Imagine that you dined in a three star Michelin restaurant last night. Your food was prepared with the finest ingredients and it all tasted delicious. You got a glass of matching wine with every course and servers treated you as royalty. Unfortunately, that dinner is over now. Today, friends invite you to eat at a local snack bar. Nothing in the counter looks tasteful, but you’re hungry and thirsty. You will eventually end up ordering a hamburger and a can of lukewarm Coke, but you wish you could go back to yesterday’s restaurant. That incredible three star restaurant, that’s Dollywood. And that cheap looking snack bar… that’s Kings Dominion.
Yesterday, we spent a few hours at Dollywood before driving the long way to Richmond. That American city may not sound familiar to an average European tourist, but it’s a huge draw for coaster enthusiasts. That’s because there are two major coaster parks near Richmond. Busch Gardens Williamsburg is located about 50 miles east of the city and Kings Dominion lies north of Richmond. Of course, we are planning to pay a visit to both. However, we always try to keep the most interesting destination until the end. That’s why we won’t be riding ‘Alpengeist’ or ‘Griffon’ today, but we opt for Kings Dominion instead.
While checking the Kings Dominion’s smartphone application yesterday, I noticed that the park wouldn’t open early today: at 11.30 AM in fact. That’s a little strange during the Spring Break rush, but I’m not opposed to sleeping in. The late opening time also makes me believe that the park isn’t expecting huge crowds. While we arrive at the parking lot, that seems to be true. We’re able to park our rental car fairly close to the main entrance and it’s definitely not that busy at the admission gates. Kings Dominion welcomes us with International Street, a quite nice area with restaurants and shops. This main street is dominated – pun intended – by fountains and a very tall panoramic tower. My American fellow visitors call it the Eiffel Tower, but as a European I just don’t believe it. That’s because the real Eiffel Tower isn’t blue and normally, there would be pushy people selling keychains and bracelets underneath its pillars. Nope, this definitely isn’t the Eiffel Tower.
There’s one thing I learned at Tokyo DisneySea: volcanco rides can be very cool. That’s why we always head to the DisneySea volcano early in the morning to enjoy ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’. I’m happy to notice that Kings Dominion offers a volcano ride as well. However, here in Virginia, it’s a rollercoaster instead of a darkride. One of the 13 rollercoasters we’ll try to visit today, actually. Friends warned me about ridiculously long wait times at that specific ride, so we walk there right after rope drop. Unfortunately, Volcano – The Blast Coaster breaks down while we’re in the queue. Staff are okay with us staying in the waiting area and that seems to be our best option anyway. At this point, we’re nearly at the ride station and there are already hundreds of people behind us. It would take a while to fix the issue, but after 45 minutes we’re finally in the front seats of the train (that’s the only right seat to experience an inverted coaster for the first time, right?). ‘Volcano – The Blast Coaster’ then blows us away with a breathtaking start: the launch is very powerful and it’s surprisingly divided into two separate parts. The acceleration is actually so good that all of the following feels quite tame. After the launch and the first inversion, the ride even becomes a little monotonous. Besides, it’s quite sad that trains enter the final break run at a very high speed. It feels as if there’s plenty of energy for another surprising inversion or a powerful helix left, but the ride just comes to a stop. ‘Volcano – The Blast Coaster’ starts as a promising coaster, but it’s kind of an anticlimax to me.
Kings Dominion is a typical American amusement park. That means that it’s definitely more about thrillrides than decoration in this park. However, they did their best to create a few themed lands and we are currently standing at Safari Village. ‘Volcano’ and the opposite top spin ‘The Crypt’ fit perfectly within that exotic area, but I just don’t understand what a Nascar race, a UFO and a bobsled are doing here. Especially the bobsled coaster Avalanche seems kind of lost within this African area. That doesn’t mean that it’s a bad coaster; this classic Mack bobsled coaster (the only one currently operating outside of Europe) runs smoother than most of its siblings. The lay-out reminds me of ‘Schweizer Bobbahn’ at Europa-Park, but they didn’t copy the exuberant Swiss village theming of that German counterpart.
Was I really talking about a UFO at Safari Village? Yes, I was. That spacecraft and the accompanying aliens are part of Flight of Fear, Kings Dominion’s indoor coaster. The queue looks quite short, so we decide to ride it right away. Unfortunately, that wasn’t our best idea, as operations are painfully slow here. During our wait, I get the impression that there’s only one train running, but that’s not true. Staff just seem to prefer gossiping to doing their job. And at the time they actually start checking restraints, everything is carried out in slow motion. So that’s why a short line takes 45 minutes to get through… After putting my patience to the test so badly, I really hope for a great rollercoaster. But that’s not the case: ‘Flight of Fear’ turns out to be rather rough, it mainly consists of pointless curves and there’s not the slightest bit of theming during the ride. So please just skip this coaster if you don’t necessarily need the credit.
Steven is hungry, Nick is very hungry and I’m hungry too. That’s why we should actually be looking for a snack, but we’re not. There’s hardly any queue at Intimidator 305, so we postpone our lunch to a later time. ‘Intimidator 305’ is an enormous giga coaster and it’s a major reason to visit Kings Dominion for many coaster enthusiasts. The lift hill is 93 meters high, there are 1.500 meters of track and trains reach top speeds of 145 km/h. In short: this red giant is serious business. During its opening year, some of the business were actually a little too serious. ‘Intimidator 305’ even had to be rebuilt to lower the amount of rider black-outs. At first, Kings Dominion installed extra brakes on the first descent. Later, they modified the entire first curve to decrease intensity. But if you think that ‘Intimidator 305’ has become some kind of child friendly rollercoaster because of all those modifications, then you’re definitely wrong.
They have rebuilt this ride to lower the amount of black-outs. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any black-outs anymore. Not at all. While we’re flying through that notorious first curve, Steven and I both greyed out. It’s clear that this ride still creates some incredible forces. After a brilliant first drop and that first curve, the train enters some bends which are very low to the ground. Those bends don’t look that spectacular, but trains rush through at incredible speeds and transitions are very intense. Despite all this intensity, ‘Intimidator 305’ remains a very enjoyable and smooth experience. I heard some negative stories about the shoulder restraint system, but this doesn’t bother me. This ride is comfortable, extremely forceful and I would like to ride it all day long. Luckily, operations at ‘Intimidator 305’ are pretty fast and we’re perfectly able to re-ride it later today.
Now, it’s finally time to have lunch. I hope you didn’t consider this report’s introduction as an insult to Kings Dominion’s food and beverage department, because our meal is actually quite good. This afternoon, we’re having a tasty pizza slice at International Street and tonight, we’ll try some American-Asian fastfood at ‘Panda Express’. It’s everything but exceptional, but I shouldn’t complain about the fast food in this park. After our lunch, we’re ready for some extra coaster thrills at Safari Village. The first one is Anaconda, a 25 year old Arrow looping coaster. ‘Anaconda’ features an underwater (!) tunnel, some painful inversions and curves which seem to be designed by a drunk engineer. I can imagine that this rollercoaster used to be impressive during the 90’s, but nowadays you just ride them to obtain an extra coaster count credit.
‘Anaconda’s neighbour is called Back Lot Stunt Coaster and it’s another ride which just feels out of place at Safari Village. Unless you think that Mini Coopers and parking garages fit perfectly within the African theme, of course. This coaster reminds us of Kings Dominion’s past as a Paramount park: the ride used to be known as ‘The Italian Job’. Unfortunately, Cedar Fair doesn’t possess the movie rights and that’s why this ride was tranformed into a pretty boring experience. All of the former special effects were turned off. Halfway through the ride, for example, the cars are slowed down between a pile of sea containers. It’s obvious that there used to be some spectacular effects, but currently there’s nothing happening. I liked the acceleration and the surprisingly intense triple helix, but those are actually the only features of ‘Back Lot Stunt Coaster’ worth mentioning.
Kings Dominion offers a lot of launched coasters, but there are some rides with a classic lift hill as well. One of those rides is Dominator, a B&M floorless coaster. It seems as if this coaster was designed in Rollercoaster Tycoon: it’s on a flat piece of grass and there isn’t any decoration. Despite the lack of theming, ‘Dominator’ is very photogenic thanks to its vivid colours. The actual ride experience turns out to be cool as well. The lay-out is particularly original for this coaster type and the smoothness is remarkable. Unfortunately, operations are once again poor. B&M coasters of this size are meant to have a huge capacity, but staff are so lazy that they only achieve one train dispatch per five minutes. That’s why we need to queue half an hour, despite a rather short line. It’s a shame that operations are this bad; I really would have liked to re-ride this one.
It’s already late in the afternoon and we notice that it will be very challenging to get a coaster bingo at Kings Dominion. Except the people working at ‘Intimidator 305’ and ‘Volcano’, most staff at this park are extremely slow and uninterested. I once read that a koala sleeps at least 20 hours per day and I guess the Kings Dominion staff is somehow related to this cute Australian animal. At ‘Anaconda’, for instance, a female worker was combing her hair for several minutes, while there were 28 shoulder harnesses just waiting to be checked. We encounter another striking example of lazy staff at wooden coaster Grizzly, where an employee is talking and laughing on the phone instead of dispatching trains. To make things even worse, I’d like to add that at this point, we’re already queueing for 60 minutes because they’re only running one train. The ride experience turns out to be at least as disappointing: ‘Grizzly’ is a pretty rough and underwhelming wooden coaster.
We haven’t got time for a ride on the log flume or the rapid river and we skip thrill rides like ‘WindSeeker’ and ‘Delirium’. Our time is getting limited and we need to set priorities. One of those priorities is Rebel Yell, a duelling woodie which traverses Kings Dominion’s water park. I always like the race feeling of such coasters, but luck isn’t on our side today: just like ‘Grizzly’, ‘Rebel Yell’ is running only one train. I don’t mean that there is one train on each side, but there’s literally just one operational train. Kings Dominion doesn’t think it’s necessary to open both tracks, so the blue side is just abandoned today. The result is a 40 minute wait time. While queueing this long, I get plenty of time to watch the staff at the loading platform. There are at least seven empoyees staring at the floor. In most parks, this staffing would be sufficient to keep both tracks running at a decent pace. At Kings Dominion, other rules apply. And once again, our depressing long wait isn’t rewarded with a great coaster ride. Some re-tracked parts of ‘Rebel Yell’ are quite okay, but the older tracks are just painful. You can clearly feel that this ride has been here for 40 years.
After enjoying the view on top of that fake Eiffel Tower (still without pushy keychain sellers), we notice that it’s already 7 PM. That means that Kings Dominion is closing in one hour. At that point, we split up. Nick will use these last 60 minutes to get some extra credits, but Steven and I really don’t care about a wild mouse and a few kiddie coasters. We prefer a few extra rides on ‘Intimidator 305’ and that’s the very best way to conclude our day at this park. Thanks to very hard-working staff, this coaster’s wait time is still less than 10 minutes. It’s strange that operations are so fast here, while most other park employees seem incredibly slow. Three twilight rides on ‘Intimidator 305’ later, we successfully forget most of the irritations we encountered today. And it gets even better: while waking towards the park exit, a very friendly employee lets us enter the queue for Woodstock Express, even though it’s a few minutes past 8. This very old wooden coaster is meant for children, but I actually enjoy the smooth ride very much. Nice attraction for the whole family.
It’s crazy, but this last hour at Kings Dominion was surprisingly fun. However, I didn’t forget that this park gave us some depressing moment. These problems can mostly be blamed on the uninterested, work-shy staff and the low capacity. That’s unfortunate, because I was really looking forward to this park. It boasts lots of thrilling coasters, spectacular flat rides and a large children’s area. You don’t need to visit this park if you’re interested in elaborate decoration, but that’s basically the case at any Cedar Fair park. I just don’t see why operations are significantly slower than they are at other Cedar Fair parks. We visited both Knott’s Berry Farm and Carowinds during the past few days and both parks performed just well. Despite low crowds, coasters at those two parks were operating with the maximum number of trains and staff were working efficiently. I really hope that this was just one bad day, but I don’t necessarily want to visit Kings Dominion again anyway. Although it offers great rides like ‘Intimidator 305’ and ‘Dominator’, the park didn’t manage to deliver the carefree day I expect from any amusement park.
And that concludes our day at Kings Dominion. It was unforgettable in a certain way, but it’s unfortunate that we didn’t enjoy this park as expected. We hope that the next park will perform better, but I’m actually sure it will. That’s because the next two days will be spent in a place that calls itself the world’s most beautiful theme park. That’s a quite big promise and I’m pretty excited too. So good night and see you tomorrow at Busch Gardens Williamsburg!