Waking Up The Beast

There is a sign at the entrance to Kings Island‘s The Beast roller coaster. It says, “Beware of Beast.” Our 8-year old took one look at that, and smiled and said, “We’re gonna’ wake him up!!!”

Cedar Fair sent all six of us to spend a day at Kings Island Amusement park and report back to you what we thought. We loaded the car — Mom, Dad a 16, a 14, a terrified 10 (Fun Size!) and an 8. The teens put their ear buds in their ears and tuned out… not willing to face the prospect of spending the entire day with parents — and kid brothers! The ten — Fun Size — is terrified of roller coasters. What a day this is turning out to be. I imagined us breaking up into teams, taking this one here, that one there — meeting at the end of the day at the fountain. How wrong I was. How I underestimated the power of an amusement park to bring us together.

Naturally, I wanted to help Fun Size. As soon as we entered Kings Island, we all headed over to the Backlot Stunt Coaster. Top speed was a mere 40 mph, much more calm than the Racer’s 53, – and the drop was only 30 feet. And, what possibly could be that bad for 1 minute? He was convinced… and gave it a try.

As all six of us, Fun Size included, stood in line for Back Lot, as the twisted steel track of the roller coaster we weren’t riding, the 80 mph Diamond Back’ with its 215 foot drop, soared over our heads while we stood in line. Fun Size listened to those screams, and did his best to ignore them. Besides, we were riding the much “calmer” Backlot.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong about choosing the Back Lot as a way to ease Fun Size into the world of roller coaster fun. Unknown to me, there was no “build up” to the 40 mph speed – we went from 0-40 in a matter of seconds – my stomach fell to the floor and I could not get it back into place as we continued to whip down the curving banks of the track. I managed to reach my hand over to Fun Size’s knee and eked out, “I’m sorrrrrrry!”

He said nothing – not even a peep – until we reached a complete and utter agonizing 3-5 second stop: “It’s not over, is it Mom?” Before I could answer, we were jolted again to 40 mph. At that point, all I could do was laugh.

Once I found my stomach, after we got off Back Lot,  I joined my husband in the biggest belly laugh we’ve have had all year, as we accepted the inevitable: we had already made one irrevocable mistake with Fun Size – he was definitely done with roller coasters for the rest of the day.

It might have been the start of our day, but this mistake didn’t really matter. Despite Fun Size’s fear, our 16-year old’s quest for thrills, the apprehension of our 13-year old tween, and our 8-year old thrill-seeker, Kings Island had enough variety to serve every one of us for an entire day of fun. Despite our differences and preferences about the rides, we actually came away far more “bonded” and cohesive than we expected. So no groups after all! We seemed to be staying together — and liking it.

After Back Lot, we used the park’s rating system, found on the back of the park map, to guide us as to whether a ride was too scary or not. Rides are rated from 1 to 5, but keep in mind there are varying degrees as to what is scary to one kid and not to another. Some hate the drops, and others don’t mind them– but just don’t put me upside down! Use the rating system with discretion. You know your kids.

Fun Size’s experience was in direct contrast to the baby who, at 49 inches just made the 48” height requirement to ride The Racer and The Beast. Rider those two coasters were his goals of the day – he’ had already told his friends he would ride them, so, to save face, he couldn’t back down now.

As soon as we left Back Lot, we herded the kids over, quickly, to the Dodgem Cars – as a way to appease Fun Size, still trembling after Back Lot. This was more his “speed,” and he eagerly stood in line first. This was his first try to drive the Dogem Cars, so he asked, “What do I have to do, again?”

“Just keep turning your wheel, and that way you won’t get “stuck.”

Halfway through the ride, I found Fun Size, and saw they he had barely moved from his original starting point. “What are you doing here!” I said. “You didn’t tell me there was a pedal to press too!”He yelled.

By then, we were close to The Racer – the original vintage wooden roller coaster, the focal point of the Coney Mall sector of the park. This was the first roller coaster I rode back when the park opened in 1972.

The precise number of times I have ridden this coaster is elusive in my memory, and is stored as a blur of thrills and scant memories of the faces of the friends who shared the car with me. It could be 30 – or it could be around 100 – I have no idea.

This is Don Helbig — with the little boys. He’s guy who holds the Guinness Book record for riding the Racer!!

Later that day, when I strolled down International Street with Kings Island’s Public Relations Manager, Don Helbig, I casually asked, “Do you know how many times you have ridden The Racer?” He did. He holds the Guinness Book of World Records: More than 12,000 times.

We stood in line for the Racer, (Thank you, Kings Island, for the wooden awnings that cover most of the ride’s lines, blocking the sun). While you’re standing in line, you have a captive audience – kids have a chance to learn from you. Back in our teen years, my husband and I lived parallel lives — not knowing each other, but still spending as much time as we could at King’s Island with our friends and family.  How many times did the kids have to hear us say that day,  “I think it was my third time here, I was about your age…and….”

We explained to Fun Size that The Racer was a 4, one drop lower than Backlot — so he could ride this, and it wouldn’t be as scary as Back Lot! Too late. All he needed to read was that the Racer had an 83 foot drop. Too thrilling.  We had a system that we used for the rest of the day — he waited in line with us for the scary rides. Then, when it was our turn to load, he simply stepped across the seat and stood behind the yellow line with the ride’s operators. His wait was a mere 2 minutes.

Our 16-year old convinced me to ride Adventure Express, explaining, “It’s not that bad…there’s no drop.”

Yet, it was rated a 5, the same as Backlot. Tween and I were just about as fearful as Fun Size…. but we decided to go for it.

I rode it with the Tween — he was equally apprehensive. It’s one thing to ride The Beast and the Racer — two roller coasters I rode as a kid — roller coasters I know. But this was new, uncharted territory. The Adventure Express. We pretended to be brave, just like Dad, The Baby, and the 16. More importantly, we had put on a good show for Fun Size who was standing behind the Yellow line, with the operators. But we were still scared — that moment when you’re waiting for it to start, and you’re waiting for them to check the security bar… and then, that slow crawl you must endure when the roller coaster creeps up the hill. It’s all too much!

I have no idea what’s in store for us.,” I said to Tween. “Can I hold your hand?” He silently slipped his hand in mine. ”We were silent as the coaster kept climbing… “16 says there’s no drop — do you think he’s tricking us?”

We had our answer in just a few minutes…we dropped, just a tad, and then the track took us on that sideways swirl down the drop — which I find so much nicer than a straight drop. Tween and I were so relieved, as the ride continued to whip us back and forth — but no drops!!! We both ended up loving this roller coaster — and THIS would have been the roller coaster to take Fun Size on first! If only!!!!!

Out of every roller coaster I’ve visited across the United States, Kings Island is simply gorgeous. Kings Island believes in trees; all amusement parks should share this belief, rather than razing trees just to make room for more concrete. Trees freely dot the walkways and provide welcome shade while you wait in the long queues.

The gorgeous fountains on International Street gives you just enough “spray” to cool you off, and sets up a gorgeous promenade to the Eiffel Tower.

La Rosa’s famous Cincinnati Pizza was lunch – and so was the fresh fruit we found along the stands. Then, we let Fun Size pick a ride. He studied the map and came up with Boo Blasters on Boo Hill, sitting on the edge of Planet Snoopy, in kiddie land. I was rooting for Woodstock Express, the kid version of the vintage wooden roller coaster – but no dice.

Boo Blasters is the competitive ride with a weapon that lets you play a “virtual” video game. The ride may sit in “kiddie land,” and be rated a “1” but, please know that the tween and the 16-year old rode this two more times –  trying to beat each other’s score.

The day was hot, and we were sweaty. The kids kicked off their shoes and ran through Snoopy’s Splash Dance and got drenched.

Snoopy Land borders Rivertown, leading directly to The Beast – which created the perfect opportunity for me to take Fun Size on the much milder Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, (a log ride). The Baby loved The Beast so much that he had to ride it one more time.

When you’re at Kings Island — you must eat LaRosa’s Pizza for dinner, followed by a funnel cake under the Eiffel Tower. Twilight was just hitting the park, and the lights were just beginning to flicker on. As the boys ate their funnel cake, I looked around at the thousands of unfamiliar faces that paraded past, and I realized how totally alone we were; and how that kind of isolation seemed to make all of us each other’s best friend. A sea of strangers, and like an oasis, here were the faces we knew and loved.

There’s something to be said about getting away with your family, where you are totally alone. Something magical happens.

If you’re planning your summer vacation, searching for that perfect quiet place in nature to get your family “away alone together,” a trip to an amusement park may be the last choice on your list. But think again. There’s no quiet place to take a phone call, and it’s virtually impossible for the kids to “zone-out” with their iPods – they couldn’t hear their music over the screams and buzz of the amusement park anyway. You don’t even have to take the cell phone and the iPod away. Who can text when you’re hanging upside down? And “bored” is one word that will never cross your kid’s lips, all day long.

The fruits of this bonding become evident on the ride home. The early grumbling and bickering that had dominated the car ride earlier that morning on the way there had been transformed. The ear buds stayed out of the ears, and the boys were still talking and laughing about the day – and not one fight was heard. Only laughter.

Have you ever experienced an amusement park with kids who have different “thrill” levels? How did you handle it?

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One comment to “Waking Up The Beast”
  1. Ben wanted to go to Kings Island so bad this summer and we just couldn’t fit it in. 🙁 After reading this, I wish we would have. None of us really does roller coasters but I think the youngest wants to try!! We probably need to send him with you guys next year! 🙂

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