JULY 2002

Karen, the kids and I spent our 2002 vacation in two places. The first was a wonderful if hot two day stay at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. For the second half of our trip, we headed to Paramount's King's Dominion in Doswell, Virginia. We drove an hour north of Williamsburg and arrived at the Best Western King's Quarters on July 23rd. Our room was acceptable, if nothing special. The great thing about this hotel was that it was located in the parking lot of the park. I had purchased season passes online, which was the least expensive way to go for our three days there. The weather had turned cloudy and slightly cooler (in the 90s), but it was still quite humid. After checking in, we hopped on the shuttle to the park entrance. I liked how the Hypersonic coaster track appeared nestled into the skycoaster arch from a distance, as if they were one ride.

I couldn't get over how much this place looked like Ohio's King's Island. Obviously, they're sister parks. But the entrance is almost a carbon copy of Ohio's. The massive fountain in the plaza seemed to have more gusto somehow. But I was to discover that the similarities between the parks ended at the Eiffel Tower. While I found King's Island to have uncomfortable stretches of open pavement and almost no well-themed areas, PKD had some wonderful theming in places, and much more shade. The park was clean, not to the extent Busch Gardens was but acceptably so.

We headed up the Eiffel Tower replica to get our bearings. One of the first things I noticed from the air was in Nickelodeon Central: the Rugrats Toonpike. This would have been one of my childhood fantasies fulfilled, an entire kid-sized cityscape with miniature cars that I could drive. Unfortunately, I was a bit too big for it.... The park was pretty vast, but didn't appear as large as Busch Gardens. All but one of the park's twelve coasters (the Taxi Jam coaster) were clearly visible. I was really struck by the mass of Volcano The Blast, and amazed by the shooting fire that would erupt from the volcano mouth every other launch.

Since the park had three wood coasters and we hadn't yet been on one during our trip, we headed over to the famous John Allen classic Rebel Yell. The park was sparsely populated, and we didn't have to wait long for the front seat of the forward train. As we approached the station, the two trains were sent out simultaneously. "Great," I thought. "They're racing!" The ride ops actually held trains so that they left together. It turned out to be not that much of a deal, because I quickly lost site of the other train anyway. (And that was the only day of our stay that the trains raced.)

Yes, Rebel Yell was quite famous. And yes, it looks like at one time in the distant past the tracks were greased with liquid graphite. But those days have passed. There were a couple moments of decent airtime (notably at the turnaround), but other than that the ride was a shell of its former self. There was persistent jackhammering at the bottom of every hill. It took all my strength to keep my spine from being jarred. I figured that it was an old coaster, in need of some new trackage. I suggested we try a newer ride: the Hurler. Incidentally, what is it with this park and their exit queues? The exit for Rebel Yell went on forever! It could have simply emptied onto the midway, but kept zigzagging irrationally for no apparent reason. It was almost as long as the entrance. Most of their coasters did this. Are they trying to cut down on re-rides?

We'd been hearing the loud "THUD! Whoooosh!" of S&S Power's Hypersonic XLC from across the park. I had feared this ride wouldn't run while we were there. But all three days they ran efficient two-train operation with no down time. We had to walk by Hypersonic to get to Hurler. Since I didn't know how long it would stay operational, we decided to ride it then. The line stretched onto the midway alongside the return track. It fascinated me, watching the odd train lumber over to the launch point, idle and then blast up the vertical tower, barely crest the tight hill and then plunge earthward, whip around the turn, jog left and right, hop over the speed bump and scream into the brakes. The whole trip took about 20 seconds.

I walked up to the attendant to discover that no one was in the queue line! The attendants held people in front of the queue, and then gradually let eight people at a time through. I asked how long the wait was, and was told about 40 minutes. As it turned out, we were in the front seat in about 30 minutes. Not bad for a ride that has had up to a five hour wait!

In his famous ad, Stan Checketts stood atop his Power Shot on the Strastosphere Tower, over 1000 feet off the ground, with no restraints holding him there. The guy must love adrenaline rushes. That's what this coaster was. It wasn't a great ride. It wasn't even exactly fun. But it certainly was an adrenaline rush. We sat in the odd molded seats and were pressed into the confining restraints. The train slooowwwwly crept out of the station on its inflated square wheels. (Why else would there be so much bouncing on a flat steel track?) It came to a halt in front of the race lights and locked onto the cable launch hook. The pneumatics wheezed as the system was primed with air. The lights turned from red to yellow to green. Then it felt like somebody jumped on top of my chest. In a heartbeat we had shot straight up and crested the 165-foot high hill. There was briefly sustained ejector air and then we plummeted straight back down the other side at enormous speed. We whipped around the heavily banked turn. Then we flew over that odd little jog in the track. I slammed into my restraints, all the while bouncing up and down. We hopped over the speed bump with no perceptible air time and hit the brakes.

That was it. The ride didn't do much, but what it did, it did well. The launch was extremely intense, too much for me. I know this was a prototype (I think PKD has more prototype coasters than any other park in the country--and they've vowed never to get another) but I wish more had been done with the enormous amount of energy the train had. A couple more hills would have been nice. The whole time we were at the park, I never saw a long line for it. I also didn't bother taking another ride. Maybe it was just too intense for the general public.

After that, we went across the midway to Hurler. This whole "Grove" section of midway seemed really haphazard. There was lots of cracking asphalt with little shade. Rides, games and food booths seemed randomly scattered around. Hurler's station, an ugly metal building that had Paramount's logo on it, was huge. I know this ride was supposed to be themed to "Wayne's World," but I've never seen the movies so none of the theming made any sense to me. It looked like a dumping ground for Paramount's props and lighting department. Rusted lighting instruments were confined in an area surrounded by chainlink fence. Dismembered baby doll parts hung from a conveyor. There were numerous televisions throughout the station, but they were all dark. The only clue what this was about (besides the ride name) was a lone director's chair on the exit side of the station. It had the name "Dana Carvey" on it.

I wish I had ridden this coaster when it was new. It must have kicked butt. Once again, greased tracks were a thing of the past here. The layout was interesting, with the first drop diving into that heavily banked 180-degree turn like Dorney Park's old Hercules. The ride seemed pretty short. Each hill gave outstanding air time. But the bottom of each hill was like riding over rocks. It was really painful. I wish this coaster would get a little TLC from someone like Martin and Vleminczx. It could easily be one of my top ten wood coasters. As it was, I wouldn't ride it again.

We took a break and headed back to the hotel to unpack. We ran into Paul Greenwald on the way, one of the founding members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts and the Western New York Coaster Club. We chatted for a while. He mentioned that Six Flags bought Arrow Development, just to get the plans for Magic Mountain's X so they could fix it. (As it turned out, Arrow was actually bought by S&S Power.)

After settling into our room, we headed for the hotel's Denny's, which looked more like a Swiss chalet. We had a decent meal. They served veggie burgers! And then it was back to the park.

Volcano the Blast was too tempting to ignore, so we headed for the well-themed Congo section of the park. One nice touch was a refreshment stand that was a converted safari truck loaded down with gear. The volcano itself was really impressive. The queue for the ride wound through it. I could see the remnants of their old boat ride out front. I could feel the intense heat from the jets of flame that the volcano intermittently shot off. If I could feel that heat from so far away, what must it have been doing to the track, which was right next to it?

The layout really didn't look like much: after coming out of the volcano mouth, the train circled to the left and turned 180 degrees. There was a barrel roll then the train began a figure-eight circuit in what seemed like slow motion. Each crossing featured a barrel roll (a total of three), and then the train picked up an enormous amount of speed and dove into the right side of the volcano. This was Intamin's first Linear Induction Magnet launched coaster, and I wasn't sure what to expect.

After a wait of about an hour, we were in line for the front seat. It was really eerie, watching the Intamin trains drift around that left hand turn out of the station and head toward the dark tunnel at the base of the volcano, only to abruptly get sucked in and disappear in an instant. In short order we were locked in to our comfortable seats and were on our way. Rounding that corner out of the station, I could see light at the end of the tunnel. And suddenly we were there. But the launch wasn't crushing like Hypersonic. It was smooth and comfortable, but exhilarating. Out of the tunnel, we were whisked around a 180-degree left turn banked at about 90 degrees, and then blasted into a completely dark tunnel with another LIM launch. From there we were catapulted 155-feet straight up out of the volcano mouth, flipped upside down and then began our figure-eight circuit. The scenery was breathtaking, looking over the entire park at twilight from such a height. The barrel rolls were a blast, perfectly executed so that I was floating in my restraints. There were lots of great moments where I thought my legs were going to be lopped off by the surrounding structure. And then as quickly as we started, we zoomed down into the side of the volcano with alarming speed and hit Intamin's characteristically smooth magnetic brakes.

Like Hypersonic, this coaster really didn't do much. But I think it was a much more successful "one trick pony" than Hypersonic. The Volcano theming really helped set the mood. The ride experience was controlled, exciting and awe-inspiring. It was disorienting, but not dizzying. It made me want to ride again. I really wasn't expecting much from this ride (which I've come to learn is beneficial) and it surprised and delighted me.

Night was falling by that time. The volcano's blasts looked even more impressive. The girls wanted to ride the Xtreme SkyFlyer, a double Skycoaster. So we paid the $30 extra and were all strapped in together, with me in the middle. It was advertised as 174 feet tall, but that was the height of the big arch. We were actually dropped from 153 feet. The most terrifying part of any Skycoaster for me is that long slow trip backward, being pulled so high off the ground. We had ridden the Skycoaster at Lake Compounce, which has a 180-foot drop. But this one seemed higher for some reason. Heather pulled the ripcord and we plummeted earthward. I liked the sort of bullseye on the ground. And it was fun to shoot off toward Hypersonic's trackage. We swung back and forth in a huge arc for a while and then were pulled to the ground. We bought a video of our flight and called it a night. An attendant there told us (this was no secret) that next year the park was getting a 305-foot Intamin Gyro Drop. There was a big ad for it at the construction site in The Grove. The structure for one of the magnetic brakes was rising.

* * * * *

The next two days were a little cooler and completely overcast, with occasional mist coming down. It was a relief from the blistering heat earlier in the week. As I examined the park map, I noticed a curious rating system that King's Dominion was using. A ride was given a number from one to five with one being a "mild ride" and five being an "extreme thrill ride." The map said the ratings were based on the "intensity, speed and directional changes of each individual ride." Using this system, Eiffel Tower was a mild ride, but the Blue Ridge Tollway (antique cars) was a "mid-thrill ride." For many people, especially those with acrophobia, the Eiffel Tower can be absolutely terrifying because of its height. How can it be less thrilling than slow autos on a track? Xtreme SkyFlyer was designated a "high thrill ride," but so was the Rebel Yell, which I felt was relatively tame. It seemed like more of a marketing gimmick than a useful tool. Karen found Avalanche (the bobsleds) much more unsettling than Hurler, yet it got a lower rating. I don't know how they can rate their rides like that, because each guest has different fears.

At any rate, we began our second day by trying out the Paramount Action FX Theater, which was showing the 3-D film Meteor Attack. It was pretty standard fare. The story line was a hasty mess, with too much happening too quickly (as Shakespeare once said, "sound and fury signifying nothing"). The movement of the chairs was jerky. My feet kept slapping onto the floor as the chair violently dipped downward.

We wandered into the Old Virginia section of the park, which had a nice waterfall under a bridge and lots of mature trees shading the paths. The Blue Ridge Tollway had a few people in line, so we checked it out. It was the only antique car ride I've ever been on that simply wound its way through a forest. It was a refreshing break. The loading station was set up to dispatch three cars at once, which was a little odd. Normally I'd expect cars to have a little distance between them, but they would travel the single track in clumps of three.

Next we walked across the midway to check out the stage show "Graveyard Shift." It seemed out of place to watch a Halloween show in the middle of summer. The enclosed Paramount Theater was large, with odd benches for seating, more like a church. There was a warning at the entrance that volume levels in excess of 90 decibels were used. The stage was set up to look typically Halloweenish, with a stylized graveyard scene and dry ice vapor on the floor. The show itself was trash. Our girls absolutely love shows at park, much more than rides. Yet they wanted to walk out on this one. The performers were energetic, but the premise was tired, the musical parodies were so terrible I was cringing and of course the music was canned (and blisteringly loud). This was the type of show I'd grown to hate at parks. It made us want to run back to Busch Gardens.

After that disheartening waste of time, we decided to check out Shockwave, the old TOGO stand-up. TOGO's King Cobra (R.I.P.) at King's Island had been one of my favorite steel coasters. It was small but potent, and certainly the smoothest stand-up coaster I'd ever ridden. It also had a fun, surprising layout and airtime. I thought Shockwave was its clone. I was wrong. Off the the excruciatingly slow lift there was a drop into a loop and then a double helix, but that's where the similarities ended. There wasn't much airtime, but there was a lot of shaking and banging. There was no trick track, no little rabbit hops. Just a bucketload of pain. One ride was enough for me.

After that we needed a break so we headed for the Arrow flume, Shenandoah Lumber Co. Like the trip on the antique cars, the bulk of the flume's trough wound through a heavily forested area. It was a quick relaxing ride. There were coin-operated water cannons located near the bottom of the flume's steep drop. If it weren't for that, no one would get wet. (As it was, nobody squirted us anyway.)

Our experience with wood coasters here wasn't exactly stellar. But there was one more woodie in the park, so we decided to give it a shot. Grizzly had an odd narrow winding queue winding through a forested area where the ride was hidden. The station was absolutely massive. The ride op (who appeared to be a supervisor) was having fun repeatedly clubbing the station microphone with a height stick. We saw this often in the park: ride ops and attendants were more interesting in fooling around than paying attention to their job. They were running one train and before we got on maintenance arrived and they added a second. I got the front seat of that second train. I was expecting a slow ride. Once again, grease was absent from the tracks. When the train engaged the lift, the chain pulled the front of our car up off the track. We rode the upstops all the way to the top of the lift. Unlike all the other coasters in the park except Flight of Fear, the layout of this ride was hidden from view among the dense forest. The first drop swiftly curved left and rose to a long slow left-hand turnaround. That offered a great view of the wooded landscape. Then the train dove down and encountered a series of rabbit hops giving great air, a tunnel, a lightly banked fan curve to the right, more rabbit hops of various sizes and a swift turn back toward the station. The ride seemed surprisingly short. There were good laterals, great airtime and good speed. But that old smoothness problem was here; lots of shuddering and some really heavy positive Gs. Out of the other wood coasters in the park though, this was the best of them.

We made our way back toward Nickelodeon Central to catch Slime Time Live. Young kids (up to twelve years old) really seemed to love this. I've never watched the show so it all seemed pointless to me. Kids vied in a competition (which served to increase brand-awareness in Nickelodeon assets) to eventually have a bucket of green-colored water dropped on their heads. The only reason we went was to witness a "live" appearance of one of the most surreal cartoon characters ever created: Spongebob Squarepants. Talk about marketing--this character was saturated throughout the park. Everywhere we looked there were Spongebob dolls, banners, pins, posters, was endless and a bit numbing. Two-thirds of the way through the show, Spongebob appeared to a canned soundtrack and sang a song to make sure everyone was having fun. We weren't.

Karen and the girls needed a break from all this "fun" and went back to the hotel. Mike and I continued exploring the park. The first time I was at King's Island, Outer Limits: Flight of Fear was just being built. The second time I was there, I didn't get to ride it. So I made sure that this time I was able to experience the first LIM-launched coaster ever built, but now with lapbars instead of the painful over-the-shoulder harnesses it opened with. We headed off for the Congo section and found the entrance. I was impressed how the bulk of the building where most of the trackage actually was seemed to disappear from the midway. All we saw approaching the entrance was the "Bureau of Paranormal Activities" building, the barbed wire fencing with the emergency lights and the "Press Area." I liked all the nice touches: signs saying "Warning--severe elevation change" and "Vapor lock." The queue seemed to take forever to move a small amount. We eventually made it down into the first holding area, little more than a metal corridor with caution stripes on the walls and emergency lights, which began to flash ominously.

Eventually we turned left and entered a huge building that held--a flying saucer. I had heard about this gimmick for years. But the sheer immensity of the prop didn't hit home until then. By golly, it was a real flying saucer, just the way I'd imagined one to be! It had landing gear and flashing lights. The whole scene was beautifully lit from above by dozens of theatrical lights. An eerie glow was coming from a hatch at the front of the saucer, and people were being herded inside. Suddenly it all made sense: an abduction! Now many of you readers are probably thinking, "No, duh, genius!" But I came to appreciate the skillfulness of the visual scenario that was created. We were supposed to be finding out about a saucer landing, but instead were being abducted by the aliens themselves. And all this became obvious without a typical "preshow." There were monitors throughout the queue playing a video that was supposed to give background, but the sound wasn't working. It really wasn't needed. There was all sorts of "scientific" equipment lying around near the craft, working oscilloscopes and computers. Every so often, an unsettling deep subsonic rumbling would fill the room and the lights would dim almost to black.

Gradually we made our way inside the flying saucer, which looked just like the inside of a flying saucer down to the subtle green illumination from the gridded ceiling and the arched beams. It was very convincing. The circular queue rail there was another nice touch. Then we turned right into another holding area lit in pink. There we could glimpse the actual loading area. There was a deafing sound coming from the room, like a jet taking off. Then we'd hear people scream, lights would flash and there would be silence. What a setup!

We finally arrived at the most detailed and elaborately constructed coaster station I've ever seen. There were indistinct bodies lined up in hazy glass tubes along the far wall. The ride operator was in the center back at a huge semicircular console, looking for all the world like a spaceship control center. A large red glowing ball hung down in the center of the room. Sloping arched beams all around indicated we had come to the edge of the saucer. An empty train quietly rolled in from a small pitch-black tunnel on the left and parked in front of the queue gates. The trains were nicely detailed in silver and lime green. The new restraints were interesting: the individually ratcheting bars had a heavy pad that pressed down on top of your feet while a padded bar with a side seatbelt clip locked in at chest level. The attendants efficiently checked everyone's restraints. They were all wearing earplugs. They stepped back into their gated areas and gave the thumbs up. The jet engine sound reached a deafening level, with deep rumbling. The ride op tersely announced, "All clear." Then whooosh! The guests were sucked into a pitch-black tunnel to the right as strobe lights flashed inside. There was a pause of about a minute, and then the empty train emerged from the darkness on the left.

This was the ride that convinced me of the use and importance of theming. I knew it was a two-train operation. There was no way that the ride could cycle that fast. But the whole themed experience built up my tension and anticipation so much that I almost believed I was about to be abducted, and I was certainly nervous about blasting off into the darkness. I didn't know what to expect. This was the most spectacular lead-in to a ride that I'd ever seen.

We boarded the train. I was surprised to find the seats and restraints quite comfortable. The attendants stood back and gave the thumbs-up. We were locked in and checked. The ride op said, "All clear." And then he added so quickly it was almost unintelligible, "Keep your head back, sit up straight and enjoy your ride." I exhaled and we were blasted down the tunnel, lights flashing in our eyes. Then the whole world turned upside down. I couldn't see a thing, but I knew there were wicked forces at work on my body. Yet I still felt comfortable and the ride seemed unexpectedly smooth. We darted around left and right, up and down and finally got a breather on a mid-course brake. Then I felt my body start to tilt to the left...more...and more...and more...and I thought, "My god! Is the ride falling over?" Then whooooosh! down we went, flying this way and that until finally there was a glint of light, enough to see a rapidly approaching corkscrew. Before I could react we flew through it and I had a terrific sensation of weightlessness. Then blam! we hit the brakes. I was breathless. I could see how people would come off this ride in great pain if there were over-the-shoulder harnesses. But with lap bars, this ride was a masterpiece of coaster engineering. I know FoF was a bear to get running and created a seemingly endless stream of headaches for the park, but maybe Premier Rides (or Paramount) was on to something. As I say often, I'm not a big steel coaster fan and I don't like inversions. But I rode this coaster more times than any other ride in the park. I never figured out how to "ride it," as I do with most other coasters, looking for a ride's quirks and bad spots and preparing for them. I didn't have to. It was extremely exciting and yet re-rideable, like Volcano. But I found the experience of FoF to be more enjoyable; there was a lot more variety. (By the way, I noticed the park dropped the Outer Limits reference, although some workers still call it that.) And it was certainly the best-themed ride I've ever seen.

Mike and I figured, "What the heck--we're here. Let's get Anaconda out of the way." The ride was visually stunning, suspended over the lake. I loved the gimmick of the water shooting up as the train dove into the underwater tunnel. Staring at the twisted trackage, I wondered what nightmare Ron Toomer had before he dreamed it up. There was one sort of half-hearted helix after the mid-course brake that looked kinked and bent, as if it hadn't been properly manufactured and turned out to be more of a box. Couldn't the Arrow engineers draw a simple curve? There was hardly anyone in line for this ride. We climbed into the front seat of the standard 1990s-era Arrow rolling stock. The lift hill was deafeningly loud as usual. From off the top of the lift, the ride curved and dropped away to the right, diving into the underwater tunnel. We shot out the other side and rose up into a sort of lop-sided right-hand loop, then twisted through a sort of corkscrew up in the air (I guess that's the "butterfly" element) and then hit the mid-course brakes which brought us to a stop. A small curving left-hand drop followed and then that odd boxy helix. We dropped into another sort of messed up helix that was almost a figure-eight, which deposited us through two of the smoothest Arrow corkscrews I've ever experienced. Then we wandered over to the brake run. I find it so hard to believe that this ride was an innovative, state-of-the-art coaster at one time. It just seems so odd, as if Arrow really didn't know quite what to do with all that steel. PKD had kept the ride in pretty good shape, though. Arrow coasters usually didn't age that well. There was a little jerkiness, but not nearly as much as I'd come to expect. All of the inversions were relatively smooth. It was a very photogenic coaster. But one ride was enough.

Since we were still in the Congo section, we hiked across the way to the only Mack bobsled ride in the U.S., Avalache. It was tucked into a corner on the left side of Volcano. The thing that struck me the most about the ride was how quiet it was. I could barely hear the train rolling through the metal trough. I figured if it were that quiet, it must be smooth. Wrong! I liked the flume-style seating arrangement (like a real bobsled), and the long train (as opposed to Intamin's single car version). Each car was split in half, so my feet were in one part and my seat was in another. The halves could move and flex independently. That was a really weird feeling! My mind kept telling me that something was terribly wrong. The circuit was short and nothing special. Mercifully, there was only one mid-course brake. (Intamin's bobsled at Great Escape has multiple brakes that really kill your momentum.) I thought some of the wheels on my car were partly flat. It was a pretty bumpy ride. Mike said his ride (in the second train) was pretty smooth, though. I liked the observation area in the exit queue, surrounding me with the track.

This park, like Busch Gardens, was populated by a multitude of international students. Many of them worked the games and were struggling to call out their pitches in English. One of them had the funny yet almost pathetic banter of, "Please, you come to my game. It only one dollar and not as expensive as other game." As with BG, ordering food was often a challenge.

We headed back to the hotel and crashed for the night. The next day Mike and I got up early and headed into the park for opening time so that I could do a lot of videotaping. PKD was offering exclusive ride time on selected coasters to season pass holders. The coaster-du-jour was Ricochet, the new Mack wild mouse which we hadn't yet tried. So we headed in that direction. We had to wait fifteen minutes for security to open up that end of the park. We saw a couple of coaster enthusiasts with Son of Beast shirts. They extolled the wonders of that coaster (which we never got a chance to ride). The gates were opened and we all headed in.

Ricochet was crammed into a tight spot between the Hurler and Rebel Yell stations. It had a slightly different layout from other mice. It featured a deep drop off the lift before hitting the zig-zag portion of the course. There was an interesting swoop-drop and some meandering trackage, then back to the station. Why are so many mice the same yellow color? (No, there's no punch line....) The ride experience was pretty forgettable. The first drop was pretty good, but the rest of the ride was heavily braked. It would make a pleasant junior coaster. Mike and I knew where the real action was--we headed over to FoF. There were very few people in line and we practically walked on. That ride was quite a bit more violent, and I was slighly disheartened.

I took more video footage wandering through the park. We went through Kidsville, which was a fun section of the park themed to various Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters. For instance, there was a Ranger Smith ride that was a large ranger hat with jeeps on it. It was very well done. There was a topiary featuring various characters. I almost went on Scooby Doo's Ghoster Coaster, but it had a really long line and I wanted to get some more footage. We walked through Treasure Cave, which wasn't quite a fun house. It was like...well...walking through a cave. The lighting was really neat. There was a fun tilty section at the end.

We met up with Karen and the girls, who wanted to return to the Paramount Action FX Theater to see the other 3-D movie that hadn't been playing previously: 7th Portal. We waited in the queue watching a video of Stan Lee bragging about how great he is and how his new comic series is the best thing since sliced bread. We entered the theater and sat in our seats and got a headache. The whole thing was a mess, like Meteor Attack but with even less coherence. And the simulator was a lot more violent. Mercifully, it was a short movie. We left the theater, and the exit queue dumped us (as many do at PKD) into an arcade. Then Mike discovered that his wallet was missing. The ride had jarred it loose from his pocket. (Not even the coasters had done that!) So we ran back to the entrance where another showing was in progress. He explained his plight to the attendant who was very helpful. After that showing, they went in and retrieved his wallet. Unfortunately, $194 was missing. But at least all his IDs were intact.

We walked toward one ride that was tucked away in the forest and hard to see, White Water Canyon. No one but Karen and I were willing to get soaked, so we went on it by ourselves. The queue was picturesque. The exit led to a woodsy observation area. This had a peculiar station: multiple small treadmills would pull three rafts at a time into the tiny loading area. Then the three rafts were dispatched together. We got right on the ride and our raft jerked forward with two others and off we went. The entire course was in the forest. It was an idyllic setting, as if we were really on a river. The trough had surprising dips in it, almost like mini waterfalls. All three rafts eventually came to a small holding pond where we bobbed up and down. Each raft was allowed to continue after a timed waiting period. There was one other holding pond along the route. Other than that there was nothing unusual, or even wet. We got off the ride fairly dry. It was a pleasant, peaceful ride, much like the flume.

I decided to try Grizzly one more time. The station was practically empty. And the attendants still didn't seem to be paying too much attention to what was going on. I actually got a pretty decent ride though. On the third hill, I thought I was going to fly right out of the train!

We wandered around a bit more. We had some pizza at Ledo Pizza, a quaint building with lots of colorful stained glass. The pizza was served in large square pieces and was almost sweet. It also got cold very quickly. We then went toward to the Congo section to ride FoF one more time. That time it was smooth again. So I assume it was the train. We all went on Avalanche. I sat in the same car with Karen and that too was a lot smoother but still nothing to write home about.

We walked by Diamond Falls, an old Shoot-the-Chutes ride with odd boats that looked more like 50s Cadillacs and a double-dip drop. The boats made a respectable splash, but since it was misting out we didn't want to get that wet.

We stopped to have supper at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Shack. A TV inside was of course playing Forrest Gump. The music in there was so loud it was painful. The outside speakers were actually starting to break up from it. We mentioned this to the bartender there and he looked at us laconically and asked, "What? You think it's loud?" His demeanor indicated that he didn't want to turn it down. The Czech woman who took our order seemed distracted and irritated. After placing our order we stood to the side and waited for it. And waited. And waited. The cook inside didn't seem to be in any hurry. There was another woman who was supposed to hand us our orders. She looked even more irritated. She left and returned a short time later with a tray full of shrimp cocktails in sealed plastic cups. She opened the large refrigerator in front of us and bent down. She tried to slide the tray in but there were other cocktails already in there. She attempted to balance the tray and at the same time pull the cocktails out from the back of the fridge. One of the cocktails tipped over. In a fury, she picked it up and dashed it to the floor, swearing under her breath and sending shrimp cocktail splattering all over. We finally got our food and went outside at a table to eat. The fish sandwich I got was okay, but the atmosphere was pretty lousy.

The Dodgem building had a great old sign and a huge arena. The cars were a mix of Duce and Bertazzon. In The Grove we saw a good East African acrobat show, probably the best show in the park. Mike and I went on Volcano one more time. We stocked up on souvenirs, postcards and magnets. One of the gift shops had the strangest item for sale: a "Jesus Action Figure," with a poseable Jesus that had four wheels for feet. [fig. pkd-15] We bought some memories, then it was time to leave.

I wished PKD followed through more with their theming, like with FoF. I loved all the shade in the Old Virginia section and wished there were more of that. There were occasional touches of good landscaping, but it was uneven. They had two outstanding coasters (Volcano and FoF) and one okay one (Grizzly). The food was okay, but nothing spectacular. And I took points off for not having a cheese-on-a-stick stand. Overall, we certainly enjoyed our time at Busch Gardens more. I've realized that when a park has a coherent and well-executed thematic plan, it just makes for a more enjoyable guest experience. I guess a park either has to be a Knoebel's (a good ol' fashioned amusement park with no attempt at theming) or a BG (meticulously themed). Anything in between just seems sloppy. (Six Flags take note: a broken toilet does not a theme make.)

During our trip, I was able to ride fifteen coasters that were new to me. I found a new number one (a tie) and a few new top-fives. The weather was a bit stifling, but we didn't come home completely exhausted for a change! Two beautiful parks made for one great vacation.

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