PKD: "Back again, for the first time" -- 10-22-2005

Associated parks:
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Tuesday, October 25, 2005 5:30 PM
It wasn't all that long ago -- a little less than a year, in fact -- that I had in my repertoire of "visited parks" two parks that I've been to in my life but can't remember attending. In an effort to fix that, last year, I finally solidified some memories of Hersheypark outside of a picture of a 3-year-old me getting hugged by a giant Hershey kiss.

This year, in addition to revisiting Hershey with my aunt and her family in August, I took the opportunity of a well-planned road trip to visit my lady friend at Virginia Tech to also hit up Paramount's Kings Dominion, the other park I visited before I was old enough to make long-term memories. So, while I'd technically done this before, the park was completely "new to me" -- thus, my (surprisingly accurate) Yogi Berra-esque thread title.

We left from Blacksburg with coffee in hand shortly after 7:30am, and trekked up I-81, then across I-64, then down I-295, then UP?! I-95 to PKD. I'd driven past the park numerous times on my way down I-95 and never really seen anything of it besides the giant sign and the Eiffel Tower, so I wasn't 100% sure of what to expect. One of the things I was very pleased to see was a somewhat empty parking lot, which was a bit of a surprise for a FearFest Saturday. I was also pleased by the lush foliage, particularly in the Old Virginia section, which essentially borders one of the busiest traffic corridors in the country. The park seemed pretty self-contained and relatively private and quiet, if that makes any sense.

First impressions were pretty good, then. Also good was the fact that they seemed to go pretty all-out in theming for FearFest. Sure, there were the inordinate amounts of requisite cobwebs covering EVERYTHING, but there were also some clever touches, such as the skeletons hanging off one leg of the Eiffel Tower. Something I did notice that's different from the way Six Flags does Halloween is that there is no unwanted scare tactics -- I had no actors come up behind me and try to spook me, much to my delight as I'm a scaredy-cat (I'm thinking of a much more appropriate word, but the self-censoring forums will just edit it ;)).

But when the events DID open at 3pm, they seemed to be everywhere -- and the lines for the mazes were out the wazoo. Not only that, the lines were pretty decent throughout the day -- a couple of walk-ons, a few short waits, and most of the other lines were somewhere between 30-60 minutes. At no point did a line seem unreasonably long, and there were no major breakdowns or problems keeping me from all the rides I was shooting for -- except, of course, for one small detail that I'll get to at the end.

Now, without further ado, onto the rides:

Hypersonic XLC - Our first ride of the day was Hypersonic, as Megan, our resident Virginian and season passholder, suggested that it's prone to long lines and breakdowns. Sure enough, we got on the line and walked right into a 15-minute breakdown. The line moves fairly slowly, mostly because of low capacity, and we had another breakdown in the middle of the line, which added up to a somewhat-unreasonable hour and a half wait before we all got off the ride. John and I rode in the front row, which surprisingly did not have a longer wait than the other rows. Man, does this puppy book. I'd say the instantaneousness of the launch is more intense than Kingda Ka's more prolonged launch, and the top of Hypersonic's hill offers up some SERIOUS airtime vs. KK's nonexistant air. The only downer is that the ride offers nothing else. This may seem hypocritical, being as I am a huge fan and advocate of KK, but there are other rides that launch in the 70-80 mph range that do more with it than Hypersonic. Still, that launch is pretty damn hardcore. 7.5/10

Ricochet - Pretty standard wild mouse, but something about the layout just seems underwhelming. After the hairpins, there's just not all that much going on. 4/10

Hurler - We managed to come off Ricochet to see the previously closed Hurler just opening up for the day, so we hopped on. This was quite the surprising ride. It was pretty rough, but not rough in a Rolling Thunder, My-God-Why-Have-You-Forsaken-Me kinda way. The roughness gave the ride a little character. Also nice to feel a little air here and there. All told, nothing really to write home about, but not worth skipping either. 6/10

Rebel Yell - It may be an ACE Coaster Classic, but I was a little disappointed with this one. So many tasty-looking hills, but so little air. The turnaround was surprisingly smooth, but another downer was the closing of the backwards side -- that would've been a treat. Perhaps it'll get higher in my book on a different day. 5/10

Couldn't resist a spin on the Triple Spin -- love those Husses!

Shockwave - It's a TOGO standup, I'm chubby, and as a male, I obviously have external genitalia. As a result, I don't really remember much of the ride, as I was trying to forget or avoid the pain. 4/10

Drop Zone Stunt Tower - Let me start this by saying that drop rides belong in a very special category to me -- I love to ride them, but they scare the ever-loving crap out of me. S&S Turbo Shots or similar rides are fun and easy for me to tolerate, but straight freefall just gives me the willies. So I knew this bad boy was gonna terrify me, and it certainly lived up to expectations. I'd reasoned to myself that the drop couldn't be much more than 200 feet, so I was feeling fine until they strapped in and started lifting. By the time we hit the top, and realized that we were about as high as the Eiffel Tower, I detected a faint dribble down the front of my trousers. And when this baby dropped, woo doggie. It seemed like it dropped forever. I wasn't sure how I would like this style of Intamin drop ride, but it is a HUGE improvement over first-gen, and absolutely horrifying. I wish there was something like this a little closer to home. Scary, thrilling, and an altogether nasty adrenaline rush. 9.5/10

At this point in the day, our crew started heading over to the Congo area and had a quick lunch at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Shack. I was pretty pleased with it: a small but tasty menu, reasonable (for park food) prices, and an atmosphere that can't be beat. The TVs playing Forrest Gump and a loop of the soundtrack on the overhead sound system was pretty awesome too. Our tummies nice and full, we ventured into the Congo...

Volcano, The Blast Coaster - Hypersonic may have been our first launch ride of the day, but from the moment we stepped foot into the park, I had my eye on this baby, and it did not disappoint. The line was probably one of the longest of the day (a little over an hour), but it was worth it to admire the extensive theming that went into this. By the time we were down into the belly of the volcano at the loading station, all the canoes and huts and ornate external pieces of the volcano had me on overload. John and I took a seat in the back row, we strapped in...and the train started rolling. I was pretty thrown by this because I recalled it being a launched coaster. The train started sneaking around the corner, at which point I saw a long straightaway which I took to be the launch pad. And then, before I could register another thought, BAM! Our car wasn't even around the corner out of the loading dock before we got catapulted down the track. A long swooping turn, and there we were facing another straightaway. More motors kicked in, and after one final thrust in the dark, the train turned sharply upward and was spewed out the top of the volcano. At this point my senses returned, and I realized that we were at the part of the layout that I remembered seeing from the line. My first thought during the wait was that this was going to be the more boring part of the ride, but the inversions are surprisingly fluid and the train still has a good bit of speed in this section. The final twist, leading into the big plummet into the brake run, was pretty stellar. My final thought was that this was truly the park's star coaster, the only criticism being that, while the ride's second half was still fun, it doesn't hold a candle to the vicious opening salvo. It is my opinion, out of the 133 coasters I've experienced in my 20 short years, that Volcano has the single best start of any ride around, and it's really not fair to the ride's second half -- which would have been perfect on most other launched rides -- to have had to follow it. But then, I can't really think of what I'd have rather had follow the launches, so this is a pretty circuitous and useless criticism. On a scale of 1 to awesome, I'd give it a super cool. 9/10

Avalanche - My second bobsled (after Disaster Transport) was pretty nifty. A fairly boring start, but a wicked cool and compact layout near the end was the saving grace. 6/10

We decided, since the line was so long, to skip Tomb Raider: Firefall. We'd all ridden Top Spins before, so we figured we weren't missing out on TOO much. So instead, we went to the other side of Volcano and hopped on line for...

Flight of Fear - The selling point for this ride really is the theming, which is (pun firmly intended) out of this world. I was the only one to notice that, in the room with the spaceship, a very well placed set of mirrors and some conveniently positioned props maintain the illusion of a room twice as big as it really is. Even looking for my reflection the whole time, I only saw myself once -- great job, PKD, for some more stellar theming! The ride itself is basically a cross between Joker's Jinx, the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, and The Chiller, and I was a little disappointed with the amount of light in the ride proper, as the track was very clearly visible. All told, not too bad at all. 7.5/10

Anaconda - Perhaps it's the fact that I have the Great American S**t Machine in my backyard, but forgive me if I'm a bit jaded towards Arrow coasters. The verdict on this one was pretty mixed. I thought the drop and tunnel was good, but the transitions after the brake run, particularly in the two helices, were hell on my neck and shoulders. John, tall bastard that he is, didn't get his head banged around and actually enjoyed it a whole lot. Danielle said it was a lot better than the Scream Machine, and she was right. All told, it's still an Arrow to me, but by those standards, it ain't half bad. 6.5/10

We finished up in the Congo and slid on up to KidZville to tackle the kiddie rides. It was just before 7:00pm, and we decided to hit up Scooby Doo and the Haunted Mansion. Another awesome Sally dark ride, though my gun wasn't working properly -- and when you brag about your dominance to friends that then proceed to whoop your ass, this is quite problematic. I got my requisite owning, sure enough. One interesting note about this particular ride: the line is littered with a bunch of TV screens, and during this particular season, they were showing creepy clips from scary movies. Now, I'm not sure how good of an idea it is to be showing clips from I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Lost Boys, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Shining on the line of what's essentially a kids' ride in a kids' themed area. It could just be me, though.

***NON-COASTER-RELATED DIGRESSION***

This, however, made for a fairly hilarious scene that requires a little personal background. See, the night before my lady friend and I began dating three years ago, I happened to be talking to her about The Shining without knowing that she gets very easily scared. This led to her totalling her car that night when she heard a strange noise in the back seat that caused her to divert her attention and hit a parked car. Needless to say, we don't talk about The Shining anymore. Well, at one point earlier in the day, while discussing if we were gonna do any of the Halloween attractions, she reminded me of that little incident, to which I responded that The Shining was something she wouldn't have to worry about for a good long time as long as I was around (I'm such a sweetheart, ain't I? ;)) Of course, fast forward to the Scooby Doo line -- as soon as I saw the movie playing, I could barely surpress a giggle. Eventually, she wanted to know what was so funny, so I gestured toward the screen at the exact moment the camera panned to Jack Nicholson. She turned, took a quick look, and screamed, "Oh Jesus Christ, I can't f**king get away from this freak!" Needless to say, we all had a good hearty laugh at that one. :)

***END OF DIGRESSION***

When we got off the ride, we noticed that a lot of the kiddie area was dark. Unbeknownst to us, they closed down the kiddie rides at 7pm to accomodate everyone else who wanted to experience the Halloween attractions at night. This was kind of surprising to me, as I'd never known any other park to do this. This meant that I, credit whore that I am, would have to come back another day for a spin on both Scooby Doo's Ghoster Coaster and Taxi Jam -- which pleased my friends, of course, because that meant they wouldn't have to watch embarrassedly as I stole a small child to ride it!

It was around 8:00pm, the park was dark and filled with artificial fog, and we were getting mighty tired, so we decided to polish off the last available coaster and then hit the rookie road.

Grizzly - First note: running one train on this coaster is HELLISH. The line went right into the station, and we still waited almost 45 minutes to ride! But once we got on, I was in for a surprise. The first drop, into complete darkness, reminded me a little of PPP-style Phoenix, but after the swooping turnaround and second drop, the Grizzly turned into a completely different beast. It ran fast and furious, giving us some decent pops of air from our near-front seat. Some of the turns got a little hairy, but by the time we hit the brakes, the Grizzly had definitely taken me by surprise. Easily my favorite of PKD's three woodies, and a pretty awesome ride overall. 8/10

From here, we snuck out towards International Street, stopped a while to watch the Skaraoke show (which was just a shade too lame to be truly campy fun), then hit the road for the long drive back to Blacksburg. All told, PKD was a pretty awesome park. There were no coasters that were truly terrible -- well, okay, maybe Shockwave... -- and the balance was interesting. With the forthcoming launch (yeah, pun intended again) of the Italian Job Stunt Coaster next year, and with one more year left on Danielle and Megan's tenure at VT, I'd say it's a fair bet that a pair of sojourning young collegiate types from New Jersey will be venturing south of the Mason-Dixon line for some coaster craziness again next year! :)

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005 10:47 AM
How long was it from Blacksburg? Had I known you were leaving from there, I might have joined you, I'm like an hour 20 from VTec.
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Thursday, October 27, 2005 11:58 PM
The trek both to and from Blacksburg took about 3.5 hours, and that's not including the stop we made for gas and coffee on both ends. Next time we hit the park, we'll let you know and perhaps you can meet us there -- I'd venture to say you can get to I-81 or I-64 quicker without traveling through Blacksburg (unless I'm way off on my geography...which is possible ;))
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Friday, October 28, 2005 1:21 AM
Quicker miles wise, probably. But from here, It would take at least 6+ hours (I live in the backwoods of West Virginia) just to get to Richmond. I could go to Blacksburg in just over an hour, and from there, I'd bet I could be at PKD in less than 3.5 ;).
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Friday, October 28, 2005 2:43 AM
You probably could...but I, the crazy Yankee city-dweller, fear the backwoods cop, and therefore keep my speed more reasonable. ;)
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