by Danny Miller
It has become perhaps one of the most talked about rides over the course of the last decade…and it hasn’t even opened yet. Flying Turns at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania has become the punch line to many a joke among the enthusiast circles since 2006. However, after nearly eight full years of construction and testing, it seems that the ride may finally be ready to make its grand debut.
After several reports and videos of testing have surfaced this summer, the park officially posted a point-of-view video on their Facebook page this weekend. While not promising anything, the park did mention that Labor Day Weekend is the goal they have in mind for an opening date. With that in mind, there are several things this means for the park and the Flying Turns concept.
IT CAN BE DONE – Recently, several have suggested that perhaps the Flying Turns concept was extinct for so long for a reason, and that it is something that just can’t be done properly or successfully this day in age. Personally I had always thought, “if they could do it before, why can’t they do it now?” That question in particular comes to mind when I see rides likeAvalanche at Kings Dominion, and while different in construction, in concept they really are quite similar. If the ride finally does open as hoped, it will be proof that even though it has taken far longer than anyone could have expected, it can in fact be done.
SMALL TOWN PARKS – Knoebels is one of only a few parks that could possibly pull this off. Holiday World comes to mind as another. The reason is that if a large corporate park tried something like this, they would simply be bombarded with negative publicity after a very short time. A small park like Knoebels only recently has started to get some bad comments, and even then, many folks are still excited and encouraged. It is quite the situation, but Knoebels is just one of those parks that can try something like this and not suffer from bad press even after all the trouble they have had with it. After saving Black Diamond, it will be quite the feat to finally successfully bring back a forgotten breed of coaster.
ANTICIPOINTMENT – If you are a regular reader, you will have heard me use this term before. Anticipointment is the feeling you get when you have high expectations for a ride (or high anticipation) and it fails to meet them, resulting in disappointment. That does not necessarily mean the ride is not great, it simply means it did not live up to your hype. Some rides that are well known for suffering from guest anticipointment are rides like Expedition Everest, Gatekeeper,Windseeker, and Silver Bullet.
Again, these rides are not bad rides, but some folks hype them up to such high expectations that they don’t live up to, and I think Flying Turns will suffer from the same thing. There seems to be an exponential relationship between the time that it takes a ride to open to the expectations associated with it. Rides like Top Thrill Dragster and Kingda Ka were announced well in advance, and both experienced delays, so that of course heightened expectations, especially since Kingda Ka was closed for the vast majority of its first season. For Flying Turns, it hasn’t been weeks or months, but rather YEARS of waiting for it to finally open. Flying Turns will be a fun, nostalgic, unique ride, but too many people will expect it to be the greatest thing ever, and it will probably just be the third best coaster in the park.
DO IT AGAIN? – Whether people think it has been a giant waste of time or not, the fact of the matter is that Flying Turns looks like it will be opening before 2013 comes to a close. So now that we know it CAN be done, the question is, should it be done again? This writer says no, and it should be pretty obvious why. First off, the point about anticipointment tells me that this is not a type of rides a lot of other parks will want or need. The parks that would benefit from this type of ride may not have the time or funds to sink into research and development to build such a ride.
Another reason may be that if it takes eight years to get a ride like this up and running, few other parks will have the patience and resources that Knoebels has to make it happen. Knoebels is a special park, unlike any other park in the world, so it only makes sense that they will have a roller coaster unlike any other. Now that we will have a functional Flying Turns, the learning curve should benefit anyone who does try and do this again. That being said, I still don’t see another park trying to make it happen.
We will all be watching Knoebels like a hawk the next few weeks, waiting anxiously for Flying Turns to open. When it does, I will be there the first available weekend, whether it be Labor Day Weekend or sometime after, but I will ride Flying Turns before the season ends if I have anything to say about it. I will be sure to give a full report on what the ride is like, and whether or not it will be what we all want it to be. You can discuss your own thoughts with the COASTER-net community here. Until the ride opens, we will just have to do what we’ve been doing for eight years…wait.
by Andrew Rybarczyk
I remember clearly the news coverage of the death of Dawn Brancheau when the incident first occurred at SeaWorld in February of 2010. It was shocking that an incident like this could occur at any park especially one as high profile as SeaWorld Orlando. The stories that followed were equally as shocking revealing such facts as the number of injuries trainers have sustained and even the number of deaths Tilikum the orca has been involved in. So when the film Blackfish debuted this year at the Sundance Film Festival, my interest in SeaWorld and particular the Tilikum story were rekindled. COASTER-net has covered many of the stories and responses in recent week, but I thought that the best way to explore this topic was to see the film myself. What follows is not a true review of the film but rather a response to the issues that the film raises and my thoughts on them.
Issue 1: SeaWorld utilizes punishment training
This issue was quickly jumped on by SeaWorld and rightfully so. The movie does talk about Tilikum's early life and how punishment training was used to mold his actions. However, this was done at Sealand of the Pacific and not SeaWorld. Although later in the film, it is shown that Tilikum is "punished" through not receiving a fish when he performs wrongly while at SeaWorld, but even the film does not point out this as true "punishment training."
Issue 2: SeaWorld captures animals wresting them away from their families to perform in shows.
Another issue that SeaWorld quickly jumped on saying that they have not captured a whale in over 35 years. A portion in the film is dedicated to showing the capture of whales and tries to paint the orcas as emotional animals who are greatly distressed when such an event occurs. It is however, how Tilikum was obtained but not at SeaWorld's order.
Issue 3: Tilikum's aggressiveness is a learned behavior through years of mistreatment.
Tilikum's first home was a miserable place to live for any orca let alone three. Forced to sleep at night from 5PM to 7AM in a 20 foot deep by 30 feet across enclosed "pool" with three other orcas created a early environment of suffering and pain. Tilikum suffered injuries as the other two females attacked him each night. With nowhere to run or hide, he was forced to endure this environment for over seven years. The film claims that this will eventually lead to his aggressive behavior. It should also be noted that this is where Tilikum was involved in his first death of a human. During a show, one of the trainers accidentally put their foot into the water (trainers did not ever swim in the water or go into the water at all) and one of the three whales grabbed her and pulled her in. Eyewitnesses interviewed by the film clearly claimed it was Tilikum who pulled Keltie Byrne in, however others have disputed that it was him and rather point to one of the two females. Once in, Tilikum was directly involved in the trainer's death as she was thrown around and drowned by the whales. The film tries to paint a picture of a tortured animal, who found a rush of excitement when this occurred and that he would try to repeat this behavior in the future. I believe there is no doubt that Tilikum's early life could easily lead to aggressive behavior later on. Given these facts, it's hard to believe that any animal wouldn't lash out in aggressive ways. Even SeaWorld seems to have thought the same, with various safety precautions put in place once they obtained Tilikum from Sealand after the park closed due to the incident.
Issue 4: Trainers at SeaWorld are ill prepared to deal with killer whales and are not notified of the inherent dangers of working with them.
The biggest surprise to me was the number of former trainers that spoke during the film. All seemed to love their job as trainer but have since become disenchanted with their overall experience. It seems as if Dawn's death hit many of these trainers very hard. Dawn was regarded as a model trainer that was a stickler for safety. It could be summed up that many felt if she died then any of them could have died at any given time. Many of the trainers commented that they were not informed of Tilikum's past or even of incidents that occurred at other SeaWorld parks across the nation. SeaWorld disputes this fact in their statements pointing to their safety precautions and other rules such as forbidding training into deep water with Tilikum. This I believe was one of the strongest points of the film. Most of the trainers interviewed seemed to echo similar sentiments of fear and naivety towards their jobs with no real response from SeaWorld. they seem genuine in their comments but I do find it hard to believe that intelligent people don't recognize the inherent risks. Maybe it was youth, maybe a fear of losing one's spot that led to these trainers ignoring what seems to be obvious, that these whales can be dangerous creatures.
Issue 5: Tilikum is too dangerous of animal to keep in captivity or in shows.
Already mentioned was Tilikum's involvement in the death at Sealand. He was also involved in or responsible for two more deaths. In July of 1999, a man was found dead on the back of the whale. The official report said he died of hypothermia, but others question if Tilikum killed him because his clothes were ripped from him and bite marks were found. The third death was the most publicized because it involved the death of experienced and veteran trainer Dawn Branchaeu. I'm not sure if the film does a superb job making the case against Tilikum in particular, but they do make a convincing case against all killer whales in captivity. Cited and shown in the film are various other incidents that resulted in death or of close calls that could have easily led to more deaths. 70 plus incidents have occurred with killer whales in captivity all around the world. The problem is not exclusive to SeaWorld with many other deaths or injuries occurring sometimes even with SeaWorld's killer whales that are sometimes loaned to other parks.
Issue 6: SeaWorld breaks apart family units in their ownership which contributes to the animal's unhappiness.
One of the most heart breaking scenes in the film is when the baby whales are taken away from their families to be sent to different parks for what is argued to be for financial reasons. The formers trainers claim that after these events, the mother whales go through emotional anguish where they no longer perform daily activities like they did before and even make high pitched sounds trying to locate their missing baby. Throughout the whole film, they also try to make the case for killer whales being highly intelligent and engaged in a concept of self and society. I am not a marine biologist and I have no idea if this is indeed true, but it is discouraging if it is that the park acts in such a way.
Issue 7: Tilikum is fathering most of the new animals being used at SeaWorld and his aggressiveness is being handed down to these new baby whales.
To me, the film sent mixed messages about this. The film claimed that 54% of all whales that SeaWorld owns currently have the genes of Tilikum. They insinuate that in doing so his aggressive behavior will be passed down to his calves. I find fault with this theory because earlier they claim that aggressive behavior is a learned behavior from mistreatment. So which is it? Do the animals learn aggressiveness or are they naturally aggressive? A learned behavior cannot be passed genetically on to offspring. You cannot have it both ways in this instance and the film tried to argued both to make their point.
Issue 8: SeaWorld lies about incident that happen to maintain their public image.
This issue I thought was argued best by the film. It is clear the spin machine is constantly in operation when it comes to simple facts such as the life expectancies of animals in the wild versus those in captivity and the percentage of whales with curved fins in the wild versus in captivity. These are small lies being told by tour guides and spokespeople, but the more egregious lies are those told about the incidents that happen at the park. I find it difficult to believe that anyone could make a mistake reporting the actual circumstances surrounding a death involving the whales with the amount of surveillance in the park. However, this is exactly what happened on both of the death's Tilikum was involved in at SeaWorld. In the case of Daniel Dukes in 1999, details are still sketchy. The night watch trainers saw nothing and no video equipment recorded anything. This may be able to be explained away because it happened at night, but the case of Dawn Branchaeu cannot be. In this case, numerous witnesses were present at a "Dine with Shamu" event and witnessed the event. Some even had video running. At first it was reported that she slipped into the water. It wasn't until eyewitness reports refuted this that SeaWorld changed its story that she was pulled in by her ponytail. Still, eyewitnesses refute this as well saying she was pulled in by her arm. These lies to protect the company are inexcusable. With as much video surveillance going on in the park especially around a pool that has an animal in it on a day where park guests are present, wouldn't you assume that there should be some video evidence to be able to clearly say what happened? Yet, we do not have this certainty. This is just one example of the park lying or trying to place blame on the trainer that would eventually result in injury or death. After viewing this film, I can no longer trust any report put out by SeaWorld Parks as being legit and it discourages me.
I went into this movie thinking I would leave defending SeaWorld. However, after viewing the film, I cannot say that I am a supporter of the company. I believe there are inherent risks of working with animals like this especially killer whales. I am not going to try to become a killer whale psychologist or a member of PETA saying that it is immoral to hold animals in captivity. Though not represented in the film, SeaWorld does some outstanding work rescuing animals from life threatening situations in the wild. Some of these animals will not be able to be returned to the wild. In these cases, I believe captivity is the best option for them. Now could tanks or holding areas be larger relative to the animals size? Absolutely. Is mistreatment of animals in these scenarios immoral? Absolutely. Throughout the film, even the former trainers were split on what the ultimate fate of SeaWorld should be. Some thought that it is immoral institution and in years will be looked back as such when it is gone, while others said the institution is fine but just needs to be reformed. I tend to side with the latter. Parks such as SeaWorld provide opportunities for people to get interested in these animals. With the increased emphasis on conservation recently found at SeaWorld parks, that exposure is even more important.
On the other hand, it has been made clear to me that killer whales may not fit the mold of an animal that should be doing a show with trainers in the water. There are just too many uncertainties with these animals who can be temperamental but more importantly can be unpredictable. One simple mistake that may have zero aggressive intentions could lead to a trainer's death. SeaWorld has also been quick to say that many of the incidents are those of "play" and not aggression. If you are to believe this, it leads to my theory of unpredictable behavior that is just too dangerous. I think all killer whale shows should be considered for retirement or at the very least have stringent safety precautions so that trainers can't be put into danger in the water.
Finally, what was made most clear to me was the sad incident of another big business corporation lying to protect company profits. This is not an exclusive problem to SeaWorld but it a societal problem found in numerous corporate entities. I tire of having to mistrust corporate America. I understand wanting to protect yourself and your company but at some point it just becomes immoral especially when something as tragic as a trainer's death has occurred.
So when I look at all this, I begin to think where I stand on SeaWorld. I think SeaWorld does a lot of good things in the world. I think those things such as animal rescue and environmental awareness can continue, but without SeaWorld's resources, it would be difficult to do it at the same level. I understand corporate profits drive these programs. However, I believe SeaWorld is in the position where they could have the best of both worlds. As stated before, a simple first step would be to re-evaluate who goes into the water with killer whales. I saw the Shamu show before and after the 2010 incident, and both were good. Is it fun to watch people jump out of the water on the nose of a killer whale? Sure. Is it just as fun knowing that their lives are in some danger? At that point I'm not so sure it's needed. A second step, SeaWorld could take would be to stop the corporate spin machine and corporate lies and focus on transparency and truth instead. If those will lead to poor business, maybe they should evaluate what they are doing and trying to make it right so both can coexist. The bottom line is animals live outside their natural habitats everywhere, whether they be in zoos or aquariums or even at your own home with your pets. The issue is how are those animals treated and how they are cared for. If SeaWorld can rectify these issues, then I think most rational people would still support them.
So in short, I still have concerns about the park. I think their corporate morality needs to change and I think they need to keep trainers out of the water with killer whales. I do have doubts about further supporting SeaWorld and all of their parks with the only vote I have, my money. I'm torn looking at these facts but at the end of the day though, I believe the good outweighs the bad. I'm hoping that in the future SeaWorld can stop being so defensive and protective and start doing the right thing by all: the trainers, the workers, the company, the animals, and the park guest.
by Danny Miller
As many of us expected, Kings Island unveiled plans to open Banshee, a B&M inverted coasters for 2014 on Thursday night. While we could easily say we knew everything (and frankly, we knew a lot), we also knew next to nothing thanks to all the teasers and endless mind games the park played right up until the teaser video, which was preceded by a “before we let the bat out of the cage…” followed by a collective groan of the crowd. Rather than talk about what we can easily gain from looking at the ride’s website or ride gallery page, let’s talk about some of the major takeaways from the announcement.
THE RIDE – Okay, so maybe we will talk about the ride itself just a bit. For one thing, the layout is awesome. The absence of a pre-drop brake allows the first drop to be shaped in a unique way, making it what seems to be one of the steepest of any inverted coaster. I love the variety of inversions used on the ride, especially the loop that circles the lift. The lack of a mid-course brake run also mean this ride will be packed with non-stop action. I have a feeling the highlight of the ride may be the batwing element, as the train will reach its top speed at the exit of the maneuver. As far as inverted coasters go, this is one of the better layouts. The drawback here will be that the lack of a mid-course brake may hurt capacity, but as some have pointed out, Leviathan and Millennium Force have comparable ride times without mid-course brakes and operate with three trains just fine. It remains to be seen, but Banshee should be able to keep up in the capacity department.
THE LOOK – Top to bottom, Banshee will be one of the sleekest looking coasters out there. The purple track is rare among coasters, and the blue support columns seem to compliment the track color surprisingly well. I was worried that purple track with blue supports would make this ride look like one solid color (Leviathan suffers from this), but if the renderings are true, the color will really pop along the sky. The station building will also help this ride if it is themed the way the renderings show, as a spooky, church-like building. Speaking of spooky, how about that logo? It is easily one of my favorites on any ride right away. The word mark imposes fear, as does the female figure that swoops behind it, and it will look great on merchandise like mugs and t-shirts, as some lucky folks already know.
THE TRAINS – Here is where my only major concern is, and perhaps I can explain why. Do the trains look awesome? Yes. Do they look sleek? Absolutely. Most importantly, will the lack of a hard harness around your head eliminate some possible head banging as the ride ages? Indeed. My concern is that these harnesses are the same style used on the wing coasters. B&M’s inverted coasters are notorious for being some of the most intense in the industry. The likes of Montu, Alpengeist, and Afterburn come to mind.
The wing coasters, generally speaking, are far less intense in the g force department. Gatekeeper seems to walk the line with these harnesses, as a small percentage of folks get off and complain that the vests tighten too much. Gatekeeper is fairly intense, but if Banshee is anything like the aforementioned inverts, these vests could tighten significantly and cause some serious discomfort by the end of the ride. If the vests did not lock their position at the start of the ride, this could be eliminated, but the fact that they will likely be hydraulic and not ratcheting like all other inverts leaves open the potential for the ride to staple people by the conclusion of the run, something B&M coasters have always been praised for not doing.
B&M’S EVOLUTION – A while back, some people expressed concerns that B&M was unwilling to go outside the box and stretch their boundaries. Many coasters built in the mid 2000’s were noted as being very similar to previous rides, with little variation among the elements. Over the last few years, we have seen the wing coaster come to life in very different styles. We’ve also seen B&M finally break the 300-foot mark. Banshee takes another step in a new direction, as there are several things to point out about Banshee. As mentioned before, the trains are one. If they do not cause comfort issues, they will provide a smoother ride several years down the road.
Secondly, they are learning that the pre-drop brake is unnecessary, and that is the main reason Banshee’s drop may just be the best on any invert. We also see some unique elements for inverted coasters. B&M has inserted a dive loop to start off the inversions, something not usually done on inverted coasters. The big thing for Banshee however is the heart line roll, something B&M has experimented with on the wing coasters, and with great success. Can Banshee’s be just as thrilling? If so, expect B&M to continue to keep their layouts unique, while still keeping the most thrilling elements like loops, zero g rolls, and batwings.
THEY GOT IT RIGHT – The last takeaway from the announcement, and possibly the biggest one, is the simple fact that Kings Island got every aspect of this right. They got the ride right, they got the name right, they got the logo right, and beyond that, they nailed the teasers and announcement itself. I have not seen excitement of this level surrounding a ride announcement for a long time. As I mentioned at the start, Kings Island did a great job of toying with enthusiasts, letting us think we had it all figured out, then teasing us with an assumed to be fake website showing a wing coaster, before bringing it full-circle and confirming our initial beliefs. It really was excellently played because they knew that people would be looking at the chain’s history and they could sucker us in one way or another, and they did.
To wrap up, I will say that I am not totally against the idea of The Bat making a return to Kings Island, but I don’t think Thursday night would have been the time to make it happen. Nearly everyone at the announcement could be heard chanting “Banshee! Banshee! Banshee!” It is obvious that the public is ready to handle the Banshee moniker this time around, and honestly I have always loved the name, using it quite a few times in NoLimits and Roller Coaster Tycoon. The origin of the name and the creature makes too much sense for a roller coaster not to use it, especially considering Kings Island’s history with failed rides.
I would like to congratulate B&M and Kings Island for what will hopefully be another job well done, and I must say I can’t wait to head to Mason in April to scream like a Banshee with all the other enthusiasts who had no idea what to expect, yet knew everything all along.
by Andrew Rybarczyk
I know there are a plethora of clubs to choose from in today's enthusiast marketplace because I've been either a member or did heavy research on many of them. Unfortunately, in today's economy, your money if like mine, is not as plentiful. So when, we advertise our new COASTER-net club, I know many of you are thinking either I have no need for a club or I am already part of another club. I at first was drawn to the biggest clubs. I have no need of naming them because you are more likely than not already aware of them. Yes, they are prestigious and have lots of members, but I ask, is the club working for you? Do you feel that you are getting your money's worth? Do you enjoy the company you are with? All of these questions are vital to ask and answer when choosing a club for you. I can only give my experience and I have tried to capture it in the following words.
When I first joined COASTER-net, I knew of the news aspects of the site. However, I never knew how special the people on the site would end up being to me. I have made great friends while being a member of COASTER-net, experienced great things, but more importantly learned a lot about myself and how to treat others. This inclusive mission and family orientated atmosphere really struck me as something different and something that I wanted to be a part of. This camaraderie extends beyond the site and the forums. It's a network of people that try to help each other and care for each other. Its friendship in its truest form.
Our former club, the TPCC was an extension of COASTER-net. Many of our goals were the same but the main benefit was the discounts to a myriad of parks in the country. This in and of itself was very different. Some clubs offered discounts to maybe a handful of parks while other had a couple of dozen. The TPCC blew me away with how many discounts they had and each discount was a pretty good deal. A few dollars here and a few dollars there, and the membership paid for itself easily. The downside was that it seemed like only a discount club. Because of the cheap price, many parks and events did not allow the TPCC in with the club membership. As you may have heard, this has now changed with our 15th Anniversary. We now offer a differential pricing plan to meet the needs of each enthusiast. If you are in it for just the discounts, that membership is still available at the same affordable price of $10. We also have a premium membership priced at $25 that will get you into many enthusiast events with new events being added each day and other added bonuses! We foresee the club moving beyond simply discounts and into gatherings, and meet-ups, and park events. This vision of friendship can now extend beyond the digital walls into great memories being formed at the places we love, theme parks!
This is the club that finally met my needs for what I ultimately want in a coaster club. Now I am not going to say to you that I will not maintain any other club memberships. Despite my employment here, I still will support other sites and clubs. However, I truly believe in COASTER-net and I believe in this new club. We need more believers and I challenge you to experience the difference where members care about each other and truly want to have fun. Try out the membership at either level for one year. After that, you will see the difference and hopefully return year after year.