Back to Holiday World

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 28, 2015, 10:44 PM | comments: 0

I haven't written much lately, because life has been busy, I was sick, and honestly, I haven't had the mental bandwidth. It seems like I get that way every spring. In any case, without a ton of planning, I decided to fly out to Louisville and then drive to Santa Claus, Indiana, for the media day where Holiday World launched (that pun is for Paula) their new roller coaster, Thunderbird.

The park is a special place for me, because it has been the location for a great deal of fantastic experiences for me. Some of my favorite times ever, with a great many friends, happened there. Then add in a layer of friendship from people who worked there, worked with the park to build their rides, and you can understand why it's special. I haven't been there since 2011, and that makes me sad.

In 2005, we had a particularly special event at the park. It was a difficult year for me, and it meant a great deal to be there with some of my closest friends. We also had just started doing the CoasterBuzz podcast, and we did the second one at the park in front of people, with Will Koch, the president and majority owner. Will was easily one of the most interesting people in the industry, and also one of the most humble and kind people you would ever meet. As they were building The Voyage that year (for which I was honored to be on a "secret committee" soliciting feedback during its development), he made the case for a steel coaster at the park.

In 2010, Will unexpectedly died. Certainly this was sad for the enthusiast community and the industry, but I can only imagine how hard it was for people at the park. Will was a visionary, and if you doubt that, ask yourself how else you get 1.2 million people to visit an amusement park very nearly in the middle of nowhere. In the wake of his death, there was a drawn-out and very public battle between Will's immediate family and his brother for control of the park.  In the end, his wife and kids won the case, and the park's GM continued to lead in the right direction. Will's wife and kids became active in the operation of the park as well.

This new ride is surprising in part because they've spent $22 million on the ride and infrastructure around it. It's a stunning achievement not just for the ride itself, which is super fun, but because they upped their game so much in terms of making a beautiful area in the park. They paid close attention to detail, and this new section is every bit as nice as a new section at Disney World.

I didn't go there just to ride though, because I wanted to do a short video feature about the creation of the ride. Of course I got plenty of shots of the ride in action, but I also got some interviews with the park's president, its project manager and Will's two daughters. I'm happy with what I shot, and can't wait to cut it. I think the most reassuring thing about it though is that the "kids," now in their mid-20's, are clearly the right people to take the park forward, along with their president. They're smart, humble and in every way their father's kids. I can't wait to see what they (and their brother, who is still in college) do going forward.

We're planning an event for the fall, and I look forward to going back. I feel like the park is "back," after a really crappy situation. They're good people there... we need more people like that.


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