July 2007 Issue
Long Live the King
Under new ownership and with added attractions, Kings Island Amusement Park, celebrating its 35th year, promises to create even more summer memories.
Maynard P. Barton
The roller coaster car slowly creaks toward the sky. As it reaches the top of a hill, time stands still for one anxious moment.
The view from 110 feet above the ground is enough to give many people vertigo. But when Charles Infosino stares down into the belly of The Beast at Kings Island Amusement Park in Mason, he's on top of the world. The car teeters at the peak of its stomach-churning grade, before hurling him and 35 other riders back to earth in a four-minute whirlwind through thick woods, steep ravines and underground tunnels.
"I love The Beast," says Infosino, a 35-year-old marketing strategist. "I love the speed, the wind, the smell of the wood. It's a great ride."
He should know. The Fort Thomas, Kentucky, resident is such a fan of the park, he wrote a book about it: The Unofficial Guidebook to Paramount's Kings Island. And lest you doubt his expertise, consider this: Infosino has come to Kings Island 15 times a year –– every year –– since the summer of 2000, when he made his fateful first visit for his wife's company picnic. "I've been hooked ever since," he says.
And he's not alone. These 364 acres dotted with more than 100 rides and attractions northeast of Cincinnati have entertained enthusiasts like Infosino and families looking for a day of leisure for the past 35 years. Kings Island is so beloved, it's even remained competitive with Ohio's more well-known amusement juggernaut, Cedar Point: Both parks receive roughly 3 million visitors per year.
Now, in a twist to that rivalry and a new chapter in Kings Island's history, the park has been acquired by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company –– which owns Cedar Point. The plan is to add more exciting rides and enhance visitor-friendly touches, such as offering five new shows free with admission.
For diehards like Infosino, a New York native who first found his amusement park thrills at New Jersey's Six Flags Great Adventure, Kings Island is already paradise.
"The atmosphere and the rides, especially roller coasters like The Beast," he says, "keep me coming back."
Vintage and Modern Appeal
Kings Island was clearly the rookie on Ohio's veteran team of amusement parks when it debuted in 1972: Cedar Point, the second-oldest park in the United States, opened in 1870; Geauga Lake in Aurora is nearly as old, opening in 1888.
Kings Island combines state-of-the-art rides with its nostalgic Coney Mall section, which has an old-fashioned air that includes a midway, carnival games, the Happy Days Diner and an arcade, as well as more than a dozen rides. "My favorite area of Kings Island is still Coney Mall," says Infosino. He notes that in addition to its vintage feel, Coney Mall also boasts plenty for visitors in search of more modern, fast-paced fare: Among the rides located there are The Racer, which kicked off a wooden coaster Renaissance when it opened with the park; Vortex, the first coaster to include six inversions; and Italian Job: Stunt Track, a family ride that emulates driving a Mini Cooper in an action flick.
When the park was sold by original owner Taft Broadcasting to Paramount in 1992, it received a facelift that resulted in many of its features being tied to movie themes. Now, under Cedar Fair's ownership, visitors can expect to see fewer visible associations with Paramount –– even if the movie studio's name is attached to many rides for another year or two due to existing licensing.
"[Cedar Fair] is dedicated to a nicer-looking park. You can already see the difference," says Ryan Suhr of Kings Island Central, an independent Internet guide.
But amusement parks lure and build devotees by providing the latest in attractions and offering a range of options for the whole family. To that end, two of Kings Island's additions this season cater to everyone from coaster aficionados eager for an adrenaline rush, to parents seeking relaxing quality time with their kids.
Firehawk, the only flying roller coaster in Ohio, is the newest scream machine in the park's lineup of 14 coasters. Riders get to play military test pilot for a day as they board at a 45-degree angle with their backs to the front of the coaster; before take-off, they're lowered onto their backs, and stay that way as they ascend a 115-foot hill. When they reach Firehawk's peak, riders are flipped 180 degrees and face the pavement as the coaster winds through five inversions at better than 50 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, those in need of a slower-paced, but no less entertaining day can bask in a variety of new shows and longtime favorites, including the nostalgic musical "Twistin' to the 60s," and "Endless Summer On Ice": a skillful display of skaters twirling on ice with a backdrop of popular tunes, singing and dancing in a 400-seat venue.
Thrills for Yung and Old
It's no wonder Craig Ross, Kings Island's vice president of marketing, proudly calls International Street "one of the better entrances for an amusement park in the United States."
From the landscaped pond with six fountains separating a boulevard of restaurants and shops, to the one-third-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower with a 300-foot elevator ride to the top for commanding views of Mason, International Street offers visitors a thoroughfare filled with fun and a taste of France — not to mention a great start to the park. Two shows make their debut this season at International Street's bandstand: Hot Island Rhythms features a live band playing feel-good, summertime tunes, and Meet the Nicktoons lets kids get up close and personal with some of their favorite television characters.
Directly off International Street at Nickelodeon Universe, children happily ping-pong between the rides; this area is home to more kiddie roller coasters than anywhere else in the country. That lineup includes the first inverted coaster for kids (cars that hang below the track), and the log flume ride Wild Thornberry's River Adventure.
Guests in search of a thorough soaking can beat the heat by taking the Kings Island & Miami Valley Railroad to Boomerang Bay, a 15-acre outdoor water park with more than 50 water-related attractions and the Great Barrier Reef, a 36,000-square-foot wave pool. Meanwhile, for those folks who don't want to get wet no matter what the temperature, the whimsical and Western-themed Rivertown offers sanctuary. Of course, they'll have to clear a path for the herd of zealots streaming to this part of the park. There's a reason why Infosino declares Rivertown "a special area": Here lies The Beast.
There are certainly other rides to satisfy thrill seekers in the park, but The Beast, built in 1979 and featuring a 110-foot incline, reigns as the granddaddy of knee-buckling rides. It is still known as the world's longest roller coaster.
Legendary thrills, a lineup of great shows and a new owner's commitment to giving families lifelong memories. Says Infosino, "The real spirit of Kings Island is coming back."
Kings Island Amusement Park
6300 Kings Island Dr., Mason, 513/754-5800;
Call or visit Web site for admission prices.
Open daily May 23–Aug. 26, Sept. 1–3 & 23; weekends only Sept. 29–Oct. 28
(Boomerang Bay open May 25–Aug. 19; weekends only Aug. 25, 26 & Sept. 1–3).
Call for times.
Where to Stay
There's no shortage of places to stay near Kings Island, including a number of chain hotels. Here are two accommodations that offer a more unique experience:
Great Wolf LodgeThis indoor waterpark is located on Kings Island's grounds and features 401 all-suite guest rooms, the 79,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, a full-service spa and several restaurants. 2501 Great Wolf Dr., Mason, 800/913-WOLF. www.greatwolf.com
A century-old renovated house that offers upscale lodging just five minutes from the amusement park, including deluxe suites with fireplaces and Jacuzzi rooms. Features include an outdoor pool and free continental breakfast in the historic Kirkwood House. 4027 U.S. Rte. 42, Mason, 800/732-4741. www.kirkwoodinn.com