Aug 30, 2021, 10:18:43 PM8/30/21
Trip Report: Kentucky Kingdom
August 29, 2021
Authors note: Earlier this season, I posted a rather scathing review of Kentucky Kingdom, calling it perhaps one of if not the worst days I have ever had going to an amusement park. When I park shows improvement, I feel it only my duty to post a prompt report reflecting same.
"Well, that went a whole lot better, not perfect, but much better"
As the summer winds down and the calendar shows us we are almost to September, Dave and I realized we both have underused Kentucky Kingdom passes, and a desire to go back and use them despite the fact the park showed us a truly awful time last visit. It's not that we any real money tied up in this season, like a lot of parks, the park extended our 2020 season pass into a 2021 pass. But there was a lot of unfinished business let to attend to.
So, at a reasonable time, Dave picked me up shortly after 11, meaning after a couple stops for input/output functions and the usual spot of slow traffic, and the detour since the I71 bridge south over the Ohio river is still closed, we were barreling off the exit from 64 around 1:30. This would be an unusual visit for us, in that at least for me, this is the first time I have been to the park while the Kentucky State Fair (and why isn't it the Kentucky Commonwealth Fair) was in session. We were a bit surprised by the lack of traffic around the fairgrounds, and noted one side effect of this is that Kentucky Kingdom visitors are restricted to use only Gate 2 into the fairgrounds, and then were further restricted to just a few sections of the fairgrounds parking lot.
The irony was not lost on me that the park has pretty much failed its whole original purpose, that to be a permanent midway for the state fair, one that could be used to make extra money by staying open all season, not just 1 or 2 weeks a year. The history of Kentucky Kingdom is storied with failure, the first iteration which was just the front side of the park was marketed as being on par with a Disney park, an expectation set the park could never hope to achieve, and a legendary story about grossly overselling the park to the Girl Scouts as a preview further cemented that one to doom. Then the park took a season or two off, but then opened again, and quickly and aggressively expanded across the fair entrance driveway adding rides and a whole waterpark. Even in this era, rides like T2 and Chang were built capable of running 3 trains, but with the stated expectation that would only be during the fair, as during this era the park was still much a part of the fair midway. Then Premier Parks got it, and at first things seemed like they would still move full steam ahead, a dueling wood coaster, a wild mouse, a classic Schwarzkopf shuttle loop, but then Premier (Six Flags) started stripping rides from the park, and nothing new was added. This came to a head in 2009 when the contract with the fair was not renewed, a battle over who really owns the rides ensued, and the park sat empty for about 5 years. Then there was talk of the Koch's (of Holiday World fame) buying it, but that fell through, and then out of nowhere the park announced a re-opening, and a lot of new rides were brought in, old rides were rehabilitated, and other park improvements were made. But with this iteration of the park, the park no longer provided its rides to the Fair to be the fair's midway, instead continuing to operate as a separate concern, even during the fair. This seemed to come to a rather comical head last season, when Kentucky had a scaled back modified state fair with no midway - because amusement rides are too much of a COVID spread risk, yet the park carried on doing what it does even as the fair went on with no rides of its own,.
But I digress, but I digress to show that it seems like the fair board and the park must have an acrimonious relationship. So we pull into gate 2 as directed, and we do get free parking with our pass, and the parking troll advises us to keep to the right. (We are at the far left booth). It seems that fair traffic is also allowed to use gate 2 while we can only use gate 2. They have divided the road that runs through the center of the park in half, those going to the Fair, use the left lanes, those for the park, the right lanes.
A barrier runs down the middle of the road to keep the two separated. Those who are familiar with the park probably know where this is headed. The good news is the fair board has provided parking adjacent to Kentucky Kingdom., the bad news is said parking is back behind Kentucky Flyer. From there you have to follow a long trail that runs along the perimeter of the park to get to the parks regular front gate. Why they could not have put the midway in this part of the parking lot, and put the park parking up by the parks main gate is a move that can be described as sticking it to Kentucky Kingdom. Yes this does mean you have to cross the fair access road as you take your hike around the perimeter of the park. No drop off area means those in wheelchairs, strollers, and carrying swim bags and other baggage have to lug and push or assist those all the way from BFE to the main gate. As a move that can be described as the fair giving park patrons a middle finger salute, the fair runs a tram, along this same pathway, but only fairgoers can use it. You see the park tried to build a Berlin Wall (ok Berlin Fence) to keep fairgoers and park goers separated along this walk from the deep reaches of parking to the main gate. What really shocked me is the fair seems to be so intent on twisting the knife, that they are missing a great profit opportunity. What's that? Well don't you think amusement park fans just might be the same type that would ride the midway rides you have forced them to walk right past, yet if there is a Berlin Wall between the two attractions, there is no Checkpoint Charlie where one could pay to cross over to the other side.
Of course, I am not holding Kentucky Kingdom blameless in this. There exists, right at the head of the Kentucky Kingdom designated parking lot, a service gate, said service gate would put patrons in right next to Kentucky Flyer, and more importantly right into the water park where most of said baggage is going. How hard would it be to set up a temporary second gate to your park. - Essentially move the gate, or okay, if you have a season pass or other prepaid ticket you can enter here, if you need to buy a ticket or need anything more complicated that GR needs to get involved, then you have to hoof it to the main gate. Even setup a large sign with a QR code to your ticketing site so folks can buy a mobile ticket right there, show their mobile to the ticket scanner and in they go.
So, after grumbling through a long hike, we get to the front gate. We see the park has augmented its front gate security checkpoint. They have added metal detectors, probably as a result of "Do Something!" in response to the wave of violence that has plagued amusement parks this summer. Again they know the vast majority of their crowd is coming from the left, do you think they moved the security entrance from the right hand side, of course they didn't. That said getting through the screening and into the park was a breeze. Guest Services was in no mood to hear our suggestion about popping open the back gate, even if just as an exit. I figure they are so used to playing heavy defense that they don't know how to take a suggestion. Instead they responded with a litany of why it can't be done. There goes your out of the box thinking. "You expect out of the box thinking here, they never took Starchaser out of the box!"
Oh, we also noted the drinking fountains have been turned back on but with very low pressure, and I think they piped the hot water to the drinking fountains, but even as is, its one step closer to normality. We headed to the rides, we first past Fear Fall, which according to the website was closed for rehab, and it was. In this case a whole seat was sitting in the infield next to the ride, so perhaps it really is getting rehab, as opposed to rehab being code for "short staffed". Next we pass the Breakdance, which always disappoint me, so we skipped it. We didn't skip Professor Johns Flying Machines (Larson Flying Skooter) which was a walk on (as was the Breakdance) . It wasn't the best flight I've ever had, but not the worst either. We skipped Cyclops and Lightning Run for pretty much the same reason: I don't fit, and Dave doesn't find either ride to be particularly pleasant), we did check in on the Lighting Run test seat to find its still totally useless. It's plugged in, but you can lower that lap bar all the way to the seat and the light won't come on.
Next up is the Bluegrass Bakery, large sign proclaimed Now Open, the hours of operation however told us not till 3. We continue on around the antique cars are closed, while the teacups didn't have a closed sign, I never saw an operator for them. Up Up and Away was closed (Samba Balloon) as per the website. The amphitheater marquee told us no shows today, but Scream Extreme was open, and was a walk on! (Zamperla Endeavor) Maybe not a good as the old Enterprise it replaced, but a really nifty ride nonetheless.
A time check revealed it to be 2:50, Dave strongly hinted I go the bakery sooner rather than later, since we have certain trust issues with this park, and we don't know how much of it they make. But standing outside in this heat, which got real miserable real fast, wasn't sounding great either. So we headed for a ride I don't think we have done in many years, I think it was closed last year for COVID, I'm talking about Thrill Park Theater or the 5D Cinema. And that just happens to be this years new ride, something about Yogi Bears Picnic Adventure. Its a cute movie with forms starring Yogi and Boo Boo (and the park ranger) in a style of animation much more advanced than the 70s style. The preshow is all about Yogi and Boo Boo getting confronted by the ranger for stealing campers picnic lunches, to which Yogi invents an obviously dubious flying machine loosely patterned after a motorized hang glider . As you can imagine everything that can go wrong does go wrong and you go from flying, to shooting the rapids, to going down the falls, to the big twist reveal, to a blue screen "PRESENTED BY WARNER BROS." That was the hardest end cut I think I have seen, I mean at least the old Cinema 180 ones that would end so in the middle of a car chase so close you could read the license tag of the car ahead of you were in theme, this was a rough cut to just a blue credits screen. It's like they said "How long of a ride do you want, ok, animators just keep drawing and we'll cut it when we need to, don't worry about a satisfying ending, it's good enough for Kentucky Kingdom" One point of humor after the film there is a recorded announcement, part of which is to wait for the operator to instruct you to leave, we had been standing up, but sat back down and looked at the operator who did notice and gave us the nod to exit. This ride does exit right into a gift shop where the end of season sales have started. A brief tour of he gift shop, and hey its 3. Did I mention we walked right into the preshow in progress with no waiting.
We head to Bluegrass Bakery, we recall Bluegrass Boardwalk, and positive sign the door is unlocked. And it was a walk up to the counter. We ordered a cinnamon bread loaf, no extra toppings to share, and used the season pass discount. It was the first time I willingly made a food purchase in that park since, well, uh, maybe ever. The loafs cme pre tinned, the worker started putting a lid on, and packaging it all up when we stopped him, "Don't bother with all that, its not making it out of this building: Yes, the bakery has tables inside, II think it was the ice cream parlor, just re-themed to a rustic country feel, you know the default Herschend look for just about anything. Other than the loaf could have been a bit warner , but other than that it was quite nice. We noted the bakery could use a sink for washing those sticky fingers, and the A/C while present didn't seem to be doing is job. But Yum, and now, time to go across the street to the rest of the park.
We use the crosswalk, one of the best things since the 2014 re-opening is they now allow guests to use the street level crosswalk instead of sending you across a certain notorious bridge, albeit one that is a bit better now that they have stairs on both sides. We come across the Roller Skater and hey look no waiting. We grab a quick ride in the back, and then proceed to walk past walk on opportunities on the Carousel and the Flying Dutchman. (The two rides we did manage to ride in the spring) No, instead we headed right for Thunder Run, and what is this, a walk on for Thunder Run!!! Of course we wait a little bit for front car seating. Overall the ride seems to be shuffling pretty bad, but it still has its airtime, and the crew even seemed to be moving a bit faster than usual. A win all the way around.
A pause here, and I take advantage of the $1 season pass holder soft drink deal. The good news, in the past we have commented on the low level or total lack of carbonation in the fountain drinks, well, at least for the stand by Thunder Run this seems to be corrected.
I offer Dave the change to go back to Storm Chaser, but he declines, something about wanting to be sure he actually has time to use the water park. We instead cut through the center of the water park, and use the back exit by T3.
T3 is T2 with new trains. "Terror to the Third Power" is the full name, it was, I
think the first Vekoma SLC in the United States., and has always ran, well, it was the ride that brought us the endearing name Hang And Bang for these, as they were quite brutal in interfacing your head with its shoulder bars. This one wasn't a walk on - it was a 3 cycle wait, which we figured means we pretty much picked up right where we were when the ride closed in May due to a 2 minute downpour. (And I might be generous with the length of the downpour). We headed to the back seat and hop in. They have removed all the head banging! The way they did this was to remove the shoulder bars. In its place is a bulky lap bar that drops down from above, attached to that bar from above is a single seat belt on a retractor, that belt goes up and ends in a horizontal cross bar, from the cross bar up are two shoulder straps that go over well, you guess. As you lower the bar the shoulder straps, chest clip and the single retracting belt deploy, once the bar is locked the retractor reel locks, it can tighten but not loosen. Then from below a belt comes up from between your legs and with an obnoxiously large buckle tounge fastened into the bottom center of the black box that also holds the belt retractor from above.. The first time I saw this I referred the the arrangement as "like racing belts", but I have heard others refer to it as "being like strapped into a child car seat" I mentioned this analogy to Dave who reminded me that the era of big bolster lap bar car seats seemed to end in the 1980s, but the arrangement might have been similar to what was standard when we were kids. Except their would have been thick padding around the whole bar and set. Whatever, it really works well. One oddity is a side belt that goes from your outboard arm shoulder belt to the side frame of the shoulder bar. I can only guess this is a further deterrent to sideways movement, as your inboard side any lateral movement would be blocked by the other passenger.
But as I said it has really made the ride smoother for the passenger in that you aren't getting your head traumatized, but it still hasn't changed the fact the train itself shakes and vibrates and so through the whole ride. The back set seems to be the smoothest ride on the coaster. At the end of the ride, the belt release, well there are buttons in the fighter grips the seat uses as grab handles, if this were a game these would look just like trigger buttons. You better hit it right when you stop, because the buttons only function when the bars are in unlocked mode.
We continue around the park and again slice through the water park. This time we come to Kentucky Flyer. We also come to a new queue for Kentucky Flyer - its the same path, but they put a railing down the center of it, so seemingly you have to go all the way out for a re-ride.
A walk on here as well, and we end up taking two rides as we noted they do have a re-ride gate for those slower days. It is also worth noting the park is trying to maim you with single shallow steps, like one after the Flyer exit right before the photo booth, the exit of the Himalayah, right before the main stairs, and one right at the entrance to T3 that the park at least thought to paint a red line on. This is the most improved ride over last year, with numerous signature Gravity Group airtime pops, it has advanced to being spunky ride in a tiny package.
At this point we figured the water park was only open for one more hour, so Dave took a dip in the water park, and I explored the water park bar. The good news, they have craft beer, the bad news - I was interested in trying a local craft brew, and they were serving Rhinegiest beer, from Cincinnati. I did note that for only $1 more, I could have a Hurricane instead, which seemed to fit the tropical water park theme much better, particularly when the park is Hurricane Bay.
After enjoying a tropical drink, I headed back to T3 and got about 4 more rides before Dave showed up. From there we sliced back across the closed water park, and rode the Skycatcher, which is their Wind Seeker. A tower swing ride. From said tower swing ride, I noted the service gate, right next to the ride, and also noted more than a few guest heading towards said service gate, only to be turned away. Even park security agreed that what the park was doing was asinine.
We completed our circle of the park, going past the closed for rehab Giant Wheel, back to the crosswalk, where again why can't we just walk down the grass along side the road here. Also at this point we got the half hour till park close announcement. We made our way to the Himalayah, a walk on, and a well ok, but not quite s fast as it should be ride. Then it was the bumper cars. Only a 1 cycle wait for the bumper cars, these are the newer cars with lap bars, they are also the slowest, noisiest bumper cars known to man, and the locals are the worst bumper car drivers for miles around. They never seemed to learn, i your car gets stuck, turn your wheel in a great big circle till you find the clear spot. Our ride got halted 2 or 3 times for the operator to reset a car. Once while the cars were stopped he made a hand motion that seemed to suggest a beckoning hand like please exit, then right when people started to stand, turned the cars back on. Hey it would not be a park visit here if they didn't seem to try to do you in on some ride.
On the way out we noted that despite a few ride closures, you can still count on every game being open. It was also at this time that we can begin bellyaching about the long hike back to the car. We did peer over the fence into the fair midway, sure it had two Astro Wheels, but other than that it looked to be a field of fairly standard rides, nothing that really screamed "You must come over here!" That also means we didn't get close enough to the Python. The sign sure looked like the one for the Python that was at Cincinnati's Coney Island, and from a distance it looks like the back seat has returned. But again, since the fair really made no way to easily get into the fair, and with thoughts of food and unlimited cold drinks being much more appealing we headed back to the car and left.
At the end they have you exit around the perimeter of the parking lot, so that you come out Gate 1 right by the airport and freeway access. So that is actually a nice touch..
We stopped by our favorite Texas Roadhouse for dinner, and then the long lonesome road home.