It has been a very long time since I've been to Kings Island. I want to put the last visit in 2009, for the Diamondback media day, but I think my last visit with Diana was the year before. I've always really enjoyed the park, and the early days of the BeastBuzz event were epic. I'm bummed that I missed it last year, because it sounds like those good times were back.
This year, the park opens Banshee, the longest inverted roller coaster in the world. I think they're pretty much my favorite variety of B&M coasters, so it was the perfect excuse to pack up the family and make my first trip back to Ohio since moving to Orlando nine months ago. To seal the deal, Diana had some free nights and food credits coming from Great Wolf Lodge after being on their ask-a-mom panel last year, so it made a lot of sense.
The media event was on Thursday, April 17, 2014, modeled after the event they did at sister park Cedar Point last year for GateKeeper. It's similar to what parks have done for years, but they also invite all card-carrying members of enthusiast clubs. It's a brilliant move, because it's a pretty inexpensive way to get thousands of people talking about the rides, and it creates a really amazing vibe that you can't manufacture with just a few hundred media folk and guests.
I was cautious about getting up for this one, because of the cold overnights. The riding started at 5:30 a.m., but I didn't get up until then. The temperature was 32, right at freezing. I was skeptical that they would even run the ride that early, but I could hear it from our hotel room, and sure enough, the photos were already flowing on Facebook. I jumped in the shower, and walked over, arriving around 6-something. There I met our friends Rob and Cindy, and I entered with them.
First ride was in the second to last row, left side. The cold was brutal, but it was clear from the first drop that this was a special ride. It's sharp, it's steep, and compact. From there it climbs into the dive loop, then loops vertically around the lift, and heads up to a zero-G roll. These three inversions come very quickly, with tight radius pull-outs. You really feel them.
From there, it gets more intense. The drop off of the zero-G roll takes you to a lower elevation, where you then climb into the double inversion batwing or bowtie or whatever the kids call it. I figured the sheer size of these elements would make them boring, but they weren't at all. They're perfectly paced and spaced, and the transition between them is impossibly fast. No sooner are you out of those that you're into another vertical loop, which pulls out tightly into an upward helix. This is where I experienced little gray-outs. Next you take a barrel roll, totally straight track. It's completely strange, kind of like Volcano at Kings Dominion. Next you're sucked into a powerful downward helix before entering the final brakes.
My first impression was that B&M took everything they learned about inverted coasters and improved on it. It's so very nearly perfect, start to finish. Even when I tried to be more critical of it on subsequent rides, I couldn't. It was that good. (Shoutout to the asshat enthusiast who I rode with once who said, "The general public will eat it up, but it's just OK.") After more rides, I was ready to declare this as the best in its class. While I haven't been on all of the inverts in North America, I think I've had most of them, and this just blows them all away.
It's also interesting that B&M decided to re-engineer the trains, after using essentially the same design for nearly two decades. Gone are the mechanical restraint releases, and the individual pillars for each seat. They adopted the restraint system from the wing coasters, and now use two columns to support the seats. The result is a more open feeling, and a far less obstructed view from the inside seats.
The theme around the ride is, as you would expect, something of a take on a gothic, graveyard theme, and it's really quite well done. The Cedar Fair planning and design folks are really hitting some home runs again, as they're doing the perfect level of design for a non-themed amusement park. The station is beautiful, the lighting is lovely, and the "memorial" to Son of Beast was a very nice touch (though I suspect no one will miss it). The makeover carries into the midway, which was significantly overhauled from the old "action zone" stuff created in the Paramount days.
There was catered food for media and VIP's, plus food from the overhauled counter service location. There was also ice cream, which seemed absurd at first, but was far more appropriate when the temperature warmed up to 70. They did a nice job taking care of everyone. When it was done, we bought platinum season passes, so we're definitely committed to visiting CP and Carowinds this year.
It's also worth noting that the ride formerly known as Top Gun and Flight Deck was repainted and renamed The Bat, to pay homage to the original Arrow suspended coaster that lived for a short period on the site of Vortex. While the original was a massive engineering failure, the newer ride is the best of its kind. It's a shame that Arrow finally got it right, only no one after that built one. They opened it up for attendees, and it was running beautifully (they also opened Delirium and their Skycoaster).
The next day was their season opener, coinciding with Good Friday. It was a perfect storm of insane busy conditions, with the new ride, opening day and near perfect weather. The park was mobbed in a way I've never seen any park. It took us about 20 minutes just to get in the front gate. Massive lines formed for pass processing (which was optional, because they were taking vouchers at the gate) and tickets. The park was generally crowded most of the day.
With Simon and my dad along, certainly we were most interested in doing kids stuff. Simon was very excited to ride Woodstock Express, his first wood roller coaster. We waited more than a half-hour, and he absolutely loved it. What a joy it was to see him get into it. Diana finally got her Diamondback credit, and we actually queued for 75 minutes. It took almost as long for Simon and my dad to get on the helicopter ride in the kids area.
Saturday, by contrast wasn't busy at all. We strolled in around 11-o'something, and enjoyed walking on to all kinds of stuff. Simon had a total of three more laps on Woodstock, and we even bought a family on-ride photo. It was a great distraction before having to go to the airport.
Another strong quality for Kings Island: Their season pass discounts are straight forward and logical. It's 10% off for food and merchandise. The souvenir cups with free refills are $10 instead of $15 (which is a good deal since a 20 oz. soda is an insane $4 this year).
Overall, I was shocked at how generally friendly the staff was all around the park. It was so much better than it was on my last visit. It's also worth noting that operationally, the park has come a very long way, to the point where it's on par with Cedar Point. That's a very welcome change. Kings Island has always felt like "the other" Ohio park, but on this particular trip, even though it was busy, it felt as though the park had "arrived." I no longer regard it with gentle indifference, and have really started to love it again. Can't wait to go back later in the summer!