Dear Coaster Friends,
Now that Kings Dominion has opened for the season there has been images on the internet of Volcano: The Blast Coaster being dismantled. Then inevitably the mountain itself came tumbling down too. I am a big fan of Twisted Timbers, so I have no buyers remorse on that and neither should the park. It added a fantastic ride that is a big part of the reason I want to go back to there sooner rather than later.
After the Volcano fans finished the grieving process for their very unique ride the conversation immediately turned into speculation on what could be done at Kings Dominion next. Unfortunately I think we will need to be patient since the impression that I got was that the closure was not part of the park’s plan, and it was a decision that they were forced to make. That being said they are still probably trying to figure out both the when and what will be done to fill the void left by its absence. However I have heard a plethora of ideas from fans of the park ever since we have digested the info. People were reluctant to think of the area without the volcano, so many ideas focused on the idea of diving into the volcano. B&M dive coasters, Gerstlauer “dive” coasters, and even a Vekoma tilt coaster were the main thing I was hearing from friends. I know some people had the thought that maybe they would do a traditional invert from B&M to pay homage to the the former resident.
As inventive and exciting as those different ideas, they didn’t work with my future predictions. I don’t like to be a raincloud on people’s hopes for the future, but when they announced the ride closing I knew the volcano would have to go with it. The structure of the scenery and the roller coaster were too intertwined to remove one without destroying the other. I am a big fan of B&M inverts and dive coasters, but I don’t think that either are likely as there are fantastic examples of both just down the road at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. As much as I’d love to see them install another big Intamin launch coaster I feel like the chain doesn’t want to work with Intamin, and we might just be saying BGW has one next year too.
If Kings Dominion goes with a B&M I think the most likely choice is a wing coaster. It would add a unique to the region ride that offers inversions and the free flying action that the park lost when Volcano was demolished. Even though Volcano is in a fairly compact area the lift hill for a new ride could go over the Flight of Fear launch track and use the vacant land on the other side and even continue over to the plot of land next to I305 if they wanted to do a narrow out and back style ride. Another B&M that lends itself to an out and back layout is a hyper. I know I discounted the idea of a dive or an invert because BGW has one, but I think a hyper is always going to be a winner.
I think that as much as I like the idea of a B&M wing or hyper that it could be a very expensive choice. With the fact that the closure was unplanned and they just invested in the Candy Apple Grove area they may not be prepared to spend 25ish million dollars in one of the next upcoming seasons. So where might they find a bargain? They have just worked with Gerstlauer out at Knott's so they could be brought in and build an infinity coaster on the existing plot of land, they have already proved how compact their designs can be, and the vertical lift and drop are a great way to maximize space. Another bargain option could be Chance Rides, they have not been very busy the last few seasons and they could be looking for a way to prove themselves. The almost hyper that was built for Kentucky Kingdom was a bargain at 7 million. Could they use that same technology, track and chassis, to build a larger version that could undercut B&M’s hyper by half? I think the most fun option is to go with another new partner, Rocky Mountain Construction. They could plop the already designed single rail coaster down on that plot of land, as it has a very compact layout. There is also the possibility of a custom creation that could spread out over Flight of Fear into the adjacent property, as we don’t really know how big RMC will go with this new technology, and for what cost.
If I had to place a bet and be decisive I think that we are three years away from seeing a replacement for Kings Dominion, so 2022 is the early side of the development time frame. I think the chance hyper would probably make the most sense as a business decision, but it doesn’t make me as excited as some of the other options that could be vying for the spot. I know there is another possibility, that Volcano won’t be replaced with a roller coaster at all. If that is the case then don’t worry Busch Gardens Williamsburg is just down the road.
Dear Coaster Friends,
I have been a fan of video games since I was a young boy. A fun thing that game designers often do is hide Easter eggs in their game. It might be a hidden feature, or artwork. Either way it takes persistence or an observant user to find them organically. Theme and amusement parks do this as well. Sometimes hiding something in plain sight that their fans can discover and interact with. I wanted to share with you some of the Easter eggs I have discovered at the parks I have been to as well as some that were shared with me by other readers.
The most well know, yet elusive easter eggs are the hidden mickeys at Disney parks. Starting in the late 70’s when the imagineers were designing EPCOT they wanted to add a bit of whimsy and discovery into this new more adult world. So they came up with the idea of adding subtle Mickey shaped designs around the park. This idea has spilled over into all of their parks worldwide, and on to their other resort properties including cruise ships. There isn't a true count of how many hidden Mickeys there are; they can be hidden in patterns, made from arranging props, and the shadows and light created by lightning. There is one now removed unintended Easter egg that was included on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. There was a scene on the ride where Steven Tyler made a very unDisney hand gesture that he subtly added in that was included on ride experience for almost a decade before it was censored, shocking!
Disney isn’t the only Orlando area park getting in on the fun, Universal has some very interesting Easter eggs built into their guest experiences as well. Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit has onboard sound that is interactive for the passenger. There is an Easter egg in the form of a hidden song selection, if you hold the logo for ten seconds a keypad appears where you can input a 3 digit number. You can experiment with different combos, and you will get different results. The correct combo is 703 if you really want to rockit. Universal has other interactive Easter eggs hidden in their parks and the World of Harry Potter is home to some cool ones. If you are a big fan of the movie franchise or books you might be tempted into buying your own wand as a souvenir. The wand comes with a map to places in the park where you can use it to produce a magical effect, but there is an Easter egg on that map that will reveal extra spots around the park where your new wand can be used. If you bring the map into Knockturn Alley you will find black lights. Look at the map under the black lights and extra magical spots will be magically revealed.
Not to be left out many regional theme parks have included Easter eggs that their fans can discover too. Many regional theme parks play on their own history to engage their fans. At Kings Island in the queue area for Banshee there is a tombstone for Son Of Beast, a defunct roller coaster that formally occupied that plot of land. Kings Dominion also has a nod to a former attraction at their park. In the plaza in front of Twisted Timbers you will find a manhole cover cast with the city Aurora on it. This is of course the hometown of Wayne & Garth the hosts of Wayne’s World and the former theme to the Hurler. Six Flags Great Adventure has some nods to the past around their park too. On the long walk back to Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom you might be observant and see a small leftover piece of track from the former racing wood coaster Rolling Thunder, left as a small piece of the ride to live on. Rolling Thunder isn’t the only former ride at Great Adventure to live on. The monkeys in the safari section have a thrilling jungle gym to play on. From Bizzaro’s lift hill you can see the monkeys playing on the tops of the original loops from the Great American Scream Machine. Cedar Point is a park with a long history and they have named the engines on their railroad to honor influential people and their loved ones who help shape the park into the thrilling destination it has become.
While this list is far from complete the fun of these Easter eggs is actually finding them for yourself and interpreting their meaning or interacting with them. When you are out at your next park outing keep a keen eye out. Most amusement parks are full of bit from their own past that no one want to dispose of, and others are full of secret designs meant for only the most observant guests. These secrets bring you into a small club, and offer a connection a sort of wink from the park to their fans.
Dear Coaster Friends,
It is that time of year again, spring! I have some good news and bad new. The good news most theme parks have opened, the bad news? Your taxes are due. As theme park enthusiasts we sometimes complain about the high prices of the little extras that go along with visiting parks. When some families drop their hard earned dollars down for tickets they may be surprised how many little extras they are asked for along the way. I generally like to counterbalance my criticism with praise, but this isn’t that type of article.
Parking is the first theme park tax, the parks that allow for free parking are few and far between. Even places with free entrance, or no admission prices even have pay parking. I understand that some parks may want to encourage guests to use mass transit or carpool, so pay parking could be a motivation for some guests to avoid bringing a vehicle or extra vehicle on property. This practice doesn’t make sense for most parks I have been to, many have highway only access to their gates and driving or getting dropped off by car is the only safe way to access the park. Some theme parks that have on site resorts are now charging for parking at the hotel even if you use park provided transportation to reach the park itself. This seems even less intuitive since the guests are basically saying we will eat all three meals, and spend 100% of our time on your property. Making them pay to park is like charging a fee for a bellhop at a hotel, except this is happening too at the same resorts. This policy will arguably hurt the bellhop more than the guests as they will not see an ad on service as being worthy of gratuity.
Drinks, are another place where parks often mark up prices to the point of pain. I know many parks offer deals for refillable souvenir cups, but they often cost over $15 and soft drinks will not rehydrate you in the summertime when it is hot, suny, and parks do most of their business. Some parks do have water fountains placed regularly around the park in easy to locate areas. However there are just as many that don’t, and they are just in certain sections or hard to locate. There is a tax loophole that many people do not take advantage of. Most parks will offer free ice water in a small cup at any stand where they sell fountain drinks.
Lockers, enough said right? Lockers do provide a valuable service if you are a family that needs to bring a bag into the park and you don’t want to carry it around, and also for park goers who want to have a change of clothes and a towel to enjoy both the dry side and waterpark of an amusement park, when available. However that is not the type of locker I am referring to. I mean ride lockers that are a requirement to enjoy an attraction without turning someone in your group into a pack mule. This trend of requiring lockers for certain rides does feel like an added expense that we are forced to pay. Just like not all states tax the same things, not all parks make you pay for ride lockers. There are tax havens out there like Hersheypark that provides free lockers, Luna Park has free storage as you approach the station, and many parks offer bins on the platform to drop off your loose articles. The trend on newer rides is to require lockers even if this is not the policy for other attractions at the same park. This feels like a tax, because the queue areas are built just like any other attraction. Parks know that the policy will be in force on opening day and choose not to create a complimentary way for guests to safely store their lose items they are choosing to create an additional revenue stream. I feel that this criticism is valid,and many consumer friendly options could be put in place to provide safety, convenience, and speed up operations for all.
I know that being an enthusiast isn’t a cheap hobby in many respects. I am also not opposed to spending my dollars in the park. The reason that I am half jokingly referring to these items as tax is that they are part of a normal visit and they do add an expense after you have already paid admission. Expensive meals, merchandise, games, and up charge attractions are optional and guests know they can choose to participate in them or skip them before they buy a ticket. I would prefer that if the park operators are looking for ways to earn more money per visitor they provide me with something I want to pay for, and not charge me for something I need that should be provided.
Dear Coaster Friends,
The amusement industry is a competitive place, and even though many regional parks stand alone geographically they don’t. The name of the game is to expand that radius of where people may travel from to visit ever wider and wider. There has been many hotel brands jumping on board with this idea and building closer and closer to amusement parks. Some parks are even partnering with these hotels to offer a bit of synergy since their guests overlap. Other destination brands like Disney and Universal are building new resort options, and even Hersheypark has included more lodging options for their 2020 expansion. So what will draw in people from further away to visit these parks and fill all of these rooms? The trend has been theming, and choosing exciting intellectual properties.
Disney and Universal are the obvious trailblazers in this game, themed areas and rides are what they are best known for. Their contributions are widely praised and their future plans for the next few years are very impressive. However the regional parks have been succeeding and failing to capture this magic too. The reason that they are trying to reinvent this experience for their own brand is simple. People travel to Disney and Universal Parks because they know they are in for a unique experience. Not only that, the emotion and anticipation starts long before guests arrive at the parks because they already like the idea of stepping into Toy Story, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, or whatever familiar story that is offered. Fans of these franchises both casual and fanatic are going to want that experience, in fact they are going to be easy to please and hard to disappoint because they already have that emotional connection.
Building the biggest, fastest, and most intense rides are not moving the numbers like they used to, since most regional parks are established enough that the surrounding area is already familiar with what they have to offer. Big rides will make the passholder base happy and sell extra tickets, because it is exciting. However it is not enticing people into planning a special family vacation like Disney and Universal do, because people outside the area simply will not know about this new ride. The ironic part is that the regional parks that are trying to step up the theming to draw people in are still stuck on their local market for the most part. These new additions will add an extra quality of life layer since new “themed” rides often spill out into the surrounding area so dining, scenery, park facilities often benefit from an upgrade too. However in my opinion these themes should capture the imagination of guests outside of the local radius, and especially those who don’t typically visit an amusement park for entertainment.
I feel like it is tough to really theme a roller coaster and create an immersive experience, but in a few months I think Universal is going to make me eat those words once their newest roller coaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure opens. But what are the regional parks up to this year and will it have the desired effect? Copperhead Strike at Carowinds was the first to open this year and it is themed to moonshine. It appeals to the region and draws on their history. The area around the ride is really nice, there is a paver plaza complete with a giant outdoor fireplace. There is also a small stage for a musical act that features a band playing what appears to be makeshift instruments made out of broken car parts. The new restaurant offers new choices for the park guests, and all of the buildings look nice. The sign for Copperhead Strike is very cool, but when you visit you will be surprised to see it isn’t really at the entrance for the ride. The sign points you down a path that brings you into the infield, so you get to queue up under the ride and get a great vantage point to see the roller coaster go through its paces. The queue itself is littered with scenery to give guests something to look at as they make their way up to the station. Most of the scenery is related to a hidden moonshine distillery. There are lots of hand made signs that offer caution about snakes, and are designed to discourage outsiders from exploring further. There are plenty of copper tubes and other vessels that look like they would be useful in a moonshine operation. There is evidence of the amature operation as some of the equipment looks like its was thrown out because of explosions. Everything on the farm looks very old and abandon, there is a very rural feel and the overarching message is that they want to be left alone.
Once you make it up to the station it is time to think about the ride. The trains that great you in the station are fantastic, front to back. The front cars have functional headlights and look like a hotrod pickup truck from the 40’s. The rear car has tail lights that look like the back of an early 60’s corvette. All three trains are painted gloss black and feature very comfortable seats with lap bars. The trains roll out of the station on copper colored rails and into a very slow jo-jo roll. This first element hangs you out of your seat and gives a bit of a preview about what is coming up. The trains turns to the right and into the barn where they stop. There is a show to your left and scenery all over the barn complete with lighting effects. The screen is behind a pane of glass that has been distressed so it isn’t visually clear, and the dialogue is a bit hard to catch, and panicked. It feels like you are the witness to an event and not a participant. The launch kicks in without much warning and sends you directly into a vertical loop. This loop gives a few seconds of hang time and was my favorite element on the ride. Following the loop you scream into an ejector airtime hill that really delivers. The train maneuvers through the corkscrew and then twists through an S bend. A small hill conceals the second launch, but this is where my ride hit the breaks. I was only able to get one lap on Copperhead Strike because we got E-stopped on the second launch. I attempted to go back on the ride but it was really down all day from that point on. I feel like I didn’t get the experience I should have for the second launch since we were basically stationary for about 10 minutes until maintenance came to help us complete the circuit. I’ll explain for all you super nerds at the end what I observed.
The second launch features an airtime hill in the middle of the LIM, so it looks to have the potential to give a really unique experience. I look forward to revisit Carowinds someday to get a better impression of the second half of the ride. The second launch sends you into a step up and then the cutback. The track banks around and lines you up for the final inversion a second vertical loop. All of the inversions on Copperhead Strike give hangtime but the two vertical loops offer the best sensation in my opinion. The track does an overbank turn through the first loop and then drops low as the rest of the course twists and turns just above the ground. There is even a very quick snappy turn that reminds me of a tamer version of like a Skyrush or I-305 twist. Even though the ride isn’t very tall or fast the low maneuvers and tight layout really make the most of what you have. The ride is fun and is a good addition to the parks lineup. Carowinds has two sensational rides in Fury 325 and Intimidator, and a really solid invert in Afterburn. A launch coaster with quick transitions is a good compliment to what they do have.
Now how about that theme? Nobody was expecting the type of experience or storytelling you get at a Disney or Universal park, but how about compared to other regional parks? The theme is moonshine, so it does fit the regional history and Carowind fans will probably identify it as something that is their own. This regional appeal will not excite those from outside the area, nor is it going to bring in moonshine fans who don't already regularly visit the park. So I feel like it checks one column but not the other. The level of detail in the scenery in the queue and barn is awesome, probably the best in Cedar Fair. However I feel it is too easy to ignore. What is the story? If you never read the park literature and marketing materials and just went through the queue and ride I think you would have a hard time retelling the story to someone else. I was impressed with the ambiance and scenery, but I feel like that is what the area had. I think that the catch 22 of creating their own theme and story as Cedar Fair does is that it only excites their existing fans. While I enjoy the rides they have been creating it doesn't create a draw for outsiders, I suspect Kennywood and Magic Mountain will fall into the same category as they will surely satisfy their fans and passholder, but will not create excitement outside of their own turf.
P.S. I know that I went a bit long so as promised I will explain my observations of the E-Stop issue that has caused downtime over at least the first two weekends.
Copperhead Strike has three trains and five blocks. A block is a safety zone that only one train can occupy at a time. If a train fails to clear the block there is a way to stop the following train from entering that occupied block. The launches can be used as brakes as well as launches. The first block is the station, then the first launch, followed by the second launch, then the brake run, and last is the transfer track. If train one is dispatched from the station and the other two trains are stacked behind it they both need to move forward one block to make room for the train on the course to clear the second launch. The barn is the time buffer that allows the crew to move both trains forward to clear the brake run. When I hit the second launch the brakes engaged. It was tough to see but I don't think the last train was still on the brake run. I hypothesize that either it did not clear the block in the time limit, or the sensors did not register that it did move forward. To me this could be caused by three things. Hardware, the sensors on the train or tracks are only partially aligned and the system is getting a conflicted signal or wrong information. Software, the program is not allowing the trains to be in the right place at the right time and is triggering a safety system under normal circumstances. Ride Ops, they are still learning how to run the ride and were simply not hitting their performance times. As an outsider who is a nerd I can only offer my impressions and not concrete information. If you made it this far then you are a nerd too, I'm glad to be in good company.
Dear Coaster Friends,
I would like to drop my uninformed opinion on this topic that seems to be a flash point in the community. I have always heard from friends and fellow enthusiasts that Six Flags is an inferior brand. I have heard many people use them as the butt of a joke, and so have I. I like to joke around and I am a sarcastic person in general, so I usually joke in a way to highlight the silliness I see. I never felt the need to weigh in on this issue, because most of my experience has not been at Cedar Fair Parks. I live in the northeast and Cedar Fair does not have a solid footprint out here. The parks I visit the most are: Great Adventure, Six Flags New England, Lake Compounce, Hersheypark, and Dorney Park. Obviously I have been trying to stretch out, but all of those parks are in a few hours drive. They are easy for me to visit and I feel very familiar with them as I have been going to them for many years.
Up until the last two years Dorney was the only Cedar Fair park I had visited, but last year I added Kings Dominion, and this year I went to Carowinds. So my experience is still limited but I made some very ironic observations. I had a great time at all three parks, I really enjoy visiting new places too, I am saying that because I don’t want to be negative. However I did notice some flaws, and I was amused that I was having the opposite experience that I was told I was going to have. Some might even say I had a Six Flags day…
So what is a Six Flags day? Well according to my interactions with other enthusiasts it would be a sampling of several perceived flaws, or common annoyances that are created by the park operations. These annoyances or flaws are really just reoccurring themes that people like to joke about. When you are having a Six Flags day you might be plagued with bad ops. This could mean rides are down for maintenance or aren’t staffed, trains are stacked, and dispatches are slow. Another common place for criticism is seating policies. Enthusiast like to pick their own row, but they say Six Flags assigns seating. Enthusiasts do not like to be told to leave the station when rows are empty, they feel they should be able to stay on the train or fill from the exit side once the gates are closed. General park ambiance is another contrast enthusiasts like to make; Six Flags is all advertisements and asphalt, while Cedar Fair is beautiful gardens and paver stones. The last area would be park services food choices, merchandise, and customer services. So what did I observe? Where have I had Six Flags days? Not where you would expect, but you probably already knew that.
Slow ops are the bane of every enthusiasts existence. Now you would probably expect me to call out Great Adventure here, but I just can’t. Great Adventure is a park that is always busy, they have giant queue lines because the crowd size is measurably larger. Taking that into account I will call them inconsistent. The two places that jump out as slow to me are Carowinds and Busch Gardens Williamsburg. They took forever dispatching trains when I visited these two parks, and I didn’t think Carowinds was really that busy. They were both stacking trains, or even worse running a single train with a full queue. Carowinds additionally commits the crime of assigning seats and then, brace yourself, stapling me in with all their might! This is the only park I have ever experienced across the board assigned seating. The extra layer of irony was that they were still sending out trains that weren’t full because they were micromanaging their guests access to the station. The extreme stapling of the restrains is something I have experienced from time to time, but not every ride as if it were park policy like at Carowinds. I am not bashing Carowinds, just observing some irony. They have Fury 325, a friendly staff, Fury 325, very clean bathrooms, and Fury 325 so it is a must visit.
I know BGW isn’t Cedar Fair but they are a darling of the enthusiast community, and they gave me a Six Flags day. I would trade every flower in the place if the ride operators would at least walk quickly while checking restraints. While I’m picking on BGW I feel like I need to point out that they opened late, they did have have advertisements from third parties around the park, and many attractions were closed all day or opened a few hours late. I also had a great time, really enjoyed the ride line up, and the food was awesome probably the best at any park I have visited.
Customer service is another hot button topic, but I have not found an appreciable difference between customer service at any of the parks I have visited based on interactions with the staff. I do have a few that I think stand out and a few that were lacking. Dorney Park has opened late every time I have visited since it became a Cedar Fair park, while Six Flags has let me in early from time to time, but always on time. I am a very punctual person so this may just be something I am especially aware of. Kings Dominion had a great staff all around, everyone I interacted with from the guy sweeping the floor, to ride ops, to the GM were all attentive and helpful. They were all generally enthusiastic and I had fun, because I felt they were happy at work. They did have one staff issue, and this was probably because it was early in the season. They did not operate every ride, and they didn’t race Racer 75. Kings Dominion struck the perfect balance between efficiency and hospitality with the attractions that were open. At Carowinds and BGW the staff was very hospitable, but at the cost of efficiency. When dispatches are slow stop asking people if they are having a good time and put your finger on the button! The flip side to this would be when staff is totally disconnected from the guests. Hersheypark, my favorite park, I feel like I am not even acknowledged by a majority of the staff. I feel Dorney is the same way where the staff is just silently buzzing around me as they do their jobs.
Eating junk food is another thing I look forward to when at the parks. I again have noticed that people bash Six Flags for only having hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken fingers. The implication is that everywhere else you are spoiled for choice, and the offerings at Cedar Fair are superior. This has not really been my impression, both chains have a mix of chain food options and typical cafeteria style food service you may expect to find at places like amusement parks, zoos, amphitheaters, and sport venues. I found the offerings at Cedar Fair and Six Flags to be nearly identical. Many chain offerings are in both brand of parks. The stand outs to me are outside of those chains; Hersheypark, all the Disney Parks, both Busch Gardens, and Knoebels.
I have never had a bad day at any park, I have been disappointed. However any disappointment has not overshadowed the fun and escape from reality an amusement or theme park has to offer. So where have I had a Six Flags day? It has mostly been outside the Six Flags chain, so in the argument to pick winners and losers who really wins. Well I do, because if you come down hard for or against something that is nearly identical to the other choices I know you are a fanboy and that is all the help I need to process that info. Everyone is entitled to a favorite, I have mine too, but one superlative does not have to be a negative for another. For example just because the Whopper is my favorite doesn’t change the taste of a Big Mac. Please send all hate mail to email@example.com and have a Six Flags day.