Sunday, April 13, 2014

WOF 42nd Season Opening Day Review

Welcome to the Worlds of Fun 42nd Season opening day review!  If I was going to summarize the experience in one word, it would be disappointing; I was expecting a better experience.  Honestly, the disappointments weren’t due to the normal opening day glitches, because its opening day, everything that can go wrong will go wrong, we expect that.  Workers will be slow, computers will … well do what computers love to do, which is not work they way they should.  That’s where this story starts.  We arrived at the park around 1:30 pm, as we had run the Rock the Parkway half marathon that morning… We decided to park at the Worlds of Fun parking lot for opening day to have a “normal guest” experience.  (last year we started parking at Oceans).  First thing? Pass didn’t work for parking.  Neither of our passes did, and we have platinum passes, which covers parking.  At the time we didn’t realize this was such a wide spread issue… we were told we had to pay parking.  LUCKILY I had $15 in cash on me.  We were then told we had to take our receipt and get reimbursement at guest relations in the park.  Luckily we were able to hit guest relations when it had a relatively short line.  However, we were also told we had to do it THAT DAY, otherwise, we were out of luck.  Sorry, you paid for that season pass which covers parking (and was over $100 per person), sorry you took time on a weekday to process the pass so you wouldn’t have to worry about this anyway, oh and by the way we are going to make you stand in line at guest relations, in what could have been a VERY long line, to get a refund for something we shouldn’t have charged you for in the first place.

So… my issue? Not the systems going down, no.  My problem was the way it was handed.  Worlds of Fun these are your season pass holders, loyal visitors, sometimes for many many years.  You KNOW we have a pass, your employees can see it.  Is it going to really hurt the park to just eat that $15?   Are you really even eating the $15? Not really.  The park just alienated a bunch of people by being unprepared. 

Here comes a Hunt Midwest story.  NO I am not one of those people that think Hunt did everything right and Cedar Fair does everything wrong, but this is one of those cases.  Many years ago, same thing happened.  Hunt had just put in a new computer system, which summarily CRASHED on opening day.  Instead of being able to scan the passes as guests entered the park (this was for park admission not for parking), it wouldn’t read anyone’s pass.  You know what the park did?  They let everyone in anyway.  They didn’t make people pay for admission and get a refund later.  No, they remembered that customer service is just as important as the immortal dollar.  They let people in, people remembered this, and it probably helped the park in the long run.

 Flowers at the entrance plaza

So, with that being said. The park WAS very busy for an opening day, I would have to say probably as busy as I have seen it on an opening day, that’s good.  The new asphalt heading into the park helped with a better first appearance to the park, that’s also good.

 Baltic Bazaar with a new roof, paint and lights.

Plaza Gifts with newly painted/renovated towers
As we moved into Scandinavia the first thing we noticed was that many of the buildings have received some cosmetic work. It appears Baltic Bazaar has received not only a new roof, new lights and a little bit of a new paint job, but also  FINALLY, two years later mind you… the towers on Plaza Gifts have not only been painted they have been repaired! Yeah no Green towers!  The overall building infrastructure in the park is starting to see some significant improvements, and it is definitely noticeable.  That will be an up hill battle for sure, but it's good to see.

Viking Voyager...

 Worlds of Fun TV in the Voyager Queue line, in this case showing current weather.

So we all come for the rides, and we know from previous editorials that this was an area we should see some improvement in, so did we?  Well first experiences coming in… Voyager was down.  Not exactly good timing as the park had planned a free Viking hat giveaway for the first 500 riders.  You know from that that the Voyager down time was NOT a planned occurrence, or even an expected one.  We found out later that Voyager’s downtime issue occurred quite literally minutes before it was due to open, and from what we also heard efforts were occurring to get the ride open before the end of the day.  While it’s easy to attack the park about ride downtime, and it is sometimes warranted, in the case of Voyager I think it was simply a case of extreme bad luck.  After all the 2013/2014 off-season saw more improvement work on Voyager then it has most likely ever seen.

The other two “major” rides we experienced downtime on first hand included the nearby Octopus, and to no one’s surprise… but still incredibly disappointing, ThunderHawk.  But again, its opening day, and you know whatever can go wrong will go wrong.  So on the brighter side of things, lets talk about capacity.

If we can remember last year opening day, ONE TRAIN on pretty much every coaster.  That is a big issue for us, because like a lot of things it shows not only poor planning, but a lack of even caring about the overall guest experience.   This year, totally different, with the exception of Patriot every coaster (well except Boomerang which can’t help it) was running two trains.  Patriot’s lack of a second train was due to technical issues with the second train, so it couldn’t even help it, really.  This shows definite improvement, I can’t even remember the last time Timber Wolf had two trains on opening day.  Where they stacking trains?  Probably, but seriously GIVE THEM A BREAK.  Its opening day!  They are going to be slow.  Still, with that being said two trains on all coasters for a busy opening day should be EXPECTED. 
So before I get to far off track let me finish with Scandinavia. One aspect of Worlds of Fun that has always been a favorite of mine (and others) is the theme.  It’s been an aspect that I haven’t really been talking about a lot lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven't been thinking about it.  For the past few years, the themed music in the park has been on again off again.  Meaning some parts of the park have themed music, Africa, Western Americana and the Orient come to mind, Europa… does sort of.  Scandinavia not so much, somehow having rides called Viking Voyager, and Sea Dragon don’t exactly jive with popular radio music… Sure "Roll out the Barrel" and "In Muchen steht ein Hofbrauhaus" are not the picks of 15 year old teenagers… but here is the thing, its part of Worlds of Fun history and culture.  Plus, I haven’t seen any Virginia 15 year old's talking about how great singing mushrooms or floral clocks are… yet they are important enough to Kings Dominion culture to be replaced them there… Or California 15 year old's talking about how great a boysenberry bush farm looks like at Knott’s… but something that costs the park next to nothing at Worlds of Fun… is brushed off because it wouldn’t appeal to 15 year old's… Explain that logic to me?  Please?  Or could it simply be that no one cares?  

 Phileas Fogg traveling "the world"

Last point about Scandinavia, and it’s a point, which actually really covers the entire “world”. Three years ago, in 2012 a new attraction so to speak debuted with no PR, no press release, and no mention on a park map or show schedule, nothing.  But has quickly become one of my favorite attractions at the park, and it’s a person, and sometimes two.  That’s Phileas Fogg, and his sometimes co-pilot Nellie Bly.  For those that don’t know Worlds of Fun is based (loosely) on Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” of which the main character is Phileas Fogg.  About fifteen years after the book was written, in 1888, a non-fiction American journalist, Nellie Bly tried to recreate the fictional Fogg’s journey around the world.  Today the duo that plays these fictional/non-fictional characters roam the park providing photo ops, good park information and entertainment through their crazy antics.  It is no secret that these two absolutely love the park and it shines above a sometimes gloomy day otherwise.  With their return, Phileas had petitioned to be recognized as an official Worlds of Fun attraction on, and though not existing on a map, or other official publication, I agree.  

 A picture is worth a thousand words?  When was the last time any of us saw this door open?  Makes the store more light.

Now with that being said, there have been some complaints about the new Worlds of Fun TV playing popular music.  This personally I have zero problem with, in fact I like the idea of Worlds of Fun TV.  After all it’s actually bringing back something that Hunt Midwest tried (and was ahead of their time), back in the 90’s.  It provides entertainment and information about the park to those waiting in line, and it appears very tastefully done.  Again issues there whatsoever and I personally really like the idea. WOF TV is available in the Voyager, Prowler, and Taxi’s queue lines from what we were able to see.

 Moulin Rouge and its new sign.

Taxi's and if you look close you can see the screen for WOF TV.

Moving through the park to Europa we come to another point of contention, the Moulin Rouge.  As promised it has a new sign and is in the process of receiving a full refurb of its exterior.  It appears that the sign just made it up just prior to park opening and personally, I really like it.  Yes it looks nothing at all like the sign it replaced, but it does look like the original on the real Moulin Rouge in France.

The rest of the exterior is still very rough, but in the next few weeks it should look very nice, too bad there is  no windmill… *smile*  Again love the infrastructure work on many of the buildings at Worlds of Fun.

In other news related to the Moulin Rouge, there is no show there until May 17th.  This really bothers me. Honestly the changes with live entertainment at the park REALLY bother me.  First the shuttering of Tivoli after 39 years of continuous shows two years ago.  We were told then that that decision was made so they could spend money elsewhere.  Now, in 2014 another cut in live entertainment, over a full month of park operations without any live entertainment in Moulin Rouge?  That means there are ZERO indoor shows during a time of year when the weather can be iffy.  If this is a one-time occurrence because of the work on the Moulin Rouge I can accept that, but that’s what we thought with Tivoli too.  So you will forgive me if I sincerely doubt that.  Live Entertainment is not really my thing at WOF, but for many it is, and I am starting to see a seriously negative trend occurring here.  This bothers me, and it should bother everybody.

Bonici Bros. no more, now Paisano's Pizza.

In other Europa news, Bonici Bros has been replaced by a new pizza place, Paisano’s.  It was also open along with every other restaurant in the park, except Chicken Patio, on opening day.  This is another positive improvement, as in the past there were more restaurant locations closed then have been open.  This seems to line up with the increased train capacity on the coasters as improvements towards again what should be expected for providing an improved visitor experience.

 Vittle Griddle with its new exterior.

 Americana Fountain

So moving onto Americana.  More infrastructure improvements are visible throughout this section too, most noticeably Vittle Griddle, which received an entire exterior rehab and looks great.  The sunken fountain seems to have received some work over the off-season too and looks better then it has for awhile.

Timber Wolf as I previously mentioned was running two trains, and did experience a somewhat short outage, it was back up and test running by the time we left.  I heard it was running better this year, though after running 13.1 miles this morning my stomach wasn’t up for that experience this afternoon.  Moving on to ThunderHawk. Though to most fans it comes as no surprise, to us it does… ThunderHawk was not operating.  Unsure as to why but ThunderHawk doesn’t seem to like to operate on opening day?  Hopefully it will open up soon.  You know this ThunderHawk thing… it’s so sad its kind of funny actually.

Dirt now covers the recognizable keel of the Henrietta, surrounding it is a smaller man-made creek bed area.

 Steel Hawk

New curbs or probably seating areas? for the new Steel Hawk plaza area.

Of course Steel Hawk is not open yet either, I thought this was communicated by the park well, though KCTV5 seemed to not do a good job on their end… We did walk around the public areas surrounding the Steel Hawk site, to get a few photos.  You can see where they are filling in the old Henrietta pond, and creating a smaller creek-like area.  There will be a Coke station where the old Henrietta building was (purchase station for Go-Karts).  It appears that electrical work is being finished up on Steel Hawk.

 New seating, tables and patio area at Panda Express.

 Refurbed Bamboozler Station

Moving on into the Orient section, as mentioned in a prior off-season review Bamboozler station received some significant rehab work as well as Panda Express.  Panda Express (remember when it was Rangoon Refresher?).  Panda Express now has a whole new patio, retaining wall and expanded seating area, which it most definitely needed.  Since it was such a cold winter many of the pear trees in the Orient were still in full white bloom, giving a very elegant “oriental” feeling to the entire area, Though I have to say I still miss the Cherry Blossom trees which used to be there too.

So ends another opening day review.  Overall, it could have been better, and like I said I was disappointed… though there are definite improvements over previous years in overall ride capacity and park operations.  I am still concerned as tl the overall direction both of live entertainment as well as customer service.  We have a whole new season ahead of us and it should be an interesting one!  See you at the park.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

25 Years of Running Wild with Timber Wolf

April 1, 2014: Twenty five years ago today, a Worlds of Fun landmark opened for the first time to the public, Timber Wolf.  Today, the name Timber Wolf and the ride experience itself inspire a multitude of different emotions and opinions.  There are those who complain about how rough the ride is, who scream “give me a Tylenol!” or “never again!” after stepping off a ride There are even those that feel that the only good thing to do to Timber Wolf would be to tear the thing down; turn it into a nice scrap heap. 

However, this writer, and many others who feel very differently about Timber Wolf.  Timber Wolf is more than the sum of its parts or its numbers but lets stop and look at those for a minute. Today Timber Wolf is twenty-five years old, a first for ANY Worlds of Fun coaster past or present. Today it becomes Worlds of Fun’s longest operating coaster, a feat that could not be achieved by either of the other two of the Hunt Midwest Triplets (Zinger, Express, Wolf).  When it opened it also wasn’t the park’s fastest or tallest coaster either, at 100 feet tall, with a maximum speed of 53 MPH.  Orient Express, built roughly 10 years earlier was 117 feet tall with a maximum speed of 50-65 MPH (depending on the source).  It was however, the park's longest coaster to date at 4,230 feet long.

Timber Wolf was different though, unlike Orient Express and Zambezi Zinger it was made of wood.  Unlike almost every park I can think of, Worlds of Fun operated for an unimaginably long time without a wooden coaster in its line up. (17 years).  In 1989, there were only 88 wooden coasters operating in the country.  Today that number has almost doubled, and for good reason.  For those who remember about a decade ago in the era of CCI (Custom Coasters Intl.) and GCI (Great Coasters Intl), you needed more than one hand to count the number of wooden coasters being built in one season.  In comparison, In 1989 there were only two wooden coasters that premiered, Timber Wolf and Hercules, at Dorney Park in Allentown PA., and both were the creation of Dinn and Summers.

Dinn and Summers, who were they?   In a nut shell, Curtis Summers was an engineer and did the design work and Charles (Charlie) Dinn was responsible for the construction, as a whole they built many world class coasters.  Their story together begins at Kings Island, near Cincinnati Ohio, where both were directly involved in the building of what is still considered by many one of the greatest wooden coasters ever built, The Beast.  As a partnership Curtis D Summers and Charles Dinn built several of the great coasters of the late 80's and early 90's,  Timber Wolf in 1989, and the popular Georgia Cyclone and world famous Texas Giant the following year in 1990. 

Timber Wolf Promotional Video featuring a real timber wolf, also notice how quickly the coaster moves through the course!

Unfortunately, with all their success the Summers and Dinn legacy has not be remembered entirely fondly by coaster enthusiasts in general.  And that's putting it nicely.   In a not so flattering ode to Dinn, the “side to side shuffle” found on many of his coasters has been nick named the “Dinn Shuffle”.    It’s also a sad truth that Timber Wolf’s brother in 1989, Hercules, also designed and built by Summers/Dinn (and was located at Dorney Park in Allentown PA) was not only torn down due to its rough ride (2003), but given the unkind moniker of “Jerkules” in its last few years.

General Manager John Hudacek at Timber Wolf opening in 1989

When Timber Wolf opened in 1989 it made an impact on almost everyone immediately, especially those of us who have been Worlds of Fun fans for years.  I distinctly remember the media blitz surrounding Timber Wolf, its commercials with a real timber wolf running through the snowy woods, the red glowing eyes, and that lonely wolf howl are permanently implanted in my brain.  It was probably with that one commercial that I started taking a more sincere interest in what was happening at 4545 Worlds of Fun Avenue.  Of course as some know, I would not ride a roller coaster until almost two decades later.  So instead of my own lack of first hand experience I will hand that job off to a friend of mine, Randal Strong-Wallace…

I first saw Timber Wolf on the day that they test ran the train for the first time.  I had come up for the weekend to Kansas City and stopped by the park to check out the coaster.

It went around the track the first time only loaded with sand bags and my jaw dropped at how fast it was for a first run.  I could hardly believe what my eyes had just witnessed.  On the second run as the train entered the 180 degree point at the cross over of the upward helix, we all gasped as we saw what appeared to be the track being chewed to bits!  We then realized it was a sand bag that had ripped open!  

I soon enough got my first ride on the first night of the ACE Spring Conference.  It was late in the evening around 9:30 p.m. and the que line was full, but the line moved and it took us only about 25 minutes to get to the boarding platform.  To this day, no other roller coaster has blown me away after riding it for the first time like the Timber Wolf did.  I was riding with my best friend who had never ridden on a wooden coaster before.  She had however rode the  EXT (sit down version), Orient Express and the Zambezi Zinger multiple times with me like a pro.

On that first ride, we came off the lift hill and flew around the pre-drop turn, then plunging down that first drop at breakneck speed.  The ride hadn't been tamed yet with the first drop trim brake.  We were out of our seats the entire way down the drop.  And it never let up, it was so, so fast, and only slightly slowed down at the top of the helix.  Every hill was filled with ejector or floater (but mostly ejector) air time and the forces on the last 3 turns had lot's of lateral G's due to the tracks minimal banking.

My poor friend spent the entire ride wedged between the seat and the lap bar and to this day I have never heard a more terrified high pitched scream.

It was my instant favorite roller coaster, upsetting the Orient Express, which I didn't ever think could happen.  I still ride it almost every time I go to the park, and still enjoy it, but it doesn't even compare to the original way it rode.  For those who didn't get to ride Timber Wolf when it was newer, imagine riding the Prowler today, how crazy it is.  Then go ride the Timber Wolf.  Prowler is the superior ride today obviously.  Well friends, imagine how Prowler is today, and then imagine it crazier and longer, that is the way Timber Wolf was when it was young, Prowler couldn’t even hope to keep up.  That’s what it was like.

Some of us forget… MANY of us (including myself) have never even experienced Timber Wolf quite that way.  A few remember and try to keep their voices heard. Timber Wolf was and I firmly believe still IS a great, world-class coaster.  Of course the words of two, allegedly Worlds of Fun fanatics isn’t going to stir anyone’s concrete beliefs.  So let me let the rest of the world speak about Timber Wolf. 

Bill Gaspard wrote for the Kansas City Star in 1989 shortly before the ride would first open to the public… “The ride is a touch schizoid...  The first half of Timber Wolf has been built in the spirit of Harry Traver, a legendary designer who constructed coasters in their most fearsome form – a wide mix of startling hills, steep fan turns and unexpected spiral dips”

Not long after Timber Wolf opened, people were coming from all over the country to ride this colossal terror. Fans called from as far away as London and Europe, to make sure the ride would be open when they flew 12+ hours just to ride it.  

The "monument" at Parvin Road and Worlds of Fun Avenue stood for several years.

As if that wasn’t enough, the great tour de force for Timber Wolf was not just one person’s seal of approval, but hundreds. For in 1989 and 1990 Timber Wolf was ranked #2 coaster in the world by readers of “Insider Track” (a fan magazine at the time). Not to be outdone in 1991, Timber Wolf launched up one very important step to become the #1 coaster in the world.  Not #1 WOODEN coaster, but #1 coaster PERIOD.  Designer Curtis Summers, Mark Wyatt (editor of Inside Track), and Mayor Emmanuel Cleaver were on hand to unveil the “monument” that stood on Parvin Road and Worlds of Fun Avenue for several years. By the way, if you are interested the #2 coaster that year was Magnum XL-200, followed by Texas Giant, and The Beast. Not exactly bottom of the rung coasters by any stretch of the word. 

So the big question is how did we get from THERE to HERE?  You have to wonder how the idea of someone yelling “tear it down!” back in 1991 would have been viewed… probably like they were completely out of their mind.  Yet it’s the SAME coaster!  So Why? 

Well as Paul Harvey would say… now its time for the REST of the story (for you younger people Google it).   In the summer of 1994 Timber Wolf was temporarily closed due to some minor wear and tear to the track, John Hudacek, General Manager of Worlds of Fun at the time was quoted saying “There was more uplift and side to side motion to a couple of areas”.  This probably figured in heavily to the decision to re-track and partially re-profile the entire ride during the 1994-1995 off season. In 1995, Timber Wolf ran like it never had run before, smooth as silk, faster then a bullet, and incredibly insane. 

Then the rest of 1995 happened.  In June the park was sold to Cedar Fair, in July the girl got thrown from the ride, and not long after trim brakes got thrown onto the first drop.  It slowed the ride down.  As many riders from that time period can attest it did slow the ride down, but not to a point that it was unenjoyable it was still the best experience on Timber Wolf other then the first few months of 1995, when Timber Wolf flew like it never had before.

Then the worst thing that can happen to a wooden coaster happened, and that was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.  Sure, Maintenance walked the track every day for safety, sure anything that was considered unsafe was punctually replaced and repaired. Maintenance of a wooden coaster though is not only about safety, its also about maintaining the enjoyable ride experience. The concept of maintaining an enjoyable ride, along with seemingly Timber Wolf itself, seemed to have been forgotten about for many years. Nothing happened, and for this reason, Timber Wolf languished. 

But my goal in this is not to dwell on the problems with Timber Wolf, though they are many, its to reflect and celebrate a truly great coaster.  Timber Wolf IS a truly great coaster.  I am hoping with what I have written more will come to appreciate Timber Wolf not for what she is today, but for what she has been, and what she could be again.  A World Class coaster.

  Happy Birthday Timber Wolf from your fans, and here to twenty five more!


1989 Timber Wolf Commercial :