After Busch Gardens, a visit to King's Dominion will satisfy your appetite for wooden coasters, since the Gardens have none of these (That's changed in 1999, however, with the addition of Gwazi in Busch Gardens, Tampa!). In addition to the woodies Rebel Yell and Hurler, hidden in the woods at Kings Dominion is the Grizzly, the scariest, most thrilling woody I have ever been on, and in the running for my favorite coaster of all (high praise since my tastes run almost exclusively toward the steel coasters). I almost missed this coaster on my first trip there, because the path to the entrance is set among a small circle of shops and is almost unnoticeable. Although the coaster itself is a bit more exposed now, due to the tree clearing necessary to build Hurler, the "secretive" nature of this coaster still adds to its mystique. This is not to be missed though! After several trips there, my friends and I have confirmed that this ride, although relatively tame and unremarkable during the day, takes on an entirely different characteristic during after the sun goes down. At night, the trains speed up, the darkness sets in, and the ride becomes the most thrilling screamer. Go there, and ride it at night. I dare you not to scream. You will not be let down! On recent trips to the park, we make a pointed effort to ride everything but Grizzly during the morning and day, saving its unique thrills for the darkness and the excitement of "closing out the park".
In 1996 the park added the Outer Limits: Flight of Fear, a linear induction coaster with several loops, built completely indoors. The "linear induction" system means that there's no lift hill: instead, the trains are propelled out of the station at high speed by a series of electromagnets. The incredibly fast "launch" is one of the most thrilling parts of the ride, especially watching the trains take off out of the station and into a dark tunnel (and watching the expression on the faces of the people in line!) This really has to be seen to be believed. They've done a hell of a great job on the theming of this ride, too. This was my first time on a linear induction coaster, and I must say I was initially quite impressed. However, after riding Batman and Robin at Great Adventure (an idea I originally poo-pooed) I now find Outer Limits to be disappointing in comparison. The acceleration is much greater on B&R, and it accelerates you over a longer period of time. When the acceleration ends, the rest of the ride is practically denouement. Though I find Outer Limits quite passé now, the thrill of Batman and Robin has yet to wear off, even after a whole season of riding!
1999: Volcano! In 1998, a new, inverted steel coaster opened in King's Dominion. Although technical problems delayed riding this coaster until its public "re-opening" in 1999, I can truly state that this ride was worth the wait. Unlike the now classic B&M inverted rides, the Intamin built Volcano is propelled with a linear induction system. Although none of the elements of this ride; the inverted trains, linear propulsion, nor heavy theming; is truly unique, they have been combined in such a way as to create a truly spectacular ride experience.
Volcano was built in and around the former "Smurf Mountain" at the parking lot edge of the park. Previously housing several small spinning rides, the "mountain" was completely gutted and refitted with high tech, bright yellow coaster track. Most noticeable is that the top of the "mountain" has been lopped off, transforming it into the much more threatening volcano, with yellow track conspicuously spouting from its mouth. The easily visible track winds back and forth across the front and back of the structure, only loosely connected, like wafting smoke. Even with no trains running, this is a sight that would whet any coaster enthusiasts appetite! As you approach the structure to find the ride line, your gaze fixed upon this exciting structure, possibly waiting to spot an emerging train of screaming riders, you might be surprised instead by the occasional spewing of flames and black smoke from the angry volcano. That's right, fire shoots out of the top of this thing, only occasionally, and between trains. Black smoke pours from the orifice, creating perfectly formed smoke rings that drift off above... and as the roar and fire subside, from that same spot, trains emerge, flip, and begin their twisting rides back down to the ground.
The ride queue takes waiting passengers around and through the volcano, catching you with the heat of its fiery breath just before you head into its dark depths. The trains bear a superficial resemblance to those of B&M's inverted trains, but with only two seats across per row, and two rows attached per car. As you wait to board, you watch as the trains ahead fill with passengers, depart, and turn a corner into a dark tunnel. Before the rear of the train clears the tunnel entrance, you watch in amazement as the train is gripped by force and hurled out of sight amid the sudden screams of the passengers! Not to worry, your turn is coming up shortly...
The seats on the cars are quite comfortable, and the over-the-head harness is not to restricting... about the same as those on B&M's coasters. At the "all clear", your train gently glides out of the boarding station and around that corner, where you can finally see... NOTHING except for a long, dark tunnel. Much longer than you had imagined! As you ponder the dark expanse, the induction system kicks in, grabs your entire body, and accelerates you intensely for that entire length of tunnel. The excitement is matched only by that on Six Flag's Chiller ride... but on that ride, the end of the acceleration pretty much signifies the approaching end of the ride. On Volcano, it is just beginning! At the end of that acceleration tunnel, a quick, banked turn sends you out into daylight, where another sharp bank wraps you around and back into the heart of this structure. Your own heart is somewhere near your esophagus... and you haven't even left the ground yet!
Back inside the Volcano--the following might be considered a "spoiler", so you might not want to read on until after you have ridden Volcano!--darkness sets in again, and you are immediately grabbed, while still traveling at high speed, by a second set of induction magnets that accelerate you with great force upward and out the top of the volcano! Once in the daylight again, a rolling flip sends you upright and toward the series of corkscrew rolls back and forth along the front of the volcano that finish your ride. Even this part of the ride is fun. The rolls are fast and extremely smooth, without a hint of unpleasant "head banging" that often ruins repeated rides on other high-speed coasters. A final, swooping downward curve brings you back into the structure and darkness at high speed and into a set of very sudden braking magnets. Even the end of this ride is a thrill! Slowly coasting into the debarking section, you get a brief moment to catch your breath before a quiet exit into Volcano's gift shop. Don't buy to much, though... you'll want to keep your arms unencumbered for an immediate revisit to the entrance line of this extremely fun and thrilling ride!
King's Dominion is a sister park to King's Island in Ohio, home of the Beast, the world's longest coaster, with two lift hills and a ride time of over four minutes. I've never been there (Cedar Point is as far west as I've gotten so far...) but a trip there is obviously on my wish list. You can visit King's Dominion on the web at www.pkd4fun.com, and King's Island at www.pki.com.
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