by Danny Miller
In early 2013, coaster enthusiasts across the world rejoiced when Cedar Point made it known that any card-holding member of a major coaster club could attend the Media Day for Gatekeeper with a few simple clicks of a mouse. Thousands of coaster fans flooded Sandusky, Ohio on Media Day and Opening Weekend 2013 to experience the park’s latest record-breaker. Gatekeeper received good reviews overall, with the occasional rider who did not care for it. It was clear that the park had enjoyed the event though, as all of the enthusiasts quickly hyped up the ride and shared their opinions via social media.
Fast-forward to this past Thursday to find Kings Island ready to open up their largest investment in park history to coaster enthusiasts. There may not be another ride that has had more anticipation among enthusiasts in recent years. As I mentioned last week, Banshee was not just trying to live up to eight months of hype, it also had to make up for nearly a decade of disappointment that came from its predecessor, Son Of Beast. Simply put, Banshee was everything that we could have hoped for, and probably even a little bit more. The ride is intense, smooth, enjoyable, and the new restraints make it extremely easy to re-ride (that is, if your body doesn’t need a break from the intensity). You can read early reviews everywhere, and it is clear that news has spread that this ride is indeed a winner.
The weekend started with Media Day on Thursday, and ended with a three-day Opening Weekend, of which we (my aunt Swerky and I), attended three days ( Thursday, Friday and Saturday). Our decision to make the trek to Mason was focused around the opening of Banshee, but the result was much more than simply riding a new roller coaster. As the weekend begin, it quickly became less about just going to ride Banshee, but also to meet new friends and catch up with old ones. The entire crowd met up with friends, old and new, and provided what is essentially free marketing for the park as everyone raved about Banshee as the sun rose on Thursday morning.
Looking back at the Gatekeeper event, several folks that we interviewed for the Screamin’ Horseshoe Queue Podcast became acquaintances, like Jenny and Matt, Ethan and Katherine, and the lovable ACE duo of Peggy and Eugene from Ohio. We also met Andy from COASTER-net for the first time, as well as Devin Olson and his entire crew. Opening Weekend also provided more opportunities to come across new friends, including a Saturday evening encounter with a truck driver that specifically plans his routes to take him near the newest coasters in the country. Oddly enough, one of his favorite Cedar Point rides is Mean Streak, as he will often marathon the back seat.
Banshee Media Day and Opening Weekend for Kings Island this past weekend presented similar opportunities to not only meet new friends (or some on Facebook that we have not met in person), but also a chance to catch up with those that we had met before. A deeper friendship with people like Jenny, Matt, Ethan, Katherine, Peggy, and Eugene were all established, as each of them were in attendance for Media Day and Opening Weekend. In fact, we luckily got to ride Banshee multiple times with Peggy and Eugene, who seemingly gallivant across the country at a rate similar to us. It was also neat to run into Jes from admissions, a gentleman I have worked with at Dorney Park during previous seasons.
Also among the group of folks we had met before was Andy (The HSBR), who had actually made a trip to Six Flags Great America last May to meet up with us as well. Strangely enough, the “Mean Streak Guy” as we call him, was also found running up the Fast Lane entrance to Banshee throughout the day on Saturday. He recognized us as “the blogger/aunt from the coaster site” and mentioned his goal was to get in at least 40 cycles on the ride that day. When we rode it around 5:30PM, one operator had asked him how many time he had ridden, to which he responded “43 and still going!”
Among the new faces that we finally got to meet was Alex, a local of the Dayton area who calls Kings Island his home park. Alex was very vocal on Facebook and Twitter during the weeks leading up to Banshee opening, and little was more enjoyable than watching the reactions on the faces of locals like Alex, which basically said that they couldn’t believe this was their ride and that they were riding it after a miserable winter in the Midwest.
Also among folks we met for the first time was fellow COASTER-net personnel, CoasterRoyalty. Like Andy, CoasterRoyalty was in attendance for Media Day as well as Opening Day. We shared a few rides with them on both days, including Andy’s first night ride on the Beast (which I think he liked despite not admitting it). Also shared with the pair was a hilarious session of people-watching, which included my favorite activity of yelling “Walk!” at teenage kids who are running down the midway (but in such a way that they don’t know who said it). The result is often several confused teenagers turning around in search of a park employee.
Also for the first time, we met up with Mason native Adam, who is quite well known in the area amongst both coaster enthusiasts and park personnel. We had the opportunity to share stories as well as get some interesting opinions regarding future rides. Likewise, my nickname as “Dan the T-shirt Guy” was out there as well, as the gentlemen representing the CoasterRadio.com podcast recognized me, and we had a nice chat. A shout-out goes to Jon and Kevin for that. On Saturday night, we rode Banshee in the front row with a guy who definitely knew his coasters. After some discussion following the ride, he learned who I was, and immediately wanted a picture together. Hopefully, Isaiah makes his way over to COASTER-net as a brand new fan.
Banshee Media Day and Kings Island Opening Weekend started off being about the coasters, and in particular, the newest one, but it sure didn’t end up just being about the rides. Too often, we focus on the parks or the rides and don’t stop to recognize the comradery that is formed amongst coaster fans, even when they have never met. So many times a conversation starts in line just because someone is wearing a t-shirt of a ride they have never heard of. The brilliance of it all is that by inviting enthusiasts, the park gets all sorts of free marketing just prior to the public riding a new ride. If the trend of inviting these folks to Media Day continues, it will only heighten the hype for new rides. Anyone excited for that giga-coaster coming to Carowinds in 2015 yet?
Whether it was someone we had met before and known for a long time, or someone we spontaneously came across for the very first time, Opening Weekend at Kings Island ended up being about so much more than traveling a long distance to ride a new coaster. It became a weekend filled with meeting friends, both old and new, and together, we all enjoyed what brings us together in the first place, roller coasters.