The most exciting news...for me, at least, on this trip was I was able to go on rides that I haven't been able to for many years. Around the mid-90's, my careless lifestyle had caught up with me as far as amusement park rides were concerned and my size prohibited me from fitting into the safety restraints on most thrill rides. After a few trips to various parks where I wasn't able to ride roller coasters I pretty much closed the roller coaster riding chapter of my life and settled for the merry-go-round instead.
After having a heart-attack in November, I severely curbed my eating habits and added exercise into my life for the first time. I've been able to drop 70 pounds in the past 8 months and one of the most exciting benefits is that I had no problem fitting into any of the rides at Kings Dominion. I was able to revisit old friends like the Rebel Yell and the Grizzly. (I estimate I haven't been on any of Kings Dominion's coasters since 1993.) In addition to the Anaconda and the Hurler I also got on the Backlot Stunt Coaster and the Ricochet. All of them - GREAT RIDES! But I have to say that in my older age, the twisting and looping of Anaconda left me a little queasy.
Of course, being the cartoon loving kid that I am/was, one of my favorite rides in the park had always been the kiddie coaster Scooby-Doo. It's now called Ghoster Coaster, but no matter what you call it - I was elated to be able to fit into the ride's smaller cars and ride it with both of my children. (It was Tanner's first "big" coaster and he absolutely loved it!)
Elias also added a few more "big boy" rides under his belt. He loved the Avalanche bobsled ride and the Backlot Stunt Coaster, which is a bit intense but he conquered it twice! I also really enjoyed the ride. It's a roller coater with a little story and show attached to it, something Kings Dominion doesn't typically do. The cars of the coaster actually look like little sports cars (They were originally designed to resemble the getaway vehicles from the movie The Italian Job.) The train of cars blasts off from the station and swirl around three levels of a parking garage before dodging through traffic and several police cars. The train then comes to a stop in some sort of warehouse setting, where a helicopter starts to shoot at you. You then blast off again, into a tunnel for some fairly extreme twists and turns in the dark before crashing through a billboard and landing in a drainage ditch. Pretty fun little ride!
They still have the crazy upside down ship ride at the front of the park called The Berserker, and they still have their stand-up roller coater Shockwave. Both - rides I've never been on and will probably never get on! There's two newer steel coasters that I also opted out of: Dominator and Intimidator 305 which is tall. I mean, really, really tall!
Kings Dominion is still home to one of the best white water rapids rides White Water Canyon. And they still have their original log flume ride, Shenandoah Lumber Company, which has not been altered since it debuted in the 1970's. Nice touch!
Unfortunately, there is alot of the park that has been changed too much over the years. When Paramount Pictures took control of the park in the early 90's, they started to make sweeping changes throughout the park. Most of the changes were to brand the park with Paramount owned franchises and also to promote new movies and TV shows. This is the time in the park's history when the Wayne's World section of the park was introduced. A well executed addition, but a ridiculous idea for something that is so permanent like an entire themed area of the park.
Some of the natural beauty of the park has been lost over time as well. In some spots of the park there are too many things shoehorned into a small amount of land. Rides are squeezed in between other rides and there are way too many Games of Chance and Dippin' Dots stands. (Really, how many Dippin' Dots stands does one park need. Is it really that popular!?!) The Grizzly is a great wooden coaster that was originally designed out in the woods. The queue for the ride took you way back into the woods and you couldn't really get a good look at the ride until you were on it. That is a major design element of the coaster. That illusion is lost today, as the wooded area around the ride was torn down to make way for a go-cart track, an arcade and a Dippin' Dots stand!
A go-cart track in a world class theme park like Kings Dominion is a horrible idea! It was added under the reign of Paramount and I would hope the parks new owners, Cedar Fair, are considering removing it. First of all, it just cheapens up the park. Anybody can go 10 miles in any direction from their home and find a go-cart track. Second, the track just sits there unused because why would anybody shell over another $8.00 to go on a ride when they just spent $50.00 to get into your park and go on rides all day! I would really like to see Kings Dominion remove the go-cart track and add another ride or just plant some trees and leave the Grizzly back in the woods where it belongs.
This year also marks the first time in the park's history that the association with Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters has been completely eliminated. Paramount took over the park at a time when Hanna-Barbera was fading in popularity and Nickelodeon (a division of Paramount) was looking to further brand itself. Slowly the park lost the original Hanna-Barbera Land to Nickelodeon Central. Out went Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear and in came Spongebob and the Rugrats. This year Kings Dominion removed the final elements of Hanna-Barbera and all the Nickelodeon and began to bring in Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Peanuts characters to Planet Snoopy. For me, the Hanna-Barbera characters have always been as important to KD as Mickey and Co. are to Walt Disney World. If I had to choose another group of characters to move in and take over hosting duties from Yogi and the gang I can't think of a better property than Peanuts. It's timeless and has a universal appeal to children and adults. I'm going to save further discussion of Kings Dominion's new Planet Snoopy section for the next post...
Here's a few more things I'd like to see Kings Dominion take care of to spruce up the park: #1 Work on the outside of the park. The drive up to the parking lot booth is nothing - there is no show quality what-so-ever. Some flags, some landscaping and some repaving would go a long way. Currently the parking lot rows are numbered in colorless A1, B7, C13 signs. The original KD had all the parking lot sections named after Hanna-Barbera characters. Let's break out some new colorful signs so the next time I visit I can park in Pig Pen 4, Peppermint Patty 16 or even just Snoopy 1.
#2 - Get rid of all the chain restaurants. This actually goes for alot of parks because I know Hersheypark does the same thing. Who goes to an amusement park and gets Subway or Chick-Fil-A or Panda Express!? Why is there a Cinabon and a Starbucks on King Dominion's International Street. Same thing like the go-carts, it looks cheap and it's not out of the ordinary. I can toss a pebble of my porch and hit 3 Starbucks, they don't belong behind a $50 admission gate.
#3 - Bring Back Entertainment. Kings Dominion now has three shows, one of which is just people singing in the street. Little ol' Dutch Wonderland is a fraction the size of KD and they have 5 times the entertainment options. Where's the country music show? Every park should have a country music show!
#4 - Don't add another bazillion dollar roller coaster until you fix up some neglected areas of the park. The former Wayne's World section is just kind of there. It's a bit empty and needs alot of attention. Also, the kids area needs alot of work - mostly in themeing, but there is some awkward space where stuff used to be that they need to fix up.
#5 - Don't rush everybody out at closing time. They were directing foot traffic through the front gates at closing time quicker than a Zu-Zu Pet fueled stampede on Black Friday. We were not allowed the luxury to shop International Street (their Main Street) at our own leisure. They seriously wouldn't let me cross the street to shop the other side! Hey Kings Dominion, the only attraction on International Street is "spending money!" You really should let people stick around and spend as much as they want. Disney World wouldn't dream of even hinting at kicking a single soul out the front gate until every wallet has been sufficiently drained!
Those are just a few of my suggestions. Kings Dominion: still a great park, filled with many memories and still able to make new ones! Check back tomorrow for a look at Planet Snoopy...