The park once known as Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom failed to reopen for the 2010 season, allegedly because management could not agree acceptable lease terms with the board of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. The announcement wasn't much of a surprise in the enthusiast community, however, as the writing had been on the wall for a while. The park was already struggling with attendance when an accident on the Superman Tower of Power ride in June 2007 resulted in a young woman losing both of her feet. Twisted Twins failed to reopen in 2008, and Chang was disassembled at the end of 2009, ostensibly to allow space for an expanded water park.
There were a number of aborted attempts to reopen the park over the ensuing seasons, notably from members of the Koch family, better known for operating Holiday World. Their plan to revitalise the park under a new name of Bluegrass Boardwalk collapsed after a few months, and many enthusiasts thought that was the end of the story. However, in January 2013, an agreement was reached with Ed Hart, the original developer of the park, for a fifty year lease with a reopening in May 2014. Hart was ebullient about his investment; "The highlights of the new Kentucky Kingdom will be the addition of the first new roller coaster in 17 years and a large expansion of the Hurricane Bay water park. We are doubling the size of the water park, adding three new water slide complexes, a 12,000 square foot wave lagoon, and an adventure river, which is six times faster than the existing lazy river. All in all, we will have one of the largest water parks in the region."
Lightning Run (#2095) is the first installation of the Hyper GT-X from Chance Rides, a prototype coaster design that at first glance appears to resemble the hypercoasters produced under the Morgan banner from 1996 to 2004. The ride experience could not be more different, however; though half the height of its supposed ancestors, the GT-X features aggressive (h)airtime that delivers a far more intense ride experience than the published statistics would suggest.
The ride reuses the old station building from Greezed Lightnin', albeit with two rows permanently closed off due ot the somewhat shorter train. Today the lift hill was hauling the train to the top in less than fifteen seconds, throwing it into a drop and a series of turns that were intense, if not overly so. At the midpoint, however, the pace picked up dramatically with an aggressive S-turn at ground level followed by three vicious airtime hills, easily the most powerful I've come across in my travels. We enjoyed a total of four laps, two in the back and two in the front. The difference between the two locations was barely perceptible, to the point that my choice on a return visit would probably depend on which position had the shorter queue. The tracking was very smooth in both locations, ejector airtime notwithstanding, and a testament to the quality of the fabrication work.
It's worth commenting briefly on the trains, which are of a new design that is comfortable if somewhat clunky in appearance. Passengers are restrained using a lap bar with an additional pad at shin height, and this is secured firmly in place by the operators. Lest there be any doubt about this, a clear warning label on each car states that an improperly positioned lap bar can lead to serious personal injury, and indeed the airtime on this ride makes tightly secured restraints an absolute prerequisite. The only real oddity I noticed was a small lump on each seat back, as if the designers attempted to add some lumbar support but did so incorrectly.
On my last visit to Kentucky Kingdom park the operators on the Vekoma-built Giant Wheel made a point of telling all guests that the use of cameras was not permitted on board. There were no such problems today, and we took full advantage for some overhead shots as well as some zoomed shots of individual rides. An investigation later on revealed that the current management team has not published a loose article policy, a refreshing if somewhat surprising decision in a country where individual responsibility is a relative rarity. Later in the day we noticed someone openly using a full size SLR camera on Lightning Run, something that would definitely not be allowed in most parks.
There was a shiny new coat of paint on Roller Skater that made it look brand new, and it was running pretty well despite lying idle for four seasons. Before today I'd never really thought about how much difference paint can make to my overall impression of a ride; I found myself drawing comparisons against the much newer equivalent at Innovative Film City, which looked old enough to vote.
The park is home to a beautiful carousel, easily one of the nicest I've come across in my travels. Each animal on Bella Musica was hand-carved, and the choices included horses, a rooster, a sea dragon, and even an elephant. A second smaller Musical Carousel can be found in the children's area, with all riders sitting atop beautifully modeled instruments. The provenance of this ride is unclear, though I've previously come across two other versions.
Megan was particularly excited about riding the Flying Dutchman, an unusual design of wave swinger with seating moulded to look like giant clogs. The end of each cycle was interesting, as the cars were allowed to settle before being lowered slowly to earth with a sound very much akin to fifty pairs of high heels hitting the ground at once. We were both somewhat amused at the operator advising that riders should remain seated until the shoe comes to a stop!
Thunder Run was completely retracked for the park reopening, and the engineers who did the work knew their business; the result is a smooth wood coaster that feels absolutely brand new, even down to the smell of axle grease near the brake run. The layout did seem to peter out a bit at the half way point, but that is honestly a nitpick; the overall experience was still top notch, and we enjoyed four laps in various different seats. The back seat was the most lively, but the airtime was better at the front.