King's Dominion
May 29, 2017

copyright Jay Ducharme 2017

We departed our Williamsburg, Virginia, hotel at about 7:00 Memorial Day morning and drove to the Capitol Pancake House for breakfast.  We found it online and took a chance that it would be better than the hotel food.  I was glad we went there.  The service was friendly.  I ordered pancakes, which were delicious.  Karen ordered an omelet and home fries, which were also good.  The waitress even brought us complimentary sausages (not knowing we were vegetarian).

After that hearty food, we drove the relatively short one hour trip northwest to Doswell and King's Dominion, another of our favorite parks.  In the past, we had stayed at the Best Western motel located at the edge of the park's parking lot.  It was really convenient and reasonably priced.  But the management had changed and now it was branded as a Motel 6.  At least that's what our reservation said.  We arrived at the motel about 9:30.  I assumed our room wouldn't be ready until the usual time of 3:00, but I was hoping we could leave our car in their parking lot.  I walked in the usual entrance next to the attached Denny's restaurant.  The lobby had been redecorated and looked slightly more upscale.  There were two tall colored bubbling water sculptures off to the side.  The lobby appeared to be empty.  I waited a few minutes and finally heard voices coming from a back room.  So I called out, "Hello?"  A woman emerged.  I gave her my name.  She couldn't find it in her reservations.  She asked if I made a reservation at Motel 6 and I told her I did.  She said, "Oh, that explains it.  Motel 6 is around back."  That struck me as odd because it was all one motel.  She said that I was in the lobby of the Centerstone Inn.  There were no signs indicating that, but I thanked her and walked around to the northwest side of the complex.  Sure enough, there was the office for Motel 6.  It looked like it was formerly a guest room and had been converted.  It was really tiny.  The woman there was very friendly.  I expressed my confusion, and she said not to worry, everyone was confused.  She said the split happened last November.  She had been working at the motel for seven years and wasn't even notified when it happened.  She told me our room was already available and gave me the electronic keys.  So Karen and I parked our car near the back of the complex and brought all our stuff into our room, then headed for the park.

The motel had discontinued their shuttle service to the park.  But it was a beautiful day, with bright sunshine and mild temperatures.  So we walked across the massive parking lot toward the park entrance.  The horizon was a jumble of coaster track pierced by the miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower.  In this case, "miniature" meant 1/3 scale which, at about 300 feet, was still pretty impressive.  There were quite a few people already streaming into the park.  We had to process our Cedar Fair season passes, so we walked to the processing center on the left side of the entrance.  A line had already formed there, but it moved quickly and within a few minutes we had our season passes in hand, walked through the security checkpoint and entered the park.  I no longer bothered bringing my fanny pack to parks.  The increasing number of security checkpoints made it cumbersome.  The fanny pack often doubled as my belt, and I was always forced to take it off before entering the park and then had to hold up my pants as I walked through the gates.  Plus, many parks would no longer let you ride coasters if you were wearing a fanny pack.  So instead I wore cargo shorts that had plenty of secure Velcro pockets.  That saved me a lot of grief.

Once inside, we were greeted by Uncle Sam on stilts who stood in front of the park's giant fountain display that formed the centerpiece of the International Street area.  We followed the east end of the midway past the food concessions (from ice cream to candy to pizza) and headed over to the Eiffel Tower.  The queue line formed around the back of the tower; we seemed to be the only ones in line.  The elevator descended and a group of people debarked.  We entered, and were followed by over a dozen other people who seemingly appeared out of nowhere.  The glass wall at the back of the elevator gave us a dizzying view as we rapidly rose 235 feet above the midway.  From the observation deck, we were afforded spectacular panoramas of the park and surrounding countryside.  We spent several minutes in quiet contemplation there.

Back on solid ground, we headed east toward the Planet Snoopy kids area, a kiddieland themed to Charles Shultz's popular Peanuts comic strip.  A few more rides had been added for this season, and the park claimed it was now the largest kid's area in the world.  I'm not sure if that was entirely true; Idlewild was an entire park devote to kids, as was Story Land.  But I guess if they meant a kiddieland area inside a big amusement park, they were probably right.  We passed by an odd concession that was selling King's Dominion branded fidget toys.  The display feature a four-foot diameter model.  The attendant was telling people that their toy was special because it flashed different colors.  I had yet to grasp the concept of helping someone to concentrate by giving them a distraction.

Karen wanted to try out Snoopy's Rocket Express, a colorful monorail that we had never ridden because usually the lines were really long.  This time we were able to walk up the long set of metal steps and head right into the station.  The rocket cars were surprisingly roomy.  The trip was a pleasant one, basically a large oval.  I would have enjoyed it more if it had given a wider tour of the Planet Snoopy area.  But perhaps for small children, it was just long enough.  Most of the rides in that area were nicely themed to Peanuts characters, like the Snoopy vs. the Red Baron plane ride.  Some, like Lucy's Tugboat, didn't make any sense and might have been attempts to re-theme previously existing rides.  But overall Planet Snoopy was bright and colorful and would definitely appeal to children.

We headed further east past Woodstock Express, the classic John Allen junior PTC wood coaster, and Dominator, the giant B&M floorless looping coaster, and made our way over to Boo Blasters, the amusing dark ride shooting game.  The long winding queue line to the decrepit looking haunted house was peppered with amusing landscaping, such as a mock graveyard with humorous tombstones.  There was nobody in the queue line.  I wasn't surprised; the entrance was hidden away at the outer edge of Planet Snoopy.  The attendants seemed surprised to see us.  We climbed into one of the cars and were on our way through the silly cartoon ghost scenes, shooting away with our "boo blasters".

After that amusing diversion, we strolled toward the heavily-themed Safari Village section.  I think one of the things we always enjoyed about King's Dominion was the shade.  The majority of the park was shielded from the hot Virginia sun by tall greenery, which made traversing the huge grounds much more pleasant.  As we headed out of Planet Snoopy, we passed an odd construction on our left.  It was a canvas screen with an illustration of the park behind rolling hills.  The canvas had two offset black metal handles in the middle of it.  And in front of the screen on a stone patio was Snoopy's doghouse.  We guessed that it was a small performing area for Peanuts characters.  We didn't see any around, and there were no showtimes posted.  Guests seemed to be using it simply as a photo spot.

We entered Safari Village in front of the marvelously themed Volcano - the Blast Coaster.  Its tall volcano mouth was no longer spitting fire as in the past, but the unique suspended coaster was still getting shot out of it regularly.  The heavily-themed Crypt spin-and-barf ride was going through its paces.  The entrance to the Avalanche bobsled coaster was far in the distance and appeared to be empty.  We continued on to the south.  This section of the park alone housed six roller coasters, more than many entire parks had.  Unfortunately for us, most of them were a bit too extreme for our more delicate senses.  I loved Flight of Fear when I rode it 16 years before.  But I didn't think I'd have as good a time on it now.  And Intimidator 305 was enjoyable when it opened, but the last time I rode it I greyed out.  Anaconda was a head-beater.  The Backlot Stunt Coaster, a magnetically launched ride, was a holdover from the Paramount Parks days and didn't fit any theming in that area.  It looked pretty ugly, more like one of Six Flags' inner-city-styled industrial rides.  And it was a pretty extreme experience as well. 

So we passed by all that and headed for the Candy Apple Grove section, which wasn't so much of a themed area as it was a simple carnival midway.  The Ferris wheel, Americana, beckoned and we got in line for that.  We were soon circling up above the midway with a perfect view of the classic Rebel Yell wood coaster, the twin of King's Island's Racer that launched the modern wooden roller coaster renaissance.  We could also see the remains of the Hurler, a more recent wood coaster addition that was built under Paramount's reign and themed to the old Saturday Night Live skit (and movie) Wayne's World.  For years it had been a rough ride.  I rode it only once.  Cedar Fair was giving it the RMC treatment, like Six Flags New England's Wicked Cyclone and Cedar Point's still-under-reconstruction Mean Streak.  About the only remaining structure visible was part of the lift hill, turn and first drop.  There was lots of new wood visible.  Curiously, the coaster's station (an ugly metal box) had a large billboard on it advertising Planet Snoopy. 

After that relaxing trip, we queued up for Rebel Yell.  It was running all four trains, but it was a matter of luck as to whether they departed at the same time.  It depended on how coordinated the two teams of attendants were.  Sometimes the trains raced and sometimes they didn't.  When we arrived at the station, who was in the front seat of the returning train but WNYCC member Dave Finkelstein who we had just seen the day before at Busch Gardens.  There was no one else in the station and he had just taken his sixth ride in a row.

Karen and I sat down in the vintage PTC train and started up the lift hill.  The first drop seemed a lot longer than it actually was.  Rebel Yell was my kind of coaster: one camelback hill after another on the way out, with sweet air time the entire way.  We rounded the big turn at the other end of the ride, and then it was one bunny hop after another all the way back to the station.  This was still our favorite ride in the park!

It was nearly noon, so we walked over to the nearby Victoria's Pizza, a spacious eatery rimmed by stained glass windows.  As we entered, the park made an announcement that at noon there would be a moment of silence to honor all the veterans who have passed.  We approached the counter, and the attendants wouldn't give us any food.  They said they had to observe a moment of silence.  I was confused, because it wasn't yet noon.  After a few moments, they took our orders.  We were able to get small discounts with our Cedar Fair passes, which was a plus.   We each got a slice of cheese pizza, a salad and a drink and sat down in the air conditioned room.  After we were seated, we could hear the National Anthem being played.  Guests inside the restaurant paid no attention, eating their food and talking.  I went over to the doorway to look out.  It was eerie.  People were standing on the midway like statues, frozen in place, staring at nothing in particular as the recording of Whitney Houton's version played.  Once the recording ended, people returned to the land of the living.

Our food was good.  The salad was fresh and crisp.  The pizza was the average thin-crust variety.   We took our time eating and then headed back outside.  Now that it was past noon, the air was heating up.  We headed for the shade of the Old Virginia section of the park at the west end.  We wanted to ride the Grizzly, the park's other large wood coaster, but we couldn't find the entrance.  I remembered from our last visit that we had that same problem.  It was in an odd location, but I couldn't remember where.  We did find the Shenandoah Lumber Company, the long and relaxing flume ride.  So we queued up for that.  It had the longest line we encountered that day, but it moved along.  Most of the ride's course meandered through a forest.  The big drop didn't get us wet at all.  It wasn't hot enough to get drenched, so we passed on the nearby White Water Canyon, the raft ride.

Finally we realized where the Grizzly entrance was: through the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit gift shop (which never made sense to me).   There was a loud screeching in the gift shop.  I looked up to find a pterodactyl bearing down on me.  We wound our way through the Grizzly's queue.  The ride was nearly impossible to see from the midway, buried back in the forest.  I had heard from a WNYCC member that the ride was given some retracking and was running better than ever.  I found the ride to be enjoyable before, so this time would probably be moreso.

No one was in line when we got to the station, so we queued up for the front seat and got onto the next train.  After making a 180-degree left turn out of the station, we clacked our way up the lift and dove down the first drop.  I'm not sure what that WNYCC member was talking about, but it felt like the train was going to shake itself to pieces.  There was a brief respite when we reached the first turnaround, then the rattling resumed.  Karen couldn't wait to get back to the station.

After that jarring experience, we headed across the midway to the more sedate Blue Ridge Tollway, the park's antique car ride.  I often wondered about the ride attendants at antique car rides.  The smell of exhaust fumes in the station was pretty strong; I couldn't imagine having to work on that ride all day.  It must become nauseating after a while.  One of the attendants mentioned he was really sick.  Karen said he should go home and rest.  He responded, "I can't.  This is my home."

From there we found ourselves back at International Plaza.  The name of that area didn't make much sense; there was nothing "international" about it.  Perhaps originally there were food vendors from many different cultures.  But now it featured the usual generic offerings.  Karen got some Boardwalk French fries and a drink.  I wanted some ice cream, but was having a hard time finding an ice cream shop in the area.  I finally located one near the park entrance.  It was styled like an old-time drug store soda fountain.  I waited as the people in front of me tried to refill their souvenir cups, and the attendant told them she couldn't do that.  That seemed strange, since in front of us was a soda fountain.  The shop had a wide variety of ice cream, but I decided to order a vanilla milkshake instead.  The attendant made it with frozen yogurt, which I found odd considering there was vanilla ice cream right in front of us.  The cup she used was relatively small.  There was actually some milkshake leftover in the mixing cup, but she threw it out.

I rejoined Karen at a cafe table next to the huge dancing waters fountain.  Nearby was the empty stage for Turn It Up, a dance club revue.  Those performances didn't begin until later in the afternoon.  Karen spotted a nearby Cinnabon shop, so she bought six of the mini cinammon buns.  They turned out to be stale.

After that disappointment, we went back to the Planet Snoopy area.  The Peanuts Showplace, a giant tent that once housed a Spongebob Squarepants show, was featuring a dog act called Jump: the Ultimate Dog Show.  The ringmaster was supposedly famous from television appearances and Las Vegas acts.  Since I rarely watched TV, I had no idea who he was.  I did discover though that he was loud.  Really really loud.  Deafening, in fact.  And he was also completely unintelligble.  He had a wireless microphone attached to his head and the sound system was cranked so much that it was basically a wash of noise.  As was now common with animal acts, it was stressed that all of the dogs in the show were rescues from shelters.  He had a handfull of Frisbees and threw them across the stage.  The dogs would jump and catch the Frisbees.  I have friends that do the same thing.  Some of the dogs did circus-style tricks like walking on a drum.  The set consisted of a large empty stage covered with layers of Astroturf.  On either side were two large inflatable dogs wearing sunglasses.  At one point the ringmaster brought out a three-legged dog and had it catch Frisbees, which it was able to do some of the time.  He brought on an audience member to help him hold a rope with a dog balanced on it.  The big finale was a set of posts that he erected like a hurdle on a horse track, and he had a dog jump over them, raising the height each time.  He kept having the dog jump over the four foot mark, but it kept knocking the rail off.  He had the dog repeat the jump over and over, but the rail kept getting knocked off until he finally gave up.  Then he brought out a smaller dog that he said was going to jump a six foot hurdle.  That would have been spectacular to see.  But there was a gimmick: he brought out a three foot high box and placed it in front of the hurdle.  So the dog jumped onto the box, then over the hurdle, basically only jumping three feet.  But the ringmaster made it seem like an amazing feat.  We left the show with ringing ears.  I saw a security guard an mentioned the sound quality to her.  She said, "I'll make sure I tell him."

By that point it was late afternoon,  and Karen wanted to go back to the motel to relax.  So she rested while I made yet another walk-thru video.  And that concluded our visit.

King's Dominion still held its charm for me.  Coming at the end of our Coasterfestâ„¢ trip, our energy was a little low.  But even so, it was still a beautiful park with lots of shade and enough family-style rides to keep us busy.  Rebel Yell was running great, and was certainly worth repeat rides.  I was eager to see the transformation of the Hurler, which had a possibility of becoming one of the best rides in the park (based on other work RMC had done).  I was sure we'd be returning to visit this theme park again.

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