Monday, April 19, 2010

2010 Opening Day Review

For many years I would write an opening day review at the beginning of the season. The last one I wrote was in 2006, corresponding to when I started to work at Worlds of Fun again. This year, I finally decided to take a crack at it again. Previously, I had reviewed seasons 99-06, and many of the opening day reviews were very critical. That is one thing that I am happy to say has drastically changed. Not to say that there are no critical points in this review. However the improvement over say 1999 and 2000 seasons is as different as black and white.

This will also mark the beginning (hopefully) on our park updates which we hope to post every one to two weeks. So stay tuned if you can’t head to the park, then hopefully we can bring the park to you!

Jeff and I hit the park in two waves. Due to multiple circumstances we didn’t arrive at the park until Saturday about Noon, and then spent several hours at the park on Sunday too. Not counting the hours of course we drove the train.

Worlds of Fun over the years has run some great promotions, and it seem this season is full of them. Of course it started off with overnight camp out, 500 people attended, when the park expected only a small fraction of that amount. I didn't attend, though now looking back I wish I had. Not much of a camper you see. :)

I have to give the park PR credit, it was a GREAT idea, and I will most definitely be attending next year! For those that have missed it the park is also running a great anyone for the kids price on Sundays until June 4th. I believe you have to pick the coupon up at any metro Subway, but its more then a 50% discount off regular price, $19.95 per person.

For 2010 the season didn’t start with any major new rides, or attractions, just several new updates. Now as much as many of us would like to drive a bob cat into the “main” (back) gate, it’s still there. However, the park for the first time in several years has made some small investments into the gate. Of course they added this nice fountain…

Plus a new sign is waiting in the wings, in an undisclosed location (otherwise known as the paint shop). We caught a glimpse of it on the way out Saturday night, and its looks nice. It incorporates the new font (not the old Partridge font) and also incorporates a globe, snoopy and a hot air balloon. We will provide photos once it makes its appearance. Much better then the old sign, which is rather falling apart.

I have to say in many ways I am what Jeff has called a purist. I really don’t like things changing. Especially when it comes to the theme. I like the themed world flags, the themed music, the themed restaurant names…. I guess two out of three isn’t bad. In fact, it’s pretty darn good! Last year, after Celebrate America, the park kept up the American flags, and Americana music, throughout the entire park. I may be the only one that feels this way but I was thrilled that the park brought those small, yet integral parts of the theming back.

So moving into the park proper. The park itself was quite busy for an opening day. In fact I would have to say it is the busiest opening day I have seen since 1999. Scandinavia itself didn’t see any major changes, except the return of some Roll out the Barrel, and Swiss Miss Yodeling Lass (Yes I am sad). Voyager itself got its queue-line wood work sanded down and repainted, though you really can’t tell. Which is good.

Moving on to the Orient section. The themed fish feeder looks like its down for rehab. The fish themselves though are already out and about, and are quite large. So I wonder, did the park a) buy some rather large koi fish right before the beginning of the season, b)Did the koi survive the OFF SEASON? C) did the koi fish enjoy a warm off season in the duck pond? Does anyone really trust that games guy to feed the fish?

You can see the difference between the old wood (the roof support post) and the new wood detail.

So, Bamboozer station. I can’t believe no one has commented on this, or simply no one has noticed. For me the Bamboozler station is one of the coolest looking stations in the park. So it’s always nice when its gets its detailed woodwork taken care of, instead of letting it fall apart. I had Jeff photo take a photo of one section of the station that shows the old and the new. You can definitely tell the difference.

Americana has had some of the most work done though, so let’s move their next. Of course there are the restaurants that received new roofs (Pizza Pier/Gyro Express), which looks nice, but Front Street is the star of this show. Who ever thought that some wood and paint would make such a big difference?

Interior of the Emporium. Notice the counter is no longer a square island. It looks so much better!

Peppermint Patty's. Interesting history factoid, this shop used to be called Sharon's Yum Yum Shop. Its sign is hanging in the Ambassador Ambam (break room).

Peppermint Patty’s, and the Front Street Emporium also received some TLC on their interiors too. Peppermint Patty’s has a beautiful new counter and brought back some of the fine candies. The Emporium received a new floor, and a new positioning of the counter. No the counter itself is not new, but it looks much better, and from what I have heard functions much better as well!

Most would also not notice the work outside of Front Street, on the Front Street (sunken) fountain. During the off season the fountain inner workings had been removed. As pessimists both Jeff and I had though that possibly the sunken fountain was being gutted for the new "main" entrance fountain. Nope, it was removed to be repaired and painted. It looks nice.

Onto Timberwolf. I was excited to ride it again after riding it during the off season. I unfortunately didn’t get to ride it on Saturday. Due to the surprisingly large turn out, and the fact that Timberwolf only running one train, the line was quite long. After riding it on Sunday though I do have to agree with my previously mentioned commentary. It is an improved ride. Its been a little bit better after every off season for the last three years. Besides the ultimate desire of seeing the thing completely re-tracked, this is the next best thing. At least it’s getting some love.

ELI also received some surprising love, it had its brass shinned up, which hasn’t happened a whole lot in the past. It looked good.

So moving on to Europa, Autobahn. Autobahn is still Autobahn, which makes me happy all by itself. (Or in Jeff's alternate universe its still DFB, Der Fender Bender) It received some unusual work over the off season, specifically several new walls where put up. The first set of walls on the left hand side is a good addition in our opinion. It hides the unsightly view of car innards spread out all over the place. The right side walls though were built for storage. The garage door is not the most beautiful thing in the world. But hey it is still Autobahn! (Can you tell I am happy about that). Also the floor itself appears actually larger then it had been in previous years. I do hope it still receives a new roof over the next few months though.

A few of the concrete blocks installed throughout Europa.

Europa has also seen quite a bit of work preparing for the 2010 main new attraction. Snoopy’s Hot Summer Lights. Overall seeing the work progress and hearing some of the plans I think it should be a great new attraction, especially for families. On that topic concrete squares have appeared sporadically through the Europa section. We have heard that these will be used for various scenes spread through the lighted attraction. Sounds cool and I am excited for June.

On Sunday we got the chance to catch the new Moulin Rouge show, British Invasion. Jeff and I have conflicting opinions about the show. I really liked it. Yes, it was different, but that was a huge breath of fresh air after the same old, same old, year after year after year. Like previous shows there were a few highly talented singers, and like I mentioned it just felt fresh and the singers seemed to be having a good time, which makes all the difference.

Exhibit #1, King Tuts, with some new signage, but still King Tuts.

Exhibit #2, Congo Clearing, makes way for Junkyard Burgers?

I won't say anything, I won't say anything...

Moving onto Africa, we checked out a few of the shops and restaurants. First I think that Moroccan Merchant is one of the overlooked nice shops in the park. It really is themed and laid out VERY well. But there is no one ever there! Onto to the restaurants and here I will compare two, King Tuts Hot Dogs, and Junkyard Burgers (Congo Clearing). King Tuts still keeps its themed sign, yet also had a tasteful hot dog sign below it. Congo Clearing on the other hand, is completely re-named, and the name just doesn’t strike me as tasty. Junkyard? Plus the sign… goodness the sign. Maybe if I don’t think about it the sign will simply disappear? Form your own opinion.

On the complete flip side again we have the park making an effort at keeping the theme, with the somewhat garish African themed masks on the Congo bridge. (Garish and African do have a tendency to go together so that’s not necessarily a negative). Yes, they were added LAST year, but I didn’t get to talk about them last year.

Of course last there is always Prowler. Prowler is great as usual, spectacular is actually more accurate. Looking back many of us remember how the 21st century started in the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Not exactly the most memorable. Certainly disappointing. In the span of ten years what had started out as quite painfully one of the worst times in park history, has been turned on its head to finish out the decade with a very positive outlook. Overall, I see the park headed in the right direction. There is a pent up demand and while I hate to jinx anyone or anything I have a feeling this will be a good season.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pre-Opening Tour 04/12/2010

With less the five days to go before opening Jeff and I ventured out to the park accompanied by Brandon to get some photos of a few of the park updates. It looked quite a bit different then a similar trip two months ago!

Front Street with its new paint job! We have seen this before, but this is its more finished stage.

And the Candy shop.

It's only Bamboozler right? Sometimes its what you DON'T notice that's the most important. During the off season we have both watched as what is one of the last original ride stations left received a mini-face lift. Much of its distinctive red, gold and black trim has been replaced.

The new fountain in the city of fountains located at the entrance to the park. Looks spiffy. :)

If you haven't read up on my previous post, Timber Wolf has also received some TLC this off season again. In this episode Timber Wolf received new lamination for its first turn (following the first drop), and the entrance to the 360 helix. It definitely helps the ride.

Extreme close up on Timber Wolf!

So its Krazy Kars the kiddie bumper cars ride. Looks like a nice improvement over the last few years. It also has a new panel, with built in timer! Okay you have to have worked the ride to understand how important it is to actually have a built in timer.

The Autobahn. They washed Autobahn in hot water several years ago, which caused it to shrink. Now that shrinking has been made permanent. If the park was going to shrink the size at least they made it look better though.

See no more looking at the guts and inards of broken Autobahn cars. Much nicer.

This is the other side of Autobahn. It's now a storage closet.

Moving along now, workers preparing for Snoopy's Hot Summer Lights.

Another close up on a tree. Also see the trees in the background already wrapped in blue lights.

Where are we? Looking up at the lights attached to the bottom of the train trestle.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Pre, Pre-opening Update

We will be visiting the park this coming Monday for photos right before the park opens, but hey I couldn’t wait. I love talking about the park too much, and if that makes me a geek, so be it.

Saturday was dry run day, and while I was trained on driving the train .... (watch out it’s a women driver!)

The most important aspect to you readers is the fact that we both rode Prowler and Timber Wolf. On Prowler we rode in the front, there was one other person with us on the train, and it was running fast! Like the winter had never happened, and Prowler went from October to today with no off season. I say this as usually coasters are slower at the start of the season for the fact that they haven’t run for months. It should be a good season for Prowler.

Timber Wolf also has received some work, and hopefully on Monday I can update with some photos. The main body of work included the re-track of the first turn, following the main drop and the entrance into the 360 helix. For those that do not like Timber Wolf it will probably not make much of a difference. For those that DO like Timber Wolf, it makes a pretty substantial difference. Mainly, no shuffle, bang, shuffle, bang after the first drop! I really like the fact that despite everything the park is still putting money back into the Wolf.

Last, after much consideration I have decided to probably not camp out at the park. Especially since it would just be me, myself and I. (Significant other has elected to not pitch a tent) For anyone else who is interested we are planning a pre-opening breakfast at Waffle House. For anyone interested check out the event on Facebook

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Great Steel Monster

Today is April 4th, an important date for many Worlds of Fun and roller coaster fans, it was the date, 30 years ago that one of of Worlds of Fun's greatest coasters, if not its greatest was launched on the world. Orient Express.

Ten years ago I was left with the same blank screen to fill with words about this great ride and the memories it brings to mind. That was it's 20th anniversary, when it's trademark lifthill sound could still be heard around the park. Today its been seven years since the Express was brought down.

Instead of dwelling on the end though, lets dwell on the beginning. It could be said that Orient Express not only followed a great lineage of coasters, but also started a new lineage. Built by Arrow Dynamics of Mountain View, CA, the company that pioneered the tubular steel coaster with the Matterhorn at Disneyland, had built pretty small up until 1978. That's when another coaster, the Loch Ness Monster debuted at Busch Gardens Old Country (Williamsburg, Europe, whatever). Called Nessie for short, Loch Ness was the companies truly first great monster coaster. It was the first coaster (of only three total) to have interlocking loops, and with the similiarities of the two rides, and their parks, no story on Orient Express can be written without mentioning Loch Ness.

Loch Ness under construction at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA. Notice the similar, yet different interlocking loops. Orient Express structure would be slightly different featuring the "latice" structure on the top loop, but the more modern "post" structure on the bottom loop.

Probably sometime around the construction of Loch Ness, Lamar Hunt and Jack Steadman started examining possibilities for what would become the Orient Express. For years they rode coasters, compared notes, and planned. The plan for the Express was to re-invest the profits from the parks' proceeding years, and with the 1979 season attracting more then any proceeding season (1.3 Million), the money was there to build the biggest, baddest, scream machine in the world.

Early concept art for Orient Express. Notice the art work here is done by the same artist who designed the 1973 souvenir map.

Construction begins, Orient Express track is stacked neatly in the background awaiting construction.

The lift hill under construction. You can also see the turn into the second loop in the background.

Construction is nearly done, see the Havens Steel crane. This same photo (cropped) was used for the Haven Steel ad in the 1980 Great Times magazine.

Interesting enough, the park management team's primary concern wasn't beating records, but building the best around. A ride with no slow spots, a ride that provided thrills by the second. And that's exaclty what they got.

Up until that time coasters were pretty much small, especially compared on today's scale of things. Zambezi Zinger and Screamroller (later Extremeroller) were the two biggest rides in town. The speedy Zinger boasted a speed of 42 MPH, Orient Express was 65 MPH. Screamroller provided a quick 60 second joy ride, Orient Express thrashed riders through almost three times that length of time.

With such a big new ride, Hunt Midwest also made the decision to increase admission, up to a $10.50, with season passes running $34.95 (I would love to get ahold of those prices today!) Riders would run towards Express after paying their admission and for good reason, busy Saturdays would almost always top 20,000 people! The Express crews were usually up to the task though, and Orient Express ran capacities that can only today be touched by Mamba. (Express all time capacity high was 21,000 in ONE HOUR!) It like Mamba had the capacity to run three trains with 28 people per train. It unlike Mamba, did not have the brakes to HOLD all the trains. Mamba has the ability to hold a train in the station and two outside. Orient Express could only hold one in the station, and only ONE outside! With the impossibility of stacking two trains loading was quick. It also lead to some unique stories, ending many times with trains literally having to be pushed out of the station!

Two trains on the course equals three trains total!

Once out of the station, the train and its riders would enter the darkened 100 foot tunnel, a forbidding start to a ride themed after a murder mystery tale. The train would start its journey up the 260 foot long, 217 foot tall lift hill. Guests on the walkways below could look up and hear the monstrous beast. Even to this day I can still hear the warm clink clink clink of the Orient Express lift hill in the back of my mind as I enter the park. Once up top riders would plunge into the first of four gut-wrenching, stomach in the mouth drops, 115 feet down at a 55 degree angle. Then it would be through the two eighty foot tall interlocking loops.

the infamous Kamikaze Kurve.

. The ride wouldn't stop there. Orient Express's greatest legacy was what came next, the Kamikaze Kurve, or Boomerang element as it came to be known, a half corkscrew, half loop concoction. Before Express, coasters had two upside down modes, corkscrews and loops. the KKK (nickname given by Paul Hohl and its an appropriate acroynmn, KamiKaze Kurve) threw not only the riders but the designers for a loop. This unique, state of the art design also became Orient Express's downfall.

Orient Express was a hit out of the gates. It all by itself propelled Worlds of Fun to the top of the heap, with the 1980 season culminating in the 2nd highest crowd recorded at the park as of 1980, 24,206. In the years that followed even higher capacities of over 25,000 on ONE DAY!. Over the years Arrow Dynamics went forward and built on what they had done with Express. The multi-looper "triplets" where the end product of "bigger and better" with 7-8 inversions each (Viper at Magic Mountain, Shockwave at Six Flags Great America and Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Great Adventure). Even with such tough competition, Express held its own, after all it was never designed to be the biggest, but it was designed to be the best, and it was.

Over the years, Hunt Midwest continued to pour Express's returns back into the park, Oceans of Fun debuted in 1982, Fury of the Nile in 1984. By the end of the 1984 season the park had hit its high point, with 1,385,500 guets visiting the park that year.

In 1989, a new animal came to town, Timber Wolf. Orient Express wasn't completley dismissed though as it was celebrating its own birthday of 10 seasons! Like Mamba, many years later, the party came complete with cake, festivities, and even a lovely 80's style balloon cake!

Jan Kiser, ACE president at Orient Express 10th anniversary!

Birthday cake!

More birthday fun, and look it's an Orient costumed ambassador!

Orient Express was still the king of the hill in 1989 however its end came not from Timber Wolf but from a coaster three years later. In 1992 the coaster that would spell the slow end of the great Express opened, its name was Batman at Six Flags Great America. Built by new comers to the coaster design field, Bolliger & Mabillard their designs would revolutionize the world.

Many even today can remember having a love/hate relationship with Express. For all of its great assets, Orient Express also had a turbulent dark side, its rough ride. The modern steel coaster in 1980 was in its infancy, and there was quite a learning curve. Orient Express trains were built with a solid axle. If the track changed direction, the train, with its solid axle, would not so smootly transition into the new direction. It caused headaches, odd head and neck alignments, and was quite truthfully a pain in the neck! Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M) revolutionized the coaster world, there was no longer a solid axle, but a reticulated axle, that could move, and twist smootly with the track. It was actually quite simple, B&M's were smooth, Express was not.

The offending steel axle

Just for the sheer coolness factor the wheel axle.

Not only were B&M's more enjoyable, with less to worry about in terms of comfort, coasters could produce faster speeds and contort more wildly in height and inversions. The writing was on the wall for Express.

For all its troubles though Orient Express had its supporters. It WAS a classic, and it was built to stand the test of time with quite simply a great design for any time. It was that design that was the final nail in the coffin. The stress applied to the track through two decades of two to three multi-ton trains running everyday, day after day eventually caused the steel track to fracture in its most vulnerable area. Right after the train exited the Kamikaze Kurve, on a June night in 1999 the unthinkable happened.

Orient Express derailed. I remember quite vividly hearing the news. There was a sinking feeling, especially considering what state the park was in at the time. We all knew the end had come, but no one mentioned it. The Orient Express was like a friend, or family member and like that personal relationship we denied the end was near. We hoped that somehow Express would come back and things would be good again.

That never happened, as Express limped through three more seasons. It would never be the same again. When the end happened it happened suddenly, with no announcement. Simply just one day there was a post that a piece of track was missing from the break run. Sure enough Express had met its match and would come tumbling down.

Our first sign that the end had finally come.

As a child of the 80's I remember vividly the commercials, and though I only went to the park three times during the decade (don't act so shocked!) I remember so vividly seeing the Express as I came to the park for the first time in 1983 as a child. It scared and awed me all at one time. So the day that I sat in our car, sitting on 43rd street, the weather seemed to match my mood, foggy, cold and miserable. Nothing can etch the memory of watching the approach to the second loop come crashing to the ground. I will never forget it.

No explanation needed.

However like a movie I recently watched I don't want to remember Express like that, and neither does my husband or any of our friends. I want to remember Express the way it was. The great steel terror of Worlds of Fun will always continue to exist as it exists for those that remember it.