Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Saturday, March 04, 2006

American Coaster Enthusiasts Winter SOAR at PKI

Wintertime in Ohio is a hard time for the coaster enthusiast. Parks are closed, and we have precious little face to face contact with our fellow coaster fans. For the past couple years, our ACE region has sponsored a winter get together where we would meet for dinner, hear some presentations, then head over to Wonderpark to ride Boa Squeeze.

This year we decided to shake things up a bit, as it turns out this year's winter SOAR event would take place at Paramount's Kings Island in the International Restaurant, sure that would mean no riding, but look at what you get in exchange, another visit to PKI.

It also happens that PKI is deep in the middle of a reconstruction project as they are transforming Hanna Barbera Land to Nickelodeon Universe. PKI upped the ante by including a construction and backstage tour into the activities.

So the date was set as Saturday February 25, 2006. Following the directions, I arrived at the park around 4:45 and entered the parking lot. (Free parking tonight) Soon i was walking past the unmanned security checkpoint, then past the unmanned turnstiles. I joined a group huddled under the front gate and then ducked into the foyer of the International Restaurant to pay the $8 event fee, get a nametag, and a door prize ticket. There was much mingling between friends until the event started around 5pm.

At 5pm, Maureen Kiser met us by Royal Fountain to start the days activities. She gave a warm welcome to Kings Island, then pointed out some housekeeping details. Only the restrooms nearthe front gate are open, so go now as there will be no facilities available during the tour. She also poionted out that they were laying fresh walkways in Nickelodeon Universe, so she gave the unusual request to walk through the dirt, not on the freshly laid concrete.

She started the day off by pointing out that the park logo at the head of Royal Fountain is missing the word Paramount, and that, not to worry, the sign would be restored by opening day when the park will open as Paramount's Kings Island. It was also pointed out that Royal Fountain is well on its way from being transformed back from an ice rink to a fountain. I noted the false floor was gone, as well as the outbuildings that had held the skate rental facilites. There is some Winterfest theming left to remove, but for the most part the area is starting to return to summer mode.

We then headed out, walking down the right hand side of International Street to the Eiffell Tower, then we turned right and headed to Nickelodeon Universe. Some portable fences block the path at just about the same place where the rainbow used to stand. It is also at this point the paved midway gives way to dirt.

There is a LOT of dirt in this area as it seems as if all the old walkways, flower beds and such have all been ripped up, and the earth returned to, well just earth. Wiping the slate clean as it were, to give the construction crews a fresh start. Just past Taxi Jam we could see a brand new midway being laid around Scooby Doo and the Haunted Castle, and a bit beyond that we could see that the Hanna Barbera Carousel is still standing.

The HB Carousel is destined to be rethemed as the Nick Go Round, and it lookes as if there were tarps wiating by the ride to soon recieve the HB figures. A bit further along, by Busytown Grill we could see a trench where they are working on infastructure for the area, electric, water, sewer etc. We stopped there for a few moments so that after we got over the inital shock of seein the area, we were assured it would open on time, and that infastructure was well on its way. She noted the area may look pretty baren now, but not to fear it will all be put back together by opening day.

I noted a water race game under rehab, then we walked around the Animation Station building (still in its Santa's Toyland theme), so that we could get a commanding view of, well, dirt.

In front of us we could see the water maze, and to the left things seem normal with Reptar and Atom Ant's Airways still standing, to the right in the former woodsy looking area that held Ghoster Coaster and a few small kids rides and attractions stood the biggest sandbox of all. I mean that area is just on big flat dirt bed.

Maureen pointed out that we know what the area looked like last season, we can see what it looks like today, now turn on your vivid imagination and imagine what is to come. We got the Nickelodeon Universe Tutorial.

Starting to our far left by the restroom building will be Phantom Flyers. She confirmed that it will be, as was rumoured, a Zamperla Kite Flyer ride. The Kite Flyer takes 24 at a time, lying face down on their stomachs in a circular motion while rising up and down, just like you were flying. I have not ridden the Zamperla version yet, but I have ridden the Dartron version, as recently as February 12 in fact...

Moving towards the right, Atom Ant will stay with a Nick retheme, then Reptar will stay pretty much the same, which leads us to the Water Maze. I might be one of a very few that were delighted to see a bulldozer parked next to the water maze during WinterFest. Shame the thing is still standing, It is to re rethemed as a Spongebob Squarepants attraction. Continuing our tour, will be Plankton's Plunge, which will be a child size drop tower ride. It will stand abot 25' tall, and offer a slower drop while bouncing up and down some. The area that was Nick Central will be a Spongebob Squarepants 'neighborhood', while the woodsy area anchored by Ghoster Coaster will be a Dora the Explorer themed neighborhood.

Speaking of the Dora the Explorer area, it seems that the kiddie train ride, Quick Draw's Railway well take on a Dora the Explorer theme, and will be flanked by two relocated rides. (The hampton umbrella car ride, and the kidde whip), anchoring the Dora neighborhood will be Avatar. This was confirmed to be a Zamperla Skater Coaster, which means its the longer model of the Skater that has the extra humpin the middle. Its eligility as a coaster is up for debate, but she did say the car would look like a giant skateboard and would spin as it went back and forth.

Maureen did confirm that 4 former rides would be removed and that she would be happy to discuss which ones those are after the tour. Looking up into the front area of Hanna Barbera land, it looks like the centerpiece of the biplanes ride is sitting where the kiddie tumble bug used to be.

She confirmed that Scooby Doo and the Haunted Castle would stay, but for legal reasons they can't conisder it to be part of Nick Universe, it may get its own themed area, or it may be melded in with International Street, at least on paper. Speaking of exisiting attractions, the Beastie is to be rethemed as the Fairly Odd coaster, and looking at the ride, one can tell that the trains have already been repainted and returned to the ride. One is lime green, the other is pink. Culling from her tour and all other resources, she told us about the back part of the area, in the front part of the area it looks like Taxi Jam is staying with a retheme, Yogi's Sky Tours is staying with a retheme, HB Carousel becomes Nick-Go-Round, Boulder Bumpers stay with a retheme, and Pixi and Dixies Swing Set is expected to stay with a retheme. Later on Maureen disclosed the 4 rides that would not be returning are Jetson's Orbiters (themed Herschell Helicopter ride), Boo Boo's Baggage Claim (Tumblebug), Baba Louie's Buggies (hand cars), and Scooby's Ghoster Coaster. If the kiddie swings stay where they are now, and the Blues Clues ride goes where the tumbebug was, and the kiddie car ride goes back by Avatar, that leaves a big wide open space unacounted for in the front of the area. Maureen did say that wider midways were part of the plan.

After showing us the footings for Avatar, and giving us some time to walk around and explore Nick Universe we headed around the water maze, and down the pathway to the picnic grove. I was excited as soon as we headed down the picnic grove path, becuase I suspected a tour of the picnic grove was in order, and that is where the park stores all kinds of interesting stuff for the winter.

Soon after passing Quickdraw's Railway and seeing the footings for what appears to be the new location for the kiddie whip, we could see the train engines from Quickdraws sitting just beyond the fence in the backstage area. We continued on into the picnic grove.

The first shelters seemed to hold the portable food carts, there was a sea of Dippin Dot's carts, a sea of Superpretzel carts, an area of all Lemon Chill carts etc. More interesting stuff was further back in the grove.

We soon came to a shelter that held the exhibts from Paramount Story as well as the Scrambler Tubs, then we came accross the parade floats for the WinterFest parade. Over in the next shelter were the Vortex cars, Shake Rattle And Roll cars. Accorss from that was a shelter with a Congo Falls boat, some rapids ride rafts, Reptar cars, kiddie whip cars, kiddie car ride cars, a stripped apart Yogi's Sky Tours vehicle and possibly more. Sitting back in a shelter off the beaten path were more Congo Falls boats, and heading back around to make the circle was a shelter with the Wild Thornberries logs, some water pumps, and a whole lot of trash cans.

Maureen gave us ample time to explore his winter storage area, and then we headed back to the park, We returned via the backstage areas. Heading backstage we could see the signage for Tomb Raider, Son of Beast cars, Adventure Express cars, Top Gun cars, the parking lot trams, etc.

We returned past the rides maintenance workshop. Maureen tried to explain how the park strips every ride down and does throrough inspections of each ride every off season, but I don't think many people were listening, as the photo safari through the parks storage yards had started.

A bit further was a bunch of Fearfest theming, and the WC Fields car from Paramount Story, then we walked back past the trains for Quickdraws. We paused for more Beastie shots, then we noted some PODS. Who knows what could be in those. The tour ended by pointing out some park office buidlings, like the administration buidling. By that time a lot of us who had misjudged the weather and the wind tunnel effect in this part of the park, we were eager to practically sprint to the warmth of the International Restuarant.

We entered the International Restuarant, where we could collect the days agenda, flyers for events at Holiday World, Cedar Point and Indiana Beach, as well as collect brochures for Holiday World, Indiana Beach, Knight's Action Park, and Lake Winnie. We selected our seats at table, and some took the time to get some unusual international street photos from the International Restuarant.

Next up on the schedule was dinner. An all you can eat buffet consisting of pizza, pop, chips, and fudge brownies was served. While we ate an interesting historical montage of local area park photos that was put together by Dave Jackson was shown on one of the walls. After his show a video supplied by Holiday World was shoen offering POV animation of Voyage.

After dinner came the presentations, first a presentation with a Powerpoint show from Wyandot Lake was given. Wyandot seems to take the fact they haven't added a major attraction in numerous years well, and they talked about the Sea Dragon coaster, which is celebrating its 50th aniversary. We were told some humerous stories about the park, and all in all the presentaion had a nice light comical touch to it. he also answered the question of "Is Wyandot Lake still relevant", to which they answer it is very much ahead of the curve of the new Six Flags leadership in moving towards family parks. Keith also held an auction of used Sea Dragon parts to benefit the ACE Preservation fund. $75 was raised for 2 Sea Dragon wheels and a chain dog.

The next presentattion was given by John Robinson who represents a local firm that specializes in advertising and promotional materials (brochures, postcards, souvenir videos, that kind of thing). He gave his presentation not about his services, but as a presentation to advertise his clients. He gave presentations on what is happening at Lake Winnie (a freefall ride going where Fly O Plane was, with fly O Plane being relocated elsewhere in the park, and it sounds like his Fly O Plane ride was quite like mine, in terms of being held upside down for quite some time), Indiana Beach, which is getting a new child friendly water play area as well as Splah Battle which sounds like a relaly neat interactive ride. John then gave away door prizes consiting of some of the promotional materials he has created for the parks, as well as some comp tickets to those parks.

Next was a "Day in the life of an amusement park worker" as Brian told numerous stories about the more memorable parts of his job as a rides manager. Everything from the scary, to the cute, to the gross and nasty, to the heartwarming.

Lastly Maureen Kaiser took the stage togive a presentation on PKI. Part of the presentation was recapping the Nick Universe project for those that didn't go on the tour, the constant stressing of April 14 as the opening day. The highligh of her presentation was her "Top Ten PKI Myths" - Stuff like, no the Beast isn't being moved to Carowinds, no Vortex is not sinking, no Son of Beast is not being removed, but don't count on it making opening day, no, Flight of Fear is not being removed, however the one in Kings Dominion will not operate this year, no, ourPhanton Flyers will not be the same as the ones at Carowinds. Sorry, Flyer fans but if you want tor ride Flyers, Carowinds is a very nice park. She told us that there would be a Hanna Barbera motion movie ride in the Action Theater, and Spongebob Squarepants 3D will stay for another season as well. She stated the park will move on even though Jeff Seibert has left. She did address the fact the park is up fopr sale, but no further news is avaiable.

She also had a Q&A session. She said that Winterfest would return this year, but she was not sure on pricing or if season passes will be accepted, season pass perks have not been finalized. The Beast walk back will continue at 9:30, though the proceudre is not yet finalized. She confirmed that the park will no longer open International Street at 9AM as standard procedure, instead the park is scheduled to open all at once at 10am this year. Right now the plan is for ACE walkback participants to enter through what used to be the season pass entrance. She also stated that they are leaving themselves the options of opening International Street early on an as-needed basis.

After Maureen's presentation she gave away some Coaster Con goodie bags to lucky door prize winners, as well as some other giveways.

Then Russ, our host, had some more giveaway items, like Holiday world media kits, and lift hill flags. I am destined to never win one of those, either through raffles or auctions. Cedar Point media kits and a Cedar Point flag was given away, and I think some other prizes as well. A motion was made to take up a collection to get a "We Miss You" and "Congrats on the new job" gift for Jeff Seibert, so a collection was taken up and scrapbook materials were made available for people to add a more personal touch.

We then took a break while people mingled, explored International Restaurant and caught up on what we have been up to in the off season. The session resumed with a meeting for those interesting in next years Coaster Con. I attended the Coaster Con meeting, but as that is a planning meeting for a future event, I will leave the details confidential at this point.

All in all a fantastic off season event. Many thanks to both ACE and PKI for having us.

Opening Day is April 14!!!!

As a bonus for reading this entire post, here is a link to my photo album from this event.


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