USA 'East Coast' Road Trip 2018

Discussion in 'Your Trip Reports and Plans' started by Rob, 21st Aug 2018.

  1. AstroDan

    AstroDan TS Forum Team Team Member

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    Indeed - St. Louis wasn't the best park we did.

    I (well, and John) enjoyed Mr. Freeze more than the rest of the group. Thought it was pretty balls-to-the-wall and quite mental. A hoot!

    I also got a BOSS t-shirt for $5. Well you can't refuse, can you?

    :)
     
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    Posted 8th Sep 2018
    #21
  2. Rob

    Rob TS Forum Team Team Member

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    Day 11 - Holiday World

    Holiday World is a park that has stood out to me for a while and the addition on Thunderbird, a launched B&M Wing Coaster, in 2015 ensured it become a must do US park. The park is most famous for its 3 wooden coasters; Raven, Legend and Voyage.

    In the days leading up to our visit we were quite concerned about the weather. Park policies allow for rides to be operated in the rain, but obviously not in storms, and storms were forecast for much of the day. The upside to this was that we hoped it meant the park would be quiet. As it turned out, the forecast was completely wrong (as it was every other day on our trip when storms were forecast) and the park was not too busy at all!

    For those that do not know the park is split in to four themed areas that make up the theme park; Christmas, Halloween, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Then there is the large water park, Splashin’ Safari. We did not go in to the water park but it does look outstanding!

    As most guests head to Raven and Legend towards the front of the park first, we headed up towards the back and our first ride of the day was Voyage. This really was one of the most anticipated coasters of the trip for m; it has a good reputation, it fast and long, it is iconic, yet it is known to be rough towards the end of the season. Thankfully Holiday World look after their coasters and it received some significant re-tracking of parks of the layout over the last closed season.

    I think my first ride was towards the back of the train, ensuring it was an odd numbered row so not to sit over the wheels. I think I mentioned this in one of my previous reports but this really is a top tip for woodies with PTCs. The lift hill is huge for a woodie and the anticipation for the ride ahead builds. Then it’s down the first drop, picking up great speed, before entering two large airtime hills which whilst taken at a much slower speed do give some nice airtime. Then you dive through a couple of tunnels with some lower airtime filled hills before the big terrain hugging turnaround that’s really quite intense. There is a MCBR which cuts some of the pace from the ride, followed by a triple down drop inside a tunnel whereby all that speed is suddenly picked up again, quite how I will never know! With this being an out and back layout the ride follows the same path as the outward journey with lots more hills that are this time lower to the ground and a few turns thrown in, some heavily banked. The final third of the ride is the weakest and includes a dive in to a tunnel underneath the station where a there is a big jolt that can hurt if you are not prepared for it. I expect this is the next park of Voyage that is due a re-track.

    Voyage really is a phenomenal coaster though. It’s one heck of an experience and you really do have to ride it and become part of the beast. There’s great airtime, speed, intense turns and plenty of moments of surprise. Then it is something else on the front row with the wind in your face, the airtime here on the first hills is also much stronger. I bloody loved this coaster!

    Next up, Thunderbird. I’ve found that B&M Wing Coasters can be pretty hit and miss. Fenix is great, The Swarm and X-Flight are fairly good but I did not enjoy Gatekeeper. So what would a launched version be like? Very good as it turns out! The launch is punchy, much more so than I expected. What follows flows well and although it is not overly forceful it is good fun. There’s also a decent effort with the theming around the in-line twist and the impressive station building. I think I just about prefer Fenix, but Thunderbird is up there.

    Before Voyage the parks most famous coaster was Legend and that’s what we went to ride next. Annoyingly this did have a long queue and was only running one train; they were waiting for a part on the second train. Legend opened in 2000 and was “reborn” in for 2016 season with changes made to the layout by GCI. It’s a bizarre coaster, unlike any other woodie that I have done before. There’s no airtime or nicely banked turns, just a whole load of lateral forces! This includes a 77 foot spiral drop designed especially for prolonged laterals. I can’t say I was a huge fan of the coaster, despite the recent re-tracking it is quite rough in places and riding it for the first time when you’ve no idea what to expect is uncomfortable. Therefore the second ride on it was better, and it was not as bad as some of the woodies on the trip!

    And before Legend came Raven. Raven is considerably shorter than both Voyage and Legend but once again has a very unique layout that keeps on giving. The best way to describe it really is a series of drops that vary in height and are broken up by corners, and a terrain hugging speed run back to the station after the final drop in the layout. It was brilliant fun on the front row but rougher further back in the train.

    The park does have one more coaster, Howler, which is a standard layout Zamperla kids coaster. Yep, it’s crap. We also rode the rapids which were somewhat disappointing; you got really quite wet but only from water effects and not from the waves. There is also an interactive dark ride, Gobbler Getaway, whereby you have to collect turkeys by shooting at them. Yes, it is as hilariously random as it sounds!

    Holiday World is a very nice park, everything is well presented and there is plenty of greenery. You can tell that they care about how clean the park is, however there maybe was not quite as much theming in places than was expected. The Christmas area did not feel overly Christmassy!

    Free parking and free soft drinks are a real bonus though. The food we had was fairly standard for a theme park but you could have had a traditional thanksgiving dinner if that took your fancy.

    Holiday World is certainly worth a visit, and I’d love to return and give the waterpark a go.

    As we got everything done that we had wanted to we left early and begun the drive to our hotel in Louisville in preparation for Kentucky Kingdom!

    :)
     
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  3. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    Great report, Rob!
     
  4. John_P

    John_P TowersStreet Member

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    Wish UK parks would offer a full roast dinner as part of the dining options.
     
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  5. Rob

    Rob TS Forum Team Team Member

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    Day 12 - Kentucky Kingdom

    We did not have far to travel to Kentucky Kingdom, the previous night’s hotel was about a two minute drive from the park, ideal! The park is on land that is leased from the Kentucky Exposition Centre and you park in one of their lots. We did arrive about half an hour early and I have never parked so close to the entrance of a park before, 50 meters away if that I reckon!

    We had booked our tickets using ECC discount which meant that we were able to get wristbands for free soft drinks all day. Also whilst waiting for the park to open we noticed that there seemed to be some staggered openings with rides certain rides including Storm Chaser not opening until 12pm.

    Clearly there are 2 stand-out rides at Kentucky Kingdom; Storm Chaser and Lightning Run. And with the former not yet open, our first coaster of the day was the latter. This Chance Rides Hyper GT-X was built for when the park re-opened in 2014 and on paper looks like a good fun family coaster. It’s actually much more than that with a layout that provides some fantastic airtime and tight turns. It is also exceptionally smooth which seems almost strange for a coaster with this old track style. I’d be interested to know who makes the trains for this, as they have a very RMC look and feel to them. In fact the whole coaster is very RMC in terms of how it rides! My only surprise is that Chance have not sold another one since this opened, hopefully they will soon!

    The park’s other coasters are all at the back of the park, and getting here requires crossing a road that cuts right through the middle. You can either take the bridge, or there is a manned crossing where pedestrians have right of way. How unique! The next coaster was Thunder Run, a Dinn Corporation wooden coaster that initially opened in 1990. This was one of those wooden coasters that wasn’t great but at the same time wasn’t too bad; rough but rideable. The layout reminded me that of Hurler but better. There’s not much more to say really, we did it twice at this point and didn’t come back to it!

    By now it was almost 12pm so we headed over to Storm Chaser ready for it to open. By this point it was clear that the park was exceptionally quiet with only a couple of other people waiting at the ride. Storm Chaser is one of the smaller RMCs and when it first opened it really looked to die at the end due to a lack of speed. However it’s had a wheel change since then and has sped up considerably! My first ride was on the back row and the ride begins with a turn at the top of the lift in to a barrel roll drop a la The Smiler (but better). You really get whipped over at the back and then it is in to the beautifully profiled airtime hill which gives some serious ejector airtime. The rest of the layout is a mix of perfectly smooth inversions and being thrown out of your seat in small but very effective airtime hills.

    Storm Chaser is superb; it’s like a mini version of Steel Vengeance that is constantly doing something from start to finish. And an added bonus is that you were able to pull down your own lap bars (you can’t on many RMCs for some reason) giving you the chance to get a loose restraint and literally fly right out of your seat. The second bonus was that it was so quiet that we were able to just sit on the train and go round and round, swapping seats if we wanted to. The front row was ever better with strong airtime throughout. I adore this coaster and the park is worth a visit for it alone.

    With something so good has to come something bad, the first and thankfully only Vekoma SLC of the trip: T3. However this SLC does not have Vekoma trains, oh no, it has trains from KumbaK, yes, KumbaK. The good thing about these trains is that the main part of the restraint secures you at the waist and there are straps that go over your shoulders so no head banging. The bad thing about them is that they ride poorly. T3 is what it is, a crap coaster.

    Finally we have Roller Skater which is a Vekoma Junior coaster. There’s nothing really to say about it, but we did get to go around twice as we were the only people riding it!

    As for the parks other rides, there is a rapids but these appeared to be closed for the day. New for this year is Scream Xtreme, a Zamperla Endeavour which is their take on the classic Enterprise ride. One of these would be good for Towers considering the age of Enterprise! FearFall is a Larson drop tower and to be honest I can’t remember anything about it. Then there is a 5D cinema which shows the MackMedia film Happy Family! Unfortunately the majority of the Europa-Park segments of the film have been cut out however the 5D seats work really well.

    Like many US parks, Kentucky Kingdom has a waterpark that is part of the theme park and included with park entry. Areas of the waterpark actually looked really nice and the park as a whole was more aesthetically pleasing than I was expecting. The area around Storm Chaser could do with some work, as could the walk between here at T3 which is a mess of concrete with a Larson Loop plonked there.

    The food was, as you’d expect, you’re typical theme park stuff. However ours was cooked to order with how quiet it was!

    Before I finish here is a fun fact about Storm Chaser. It is on the site of the former Twisted Twins wooden coaster and uses the old station building. As this was a duelling woodie it had two stations, so one is used as the current Storm Chaser onload/offload platform and the other as the maintenance bay, complete with air gates!

    I’d certainly recommend Kentucky Kingdom. It is a nice small park that fits in nicely to a bigger road trip as a shorter and quieter day. However this was the last of the small theme parks for this trip with only big hitters remaining. We left the park early and begun the drive up to Mason in Ohio as next up was Kings Island!

    :)
     
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  6. John

    John TowersStreet Member

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    The drop tower was memorable for me, for one reason only.

    Normally on drop towers the magnetic brakes have two or more parallel rows per side which start at different heights so the braking force is applied gradually. Not on this one - you go from freefall to maximum brake force instantly - not comfortable.

    T3 is dire.
     
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  7. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    Great report, Rob! Kentucky Kingdom always looks like one of those lovely small parks that have a lot of charm, so I'd really like to visit one day (we'll actually, Storm Chaser and Lightning Run alone make me want to visit some day!) The whole park kind of reminds me of Drayton Manor; is this what it feels like when you're there, out of interest?

    I too am surprised that Chance have not sold any more Hyper GT-X Coasters!
     
  8. AstroDan

    AstroDan TS Forum Team Team Member

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    I wouldn't say KK had charm.

    It was OK but not really any more than that. Rob's being quite kind.

    :)
     
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  9. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    Ah right. Thanks @AstroDan!
     
  10. Rob

    Rob TS Forum Team Team Member

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    I think for me the park was nicer in places than I expected it to be, and Storm Chaser was just fantastic so when a park has something that good I will always recommend it. You would not plan a trip around Kentucky Kingdom, far from it, but it's a good park to pop in to if you are in the area.

    :)
     
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  11. Rob

    Rob TS Forum Team Team Member

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    Day 13 - Kings Island

    Kings Island is a park that I was really looking forward to. It’s almost like the little brother of Cedar Point and has had two awesome looking new coasters in recent years; Banshee and Mystic Timbers. This is on top of an already solid line-up.

    As for the park itself I was not too sure what to expect. I’d been to Kings Dominion previously which although nice in places didn’t have the best feel to it and Cedar Point has the lovely back of the park but the concrete jungle that is the front of the park. So where would Kings Island come in? Cedar Fair are certainly trying to improve the look and feel of their parks at the moment so I had hope.

    We had managed to get a good Presidents Day deal which meant that we got Fastlane Plus included with our ticket for no extra cost, so once arrived we picked up our wristbands. The actual entrance to the park is pretty ugly, hopefully they have plans to redevelop it sooner rather than later. Then like Kings Dominion the park has a lovely International Street with buildings either side of a rectangular fountain filled lake, all leading up to a one-third scale replica of the Eiffel Tower.

    First up was Invertigo which perhaps unsurprisingly is a Vekoma Invertigo. Basically an inverted Boomerang but nowhere near as big, or as good, as a GIB. It does have back to back seating so that riders are facing each other, and I don’t recall it being as bad as most standard Boomerangs.

    Now then, I absolutely love big B&M Inverts. Alpengeist is my favourite, Montu is brilliant and I have always wanted to ride Katun. So needless to say that I had high hopes for Banshee which is the latest from B&M. It looks mighty impressive with a long layout consisting of 7 inversions and the second biggest drop on an Invert (after my beloved Alpy). It also features a new model of train for an Invert coaster which have the same vest restraints found on Wing Coasters and some of the newer Dive Machines.

    My first ride was on the back row which is often the best place for a forceful ride on Inverts. However, and it saddens me to say this, I was underwhelmed. In fact we were all underwhelmed. I had heard reviews from when Banshee first opened that this was B&M back to their best with a forceful layout but the forces were in fact very limited. And to make matters worse it was very rattily making for a less than comfortable ride experience. How can the newest Invert be rattily yet the oldest Invert (Batman at Great America) be so perfectly smooth? It was better and smoother on the front row, but was not what I hoped it would be. The vest restraints on it are also stupid and all there for the sake of a horrible in-line twist. Thank god Grona Lund are rumoured to have request the original trains for their Invert!

    Kings Island used to be owned by Paramount and it is rides like Adventure Express where this really shows. This is a 1991 Arrow Mine Train but with extensive theming and effects which although now slightly dated are still impressive. The ride starts off slowly, working its way downhill and through a themed tunnel before reaching the first lift hill. A long drop to the right follows where some speed is gained and then it largely sticks to twists and turns along the terrain through theming and tunnels. It then reaches the second lift hill which is fully enclosed and houses large stone warriors on either side of the track who move their arms up and down. Unfortunately this lift does lead back to the station but overall this is a great family mine train coaster!

    Racer is the parks duelling wooden coaster and opened back in 1972. It has a red and a blue side, but when we first went to ride only the red side was operating. Thankfully the blue side came in to operation not long afterwards so we did get both coasters done! It is a simple out and back layout with plenty of hills that vary in height along the course of the layout. From memory you do get some quite nice floaty airtime, but we went on a lot of coasters so I may be getting things mixed up! Considering its age though it is a fairly smooth coaster and good fun all round.

    When it comes to coasters at Kings Island, The Bat is a very famous name. The Bat originally opened in 1981 as a prototype Swinging Suspended Coaster from Arrow however due to many mechanical problems it only lasted until the end of the 1983 season before it was removed. Then in 1993 Kings Island got a new Swinging Suspended Coaster from Arrow named Top Gun and then Flight Deck once they could no longer use the IP. In 2014 Kings Island gave it a new name - The Bat! I only rode this once but it’s fair to say that it’s much better than Dragging Iron at Cedar Point. There are a couple of decent drops which allow for some swinging and it is a fun ride. I’d like to have ridden it again to form a better opinion however I opted to try and like Banshee a little bit more by riding it a few more times.

    We’ve all ridden a B&M Flying Coaster, but Vekoma actually had their own version of these beforehand in the form of the Flying Dutchman. Firehawk, which used to be at the now closed Geauga Lake, initially opened in 2001 there and in 2007 at Kings Island. On these you take your seat in the station on a train that appears to be facing the wrong way, put on your restraint/harness (it’s like putting on some sort of dinner jacket) and then before leaving the station the rows all tilt backwards so that you are lying on your back. It does not feel at all refined! I went for the front row in the hope that it would lead to a more pleasant ride, strangely enough, it was quite good fun! Sure the lift isn’t overly comfortable and turning from lie to fly at the top feels like you are about to die, but it was much smoother than I expected, forceful in places and I was able to actually enjoy it. However I understand that it is much worse towards the back of the train.

    Flight of Fear is clone of the version I had already ridden at Kings Dominion, however this one seemed rougher and just not as good. A shame as I had previously really enjoyed the one at KD. Backlot Stunt Coaster is another clone of what is at KD, and this was just as fun as I remember it being. The upwards helix after the launch is really quite intense, and the themed MCRB features some nice effects including fire. A perfect family thrill coaster!

    Vortex is a custom Arrow looping coaster that opened in 1987 on the site of the original Bat (it utilises the original station building). I am always concerned when I see a big Arrow looper, and this one has a 138ft drop, so I did fear the worst. However it’s actually okay and relatively smooth considering what it is and its age. The old Arrows really do seem to be hit and miss.

    Now for one of the most anticipated coasters at the park and one of the most famous wooden coasters in the world: The Beast. It opened in 1979 as the longest wooden coaster in the world and it still holds that record today. The Beast is not like other wooden coasters, it’s not about airtime or twisting transitions, it’s all about speed. And at 65mph it is still one of the fastest woodies out there. After slowly climbing the first lift hill the train drops down in to a tunnel before turning left and speeding in to the woods. Here there are a series of long straight and sweeping bends broken up with a stretch of magnetic trims which slow your down, but the ride continues downhill after this and soon picks up speed. After your long trip through the woods you hit the second lift hill where at the top the train takes a left turn before one of the strangest drops on any coaster in the world. It is not at all steep but the track is banked/tilted to the left in preparation for the downwards double helix at the bottom. This whole section is just phenomenal; it is one of those moments on a coaster that just wows you. After this huge and lengthy drop element the coaster heads back up to the final brake run.

    I really enjoyed The Beast, and it becomes another beast itself when ridden on the front row. The only downside is the magnetic trims in various points of the layout which are very noticeable, but I understand that they are necessary. I only wish that the park closed later than 8pm so that it could have been ridden in the dark.

    From an older wooden coaster to one that is practically brand new. Mystic Timber opened last year (2017) and is a GCI woodie featuring a post-show; what’s in the shed? The coaster features one fairly large Troy like drop, a relatively high corner and then a low terrain hugging out and back layout feature lots of hills, bumps and twists. The coaster is quite relentless and the track is constantly doing something to make sure that you are popping out of your seat. It’s no Wodan but it is really good fun, and the post-show is actually quite a nice way of holding your as you wait to return to the station. It starts off with some 1980s music playing whilst you wait for the train in front to be loaded, then once it is clear and your train is ready to move on a loud screeching noise is heard, the music cuts out and one of 3 random scenes featuring either bats, a snake or a giant living tree plays on the various screens. It’s pretty well done.

    The final major coaster at the park is Diamondback, a B&M Hyper Coaster which has B&Ms V seating configuration and a splash down. Unfortunately it has faded terribly since it was new back in 2009 and towards the back of the train it doesn’t feel like it’s aged overly well. However the first half of the ride from the top of the lift to the MCRB is good with some great B&M hyper airtime over the hills. The MCBR does kill it somewhat though and the second half is poor. Still, a good coaster.

    The 3 coasters that I am yet to mention are Woodstock Express (a good little kids woodie), Flying Aces Aerial Chase (the first Vekoma Suspended Family Coaster and you can tell) and Great Pumpkin Coaster (a tiny kids coaster that we could not go on). These are all located in the kids area of the park; Planet Snoopy. It’s actually a really good kids area, sure there’s not loads of theming but there are lots of rides; as well as the 3 coasters there is a log flume, an interactive dark ride and various flats.

    Of the other rides I went on, Drop Tower (imaginative name) is 315ft Intamin rotating drop tower. Yes it’s tall but the drop is nothing special. Then there are the parks rapids, White Water Canyon, which are just brilliant! Lots of waves along the course to get you wet, just as a rapids should had. There were also staff operated geysers to ensure you didn’t come off dry!

    Kings Island really is a lovely park. It is well presented with some nice landscaping, areas such as Rivertown are fairly well themed and the park’s main midway, Coney Mall, is unlike the midway at Cedar Point with paving and greenery. It is in this area that we had our lunch at the new Coney Bar B Que, delicious! The parks famous blueberry soft serve ice cream also went down a treat.

    For such a large park with so many coasters I cannot help but feel that Kings Island is lacking a real top class stand out coaster. Sure Mystic Timbers is great, The Beast is iconic, and Diamondback is fun but it really would benefit from its own Maverick or I305, something that is really going to challenge your top 10. I suppose Banshee had the potential to be this but it did not deliver. Hopefully they’re next major coaster will be the answer!

    In the meantime our day here was done and we had a short 5 minute drive back to our hotel via some food. The next day was the journey down to Dollywood!

    :)
     
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  12. RicketyCricket

    RicketyCricket TowersStreet Member

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    Forget Steel Vengeance/Fury/lightning Rod... The Beast is number one on my to do list. Glad you enjoyed!

    Interesting you say Wodan > Mystic Timbers. I've always heard MT is by far the best GCI out there.
     
  13. Rob

    Rob TS Forum Team Team Member

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    Wodan for me is the Nemesis of wooden coasters. Shorter than some but it packs a real punch from start to finish!

    :)
     
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  14. Rob

    Rob TS Forum Team Team Member

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    Day 14 - Travel to Dollywood

    The drive from our hotel by Kings Island to Dollywood was meant to take about 5 hours, and we had a stop planned along the route for some lunch. The weather forecast was really not great though with rain much of the way, leading to accidents and other delays that meant the journey took longer than planned. Plus Manchester United got a lucky win over Leicester as we made our way down, great!

    Before we arrived we drove up to Gatlinburg to take a look at the Rowdy Bear Alpine Coaster. I did not ride this due to the cost for what it was but a couple of us did. Then it was back down to Pigeon Forge so we could check in to our hotel for the next 2 nights, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort.

    DreamMore is stunningly beautiful. The hotel is not themed as such; it just has a really welcoming style and a calming atmosphere. It is a place where you can just unwind and relax in the shows of the Great Smoky Mountains, and you get a wonderful view of these from the top floor.

    After checking in we grabbed a drink from the hotel bar and took a seat outside. We had concerns before arriving about the hotel bar, Dollywood itself is a dry park and there had been reports that the hotel bar closes very early, but thankfully this was not the case! The plan had been to head out to Pigeon Forge for some food and give the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster a go. However a few of us had got rather comfortable sitting outside so we stayed put whilst the others went out.

    This meant that we could give the DreamMore hotel buffet a go. And boy am I glad that we did, the food was outstanding. For starters the choice is limited to salad options, then for mains there were things such as their famous fried chicken, some lovely beef brisket in a sauce and plenty of vegetable related sides. Deserts ranged from apple pie and cakes to jelly and fruit salad. Yum!

    After a couple more drinks in the bar and feeling rather merry it was time to head to bed ready for our first day at Dolly Parton’s theme park.

    Days 15 and 16 - Dollywood

    Dollywood is one of those theme parks that I have wanted to visit for quite a while now. It has always looked so beautiful with some good coasters, great theming and fab food. Then the opening of Lightning Rod in 2016 really did make this a must visit theme park.

    And let’s start with Lightning Rod. This coaster has been plagued with problem after problem since it first opened. We’d been joking way in advance of this trip about whether or not it would be open; however it did seem that they had finally got things sorted and I believe that it ran towards the end of the 2017 season. However it started having issues again this season and went down at the start of July with a message on their website stating that it was closed for repair. I had emailed Dollywood about this and all they could say was that the ride was in the hands of the manufacturer and it could re-open in either a matter of days, or it could be a number of weeks.

    So yes, the damn thing was shut for our visit. When you do a massive road trip like this then you do have to expect to be spited by one major coaster and for us it was Lightning Rod. Not much has really come out about what the problems are however rumours suggest that it may need re-tracking at the bottom of the first drop. It’s still closed.

    Anyway, now that’s out of the way we can focus on the rest of the park. We took the delightful trolley bus from Dolly’s fine hotel to the park, and entered through the dedicated Resort guest entrance. There was half an hours worth of hotel guest ERT on Mystery Mine, however as we had hotel fast passes we decided to give this a miss and got straight on to Thunderhead when it opened. This is the park’s GCI woodie and I was expected it to have aged badly. My expectations had been wrong, Thunderhead was brilliant! Fast and fun with pops of airtime throughout, especially riding whilst holding up the lap bar for maximum float space.

    Mystery Mine was meant to be next, however it had gone down. I’ll come back to this later!

    So next was FireChaser Express, a custom Gerstlauer family coaster featuring a lift hill and 2 tire propelled launches. As a family coaster it is spot on; a long ride that is not too intense, lots of different elements and a nice show scene before the backwards launch at the end. It is just a pity that the capacity is relatively low.

    Dollywood has had a lot of new coasters in recent years. FireChaser Express opened in 2014 and in 2012 the park got a B&M Wing Coaster named Wild Eagle. The station building for this is pretty impressive from the outside, and near the entrance is a large sculpture of an eagle. Wild Eagle’s lift hill climbs up the side of a hill in the middle of the park, and next comes a rarity for this type of coaster, a drop straight down! A loop follows, then a zero-g, then an immelmann followed by a corkscrew. A couple of turnarounds occur before the ride, or bird as they like to call it, hits the brake run. Wild Eagle is fine, perfectly enjoyable, but is lacking any real force or any theming to make up for the lack of force. Sure the setting it nice but it’s not really enough.

    Tennessee Tornado is the last ever custom looping coaster built by Arrow and opened in 1999. It begins with a pre-drop at the top of the lift, a turn to the right and a large main drop in to a tunnel picking up significant speed. Speed is not something you always want on an Arrow, but this is remarkably smooth! A huge loop follows and then the coaster turns in to another loop and a sidewinder. Next is a turn to the ride then bam, the brakes, ride over. It is a shame that this is so short as what’s there is fantastic!

    Like Silver Dollar City, Dollywood has a dark coaster named Blazing Fury. It is very similar to Fire in the Hole at SDC, the layout may well be the name, I am not sure. The theme certainly is, however the scenes seem to be of a better quality and it seemed like there are more effects. There is now splashdown during the third and final drop though; this was removed for the 2011 season when magnetic brakes were installed.

    The other coaster at Dollywood is Whistle Punk Chaser. It is a standard Zamperla kids coaster. It is crap!

    We managed to get all of these coasters done on our first day; however Mystery Mine did not open. We actually left the park early on the first day at around 4pm to head back to the hotel and spend some time relaxing in and around the lovely hotel pool which was most enjoyable. The next morning we headed back on park and Mystery Mine was still down with no sign of activity. So we went to do some other rides, and then at around 2.30pm noticed that Mystery Mine has started testing! An opening was surely imminent!? We started to form a queue at the entrance, and it just kept going round and round before eventually they stopped sending out cars. We had wanted to leave the park early to start our journey to the next hotel, but equally wanted to get on Mystery Mine. We had also finished with the rest of the park by this point, so decided just to sit and wait nearby. Then at about 5pm we were told they were doing final tests, so started to queue again. After a little while it did open; turns out it had a big software problem the day before that took a while to fix, and once they had fixed it the maintenance crews had to perform their incredibly lengthy morning checks but in the afternoon.

    Credit to the staff though, they were fantastic! When we got to the station one of the hosts shouted out asking if the Brits had made it (we’d be speaking to him throughout the day for updates) and the op was in a jovial mood singing “pull down, pull down, pull down” over the PA system as people boarded the cars and need to pull down their restraints. The entire ride team seemed delighted that Mystery Mine had eventually opened, and wanted to make sure all guests had a memorable experience.

    On to the ride experience, track and train it’s nothing special. The coaster section after the first lift is awkward and feels like a Gerstlauer Bobsled coaster but with Eurofighter cars. Then the coaster section after the second lift is fairly smooth and thrilling, but very short. Mystery Mine is not about the coaster sections though, it’s all about the theming and effects which are outstanding. The dark ride section between the station and the first lift is well themed and features a small drop out of the station, a slow outer banked turn and another ‘hidden’ drop to avoid a spinning rock. The second dark ride section consists of the second vertical lift; you climb this (it is themed as a lift shaft) and a screen on the ceiling acts as a window showing a storm that is brewing. As you pass over the top of the lift the car is held and lit fuse makes its way to some boxes of dynamite, cue fire effects and then you drop for the rest of the ride. It just all works exceptionally well!

    So with all of the coasters covered, let’s focus on the other rides we did at Dollywood over the 2 days that we had. Smoky Mountain River Rampage is the parks rapids and whilst fun they are very wet due to some huge waves. Daredevil Falls is a Hopkins flume style ride with two across seating in the boats, it was pretty good fun. Then a final water ride which we didn’t know about beforehand is Mountain Slidewinder, a water toboggan ride where you walk to the top of the hill in the middle of the park and come back down in a large dingy on a course featuring tight turns a drop at the end; really good fun!

    Barnstormer is an S&S Screamin’ Swing; these are still one of my favourite flat rides out there. Drop Line was new in 2017 and is a 230ft drop tower which was pretty good. Then we also went on the park’s huge train ride, the Dollywood Express. It is 5 miles in length and takes you up to the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and back. Dollywood have several coal burning locomotives for the Dollywood Express, 2 of which are used in normal operations. It is a nice relaxing ride that helps to break up your day.

    There are quite a few themed areas in the park; however I would say that it’s really split in to two areas. You have the newer left hand side of the park where most of the coasters can be found. This area is higher up and has a more modern theme park feel to it with nice theming around the likes of Mystery Mine and FireChaser Express. Then there is the older right hand ride of the park which feels like it is down in the valley. Here are more wooden buildings containing many shops, craft workshops and eateries. You can tell this was the old Silver Dollar City area of the park.

    Dollywood is a beautiful park, it really is. But maybe it did not help that my visit was a week after being at the even more beautiful Silver Dollar City. It just felt it was lacking something for me; maybe that was Lightning Rod, maybe it was because Mystery Mine was down for the majority of the time we had there, maybe it is something else. It’s a great park but I was expecting to like to more than SCD and this was not the case.

    One thing that did impress me at Dollywood, as it did as SDC, was the delicious food. There are so many different options and my Ham ‘n’ Beans at Granny Ogle’s was top notch. But like SDC, it is a shame that you cannot have a nice cold beer anywhere in the park.

    Dollywood have announced Wildwood Grove for 2019 which I think will be a very welcome addition. I am also looking forward to seeing what they have planned for 2020 and beyond. It is a park that I’m keen to get back to, I think I will enjoy it even more upon my return and Lightning Road is a must do coaster.

    Next stop - Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the first park on the trip that I had previously visited.

    :)
     
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  15. Rob

    Rob TS Forum Team Team Member

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    Days 17 and 18 - Busch Gardens Williamsburg

    Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a theme park that is close to my heart. I previously visited in 2011 and fell in love with the place; it was my favourite theme park until 2 visits to Europa-Park. So it’s needless to say that I was very excited to return.

    You can read my 2011 review of Busch Gardens Williamsburg over on TowersTimes. The park have added 3 new coasters since my last visit; Verbolten, Tempesto and InvadR.

    We had the best part of 2 full days at the park, arriving at lunch time on our first day and with the park being open until 9pm both days. So opportunities for rides in the dark! We got some food from England upon our arrival and then headed to Scotland for Loch Ness Monster.

    2018 is a big year for Nessie; she is celebrating her 40th birthday! And because of this the park has purchased ‘new’ trains (they’re still the same old Arrow style, not sure where they got them from) and have got the tunnel effects working again. Nessie remains a little rough in places but is such a classic and those interlocking loops are just so iconic.

    I loved Griffon back in 2011 and that did not change this time around. In fact I am now in a position to confidently say that it is by far the best B&M Dive Coaster out there. The trains are huge making for a great ride in the edge ‘wing’ seats, it is smooth, you get a tonne of airtime on the drops thanks to the normal B&M restraints and it’s quite forceful. Valravn actually offends me, it should have been as good as if not better than Griffon yet it does not come close.

    Alpengeist was my top B&M Invert before the trip and that’s not changed. It is massive, and the first drop is so huge that it makes the trains look tiny. Yes it dies a little bit at the end, but the first two thirds are brilliant and the cobra roll is particularly intense. For me Alpengeist is best on the front row in the dark!

    The park’s final B&M is Apollo’s Chariot, a coaster that many on here know that I enjoyed rather a lot back in 2011! Is it as good as I remembered it being? Maybe. I still find it really good fun with some good floater airtime throughout and some ejector airtime towards the back of the train when coming off the MCBR and on the final surprise hill/drop at the end. The turnaround is a little drawn out but the rest of the ride is great!

    Now on to the coasters that are new for me. Let’s start with Tempesto; unfortunately this was down for both days we were there, and there were techies working on the LIMs.

    So Verbolten, a coaster I have wanted to ride ever since it was announced. I followed the construction of this coaster very closely over the 2011/12 closed season and it was exactly what the park needed at the time, a true family coaster. The queue line is well themed and leads to the station building which is that of the former Big Bad Wolf. There are 2 onload/offload platforms and 5 trains can be used, however during our visit it was always on one station and 3 trains which meant there was always a 30 minute or so queue (all of the B&Ms were practically walk on all of the time).

    You take a seat in one of the exquisite trains that are themed to old sports cars, and then slowly wind down from the station to the first launch up in to the large show building, also known as the Black Forest. The indoor coaster section is actually rather intense with some tight helixes taken at speed. The UV illuminated 2D forest theming also works very well seeing as you are passing it as speed. The show building finale is a Thirteen style drop track section with 3 difference scenes that can play; spirit of the forest, storm and wolves. The drop itself is very punchy, more so than Thirteen’s but it is nowhere near as refined. After this you drop out of the building and enter the ride’s second launch which takes you up to a bridge, and then it is the ride’s final big drop down towards the Rhine River.

    Verbolten is brilliant, for me it is up there as one of the very best family thrill coasters out there. A good ride combined with some nice theming and effects.

    InvadR was the park’s new addition in 2017 and is a family GCI woodie but with a steel support structure. I expected this to be very similar in terms of thrill level to Wicker Man as they are both a similar size. However there really is no comparison, Wicker Man is just so much better. InvadR’s first drop isn’t bad but after that it’s just bland and there is no real force or out of control feeling. GCIs tend to be relentless yet InvadR never gets going. It’s probably great for a kids first slightly bigger coaster but it did nothing for me.

    One of my favourite rides at the park back in 2011 was Curse of DarKastle however the decision was taken to remove the ride this year. This has been indirectly replaced though with a new dark ride in the Ireland area; Battle for Eire. This utilises the former Europe in the Air/Corkscrew Hill show building and ride system, but with VR headsets. Yes, here we go, another one of these silly VR things in a theme park. Apart from this is not silly, the VR works really well!

    At the end of the queue line you get given mask/helmet that you put on your head. Then when you sit down for the ride itself, the VR headset simply attaches to your helmet using magnets and there is no faffing around getting it all to fit as you’ve done this beforehand. Brilliant! For those that do not know the ride system is basically a theatre of seating on one big moving platform. You previously watched a film on a screen but now the film in on the VR headsets and the moving platform helps to add another dimension to the experience. The ride itself is a little on the short side but it was pretty good and the best utilisation of VR in a theme park so far.

    Roman Rapids remain an extremely wet rapids ride with the dreaded run of waterfalls which pour huge streams of water over pretty much everybody in the boat. Le Scoot, the log flume, was good fun and Escape from Pompeii is the best shoot the chute style water ride there is thanks to the theming and indoor effects; fire!!

    I was finally able to get on Mach Tower after all of the problems it suffered back in 2011. It is meant to have onboard audio but this wasn’t working. For a drop tower it is pretty awful and makes a horrendous noise as it drops.

    Now I must talk about food. We had pre-booked our park tickets quite a way in advance for what seemed like a good deal, however not long before we were due to fly out the park did an offer where you could get tickets with all day dining included. The coast of these for 2 days was only about £10 more than we had paid for our tickets, and after giving the park a ring they allowed us to upgrade out tickets! So for just £10 each we were able to get a main meal, a side or dessert and a soft drink every 90 minutes. And boy did we make use of this! The food here is brilliant anyway and we sampled most of it. I particularly enjoyed the new offerings in Marco Polo’s Marketplace (in Italy) and Trappers Smokehouse (in New France) along with Das Festhaus (in Oktoberfest) remain top notch.

    Busch Gardens is also a lovely park to enjoy a beer with a good selection all around the park and a huge selection in the new beer room of the Festhaus. It’s just a shame it costs so much!

    Everyone knows just how beautiful the park is, the landscaping is wonderful and the view from the bridge over the Rhine to Oktoberfest from Italy towards the centre of the park is one of the best theme park views in the world. There is just a lovely atmosphere around the park that makes it a nice place to be and spend time relaxing. To me it feels like a European Park in the US which is a rarity.

    So after a brilliant 2 days it was off to the next park, Kings Dominion!
     
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  16. Rob

    Rob TS Forum Team Team Member

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    Day 19 - Kings Dominion

    It’s taken me longer than planned to get round to this, but here we go. Kings Dominion was the second park of the trip that I had previously visited and in all honesty it did not leave a great impression on me when I visited in 2011. However I was looking forward to giving the park another chance, getting back on I305 and experiencing Twisted Timbers.

    Again, if you want to read my 2011 reviews of Kings Dominion it is over on TowersTimes.

    Like for our visit to Kings Island we had got a ticket deal which included Fastlane Plus at no extra cost. So it was straight to pick up the wristbands when we arrived and then grabbed a much needed flat white from Starbucks. We hardly had to use our Fastlane wristbands though as the park was very quiet!

    One ride that Fastlane was useful for was our first ride of the day, Twisted Timbers. This is the park’s new RMC and replaces Hurler which was a pretty poor wooden coaster. I was very excited for Twisted Timbers as it looks like a layout that’s full of airtime. It starts in a similar manner to Storm Chaser with a lift hill in to a turn and then a barrel roll drop. There is then an overbanked turn that’s fairly low to the ground meaning it’s taken at a fair speed before you enter 3 airtime hills in a row, and as you’d expect, the airtime is brilliant! Next is an unusual cutback turn which inverts, it’s effectively a very heavily overbanked turn. There are then more airtime hills that this time are closer to the ground, and outer banked turn, a very low zero-g roll and some more airtime elements en route back to the station.

    Twisted Timber is very good; there is no doubt about that. But I could not help feel slightly underwhelmed by it. I do not think it helped that I had ridden the brilliant Steel Vengeance, Outlaw Run and Storm Chaser beforehand; SteVe is in league of its own, Outlaw Run is phenomenal and Storm Chaser is near perfect for its size. Maybe if Twisted Timbers had been the first RMC I had ridden I would have been truly blown away, but it was left slightly in the shadow of these other 3 beasts.

    As a part of the new area for Twisted Timbers the park have re-themed their Mack Wild Mouse Ricochet in to Zapple Apple. It’s now green not yellow, there’s not much more to say.

    Another coaster with a new name for 2018 is Racer 75, which was previously Rebel Yell. This racing wooden coaster open in 1975 had has recently had quite a lot of re-tracking work and it remains the best wooden coaster at Kings Dominion!

    Intamin are known for creating some crazy coasters but Intimidator 305 has to be up there as one of their craziest ever. This was just as I remembered it being back in 2011 which is good news; thankfully it is showing no signs of aging or roughness. I305 is just so intense with the forces on the long first turn up in to the first hill causing many riders to grey out. I had my first ever proper grey out here on the back row where my vision went past the point of being blurry and there was just no colour for a short period of time. There is not loads of airtime on I305 but much of the layout is relatively low to the ground meaning that elements are taken at a tremendous speed. I find the front row is the place to sit, mainly due to the speed. It really is an impressive coaster!

    The other top coaster at Kings Dominion is Dominator, a B&M Floorless. I only did it a couple of times on this visit however it’s a very good coaster and possibly the best Floorless coaster by B&M. It manages to combine a unique series of elements with strong forces resulting in a great experience.

    I’m not going to spend too much time on the other coasters as really my thoughts have no changed a great deal since 2011. Anaconda is a rough old Arrow custom looping coaster, Avalanche is a somewhat average Mack Bobsled, Grizzly is a rough wooden coaster (again!), Flight of Fear is a good indoor coaster which is smoother than its twin at Kings Island and Woodstock Express is a fun kids woodie.

    I do however want to mention Backlot Stunt Coaster. This is a clone of the one at Kings Island and I had previously ridden it at Kings Dominion back in 2011. They’re great family thrill coasters with some nice theming and effects. However for some reason the effects on Backlot Stunt Coaster at Kings Dominion were not working; no fire, no gunshots from the helicopter and so on. Such a disappointment. When asked the staff didn’t seem to care and implied that they’re just not used any more.

    Talking about the staff, there were pretty poor here. Most seemed to hate their lives and the staff on Anaconda in particular were extremely slow and laborious. A real pity as some parks in the US manage to get really enthusiastic staff who have a positive impact on your day at the park.

    You’ll notice that I am yet to mention Volcano: The Blast Coaster. That’s because it was closed for our visit and is set to be closed until 2019 due to major maintenance work that is required. Another coaster that I rode back in 2011 that is no longer at the park is Shockwave (it was an awful Togo Stand-Up Coaster). In its place now is a Mondial Revolution which whilst nothing overly special is a welcome addition to the park.

    There was a Brew & BBQ Festival on at the park during out visit which consisted of a good variety of beers, food options form different parts of the US and live music. I wish Alton Towers could do such an event in the summer as they really add to the atmosphere in the park and provide some more unique food and drink options.

    Kings Dominion is far from my favourite theme park. Improvements have been made since my last visit in 2011 but there is not too much quality behind the headline coasters. However these headline coasters, especially I305, really do make a visit more than worthwhile.

    Next up was the final new park of the trip for me - Hersheypark.

    :)
     
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  17. DiogoJ42

    DiogoJ42 TowersStreet Member

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    The clone of Back Lot at Canada's Wonderland doesn't use the effects any more either. I was just as disapointed as you when I found that out the hard way, especially as my first ride was at night.

    I'm under the impression that all of them had the show elements turned off when they were de-branded from The Italian Job...?
     
  18. John

    John TowersStreet Member

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    The effects were on at Kings Island though, which made for a much better ride as the KD version just sits there for a minute with nothing happening.
     
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  19. Mattmash

    Mattmash TowersStreet Member

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    I recall the effects also worked at Kings Dominion on our 2013 trip?
     
  20. DiogoJ42

    DiogoJ42 TowersStreet Member

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    Interesting. The one at CW has had the timings altered, so you don't stop at all, you just roll through the show scene as if it wasn't there.
     

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