TR: Kentucky Kingdom 01 - 05/28/2021

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Dave Althoff, Jr.

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May 19, 2021, 1:47:29 AMMay 19
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Trip Report: Kentucky Kingdom
Louisville, Kentucky - 05/08/2021
=================================
"My reduced expectations were not met."

Saturday was a beautiful day, if a little cool. This is important because
the weather report for Sunday is for rain pretty much everywhere nearby,
pretty much all day. So in spite of my usual rule ("Nobody goes to a park
on Saturday, it's too qnza crowded!"), I quickly rejiggered my weekend
plans, grabbed April and my season pass and headed for Louisville,
collecting Coasterville Dave on the way. We all have previous experience
with the park, and in fact Dave and I can both tell stories of being
instructed by ride operators to do things that would have been newsworthy
had we actually complied. Now the park is presumably under new management,
but our experience has been that management changes don't seem to change
the park that much. Given the improvements of the last couple of years,
there are reasons we hope that trend continues.

ur original plan was to visit the park on Sunday, May 9. That would put us
at the park on a Sunday, on a day that was not Opening Day, and would
almost certainly be a better choice. But the weather report for Sunday was
bad a week in advance and was deteriorating rapidly. Late Friday night we
made the decision. Now, mind you, we had no real idea what to expect. We
had been to the park a few times last season, and we knew that the park is
running a "bring a friend for $5" promotion for season pass holders. So
either the park is expecting a smaller crowd and is trying to boost
traffic, or the place is going to be jam packed with cheapskates. In
reality I have to assume the park really has no idea what to expect, and is
probably underprepared, undertrained and understaffed. Experience has given
me relatively low expectations for the park, and under the circumstances I
have reduced those expectations even further. In short, I am guessing that
there will probably be "issues".

When we finally arrived at the park, it was perhaps 3:30pm. A bit late,
especially with a 7pm close, but not terrible. Our first mission: get April
one of those $5 bring-a-friend tickets. There is a low fence surrounding
the parka entry plaza, with openings on either side, and a pavilion at the
'forward' center for bag inspections. No temperature checks, COVID
questions, or magnetometers, although signs display the COVID questions and
remind you that by proceeding you certify that you are effectively
answering "no" to all of them. To the right side of the plaza was an
interminably long season pass processing line. To the left side, two lines
extended from the ticketing and "guest services" (I presume for the moment
that means "tickets") booths at the park perimeter. The lines extended all
the way back to the (closed) island ticket booths in the middle of the
plaza. It was a long-looking line, but that didn't bother me too much
as...as is often the case with ticket lines...I realized that every
transaction in the queue (including ours) was represented by three or four
people. What I didn't count on was what I like to call the "BMV effect".
Perhaps you have noticed it: you walk into the BMV, there are, say, five
windows open, and maybe 20 people ahead of you in line. That means maybe
four transactions per window ahead of you. 90 minutes later, you take your
turn at the window, and it takes you less than two minutes and you can't
for the life of you figure out what was so complicated that it took so long
for everybody else. In this case it wasn't quite that bad, but it still
took about 25 minutes. Tickets in hand, we realized we had some items with
us that we wouldn't need in the park, and I drew the short straw. I handed
April my camera bag and returned to the car, exiting the plaza by the
opening next to the Season Pass center. Less than sixty seconds later, I
returned, empty handed, to that same gap in the fence. There I was denied
entry, and told I needed to walk around to the bag-check station. This
mystified me, as I was clearly carrying no bags. Why couldn't I use this as
a "nothing to declare" re-entry point? I asked, both of the guard who sent
me around to the bag check table, and of the guard at the bag check table,
but not only did nobody have an answer, they looked at me like I was crazy
for even suggesting there was any chance that it could be any other way.
Ah, well, a little gratuitous extra walking isn't going to hurt me that
much. Still, it doesn't make any sense. We re-grouped, and I clipped on my
Commonwealth-mandated face covering long enough to walk through the gate,
then stuffed it back in my pocket, never to be seen again.

We took the obligatory photograph in front of the fountain, then started a
circuit of the park. We immediately noticed a that it was quite crowded. A
long line extended from the drink stand. As drinks now incur a cost, and
knowing that last year the (apparently brand new) machines were so poorly
adjusted as to be dispensing flat pop, we opted out and continued around
towards the rides. That's when we started to notice the real problem. There
were long lines for both the drop tower and the Break Dance. But there were
only four riders on the drop tower (that's 1/3 capacity) and only half of
the tubs were in use on the Break Dance. I think all the tubs were full on
the Flying Scooters, but so was the queue. On down the midway, the line for
Lightning Run extended almost all the away out to the midway as one train
ran the course half empty. Next door the new bakery had a sign on the door
indicating that it would be opening at the end of the month. "There goes
the whole reason for coming!", commented Coasterville Dave. On around the
corner, we bypassed the Damn Bridge (I don't think I have walked across
that thing since the park re-opened!) and noticed that the line for the...I
forget what Kentucky Kingdom calls it, but it's a Zamperla Endeavor, the
ride that replaced the Enterprise...completely filled the ride queue and
wrapped around the ride. Meanwhile...that's right, every other seat was
empty. To me, this is textbook COVIDiocy. The CDC has made it quite clear
that the most important variable with regard to the spread of the novel
coronavirus is *time of exposure*. With that in mind, and also considering
the importance of air movement in any environment bearing infectious
aerosols, it seems fairly obvious that a crowded queue presents a much
greater hazard with regard to the spread of infectious aerosols than does a
moving ride. Granted, both scenarios are relatively low risk in an outdoor
setting, nevertheless, nearly all of the amusement ride operators...people
who by the very nature of their business have to make accurate risk
management decisions every single day...have come to the same conclusion:
it is a greater risk to stack people in the stagnant environment of a ride
queue than it is to load up the ride and keep the line moving. Disney,
Universal, Cedar Fair, and...well, yes, even Herschend have mostly
abandoned every-other-seat operation in favor of operations that keep the
lines moving and the people separated.

Seeing this, we crossed the highway at the crosswalk in hopes that the
other side of the park, dominated as it is by the closed waterpark, would
offer some relief from the crowd. And it almost did. There was about a
45-minute wait for the Roller Skater (the line was down the stairs, but it
was only taking four people at a time) but nobody was waiting for the
carousel. So we took a ride. I climbed onto a good-sized outside row horse,
Dave grabbed another figure, and April sat down on one of the rocking
chariots. The attendant came around, said something to April, and she moved
to a jumping figure. I later learned two interesting things that had
happened. First was that the rocking chariot is equipped with a safety belt
which was too short to fit around April, which is why the attendant had her
move to a jumping figure. Second, I learned that I had completely missed
the sign indicating that riders over 250 pounds (meaning every person in
our group) were asked to ride in the chariots instead of on the jumping
figures. Perhaps this strikes you the same way it did me: that larger
riders are asked to ride on the benches, which are equipped with totally
unnecessary safety belts which are too short to allow those larger riders
to ride there.

Ah, well, after the Ferris Wheel incident [Footnote 1], I no longer try to
understand the ride rules at Kentucky Kingdom; I just try to look out for
my own safety.

We then turned our attention to the next ride, the wooden shoe swing ride
that Kentucky Kingdom apparently bought from Kings Island several decades
ago. Every gondola was in use, and there was no wait for the ride. So we
boarded, then waited as the ride operator gave his safety spiel...then a
three minute "comedy" routine. Come on, push the button already! He finally
did; there is no reason he couldn't have done that part of the spiel after
the ride started. It may be my imagination, but I think the ride ran a
little slower than it did last year.

We proceeded around the corner and under Thunder Run. Any idea we had that
the ride was suitably donnikered as to have a shorter wait were soon
dashed: the queue extended almost all the way to the ride entrance. We
decided against it and continued around the back of the ride. We went the
long way around the back of the waterpark and came to T^3. The line for
this one extended down the stairs and not quite out to the midway, just a
straight shot into the platform. So Dave and I got in line, while April
decided to sit it out. T^3 has a 7-car train, and in accordance with the
way everything else is running at Kentucky Kingdom, has only four rows
open...eight riders per cycle. Worse, the ride is running only one train,
even though it was built for three and has two. The ride is about 2:30 and
the cycle time is just over four minutes. A generous estimate puts the
hourly throughput of the ride at about 110 PPH. To put that into
perspective, I think Kings Island ultimately got better numbers than that
out of Scooby Doo's Ghoster Coaster. This was further hampered by a
fifteen-minute closure to clean up after what I presume was "another
satisfied customer" [Footnote 2].

I'm not sure how long we waited, but it was a long time before we finally
reached the boarding platform. I counted off and figured there were four
loads ahead of us. That's about 20 minutes at this rate, and it was after
6:30, so with a 7:00pm close, our first coaster ride of the season would
also be our last of the day. Then, disaster struck: it rained. While the
train was out on the course there was a quick cloudburst, less than a
minute of noticeably heavy rain which quickly devolved into a light
sprinkle. The train returned, unloaded, and then came the dreaded
announcement: T^3 was now closing due to inclement weather conditions. We
were welcome to wait, or to forfeit our space in line. I have no idea how
long we waited for that ride, but I know from experience it was way too
long. I had two choices: I could either wait it out and see how badly the
park would screw up park closing...although my assumption at that point was
that the ride would not be re-opening in the next twenty minutes, or I
could exit the ride into a park which had already cut all of its ride lines
for its published hard-close at 7pm. I opted to leave. We exited the ride
platform and called April, only to learn she had already gone back out to
the car. Our night was over. We completed our figure-8 loop of the park,
and called it a night.

Kentucky Kingdom is not capable, in its current state, of handling a
moderately large crowd. I don't know if the ride capacity restriction is a
Kentucky Kingdom thing, or a Commonwealth of Kentucky thing. To the park's
credit, it appears that they have stacked what employees they have on ride
operations, to the detriment of food and beverage service. That means there
isn't a lot to eat or drink in the park and if you are hungry or thirsty,
you're going to have a long wait. So far as I'm concerned, that's not a
huge problem.

So yes, staffing is a huge problem, but it looks like the park has mostly
mitigated that problem, at least for the time being; I presume we will see
it get worse once the waterpark opens. But the problem that is most
glaringly obvious, that has the greatest detrimental impact on customers,
is park operations. Nothing in the park...well, except possibly closing
time...operates with any sense of urgency. The park's usual slow pace is
exacerbated by the half-load operation. And while the park could easily
mitigate that by running both units on the rides that can accommodate them,
it seems not to be in the park's DNA to even consider doing so [Footnote
4]. The result is waiting times that are not only infuriating, especially
considering the short operating hours, but present a poor COVID-19 risk
profile. I don't know who to blame for this, although I understand the
protocols are different at other Herschend parks [Footnote 5], so it might
be the Commonwealth. If that is the case, then the park needs to send its
risk management team to march on Frankfort and get those rules changed,
preferably before their next operating day.

Kentucky Kingdom is looking good this year. They've managed to keep their
ride operations staffed, but without the waterpark they do not have the
capacity to handle even a moderate crowd, and their operations is
inadequate to handle any crowd at all. This is a park focused on growth in
attendance and revenue, but offering the kind of experience I had on this
visit is a great way to shrink both. I'm certainly not going back again
when the waterpark isn't open (even if I am not planning to visit the
waterpark myself!) and I don't think I want to go back again until I know
they've got their rides running with all the seats open. I just don't have
the patience for it, and it isn't worth the 450-mile drive. In fact, we're
in the process now of re-thinking our plans for HoliWood Nights, and going
to Indiana Beach on Sunday instead. At least they'll fill all the seats on
the coasters!

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

----------

Footnote 1: Dave and I were riding the Ferris wheel. On our last rotation,
an attendant popped the door latch open as we cruised through the boarding
area, then the Wheel came to a stop with our gondola two or three positions
*above* the highest boarding platform. At which point we were instructed to
exit. We...declined to do so, thus avoiding an appearance on the evening
news.

Footnote 2: https://youtu.be/E6QEV0l8ejg [Footnote 3]

Footnote 3: You can find anything on the Internet these days.

Footnote 4: Apparently "Crittenden" is an old Indian word meaning, "Only
Runs One Train".

Footnote 5: Sorry, HFEC. I know, you bought into an operational nightmare.
But you've put your name on it, so you can take the blame for it now.

--DCAjr

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Marshall

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May 20, 2021, 11:43:35 AMMay 20
to
On Wednesday, May 19, 2021 at 1:47:29 AM UTC-4, Dave Althoff, Jr. wrote:
>
> So yes, staffing is a huge problem, but it looks like the park has mostly
> mitigated that problem, at least for the time being; I presume we will see
> it get worse once the waterpark opens. But the problem that is most
> glaringly obvious, that has the greatest detrimental impact on customers,
> is park operations. Nothing in the park...well, except possibly closing
> time...operates with any sense of urgency. The park's usual slow pace is
> exacerbated by the half-load operation. And while the park could easily
> mitigate that by running both units on the rides that can accommodate them,
> it seems not to be in the park's DNA to even consider doing so [Footnote
> 4]. The result is waiting times that are not only infuriating, especially
> considering the short operating hours, but present a poor COVID-19 risk
> profile. I don't know who to blame for this, although I understand the
> protocols are different at other Herschend parks [Footnote 5], so it might
> be the Commonwealth. If that is the case, then the park needs to send its
> risk management team to march on Frankfort and get those rules changed,
> preferably before their next operating day.
>

Its the state... I'm glad I finally got my ride on Flyer last year, so I dont have to deal with KY for a while...

BGT had some weird goings on a couple weeks ago also. Full train operation on the coasters, but stacking two rows in each gate in the station. I dont see how thats better... Weirdest part was every other row on the Safari Train and Skyride closed for "Covid" reasons...Skyride is about as Socially Distanced as its possible to get...

Alan Conceicao

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May 21, 2021, 9:23:22 AMMay 21
to
> So yes, staffing is a huge problem, but it looks like the park has mostly
> mitigated that problem, at least for the time being; I presume we will see
> it get worse once the waterpark opens. But the problem that is most
> glaringly obvious, that has the greatest detrimental impact on customers,
> is park operations. Nothing in the park...well, except possibly closing
> time...operates with any sense of urgency. The park's usual slow pace is
> exacerbated by the half-load operation. And while the park could easily
> mitigate that by running both units on the rides that can accommodate them,
> it seems not to be in the park's DNA to even consider doing so [Footnote
> 4]. The result is waiting times that are not only infuriating, especially
> considering the short operating hours, but present a poor COVID-19 risk
> profile. I don't know who to blame for this, although I understand the
> protocols are different at other Herschend parks [Footnote 5], so it might
> be the Commonwealth. If that is the case, then the park needs to send its
> risk management team to march on Frankfort and get those rules changed,
> preferably before their next operating day.

In general, going to parks in the pandemic has been lousy. My visit to Cliffs a couple of weeks ago was such that I've basically decided that aside from the Cedar Fair parks and the Orlando places I'll be visiting shortly, I'm done for the year in terms of big trips, more than likely. It's miserable. I get why, but I also get what could or should be done differently at this point.

Staffing is an issue for everyone, but it's also a situation of the chickens coming home to roost for the industry. They've been so reliant on foreign employees to keep wages down in the US that now with no one able to come in, we've got a complete disaster on our hands. This isn't a situation that started last year: it started in the 90s, possibly even before that. The majority of operators in this nation have never bothered to try to learn how to recruit employees, instead resolving that "people who work in this industry have to love it" as a justification for crappy wages. Well, here we are. Turns out that running parks when schools are in session isn't possible (learned that lesson time and time again) and now without foreigners on J and B visas, it isn't possible for carnivals or parks to do their basic functions 7 days a week. It's an embarassing indictment of every park that isn't one of Herschend's big two, Lake Compounce, or Adventureland Iowa, as they've actually managed to come up with ideas that led to them not relying on foreign workers.
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