Coasterville Commentary

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Monday, May 09, 2011

TR: Kings Island - April 30, 2011

Trip Report: Kings Island
Mason, OH
April 30, 2011

"It's opening day, it's the best day Cincinnati has seen in a month weather wise, the park is closed on Sunday, the park has a new ride! What could possibly go wrong!"

Ah, opening day for the coaster season regionally! As such, Rideman and I got a late start and got to the park around 2pm. It's a Saturday, nobody goes to the park anymore on Saturday's its way too crowded. It didn't look bad at first, when we got through the parking toll plaza with little to no waiting, just long enough to remark on the fact Premier Parking is now up to $20, Commoner parking remains $10. Better yet, gold pass parking remains free.

We enter the lot and head up and down rows, my this isn't looking good. They are parking people all the way back to Boomerang Bay, and it isn't even open. We head the other way, and claim a spot that makes the proverbial Clark Griswold spot look great. Yes, we are behind the buses, virtually in Great Wolf Lodges parking lot.

We use the Great Wolf Lodge walking trail to get to the front gate, and noted that $20 looks to be too high, even for those with more money than sense. We also note the season pass processing line to extend back into the parking lot. Suddenly, Rideman is glad he renewed online, and I renewed last fall.

As expected we had smooth sailing through the security checkpoint, and the ticket checkpoint. Once inside, we were even late enough to NOT get photo ambushed, and had smooth sailing all the way to Eiffel Tower.

With Windseeker out of commission, we headed to the finest ride the park has to offer, that being Diamondback. But first we have to squeeze our way through a path blocking cluster at the Chik-Fill-A stand, I don't think I've seen that stand that busy. It didn't help matters that they setup a *portable* carnival game right in the middle of the bottlenecked area, piching the path even tighter while making the game very unattractive to play when you can't hardly get to it. Did I mention the game is portable, and could have been easily moved to a less congested but still highly traveled area? I know its portable because by the end of the night it was in an entirely different location altogether.

More alarming is what they have done to the menu boards, or at least the one at Chik-Fill-A, they have selected a font for the prices that is so small, you have no hope of reading it until you are right up to the service window. By which time, you have wasted 15 minutes or more, and are pressured into the $8 chicken sandwich.

We continued on through a sea of people in Planet Snoopy and headed into Rivertown. Ugh, the line for Diamondback is all the way through the queue, overflowing onto the midway, and wrapped down Rivertown clear past the buffet and getting near the train station. Jaming the walkway in front of the DB Trading Post is a large crowd of people waiting for the single rider entrance to open up.

We pass on that, head down Rivertown to find Crypt to be actually open and sporting a full queue. No thanks. Beast queue is back to Rivertown Pizza, pass, Backlot Stunt Coaster has a full queue maze but no quite overflowing onto the midway. Ugh, is there some other park we could go to?

You now the park needs a nice high capacity coaster like Vortex to help abosrb the crowd, but Vortex is closed as it exits right into the Windseeker construction area. Troika has a full queue for crying out loud. We make the turn by Vortex. As expected the path is blocked right even with the Vortex Entrance on the Vortex side of the path, and by Speed Pitch on the other side of the path. The large closed midway on that side was being used by maintenance guys untangling a long steel cable.

Windseeker isn't near as ready as its last minute closue would have you believe. At least 4 cars sit disconnected from the ride in front of the restroom building, not all the fencing is in place and as I already noted there are some steel cables that still need to be installed on the ride somewhere.

What we saw next made no sense, a queue from the BLOCKED OFF BY CONSTRUCTION FENCING Vortex entrance all the way back to Juke Box Diner. These people are queuing up for a ride that is closed, has been advertised on the boards out front as closed, is sitting in a construction zone, and currently has no exit. Most curious.

The situation got more interesting when a crew arrived to start testing Vortex. Son, a line stretched all the way to Dodgems, with no announcement or any sign the ride would open.

Next, it started to become obvious that by moving some of the portable constrution fencing and some park benches they were carving out a path that would run from the Vortex exit, through a small opening to the left of the on ride photo booth, then run BEHIND the new bank of coin operated lockers, where portable fencing ran until it met up with a bank of vending machines that effetively sealed off the construction zone.

Not much longer, Vortex was open, there was much rejoicing, and fter about a half hour or so wait, we scored rides in the second to last seat. The trims don't appear to be on quite as hard, and the hill right after the two vertical loops has you pointed directly at Windseeker. All in all, a better than average Vortex ride, and a good way to start the season. Park security did have the new problem of having to be over zealous in trying to keep the crowd moving down Vortex's make shift exit path as said path also was cramped but provided the closest in close ups of Windseeker. How cute, the new ride has the Cedar Point style gates, but why did they put the control box such that it obscures an otherwise picture perfect view from the midway. A park associate in suit and tie also filled us in on the fact the Action Theatre entrance is being rerouted through the current exit, so now both entry and exit to Action Theatre will be between Windseeker and Vortex.

Starting back up Coney, the Euro Bobbles while in the park guide were absent, including all signage. Construction is also underway for the new upcharge Dino walk through attraction, which will start using the old Cinema 180 entrance. Fuether up, a snack bar that had been disused for numerous seasons is now an ICEE Mix It Up stand, and Zephyr was closed.

We continued down Coney, marveling at the new cobblestone walkway that has finally replaced the blacktop. Paramount committed several sins, mostly owing to cheap construction practies: blacktop walkways, chain link fencing, and functional but butt ugly lighting - it looks like Cedar Fair is on a campaign to purge the park of all three. Then, there is butt ugly, but ill suited for its use lighting, like the stand in Rivertown that has no lighting on the marquee sign.

Monster and Scmrambler both jammed, it looks like some kind of laser tag thing went in where the House of Darkness haunt resides, and Racer was down to just one side, with a full queue spilling over into the midway.

Will we ever get a second ride? The answer is yes, after fighting our way through a full Adventure Express queue with killer giant bees. But being Adventure Express, even a full queue doesn't take too long. It takes longer than it should due to one train being missing, but still not a bad wait. We were rewarded with a pedictable Adventure Express mine ride.

We headed into Action Zone - Delirum and Drop Tower spilled forth into the midway, but hey you can always count on Flight Deck for a quick ride, right? Not when its closed.

We ducked through Festhaus, and it has gotten its stage back. Really it'snot that far off anymore from returning to its former glory as a German Festhaus - really just change three things: The Menu, The Beer Selection, and The Theme of the Feature Show, and you have a wonderful attraction worthy of being in the Oktoberfest section of the park. We also noted Viking Fury was only through one switchback. We went for what would be one of our shortest waits the entire day, for a mediocre pirate ship ride.

We darted back around International Street, and headed to Boo Blasters. Planet Snoopy was crowded, as you might expect, but hey Boo Blasters is a continuous loader using an Omnimover system. Why then did the line start and stop of often. It appeared that the crew would slow or stop the turnstable at the mere hint of somebody being slow to load or unload. The queue area was also not scare conditioned, leading to a not so pleasant wait, on that was extended with some ride downtime. They are still trying to sell the useless 3D glasses as well. If was a fun ride, and our higher than average scores attest to how slow we moved through the ride. I'm finally glad Rideman won one for once, that way I won't have to listen to the broken boo blaster excuse once agan.

Surf Dog and Woodstock had full queues, the water maze was actually open for once on opening day, Flying Ace had *gulp* a full queue that was posted at 90 minutes. The Race for Your Life Charlie Brown log flume was closed. A glance at Diamondback revealed the situation had not improved there. A glance at the buffet revealed a $17 price tag for a meal of dubious quality.

We decided that since things were so packed and crazy to leave the park, grab a nice relaxing meal at the Outback Steak House, then we returned to the park right around 8pm. We got there just as a huge part of the crowd was leaving. We did score a parking space in Row 1 of Commoner's parking, and re-entered the park. We heade right to Diamondback again, and well the full queue was spilling out onto the midway a little bit. We sucked it up, and a about an hour later were rewarded with a back row, loose lapbar ride. THIS is what I had been missing all winter. This is what roller coastering should be about! Yeah. A slight modification to the exit gate allows for two exit lanes, this benefit is negated by them closing, locking , and blocking the first exit door in the forced exit though retail gift shop, forcing you to walk all the way through the shop. I mean the door is blocked on both sides. Hello, Fire Marshall!

We headed down to Beast, discovered the queue to be a bit longer than we wanted to wait on an overrated ride of questionable quality, particularly since it would mena we would have to give up a ride on Diamonback which is a known winner. We did go look at Windseeker, and the lighting package on the ride is FANTASTIC. IT screams German Carney Ride. It's really a look the park is sorely missing. We headed thhrough the Snoopy Starlight Spectacular and ended the day at Diamondback.

Might not have been the best opening day, but certainly not the worst either.

TR: OVO by Cirque Du Soleil - Cincinnati, OH 5/8/11

Trip Report: "OVO" by Cirque Du Soleil
Coney Island
Cincinnati, OH
May 8, 2011

"Let's party with the insect world!"

Background: I am a professed Cirque fan, having attended 6 of their shows to date. "OVO" would make my seventh, a nice lucky number. Unlike my last few trips to see Cirque, I would not have to leave Cincinnati, also unlike my last few trips to see Cirque, I failed to secure tickets in time to receive any benefit the Cirque Club pre sale may have offered.

A brief trip down memory lane is in order, I had seen Cirque on TV, but my first live performance was when "Quidam" played Cincinnati in 2006 under the Grand Chapiteau. I was instantly hooked, and the following year found me at the Ohio State Fairgrounds to see "Corteo" under the big top. In the years that followed I managed to catch "Saltimbanco" at the Nutter Center in Dayton, "O" at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, "KA" at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and "Alegria" at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

In general I think the Vegas shows offer the best Cirque has to offer, and that may be due to having custom built multi-million dollar performance spaces, as well as the seemingly infinite bankroll of a Las Vegas casino backing them up. Next come the tent shows, or Grand Chapiteau. These are performed literally in parking lots using their own custom tents, and the space within provides a very intimate setting. Lastly, are the arena adpatations, so designed to reduce travel costs and setup time. Allowing Cirque to get into cities that don't warrant the Grand Chapiteau, and allow for shorter runs to be more profitable. Compared to a tent, you sit much further away from the stage in an arena, and the shows are somewhat cut down.

When I bought the tickets for "OVO" who would have guessed the strange weather patterns that would occur this spring. Sure, the Ohio River is prone to flooding, it's one of the contributing factors to the original Coney Island moving up to Mason, being reborn as Kings Island. The smaller Coney Island of today proudly sports a flood gauge that illustrated the parks infamous history with the river, and a lot of buildings bear "water line" plaques from some of the worst flooding. That's all well and good, and in fact when we had The Flood of 2011 Pt 1. in March, it was usually safe to assume we had the yearly flooding event in the books. It was a decent size flood in March, who would have thought just one month later the floods would return. The local paper and various news sources had photos of the Grand Chapiteau taking on a new role as pool toy in the Ohio River. As the river kept getting higher, I was genuinely starting to wonder if I'd even see the show. I mean at some point they have to cut their losses, protect their investment and run for the hills, right?

As it turns out, they were able to get in the media preview and one public performance before the river claimed title to the big top. The show went dark from April 22 clear through May 2, wiping out as much as a third of the shows performances. I think they managed to get some back by adding a day here, a matinee there. At first the cancellations were day by day, when they went ahead and called off a whole week, I got proactive and called Montreal instead of waiting for my name to come up in the queue to get reseated. At around 3:00 of the day they called the show off for a week or more, I was able to connect right away to a friendly person who indicated they were in Montreal, who even had some time for small talk about the local situation. It wasn't long until I had new tickets, and as a bonus when they exchanged the tickets, they first refunded the full price (including the Convenience and Service Fees), but when they sold me the new seats they waived all the fees, selling me the seats at true face value. Over three seats, that worked out to be about a $50 savings right there.

I rescheduled for May 8th, which was the next Sunday, same time, and just one row further back than what I had. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

So, May 8th comes, and we head to a, thankfully, dry Coney Island. Parking was $10 in lots surrounding the tent city, Owing to mom's handicap parking permit, we were directed to park in the Tapis Rouge section of the lot, which placed us literally outside the gates of the compound. Shortly after 4pm, we made our way through the gates in the chain link perimeter fence.

You first enter into a little plaza that has on the left a blue and yellow box office trailer, and on the right a white tent for one of the sponsors, as well as the blue and yellow Tapis Rouge tent. Tapis Rouge provides some VIP perks to those willing to pay about double the normal face value of a premium seat.

Straight ahead there are two carts with carnival style barkers selling programs, soundtrack CD's or the combo pack. It's priced such that a program is $13, a CD is $16, but WAIT for $20 you get the combo pack. Why do I get the feeling they sell mostly combo packs. Well, I have these items from every show I have been to, so out goes another $20 bill. Just past these carts the plaza forks with two entrances, on your ticket you are assigned a "door" number, and the two entrances from the plaza are split into even and odd sections. (Ok, idiot proofed into "1-3-5-7" and "2-4-6-8") Our seats were in Door #2 territory, so we proceeded to the even side, here you enter the merchandise tent, or as a friend calls it, "The Revenue Tent". Carnival folk may refer to it as inside money. At the entry point rope and stanchions split the wide walkway into three lanes where ticket "takers" with palm devices scanned your tickets upon entry. The greeter when you first arrived at the gates was imploring everybody to hold their own ticket when going through the entrance, but I don't think that was widely followed.

Here, i do see some improvement, for the other two tent shows I have attended there are two identical round tents that served the purpose of food and merchandise tents. Each one was filled about half with merchandise, leaving the other half open for the food counters along one wall. Here what they have done is filled in the space in the middle forming one big long tent, with entrances from each side.

Inside the tent, the big space in the center is a much larger gift shop, with concession counters at either far end. The corners of the tent closet to the main show tent sported full service bars, and in the center right up against the main show tent was a cafeteria style setup offering, for lack of a better term, upscale concessions like paninis and desert items. The new entry tent buts right up against the main show tent, so if you use doors 1 or 2 you enter the tent directly from the gift shop. For the other doors, you exit the merchandise tent through a big side opening into an outdoor walkway. This walkway sports the all important restroom trailers (yes, fully plumbed, where do you think you are, the Circus?) and smoking areas. It is also worth noting at in violation of every other tourist attraction, the merchandise area is not air conditioned.

We walked around, I looked at t-shirts ($29), and other trinkets. There sees to a big market on character masks and umbrellas for some reason. I thought the kids Grand Chapiteau playset looked to a a good bargain, at $30. No, I did not buy one, but it did look interesting if not quite detailed enough. I do wonder how often they have to relabel items, as the price tags list the prices of the various ites in about a half dozen different currencies.

We did stop to pick up some soft drinks ($5 each - 20 oz. bottles), and headed to join the short queue in front of door 2. Just after 4:30 an attendant comes and loosens the ropes holding the tent flap shut, we then proceeded through the tent flap and up the metal stairways into the tent. Once inside the main show tent, it was just down a few steps to Row K, and aisle seats to boot, I have found the seating in their tents to be surprisingly comfortable, and unlike our trip to see Quidam, the air conditioning was working. I don't think I am overstating it when I say the tent is practically the size of an arena. According to a Cirque Club email, the tent measures 165' in diameter, the 4 main masts or quarterpoles are 82' high. That is quite impressive to behold. On the outside it has a blue and yellow pattern, and is ringed with the flags of the nations the performers call home, and the four main masts sports a Canadian flag, an American flag (or presumably a courtesy flag to the host nation), and two Cirque Du Soleil flags.

On the inside this tent is mainly black to present an image of being outdoors at night. It seems like the interior of the tent canvas is customized to fit each shows theme, as Quidam sported a cloudy sky. Ambiant music mixed with cricket screeches and other insect noises just to put you in the mood, After we got settled in, Mom wanted popcorn, another trip to the merchandise tent for me. I see they have taken lessons from AMC. You can have this small box of popcorn for $6, or this giant box of popcorn for $6.50. Guys, why even bother with the small.

Popcorn in hand its back into the tent, I knew I didn't want to be anywhere near the last person inside as they have a way of picking on latecomers and last minute entries at Cirque shows, This was no exception as characters dressed up as beekeepers worked the crowd with nets and stuff distracting the crowd until showtime.

At showtime, after the introduction and safety announcements, the introduction starts. The shows name is OVO, which means egg in some language, and the introductory song and dance number features various insects dancing about the titular objet until the lights go out, and then come back on for the first major act.

Up first is the hand balancing act. This time the apparatus included a base that was somewhat remicicent of a fancy corkscrew, which allowed for some graceful iding up and down the corkscrew in addition to all the traditional hand balancing positions demonstrated atop the appaatus. It's a nice act to start the show, not a big attention grabber, but I have noticed Cirque likes to start their shows at a slower more graceful pace, and build up to the high energy parts of the show.

It's worth noting that all through the show there are occasionally performers perched on the stems of giant flowers, and not to spoil it (too late) the flowers to eventually open up and bloom. You can also see the band through an opening to the left of the backstage, it also seems to me you can see other actors performing, through what alost seem like windows to either side of the stage.

While the hand balancer's apparatus is removed, one of the characters hefts the big OVO through the audience eventually making it to the stage , where he gingerly sets it down while letting out a big sigh of relief. I think anybody that has hefted furniture can relate. There is some playing on and around the OVO, while settig up for the next major act.

In the next act a row of red fireflies come out each carrying a giant (to scale) slice of Kiwi. It's a juggling act, but not as you might expect, they lie down on the stage and manipulate the giant kiwi slices and then Corn on the Cob shaped pieces using just their feet. They bounce them up and down, they flip them, rotate them, even pass them from one person to another, all in perfect synchronization. It was a neat take on the traditional jugging act.

Between the acts, taking the place of the traditional clowns, you have the ladybug, and two other characters that slow the pace of the show down, allowing the acrobats to catch their breath, and for the stage to be reset for the next major act, without causing obvious breaks or downtime in the show. These guys love sight gags, and the Cirque tradition of speaking in what seems to be a strange jibberish that through their actions you seem to understand. Ciruqe is also known for using stage tricks, such as rotating turntable floors. OVO does not appear to have a turntable, but does make up for it with an over abundance of trap doors. In one scene only the characters legs poke out of the traps, and in another one, the clown characters are seem trying to ram the OVO down into a much to small trap door.

The Spanish Web act is introduced in a unique manner, as it starts out with a cacooned caterpillar high up on the rope, totally encaed in nylon beaks free of their cacoon, The resulting spanish web act, while being good technically comes across as a demonstration of the art, with seemingly no fluidity behind it other than, let's show you what all we have in our bag of tricks.

What happens next is truly bizzare, the 4 (or more) armed Giant Slinky, snake, Muppet takes the stage, It prances around and contorts to a lot of different shapes, leaving you to wonder just how many performers are concealed inside.

I'm sure I missed something along the line, but the first act ends in a jaw dropping take on the Flying Trapeeze act. It looks, for all the world, like they are setting up to do the same old Flying Trapeeze act you have seen at circuses "since the dawn of time" Let's see two catwalks on either high above and on either end of a large safety net - check. three or four performers on each catwalk, check, what looks like a trapeeze bar, check. What isn't obvious is the center platform that is slowly being lowered down. You see the trapeze bars don't fly out, instead they are rigidly mounted to the catwalks and instead act like giant swings they use to gain momentum, so that they can leap to and from the center platform. The center platform is made to look scarier as it appears to have a big hole in the middle leaving little room for error. Most of the performers have to trudge up the rope ladders to the start positions, while the last few get to ride up to the top. They even make the crickets running out into the audience to take the ends of the safety cables out to be clipped to the masts part of the act. It's a jaw dropping routine that, in my mind is all about saying "Ringling Bros. we see your trapeeze act, and we RAISE you" The act ends just as spectacularly and I was correct in my hunch that this was the high energy act to send you off to intermission thirsting for more.

During intermission, I perused the merchandise tent but failed to buy anything, and the sticker shock of $14 for a Margarita at the bar. I'm glad they had their prices posted to prevent any awkward situations. The gift tent was very crowded during intermission, so I headed outside to stretch and relax. About 20 minutes later (30 minute break) I headed back inside to see what treats awaited us the second half.

During the intermission, they are setting up a huge spider web, this looks promising. Unfortunately except for shaking it, and maybe a couple people bouncing off of it, it is mainly just backdrop for the contortion act that takes place on "The Giant Twinkee" in the center of the stage.

One of the features of the second half is the slack wire act, it looks much like its cousin the tight rope act or high wire act, except as the name implies there is some slack in the wire. They start out walking back and forth across it, as the whole apparatus is going up and down. Then, they kick it up a few notches using some apparatus that looks like it came out of a Dr. Suess book to perform a handstand, ending up with, you guessed it, unicycle riding up and down the slack wire.

The second act also has, what I am convinced is, the required Diabolo exhibition. Don't get me wrong the performers are quite skilled in the art, eventually going from 1 diabolo to juggling 4 at a time, almost quite up to the rafters of the tent. They make it look all too easy. Did I mention they sell Diabolo's in the gift shop, yes they come in Cirque Du Soleil blue and yellow. In fact, I almost bought one, but didn't see spending $30 on a novelty that my totally unskilled hands would play with for all of 5 minutes, get frustrate with, and sit down, never to be touched again. This is, though, one of the times you realize you are not at Ringling Bros. as they would have gone for the full shameless merchandising plug at this point, maybe even to the point of having vendors walking the aisles. No, Cirque is was too tasteful to stoop to that level.

Sometime while you weren't watching, you start to realize the back wall of the set is starting to be peeled away. You get your first clue when a little door in the back wall opens, Muppet Show style, complete with a character appearing to get his hand caught in the small door when it closes.

Here the lights go out, and when they come back on, the center of the stage has been opened up to reveal the powertrack, and the back wall finally fully uncovered to reveal a climbing wall with a grid of handholds. In a version of KA lite, performers seem to jump onto, off of, and around this wall with little effort. Its obvious another large panel has slid open at the base of the wall exposing trampolines. This is the marquee high energy act for the second half.

The show then ends with a song and dance finale centered around a banquet table. Here each type of insect climbs up on the table one at a time, and after the first couple, the audience starts to realize these are the curtain calls. Wild applause commences, after that the band comes out, and the violinist gets a solo part, then the traditional curtain call bows with the cast lined up along the stage lights.

And just like that another Cirque Du Soleil show in the books. While we rate it lower than the two Vegas shows, we do rate it higher than the arena shows we have seen, and it might just get some "fresh in mind" points. Overall, we thought it was a great show. That said, I didn't really get the plot of the story, I got the theme of a celebration in the insect world, and that's all you really needed. In this show, its all about the fun of the thing, the high circus acts come first, with little incect overlay.

However, I must note, that one big question goes unanswered all through the show constant references are made to the egg or OVO. It is shown on stage several times, the clown characters say OVO a lot, heck it is even paraded through the audience, I kept expecting some kind of payoff to the setup, like what the egg was going to open and reveal, but there is no payoff to the constant build up and attention the show directs to the egg.

That said, I can't wait for my next Cirque experience!