Coasterville Commentary

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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Living Life During a Pandemic - Casino Gambling Edition

Welcome to the second in my series of "How has life changed in the midst of a pandemic"

Today, we continue on with having fun, by trying out two area casinos. In Ohio casinos were allowed to open on June 19, and while I didn't race right there, it didn't take long as I went on June 20.

I started the day early in the morning at Jack Cincinnati (which is undergoing a transition to Hard Rock Casino).  I entered through the parking garage and as soon as I entered the elevator lobby, I knew things would be different.  In addition to Jack signage being covered replaced with Hard Rock signs, a greeter met me right inside the door.  He offered me hand sanitizer and a mask.  I had a neck gaiter on, so I asked if that counted as a mask.  The greeter wasn't sure so he handed me a mask just in case.  I then proceeded to the elevator, they have a rope and stanchion barrier and social distancing markers forming lines for the lifts.  Once in the elevator they limit each car to 4 people, and you are to stand in the corners, as indicated by the floor markers.  The inside of the doors double as a giant copy of the safety warnings.  

Once at the casino level, you enter the queue to enter.  There are floor markers, and several new steps have been added.  A second greeter asks you to remove your mask, and look at the camera.  I believe the camera is taking both your photo and getting a thermal scan.  He then tells you that you are to put your mask back on after you clear security.  After the thermal scan, they have added metal detectors.  Once through the metal detectors, you can replace your mask and enter the casino.  During my visit I did note a few people pulled aside and checked with a regular thermometer, and some of those turned away.  Oh, and turns out a neck gatier does meet the requirements. 

Ok, once inside the casino, the first big change you will notice is a lot of the slot machines have been placed Out of Service.  To make it clear they have also put a big sticker on the screen or over the reels that "This slot machine has been disabled for your safety" The idea is that if there are rows of slot machines right next to each other, at least every other one is turned off.  So in a row of 3 or 4 only the two end machines will be on. In longer rows they alternate.  In slot carousels alternating machines in the circle may be off depending on the radius and distance between seats.  Not only are the machines off, their chairs have been removed.  Now, it does look like some though was put into this process, as machines have been rearranged.  Some have been totally removed, other groups have been rearranged to allow for distancing.  Also, they said they changed out machines and there are 75 brand new ones among the mix.  But what I really mean by thought was put into this is it looked like in some areas they moved an unpopular machine next to a popular machine.  That way the unpopular machine could be "Sacrificed" as one of the games turned off for social distancing.  

Okay, but what about machine cleanlines, well every machine has a sign saying that every machine is sanitized regularly, but it also states that you can request to have any machine sanitized before you sit down. To this end there is a crew in hi-vis green t-shirts that are going around cleaning anything and everything.   During less crowded times, it seems as soon as you get up from a game they are over to wipe it down. If not they are on some kind of pattern to make their way around their zones.  For other parts of the slot machine experience, social distancing markers have been placed to form lines for the ATM/Ticket Redemption/Bill Breaker machines, and when there are two together there are physical barriers between machines.    The promotional kiosk have been set at angles, and the self serve player card machines, the center one in the banks of three have been turned off. 

Ok, so what about table games.  For some games like roulette and craps, the games remain much as they were with limited players at a table, with social distancing markers (Craps and Roulette).  For the card games at the traditional fan shape tables, hey have devised a pretty obnoxious looking physical barrier.  It effectively puts each player in an isolation booth.  There is room for a chair, a drink holder, and a place to rest your chips.  Between players there is a physical barrier, and in front of the player is another physical barrier separating you from the dealer.  At the bottom of this front barrier is an opening so you can pass money, player cards or chips under the barrier.  The opening is tall enough that you can manage your bets.  and stick your hand through to make hand signals to the dealer.  It seems as though a table that may have seated 6 now seats 4 with these barriers. I do like how the barriers here have guitar neck graphics on the outermost edges for visibility. Poker, to this point remains closed.  

Of course hand sanitizer stations abound, and enlarged distanced queue areas have been setup for the cashier and players club area. I was offered hand sanitizer when cashing in chips.  

How about the rest of the property - well as I said they are in the middle of a big transition from the local Jack Casino to becoming a Hard Rock,.  Right now the former party room is closed (this is rumored to become a Hard Rock Cafe, the casino has confirmed they are getting one, they just haven't revealed where.  Prism Steakhouse and Piano Bar remains, as does Basil Leaf which is one of those rapid pizza concepts combined with a deli.  They have greatly expanded their queue area, distanced of course.  It now goes from Basil Leaf, up through the former buffet exit, back around therough the buffet entrance area, and through the former buffet VIP queue area.  

What about the buffet?  Well, for now it is done for.  It's a sit down restaurant, you still go to the buffet counters, but they now serve you and for the ultimate gotcha, it is ala carte.  Instead of a pay one price all-you-care to eat concept, every item comes with a price tag.  Side dishes are $3 each, and it goes up from there.  It's new name is the Cincinnati Food Hall, and you would do well to forget it was ever a buffet, it is now a cafeteria.  . 

The Synergy gaming area (think semi live table games, where you bet on a terminal while live dealers run the games - so say you were interested in blackjack, every person in the Synergy Gaming arena would play the same hand.  The dealer will continue to hit the player hand as long as any player hits, you get paid out depending on what the player total was when you stood.  But limits as low as $3 at slow times make this popular. Alternating terminals in the arena are out of service. 

Continuing on the next major change is Bobby's Burger Palace is gone, the casino states that Bobby's Burger Palace decided to walk away during the shut down.  It is now a Mr. Luckys.  - its a casual service restaurant where you order at a counter, and then the meal is served to you..  They did little  to remodel the property in fact it still looks like Bobby Burger except for the menu.  So for the communal dining counters Bobby's was famous for, they put physical barrier shields up between parties.  These are portable and can move to allow for various party sized. While my platter was served on real china, the utensils were those imitation look like silver but they are not high end plasticware, and the drink was served in a carry out plastic cup.  One thing that did surprise me, was the drinks were still self service, using the same soda fountain that's always been there. I made sure to get a top off at the end of my meal as waitress service on the gaming floor was abysmal.  

Comtinuing along, Starbucks and the gift shop remain, valet parking is closed, and he valet lot is being used as a high roller self parking area.  Also closed is coat check but then it always closed in the summer due to lack of demand, 

Back to gaming, when you were fortunate to have a cocktail waitress actually bring you a drink, it comes in a plastic cup with a lid, if you want a straw those are available by request and are plastic wrapped. For those wondering how cocktails and masks work together, as the recording they play every so often states.  "Masks are required to be worn except in our dining rooms (while seated at your table), passing through security, or while enjoying your favorite cocktail at your table or slot machine.  When drinking on the gaming floor, please only lower your mask to take a drink,and wear your masks between sips"  The exception to this would be the Parlor - which is the casinos smoking room.  See, Ohio casinos are all non-smoking by state law, but they found a loophole.  If they put slot machines outside, they are not in a building.   So our casinos traditionally have a covered terrace outside with metal grates forming at least 2 walls.  They do climate control the areas as much as possible, but you are outside.  For this Hard Rock has substaintial grills, so except in the brighest of suns, glare on the game screens isn't an issue.  It seems the Parlor is now also a No Masking Zone, after all I can't mask if I have a cigarette in my mouth.  

One last detail is that in the Men's lounge, every other urinal is blocked off, so yes the unwritten social contract of the Men's room is now official law. Also every other sink is blocked off.  Social distanccing markers are in place in case a line develops.  

But wait, I said I went to two casinos!  I did, my uncle met me at Hard Rock, and then we moved on to Belterra Park (operated by Boyd Gaming) on the pretense of betting the Belmont as they have a race book.  We never made it to the race book, and the self servce racing terminals seem to have been removed from the gaming floor.  Now, in Ohio racetracks are allowed to offer VLT's (which look suspiciously like slot machines, and they have all your popular titles same as the casino), video keno, the state's networked statewide live Keno game, and race book.  The state was astute and banned them from having video poker from the start, as that has been the gateway to table games in other States. I think Racino is the term.  

Here things are much more laid back. We arrived, entered the building, at the top of the escalator (the whole building is on stilts due to the constant threat of Ohio River flooding) and were met by a greeter. The greeter just asked us "Have you had any of the symptoms listed on this sign in the last 14 days"  We don't really even look at the sign and say "No", "Okay, go on in!" As if anybody is going to say Yes.  The greeter is passing out masks but notes they are not required.

We get to the security podium and are asked to drop our masks as we enter, and can put them back on once we clear security.  Players Cub which doubles as the Cashier here, has expanded socially distanced waiting areas.  Here the same thing with every other slot machine, or the middle machines in rows of 3 and 4 have been turned off, here they also have huge stickers on the closed off machines stating that "This machine is social distancing!" Unlike Hard Rock they don't seem to have taken the effort to rearrange games to shift less popular games into the out of service positions, and they were more conservative when it came to closing off games on slot carousels, even pretty big carousels.  Here sme f the cash out machines were disabled for your safety, and in other places physical barriers were installed, without any kind of graphic on the outer edge to make the barriers more apparent.  This casino was more crowded, but even with a lot of the games off, we never really had trouble getting on machines we wanted.    There are signs throughout the casino with advice on slowing the spread, and stating that all guests should wear a mask.  Note the word should, not must.  We would estimate about maybe 30% masked. For this reason alone, I didn't feel as safe there, my concerns were further spread when I noted the self service beverage stations were open.  Yes, they have signs asking no refills please, please take a new cup for each drink.  

Also in the property, the gift shop is like it was, as is Stadium (sports bar/ casual dining) they have redone the bar so it has an organized distanced waiting area for walk up drinks, and have also opened the Favorites steak house bar for beverage service, although the steak house remains closed.  The buffet is also closed, and 2/3 of the buffet tables are available as tables for added seating for Burger Bros. (which had a tiny dining room) and the other 1/3 being used to enlarge their VIP lounge. for distancing.  As for the VIP lounge, the mini buffet has been replaced with a pre-plated courtesy meal.    I did not hit the restrooms here, so I can't say how they were, but I will note the valet and coast check were closed.  We also didn;t make it over to see how things were at the racetrack.  

I feel like I must give credit where credit is due at the end, Belterra Park is no longer a 24/7 operation.  The gaming floor closes at 4pm every night for a deep cleaning.  From Monday to Thursdays the first hours are reserved for high risk patrons.  

And there it is - getting your casino gambling fix in during a Pandemic 





    

Living Life During a Pandemic: Cincinnati Zoo Edition

Living Life During a Pandemic: The Zoo    

Ok, so my last return to the Blog lasted one whole post!  Yeah me.  So, to start the next doomed series - as the economy starts to reopen, I thought I would document living life in the midst of a pandemic.  

"Get busy living, or get busy dying, damn right!"  - Red

So, let's start with a fun topic - the Zoo!

Here in Cincinnati, the Zoo shut down in mid March, and finally reopened when the State gave them permission on June 10.  To the Zoo's credit they had a comprehensive plan in place and had their reservation system ready to roll almost right after the news release.  Not to say it was carefree, those of us who wanted to make sure to get quality Zoo time as soon as possible endured an exercise in patience, like 2 hours worth to get a reservation.  Waiting a day or so and the reservation system is running smoothly.

So I got a coveted June 10 reservation at 10am.  (Yes, to avoid everybody arriving at once, they are spacing out crowd arrival with timed ticketing)  The Cincinnati Zoo is mostly of the Duell Loop park design, meaning most of the major exhibits can be seen by making one long circle tour of the park, the idea being that spreading out the arrivals, would also spread out people working their way around the loop.

Arriving at the Zoo that first day, they asked everybody to park in the overflow lot and use the new second entrance.  By the weekend, they would be back in the main lot.  The main lot has the added challenge of having an escalator or elevator ride up to the bridge, which would both require constant cleaning.  So, right at 10AM I entered the new entrance.  Right inside was a welcome back banner, and soon after the social distancing markers from the street all the way up and through the gate.  About 3/4 of the way in you come to a worker who checks your reservation email, passing that check, you proceed up to the gate.  If there is a thermal check, it is hidden.  You proceed to the main gate as usual where they have mounted the scanner to one post on each lane and you scan your own ticket, while the worker standing at the other side of the lane watches a monitor.  

They have discontinued handing out park maps, instead there is a huge sign right inside the gate with a park map and a QR code.  You can either take a photo of the map, or use the QR code to get a digital version of the park guide.  Some of the changes they have made are obvious in the front of the park, dubbed "Historic Vine Street Village",  Since all tickets are online, all the ticket booths are closed, also closed are Member Services (you can get a digital annual pass for your smart phone), the Rental Center (sorry no stroller or wheelchair rental, bring your own if needed), the Gift Shop (there is a selection of merchandise in an open air marketplace outside the Gift Shop, including a Mask Kiosk right inside the main gate. The restroom building is open, but the water fountains are shut off, there is a water bottle filling station still available. 

Speaking of Masks, I know a controversial topic, all zoo staff are wearing them, and the Tortoise is highly suggesting guests wear them as well, but that is up to each guest to make that decision,  For my visits I masked, both out of courtesy for other guests, the staff and the animals, as well as to get used to it for Kings Island later this summer. 

Entering the zoo proper, I followed what is my typical path.  (We are creatures of habit, aren't we humans) So first up were the playful pachyderms, yes the elephants.  Both types of elephants were out and active.  Around the animal viewing areas you will see paw prints on the ground.  These are the Zoo's version of social distancing markers.  The idea is one group per pawprint, results on this seemed to be mixed.  As the zoo says, you Otter stay a Zebra length apart from others, and stay with your family herd.  (I love how they themed the safety warnings to animals), like "Wash your Paws" signs in the restrooms,.  And if that isn't enough I think they have a hand sanitizer dispenser near every major animal exhibit and food stand.  

So leaving the elephant area, I walked around Swan Lake, I noted they put the garbage cans in the center, suggesting traffic lanes.  They also parked the train on the trestle over the lake.  The rides are not open, but by my second visit you could see work on the train, and by the end of the second week, photos started coming out with plexiglass barriers being installed between every row of the train, so maybe they will be able to get this up in a socially distanced manner.  At the next corner on opening day the giant fan was on, but the water misting feature was turned off.  By week 2, the whole fan was missing.  I didn't bother heading up towards the Education Building as all indoor exhibits are currently closed. 

Instead I headed to the Giraffes, where I noted the signs advising that there would be no feedings.  I got to the overlook just as the giraffes were coming outside into their yard.  so perfect timing for hitting this exhibit.  I headed on into Africa,  To get threre you need to down a switchback style ramp, and here they have signs stating that for safety "Do not stop on the ramp, please keep moving"  

The flamingos were a hit as always, and when I got to the small animal encounter area I noted it was closed.  Also, the zoo is full of animal statues that people like to pose with or climb on.  They have always had signs warning that they may be hot to the touch, but they have new signs on them forbidding touching them at all.    I went up to see the lions (sleeping in I see), and noted that there would be no Cheetah/cat shows.  

As I made my way through the area, I noted that photographers were in full force with much better camera equipment than I was toting.  The big mixed animal savanah always reminds me of Lion King, moreso if you look to the big rock formation on one end that has the lions.  Heading back further I noted the activity hut is roped off, and the one narrow path back to Hippo Cove has directional signage and social distancing markers on the ground.  Once through the bottleneck you are advised the area is now a one way zone,.  The painted dogs were resting but the merkeets were active.  As you got closer to Hippo Cove signs warn that you are entered a potentially high congestion area, if crowded please return later.  I proceeded and there was maybe a three group wait if you wanted to look in the small window at Fiona (distancing markers here for the line) - and Fiona loves to face this one small window.  I went to the main area and got to see Fiona and Bibbi but noted they were much more active the second visit.  Thought he first visit I got a show of the fish cleaning the hippos skin).  

Leaving this area you double back around the merkeets and I note they have boarded up access to the crawl in dome that makes it look like it has been sealed off forever.  It looks aged and natural not like something they just put together.  This is in contrast to other areas where they have obviously errected new barriers further back from the exhibits, sometimes just with rope, and in a couple cases added sneeze guards above the railings.  

Leaving the area, I did see the Cheetah, so I didn't feel Cheetahed, And headed back to the main loop.  The restrooms in this area are open, even if both the cafeteria and ice cream shop in the same building are closed.  Those needing a snack can go to Tuskers across the way for light snacks or drinks..  Construction walls block access past the train tracks, so no access to Skyline or the Clubhouse,  

Moving right along the bird aviary is closed to walk throughs, but you can look in from outside the aviary. As well as the small area between the aviary and the bird house.  The bird house is of course closed, which also, sadly, means no penquins.   More construction walls block access to wolf ridge and the former animal pool.   The next point of interest is the Garden of Peace and then Bear Hill.  The black bear was sleeping my first vist, and missing the second, while the polar bear was much more active on my first visit.  

From here I entered Jungle Trails, Jungle Trails has always been suggested to be a one way experience, but they have added signs reinforcing this.  Jungle Trails is a walk through immersive area, where the path does not look like pavement and it honestly looks like you are in the jungle,  It is also full of interactives, which have been roped off, removed, or signs posted telling you to keep your paws off.  Jungle Trails has two indoor segments,, luckily both were built with a bypass, and they were sending you through the bypasses. In this area the gibbons and orangutang were really hamming it up and putting on quite the show,.  I think the only major thing here I didn't see was the Bonobo.  It was back here I started to notice a lot more "Do not feed the animals" signs, I thought this issue had been solved when self feeding the animals fell out of favor decades ago, apparently not.  

Coming out of Jungle Trails I noted Graeters, Larosas and Dippin Dots were all closed (Dippin Dots was open on my second visit) But that wasn't what concerned me. I had to take care of some other human needs, so I walked around to the back of Larosas, and was greeted by a closed restroom building.  Before panic set in, I noted the sign said the restrooms in the former ape house were open,.  Ahh, and they are air conditioned too.  A funny note in this area, there are signs by Larosas and Graters stating the stand is closed, and directing you to Base Camp which is also closed, when the Grove is much closer. 

Getting back on track, I headed to Rhino Reserve - on my first visit I missed the Rhino, but the rhino was there the second visit.  As I made my way around, I noted you can see into the Wolf exhibit from this side, and the view may be even better than the regular view.  This is an official viewing spot as evidenced by the social distancing markers.  I noted the Zebras were not staying a Zebra length apart from each other ;).  This group of flamingos was very popular, and I noted the Zoo Babies signs are up, so I guess its still Zoo Babies, which is my favorite time to visit anyway.  Coming down the other side out of this area, I noted they have replaced the kids music with a really neat atmospheric background track.  It almost seems like piped in animal noises and gives the place the right ambiance, like you are walking through a preserve. 

No chance of visiting the Manatees today or for the near future, one of my favorites, but I knew that in advance.  Major changes in this area, as the 4D theater is GONE.  Mai Thai's Market is going in, which will be a food court and gift shop.  They must have anticipated the pandemic as the food court also looks like it can be an outdoor walk up.  Both inside and outside facing service counters.  Accross from this it looks like they have taken an eclectic collection of shipping containers, an airstream trailer, and a food truck and have made a food truck zone.  The much talked about new taco place must not be ready yet, so I tried the Coop, which is a chicken tenders outlet.  I had the tenders basket with tater tots ($9), it only comes with two tenders, but they are massive and taste above average. 

In the area they have socially distanced tables, a barrier shield around the clerk.  They are encouagaing Apple Pay or Android Pay for touchless transactions.  Ok, I held my phone over the credit card machine, but I still had to touch the terminal when it asked Credit or Debit.  But it's mostly hands off. They have a sanitizer station right before the food pick up window.  They have done away with the pagers, and were calling out names when orders were ready,  I must give the zoo custodial staff credit, I mean as soon as a group got up from a table and walked away, the custodial staff was on it, like immediately.   The carousel is closed and covered over.   I took a look at the lemur, and noted the paths back the Kimodo dragon were closed off,.  As was the Wings of Wonder Theater, World of the Insect, and the Passenger Pigeon Memorial.  At least you can still admire the outsides of the zoos three historic buildings.   

Continuing along, Gorilla World is open, and the suggested one way path again is reinforced with additional signage.  This was a lively area on both visits.  Particularly opening day, the animals seemed just as glad to see us again as we were to see them.  The Zoo has been one of my happy places.  A refuge I can go to when I need to get away from people and contemplate God's creatures in a peaceful setting. I don't think I was the only one who had an emotional moment walking back into the zoo, after being denied it for three months, during a time when it would be most needed.   

Anyway, at the end of Gorilla World there is an virtually indoor section with no bypass.  Instead of turning you around, they are allowing you to walk through this area, but with no less than 4 or 5 signs telling you to not stop, please keep moving.  

One last major area to see, Cat Canyon.  The indoor Night Hunters section is of course closed.  On my first trip I think I saw just the owl and the snow leopard.  On the second visit the Tiger and other animals.  SO combining both trips, I got to see the entire Cat Canyon.  That long dead end path to the Tiger, there is a sign warning you it is a dead end, and to please skip it if crowded.    

Finishing up the main loop, I saw the Bald Eagles and Tortoises.  Wait, I don;t see the Tortoise wearing a mask :),    I then headed to see the Red Pandas, and ther Children's Zoo.  The entry to the children's zoo has changed yet again.  I really like how the park is replacing blacktop with pavers in a lot of places. The petting zoo is closed, but the animals can steill be seen in a distanced fashion.  Construction walls block off the major playground in this area.

Finishing this up I grabbed a soft drink at Tuskers and took it to Hippo Cove to sit and watch Fiona while I had a refreshing beverage,. On my way out I hit Gibbon Islands just as I think the Gibbons were going inside.  I took a look at the upcoming Roo Valley from the beer garden in back of Hops, and noted work proceeding on the ropes course.  Hey, I'm in a beer garden, I think this calls for a beer.   On visit 2, since it was 4:50. I don't know if alcohol sales had ended, but not to send the wrong message I reverted back to a childhood Zoo favorite, the red cherry ICEE.  Maybe its just not having had an ICEE in so long, but man, that was so great.  That distinctive texture and flavor takes you right back to being a kid.  I will say the straw I was offered with it (None!) was a lot better than the paper animal-safe straws the zoo used in my childhood.  Those things were useless.  

Speaking of my Zoo childhood it looks like the Zoo Storybooks are coming back for a new generation.  The most coveted zoo souvenir of my youth was the key to the zoo which you could use in Storybook boxes around the zoo.  It looks like those key operated boxes are coming back, better than ever. Solar powered, able to tell their story in either English or Spanish, and they look to be mounted more at kid level than I remember the old ones being.  I remember needing to have my Dad start some of the old ones, some were either so high or awkwardly placed.  Rumour has it if you still have a vintage Key to the Zoo, they are compatible with the new boxes.  

So, what's more to say, I finally got a deck of Fiona playing cards (2nd Edition!).  There is no re-entry at this time, so that is a big policy shift.  No more running back to your car to picnic, and with precious few places to cool off, I do hope the Zoo finds some way to open a cooling center.  I noted several places have stopped re-entry, and at first I thought this was part of capacity control.,  After all, if I leave with a hand stamp, they still need to hold a spot for me for when I decide to re-enter.  But then I am figured into the daily limit.  When I read Kings Island is going to use wristbands or something like that for re-entry it dawned on me.  Parks are afraid of spreading the virus through the readmission hand stamp.  

Exiting the park, I noted there is a sneak peak at the elephants outside of the main gate.  I also noted an exit attendant is keeping count of people exiting.  On both trips I received a hearty Welcome Back on my way in, and a Thank You on my way out,  It's the little things that really put the bow on a nice package.  It's like when you park in the hilltop parking lot at Kennywood, which you have to reach via chair lift.  When you board the chair and they lower the lap bar, they say  "Thanks for coming to Kennywood, Good Night!"    On my way back to the street you are looking directly at a big gate blocking the way to the Education Building.  The gate has a big sign "NO EXIT!"  which can be confusing as you can't really see the exit to right just before that gate.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Cincinnati Museum Center and Welcome Back!

Welcome Back Blog!


Well, let's be honest, let's be real.  I got a wild hare to start blogging again. Yeah, I know, blogs are so 2000's dude. People expect more from bloggers, they want them to create fully edited video packages that they can just veg out on a sofa and watch.  Well, my video skills never evolved beyond Shoot, Share, Store, and I would have a lousy voice for video.  But, as a wise teacher once told me, "The palest ink will outlive the most vivid memory"  So, I don't know how long this wild hair will last, but for now, On with the Blog.

 TR: Cincinnati Museum Center

(For those that have forgotten, a TR stands for Trip Report)  Breaking from my usual chronological run down of the day format, this TR will cover numerous trips to the museum center throughout the year.  Why so many?  Well, this year has been real hard on me, no, I'm not going to "Dear Diary" about it here, just also recall "Everybody is facing a personal challenge you know nothing about" So, as sappy as it may sound, the museum is sort of like one of my comfort spaces.  But I haven't gone just randomly, every visit had a mission and purpose, and planned that way, there has always been something new to see.

Visits thus far this year:
  1. April 8 - To see the newly renovated museum, and Egypt.
  2. May 4 - Mummies Omnimax and the Presidents office suite was added back to the building tour.
  3. May 12 - Neil Armstrong Space gallery
  4. June 8 - CurioCITIES event means being able to see and photograph the Children's Museum unhindered.
  5. Late June - Random visit with family
  6. August 10 - 1940s Day!
  7. October 6 - Apollo 11
  8. November 9 - Holiday Junction
So rather than write 8 separate reports, let's write one omnibus that covers content of all 8.  

Almost forgot the header, I am out of practice at these.

TR: Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal
Cincinnati, OH

Dates: See above
Admission: FREE with a pay as you explore plan.  The core exhibits (dubbed the Discovery Pass) are $14.50, with special exhibitions and attractions at an upcharge.  Annual plans are available, I purchased my voucher while the museum center was still closed for renovation so for $40 (I think?) I think I have done pretty well for myself in value.
Parking: $6
Public Transit - Serviced weekends about once an hour by Metro Rt 49 (Was Rt 1 before the renovation) bus stop is in the main traffic circle just to the south of the building.  Sometimes friendly drivers will drop you off right at the door.  Oh, and serviced by Amtrak train, if you don't mind arriving\leaving at 3 in the morning.

Arriving: One of the first things return visitors will note is the retro art deco marquee sign at the edge of the driveway has been replaced by a more contemporary sign in a simple easy to read font.   From what I learned from one of the docents, the iconic art deco font used in Union Terminal signage really is trademarked, and apparently in the latest remodel the deal was to use it only in its historical context, thus modern signage and such use the new much simpler font  This isn't all bad as it made them implement an all new, and I think much improved, signage system. 

Getting to the front doors. during the remodel they had been replaced with generic modern front doors, so one of the first things I was glad to see is the originals have returned.  It's the little things that make me happy.  There's something about those door handles I remember from my early years when the place was a shopping mall.  Once inside, take several moments to breathe in the atmosphere of the rotunda.  Gone is the temporary lobby we have had the last few years. Now the newly restored mosaics gleam, the paintwork more vivid than ever, you can still spy remnants of the damage the terazzo floor sustained in the shopping mall era, but even it shines giving its subtle directional cues.  Outside, the grand fountain has been restored , flagpoles that had long sat disused have been repaired and now proudly show their colors.  The concourse level common area is just as much of an attraction as any of the museums being an art deco masterpiece and again housing the mosaics.  May I remind you the concourse is free to explore.  

I do believe the main ticket booth has been replaced.  The white booth has been replced with an orange and black striped booth that just may be more true to the period.  The clock tower above the ticket booth still stands, but unfortunately while it does advertise "TIME", it is not forthcoming with that information.  I would be remiss not to mention the clock on the exterior of the builiding was restored and is fully functional.  

Let's walk around the rotunda and see what has changed.  Starting at the front doors "TO STREET", the first storefront which had been the public safety office is now mostly an elevator.  A small part was left on the exterior wall for a showcase window.  This very large elevator is a key component in the buildings new vertical transportation system, which I will get into when I discuss the lower levels.  (Hey, it's a Coasterville Trip Report, as one of my friends used to say, "I could go visit the attraction faster than I could read your report about it).  Continuing along, the escalators and stairs remain where they were, and then we come to the Newsreel theater.  

For a long time, there were really only two ways to see the Newsreel Theater, one was to be lucky enough to attend an event that had booked it, and the other was to take the free building tour.  (The building tour starts with a historical lecture about the terminal which is held in the Newsreel Theater).  The theater has received much love, from restored seating and wall textures, though I heard the wall sconces, while true to the original plans, were never actually installed in the original. Be sure to check under your seat for your hat rack.  Lately, access to this room has expanded in the form of a series of video presentations held in this room throughout the day.  Which are, by the way, free.

Continuing around you turn the corner at the Historical Society museum entrance and enter the main curved area of the rotunda.  But first be sure to check out the massive oversized drinking fountain in the corner.  Just don't hold a private discussion here, even speaking softly it may be heard by a spy at its counterpart across the way.  Or this may give you a fun idea to hold a conversation from opposite corners via the magical whispering fountains. 

Anyway the south side of the rotunda was as a train station, and still is concession stands.  These have been updated with both a better menu, and a self serve station of grab and go items.  The Cup and Pint stand is there to satisfy those who want freshly brewed products, of multiple types.    In the center is access to the dining room.  This was a confusing space in last incarnation, as it was labeled "Private Dining Rooms", and was used mainly for banquets but sometimes opened as overflow seating.  I suspect its purpose may be similar today, but more food service windows are inside. In factg, I think you may order in the rotunda and pick it up inside the dining room.  The wonderful think of it is, the new food windows look like they have always been there, even when faces with photographic evidence that there were phone booths  in their place before.  More importantly the renovation included ripping out the carpeting so the original floor can shine showing off a hint what the room may have been like when it was a serpentine style lunch counter.  More restoration work is evident in the foyer of the women's lounge, and in the back formal dining room.  The are preservationists did a lot bring out the detail in the city map that forms the basis for the design of the ceiling.  

Skipping the main concourse area with its "TO TRAINS" signs proudly lit, (For some reason I don't recall those being lit before, may be faulty memory), on the other side, in what was the former main ticket office, and then the gift shop before the renovation.  The gift shop seems to be cut in at least half of what it was.  Maybe even smaller. Gone is the maze of little rooms and the bookstore.  In the front there is a small section devoted to the terminal, then some stuff that relates to the current special exhibits, and maybe some stuff that relates to past special exhibits.  Unfortunately most of the selection is generic museum gift shop merchandise.  I know why they did it, the stuff will sell, but the gift shop just doesn't appeal to me in its current state.  I've walked through it now, all the way, twice, and I don't know, I may not be able to say why, but it just isn't doing it for me.  The space also seems a bit small as evidenced by the fact that some of the merchandise is spilled out into the Natural History Museum lobby.  At least they stuck the dinosaur stuff out in the overflow area, so that kind of works. 

The big mystery is the blacked out space next to it, the sign says "Premium Experience"  No word from anybody on what this may entail in the future.  Perhaps a replacement for the missing "Collectors Shop", the former high end gift shop.  As I mentioned the signage, it would be wise to note that the overhead signs, some of which where in the faux art deco font have all been removed.  The new signage program in the concourse area seems to be a frosted panel in one of the doors with the name of whatever is inside left see through.  The main building signage program now is the same font, usually white on black, but with a few variants with different color background to fit the area.  

Coming back around to the front, the Greaters ice cream parlor has returned to restored Rookwood Tea Room.  This little dining area is a work of art in itself and usually my last stop of the day.  Across the front, is an alcove with the kiosk for the automated parking program (though any ticket window can also collect parking), ATM, and at times a "Learn CPR" machine has been there.  If it's not here, it also likes to hang out by the lockers on the lower level concourse.   Rounding out the Rotunda tour is the older large elevator, now dubbed the Express Elevator to make it clear that it does not serve the Mezzanine level, whereas the new one does, then the newly relocated Public Safety office where the Collector's Shop was.  

Continuing back from the rotunda you come to the former Checking Lobby.  Step around the stairway down in the center of this passage.  Don't blame the museums for this, I think this used to be where the shopping mall people had an escalator.  This gives access to parts of the lower levels that aren't accessible by the elevators, escalators and stairs in the front.  The organ console has returned to its glass box at the top of the stairs, and I am eager to hear of any upcoming organ concerts.  On the north side, not much has changed functionally.. Restored yes, but functionally the same.  A hallway leads back to the Presidents Office Suite. A subtle change is I think the doors to the hallway are no longer frosted, so you can see back the hall, and they have been turned around so they now open out into the concourse.  The main feature on the north side is the auditorium, and a vending room in the auditorium lobby.  One disappointment was before the renovation the vending machines in this room were priced to say train station prices, and might have been mainly for the Amtrak customers. I always did wonder why I could get a Coke from a machine for $1.50 that was $3 at the snack bar.  That loophole has, sadly, been closed.  

Going back further to the west, you come to the Amtrak strain station.  It's the ultimate case of full-cycle recycling: Train Station -> Shopping Mall -> Museum Center -> Train Station.  Yeah, its very limited service, at crappy hours, but the room they gave Amtrak to use still has train motif wall coverings, and while the furnishings look a bit more modern, the room still screams 1930's Right down to access to the only boarding ramp left after the main concourse was mostly destroyed.  

The Omnimax theater remains at the end of the concourse sporting new seating, and a new all digital system.  Don't worry, they did digitize their (in)famous (depending on your point of view) light tunnel opening.  Returning back the other side of the hall is the Corbett Gallery, a seemingly seldom used expo hall, but I did notice the temporary stanchions for the Omnimax have been slightly repositioned so this area is now accessible.  The major change in the area is to the restrooms.  You see as I said the north side has the auditorium, and the south side has had the restrooms.  There is also an alcove hallway leading off in each of the corners.  In the north east corner is the hall to the Presidents's Office, the north west has an elevator, from which the public can access the ADA entrance for the Omnimax, or Tower A. (when open).  In the past the south east corner had the men's room, elevator to the lower level back areas (the same areas served by the center stairwell) and the locker room, and the south west corner had the women's room. The former bag claim windows are now show windows advertising current and future attractions and showing some of the stuff you could buy in the gift shop.  Even before a hallway had been cut into the center of this space, that goes to a mystery room which I believe is the storage area for all the banquet equipment when not setup for functions in the rotunda. 

What they have done is move the restroom entrances so both the men's and women's rooms now enter off this center hallway.  The rest of the hallway is lined with lockers.  So now the wouth west corner hall would seem to go nowhere, and the former locker room in the south east has been replaced with family bathrooms. Also as part of the visual cues, the floor and walls around the entrances to the rest room areas are now green, makes them easy to spot from a distance.  

That's the main floor, so lets ride the escalator down to the mezzanine.  Before the renovation there wasn't much to do on the mezzanine level from this point of entry.  You would get to the boom of the escalator, take a long winding walkway to, the top of the escalator or staris to the lower level.  Oh, ok, you could look into the woods part of the Children's Museum via overlook    Now things are much different here.  While you can still do everything you could before, now on the mezzanine level, there  is a lot more to do.  (depending on what is open when you visit)  The are is full of special event spaces.  The big wooden door in front slides open to reveal the Fountain Gallery (this is where Holiday Junction is located), turn around and go up a couple steps (or short elevator ride) to get access to two more special exhibit areas, as well as a hallway that may lead to the facilities classrooms.  The Natural History museums main classroom/lab also has an access point here.  In addition there is a set of restrooms here, and be sure to check out the numbered pole.  They have left some of the support columns and walls in this area unfinished so you can see the original.  According to the signage, much of the underground area that now contains the museums was once a parking garage.   

Not to be disjointed, but speaking of public ares of the mezzanine, if you take the back stairs or elevator to the mezzanine, you come to a foyer for the Historical Society Library, the Holocaust and Humanities Museum, a special event room, AND two more mosaics that a lot of people may not know are down here, and you can get a close view of these two.  It also has stairs down to the lower level back entrance of the main Exhibition Hall.  A long time ago, the idea was the Exhibition Hall could float between museums by way of twin ramps and how you lock/unlock doors at the top of said ramps.  At the time the idea was if the Museum Center wanted to stage an exhibition completely independent of the museums, access could be obtained by locking off both ramps, and sending people down the back stairs. That all came to an end when they added their third major museum tenant, the Children's Museum.  That was when the front elevator, escalator and stairs were installed, leading down to a new lower level concourse that served both the new Children's Museum, and by way of even more special exhibit galleries the main Exhibition Hall.  I don't think they have sent people down the back stairs since.  The event rooms on the lower level, as I mentioned are modular and can be reconfigured, allowing them to bring in even larger exhibitions than the mail hall would allow.  It's not uncommon for an exhibition to start by going through some of the smaller rooms, then leading people to the ramp up to the main hall, through the main hall, down the other ramp, to wind through more of the special event rooms.  (Usually the last of which is a gift shop)

This lower level concourse received many upgrades.  For starters, all three museums included in the core Discovery Pass can now be accessed via the lower level concourse.  (This wasn't quite the case until the Neil Armstrong Galley opened up in the Natural History and Science Museum), so it really has made a new traffic flow.  Guests can now wind they way through one of the two original museums from the top down, then take in the main traveling feature in the Exhibition Hall or let the ids have some fun and blow off energy in the Children's museum.  Perhaps grab a refreshment, then tackle the other museum from the bottom up, finishing at the rotunda. 

To support this the restrooms on this floor were expanded (and there was MUCH rejoicing!, particularly when those were the only public restrooms in the whole place during the renovation. But this had a cascading effect.  Moving the restrooms to the very end of the hall meant the entry way for the Exhibition Hall could be expanded.  They almost always used a relaxed timed ticket system for their traveling shows.  Meaning if its busy, come at your time, if its a slow day, they may be lenient and let you in whenever. They used to stage two upcoming groups in the childrens museum lobby, then after one group was admitted, one of the staging areas was emptied into the cramped hallway, made even more cramped  by a rope down the middle maintaining access to the tiny restrooms, and even worse when the exhibit was configured to exit out the same doors it entered. Now the new found area by moving the restrooms and perhaps losing a closet or some such, has been turned into a holding room off the main hall, configured to hold two groups, have a ticket check podium, and a exit lane if the configuration warrants.  Losing the staging area in front of the Children's Museum has meant they have added a new seating area, kept the supposedly temporary refreshment stand they had during renovations, and replace on of the former special exhibit rooms with Bean Sprouts, which a healthy conscience food option (don't expect sodas or french fries at that stand).  Additional lockers are also in this area.

Ok, Ok, I hear you, this short report is now almost as long as reading the Harry Potter septology, and I haven't talked about one museum artifact yet.  Lay of the land is important, and as I said I consdier the building itself to be an architectural masterpiece.  

Let's continue with the Core Museums.  Warning up front, not everything is going to be rosey from this point forward, I realize they are reopening in phases, but they are taking their own sweet time about it, and a lot of the former content was removed and not replaced.  Then again, I sometimes think the Gilbert Ave museum was the best version.  

Museum of Natural History and Science (and when did it add on the Science moniker)

Entered via the main concourse to the north between the gift shop and Graeters, or the north end of the lower concourse by the Exhibition Hall.  

Let's start up top. As you may know, each side wing of the terminal has three bays (originally thought to be streetcars, busses, and taxis), with four ramps leading down from the concourse.  Each side also has a stairway down to the street below (used only as emergency exits, as far as I know), as well as an elevator that is internal to just that museums galleries.   As I mentioned before the gift shop is also overflowing into this area up top.  This has led to a subtle move of the ticket check point back closer to the ramps and some portable stanchions.  The core museums main checkpoints have also been redone in the same black and orange design of the main ticket booth, bringing another visual cue and unifying the look.  With a day ticket be sure to hold onto your ticket stub, as you will need to show it at every ticket checkpoint.  Members need to dig out their membership card and ID every time.  At least they now allow members to get handstamped so they don't have to get all their customs documents ready for every checkpoint.  

So lets start with the front most bay.  This one in the prior version had a few seemingly random items, but amongst them was the polar bear that had greeted visitors since Gilbert Ave and maybe before, a totem pole, and the Nature's Trading Post, a unique stand that allows (mainly children) to bring in items (within certain critiera) that they find out in nature, perhaps get some information on their find from the trader, and trade it for something else.  I understand this program is popular so it was moved to the Children's Museum during the renovation downtime and has remained there since.  At the bottom of the ramp flanking the doors to the mezzanine level were admittedly antique exhibits that tie straight to my childhood.  One was a large rock you tried to lift with a fulcrum lever, and the other was a rattlesnake that would rattle when you pressed the button.  By the time this piece arrived at Union Terminal it was past its prime and the interpretive sign even lampshaded this by not labeling the object a rattlesnake but instead something like "This is an early example of an interactive exhibit"

So what replaced these items?  Dinosaur Hall.  At least 4 large scale dino skeletons dominate the area.  Video screens givr wsy to more information, and telescopes with signage are locked onto a particular feature.  Having trouble finding the feature of the dino skeleton they are pointing out? Press the button to activate a laser pointer.  Then there are the tables of small fossils, instead of magnifying glasses which would be the traditional way of handling this, they give you a camera (hidden inside a vacuum tube), and the fossil or other item you point the camera at is magnifed on a nearby monitor..  The area is also one of the first in the museum to incorporate braille and raised print signage, and even cast metal portions of dinosaur skeletons where the signs tell you "PLEASE TOUCH!" which allows a visually impaired person to feel around a model of the item.  It's a well done exhibit that screams natural history museum, and placed right up front.

Turning to Bay 2, the center bay.  Recall this area used to hold "All About Me" a tour of the human anatomy aimed at the younger set.  (Who remembers Dr. Digesto, where they tried to illustrate the digestive system using a one-of-a-kind pinball machine.  I don't think Dr. Digesto made it to end of All About Me's life.) a small bit of this content has moved to Children's Museum in the form of the dentist office (and the giant teeth), but for the most part, its gone.  The other half of center bay, and ending at the back bay was "Pathways to Change" a trip through time with a conservation theme. It too has been lost with no apparent replacement. So, what is in this area now? An exhibit titled "Phyisics Interactives"  The "All About Me" area is now a stage show on based on science, and the rest, as you can guess, is a collection of hands on exhibits that demonstrate various physics properties.  Popular is one where they givee you one of those old fashioned conical paper drinking cups, and give you some ideas on how to tear and fold it to get the best flight out of it, and then provide a wind tunnel to test out your attempt. Another is the tornado simulator (which unlike at other attractions does not charge money), or the unfair Tug of War.  (Hint two ropes connected to a central pole, on one side the rope is tied to the very bottom of the pole, on the other side its tied to a point halfway up.) , or one where you drop a bowling ball in a closed tube such that the forced air causes a tennis ball to almost hit the ceiling.  Other stuff like that.  

In the third bay, which before was the end of "Pathways to Change", they have an extra charge VR experience ($6), on something called a Birdley, which is like being a flying dinosaur.  VR headet, fan in your face, you lay down on a base shaped like a bird, to fly you have to use your hands to flap the birds wings.  This was where the science stage show is now, so its a bit disjointed from the rest of the dinosaur exhibit.  Oh and a kids play area and sandbox used to be here.

Continuing down to the mezzanine level, was "Earth Stories"  In its first incarnation it was presented as a show, where you were held at the doors and allowed in as a grop and told to gather around the first display case.  As the show went on the case you were at would go dark and the next set would light up prompting you to move ahead to the next set.  Towards the end the lights were all kept lit, and each set was activated on demand by push button.  Okay, the intended purpose of this was to teach the visitor about the museum process all the way from archeological dig to museum display.  After showing a couple items in the first case it focused in on an Indian arrowhead, which it would follow through the excavation, research and preservation process.  That was on one level, on another level, the figures and sets were recycled from the "Indian Trail" that was at the Gilbert Ave. facility.  Maybe not the most PC exhibit.  

It was at this point, on that first visit in April that I had a "They changed it, this SUCKS" moment.  Polar Bear, gone, Rattlesnake, gone, large rock fulcrum, gone, Indian Trail gone.  (And even though I haven't gotten there yet, Ice Age - which in large part recycled the Wilderness Trail from Gilbert Ave, has not yet returned, it was at one time promised to return, but I haven't heard much buzz in this regard, so for now Wilderness Trail, Gone!.  It's like they did a Temple of Doom on my heart!  Ok, lets take every last nostalgic childhood memory of the museum I grew up with, and throw it away!  No, I still have not gotten over losing the Planetarium, and that was what 30 years ago!!

Ok, let's calm down and continue our tour.  At the doors to the mezzanine level, they have really neat spherical television, find the control panel and you can view what is believed to be the way the Earth looked at that given point in time.  OK, that's kind of cool.  The hallway, however where Earth Stories is now just a hallway.  Classrooms and labs line the right hand wall, and for lack of a more dignified term, a display case of assorted museum stuff is mounted to the left hand wall.  

Down the steps at the U turn and you get to the larger event room/ lab (the one you can get to from the common area part of the mezzanine) and an overlook into a lab.  

The preserved rhino guards the way further and you may be startled if you set off the recording of it's story.  A special exhibit gallery is to the right, and straight ahead where the space items were are the stairs and a new elevator down to the Neil Armstrong Gallery.  If i recall right, the mummy and mummy case were where that small exhibit gallery is now, they are currently residing up against the back wall of the Cave foyer where the entrance to Ice Age was.  I do note the back wall looks rather temporary so perhaps one day.

The bat cage has moved to space of prominence in the center of the Cave lobby, behind which is an exhibit about Mommoth Cave.  The cave itself is mostly how it was.  The poles to check visitor girth entering the advanced path are gone.  Yes, the cave still has two paths the "Beginner" (read ADA path) and "Advanced"  Formerly the upper ADA path utilized windows to look down on the feature parts of the lower path.  These windows have been replaced with railings, which should help improve the view.  Both paths manage to show the same content.  The time I visited with family we had a lengthy debate over which Cave was better Gilbert or this one.  Another safety enhancement was replacing the solid exit doors at the end of the cave with open grate doors (with plexiglass on them so you can't just reach inside and open it)  They even managed to theme this by having an interpretive sign on the outside of the exit doors explaining how grates are used to seal off cave entrances to keep tresspassers out, while still allowing small animals access. 

Now for the totally new, the Neil Armstrong Gallery.  Either down the stairs (with a mission control mural), or via the main stairway from the mezzanine or by either internal elevator, or by the lower lever entrance..  The main feature his a movie in the round that takes place in, you guessed it, a round room.  This would be what Disney would call Circlevision 360.  Except its their own take on it.  The main movie screen is not 360, its close but there are three gaps for the entry/exit points, in addition in front of each wall panel, there is a floor panel that is part of the projection show, and even the sphere in the center of the room gets in on the act being either the Earth or the Moon,.  Continuous showings run all day, just a couple minutes break between each.  You may want to watch thrice to see it from the viewpoint of each screen as they are sometimes the same, but they are usually different,.  Unlike the Disney setup the orb in the center of the room ensures that you just can't see the whole thing from anywhere in the theatre, in fact I think the best place to watch is in the entryways.  I think the orb effect is lost on a lot of people who may think it a back rest for a bench. There is a ledge around the orb right at the proper height.  I don't know if its meant to be a bench but that's what it gets used for.,  Oh and children playing on the floor panels.  I sometimes wonder if audience instruction is needed.  The presentation tells the story of flight and as you may expect goes up to an includes the Apollo 11 mission.  In fact, given what is in the Exhibition Hall right now, and the OmniMax, two of the three screens are now plugging those attractions while the third is showing the usual mission control "Countdown to next showing".  

Outside the round chamber are exhibits like a piece of moon rock, complete with a "Feel it" model (Inside a dark hole for extra creepiness.).  A jacket, snoopy cap, and spacesuit round out the artifacts (ok, if you look close, they do admit the spacesuit is a replica)  Interactive stations provide "Be a flight captain" - make critical decisions under time stress, see if you made right call, and a fun little interactive that puts your head inside a snoopy cap and spacesuit photo op.  It even sends you a digital download, for free.  

Cincinnati Historical Society Museum

Again, lets go top-down.  

Before the front bay housed Cincinnati In Motion, a wonderfully detailed an accurate model city.  The main downtown 1940's set is intact, and even running it's day/night modes. Be sure to play the scavenger hunt of the month.  Other parts are slowly coming on line.  Such as Riverboat Row (Covington) is now setup, along the second ramp from the left they are working on Mt. Adams.

At the bottom of the ramp, Union Terminal is mostly done, and they are now working on Music Hall/ Washington Park and that area. In the back you can see the Incline District, Crosley Field taking shape.  The workshop being in full view of the guests.  At the bottom, but still not rebuilt are the Lunken Airport and Coney Island sets.  I'm eager for them to finish Mt. Adams so that A) maybe the incline model will ride again, and B) that ramp can reopen, its been closed since at least August, and hat blocks visibility to a huge chunk of main Downtown.

In the center bay, "Cincinnati Goes to War" - which was a locally based exhibit on World War II is gone, replaced by the Transportation Gallery.  This is really a mismatch of odds and ends.  They have a milling machine or two from Cincinnati Milacron which may have been used in "Cincinnati Goes to War", or may have been in the industrial equipment exhibit at the end of the musem.  The crosley car that was at the end of Cincinnati Goes to War is here, as well as the streetcar.  They no longer allow you to board the streetcar, but I can see why, just out of item preservation.  Anyway, I got to ride its twin up in Maine a few years ago.  An old bike, a depot hack round out the odds and ends.  The back bay is currently unused and blocked off.  

Now we come to the "Rip my heart out" part here.  In the past at this time you would enter a long walk through taking you from the settling of the are up to 1865.  Old flags, a typical cabin, the creepy talking busts , the exhibit showing how canals and locks work, the flatboard boat you would walk through, then there an interactive showing how the same wood would then become a house.  (and much more I'm sure), ending up with you stepping out onto the public landing of 1865.  Well take all that before the public landing and threw it away.  After seeing Holiday Junction I think it's safe to say never to return in that format, as Holiday Junction is, I believe, taking up that exhibits old space.  Which means they can leave Holiday Junction setup all year, just block it off.  I'm sure its better on the historical train sets to not be moved every year.  

So, now we come to a big disjointed part.  You can either make your way to the internal elevator or down the long stairway all the way to the lower level. I prefer to see the stuff up in the wing, exit the top exit the way I came in, ride the escalator down, and re-enter through the lower level entrance.  

In the lower level lobby you see at least one more mosaic, and a carriage.  The area also has displays of things to come.  You peek in on their classroom areas, before entering the public landing.  Most times a year you now enter and exit the Public Landing through the "church" on the riverside road.  DurignngHoliday Junction, you can enter through the women's wear shop just like how you used to enter the Public Landing.

The area largely remains the same, I think the interactives have been expanded on.  The market stall in front of the markteplace, the beer hall is open (no, they don't serve beer here, but in family fun they have little aprons and you children can pretend to be bartenders and servers)  The area explains how beer halls were  a big part of 1860's social life (and I look at craft breweries and I think we are coming full circle on that again)  The area also has pub games, and be sure to look in the beer mugs, there is trivia in them there mugs.  The print shop is now an interactive, I want to say it was either a gift shop or closed before, but now you can try setting type the old fashioned way.  The pharmacy is still open, and I note the street curb, it used to be a tep on one side and ramp on the other, A carefully placed barrel blocks the stair.  Lastly the photography studio is open with a unique (also free) selfie opportunity.  But be sure the check out the signs and notes in the area.  Look at everything, do the scavenger hunt on the riverboat.  

Children's Museum

Ok, generally the Children's Museum has a "You must have a child" to enter policy, and given the craziness that is society today, that is an understandable  So, I took the opportunity to attend one of the Curiocities evenings.  CurioCities is a 21 and over series.  They are essentially cocktail parties that take place in the museum.  It's in a different gallery every time, so check that schedule. So for the Children's Museum's 21st birthday, they gave it a cocktail party. These do come with an extra charge and are held in the evening after the rest of the museum center has closed, so don't plan on combining this with anything else.  

In this case in the lower level lobby they had a stand setup selling small plates. In this case based on snacks you may have been served as a child, like Bagel Bites pizzas and a cash bar.  Another cash bar was in the center of the Children's museum which is startling both for its location, and because the museums are generally food/drink free.  Some cocktail tables and party favors lined the entryway. 

Enough of that, I'm here to look around.  Starting from the entryway and working clockwise, first is the energy zone. Make your way into the netted off ball cage.  From here the goal is to get the balls into the center hopper using a variety of wacky methods that may involve biking, a treadmill, an air cannon, vacuum tubes, and more.  Just be alert for the alarms and lights that signal when the big hopper in the center is going to open and shower balls down on those below.  

Continuing on, is Kids Town, this is a neat play town.  Its got a vet, a grocery, house, diner, post office, metro bus, and more for kids to act like adults.  In the grocery store, for example the cash register and barcode scanner really work.Next up is a construction area with a crane, and arch shaped blocks (large and padded), It would take teamwork to the the arch built. 

Then comes the dental office with the largest set of teeth you have seen.  Around in the back corner is a more secluded arts and crafts area.  On the other side of the entryway is the Natures' Trading Post I mentioned earlier, a kids farm area, a giant water table for water play. Going this was the big feature is the Woods.  Yes you could just walk through the woods, but if you look there are stairs and other means to climb up into the trees and walk around up above like being in a treehouse or a network of tree houses.  This is the area that is visible from the mezzanine overlook.

This ends the core museums part, and what is generally included in your $14.50 discovery pass.

Building Tour

Available on weekends in the afternoon on the hour.  - FREE

A docent led tour.  Generally you meet just outside the entry way to the Historical Society museum, and make your way into the Newsreel theater for the opening lecture.  This presentation gives the history of the building from what a union terminal is, to why it was build, construction, the war years, and finally its closure as a union terminal.  From there yuo go up to the rotunda catwalk (this part, to my knowledge is not ADA accessible)  From there you get an up close view of the light fixtures and the inside of the front window, or actually the inner front window, there are two layers offset.  From there they show the two main mosaics and explain how traffic flow would have been through the building in its prime.  One docent pointed out how advanced their planning was when you think about it, if you arrived by bus or taxi (the streetcar line was never installed), you unloaded inside the building in the curved wing area, meaning you and your baggage never go outside, then there were ramps, not stairs up tot he concourse.  You entered via the north doorways, and made a right turn and you came to the ticketing office, continue along that wall you came to the baggage drop, and then to the main waiting and boarding areas.  Boarding was also down a ramp.  (So ADA compliant in the 1930's)  If you were arriving, as you left the main concourse, the bag claim was on the right, and then the snack windows were on the right to grab a bite, then you left, yes to the right down the south ramps to get into a bus or taxi.  They also explain how this upper catwalk was used as a nursery during the war years.  Busy terminal, restricted access gave a safe place for the families of soldiers to let their child rest while waiting.  

The tour continues by showing off the Rookwood Tea Room (which was the USO lounge during the war years), you continue across the rotunda, and then the feautre of the tour the Presidential Offices.  The woodwork and furnishings in these rooms is just spectacular.  You visit the secretaries office, then go through the president's office, then the board room, and the waiting room.  

From the presidential suite, you take a quick look into the Amtrak waiting room, which was the men's lounge back in the day, and see the details that still remain.  Sadly the former women's lounge was not maintained and could not be restored.  But that gives them a special event room.  The tour ends by showing off the dining room and the formal dining room.  Unless you attend a private event, or take a train, the tour is the only way to see the President's office, Amtrak station or formal dining room. 

Holocaust and Humanities Museum

This is the newest museum of the complex and is hidden down the back stairs.  It is not included in the admission and as a stand alone is $10, but you can add it on to a Discovery Pass for $7.50.

The museum visit starts with a movie, so you have a wait in the lobby until the next show starts.  To pique your interest they have a display in the middle of the bag check concourse and along the stiars down of some of what you will see.  Once admitted you are led to an auditorium for the movie.  The movie sets the stage for what you are about to see, you then exit to the back of the auditorium.  In my case I was the only on in the theater, and as I left the back door, the docent mentioned I was brave to do this alone.  At this point I recalled how immersive some Holocaust museums are, but luckily for me this is not one of those.  

What comes is a series of sets that lead you to life before the holocaust, pointing out that the Jewish people have been persecuted for a longer time than just that, up to a very complex diagram showing how marriages of different races were treated in Germany and how the offspring of each would be treated.  Each set has, not a video like a modern museum would have, but fairly elaborate mechanical animations.  Push the button, things open up, things light up, things move, panels "fly" in and out.  These are a joy to watch, even if the message they are telling is sobering.  They just don't do stuff like this anymore, now they would just film a video, put a monitor there, put it on loop and call it a day. Except these are new and gives a unique feel.  

From there the story just gets worse, as you probably know.  As it goes from putting a fear in the public not to interfere with the bad stuff blatantly going on around them, to the ghettos, to the concentration camps, to the trials after the war.  You then go into a second smaller theater, and the video in this presentation is the purpose of the museum, specifically the growing denial this ever happened, and going into cases how it still happens today.  The ultimate message, are you a bystander or an upstander.  You exit the second theatre to kiosks where you learn about other human rights atrocities before exiting back to the lobby.

Omnimax Movies - these run $9 each, (cheaper for members, next year if I am still visiting as much, I'm going to do the Omnimax add on to my membership).  Movies are generally 45-50 minutes in length and include the (in)famous light tunnel animation before the feature.  Sometimes a preview of comingor other movies is shown.  I think Apollo 11 barely fits in the time slot as it is, so you do get the light tunnel but no previews.  

Seen this year:

Volcanos - Explores the natural phenomenon of the volcano and those that like to explore them for scientific or recreational reasons.  I wound up not particularly liking this one. 

Mummies - This was billed as a companion piece for the Egypt exhibition.  The description sounded dry, but I wound up being very interested in this story of how a great casce of Egyptian artifacts were discovered,  along with the perils and shady dealings along the way.  

Cuba - Don't expect your typical travelogue.  This is a delightful telling of the culture of Cuba without getting into the political side.  Learn about the ever popular ballet, a car culture where the older cars they have are kept running in ingenious ways.  

Apollo 11: First Steps Edition - This is the CNN Apollo 11 movie edited down to museum show length. Fascinating to see on the Omnimax Screen, though it is letter boxed, so its more like IMAX. This goes from the final check off a couple days before the flight, to launch, to the landing on the moon,to the return flight, to the ocean landing.  Ending with JFK's bold challenge to congress.  I liked this one so much I have seen it twice so far, and both times the movie ended to loud applause.  

Special Exhibits:

Egypt - This was a massive exhibition taking up all of the lower level expo space.  You started with animal statues, then a section on the Egyptian gods.  Follow that up with a section on hiroglyphics as illustrated by a replica section of the Rosetta stone, video presentations, and even a draw your own interactive exercise where you took a stylus and drew on a monitor as you followed the illustration above.  From there into the main exhibition hall, where they had large scale models of palaces, temples and more. A control panel would let you light up the entire display or point out just one particular feature.  On the temple one, you could start a light animation depicting the flow of people and a ceremony.  Past some items of daily living and another large wooden model where if you noticed the part lit up on the model was exactly what the animation was showing on the walls.  I also liked how in some cases where only a shard of something remained, its display surrounded it by a drawing or picture of what the whole item may have looked like, so you could see it in context. Towards the end you get to burial practices, a full scale model tomb, elaborately painted, a model of a pyramid, burial containers.  Perhaps the most fascinating piece was the final room.  In it was a pyramid shaped glass case with benches around it.  Take a seat a mummy case would rise up out of the floor of the case, they even animated it to look like a little door opened.  Then the mummy case opened, and the mummy lifted out, then the mummy case disappeared, then the wrappings disappeared and so on until just the skeleton remained,  All the while it is floating around so that all four sides get a good view, then the process repeats itself in reverse.  I stood up and walked around it, and the effect held.  Its almost like holographic cinema, though I noted on the sign they stopped just short of calling it such.  Then, of course, its exit through the gift shop.

Destination Moon - in size a smaller exhibition, but it dovetails nicely with the Neil Armstrong gallery right next door.  Let's be honest here, you came to see the command module, and when you get into the expo hall thats what people flock to.  Along the way are some smaller items, flight plans, his watch, helmet and gloves.  The barriers are much closer to the module than I would have expected, allowing one to get close and really look it over.  To the side banks of kiosks allow you a guided virtual tour with annotations, zoom in and pan and tilt abilities, just like you were looking at the real thing. I heard some people snark "Why are you fascinated by the VR simulation, when you can walk 10 feet and look at the real thing"  Well, the VR presentation really lets you know what to look for when you look at the real thing, and what you are looking at.  They also had a model of the Saturn, a video of JFK's challenge speeches.  The other half of the room was a photo gallery full to the brim of lunar photos.  The area includes a small gift shop, and the plush Saturn rockets are so cute, yet I did resist buying one.  

Through the year they also had an art show showcasing their sister property in Appalachia, an exhibit of soldier photos and other items telling of what looks like military shows and displays, these were held in the small rooms on the Mezzanine.  On the lower level, since Appollo 11 doesn't take up the whole expo hall, the front half of the main special events area is housing an art gallery, where the theme is birds.  Tucked into a small corner of this exhibit is a meta exhibit on the history of the musems.  I never realized how much they moved around the city until it finally settled down into the Gilbert Ave. facility.  

1940s Day 

The traffic circle out front is loaded with 1940s vehicles both civilian and military in nature, there ws a warbird fly over.  On the inside, folks were dressed in their 1940's finest, and the formal dining room was alive with  he sounds and dancing of the era.  Presentations filled the special event rooms ranging from the USO, to codebreaking and the Enigma machine, to holocaust survival testimonials.  In the rotunda one could put on a VR headset and actually walk around the terminal as it was in the 1940's all the way the concourse that no longer exists.   Detail so great you could read the writing on the departure signs.  

Holiday Junction -

The main part accessed through the Fountain Gallery requires a Discovery Pass.  Upon entering a light tunnel covers the ramp down into the area.  At the bottom of the ramp, there he is, our Polar Bear has returned!!!  Christmas Trees, snowmen (which kids can decorate) fill the cneeter of the room, and train layouts fill the sides.  From a Thomas the Tank layout in an alpine village complete with cable cars, to a layout that goes up over your head, to a train ride for children ($1). Also in the area are exhibits of railroad/train related artifacts in an attempt to give a historical side to the presentation.  Continuing into the next room and down the long ramp. I remember this ramp, it the one you would have come to halfway through the Cincinnati to 1860 exhibit.  At the bottom is our feature, the Duke Energy Trains.   As the story goes ever since the 1940's this train layout had been on display in the lobby of Cincinnati Gas And Electric (now Duke), and as most locals know, was a cherished holiday tradition until 2011 when Duke decided not to do it anymore.  Lucky for us they gifted the display to the museum center.  So here in all its glory is that famous train layout.  Along with it is a Lionel set from the 1950's, an early train model (labeled as being from 1904, still in working order, and some more train era artifacts. Exit is through the gift shop which sends you through the Women's Clothing shop of Public Landing.  

But wait, there's more!  Follow the Lego signs to the one of the mezzanine level galleries for a room filled with elaborate Lego layouts assembled by local (and maybe not so local) Lego fan groups.  Everything from realistic to fantasy is depicted.   In an adjacent nook are tables and Legos to play with on your own.  A more cynical me would say this free exhibit is an elaborate walk through Lego commercial. The adjacent special exhibit room is being setup for the traditional photos with Santa area.  

But there is still more!

For the run of Holiday Junction, they have temporarily reopened Tower A for limited hours.  Tower A was the terminals main control tower, and visitors to the tower can see the original track switch map, look out the windows over the still live rail yard, get unqiue views of the city.  The train club that was in this area has not yet returned so the reading room is empty, and most of the stuff they had displayed int he area is not there.  (Hey maybe that's the stuff strewn through Holiday Junction) If you visit Tower A, be warned it is a tower.  It is not ADA compliant, which gave me worries it wouldn't reopen.  Yes, you go up by elevator , but only for the first three floors, you then have 35 more stairs to climb.  

So finally, we come to the end of the report.  Lengthy, I know but hey this is covering eight visits!

 
 










Sunday, May 13, 2012

TR: Kings Island - May 6, 2012

Trip: Kings Island May 6, 2012 Mason, OH “I take back some of the good things I said last time” The second weekend of Kings Island’s season looked a whole lot better than the first. Instead of 50’s and rain, we are looking at 80’s and sun. With that bright outlook, Dave Althoff and I headed back up to the park on Sunday May 6, and arrived shortly after noon. This is our usual arrival time anymore, and it has worked out great as we usually get there just before the church crowd, but after the morning “quick in quick out” crowd has left. This has had the unusual benefit of offering us a close in parking space more often than not. I noted parking is $12 this year, and they handed us a receipt even though we used a parking pass, and the toll collector noted we should hang on to the receipt in case we wanted to leave and return, and to keep it out of the sun. In other words, unlike what most venues want you to do with the parking ticket, and slide it up on your dash. We entered the lot and a sign announced that there would be traffic assistance ahead. Wow, I thought, Kings Island is returning to the day of parking attendants. Well, there was one guy that directed us to use the road that runs along the outer perimeter of the lot instead of the road that goes down the center of the lot, and that was where the traffic assistance ended. A row of cones encouraged us to proceed to the north lot, and we tried our usual tactics of searching the first few rows of general parking for that freshly vacated parking space. Saw a few people heading to their cars for tailgating, but no one leaving, and the lot looked to be pretty busy with a swarm of cars doing much the same thing we are. We head back to the center row, and head to the former Gold Pass parking area, which is no more, and has been returned to general parking. Shame the same thing didn’t happen to the Premium $20 parking lot. The South lot was looing just as bad, but on the outer edge there is a little strip that has been added on where they put tiny 3-4 space wide rows over where the tram path and stops used to be. Not much interest in this tiny lot add on, but with the very faint striping people may not have realized they are spaces, so in the end, yes we scored another decently close parking space. We headed to the front gate, this time coming from the south, so instead of the more congested north side, which contains the ticket office, season pass center, pet kennel, and picnic area (such as it is), the South side is apparently where they allow outside vendors to set up county fair type booths. In the past I gave the park grief for having these kinds of vendors setup inside the park, and when I once again noted how tacky I felt it was for a first class theme park to lower itself to this, Dave did remind me that they aren’t inside the park, so I guess that’s something. It didn’t help that this week’s vendor was Smart Travel, whose reputation on the web is astoundingly bad as a shady time share broker that loves to run dubious contests, such as the one they were running at the park. I ask, this is the kind of organization Cedar Fair would like to associate itself with? We headed into the park, avoided the photo ambush, and soon found our way back to Diamondback. Ugh, let’s see perfect weather day, it should come as no surprise Diamondback had a full queue. The week started off much like last week, where instead of riding rides, we spent time trying to find a ride, any ride that had a short line. Beast, Backlot Stunt Coaster both were sporting long lines, Vortex didn’t look too bad, just a bit longer than the week before, but we weren’t felling it at the moment. Windseeker still isn’t quite ready to run, but it looked in better shape than last week when it had a bunch of tool chests surrounding the ride. We noted the Dinosaur’s Alive area has changed their marketing plan from last year. Last year, the 3D movie component was marketing as an add con companion film to the walk through, and signs dotted the walk through encouraging you to add the movie to your walk through experience for just $2 more. ($4 if purchased separately). This year the 3D movie is free, and is being used to market the walk through. A sign at the top of the path back to the theatre advertised the free 10 minute film, and if you like it, you may want to try the walk through for just $5. Heading up Coney, we noted Dinosaur Alive is still there as well as its themed party area on the pad where Flight Commander once stood. What is missing is the ticket seller for the walk through. A sign directs you to a bank of vending machines to get the tickets for the walk through, or if you prefer the human touch, the Dinosaurs Alive gift shop can sell you the tickets. No interest in the walk through, we headed down the mall and took the obligatory walk back to X-Base, so we could honestly say the rides had long lines, on the order of 90-120 minutes each. The park is clever in the regard and has stocked the photo booths for both Firehawk and Flight of Fear with a supply of Fast Lane wristbands, and if you get up to the main ride entrance and complain about the long line, they direct you to the photo booth at the ride exit where you too can purchase the Fast Lane ticket and skip the regular line for this and many other park attractions. It’s somewhere between marking genius and a blatantly tacky money grab. We opted to not upgrade to Fast Lane but noted the booths seemed to be doing a brisk business in selling the wristbands. We continued around the park until we found ourselves in Oktoberfest. The Coca cola Market has been slightly upgraded with fruit stand looking displays rather than putting the iced produce in repurposed soft drink coolers, and the stand seemed to be doing a good business. We also parked ourselves at the exit of Outer Hank’s Burrito Shack, and noted the serving sizes looked to be quite large. (It’s a Chipotle imitation for $7.50, and may turn out to be a great new food stand for the park. I may even try it some time) We finally headed for our first ride of the day, Adventure Express. It has the benefits of having a short queue area, that is also well shaded. We clocked the wait at about 15 minutes and were soon boarding the front seat of the back car. The ride is seemingly getting some care this year, as the final show lift is the best it has been in years, with them finally fixing that door that never seemed to be closed, letting all the light in. As we headed to the platform, a quick glance caught a look at the log they are using to keep stats on the Fast Lane program. Up until 1 PM – the ride had hosted 16 Fast Lane riders. One of the operational changes Fast Lane has brought to the rides, is the addition of a merge point between the Fast and Main lanes. A side effect of this is they are keeping the platforms mostly clear, letting maybe a train or two worth of riders onto the platform at a time. They have also made the merge staff position a value added position as they also check for rider eligibility, and group riders. All that is missing is a turnstile at the entrance to the station and you would have your typical legacy Cedar Fair park operations. In the case of Adventure Express, Fast Lane riders enter via a new path at the bottom of the exit ramp, which cuts over to the entrance ramp and runs alongside the main entrance for the entire covered section of the queue. The merge is at the station platform where the main line used what was the :Back of train” lane, and Fast Lane uses what was “front of train” From Adventure Express we headed toward Action Zone, where we noted Delirum had a full queue, but Drop Tower had an empty queue, as in the ride was closed. We took the long walk back to Flight Deck, and found the line to be backed up to just about where the original reride gate is. In other words, longer than you would like to wait in, but you’ve come so far you don’t want to turn back. We waited it out, and some time later were passing by the old lower level queue area, and noted the stair chair that was on the stairs from unload to the long disused themed portion of the queue has been removed, and that some minor theming has returned in the form of the model jet fighters that had disappeared a few years ago, leaving an empty mounting stand in the queue area The model jet fighters are flanked by some model warheads, and the model base and fencing behind the display is camouflaged in well camouflage netting. A United States flag completes the scene and serves as a backdrop. Up on the upper level, aircraft carrier style landing stripes have been applied to both the brake run and station areas. Who would think that Cedar Fair is doing a better job with the theming of this ride than Paramount did in their later years. A ride in the front seat of the back car soon followed, and we received the usual fun but short ride. One oddity is that it did not get the Fast Lane treatment. The other Action Zone rides were, for the most part, part of the former Gold Pass Speed Lane, which means the second line was already there for Delirum and Drop Tower. Delirium Fast Lane path runs right alongside the main path, except it doesn’t go through the switchbacks, and merges at the seat assigner. Drop Tower has a short entry lane next to the main entrance that leads to a second gate just before the main line goes into the main queue house. I’m not sure what they did for Congo Falls, and Invertigo got a brand new path that cuts through the yard underneath the rides cobra roll through a fabric covered tunnel to join up right at the boarding platform., Then we had the long walk back to International Street. On the way, Dave spotted something interesting at the Ice Cream Zone Recall, in last week’s trip report we told the story of wanting to try their new upgraded hot pretzel product, Bavarian Pretzels, and we concluded that they may indeed by great pretzels if not for the fact they were served not only merely warm, but tending towards cold. The Bavarian pretzel is actually made by the same people that make the more common Super Pretzel. The difference is that instead of the all too perfect tubular cross section of the super pretzel that makes it look like a machine made pretzel, the Bavarian Pretzel claims to look and taste more like what one would get in Bavaria. To that end the bottom is much mulkier in terms of being more solid and it looks more homemade, even if it isn’t. As we said, it may be a great pretzel if they start to serve it hot, or at least give us access to a microwave. Of course, we are being nice, in that both of us have had the privilege of going to Bavaria, and enjoying pretzels in Bavaria, and knowing exactly what they should be like. While these, serving temperature aside, come close, they still aren’t quite there. It’s something about the dough, texture and the salt that differ from the genuine article. You may have noticed me commenting a lot on the food, and that is with great reason as the park is embarking on a campaign to improve food service. It seems that, as of late, the parks answer to new food product had been to either bring in an outside vendor, or obtain the franchise rights for either a local or national chain restaurant. While this is good in that people pretty much know what they are going to get, and with the local flair options (LaRosas, Skyline, and Graeters) tourists can sample some of the local favorites. (Though for the first two, they would do better to find a location outside the park), its bad in that people know pretty much what these products should cost, which makes the usual park markups stand out that much more. This year they are rolling out several food initiatives, some of which I have already mentioned in this report. The big news is the Outer Hanks Burrito Shack, which is the park’s take on the trendy and popular Chipotle concept. We haven’t tried it yet, but it looks great. Right across from that stand is the new Coca Cola Market, which as I may have already said is a fruit and salad stand much like those seen at those big Florida theme parks. This I have tried, and it seems to be a big hit. Upgrading to the Bavarian Pretzel, and be assured they have put a Bavarian pretzel stand anywhere they could fit a display case, is another example, as is going to another trendy item, the “Fresh never frozen” hamburger, which along with ‘gourmet’ toppings has taken over at the parks three major hamburger stands (Stunt Crew Grill, Festhaus, and Juke Box Diner) . Is it just me or has the hamburger even replaced the hot dog as the typical park meal, let alone Bratwurst and Mettwurst, which seem to sell exceedingly well at every major venue in Cincinnati except Kings Island, which is not too shocking given the towns big German heritage. Part of that is the availability of brats, we ran into a park food services director last week, and he told us they would be available at Soak City, but as of now not available in the ride park. Just this week, the park installed a Freestyle Coke machine in the Burrito Shack, and that’s only a small part of what the park has done with soft drinks. Dave mentioned to me that the park made an announcement regarding rolling back the pricing on soft drinks. Which is true, the 20 ounce bottles in the machines and shops went from $4 opening weekend to $3.50 this weekend. Not quite as low as I’d like, but it’s a step in the right direction. Looking at fountain drinks, it looks like the price on a regular may have gone down about 20-30 cents. But Dave pointed out the myriad of options available with the souvenir container program. I can’t really call it a cup, as its more of a beverage vessel, with a 44 ounce capacity, and shaped more like a thermos or giant bottle. It seems you can pay $9.99 to buy one of these, and it comes with a fountain drink. Okay, not a great deal, but you can have these refilled for $1.99, which is a great deal. Better yet, for an extra $5 on the day of purchase only, you can have unlimited refills. Now, this just may bring drinking soft drinks in the park down to a reasonable level. Take your typical family of four. One round of drinks would cost the family $14 (bottles or regular size fountain drinks), for just one dollar more, the family can buy the souvenir jug for $9.99, put a $5 refill program on it, and for $15 that family can have all the soft drinks they can stand. They only need to figure out a way to get cups into the park. OR, just get the free water cups. Sure they are small, but with 4 people involved that 44oz jug comes out to 11 oz a person, perhaps two of those tiny medicine cups full of coke each. At any rate, it caps the families expense on soft drinks to a set limit, and the get to take a souvenir home with them, all for $15. Of course, I’d still rather have the $10 wirstband drink program they offered a couple seasons ago, as then you don’t have to tote around the big jug, which is nice when you are alone, or with just one other person, both of whom are riding. We headed up to International Street, and noticed the name of the show in the Kings Island Theater, something about magic and mayhem, and we noted that sounds more like something for haunt. Speaking of Haunt our next stop was Boo Blasters, but not before noticing the park took out the big planters in the middle of International Street outside of LaRosas and Skyline which really opens up those two areas for more seating. Boo Blasters had a Gold Pass Speed Lane entry so that is used for Fast Lane and runs alongside the main line, except again, for skipping the switchbacks, and merges right before the final turn of the queue. The ride had a full queue house and the line was just past the drawbridge, the sign was posting 30 minutes, but then it should be a Scare Conditioned line. The ride safety sign claims the cars can seat 5, say what? At any rate they only have three Boo Blasters per car. The good news is most of the stunts are working, well except for the simple looking one where the skeleton is chasing the guy in circles, and the mist screen projection. The mist screen was there, just not the projection. The cars seemed to be moving slower than usual, which caused some timing issues in the skeleton rooms at the end, but did allow us to get higher than average scores. Our car didn’t have any audio from the Boo Blasters, but on the other hand they were more accurate and functionally were better than average. As Shaggy would have said, “Try to hit the targets Dead On!” From Boo Blasters we went to Woodstock Express, another coaster which did not get Fast Lane. The Express must come from the tire launch out of the station. The queue for this classic PTC junior coaster was about 2/3 full, and for reasons I won’t get into seemed to be taking longer than it should have. Still, the park seemed to have done some trackwork on its wood coasters this off season, and Woodstock Express is running great, so great, that perhaps they could consider getting rid of the mid course trim brake, which is not installed on 3 identical coasters the chain operates. From Woodstock Express, we headed to Surf Dog. Surf Dog got a new Fast Lane path that cuts right through the infield between the main queue and the loading area, via a new stairway. You may recall the ride had two loading gates, of which it only used 1 the last couple seasons. Now Fast lane goes to one gate, and the main line to the other. All told, up to now Fast Lane really hasn’t been an issue. We saw 3 or 4 families come up for Fast Lane during our wait for this ride, and maybe 1 or 2 families for Boo Blasters. We were particularly lucky that there was no one for Fast Lane when it was out turn as we were destined to the first people loaded on a cycle, which meant we got end seats in Row 1, an outer row, which means we got the best Surf Dog has to offer. When you sit here it’s a great ride, the center of rows 3 or 4, not so much. From Surf Dog, we noted the water maze was closed, and more or less skipped the area with Flying Ace, Race for your Life Charlie Brown, and the Kite Flyer, and headed back to Diamondback, Ugh, still a full queue. We’ll try again later. We did not that as part of the new food program, the Snake Pit seemed to be doing a good job at selling its new Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. I just wonder if that stand will be too small to meet the demand. We were approached the train just as it was arriving, so we took a no wait ride on the train. We had a much better narrator this week, and I noted some work has been done on the western town scene. It’s minor work, but at least they are doing something with it. One of the new businesses in town is the mortuary “You Stab Em, We Slab Em” I did a double take when I actually saw that on the sign for the mortuary. From the train, we noted the former site of the Crypt, and that a photo booth has been placed blocking the path up to the ride. We headed towards Beast but it was sporting at least an hour wait and a full looking queue. I noted the portable merchandise cart sitting outside the ride was offering Fast Lane wristbands for sale.. We did take a walk through the arcade, and at first I commented “The prices on the games really look reasonable” Then, I noticed the price of game tokens has gone up to 50 cents. In Rivertown, Fast Lane is using the former single rider line for Diamondback, I would presume Race for Your Life is using the former Gold Pass entrance, Beast is curious as they redid the queue after discontinuing Gold Pass Speed Lane. So Beast is a real weird one, you go about halfway up the exit ramp, to just before the three wooden ramps up to the unload deck, then the signs direct you through what was a service gate, where you walk along what was a service path, which ultimately leads you to a staircase and you enter the platform through a gate by the back seat lane. Similar to what they had done at a few ERT events to shorted the walk around. Backlot still had a sizeable line, so we started lap two. I noted Three Point Challenge has been visited by Mr. Dowdell but he has only managed 13 points so far this year, then again it is only the fourth day of the season, give him time to warm up. Running alongside the back wall of the game is a hall of fame of sorts listing all his perfect games. Yeah, that’s sort of cool, to have the game do your bragging for you. As we enter Coney to finish up the Fast Lane entrance remarks, Backlot Stunt Coaster is using the former Gold Pass Speed Lane, Shake Rattle & Roll is using the ride exit, Windseeker has a new entry gate so they cut/merge into the gueue right at the seat assigner, and Vortex has a new bridge over the track at the downtrack end of the station. You enter by the exit, cross over the track, and then down into the station where you walk along the station perimeter to the middle of the back of the station, and then merge in. Vortex had a line like last week, so we got in line and waited. Last week Vortex was going out with empty seats as the station congestion caused by everybody trying to enter through one lane meant people couldn’t get through to the end seats This week they are trying to fix that problem by assigning seats. Of course, they still can’t assign the seats fast enough, so trains are still going out with empty seats. Even worse, for those with long legs this means a 50% chance of a seat that at best will be uncomfortable, and at worst you can’t ride in. Great. We are usually back car riders, but the fickle seat assigner sent us towards the front. Wow, it’s a lot smoother and more pleasant in the back. From Vortex we headed to catch the 3D Dinosaurs Alive movie. You could see the remnants of the ticket takers work station, and we had a one show wait. Inside the theater, the motion bases have been removed, and you can tell where the floor has been patched up, and along the back of each row, it looks like they fashioned some benches out of carpeting over a wood box type structure. It looks like a real cheap redo, but hey they could have just used folding chairs like Ghost Town in the Sky did. At the conclusion of the movie, we compared notes and commented that its most redeeming quality is 10 minutes in a cold, dark theatre. Nap Time, if only the movie were about 5-10 minutes longer. They were nice enough to put a loud sound effect at the end of the movie to wake you up. We made our way through the much thinner exit path now that haunt has claimed half the building. We checked in on the Goblet Toss game, you know the one, throw the wiffle ball at a table covered with goblets, get the ball to stop in the correct color goblet, win a prize. Yeah, it’s mostly a game of chance. This year they have gone all Angry Birds with it, even having Angry Birds banners, which is srtange as down the midway they have a slingshot game that all but screams Angry Birds and they are going out of their way to not make the association, They have made Goblet Toss harder by putting in a rule that the particular Angry Bird you get is based on the color of the goblet. Want the full set, you need to cover all the different colors. And no prize trading either. We checked in on X-Base, still way to long of lines here, for Firehawk the Fast Lane is also the ADA access path, and for Flight of Fear, you also pretty much use the ADA entry, at least to totally shunt the waiting area, and you get placed in line right at the seat queues. Dodgem uses the new exit they put in just last year, returning the exit to its rightful spot, Scrambler has a new gate in back of the ride, and Monster has a new gate next to the exit nearest the arcade. Racer has a new path that runs between the ride and the queue house and sends people up the former Red Racer entry. Racer actually benefits from this in that they removed part of the fence down the center of the station, so now when you get to the top of the ramp it is much less congested, and you can choose a seat on either side. Racer and Vortex in particular could both stand for a queue area redesign if they decide to make Fast Lane permanent, as both have lost as much as half of their queue area. We took a walk past Carousel, and noted they are still using recorded band organ music, instead of using the live band organ, and went to see the park from atop the Eiffel Tower. Well, we got into a conversation with a worker up top and spent way more time than we had planned on, but it was a nice time, so I’m not complaining. I did notice that on Backlot Stunt Coaster the white train was consistently much slower looking than the other two. From Tower, we noted we had about an hour left, so we headed to Diamondback, and indded the line had died down to the point where it was only using two or three switchbacks in the covered queue house, as well as both switchbacks in the second queue area. Still we waited about 30-40 minutes and were rewarded with a firm seat assignment in the worst seats on the train, dead center. “We’ve been Bucked!” And just last week, I was praising them for getting rid of the seat assigner on this ride. After that ride, Dave and Split up, he took another Diamondback ride, and I headed to Beast. By this time Beast was down to 15 minutes and the line was completely inside the top queue house. To my chagrin they were also assigning seats here, but hey at least fate shined on me, and I was the first out for my particular train, so back row for me. Beast received its lift approach flag back (it was missing opening weekend), and out on the course a lot of track work was evident between the second trim brake and the former brake shed (still a brake in there, of course), as well as the ground hugging part between the U-Tunnel and lift 2. Like Racer and Woodstock, the ride is running as best it has in a while, that said the ride still isn’t too exciting. I made my way back to Diamondback, where I think Dave was on almost the last train of the night, as I saw him in that same miserable center seat when the train pulled into the station. On our way out of the park, we decided to try another one of their food improvements, the new funnel cake recipe. We each had the a funnel cake with strawberry topping (which they said is now made in house from real strawberries), whipped cream and powdered sugar. Very good actually, and I see funnel cakes have not lost any of their luster as being end of the night park snacks. From the funnel cake stand, we headed up International Street, I noted the new overly complicated looking electronic lockers, and we headed out the gate and to Red Robin for burgers before heading home. All told, we were at the park for about 7 hours, and managed to partake in 11 attractions. I guess that’s better than last Sautrday where despite the bad weather and smaller lines, we needed 9 hours to accomplish that much.