ThrillRide

 


 

Drop Zone & Face/Off

Kings Island's 1999 Thrill Ride Two-Fer Adds Major Action To This Park's New Action Zone.

When I'm looking for an exotic vacation destination, I always consider any one of my favorite islands: New York's Coney Island; Universal Studios Escape's Islands of Adventure; Paramount's Kings Island, of Cincinnati, Ohio. Kings Island, in particular, is indeed a royal pleasure, one I cherish for its decades-long record of building history-making rollercoasters.

Though now owned by Viacom's Paramount Parks group, Kings Island was originally devised by the Taft Broadcasting Company in 1972, during the height of America's nationwide theme park boom. It quickly became famous for its beautiful John Allen-designed Racer, a voluptuous pair of out-and-back woodies that is routinely credited with renewing the world's ardor for the laminated wood-railed rollercoaster.

Seven years later, Kings Island released The Beast, still the world's longest wooden coaster, and at 20 years young, still a most revered attraction.

In 1981, KI opened the world's first modern suspended coaster, the Arrow Dynamics-designed Bat. Though that prototype attraction was not quite ready for prime time and was soon removed, Arrow did eventually perfect the design and an Arrow suspended swinger, Top Gun, finally took flight over PKI in 1993.

Three years after the Bat was defanged, Kings Island erected America's first stand-up coaster, Togo's King Cobra. And in 1996, they stunned us again by unveiling the worlds first linear induction motor-launched machine, Premier Rides' Outer Limits: Flight of Fear (along with an identical model at Kings Dominion). Even the park's mine train coaster, the Adventure Express, is a unique treat.

For the turn of the century, Kings Island has embarked on a two-year, $40 million expansion program, loaded with mega-buck goodies. 2000 will bring still another record-smashing coaster, the staggering Son of Beast hyperwoody. But there's no reason to wait until then to visit. The first half of PKI's grandiose augmentation has already been completed, with the redevelopment of an entire section and the addition of two major scream machines: the Face/Off(TM) "Invertigo" rollercoaster and the gigantic Drop Zone Stunt Tower (TM) freefall, a one-two punch combo that'll knock you off your feet.

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You'll notice a difference in PKI's altered skyline long before you've driven into the parking lot. See that menacing vertical structure jabbing into the upper reaches of the atmosphere? No, I don't mean the park's Eiffel Tower; I'm talkin' about the Drop Zone's slender spire, a multi-colored column 315 feet tall... Zoinks. That thmpathmpathmpathmp you'll hear isn't a tire gone flat; it's your heart slamdancing behind your ribcage.

By the time you've strolled up to the main entrance, you'll also be able to check out the rear of the gleaming Face/Off coaster, its two lift hills meeting at a 138-foot peak. I said to myself, "Self, howzabout we start with that one?" I definitely needed some time to work up the nerve for the dizzy DZ.

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The new contraptions are conveniently located right near the front of the park. Soon as you're past the turnstiles, make an immediate left and scamper into Kings Island's revamped Action Zone. Along with the two most recent arrivals, this section serves up the 43-foot-tall Congo Falls chutes ride, Top Gun, King Cobra, Adventure Express, the Days of Thunder go-karts and the Xtreme Skyflyer(TM) SkyCoaster.

Some of these old favorites may be tempting, but it's the vivid, candy-colored structure of Face/Off that'll literally get your mouth watering. With its cherry-red supports and lemon-yellow rails, Face/Off made my taste buds tingle. They were overruled, though, the first time I watched a train madly flip through the Cobra Roll inversion: "Ride now; eat later."

Face/Off, of course, is an inverted version of Vekoma's ubiquitous Boomerang shuttle coaster, with which I'm sure most of you are familiar. The standard Boomer features a three-inversion layout that's navigated twice, once forward and once backward. These new jazzed-up models, dubbed Invertigos, work us over the same way, except their trains hang beneath the track and riders are positioned so that alternate pairs face each other... Ingenious, yes?

Latter portions of the queue take us right through the middle of Face/Off's steel tangle, so before riding, we get to scrutinize this coaster's limb-flinging moves close-up, a savory appetizer. And once we've reached the outer edges of the boarding platform, we're treated to another tension-building teaser: before trains are dispatched, metal doors in front of each entrance row swing shut and the operators themselves move behind protective walls, sorta like the dentist does before firing the X-ray gun. It gives you the impression that something dangerous is about to happen...

Now, habit might lead you to ride in either the first or last row, but then you'd miss out on watching the reactions of another pair of riders, and that is a significant part of an Invertigo's charms. I chose to ride in the middle of the train, facing forward.

After the ride ops check the harnesses, they get out of harm's way. Those doors close shut with grim finality and the floor of the platform sinks down, letting our tootsies hang loose. We begin moving, getting dragged backwards up to the top of the first lift, and the in-flight entertainment begins. The two guys sitting across from me were a hysterical study in contrasts; one of them was having the time of his life, giggling like a loon, and other was silent, pale with terror.

Finally, the train makes a brief stop at the top and starts slidin' back down; that's when the pale fellow came to life, hollering for mercy at full volume.

Falling 125 feet, we hit a top speed of 55 miles per hour and blow through the station, immediately soaring right up into the first leg of the 72-foot-tall Cobra Roll. Feel the blood rushing to your toes as we pull 5 delicious Gs. Righteous! Twisting to the left, we snap back around only to curl upside down again, racing over the opposite leg.

There's no time to catch our breath before we soar into the vertical loop. Up and over we go, screaming down to the base of the second lift. Yeah, baby!

It's a good thing there's a pause in the midst of this bedlam 'cuz we need it (that poor pasty-faced chap was looking quite discombobulated, hee-hee!). But now we have to prepare to do it all over again backwards. And before ya know it, we've hit the apex. Clench those handgrips tight, amigos!

Plunging back down, we regain top speed, go head-over-heels through the vertical loop and thrash through the compound curves of the Cobra Roll. If you thought those two elements were intense facing forward... they're twice as nasty when you can't see where the heck you're going. Totally brain-scrambling.

After the dismount, it took a little while before I was once again completely steady on my feet. Nice. But now that Face/Off had taken its toll, it was time to move on...

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The Gyro Drop is the next evolutionary step beyond Intamin's Giant Drop freefall towers, like the Hellavator at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, the Tower of Doom at Six Flags America, and the 251-foot-tall Pitt Fall at Kennywood. Intamin's latest take on the freefall experience ups the ante by transporting 40 maniacs at a time on a 30-foot-diameter rotating ring.

But most impressively, PKI's Drop Zone happens to be the tallest facin'-outward freefall machine that anyone has ever built on North American soil. The best way to appreciate DZ's freakish grandeur is to ride up to the Eiffel Tower's observation deck and look directly across at it. (Hold me...)

Standing at the base of this titanic pillar and watching a ring slowly ascend once again had me wondering why anyone would want to subject themselves to this sort of thing. Call it the Yin and Yang appeal of every serious thrill ride; you don't want to do it and yet you can't wait to do it.

But it ain't watching the climb that'll make yer teeth chatter; it's the substantial gust of wind generated by the ring's high-speed descent. Good grief, that's unnerving. At least there are touches of humor to lighten the mood. Ya gotta love the cautionary "falling object" signs posted here and there. Plus, it's a hoot to watch the stupefied crowds of on-lookers gathered around the exit. Okay, no more stalling...

The majority of the line winds back and forth beneath a flat canopy, so with the tower out of view for a while, you'll be able to focus your thoughts on other matters... like getting some life insurance.

Eventually, the wait comes to an end. We're assigned a seat number and ushered onto the cement platform. Once the green harnesses are locked down, there may be turning ahead, but there's no turning back. A purple cable-hauled apparatus clamps down onto the yellow ring and, gentle as a feather, begins to pull us into the heavens.

As soon as our feet have lifted away from the concrete, the ring slowly begins its gyration. On the way up to the 264-foot drop level, we'll make one complete revolution. Yes, this freefaller lets us enjoy a full 360-degree view of the surroundings, good for several bonus points. "L-L-Look, th-there's the Son of B-B-Beast under construction..." But the changing scenery can't distract you from one simple fact: we just keep climbing higher and higher. And higher.

And higher.

Takes about a minute to reach the upper limit. Finally, all movement stops. There we're poised, bracing for the inevitable, over 26 stories off the ground. I did manage to look down for one horrific instant. Big mistake.

"Come on, come on, enough already!" Still we wait... thmpathmpathmpathmp

And just when you think we might be stuck up there forever...

Click.

YAAAAA! Plummeting straight towards certain death, we drop like a rock, reaching a speed of 67 miles per hour in no time at all. The air lashes us with gale-force strength, drowning out our pitiful cries. A few savage seconds of consciousness-elevating terror.

The Drop Zone's magnetic braking system eventually takes hold and smoothly decelerates the ring. Finally, we glide down to a placid landing. If you feel the urge to kiss the ground, go right ahead; no one will think any less of you.

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After letting my nervous system regain some equilibrium, I went ahead and revisited The Beast, enjoying a season-long celebration of its 20th Anniversary. No, it isn't the tallest or fastest or most brutal any more, but it's still as satisfying a thrill ride as any I can name.

And next year, the Son makes his debut. I'm so there.

FACE/OFF

  • TRACK LENGTH: 985 feet
  • TOP SPEED: 55 Miles Per Hour
  • MAX. HEIGHT: 138 feet
  • MAX. DROP: 125 feet
  • INVERSIONS: Six
  • MAX. G FORCE: 5
  • RIDE DURATION: Approx. 1 minute, 30 seconds
  • CAPACITY: 850 guests per hour
  • MANUFACTURER: Vekoma, Posterholt, The Netherlands

DROP ZONE

  • MAX. HEIGHT: 315 feet
  • DROP HEIGHT: 264 feet
  • TOP SPEED: 67 Miles Per Hour
  • RIDE DURATION: 88 seconds
  • CAPACITY: 40 guests per drop
  • MANUFACTURER: Intamin AG, Wollerau, Switzerland

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© Robert Coker.
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