Kentucky Kingdom

6th August 2021

The pandemic has triggered an enormous shortage of staff in the United States, with seasonal businesses such as theme parks feeling the brunt of the pain. The perceived root cause of the issue inevitably depends on one's political persuasion, but what can't be argued is that there has been a massive reduction in the number of non-immigrant visas issued to foreigners. Statistics published by the Department of State show a 72% fall in the figure for May 2021 when compared against the same period two years earlier.

For this reason I made a point of reconfirming opening hours each morning throughout my trip, both by looking at park websites and, where available, social media. The latter was how I discovered that my visit to Kentucky Kingdom overlapped with the NSRA Street Rod Nationals, a classic car show taking place on the grounds of the Kentucky Exposition Center. The event had taken over most of the usual parking spaces and the main entrance gate, but fortunately the park was still accessible via lots P and Q at the southern boundary of the complex. An unidentified Facebook user dropped an all-capital rant about this being a really long walk with bonus exclamation marks, but it honestly wasn't; a quick measurement on Google Earth placed it just over six hundred metres away at worst, a distance I covered in less than ten minutes at a casual pace with several pauses to ogle some of the more interesting gas guzzlers.

The newest coaster in the park is Kentucky Flyer (#2902), a family-sized wood coaster designed by the Gravity Group. This felt like the right place to start my morning, both because it was a new credit for me and also because it was a continuation of a theme: my last ride on a roller coaster 312 days 4 hours and 30 minutes in the past (not that I was counting or anything!) was the highly regarded flying coaster at Phantasialand. As its name suggests, the ride has a nod to aviation: three placards in the queue explaining turbulence, elevation, and velocity, and a miniature wing and propeller mounted to the front of each train. This is as far as the theming goes, but it's definitely better than nothing and perhaps it will be enhanced at some point in the future.

Kentucky Flyer

One curiosity of the installation is the fact that it has been made behind a large section of water park. The only other dry ride in the immediate vicinity is SkyCatcher, an A.R.M. Rides Vertigo that was added for the 2016 season; after that there is a walk of around 250 metres to the Giant Wheel, and roughly double that to any of the other worthwhile coasters (and yes, I am intentionally disregarding the prototype SLC; you should too). At first glance this positioning appears to make little sense, but I've since realised that the track and support structure serve a secondary purpose, which is to provide a visually appealing backdrop for the Adventure River. Photos from my 2016 visit show a large mound of earth where the coaster is now, and there's no doubt that this is an upgrade.

The distant location served me well this morning, in that a quick power-walk from the front of the park allowed me to get there well ahead of the multitudes. With an empty queue and empty station I chose a seat in an empty front row, and moments later the operators sent me on a solo journey up the short lift hill. The ride experience was perfectly respectable, being that of a not overly aggressive out-and-back punctuated by some gentle turns along the way to fit the available space. I did three further laps before anybody else arrived, two in the back and one in the front, and that was enough for me; the ride was pleasant but not the sort of thing I felt any need to marathon.

Readers inclined towards photography should note that some of the best shots of the Kentucky Flyer are from outside the park gate. Overheads are possible from nearby waterslide towers, but most were blocked off today along with the Giant Wheel which would have been the other obvious vantage point. Walking around the side of the Adventure River provided one moderately decent angle reproduced above, though the sun was in the wrong place and I didn't fancy waiting several hours for it to move. (It’s worth noting that a few other key attractions were out of service today, including Thunder Run and the alliterative Raging Rapids River Ride; while signage stated that both were under maintenance I suspect that the real reason for their closure was that there was nobody available to operate them.)

My next stop was at Storm Chaser, the park’s hybrid coaster. I decided to do a back seat for what I figured would be the first of a few laps as the queue was very short. However, it wasn’t to be. The first half of the layout was excellent, with a particular highlight being the wonderful floating inversion that makes up the initial drop. The second half however was a bit too aggressive for my taste, as my thighs repeatedly came into hard contact with the unforgiving restraints. I’m not sure whether the ride has gotten faster since its debut season, or whether my tolerance has waned a little as I’ve gotten older, but whatever the cause, one lap was enough for me.

Lightning Run

I was much more comfortable in the back seat of Lightning Run, a coaster that for seven years has been the world’s only operational Chance Hyper GT-X. This is a travesty that really should have been corrected at this point; the layout is aggressive without being stupidly so, and the tracking is perfectly smooth. The airtime hills on the return to the station were right on the edge of my tolerance threshold, but I was sitting in the back so that wasn't unexpected. I’d have happily gone back for another lap, but the queue had built considerably while I was on board and I didn’t feel like waiting an hour or more in the baking heat.

In the end I decided to cut my stay an hour ahead of my programmed departure time. I'd done what I wanted to do from the available rides, and I was overheating; I figured that I’d be much happier in the comfort of an air-conditioned car.


Malibu Jack's Louisville

6th August 2021

Malibu Jack's is a Kentucky-based chain of indoor family entertainment centres founded in 2013 by brothers Jeff, Steve and Terry Hatton. The two extant locations (and a third under construction) feature arcade games, bowling, electric go-karts, mini golf, laser tag, low cost food, and a small selection of amusement rides. All attractions are paid for using reloadable smart cards that can be purchased both from cashiers and from self-operated vending machines. The current Louisville branch replaced a smaller facility when it opened in late 2019 on the site of a former Walmart Supercenter.

Twist-N-Shout (#2903) is a standard model SBF figure eight spinner that has been set up just to the left of the building entrance in front of a stylised rendition of the Santa Monica West Coaster. This comparison is perhaps a little generous given the ride experience, but the $5 ride was enjoyable enough for what it was. I was given six laps of the course.


Malibu Jack's Lexington

6th August 2021

It took me just under an hour to drive to the Lexington branch of Malibu Jack's, which like its brother was a replacement that almost doubled the square footage of the original in the city. The interior configuration has a few minor placement changes over Louisville due to the shape of what was a former Kmart building, but aside from that the visitor experience is the same.

Malibu Jack's'

Readers should be aware that smart cards are not currently interchangeable between the different outlets in the chain, despite them being visually identical. It may have been possible to sort this out by speaking to a human but I figured it was altogether less effort to invest $0.30 in a replacement, not least because doing so would provide an extra souvenir for my collection.

The second Twist-N-Shout (#2904) of the day was also configured to use a six lap cycle. Spinning was in very short supply today, though I suspect that to have been due to the balance of my car rather than any inherent difference in the machinery.


Camden Park

6th August 2021

My original schedule for today featured Kentucky Kingdom, the two Malibu Jack's parks, and the Hard Rock Café in Cincinnati. However, when I returned to my car I realised that I was two and a half hours ahead of my most optimistic time projections, and on course to get to my dinner before 5:00pm. A quick look at Coaster-Count reminded me of another figure eight spinner I had yet to tick off roughly 120 miles up the road, and on the spur of the moment I decided to detour. This was not a sensible decision, but I have no regrets as it enabled a very pleasant evening.

Camden Park hosts the Wayne County Fair for a few days at the start of August each year, and this is a particularly good time to visit as admission and ride wristbands are quite a bit cheaper than they are during the regular season. There are also pay-per-ride options available, though with unlimited access costing just $10 I decided that figuring them out was more trouble than it was worth. I don't have enough data to gauge the effect on queues, except to note that the longest wait of my visit was fifteen minutes in line for Slingshot (#2905), the third figure eight spinner of the day. The cycle here was set at four laps, which was three more than were strictly necessary.

There was a period of time when RCDB listed the park's Haunted House as a roller coaster, causing a certain amount of derision among long term enthusiasts, not least this writer. My experience today however has caused me to reassess that judgment; the ride has a chain lift to provide potential energy, a drop and climb, and a series of momentum-driven mouse-style turns (and fairly aggressive ones at that). I barely saw any of the scenery because my reactive glasses were still in full sunshine mode, so I just enjoyed it as I would any other classic coaster. I'm still not going to count it, but I have developed increased understanding of those who do.

Big Dipper'

The star attraction of the evening was Big Dipper, now one of three remaining wood coasters from the National Amusement Device Company. The ride looks and feels delightfully haphazard, thanks to a combination of peeling paintwork and inconsistent reinforcements to the support structure over the years. Today it was possible to feel the frame of the cars distorting as they made their way up the uneven lift hill, and once out on course the ride experience felt utterly out of control without being rough in any way. Even a brief flat section at the half way point had some bounce to it. I'd have loved to have tried a back seat ride, though this hasn't been possible for many years as the interior of that car has been gutted.

I also made the time for a lap on the Lil' Dipper, another NAD creation and a ride memorable for having what I believe to be the most spacious trains on any extant wood coaster. It's almost as if the designers took standard two-bench cars and removed the front seat; I suspect that even the legendary Parc Saint Paul security guards could fit without problems. My cycle was delightful; it's wonderful to see a piece of history like this maintained for a new generation to enjoy.