King's Dominion
June 12, 2014

copyright Jay Ducharme 2014

As a way to break up a drive down to see our son in North Carolina, Karen and I stopped for a day at King's Dominion in Doswell, Virginia.  We had been there just last year for a rollercoaster event.  But we really liked the park, and it was on our way and we had Cedar Fair season passes, which got us into the park for free.  Plus, this was the park's 40th anniversary season.  The weather for the week wasn't shaping up to be too pleasant, with heavy rain forecast.  But we took our chances.  We arrived at the Best Western King's Quarters after nearly 11 hours of driving, much of it in pouring rain.  King's Quarters was really convenient, situated next to the King's Dominion parking lot.

We woke up early the next morning and had a good breakfast at the Denny's in King's Quarters.  Then we walked across the parking lot to the park entrance.  I thought it was interesting that when so many other parks refuse to allow guests to bring their own food, King's Dominion has a small pavilion in the parking lot with picnic tables, so if you wanted to bring a cooler you were welcome to do so.

The skies were looking very heavy and there were flood warnings posted for the area.  Undeterred, we approached the ticket gates.  A large lighted birthday cake sat out front.  The gates were shaped like stone arches with small turrets attached.  It had a fairy tale look to it.  There were already a few people lining up, about 20 minutes before the park's 10:00 opening time.  Signs had been hung in various places commemorating the park's anniversary.  The most peculiar placement was for a sign hung directly under the entrance to the rest rooms.  It proclaimed in bold lettering, "Your adventure starts here."

Ticket takers were bustling about, getting prepared for the day.  We ended up being first in line at one of the gates.  A very pleasant worker there began chatting with us, asking us where we were from.  We told her we were going to visit our son, and she told us about her own family.   She also told us about all the 40th anniversary displays throughout the park, including a clown band (which wasn't performing that day) and the singing mushrooms.  She exemplified the type of employee we saw throughout the park: extremely friendly and easy-going with a love for the park.

Another worker further away was saying that her station wasn't functioning.  The woman next to us told her, "George broke it.  He doesn't want it to work."  She explained to us that George used to work with them.  He was 92 years old, and that was his station for many years.  He was all set to come back for the new season, but passed away right before the season began.  The staff put flowers at his station in his memory. So now, whenever anything went wrong at that station, it was George's doing.

The chatting helped the time pass quickly, and it was finally 10:00.  Long lines had started to form at several gates.  The National Anthem blared from the loudspeakers.  Everyone in line turned around and respectfully faced the large American flag that stood in the middle of the concourse as Whitney Houston's version of the song played.

When the song ended, the park came to life, we said goodbye to the ticket lady and hello to the security guards who inspected our fanny packs.  Then we walked into the park.  The giant pool was silent; a sign indicated the fountains were being repaired.  The huge replica of the Eiffel Tower was straight ahead in the distance.  On either side of the pool were rows of quaint-looking shops.  That formed the park's International Street, though there wasn't much left that was "international" except for the Eiffel Tower and a Panda Garden restaurant.  The Starlight Gift Shop had an historical window display featuring items from the park's past.

We walked toward the Eiffel Tower.  At that point, the midway split off into four different directions -- but all of them were gated off until 10:30.  Fortunately, the Eiffel Tower was open for business.  So we walked over to the entrance and were ushered in to the elevator by two friendly attendants, one of whom was a supervisor and the other apparently a trainee.  During the ride up to the top, the supervisor gave us a history of both the attraction and the park.  He cautioned us to watch our step on the platform.  As the doors opened at the top, we were greeted by a surface covered with puddles.  The trainee got to work on the floor with a squeegee.  Although the sky was overcast, the air was warm.  But up nearly 300 feet in the air, there was a nice breeze.  We casually walked around the observation platform, taking in the panoramic views of the park.  Many rides were identifiable around the Safari Village and Candy Apple Grove sections of the park.  But most everything else was concealed by what appeared to be dense forest.  That was one of the things Karen and I liked about King's Dominion: lots of shade.

After about fifteen minutes, we boarded the elevator back down to the ground level.  The gates were opened to the rest of the park.  Karen wanted to head over to the Old Virginia section.  So we walked down the winding path and over the bridge where there was one of the many waterfalls in the park.  Karen was curious about Wayside Grill, one of the many eateries.  It served veggie burgers, an unusual amenity at an amusement park.  So we located its colorful facade.  Unfortunately, there was a sign in the window reading, "Closed today".  That was a disappointment, but was understandable considering the bad weather forecast (which meant few people in the park) and the fact that the busy summer season hadn't yet begun.

So we decided to take a ride on Grizzly, one of the park's four wooden roller coasters.  We hadn't ridden it in many years, but remembered it to be a surprisingly fun and smooth ride.  We followed the signs indicating its direction.  We passed by yet another Dinosaurs Alive exhibit that pretty much all Cedar Fair parks have.  We ended up walking all the was down to the Candy Apple Grove section.  We could see the coaster in the distance, mostly hidden by trees.  But we couldn't find the entrance.  So I asked a girl who was sweeping up the midway.  She laughed and said that everyone asks that question.  The Grizzly entrance was through the Dinosaurs Alive gift shop.  So we walked back over to the gift shop and then through it -- and sure enough, there was the queue line.  It had been shortened considerably.  Nobody was in line, and two little girls were the only passengers.  They had ridden twice in a row, and exited as Karen and I got in the queue for the front seat.  The attendant there, an older man, was glad to see us and said we had come to the best ride in the park.

We sat down in the front and belted ourselves in.  Then off we went, around a 360-degree left-hand turn back toward the station and up the lift hill.  There wasn't any grease on the track (though with all the recent rain it probably didn't matter).  We crested the top and dove down the deep first drop.  It felt a bit rougher than I remembered it, but it wasn't too bad.  And there appeared to be a lot of fresh wood on the ride.  We rose up into the turnaround and very slowly negotiated it.  So far it seemed like a fairly tame family ride.  Then all hell broke loose.  We plunged down the next drop and bounced over two hills at high speed, flew up into a banked right-hand turn and then dove down and again flew over two smaller hills.  We hit a left-hand turn and were thrown to the right, then plunged into more speed bumps and hit the brakes.

What a ride!  It was a bit rough for my taste, but it was exciting with lots of surprising twists and turns.  When we arrived back at the station, there was just one boy waiting there.  The attendant asked us if we wanted to stay on, and we agreed.  So we were simply dispatched out of the station and took another chaotic ride.

After that I had a slight headache, so we didn't take a third ride (though we could have).  Instead we decided to calm down a bit on the Blue Ridge Tollway, the bucolic antique car ride.  There was no wait, so we walked right over, climbed into a car and were on our way.  The seats were very comfortable (especially after the Grizzly) and the ride was like a country drive, surrounded by forest.

From there we went to the nearby Shenandoah Lumber Company, a flume ride.  Once again, there was no one in line and we were able to sit right down in one of the logs.  And off we went, drifting through the trough at ground level.   It was the water version of the Blue Ridge Tollway, quiet and heavily forested.  The big drop at the end produced a light spray that got us mildly wet.  It was another great family ride in this huge park.

Karen was getting thirsty, so she stopped to get a Diet Coke and I got a cherry Icee.  We walked over to the Candy Apple Grove section.   Along the way, we passed by another one of the nice landscaping touches at the park: a tunnel made of vines with misters embedded inside.  On a hot Virginia summer's day, it was a welcome relief.  But on the day we were there, not so much.  The area nearby that once was home to the experimental Hypersonic rollercoaster now was home to Windseeker, a swing ride much like the one of the same name at Cedar Point.  There was also the nicely-themed Rock Shop (with rock and roll themed gifts) next to the Art Deco Juke Box Diner, which resembled the Coasters diners at other Cedar Fair parks.  Behind them was the Hurler wooden rollercoaster, originally themed to the Wayne and Garth characters.  When we rode it years ago, it was painfully rough so we passed on it.  We walked over to admire the beautiful Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel.  There was no band organ for the carousel but authentic sounding music was playing merrily on speakers that, interestingly, were located on the grounds outside the ride.  I'd never seen that done before; normally the speakers were placed inside the ride.  On one side of the carousel pavilion was a giant clock made of flowers, a park fixture that was restored for the 40th anniversary.  It was yet another beautiful landscaping feature in the park.

Karen had been watching the Drop Tower go through its paces.  So we walked over to it.  This particular model was made by the Swiss firm Intamin, and was differentiated by its wide circular arrangement of seats around the tower, like a giant daisy wheel encircling it.  The riders were dropped at a seemingly ridiculous speed and huge magnets brought them smoothly to a stop at the bottom.  Karen had no interest in trying it, but I decided to give it a go.  And right when I got in line, the skies opened up.  I figured we were going to get wet no matter what anyway, so I stayed in line waiting for the next ride.  After the passengers before me returned to the ground, I was ushered in and told where to sit (fortunately facing Karen so she could watch the terror in my face).  I pulled down the thick shoulder restraint and snapped the seat belt onto it.  An attendant came around to check it and the ride was sent up in the rain.

We were drawn to the top very quickly.  Because of the way the seats were arranged, it seemed like there was no one next to me on either side.  I felt all alone, suspended eerily almost 300 feet in the air, my feet dangling.  I had a bird's-eye view of Grizzly.  And then it felt like the wind was sucked out of me.  I plummeted to the ground at a terrifying rate of speed.  I was off my seat, my shoulders pressed into the restraints, my legs floating straight out in front of me.  I then felt rapid deceleration and I was crushed back into my seat.  It was certainly an adrenaline rush (and was one of the few rides that was crowded the entire day).  But once was plenty for me.

Next, Karen was curious about Water Works, the waterpark section.  Fortunately, the rain let up.  Even so, I couldn't imagine the place was going to be very busy.  We walked over to it.  The Backlot Stunt Coaster was running nearby, going through its violent paces.  The gates to Water Works had just opened at noon.  There were a few people, mostly kids, taking advantage of it.  There were the usual attractions: a lazy river and water slides.  There was an old Tornado (a water slide with a giant funnel at the end) that didn't appear to be functioning.  The area seemed much smaller than other waterparks we've seen.

Then we walked toward the Safari Village section (originally called The Congo).  There were a surprising number of coasters in that section, including Volcano: The Blast, Flight of Fear, Avalanche, Anaconda and Intimidator 305.  On the way there, we spotted the singing mushrooms.  It was a colorful animatronic display consisting of four mustachioed mushrooms and a cigar-chomping frog that was sitting at a tree stump.  We stood under the shelter of the nearby Dodgems as it rained.  The mushrooms were silent.  A sign next to them said that they had to take a break every 15 minutes to save their voices.  The rain finally let up, and all was silent.  We were about to walk away, when the frog came to life, introducing himself and banging out Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag on the stump.  Then the mushrooms came to life, singing in a barbershop quartet style.  They finished off their set with a song listing the rides in the Candy Apple Grove.  And then they fell silent again.  It was cute, and kids seemed to love it.

We passed by an idle ladder-climbing game that sported a cartoon panorama of an amusement park before entering the Safari area.  And as we passed through the archway, the rain started to come down hard.  We ducked into a gift shop where I bought a poncho, since it didn't look as if it was going to stop any time soon.  Karen was curious about the food offerings at Outer Hanks.  So we checked it out.  Besides fried shrimp, they had the usual chicken and barbecue fare.  Nearby was the Hungry Hippo, which had hamburgs and chicken.  Instead we walked over to a Boardwalk Fries stand, where Karen got some french fries.  Then we walked back to the shelter of the Hungry Hippo to eat.

After that nourishment, we headed back into the rain.  I wanted to get something to drink and Karen spotted a nearby fresh-squeezed lemonade stand next to the entrance of one of my favorite coasters in the park, Volcano: The Blast.  The girl behind the counter had one customer and couldn't seem to figure out what she was doing.  After waiting there for about five minutes as she struggled to prepare the man's order, we moved on.  Behind that stand was a beautifully-themed spin-and-barf ride called Crypt.  The theming made it look like a cross between an Egyptian tomb and a Greek temple, with lots of stonework.  It wasn't running.

I had seen another fresh-squeezed lemonade stand on our way to the Safari section.  So we backtracked and went looking for it.  I found it near the Candy Apple Grove section, but as I walked over the two attendants inside shut off the lights.  It was closed.

So instead we walked over near the entrance Planet Snoopy, the park's huge kids area.  On the right, almost hidden away, Karen noticed the entrance to Boo Blasters, a dark ride attraction.  The name sounded suspiciously like a reference to Ghost Hunt at Lake Compounce.  The winding queue line was picturesque, through a wooded area and across a bridge over a bubbling moat.  The building looked like an old Victorian haunted house.  Once again, there was no one in line so we were able to walk right on.  The interior design was nearly identical to Ghost Hunt, with brightly colored blacklit two-dimensional scenes.  The cars contained "boo blaster" guns with laser pointers so that we could shoot at the cartoonish targets throughout the ride.  It was a lot of fun, actually.  There were plenty of targets and lots of humorous scenes.  It was another great family ride, and it made sense to place it next to Planet Snoopy.  Kudos to King's Dominion for building a dark ride when so many other parks have taken them out.

We walked back toward the Safari section.  I decided to take a ride on Intimidator, the pretty intense yet smooth coaster that I really liked on our last visit.  When we arrived there, a maintenance crew was working under a train on the transfer track.  Guests were lined up outside of the queue line.  The rain had let up by that point.  A train was sent out with a supervisor in it.  When it returned to the station, the queue was re-opened.  So I followed the line in while Karen waited by the gift shop.  There were about ten people ahead of me in line for the front seat, including two young kids who had never been to the park before.  They were nervous about going on the ride, but I told them they'd love it.  Even though only one train was running, the crew was efficient and cycled the crowd through quickly.  About three rides before I was to go on, the skies opened up again into a torrential downpour.  The ride operator announced that they were going to keep running the ride, but cautioned that "the rain might hurt at 95 miles per hour."  When that train returned to the station, the passengers were whooping and hollering with joy.  They were also as drenched as if they had gone on a rapids ride.
Miraculously, when it was my turn to board, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  The young kids in front of me had returned to the station pumped up; they loved it.

The trains had over-the-shoulder harnesses, but they were made of padded straps to prevent any head-banging.  Like Skyrush, which Karen and I had recently ridden at Hersheypark, Intimidator's lift hill seemed impossibly steep.  The train was dispatched and rapidly ascended to the top.  It crested and began to point downward, then pointed down some more ... and then some more.  It felt like the train was going to tip upside-down.  Then we blasted down that 300-foot drop and into the wide 375-degree ground level turn.  At that point, my vision started to fade and I became light-headed (more than usual).  We flew up into the first huge hill and I was pinned up into my lap bar.  The blood began to return to my head.  The train flew at a furious speed, the track twisting one way and then another.  Just as I thought I had reached my limit, the train hit the steep brake run and we slowly rolled back to the station.

The combination of the heavy rain and the heat made the train run far faster than when we had ridden it last year.  Even though it was really smooth, that first drop pulled so many Gs that I nearly passed out.  I could feel the pressure in my neck and head.  That finished off my coaster riding for the day.

On a positive note, the sun had finally come out (for however briefly).  We decided to take advantage of that by riding the Ferris wheel, a slightly more sedate attraction.  There was a short line.  The wheel only had a few passengers on it.  I was wondering why they weren't adding more.  But as that thought came to me, the operator began stopping the ride more frequently and within a few minutes we were seated in the soaked cabs.  The breeze we felt was refreshing.  And it was a fairly long ride, offering us relaxing views of the entire area.

We were both beginning to wear down, a mere five hours after we arrived.  I originally wanted to ride Rebel Yell, the park's signature wooden racing coaster, but I simply didn't have the stamina at that point.  We decided to take in the shops lining either side of International Street.  Karen noticed that the fountains were working again, going through their dancing-water-type show of rising and falling, seemingly in time with the music.  (Along International Street, the music seemed to be all John Williams scores.  But each area of the park had its own appropriate soundtrack, which was a nice touch.)

Karen was interested in taking in a show or two, but none of them had begun for the season -- except for one that had started on the stage next to the Eiffel Tower.  It was a revue with a group of singers basically doing karaoke to the standard pop tunes we've all heard one too many times.  We passed on that,  We checked out the candy shops, the Build-A-Bear knock-off (with the odd name of "Stuff a Friend"), the pretzel shop, the ice cream shop.  We ended up at Starlight Gifts, where I picked up some great-looking tee shirts and some magnets.  The shop also had an interior anniversary display featuring screens that played documentaries about the park.  We watched it for a while and then called it a day.

We actually got a lot more done in the park than I had expected we would, especially given the weather.  King's Dominion was a beautiful park -- but it was also huge and ideally should have been a two-day stop (as we had done in the past).  By staying at King's Quarters, we could have spent time at the park early in the day, gone back to our hotel room to rest for a while and then returned to the park at night.  In this case, though, the park was going to close at 8:00 or possibly earlier because of the rain and low turnout.

As we exited the park, the ticket lady who we had chatted with at the entrance was walking by and recognized us.  She stopped to wish us a good trip to see our son and hoped we'd come back to visit the park again.  I was amazed she remembered us!  That was what helped to make King's Dominion such a special place.  It not only had a beautiful shady midway, but also terrific employees who genuinely seemed to care about both the park and their guests.  We hated to have to leave it so soon, but I was certain we'd return.  And the next time, we would stay for more than a day.

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