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Reviews Trip Reports

Kentucky Kingdom Trip Report

Last week, I took a day trip to Kentucky Kingdom to experience Storm Chaser, Lightning Run, and the new-for-2019 Kentucky Flyer.

Lightning Run

Upon entering the park, the first ride on my agenda was Lightning Run. At 100 feet tall, the coaster didn’t look particularly daunting. I knew better than to write it off, though. The ride opened in 2014 as the first Hyper GT-X model from Chance Rides, boasting the thrills of a hyper coaster in a much smaller layout.

I had heard great things about Lightning Run, but I wasn’t prepared for the sheer thrill that Chance Rides packed into a two-minute ride. The first drop plunged me into ejector air that rivaled Maverick. From there, I was out of my seat more than in it, relishing the ride’s attempts to send me skyward.

The intensity was literally non-stop. If anything, my only complaint was that it was too fast to take in. (And I’m saying that about a 55 mph coaster.)

Honestly, if I could put any coaster in my backyard, this would be the one. I would love to see more family parks invest in such a thrilling ride. Lightning Run earned a 9 out of 10 and found a spot in my top ten (who knew?).

Fear Fall

Who doesn’t love a good drop tower? Fear Fall was one of the shortest I’ve ridden, but also one of the most intense. Instead of stopping briefly at the top, the ride abruptly dropped when I least expected it.

The lines in the park were non-existent all day, so I rode Fear Fall again without bothering to get off. Cloudy Tuesdays have their perks.

Scream Xtreme

Scream Xtreme was the park’s newish Endeavor model from Zamperla. Normally, I’d pass by a flat ride like this, but there was no line to deter me.

My stomach has little tolerance for spinning motions, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride once it reached its vertical position.

Thunder Run

Next up was the park’s wooden coaster, Thunder Run. Today, only four coasters from Dinn Corporation are still running. After a ride on Thunder Run, it was easy to see why.

The first drop was fun, but it all went downhill from there (no pun intended). Despite a recent retracking from RMC, the ride was too rough to be enjoyable. It’s a pity, too, because it had a great layout.

Visually, Thunder Run was awe-inspiring. One of the park’s main paths tunneled through its support structure, and one of the ride’s turnarounds bordered the water park. Overall, I gave the ride a 4 out of 10.

Storm Chaser

After leaving Thunder Run, I rounded a corner to find Storm Chaser in all its glory.

Of all the rides at Kentucky Kingdom, Storm Chaser was the one looked forward to riding the most. When the park first announced Storm Chaser in 2015, I remember getting excited about the ride’s barrel roll drop and unique inversions. Now, I finally had the chance to experience it for myself.

As with the other rides at the park, I was able to find a seat on Storm Chaser without waiting in line. The ride ops were excruciatingly slow at dispatching the train, but I guess the empty park gave them little motivation to hurry.

Finally, the train pulled out of the station. The track felt as smooth as butter after my experience on Thunder Run. I enjoyed the breeze as the train (loudly) clacked its way up the lift hill.

My surroundings swung upside down as I entered the barrel roll drop. I can’t say I preferred it over a traditional drop, but it was definitely a unique way to start the ride.

I got lucky on my first ride. Kentucky Kingdom’s proximity to the Louisville airport meant that planes were constantly landing or taking off throughout the day. As I crested Storm Chaser’s first airtime hill, an airplane flew right over my head.

I flew from side to side with the train as it traversed a series of unpredictable twists. The layout kept me close to the ground, making the ride feel faster than it was. My favorite moment on Storm Chaser was probably the pop of airtime on the 140-degree stall.

The ride was phenomenal, but it lacked the intensity of Steel Vengeance and left me wanting more. Maybe I set my expectations too high, but I didn’t enjoy the ride as much as I thought I would. Having said that, RMC did a great job with the ride’s design, and it was very thrilling for a ride of its size. I rated Storm Chaser 9 out of 10.

Eye of the Storm

Next, I headed to Eye of the Storm (pictured in yellow above). As my first Larson Loop coaster, the ride reminded me of a swinging ship. The hangtime on this thing was amazing.

Hurricane Bay

After breaking for lunch, I decided to try out Kentucky Kingdom’s water park, Hurricane Bay. Located at the center of the park, it provided a nice view of the surrounding coasters and made for a great way to cool off. Access to Hurricane Bay was included in general admission, and I’m glad.

Besides having the usual wave pool and lazy river, Hurricane Bay offered a nice slide lineup. My favorite slide was Tornado, a funnel slide with a nice drop (especially when taken backwards). Ironically, the water park was more crowded than the rest of the Kingdom and my longest wait of the day was for their water coaster.

Raging Rapids & Mile High Falls

Before drying off, I headed to the other water rides in the park. Raging Rapids turned out to be an unusually well-themed rapids ride. I rode with a couple of young kids, and watching them squeal as they lapped the ride took me back to my early coaster days.

Mile High Falls was a classic shoot-the-chutes water ride, and it left me soaked to the bone. Such things call for a rider tip.

Rider tip: If you plan on riding a water ride at Kentucky Kingdom, bring a pair of flip flops. Shoes are required on these rides, and you don’t want to get off with soggy socks. I speak from experience.

Kentucky Flyer

I was now ready to hit some more coasters. Kentucky Flyer, the park’s new family wooden coaster, proved to be one of my favorite rides at the park. The trains were extremely comfortable, the drop was thrilling, and the layout was full of floater airtime.

I gave Kentucky Flyer a 7 out of 10. If I had kids, this is something I’d be willing to ride all day.

I also caught a ride on Skycatcher, the neighboring swings ride. I can’t say I enjoyed the spinning motion, but it was fun nevertheless.

T3

Next up: T3. I didn’t expect much from a Vekoma invert, but it still managed to disappoint. T3 was by far the roughest inverted coaster I’ve ridden.

The layout was fun and the restraints were comfortable, but every element ended with a severe jolt. It felt like there was an inch gap between the upstop wheels and the track. I got off with a headache. I rated it 4 out of 10.

I finished out the day by lapping Storm Chaser. Since there was no line, the ride ops let us stay in our seats or switch to an empty row each time we returned to the station. Let me tell you, there isn’t a bad seat on this coaster.

On my way out of the park, I met a fellow coaster enthusiast wearing a Fury 325 shirt. It isn’t every day that I get to talk with another coaster boy, so I had a blast discussing the latest happenings in the industry.

I left Kentucky Kingdom happy and fulfilled. I wasn’t sure if such a small park could give me my yearly coaster fix, but sure enough, it did. Thanks to the low crowds, I got in 26 rides. If you’re ever in the area, I would highly recommend paying Lightning Run and Storm Chaser a visit.

Park tips

  • Be on the lookout for deals on Kentucky Kingdom’s website. This year they offered an out-of-state discount as well as weekday tickets for $29.95. My friend and I covered gas, admission, and parking for only $55 each. That’s super cheap for an amusement park excursion.
  • Kentucky Kingdom’s no-phone policy didn’t seem to be strictly enforced, but they did have loose-article bins in every station. I always left my phone under my hat in a bin and none of the other riders messed with it.
  • Plan on spending some time at Hurricane Bay. Like I said, it’s a great way to cool off and it’s included in your ticket. Also, they have changing rooms that are separate from the bathrooms, which is always nice.

Final thoughts

It’s crazy to think that it’s only been six years since Kentucky Kingdom reopened. Before 2014, the park was abandoned and deprived of its best rides. Since then, the park has added Lightning Run, Storm Chaser, Eye of the Storm, and Kentucky Flyer. For a park of its size (and history), that’s a remarkably well-rounded thrill lineup.

What would I change about the park? For one, the layout was confusing to navigate. A road runs through the park, separating most of the rides from the front gate. It would be great to see a bridge connecting the midway by Lightning Run to Kentucky Flyer. Also, many of the ride exit ramps were not clearly labeled and I found myself going the wrong way. It would help for the park to add a one-way gate at the end of each ramp.

In terms of future rides, I think Kentucky Kingdom would benefit from a launched coaster—maybe a Premier Rides SkyRocket II model or a spinning coaster like Time Traveler.

I’m nitpicking at this point. I loved my trip to Kentucky Kingdom. Have you ever been to the park? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Categories
Features Opinion Reviews Ride Reviews

VR on Coasters: A New Dimension of Theming?

Back in August, I waited nearly an hour to ride Iron Dragon at Cedar Point. I’d ridden Iron Dragon countless times on past trips to the park, mostly because of its notoriously short line. But on this August evening, the ride was different—Cedar Point had implemented a virtual reality experience the season before—and I was curious to try it out before leaving the park. Judging by the number of people in front of me, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Cedar Point only had one train running, and with the added complication of preparing a VR headset for each rider, the line stood dead still for five minutes at a time.

Each time the train completed its cycle and came swaying into the brake run, I surveyed the riders’ faces, trying to interpret their reactions. Having read reviews for other virtual reality roller coasters, I had picked up mixed feelings about the whole “virtual” concept. After all, the ability to use CGI might make theming limitless, but could it successfully replace the authentic ride experience? I was ready to find out.

Once I reached the loading platform, a ride op handed me a headset and explained how to properly adjust it. Climbing into the suspended car and lowering the restraint over my enlarged face was harder than I had anticipated, but I managed alright.

The image in front of me was blurry, so I adjusted the focus until a horse came into view. I was sitting at the front of a wagon in a medieval fantasy setting with cliffs and beasts in front of me. As the train exited the station, the horse began walking and we headed up a steep path leading to a castle. The visual, while not a very high resolution, was engaging, and I found myself moving my head in all directions to gaze at the little details.

As I neared the top of the virtual ramp, a giant troll bowled through the structure just in front of the wagon. My horse teetered forward, forcing me to look into the abyss below. To my dismay, my horse tumbled into the depths with me close behind. At the last second, a winged beast (presumably the Iron Dragon) swooped from behind and swung me out of harm’s way.

VR is impressive on its own, but when combined with the actual forces of a coaster’s drops and turns, the experience is truly convincing. Normally, I get a slight knot in my stomach from looking down a drop on a roller coaster, and gazing over the edge in a virtual environment was just as terrifying. If it weren’t for the fact that the VR headset didn’t have audio, I would have forgotten I was on Iron Dragon at all.

After the first drop, I was swept in one direction and then the other at the dragon’s whim. We weaved through structures and evaded creatures determined to steal whatever treasure my wagon held. I felt like a viking in How to Train Your Dragon, only my dragon was completely out of my control. I don’t remember many of the details from my flight, but there was a pretty thrilling air battle with another flying beast. Near the end of the ride, there was a jump scare that made me and the riders around me scream as we narrowly avoided being eaten by a virtual monster.

The ride ended with an intense swoop around a lake and a smooth glide into a cave. I didn’t even realize I was back in the station until I heard a soon-to-be-rider asking if I enjoyed it. If I had any mixed feelings about virtual reality coasters before, my ride on Iron Dragon fully opened me up to the VR concept.

Should roller coasters stay the way they are now, or should they have unique VR themes? My answer—yes! I thought the way Cedar Point offered Iron Dragon VR as an optional experience after 7 pm only was a brilliant model. Riders who want a traditional experience get to ride the coaster during the day without suffering from the extended line. Enthusiasts like me who have already ridden the ride the “normal” way several times can wait for longer to experience the themed version. While I wouldn’t suggest that parks add virtual reality to their headlining attractions, offering it as an optional experience on a less-popular ride is a great idea for two reasons:

1: VR sparks fresh interest in aging rides

Nearly every park has that one ride. Enthusiasts have ridden it a dozen times, but it doesn’t run like it used to, and frankly, it’s boring. It may have short lines, but even the general public is passing it by. If the park adds a virtual reality option, it’ll give enthusiasts a new reason to ride and it’ll attract the general public. Don’t like the new experience? Well, at least it’s shortening other queues around the park.

2: VR offers limitless theming at a low expense

Everyone loves a well-themed coaster. When a ride tells a story, riders find themselves wanting to come back and experience the ride again and again. Humans are drawn to stories—that’s why they’re so enthralled with books and movies. There’s just one problem when it comes to theming rides—creating a realistic themed environment is difficult and expensive. Sure, with a high budget, a park could come up with a well-themed ride (think Expedition Everest or Mystery Mine), but for lower-budget attractions and older rides, theming a ride isn’t a realistic investment. Until now. Virtual reality is a way for parks to tell a ride’s story without breaking the budget. Why does the coaster have the name it does, and what is the ride’s relationship with the park or themed zone? Using VR, parks can vividly depict the ride’s “mascot” and environment without building any physical elements at all. And whether it’s taking a tour through space, meeting Kraken face-to-face, or being flown around on a dragon of iron, riders are able to experience thrills not possible on a real world coaster.

In the end, I loved my ride on Iron Dragon VR. Having ridden it once, I don’t think I’d be willing to wait that long for it again, but I would highly recommend it to a first-time rider. I’m excited to see where future VR coasters will take us, and I know the technology will only grow from here. If I ever get the chance to try another virtual reality coaster, I will definitely check it out.

Have you experienced a virtual reality roller coaster? What are your thoughts on the concept?

Categories
featured Reviews Ride Reviews

Steel Vengeance Review

Last Thursday, I finally got to ride Cedar Point’s new hyper hybrid from Rocky Mountain Construction, and I’m still in shock from the sheer power I experienced on the coaster.

As I approached the park, I was struck by how much more prominent the ride was on the skyline. From the start, it was obvious that this ride wasn’t Mean Streak anymore.

As soon as the park opened, I walked to the back of the park as fast as I could. There stood Steel Vengeance, towering over Frontiertown’s buildings and punctuating the air with the screams of terrified riders. The train thundered through inversions and wound through the wooden remains of Mean Streak.

I had heard that Steel Vengeance had just begun a no-phone policy after a rider’s device contributed to an injury on Twisted Timbers, but I wasn’t sure how strict the rule would be or how they planned on enforcing it. Two ride ops sat at the entrance to the ride and asked each rider if they were carrying a phone, instructing them to rent a locker or leave it with a non-rider. I was happy to oblige, but found it difficult to keep track of the time remaining on my locker without my phone, since I didn’t wear a watch. Also, I had hoped to take some good photos from the queue, but I had to resort to snapping a few shots from the entrance and the other side of Frontiertown.

While waiting in line, I saw quite a few security guards patrolling the line and trekking up to the platform every once and a while. A ride op explained that if you were caught with a phone in the station they’d kick you out of the line, and after three strikes they’d call security. In the end, being without my phone was a small price to pay to ride Steel Vengeance, and after tracking Mean Streak’s transformation over the course of two years, I was more than ready to finally catch a ride on the coaster.

After about half an hour, I reached the platform. A ride op was assigning seats but she was happy to acquiesce when I asked to ride in the front. I found this to be the case the whole day, which was great because it kept the line moving while respecting anyone who had a seat preference.

The train took off, rolling over two bunny hills before hitting the unusually loud chain lift. On the way up, I took in the view of Cedar Point’s impressive coaster lineup. Near the top, the entire ride layout came into view, giving us riders a quick glimpse into our imminent joy or terror. Before I knew it, the train reached the apex and slowly crept over the top before dashing to the ground at 90 degrees. In the front car, the drop was exhilarating but not quite ejecting.

The following hill offered a sustained surge of floater airtime at an off-axis angle and sent the train rocketing back toward the first drop. After two more airhills, the real fun began. I was wooshed through first zero-g-roll while climbing, then took a flying turn into the second zero-g-roll while dropping. That drop in particular was extremely disorienting and made for an extreme stomach drop.

After rolling through the mid-course brake run, the ride continued with a sudden plunge back into the course that made me catch my breath. The train dove into the ride’s wooden support structure, tempting me to yank my hands down in apprehension as I was sucked through a third roll. A few hills later, the train took a second pass through the structure, completing a similar roll and maneuvering a set of overbanks. One over-banked turn in particular really stood out, giving me a little pop of airtime while on my side. To finish off the ride, the train flew through a series of five airtime hills in a row, each taken at a different angle.

Sitting in the brake run, I realized that I couldn’t compare the ride experience to any other coaster I had ridden. I decided that it combined some of the best elements of Millennium Force and Maverick while adding in some wacky turns that only Rocky Mountain Construction could conjure up.

After getting off, I got right back in line to try the back row. In the back seat, the first drop was insane! The rest of the train began dropping while the back wasn’t quite to the top, meaning I was pulled aggressively over the top into a 200-foot drop. The ejector airtime I experienced on that drop was by far the best I’ve ever experienced and I would compare it to the negative g-forces on a drop tower.

The ride continued its course, taking each hill and inversion with more intensity than ever. According to the park, Steel Vengeance has the most airtime of any roller coaster, with a total of 27.2 seconds, and I felt like my body was out of the seat more than in it. I was in hysterics for the entire last lap around the ride’s structure, and I got off the coaster with an adrenaline high.

Later in the day, I rented a locker for two more hours and was able to get in three more rides on the coaster (once in the middle and twice in the back). Riding solo, I was able to meet some pretty cool people, some of whom had ridden the coaster dozens of times and others who were about to experience Steel Vengeance for the first time. Everyone I rode with got off with a big smile on their face and a new favorite ride at Cedar Point.

At one point I got to chat with an off-duty ride op for Magnum who was getting in his Steel Vengeance rides for the day. We got to chatting about industry news and other parks across the US, and then he pointed out a few things about the coaster I hadn’t noticed before. For one, the wooden supports sway quite a bit just after the train rolls by, which is normal and serves to relieve the stress from the passing trains. The op said that the park had recently added a reinforcement beam and that it was now swaying much less than before.

He was also able to give me an update on Steel Vengeance’s third train, Chess. On opening day, two trains had a minor collision in the station at a minimal speed, and though no one was injured, Cedar Point was forced to shut the ride down nonetheless. The park switched to two trains while they worked on a fix. According to the ride op, the third train is now ready to run and they have the go-ahead but they’re having trouble getting the mid-course brake run to work, so with three trains they’d have to start one long after the previous like on Millennium Force. So it’s unlikely that we’ll see three-train operation again until next season.

While in line, I also enjoyed checking out the storyline segments that the park added to the queue to explain the ride’s theme. I wasn’t able to get a picture of the signs since I didn’t have my phone with me, but there was a themed poster for each of the three characters (Blackjack, Chess, and Digger) explaining their tie into Frontiertown and their need for vengeance from Blackjack’s ruthless brother Maverick.

There weren’t many themed elements in the ride’s station, but the trains had a great steam engine front car and one of the characters’ names was scrawled on the side of each train. A western voiceover played when each train departed the station, and the loading screen touted fun catchphrases like “A Mean Streak lies beneath.”

In the end, I found a new favorite coaster in Steel Vengeance. The ride had all the elements I crave in a coaster, from the ejector drop to the disorienting inversions and endless airtime hills. In typical Rocky Mountain Construction fashion, the ride managed to combine all these elements with flawless transitions. However, some of the turns on the ride came up so suddenly that I barely had time to prepare myself for their sheer intensity. Steel Vengeance is by no means a rerideable coaster like a B&M Hyper, but I was still feeling great after three rides in a row.

Overall, I couldn’t ask for more from Steel Vengeance, and I thought that the ride experience was absolutely flawless. If I was able to change any part of the ride, I wouldn’t tweak a thing. The length, speed, and intensity were about as good as it gets. I rated Steel Vengeance a first-ever 10 out of 10. I could wax on forever about this ride, but the short of it is that you simply need to experience it for yourself. Steel Vengeance just might be the new best roller coaster on the planet.

Rider tips

  • This tip is pretty obvious, but try to hit the ride as soon as you can after the park opens. Most of the crowd follows the midway past Millennium Force and through Frontiertown, so heading by Top Thrill Dragster and cutting down the Gemini Midway might be your quickest route. Some people even park in the Cedar Point Shores lot for even faster walk to the coaster.
  • Be prepared to part with your phone. The ride ops aren’t going to let you into the queue with a handheld device of any kind, so unless you have a hidden pocket that’s securely fastened, you’re best off renting a locker. Don’t make the mistake I did, but rent a locker for the full day so that you’ll be free to come back to the ride at any point.
  • Try riding in the back row. While I was there, a ride op was assigning seats, but they usually let you sit wherever you want if you ask. In the back of the train, the first drop and airtime hills are absolutely insane. On the way up, a left seat will give a better view of the lake and the right will offer a glimpse at the ride layout and the park beyond.

Have you ridden Steel Vengeance? Feel free to post your review in the comments section below.

Categories
Reviews Trip Reports

Cedar Point on National Roller Coaster Day

Every August 16th, coaster enthusiasts celebrate National Roller Coaster Day, commemorating the day in 1878 when the first wooden roller coaster was patented. I couldn’t think of a better excuse to go coastering, so on Wednesday I flew up to Cleveland to stay with some relatives, and on Roller Coaster Day I headed to Sandusky to pay homage to Cedar Point.

A foreboding forecast

The week leading up to my planned trip, I kept an eye on the Sandusky weather forecast. For a while it looked like there would be intermittent thunderstorms that would clear up by afternoon, but just before I left town, the forecast shifted to all-day storms with a 90% chance of rain. I was left with two choices—trade out my Thursday ticket for a half-day on Friday before returning to Nashville, or brave the storm. I saved the decision for the last moment, and ultimately chose to go on Thursday. Thankfully, the weather held out the entire day and the park was nearly empty, making for very short lines. Even on the new ride…

The hyper hybrid

For years, enthusiasts have begged the park to give Mean Streak the “iron horse” treatment, and I was blown away with the design for Steel Vengeance when it was announced a year ago, naming it my number one most anticipated coaster for 2018. Rocky Mountain Construction took everything that made Mean Streak so unpopular and fashioned it into their wildest hybrid to date. Over the summer, I’ve kept the coaster’s POV on replay and craved every pop of airtime. And this week, I finally caught a ride on the IBox coaster.

Did Steel Vengeance live up to the hype? Yes, and as strange as it may seem, it even managed to exceed my expectations. The utter euphoria I experienced during the pull of the ride’s 90-degree drop made it hands down the best element of any coaster I have ridden. I’m still in such shock that I’m having to process exactly what happened in those two-and-a-half minutes. The first hills were gigantic sweeping airtime machines, the inversions were wildly smooth, and the final lap through the ride’s structure felt insanely fast. I’ll have to save my full Steel Vengeance review for another post, but be assured, this is a coaster no one should miss.

One thing I will point out now is that Cedar Point was very strict about their no phones rule on this ride. The ops at the front of the line told riders to get a locker if they had their phone on them, and one ride op said that if you were caught in the station with a phone three times, they’d call security. While I didn’t really mind getting a locker, it was disappointing to not be able to take photos from the queue, and keeping track of time became a struggle. Quick tip: If you’re ever at the park, be sure to get the all-day lockers so that you’ll be free to ride Steel Vengeance at any point during the day. I unwisely chose to buy a few hours at a time and it kept my rides restricted to those specific periods of time.

A ride in the rain

After riding Steel Vengeance a couple times and grabbing a bite to eat, I decided to head back to Millennium Force. It had begun to sprinkle and the line was so short that I was able to walk all the way onto the platform before reaching other riders. The rain increased to a full drizzle, and though I was wary of riding through it at 93 miles per hour, I decided to give it a shot.

The ride’s first hill afforded a familiar view of Cedar Point and Lake Erie before the train reached the apex and thundered over the edge. Thousands of raindrops stung my face and hands like pins and needles, forcing me to cover my face with one hand and squint through it. The ride was fun as always, zipping along with the sheer speed and power only a Giga coaster can offer. I got a couple moments of airtime and some great positive g-forces, but the drop didn’t deliver for me in the front or the back. While Millennium Force offers a thrilling and re-ridable ride, Fury 325 has a much better layout overall. Over the years, Millennium Force has gone from my number one coaster to sixth place, not because it has aged but because I have since ridden so many superior coasters.

World-class coaster or crowd-pleaser?

Next, I headed over to Valravn, another coaster that had opened since my 2015 trip. Like GateKeeper, the B&M dive coaster was very photogenic and could be seen from most of the park. Its proximity to the midway, paired with the novelty of a hanging drop, made it an extremely popular coaster among the general public.

Walking into the Valravn plaza, I was fascinated by the sweeping Immelmann directly overhead. The line, while much shorter than during regular operation, was considerably longer than my other rides of the day, but I knew it would be worth the wait to try it out. The ride ops had the trains cycling pretty fast, and upon entering the station, I was struck by the small size of the boarding area. I boarded the coaster in the front on the far left and pulled the second-generation over-the-shoulder restraint into place.

The train took a little swoop out of the station and began up the steep lift. From the top, the coaster offered an incredible view of the entire park. Valravn was my first dive coaster, so I found the hang before the drop to be unique but it didn’t trigger my fear of heights as much as I had expected. The drop was pretty good, and the inversions were incredibly smooth, even with the train rattling in a few places. My favorite part of the ride was the zero-g-roll at the end, taken slowly enough to offer a moment of hangtime.

Overall, the ride was alright, but its tame feel and short layout hardly merited the line. I think a tunnel at the bottom of the drop like Yukon Striker or a splashdown finale would have added a lot to the experience, but I understand the struggle of squeezing a whole coaster into such a tight space.

Around the park

After getting off Valravn, I continued down the midway behind Raptor. It’s great to see how Cedar Point has opened up that area and taken it all the way to Blue Streak. Raptor was a walk-on, so I rode it in the back. The layout was absolutely solid, but I found myself fighting the forces of the ride to avoid head-banging during the corkscrews.

Next, I headed to Power Tower. As a huge drop tower fan, I get a thrill out of Cedar Point’s 240-foot model every time.

After that, I got in line for Top Thrill Dragster. Normally, the ride’s line is one of the longest in the park due to frequent downtime, but the ops had all six trains running and the line was moving right along. When I was about two trains away from riding, the ops closed the ride for inclement weather. I stuck around, and when the inclement weather turned out to be a five-minute sprinkle, they reopened the ride and slowly backed the trains into their previous positions. I rode in the front seat and the launch was as thrilling as ever, reaching 120 miles per hour in just four seconds.

Never this wild

After walking by Steel Vengeance to snap some more shots of the coaster, I headed to Maverick. I’ve never seen Maverick with short lines and Thursday was no different.  I had trouble justifying the wait until I got on the coaster and remembered just how good the ride is.

In the past, I’ve always ridden in the front, so decided to check out the back. And man, did it make a difference. The 95-degree drop nearly ejected me from the train and the airtime hill midway through the course was extreme. Everything I loved about Maverick before was intensified, and the way the train took on the elements reminded me of Steel Vengeance. It’s kind of fun to me how Cedar Point tied Maverick into the Steel Vengeance storyline (Maverick is Blackjack’s brother), because the rides were both similar and unique at the same time.

To make the ride even better, the effects like the flashing lights in the tunnel and the water bombs were working for the first time when I’ve ridden it. They added a nice touch and a hint of theming that I had missed before.

Overall, I loved Maverick and would’ve ridden it again had it not been for the length of the line. I moved it to fifth place in my top ten, just ahead of Millennium Force.

Finishing a great day

To end the day, I rode maXair and then lapped Steel Vengeance three times in a row. Having tried the front, middle, and back of the train, I found the back to be the best, with all the elements turned up another notch.

For my last ride on the way out of the park, I hit Iron Dragon to try out the new virtual reality experience that Cedar Point has been running after 7 pm every day. They were only running two trains, so the line was the longest of the day by far and it was amusing to see so many people stacked up for a suspended coaster.

The VR experience was phenomenal. I’ve had mixed feelings about VR on coasters but after trying it for myself, I am in full support. I think running VR for only part of the day is a good model as well. I’ll save the details on the experience for a later post, but it was well done and I completely forgot I was on a roller coaster until we pulled back into the station.

Final thoughts

Overall, my trip to Cedar Point was one of the best park days I’ve ever had. The temperature was 70s all day, the lines were short, and Steel Vengeance was every bit as good as I had hoped. Now that the park has an RMC, their lineup is well-rounded and worthy of the title of Roller Coaster Capital of the World once more. I couldn’t have asked for a better day at Cedar Point, and I hope to return in the near future!

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featured Reviews Trip Reports

Kings Island Trip Report

Kings Island has always been on my list of parks to visit, and when they revealed Mystic Timbers for 2017, I decided it was time to make the trek to Cincinnati to check it out. While at the park on Tuesday, I tackled Kings Island’s world-class collection of thrill rides and found new favorites in Diamondback, Banshee, and The Beast. I thought Mystic Timbers was a solid ride, but “the shed” seemed more like an afterthought than a climax.

Diamondback

I’ve always admired Kings Island’s 230-foot hypercoaster, and upon entering the park I was drawn to the ride like a magnet. The line was a mere walk-on, and within minutes I was sitting in a comfy B&M Hyper seat near the back of the train. As the train ascended the hill, I took in the view. Kings Island is a beautiful park, and I could see miles in every direction from Diamondback’s lift. Cresting the hill, the train plummeted, dashing me to the ground in a euphoric plunge of weightlessness.

Each hill in the coaster’s layout had me floating in my seat, and every movement of the train was perfectly fluid. Heading into the woods at the back of the park, the train snaked its way over several humpbacks and raced through a turnaround. The splashdown at the end of the ride made for a perfect ending, cooling lucky riders with a fine spray and serving to slow the train’s speed.

When the train entered the brake run, two ride-ops headed over to the train to inform me and the other riders that they had encountered a technical difficulty, and we would remain on the brake run until the maintenance crew had fixed the issue. It ended up being a 20-minute wait, but I enjoyed getting to hang out on Diamondback’s train. I ended up striking a conversation with a few other riders who, like me, were looking forward to seeing Cedar Point’s 2018 announcement the next day.

After a bit, the ride-ops sent the waiting trains into the station to unload, then ran several test cycles with the empty trains. As soon as the ride reopened, I was first in line for a second ride. And it was every bit as thrilling as the first.

How did Diamondback compare to my other favorite steel coasters? While no first drop can truly compare to the ones found on Fury 325 and Millennium Force, I thought that Diamondback’s layout was nearly flawless in all other respects. I gave the ride 9 out of 10 stars.

Mystic Timbers

Earlier this year, I named Mystic Timbers the Best New Ride for 2017, and I was eager to find out whether or not the ride had truly earned the title. Standing 109 feet tall, the park’s new GCI wooden coaster wound its way through the woods by Diamondback in a series of quick bunny hills. I passed the ride’s entrance sign and listened with amusement to an audio recording warning me to turn back, as the area was on lockdown. Since it’s fairly unusual for a Cedar Fair park to add theming to their rides, I took extra notice of the warning signs, surveillance screens, and lumber mill references throughout the coaster’s queue. Mystic Timbers is themed to an abandoned lumber mill, and everything surrounding the ride cautions riders against entering “the shed.” After ignoring the messages’ urgent plea to turn back, I climbed aboard the ride’s train, themed to an old pickup truck, and started up the lift hill.

On the way up, a recording played and someone sharply ordered the riders to leave the restricted area. Picking up speed, the train recklessly rolled over the first hill and banked hard to the left. The ride’s spiraling drop offered a pop of airtime and from then on I was out of my seat more than in it. I was taken aback by the coaster’s relentless energy, and the rapid-fire bunny hills flung me in every direction possible. GCI packed a ton of thrill into such a small ride, and the layout didn’t feel half as short as I had expected.

When Kings Island announced the ride last year, they teased fans by keeping the coaster’s ending a secret. #WhatsInTheShed became a hot topic among enthusiasts during Mystic Timber’s construction, but early riders expressed severe disappointment at what they found in the mysterious building at the end of the ride. Naturally, I had low expectations for the ride’s ending, but I couldn’t help but shake my head as the train rolled into the shed, revealing a mere radio and a few animated windows. After waiting on the elaborate brake run for a few seconds, I watched as the windows began to sway and a flock of bats started entering the window on the side of the shed. With a lurch, the train returned to the station just as an enormous bat burst through the front window and roared. The ending made no sense, and I found it extremely anticlimactic. I would have enjoyed it much more had the ride launched out of the shed into a final element to escape the dangers of the shed rather than simply returning to the station.

How would I rate Mystic Timbers? I would give it a 7 out of 10. The ride itself was pretty fun, though not particularly outstanding, and the finale was lackluster at best. Kings Island would have been better off leaving the shed out of their announcement.

The Beast

No coaster enthusiast can visit Kings Island without paying their respects to The Beast, perhaps the most legendary wooden coaster on the planet. The Beast makes its home in the forest behind the park, with only its lift hill visible from the queue. After the train makes it over the first hill, riders are entirely at The Beast’s mercy as they traverse nearly a mile of wooden track at an utterly reckless speed. When watching a point-of-view video of The Beast, it’s easy to write it off as a tame wooden coaster with a boring layout, but when I rode the coaster for myself, I realized that this assumption is anything but correct.

I waited in anticipation as the train took its time climbing the first hill. Once at the top, the train dove into a tunnel and made a sharp turn to the left. The ride gained so much speed on the following straightaways that each twist of the track was taken at a breakneck pace. I was thrown from side to side as The Beast played with me like a cat with a mouse. But it wasn’t done with me yet. Just when I thought that the ride was coming to a close, the train began up a second lift hill, this time climbing in the direction of the station. After being treated to a brief view of the park, I held my breath as the ride built up speed on a long, sweeping drop towards a curved tunnel. The track banked as the train went along, but I was sure my hands would hit the top of the tunnel as I reached it at top speed. Just inside of the tunnel, I was flung to the right as the lateral forces caught up with me. Spiraling into a double helix, the train dove into a second tunnel, this one just as forceful as the first. After straightening out again, the train slowly made its way back to the station. The four minute ride was worth every bit of the wait.

Is The Beast overrated? While it’s true that hundreds of fans consider The Beast their favorite wooden coaster, The Beast truly deserves its fame. It’s a bit on the rough side, but The Beast simply offers an out-of-control experience like no other ride. I gave the coaster an 8 out of 10.

Rider tip: It’s worth mentioning that the front row offers the best experience, as in the back, the cars jostle quite a bit and it can be hard to anticipate the turns.

Banshee

After taking a quick lunch break and viewing Kings Island from the Eiffel Tower, I headed back to the front of the park to Action Zone. Banshee, the park’s 2014 B&M Invert, stood proud and tall, a mass of twisted purple steel. The coaster features a second-generation train design, sporting a rubber vest instead of a typical over the shoulder harness. I had heard mixed reviews about this new harness—some riders praised the lack of headbanging, while others claimed it grew too tight during the ride, causing discomfort. I for one, thought that this new harness was a significant improvement, and I loved being able to experience the ride without getting a headache.

After boarding the train in the very back row, I swung my legs excitedly as the train ascended the lift hill. The chain lift was much faster than the older inverts that I’ve ridden, and the train made it to the top in no time. With the roar of the banshee ringing in my ears, I added my voice to the screams as the train plunged to the right, leaving me weightless the whole way down. Next came a sweeping Immelmann loop and a vertical loop that circled the lift hill. After pulling some serious g-forces at the bottom of the hill, Banshee swung me up into the air and back down in a zero-g-roll, producing a wild sensation of upside-down airtime.

Every inversion on Banshee was just as intense as the one before it, and the ride’s pacing was absolutely perfect. Each element led right to the next one, without any unnatural movements. My favorite part of the ride was the final inline twist, taken at a slow enough speed that the blood ran into my head. Overall, there was nothing I would change about the ride. Banshee is easily the best inverted coaster I’ve ever ridden, and I’d give it an 8 out of 10. I highly recommend riding it.

Drop Tower

As a huge fan of drop towers, I simply had to try out Kings Island’s 315-foot model. Drop Tower towers above the park as the tallest Gyro drop in the world, and it slowly rotates as it climbs to treat riders to an unparalleled view of the park. I took in the view as long as I could, then held my breath when the ride reached its maximum height. After a grueling 25-second pause at the top, the ride released the breaks. I screamed in ecstasy as my stomach dropped out from under me and I plunged 26 stories to the ground. The ejector airtime on Drop Tower lasted for almost five seconds, and it was by far the most intense weightlessness I experienced all day.

Adventure Express

After finding out that The Bat would be closed for the day, I made my way on to Adventure Express, Kings Island’s mine train. While Adventure Express had a lot more theming (including animatronic figures at the end) than a typical mine train, it was painfully abrupt and I got off feeling beat up. I’d rate Adventure Express 4 out of 10 stars, and I wouldn’t recommend riding the coaster unless you just want the credit.

The Racer

Next on my list of rides to conquer was The Racer, the ride that sparked a resurgence in the public’s interest in roller coasters after the devastating Great Depression. This year, the ride celebrates its 45th year of operation. I did a post a couple months ago about The Racer’s history, so I was excited to get to ride this legendary coaster for myself.

On my visit, Kings Island only had the red trains running, but the ride was fun even without the racing experience. Climbing to the top of the hill, the train dropped, picking up speed as it tackled a series of bunny hops. From there, the twin tracks split up, and my train headed to the right. Just when it reached the turnaround, The Racer seemed to remember how old it was getting, and it bounced and jounced the whole way back to the station.

Overall, the ride was fun, but more in a nostalgic sense than a thrilling one. In terms of layout and track condition, I thought that The Racer was much better than its now defunct sister coaster Thunder Road at Carowinds. I’d give The Racer a 6 out of 10.

Flight of Fear

After getting off of The Racer, I headed under the coaster’s lift hill to the X-Base section of the park, home to Flight of Fear and Firehawk. The area had an aviation theme, with Flight of Fear being a space program dedicated to investigating paranormal activity. The ride’s air-conditioned queue was littered with old computers, screens displaying the program’s current work, and a giant flying saucer.

Once inside the station, I was ready for flight. The ride-ops gave the thumbs up and the train launched at 54 miles per hour into complete darkness. A second later, the train shot into a dimly lit building and began maneuvering through a spaghetti bowl layout with four inversions. I could see just enough to anticipate each turn of the track, and I thought that going upside-down in the dark was a unique experience. Since the building looked the same on all sides, I soon lost track of which way was up, making me feel as if I really was in space.

I had low expectations for Flight of Fear, but I ended up really enjoying it. I gave the ride a 7 out of 10.

Firehawk

Next up was Flight of Fear’s neighbor, Firehawk. Firehawk is a Vekoma Flying Dutchman model, with five inversions and a height of 115 feet. The ride originally opened at Geauga Lake in 2001 but was relocated to Kings Island in 2007.

In terms of its layout, Firehawk was much better than Nighthawk at Carowinds, but the ride’s vest restraint made me more than a little nervous. After a long and sunny climb up the lift hill, the train rolled over and plunged down the drop. At this point on the ride, I realized that there was about an inch of space between my lower back and the seat behind me. My legs had lots of extra room underneath the shin bar, and I began to panic that my lower body would come loose from the restraint. For the remainder of the ride (and boy, did it feel long), I had to press my legs against the shin bar to keep my back against the seat. So while the layout itself was fun, I didn’t feel very secure and found myself praying for the ride to end instead of trying to enjoy it.

I would recommend riding Firehawk, but make sure that your vest restraint is properly tightened when boarding. I’d give Firehawk a 6 out of 10.

Backlot Stunt Coaster

Reaching the back of the park, I headed over to Backlot Stunt Coaster, the park’s family launch coaster from Premier Rides. The coaster began with a 40 mile per hour launch into an upward helix. The g-forces were so intense that I nearly grayed out. Exiting the helix, the train wove its way around police cars, road signs, and other theming until it came to a stop outside of a tunnel surrounded by oil tanks. Dramatic music played as an animatronic helicopter cornered the runaway stunt car and began “firing” at it. With a bang, one of the oil tanks exploded into flames as the train accelerated and shot into the tunnel. I felt the train dive and twist, filling the dark tunnel with its riders’ screams. Finally, the train flew back into the light, penetrating the ride’s entrance sign and diving under the queue into the brake run.

I enjoyed Backlot Stunt Coaster so much that I had to get back in line for a re-ride. Smooth enough for young riders, yet intense enough for hardcore thrill seekers, the layout was absolutely perfect for families. The special effects added to the experience, and the ride reminded me a lot of FireChaser Express at Dollywood. I gave Backlot a 7 out of 10. The ride is easily the most underrated coaster in the park, and it’s certainly worth checking out.

Having made a complete lap around the park, I headed back to Rivertown to get some more rides on Diamondback. I experimented with different rows on the coaster and came to the conclusion that the ride is best towards the back, where the train gets pulled over each hill and backseat riders get a little wet on the splashdown.

I finished off the night with a final ride on Banshee, The Beast, and Diamondback, my favorite rides at the park.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed my first visit to Kings Island. The park’s layout made sense and was easy to navigate, with the towering Eiffel Tower indicating the direction of the park’s center. The ride lines were exceptionally short, and I never had to wait over half an hour for a coaster. I was able to get in 20 rides, seven of which were on Diamondback, and I rode all of the park’s major coasters by 4 pm.

Food prices were brazenly high, so I stuck entirely to the food I brought with me in my car. However, I couldn’t help trying Kings Island’s famous blue ice cream, which made for a great way to cool off after standing in the hot sun. The ice cream had a vanilla flavor with a hint of blueberry, and it sure hit the spot.

I thoroughly enjoyed the park’s roller coaster lineup, and Diamondback and Banshee made a great one-two punch. I was also impressed by King’s Island’s wooden coaster collection, and I thought that The Racer, Mystic Timbers, and The Beast complimented each other well without feeling too similar. Despite that, I couldn’t help but wish Kings Island had gotten an RMC topper track coaster instead of a GCI.

Regardless, I had a great day at Kings Island, and I hope to make it back to the park soon.

Have you been to Kings Island? What are your thoughts about the park?

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Reviews Trip Reports

Dollywood Trip Report

Earlier this fall, I made the trek to my home park, Dollywood. Even though I went on a Saturday, the lines were fairly short and I was able to get in a decent number of rides.