Before we went to bed bunny_hugger remembered: we're Cedar Fair Platinum Passholders, so we can get into Cedar Fair-owned parks like Kings Island not just free, but early. It's only a half-hour early in this case but that could make all the difference in getting to the park's big new thrill ride, The Banshee. Which is to say, we didn't sleep in. We did get up early and despite my missing the turn for the North Parking Lot the first time around we got a great, near-the-front-gate parking spot and got through the admissions and then found ourselves blocked by a rope from The Banshee. We had to go around the main entrance plaza through a different gate, near the I Love The 80s store, to people who seemed unsure whether a Platinum Pass counted as a Gold Pass or Season Pass. It did.
The Banshee is, they advertise, the longest something something something something roller coaster in the world. Kings Island has a lot of really quite long roller coasters. It's also a roller coaster with a lot of looping to it. This is fine enough, but --- rather as with GateKeeper at Cedar Point --- the park went to the trouble of making the ride look impressive, with a graveyard and fog (and lights, to add to the effect after dark), and even a small monument with an eternal flame to the roller coaster torn out so as to make room for this (Son of Beast, a piece of which track I gave to bunny_hugger some time ago). As part of the theming The Banshee screams as the train goes over one of the first hills. It's an impressive package and quite a fun ride. We used our early-admission well: we had just enough time to ride this before the park opened for the day and a line formed which filled the queue and spilled out onto the midway and reached up to Wapakoneta, Ohio. It was threatening to be an extremely busy day.
As we got off the Banshee we heard the public address system giving the park its formal opening, which included not just the playing of the national anthem but also some speaker counting down the opening of the park with some kid who, presumably, was somewhere near the front gate. There's a lot about Kings Island that's charming and that they have an opening ceremony complete with a member of the audience counting down is part of it. (To be fair, for all I know Michigan's Adventure and Cedar Point have them too; we just haven't been there for opening except in the autumn when they opened at like 5 pm.)
Near to the Banshee is The Bat. This ride was originally built in the early 90s and called Top Gun, back when Paramount owned the park, and it had decorations to match yet another inescapable 80s movie that I escaped seeing. When Paramount sold the park to Cedar Fair, they lost the license to use this theming so management picked the first words that came to mind and those were, well, ``Flight Deck''. Almost comically generic replacement names for themed rides were a bit of a curse for Kings Island after the ownership change, and they've still got a roller coaster called ``Backlot Stunt Coaster'' because they couldn't call it ``The Italian Job: Stunt Track'' anymore.
The Bat is its new name, as of this year, and it's not a bad name at that: for one, it resurrects the name of a short-lived roller coaster the park had in the early 80s. And the ride is an suspended coaster, which just means that the cars hang by a long post from the track, and can swing side to side quite far (without ever going upside-down), so you've got the whole bat hanging thing going. It's still got the amount of ride queue for when it was the park's marquee ride and could expect to get 36-hour wait times, so going to the ride from the main drag is a matter of following a path, and going down another path, and going under a tunnel (which still as Air Force style stars-in-circles, and which used to have Top Gun stuff), down another path, and across part of a ravine until you finally get to the station. The ride operators seemed in pretty good spirits, welcoming coming riders and telling them things like ``Welcome to ... The Bat. It's Bat-tastic'' (a comment that bunny_hugger thought sounded sarcastic; I think it's more that after a couple months you start grabbing at anything novel to say to oncoming riders).
After this we went to the Adventure Express, a mine train-type ride that's themed to, well, journeying through the lost worlds as seen in pulp adventures. This is a more fun mine train-type ride than usual, particularly as it's got a bunch of props working (statues pounding on drums, the suggestion of molten gold being poured onto the train, that sort of thing), and apparently more props working than in recent years. I have said this before but Cedar Fair's apparent decision to concentrate more on the appearance of their parks is paying out very well in making the parks seem like a better value.
Our first actual disappointment of the day came in a little corner where Flight Of Fear, (née Outer Limits: Flight Of Fear, though it dropped the ``Outer Limits'' part before Paramount sold the park) a roller coaster enclosed in a building, was down. It would be down every time we checked during the day. (Watch this space.)
Next to it was Firehawk, which used to be at Geauga Lake (where it was called X-Flight). It's an odd roller coaster in that you get into your seat, are strapped down, and then the seats tip back and you go up the lift hill on your back. I haven't ridden anything quite like that. The loading and unloading process is slow, though, bad enough that the line bifurcates and the station has two loading platforms, in the hopes that one train can get moving while the other passengers are fiddling around and being checked for safety. There's a neat little rotating gadget that determines which of the trains in the station is going to get the track.
Firehawk and Flight Of Fear are off in a little alcove with various experimental craft or test pilot-type stuff posted around. One of the signs reads ``Test Flight Records'', with an arrow, and ``Regulated By X-Base Section 1975.8.29''. That last is unmistakably an in-joke, but we can't figure anything that's relevant to park history from August 1975 (Kings Island opened in 1972, though its history is remarkably complicated before that, more anon), though in October 1975 Evel Knievel did jump fourteen Greyhound buses at the park for Wide World of Sports.
Kings Island has got a fine Grand Carousel, one of the late models from the Philadelphia Toboggan Company from the 1920s, and formerly located at the Coney Island (Cincinnati-area one, to be explained later). It's very good-looking, and in a magnificent building, but the Wurlitzer wasn't operating when we were there and they were apparently playing a CD of carousel music at roughly eight decibels, just loud enough to be heard if you put your ear up to the speaker and everyone else in the world isn't making sounds. Worse, the carousel was running pathetically slowly, at about three rotations per minute, a speed where it's easier to just get off and walk instead. Despite the beauty this has to count as another disappointment on the day.
Trivia: The Columbia and the Eagle docked at 4:38 pm, Central Daylight Time, on the 21st of July, 1969. The hatch between the two was opened at 6:20 pm, allowing Armstrong and Aldrin to return to the Apollo 11 Command Module. Source: First Man: The Life Of Neil A Armstrong, James R Hansen.
Currently Reading: Sputnik: The Shock of the Century, Paul Dickson.