Tuesday, April 21, 2009

'Diamondback' Slithers into Kings Island

I was at Kings Island (located outside Cincinnati) over the weekend for the premiere of "Diamondback," the park's massive new steel coaster from Bolliger & Mabillard, and was pleased with everything I saw.

First, the coaster: It's huge and fast (duh—it's a B&M hyper), topping out at 230 feet and 80 miles per hour, with 5,282 feet of track and an estimated hourly capacity of 1,620 riders (if you want the full stats breakdown, click here).

Of particular note is its new-style trains, which follow last year's "Behemoth" at fellow Cedar Fair-owned park Canada's Wonderland. The seats are the same as other B&M hypers—with the signature T-bar restraint across the rider's lap—but their orientation is new. Instead of four straight across, the two middle seats are moved "forward" on the car for a staggered effect (there's a good rendering here).

Walter Bolliger, on hand for the opening, told me the idea behind the new trains is to bring more equanimity to every spot on the train by attempting to give the people in the middle two seats as good a view as the people on the outside. I always assumed this meant out the sides, since now there isn't anyone next to you when sitting in the middle. What surprised me was how well the entire field of vision is improved, because with the two seats directly in front of you also moved forward and no longer right in front of your face, you have angles diagonally out the front never possible before. Of course nothing compares to the front seat, but the experience is much more like riding in the front than I expected.

And there's more: The two "rear" seats on each car are still plenty close enough to converse with your riding partner easily, and by breaking up the rows of four into rows of two, loading efficiency is now exactly like traditional two-across trains (the station queues are for every two seats, not four as in previous B&M hypers).

The new seating arrangement also meant, of course, a longer train. Bolliger said his team studied this long and hard to see how it would effect the experience, and said the added benefit is even more air time now. I didn't know how that could be possible on a type of coaster already certified as a flotation device, but it's true; it's tough to compare coaster-to-coaster when the layouts are so different, but it sure felt like a ton of hang time on "Diamondback."

A couple more items and then I'll stop babbling about this coaster:

1. Bolliger loves how the ride interacts with the terrain. Take a look at the layout; once the train hits that third hill and takes a left turn, imagine that entire section of the track in a wooded area. The trees weren't full yet, but once they are I imagine that'll be a great trip reminiscent of "The Beast." The splashdown effect finale is also quite eye-catching from the midway—that plume gets up there. Of course, it's not like you can possibly miss "Diamondback"—it's effectively rearranged the Mason, Ohio, skyline.

2. Speaking of "The Beast," the classic celebrates its 30th birthday this year, and KI officials are hopeful "Diamondback" will reprise the venerable wooden coaster's role as a national calling card.

“Some years feel special, and this is our special year,” said Kings Island VP and GM Greg Scheid. “It’s been 30 years since ‘Beast’ opened. ‘Diamondback’ will be right on the tails of ‘The Beast’ and I think we’re going to have a new fan favorite here in the park.”

Scheid told me he hopes the new coaster “can offset the downturn in the economy. This coaster can maintain or improve our attendance this year.” KI spokesman Don Helbig also referenced "The Beast" when discussing "Diamondback," saying: “It took Kings Island from a regional attraction to nationwide, where everyone wanted to come just to ride ‘The Beast.’ We’re getting that same kind of feedback throughout the winter and early spring.”

Uh, yeah. Kings Island was mobbed Saturday on its season-opening day, with obvious attention focused squarely on the new coaster. The sign at the start of the queue says the wait from that point is 120 minutes; the line went way beyond that all day, stretching at least another hour's worth back onto the midway (they brought in stiltwalkers to entertain the crowd).

In a cool marketing touch, Kings Island gave away "First Rider" T-shirts to the first 10,000 people on "Diamondback" Saturday (the first couple hundred were even numbered on the back); it didn't take long before the "Diamondback" logo was visible on moving bodies all over the park.

I wore mine the next day for the flight home from the Columbus airport, about 75 miles from Kings Island. As I was walking through the metal detector at security, of all places, the screener spotted my shirt and asked me about the coaster—just a small testament to the reach Kings Island officials hope this big snake of a ride will have.

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