Weather: Hot, humid, low 90s
Day 1 - Six Flags America
Day 2 - Kings Dominion
A day after having a pleasant but predictable experience at Six Flags America on my own, I wasnít about to let Megan miss out on a park like Kings Dominion. Her proclivity for parks may not match mine - hence her spending a day doing much more reasonable things in D.C. while I was thrill-seeking among teenagers Ė but she knows how much fun a visit to a great park can be, and Kings Dominion has long been exactly that.
This is easily the longest Iíve gone between visits to a park. Some notable gaps were at Magic Mountain, which was seven years, from 1997 until 2004, Cedar Point was at eight, from 1996 to 2004, Paramountís Great America was nine, from 1997 to 2006, however the largest was previously 10 years, at Disney World (1999-2009), Disneyland (1997-2007), and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (1997-2007). It had been 13 years, and an eventful 13 years at that, and not just in terms of visiting amusement parks. Even in those terms, it was almost a solid 200 coasters ago, as I started that first visit to then Paramountís Kings Dominion at 77 coasters, and at the beginning of this day, I had 274.
Scorekeeping aside, my first visit to Kings Dominion was definitely a memorable one. It came at the tail end of a rather ambitious family vacation/amusement park tour. Starting with a one-way flight down to Tampa, I made my first visits to Busch Gardens Tampa, Six Flags Over Georgia, Carowinds, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and here, all in a matter of two weeks. It had managed to eclipse a similar tour the year before of four parks in California.
But the last stop looked to be a special one. Paramountís Kings Dominion was no small park, and has never been, even including its opening in 1975. It has spent its entire history being one of the premier parks anywhere on the eastern seaboard. It may have lacked the family appeal of Disney or Busch Gardens, and the adrenaline-centric marketing of Six Flags, but for the 20+ years before my first visit, it managed to offer both the quality experience and the thrill experience in no small number. As a coaster fan growing up on the east coast, I needed to visit, and I was thrilled to finally have my chance.
The amusement industry was a much simpler place back then, yet Kings Dominion was sporting two of the most technologically advanced coasters out there. First, the trailblazer, Premier Ridesí Outer Limits: Flight of Fear had premiered two seasons before as the first linear induction launch coaster, making a technological stride that would have an impact as large as any in the last 30 years. The second was Intaminís Volcano, the brand new and first inverted incarnation using this still new and somewhat troublesome launch system.
Now donít get me wrong, the park had a solid collection of coasters even before this: some classic wooden coasters and notable steel ones were sure to be enjoyable. In the midst of what was truly a golden age for such attractions, Outer Limits and Volcano were off the charts in terms of the interest they generated. Apparently the former had worked out the kinks, but the latter would never open during my visit.
Long story short (err, less long), I was unfortunately destined to have my first encounter with the questionable reliability of Intamin, and with the greater focus on novelty and technology that has plagued many a marquee coaster with downtime. Itís something we take in stride now, and really, these are technologically sophisticated machines even without electromagnetic propulsion and elevator lift systems.
On the plus side, I had an entirely wonderful park at my disposal for a day and a half. It became a nice routine of waiting outside Volcanoís entrance, talking with employees and other folks eager to ride, mixed with the occasional jaunt to hit a couple coasters, never spending more than an hour away from the Congo section in the hopes that I would be among the first to ride.
This is not an ideal way to visit a park, and one that probably didnít do the park justice. Regardless, it was surprisingly fun talking coasters and sharing experiences. I think my dedication to (a-hem, obsession with) getting a ride on Volcano caught the attention of some of the managers, and they were kind to dole out a handful of exit passes throughout the day. Whether it was friendliness, pity, or something in between, it was one of the most considerate things park employees have done for me. The entire experience did a wonderful job to help lessen the disappointment of not getting to ride, and as time went on, that faded away and what remained was appreciation for that rare park which truly treats paying customers like guests.
I knew this time around I wouldnít likely have such a unique experience. Volcanoís issues are a thing of the past, and at 13 years old itself now, itís no longer the only super headliner in the park. The top spot now goes to the much ballyhooed Intimidator 305 (henceforth known as Intimidator), which, at 305 feet tall, with a drop of 300 feet at 85 degrees, reaching speeds of 90 mph and offering rapid-fire hills and twists over its 5100 feet of track, is easily among the most notable new coasters built anywhere in the world in the past five years.
In the 13 years between visits, Kings Dominion has in fact netted six new roller coasters. Some are more remarkable than others, but added to the seven in the already established collection during my last visit, this looked to be a terrific day. You can probably see why I was excited for a visit, and why I wouldnít be leaving Megan behind for this one.
With the same unusual 10:30am opening as Six Flags America the day before, we would be leaving relatively early to make the hour and a half drive. We budgeted in a quick breakfast stop near Fredericksburg, VA, and we made the trip from Alexandra to beautiful Doswell without any trouble. Really, itís quite a pleasant drive, especially when youíre going against D.C. metro traffic.
We saw a good amount of cars in the parking lot, considering we were still 30 minutes before opening, though our startle turned to relief when we realized we were looking at the employee parking. Intimidator towered overhead in the distance, and right as we approached the active but uncrowded entry plaza, the turnstiles started churning.
Having seen some decent expansion in the years since my single visit, I had no illusions of being able to navigate the park without assistance. It looked as though cutting an immediate left would be the best route to Intimidator. In the shadows of Dominator, the relocated B&M floorless from Geauga Lake, there appeared to be a rope spanning the path. Instead of worrying about the closest rope position to Intimidator being elsewhere in the park, we took the time to get a ride in on what was probably the only operating coaster in the park.
Really, this coaster was only semi-new to me. I had in fact ridden it in its former location, though given how much a change of venue will change the riding experience, I do count it as a new coaster. Itís not as though this policy has had a huge impact on my coaster count, though itís interesting to note this is not the only former coaster moved from the now-defunct Geauga Lake to a different park which Iíve ridden.
The ride it offers is thankfully all but identical. The artful, lake-adjacent placement has been swapped for a mundane open field, still Iíll take it over pathetic parking lines a la Scream at Magic Mountain any day. As for the ride, it really is one of the most enjoyable floorless coasters. Not that Scream and both the Medusas arenít fun, top-notch coasters, this offers a much more unique experience, focusing considerably more on intense banked curves and tight helixes, breaking up the mild monotony of those other cloned versions.
Our one train wait for the last row didnít really kill all that much time, so we had a few extra minutes to spend as we made our way back to the rope, and wisely used it to apply a serious coat of sunscreen. A sunny, 90 degree day was formidable, but the humidity would be the real test of our will. Iím not gonna lie, Northern California destroys oneís ability to handle all but the most pleasant weather.
We counted down until the bottom of the hour, and were walked back by the security guard right on time, along with a few dozen other guests. All the while I was assuming most people in the park were stationed at other rope locations. As we were making our way back, I couldnít help but remark how this was our first real rope drop since Animal Kingdom, and how this was easily my most anticipated new coaster since Expedition Everest.
In a wonderful surprise, the closer to Intimidator we got, the more the pack dwindled, rather than grew. I suppose thatís the huge upside of having some 13 coasters to offer, itís easy to get distracted. We would keep on our modest bee-line (weíre far too mature to run these days) as we passed Ghoster Coaster, Avalanche, Volcano, Stunt Coaster, and finally Flight of Fear (Outer Limits was dropped when the park was sold by Viacom and went from Paramount to Cedar Fair for the 2007 season).
Iím going to say it now Ė this coaster is huge. Absolutely massive. Being among the tallest coasters in the world is rarefied air and even though this is tucked away in the back corner of the park, its impressive lift is visible throughout. We came upon the ride area, shrugged at the pervasive NASCAR theme, and were full of anticipation being one of the first groups into the queue.
There was one train on the transfer track, something I expected them to remedy later; luckily the station was all but empty and we settled in just a few rows from the back of the train for the most nerve-racking ride of the day. Itís always a treat when the exiting rider ahead of you is one of the employees finishing up the morning safety check.
The only frame of reference that I had, and really, all thatís out there, is Intimidatorís older sibling, Millennium Force at Cedar Point. Though stat-wise the two are quite similar, thereís no question that coaster certainly broke the mold and deserves all the credit for achieving these heights (pun partially intended) a decade prior. And yet, where height and speed may match, the first rule of coaster design is that all that matters is what you do with it. Here, it seemed as though these monumental thrill rides diverged, though Iíll get to that later.
The trains offer the usual wonderful and terrifying Intamin openness, complete with quirky stadium seating for every second row in each car. Here is the first experience different from Millennium Force: shoulder restraints. Intamin has had more than its share of restraint-related safety issues, and the lesson has been learned and applied to this ride in the form of an all-encompassing restraint. It probably wouldnít be bothersome to all but those with the most bulbous of heads, as the part of the restraint that actually went over the shoulders was more of a soft, padded strap than an unforgiving metal bar, as narrow as it was.
Drawing from Millennium Force, the elevator lift system pulled us out of the station and up the first hill more rapidly than many coasters max out speed-wise. The view is terrific, even if you really donít have all that much time to savor it. Megan may have preferred it that way, as she didnít need any supplemental tension. I just tried to savor the moment as it passed quickly; climbing only the second 300+ foot lift Iíve been lucky enough to come across.
Fear, excitement, anticipation, and whatever else the 32 riders are feeling all gets pulled rapidly over the crest of the lift, and all that potential quickly translates to blinding speed. The 85 degree drop might as well be straight down and somehow feels even steeper than that. As I like to say, you canít trust your perception at this altitude.
Pulling up just in time to avoid a head on collision with the ground, the forces donít let up as at this absurdly low level, a 270 degree right turn is taken, and offers some of the most blinding G-forces you will ever find. Anywhere. I may passingly refer to browning out on some of the most intense coasters at some of their most intense moments, but this was sustained and unmatched both in its duration and well as intensity.
Forget about catching your breath, I was just relieved to regain my vision at the crest of the second hill, still taller than some 90% of the coasters out there. What follows is a non-stop, rapid-fire assault on your adrenal glands. Mixed in are airtime hills and contouring twists and turns, and sometimes the two are combined for some of the more severe maneuvers. A good hit of trim brakes somewhere in the middle of the circuit is less an interruption and more of a relief. Some two minutes after dispatching, you will have experienced one of the most intense and unrelenting thrill rides that exists.
We werenít going to stop there. Back into the station we could see that we were still ahead of a probably rush, so we stumbled off the train, attempted to regain orientation, and looped back around for a second ride. This time we aimed for the front, found an open spot just a few rows back, and were getting a repeat ride on the third cycle of the day. If you can believe it, there is even more insanity up front. Youíll trade in some airtime for getting absolutely thrown into those acrobatic bends. As much for a respite as it was to continue exploring, we decided it was time to move on.
As is often the case with parks that have continued to top themselves decade after decade, itís amusing to think that yesterdayís headliner is todayís diversion. This was the case with the aforementioned Flight of Fear. While it set the bar high 15 years ago, itís since been outdone multiple times over. Thatís not to say that it hasnít tried to keep up, removing those shoulder harnesses and replacing with simple yet secure lap bars has gone a long way to keep this ride intact for us to enjoy today.
Through the nicely themed, Area 51-esque queue, I couldnít help but chuckle at the memory of the clamor for this attraction the last time I was here. By contrast, we walked into the station and into the second row. The launch seems so much faster when itís right in the station like this, some five feet from onlooking guests. The train ahead was rapidly on its way and we were a bit surprised to see a second train pull into the station shortly after. We climbed into the somewhat cumbersome restraints (for a lap bar anyway), and I was eager to compare it to Jokerís Jinx from the day before.
Much of the experience was generally the same Ė a bit brighter than I remember, and unfortunately this version did have a bit more jostle to it. Considering the intensity of the ride given the launch and compact inversions and maneuvers, it wasnít unpredictable for a 15 year old ride to be a little rough. With so much more to see and do in this park, it wasnít immediately appealing to spend any more time here, having been rattled a bit more than we hoped. Then again, it was infinitely less unpleasant than the absolute ear-bashing it used to provide before the shoulder harnesses were removed.
I had demonstrated great restraint being efficient by catching Flight of Fear along the way, and now it was time for Volcano. Almost as eager as I was for Intimidator, we cut into the Congo section and I noted the furthest point I was able to proceed to during my last visit. Entering the queue might be exciting for some; it was almost cathartic for me, though I knew we had a ways to go.
The themeing on this ride is pretty elaborate for a non-Disney or Universal park Ė a massive manmade mountain, fireball effects, and pretty authentic looking flora and scenery. Perhaps the most realistic (though probably unintended) effect was how it was absolutely stifling inside the ride building just before the station. Heat and humidity pack a punch, but with absolutely no moving air the wait was almost unbearable. Seeing nonfunctioning fans above us were insult on top of injury, and a quick snap back to the reality that we were at a chain park.
In reality, the wait was only about 15 minutes, made more bearable towards the end by finally loading that second train which had been making the circuit all morning. At eight rows of two, capacity is not this rideís strong suit, though I was just grateful to see it running. Having endured the furnace and making it to the slightly more open air station, we saw only an extra train wait for the front row, and agreed to get this first ride in style.
It was just a couple cycles before we hopped on, a bit strange to be on an Intamin inverted coaster that wasnít a shuttle, a la all those impulse coasters. The moment we dispatched was a bit surreal, and without much fanfare we made the left out of the station, and the rolling launch got us started with a blast.
Let me take this opportunity to say my expectations werenít actually all that high, almost entirely because I had sought after this ride for so long. Much like finally making visits to Alton Towers and Blackpool Pleasure Beach last year, more than anything I feared building up the experience too much, and in an effort to save disappointment, I managed to anticipate a rather mediocre experience. Letís just say this technique resulted in me being pretty blown away by those parks, and the same thing happened here.
The launch is a noticeable step up from Outer Limits, maxing out 20 mph faster in what felt like a fraction of the time. After sprinting through the ride building and out the back, the next maneuver is a massive, exhilarating sweeping 180 degree left turn. The train straightens up for only a split section when the second launch kicks in and hurls trains skyward, straight up over 150 feet in the air, and into a rather graceful flip at its peak.
Suddenly at altitude, you have hardly a second to get your bearings before you make a wide turn overlooking the park below, and are spun through an in-line twist. It doesnít exactly give the snap of the B&M inverted maneuver, but I was relieved to see it taken at a speed considerably more pleasant than the slow roll found on some other Intamin coasters. The turn and flip maneuver is taken two more times in varying directions, and the finale is a diving right turn, picking up a good amount of speed and then suddenly losing it once back into the station and on the final brake run.
It wasnít just the final assessment that had me beyond pleased, actually during the ride I thought at several points how great the coaster was. The initial launch is intense, the high-speed turn was forceful but not too bumpy, the second launch, pull-up, and flip out of the peak of the rideís namesake was absolutely over-the-top. The turns were graceful and the flips were fun, and even the final drop was a nice little rush.
My first thought once getting off the ride was that, if the ride had miraculously opened up after waiting for eight-plus hours during my first visit, all that hype and anticipation would have been matched. My second thought was that 13 years later, I felt lucky to not just get on one of my most sought after coasters, but enjoy the hell out of every second of it.
With the three premier ďnew to meĒ coasters down (plus Flight of Fear thrown in for good measure), we could relax a bit and hit some of the lesser rides. Across the way from Volcano, and confusingly still in the Congo area (I think) was Back Lot Stunt Coaster (formerly more cohesively themed as Italian Job Stunt Track, now sans the studio licensing). We were disappointed to see it closed, with one of those annoying signs that says ďThis ride will open at ___Ē, with ďNoonĒ written in. Iím sorry, was sleeping in until 10:30am not enough? Whatever, it was already 11:40am, and we had plenty to keep us busy.
Wanting to stay nearby, we quickly cut back towards Dominator, stopping at Ghoster Coaster, one of the more impressive junior wooden coasters. Itís pretty much the same as the former Ghoster Coaster (now Woodstock Express Ė I swear, the naming changes of both parks and rides due to corporate transactions is as bad as banks) at Carowinds, which is to say, a fun little double out and back model. At both 35 feet and mph, itís a nice way to start your kids on the road to coaster enthusiasm without scarring them for life.
For me, it was one of the more enjoyable junior coaster credits to add, though we had to wait almost as long as we did for Volcano, thanks to the one train operation and most adults (like us) riding solo and taking up two seats in the small train by themselves. Canít really blame the park for that, though it would have helped if an attendant had kept the station empty ensuring larger groups could ride together. There was a good amount of confusion over that.
Peeking back over at Stunt Coaster, the sign was now hidden behind a garbage can as noon had come and gone and it remained closed. I wasnít exactly seeing 300-coaster milestone flash before my eyes, though this looked like a very unique coaster and I definitely didnít want to miss it. I didnít need a new ďVolcanoĒ to pine after, thatís for sure.
Not wanting to limit ourselves to this side of the park, we started to make our way across. There was a Chick-fil-A nearby, so weíd be back before too long for a late lunch. Those nuggets and waffle fries were calling. Passing the center of the park we made our way to Shockwave, the painfully outdated looking stand up coaster.
Shockwave opened in 1986, was one of the first of its kind, and premiered several years before B&M refined the style with their 4-across design. Itís also worth noting that the company that built it, TOGO, known for some of the roughest steel coasters ever built, no longer exists. After getting our ride, it was clear to see that this installation wasnít long for this world either.
Ok, so it wasnít all that terrible. The novelty of standing on a coaster was matched by the bewildering over-engineering of the restraint system. It kept us in safely, and comfortably for the most part, yet clearly wasnít built for efficiency. Running two trains here seemed like a cruel joke, as the second train constantly baked in the sun on the final brake run outside the station.
It looked like it was another ďopen at noonĒ attraction, though the line was short either way. We instinctively went towards the front and climbed on the train after a long half-cycle wait for loading. Eventually on the way and up the lift, we made the turn and drop and flipped through the nice loop, then spent pretty much the entirety of the remaining layout getting knocked around in the helix and mostly unpleasant hills and turns. Not the roughest coaster out there, itís significantly closer to that end of the spectrum than smoothest. I canít imagine how I endured three rides on this during my last visit.
Moving towards the opposite corner of the park, we would work our way back as we got closer to lunch. At the far end is Ricochet and Hurler, directly across the midway from each other. With the former being a more recent addition, I added the credit as we walked right on. Being the ďlarge parkĒ model of a Mack Wild Mouse is a bit deceiving, as the maneuvers are still as tight and intense as most others, but the layout takes up a little more space. Offering a little more for the money was noticeable, and it topped my list of (now 12) non-spinning Wild Mice.
Directly out the exit and into the queue for Hurler, itís hard not to shudder as you pass through the ridiculously lengthy queue. We were greeted with another empty station and one train operation as we again played it safe riding towards the front Ė as close as we could get without requiring a cycle wait. I was a little wary here; occasionally enjoying the clone at Carowinds is the exception for this entirely overlooked coaster. Itís got a pretty aggressive layout, especially for what really is a double out and back coaster. The difference is the turnarounds at the far ends arenít taken slowly high above ground level; theyíre about 10 feet off the ground and are massively banked. It really feels more like a twister, and is a jarring one at that.
Rebel Yell offers the exact opposite experience. Not shooting for intensity it instead focuses on a refreshing series of drops and hills over its classic single out and back layout. Having it race may have added a little excitement, though we couldnít really fault them for running just one train on one side as we walked onto the third row.
While on the ride, we saw Stunt Coaster running, so weíd head in that direction. First we endured some slow loading at the nearby Drop Tower, and then forgot all about it as we enjoyed the impressive 300+ foot drop, a former record for freefall rides. We finally hit our target and joined the short queue for Stunt Coaster.
We stood in the same spot for about 10 minutes. The ride was running fine, though thanks to separate loading and unloading stations, guests would drop off their stuff on a table before entering the station. Apparently the table would fill up long before the station was full, so they had to mete out guests. When it had nearly emptied, they let us in, and from there it was just a train or two wait before we were on the back row.
As I alluded to before, this is a pretty unique coaster. Itís definitely a family ride, though it has a launch. It lost its licensed movie tie-in, yet retains a heavy amount of detail. Basically the ride follows an L.A. chase scene, ripping out of the station, whirling up a parking garage rotary, careening among shipping containers, police cars and billboards, and coming to a stop for a gas station shootout with a helicopter. Explosions abound, you dive into a tunnel, whip about a bit in the dark and suddenly emerge outside under the queue before hitting the brakes.
Itís far from the most intense ride, though it packs quite a punch, especially given its diminutive stats. It would have benefited from more comfortable seats (some padding on top of the fiberglass is always welcome), though wasnít too rough for its likely family audience. Itís always tough to straddle that line between thrill ride and family ride, and I thought this did a perfectly adequate job. It also did the job of maxing out on all the possible new coasters for this two-day splurge Ė the 13th, which brings the total to a round 280. If I donít add another this season, itíll still be better than average. Any year in double digits is a good year.
Looking as much for relief from the heat as we were a satisfying meal, we were glad to find the air conditioning in the Chick-fil-A at full force. The aforementioned waffle fries and chicken nuggets (not to mention all the dipping sauces) completely hit the spot, and we tried to forget the companyís unfortunate stance on important social issues as we had a rare encounter with the mostly southern chain.
With one area still unvisited, we went back across the park to the Old Virginia section. Here we found Shenandoah Logging Company, the log ride, and aimed to cool off a bit now that we were back into the mugginess. There was a 5 minute wait before we were in our very own log and out on the low to the ground and heavily wooded layout. The climactic drop was a nice splash, and definitely required some reapplication of sunscreen for the remainder of the afternoon.
Skipping the surely drenching raft ride, we made our way to Grizzly, the final of four wooden coasters at the park Ė the most Iíve come across in one park along with Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Weíre all-too-familiar with the ride of the same name back home at Californiaís Great America. That holds a special place as the worst wooden roller coaster Iíve ever ridden. Fortunately, this one isnít quite as bad as it whips around its double out and back layout. Seeing as thatís a low bar, I was disappointed but not surprised to find this wasnít as enjoyable as my ride last time around.
Taking in one of the rarer park experiences, we took the elevator up the Eiffel Tower, a one-third replica of its Parisian namesake. I always enjoy these towers, though you donít see them all that often. We got a nice view up there and a nice breeze to boot. It was plain to see how empty the parking lot was, barely using a third even excluding what looked like expansive overflow lots. It had eclipsed the number of cars in the employee lots, though really only by a factor of two or three. It was a nice diversion and Iíd recommend it. If we had been lugging the camera with us, it would have made for some terrific shots, but given the absolutely sweltering conditions, that was out of the question.
Having hit most of the highlights and not especially keen on any of the nighttime entertainment, it was time to make a final loop of the park Ė and seeing that it was barely 3pm, we would be able to enjoy another social evening in D.C. Being pretty close to the front of the park, we started with Dominator and worked our way back. The floorless coaster was again pretty much walk on with two trains, and I again enjoyed the only B&M coaster of the trip, and a great one at that.
Passing through the kids section on the way to Congo, we passed the interactive shooting dark ride, Boo Blasters. We skipped the upcharge 3D glasses but joined the nicely themed queue. Any haunted house with pun-filled gravestones gets an A for effort in my book. The ride was fun enough, though Iíd rather trade in the novelty of shooting targets for a little more in the way of depth and creepiness of the scenes. Not to mention Megan doubled me up on points, so thanks for nothing Kings Dominion.
Now that Avalanche was running (another delayed opening attraction), we hopped into the line for what I remembered as a nice Bobsled. One train operation wasnít a huge surprise, though with the small trains, and most adults taking up one of the trainís only seven cars, it was our longest wait, going through the cycle several times at three minutes a pop. Again we saw industrial fans not spinning, and the moisture hung in the completely still air. As far as our endurance goes, it was definitely tested and morale didnít crash completely only because we were planning to hit just a few more rides.
The spin on Avalanche was pleasant enough, not entirely comfortable since we selflessly helped capacity by sharing the car, at least it had a good layout and a stiff breeze. Not expecting to find any relief back in the Volcano queue, we were at least treated to a shorter line. Again staring at still fans, we cursed the park before getting to again enjoy one of the best rides it has to offer. The second ride confirmed my suspicions that this was indeed an absolutely fantastic roller coaster, and it easily earned a spot in my top 20.
Taking a big step down in quality, for the sake of completeness we reluctantly got in line for Anaconda. This aging Arrow multi-element looper has seen glory come and go in the 20 years itís been running, and I remember it being a bit wild even when it was only seven years old during my previous rides. I warned Megan that it was somewhere between Demon at Great America and Viper at Magic Mountain, both in terms of its layout and roughness. I was right on the money as age and old school engineering have condemned this coaster to much the same fate as its Arrow brethren: more fun to look at than ride.
Coming just about to the end of our resilience, we would finish up no place other than Intimidator. Even more surprising than the one train operation was the fact that the second train would have been entirely pointless. We walked directly into the station and found an empty row just a few spots up from the back of the train. We jumped in as the single train completed its course, and we were again treated to one of the most extraordinary amusement park attractions ever created.
Megan had her fill with this ride, and as I saw a single rider queued up for our row, I saddled in next to him and took my final spin. (They had been calling for single riders each cycle, so I just saved them the trouble) By this time I had come to be much more familiar with the layout, and found the sudden twists and turns much more manageable when expecting them, not to mention twisting your body anticipation. The experience was still entirely off the charts, but at that last run I was truly able to appreciate the agility and diversity of the layout, in addition to its raw speed and power.
And what right there is what puts this coaster in a category above Millennium Force, in my mind anyway. There is no question MF displays awesome speed and provides a soaring, graceful ride hundreds of feet in the air Ė but where that ride completes its circuit almost in spite of the forces that kind of momentum creates, Intimidator relishes in them. MF seems to attempt to disperse its speed with the least amount of positive and negative force as possible sustained by riders, Intimidator conversely uses it to subject passengers to terrific airtime, sustained high pressure turns and wild, almost violent dives from side to side. Millennium Force continually shoots back up into the sky, providing a visually stunning view both of and on the ride, Dominator instead maintains its serpentine layout mere feet above the ground, almost pushing its riders through the course at maximum velocity.
After a very deliberate comparison, there wasnít really much of one to speak of. I often give Millennium Force a hard time because itís so high revered; letís not forget how Cedar Point introduced it over a decade ago. But Intimidator actually is what I always though Millennium Force should have been Ė a coaster that, above all, is all about force. That ride sits at #8 in my steel rankings (a terrifically high spot, donít get me wrong), and Intimidator joins the list a few notches above, at #5.
Taking a step back from the impressions of the ride, and taking in the park of the whole, I could not have been more pleased with what the place has to offer, and our day experiencing it. Momentary reminders of less-than-perfect operations were mostly in the minority, and the only truly negative thing about our visit was obviously the weather. Really, the remarkably light crowds were the least the universe could provide us considering, and we did not take that for granted.
The coaster collection here is really terrific, as much diversity as any park youíll come across. Fourteen coasters may not break any records, but every ride offers something unique, even if itís not the best of its kind. Itís also important to remember, that in addition to quantity, the top rides offer the utmost quality. Between Dominator, Volcano, and Intimidator, Kings Dominion joins just two other parks Ė Cedar Point and Busch Gardens Tampa Ė as having three of my top 20 steel coasters. Most parks obviously arenít anywhere close to having any, a few have one, Magic Mountain and Great Adventure have two each, but with these three new coasters, the top of my list has a whole new look.
As we were leaving the park, I remarked that if we hypothetically lived closer, weíd certainly have to get season passes. I think thatís a true sign of a great park Ė one that offers enough variety both inside its gates and from year to year that it warrants making multiple visits. Itís a shame that distance will make visits to Kings Dominion a rare treat, though Iím comforted knowing that it may be a decade or more between visits, but the park changing for the better will always be a constant.