR). The rest of us gave a wonderfully retracked recaR a spin. How come the backwards side always gets all the love in terms of retracking. Rob and I headed back for a ride on Racer (forwards) and were pleasantly surprised by one of the better rides we have gotten on it in quite some time. Obviously Racer also got some love this year.
We headed from Racer to Adventure Express. Adventure Express received seatbelts, and the installation is very similar to Beast and Racer, meaning they will not pose any problems for larger riders. The ride itself is about the same as always, the drummers appeared to be working, but the big dude at the top of the lift must have been laid off a few seasons ago. There is a work area for a new cool zone next to the Cyber Sez attraction (that thing is still here??), and over at Slingshot the ride is down as it looks to be getting its springs replaced.
From Adventure Express, we took a spin on Delirium, with only a third of the queue maze in use. Delirium is still running a decent, though not exceptional ride cycle, and I didn't notice any real changes. At this point we made a run out to the car to drop off some things we didn't need, pick up a teddy bear that is the subject of one of those "Teddy Bears Vacation Photo Album" projects, you know the kind where you lend your teddy bear out to other family members and they get photos of your bear 'on vacation'.
We then headed back into the park. Somehow they are using the usual black light ink handstamps, but you can reenter the park at any admission lane, and those lanes are not equipped with black lights yet. Curious.
We headed up International Street, the Thrills are Paramount store is now Lotsapalooza, the Girls Space and the build-a-bear knockoff stores remain, as do the United States, Ohio and Kings Island flags in the flag display. I forgot to check at the base of the United States flag to see if the ACE marker remains. I glanced in the remodeled Laroasas, and checked out the menu at the new Fontana Bistro. We then headed to Nick Universe.
Nick Universe seems to be basically the same as it was last year. We took a spin on the Fairly Odd Coaster and Avatar. Avatar is still running the shortened program it inherited partway through last season. We noticed seats have been added to the former Slime Bowl, which had been gutted a few years back to use as a character meet and greet, and it is being returned to a live performance space again. Don't worry though, because at least today the characters were out walking Nick Universe and the front gate area in force. You know, the way they used to do before meet and greet areas were established.
We decided not to ride Reptar, and headed towards Rivertown. I noted that Wings is now a buffet, so the experiment at the end of last season must have worked out for them. The train ride was closed, shame the new owners also don't see the train as any more than transportation to the waterpark. Tomb Raider was also closed, what a surprise. We headed over to Vortex. Vortex, like Top Gun also got the crotch straps this year, something Cedar Fair seems adamant about in all their parks. Vortex, though, might, just might be running better than it has in several seasons. They weren't brining it to a near halt on the mid course brake. Happy 20th Vortex. Speaking of anniversaries - it is the parks 35th, Racer and Fairly Odd Coaster are also 35, Vortex is 20, Little Bills Giggle Coaster is 15.
The Action FX Theater was closed and we started to head towards Tower. We noted the Launch Pad, which is a trampoline jump attraction, is still around. We also noted the person who made the new signage for it clearly wasn't thinking. The sign reads: Launch Pad: $10 Per Jump. Yikes! That could get real expensive, real fast. We noted no one experiencing the Launch Pad.
We headed up to the top of Tower to get a view of the park from above, and noted it was going on 7:30. We decided to head out. In the Swiss Building, Animation Station has been replaced by another t shirt shop called "Thrillseekers"
All in all it was a good day, obviously the park isn't quite ready for prime time yet, but it usually isn't until June. It will be interesting watching the changeover take place, now that we know it will be more gradual and less in-your-face.
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