Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Thursday, May 26, 2005

PKI and Italian Job Stunt Track

You may have noticed a lack of Trip Reports from me. Well, I have been to Paramount's Kings Island several times this season, but I'm kinda getting tired of writing PKI trip reports. I mean how many times can I write "We went to the park, we rode the same rides as always. we didn't eat the park food" So right now, I'm going to take a departure from my usual style. You see PKI just had the grand opening of their newest attraction: Italian Job Stunt Track. So this blog entry will tell all about Italian Job, particularly Italian Job's grand opening, which your friendly blogger was privileged to attend. After the discourse on Italian Job, I will tell about all the other fine things I have experienced at PKI this year. In other words this review encompasses about 5 events all in one.

Word first got out that PKI was planning something big for 2005 when the park decided to discontinue the Antique Car ride about halfway through the season. Then in September the park decided to invite members of ACE to be amongst the first to hear about Italian Job.

So, at the initial press release day, the park played a computer animation of what the ride was supposed to be like, and luckily for those of us who could not make it, the park put the video on their website. We found out the ride was to be a heavily themed roller coaster experience. Not too thrilling, something for the whole family, and loaded with special effects. In other words, a ride that would seem more at home in an Orlando theme park than at PKI. I suppose PKI is really trying to get into the whole movie theme park mode.

And for a while we were all happy, then PKI let the other shoe drop. It seems that not only would the Antique Car ride have to go, but also our beloved Flying Eagles. The park did attempt to do right by us and held a closing ceremony for the Flying Eagles. A sort of bittersweet announcement.

And on that note the season ended. The park did keep in touch by offering a mid-winter construction tour of the Italian Job site, and then in late February the Southern Ohio Ace Region (SOAR) held a banquet at Mio's Pizza. At the banquet their were presentations by PKI Central, PKI, and the ACE rep for the region hosting this summer's Coaster Con. PKI also passed out tickets for the Italian Job Media Day at this event, as well as the off-season coaster cgatherings in Chicago and Allentown. Thus I had my Media Day ticket.

The park kept us in the loop in March, when they held an evening walking tour of the construction site, and this time most of the ride trackwork was laid out, and the theming was starting to appear. I really thank the park for holding this tour at night when businesspeople are more able to attend. Jeff and Maureen, the parks PR gurus followed this tour up by some impromptu tours during the first operating days of the season.

Then April 29 rolled around, and Italian Job was soft opened. I was able to get some rides in and got my intial reactions. My intial reaction is that it is a fun fmaily ride, that will be a big success, and yes the teming is pretty good for PKI. You start by boarding 3/4 scale Mini Coopers in the station, complete with side mirrors, windshields, working doors and sound systems, and some decorative guages.

I am pleased to report the cars are very accomodating for larger riders. I boarded a car, lowered the lapbar, closed the door and soon we were off. The 3 car train (blue, red, and white), peels out of the station with a launch that gets the train up to 40MPH. Unlike Flight of Fear, the launch on Italian Job is more spread out and not a sudden burst of speed. So you launch down the launch track alongside some shipping containers, and into a parkign garage, complete with parking garage facade on two sides.

Once inside the garage you go up a tight triple helix that produces some nice laterals, and once at the top you go down the rides first drop. It's not a noteworthy first drop, but it does send you into the police chase scene where your train swerves to avoid hitting the sirens flashing police cars on either side. After the polcie chase scene you ho up a tighly banked (near 90 degree) turnaround. It looks like those turns on someof the newer wild mice where your car is literally on its side while going through the turnaround. You then pass the dip sign just in time to take a drop into a dip. Coming out of the dip those lucky riders in the blue car, and the front seat of the red car get treated to a nice airtime moment. At the top of the next hill you make another sweeping turn to go into the subway stair drop. Its a drop thats themed to look like the stairs down to a subway station. The park hyped a special effect that would make it feel like you were actually going down a stiarcase, I have not yet felt that effect work. Coming out of the subway stair drop you make a turn and then make a tall climb (some more airtime in the front) and then into the mid course brake run. Here you know this is nothing like anything else PKI has accomplished. You see every train stops on the mid course brakes where it is fired upon by a menacing hellicopter, chemical barrels and gas pumps on either side of you start to explose, then water sprays to put out the flames. Lastly the big propane tanks atop the tunnel entrance explode, then a second launch kicks in to wisk you into the tunnel.

The back car offers some great views of the big show scene, the following tunnel is long and very dark with some nice drops and rises, and some neat effects where the cars seem to go up the sides of the sewer. After the long twisty tunnel you burst out of a billboard, and down the final drop into the aquaduct, water gets splashed around, then its the final turnaround back to the unloading area. The billboard is placed to provide a stunning visual on the midway of the traisn popping out of the billboard. Then the aquaduct drop ducks under a highway style overpass that houses the rides entrance and exit. Yes, I think the ride is a real winner. It's not a thrill machine, but it wasn't meant to be, instead it is a great family ride destined to become a major crowd pleaser for the park, and a big step towards becoming a "Hollywood Theme Park"

Okay, now that I have the ride experience out of the way, I can go on to talk about Media Day,

I arrived at thepark on May 19, 2005 at 9:30AM, and right away I could tell it was not going to be your typical day at the park. We bypasses security and the turnstiles and headed directly to a registration table. The registration table was decorated with mini mini coopers, mini palm trees and such. There our media day tickets were collected, they verifited I was on the guest list, and handed me a schedule of events today, as well as an event lanyard. I noted one side of the lanyard had the ride logo and the words "2005 Media Preview" and the other side said "VIP Access Granted" with the pictire of a combination lock dial.

I then joined the queue at the main gate waiting to enter Media Day. The ride is pretty far from the main gate, basically being in the back of the park. I followed thered carpet with its red ropes on either side, and at the front of the line, I was shown to a waiting stretch limousine to be driven to the ride. So group after group was loaded into the strech limos. Looking out the windows I could see that Royal Fountain was running, and I could see the progress on the new Starbucks. Much more interesting was what we heard. The CD started very subtly with the same opening music as the Italian Job movie, and soon turned into a specially themed announcement welcoming us to the park and telling us about the ride and the awards it had won. You may recall the movie was about down to the second timing, and the soundtrack in the limo was no exception as the soundtrack started right as we pulled out from the front gate, and ended just as we arrived at the drop off area near the ride.

The limo stopped perfectly for the back door to line up with another red roped lined red carpet that led to the ride. The group continues to grow in the new Italian Job Plaza, and the crowd was kept pumped up by periodic PA announcements counting down the minutes until the new ride was opened.

Our schedule said the ceremonies started at 10:30, and right on cue the show started. We first noted an aircraft flying over the ride site, and then three skydivers jumped out. The first one jumped and flew over Vortex and Italian Job while carrying the Italian Job flag, a giant flag with the ride logo that will probably never get seen again, he appeared to land on the midway by the new Happy Days Diner. The second diver flew over Coney Mall with the PKI park logo flag, alos giant sized. He appeared to land in the Flight of Fear entry plaza, then the third diver flew in with the giant American Flag, and he proceeded to land in the pad that was the Flying Eagles the season before.

Right after the aerial act ended, a Brink's truck came zipping down the midway chased by two Mini Coopers who pulled in next to the Brinks truck. While the Brink's truck played no further role the two Mini's were being driven by two stunt car drivers from the Italian Job movie, who then proceeded to open the hatchback on the red mini to let Jeff Siebert out. The group approached the podium and soon the speeches started. First Jeff welcomed the group to the event, and introduced the dignitaries, then the Mayor of Mason read a proclamation, then Jeff gave the big PR opening for the ride, which ended in low level pyrotechnics.

Shortly thereafter the media crews were eager to film the dash to join the queue to ride the ride. Everybody got one ride on Italian Job, then they took a short break to mount a camera in the front row of the train for the media, then we were in line for our second ride when the rain started. No sooner could you think "A rain poncho would be real nifty about now" there were staff members walking the ride line passing out complimentary rain ponchos. After our second ride though, the skies opened up and the thunder and lightening started. We were encouraged to go to Coney Mall for the complimentary lunch.

Yet another red carpet let to tents on Coney Mall where lunch would be served. The tables had the little palm tree and mini cooper centerpieces that were on the reigstration table, and a couple safes were placed in the area for effect. The meal itself was served on real china, real silverware, real stemware and linen napkins. I noted the paper napkin rings were actually money bands.

The meal was a full Italian banquet. The antipasta consisted of salami, mozzarella, pepperoni, tomatoes and mushrooms. The pasta came in the from of Manicotti, the main course came in the from of grilled chicken breast with a white cream sauce and mixed vegetables. Then there was field green salad and fruit salad available, along with slices ofitalian bread with olive oil instead of butter, in the true Italian style. For those who would rather have a sandwhich they had Italian Sausage available. Coffee, tea, water, and soft drinks were available, complete with little cherries in the soft drinks. Lunch was followed by a desert bar consisting of tiramisu, strawberries dipped in chocolate, and some bug rich cookie like things. Very flling, very wonderful.

It continued to rain hard, and we were invited to the Goblet Pitch game area to pick up our complimentary on ride photo. When it was clear the hard rain wasn't going away anytime soon the park aranged for the limos to meet those who wanted to leave at the food tent. we being coaster enthusiast held out in hope of a break. At around 1:30-1:40 we got that break, the rain ended and the ride reopened. We were able to get in three more rides before the park closed at 2:00. It was a day at Kings Island I wont soon forget. It was kinda really fun to get the full on VIP treatment.

In other news at PKI:

First, the Rides:

  • Eiffel Tower - It just got finished receiveing a nice fresh paint job.
  • Carousel - Luckily nothing to report, but the band organ is still operating, which is atually more than I can say for a lot of major parks. PKI really takes care of this treasure.
  • Face/Off - I have not gotten a ride on this yet this season, but it just recieved a fresh paint job.
  • Delirium - They seem to be getting better at parking the ride at the end of the cycle. It is one of the best additiona PKI has added in awhile.
  • Top Gun - Earlier this season it was only running 1 of its 2 trains. They claim to be giving this ride a Hollywood makeover, but all I see it the continued deterioration of the ride's theming package.
  • Son of Beast - Some folks claim its smoother, I claim bull as the ride seems just as rough as always. I did note that the ride lost its on-ride photo concession, likely because people are more likely to buy photos of rides they enjoyed.
  • Adventure Express - It has its third train back that seemed to be missing last season. This ride is another study in theming deterioration., but it like Top Gun survive because they are fundamentally good, fun rides, even without the themes.
  • Racer - Why does the backwards track always seem to run smoother. Its a perfectly medicore classic style wood coaster.
  • Monster - This is one of the few flat rides left in the park that is operated manually by an operator instead of by a computer. This year they seem to have a very talented operator and the ride is fun airtime filled experience
  • Scrambler - This ride left early last season, and it is back and running smoohter than ever.
  • Dodgems - They are still slow, and the shoulder loops are still way too small.
  • Flight of Fear - Another solid performer, and still has a lot of its themeing intact.
  • Vortex - Same old Vortex
  • Beast - It was running excessively rough at the end of last season, and it is stll running pretty roough.
  • Tomb Raider - I was able to get one ride on this with only 2 of us on the entire ride. So muuch potential, but man that lava pit scene is a real headache inducer.
  • Beastie - Still PKI's best running wood coaster
  • Scooby Doo and the Haunted Castle - they redid the entrance queues to shorten the express entrance, the guns are still flaky, but that seems to be a problem that is associated with sally dark rides as a whole.
In other news:
PKI said they wanted to really change the food serivce scene, and this year the Chineese eatery became a Mexican eatery, the park added a sit down Graeter's Ice Cream parlour, the former UDF Ice cream stand is now a slushie bar offering 30 different flavored of slushie as well as other snack items like mini donuts. Teh French Bakery has been replaced by a Starbucks, and Magilla Gorilla's Grill is now a Chik-Fill-A. Back in Coney Preston T. Tuckers (a 1940's themed gas statione eatery) is now Happy Days Diner, the obligatory 50's diner themed to the Happy Days TV show.

In games news there seems to be a mini bowling alley of some type going into the former Rock Shop which is now a Sports Shop.

In miscellaneous news, the park has now restricted smoking to designated smoking areas, and has raised the minimum height requirements on several rides.

It's shaping up to be a great season out at Paramount;s Kings Island.


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