Great Old Amusement Parks (1999). As I have written before, these are perfect summer viewing and a lot of fun to watch.
Watching this one made me want to ride an old wooden coaster or two. I may have to plan a trip to King's Dominion at some point... As a theme park it's a distinct also-ran when compared to the first class, big budget creative exuberance of Disneyland, but it has some wonderful wooden coasters. I'm fond of it now because I have family memories associated with the place. It's also close: only a 75 minute drive south.
One old theme park ride I saw in the documentary last night was one I call "the Flying Potato Chip." It's a sort of suspended boat hung from a spinning superstructure; each boat has a large metal sail which you can move. The wind causes the boat to shift around when you alter the sail. It's a great, relaxed ride - just the thing when you get a bit sweaty on warm days. King's Dominion has them; they are now painted blue and called "Flying Eagles." I called them potato chips because, back in the Nineties when I frequently took my kids there, they were painted yellow and that's kind of what they looked like.
Another standard amusement park ride I'm fond of is what my family calls the "Cake"; these are swings suspended, once again, on a revolving infrastructure - another relaxed, breezy ride. (At King's Dominion it's called the "Wave Swinger.") As the rides are manufactured in Germany, they are quite pretty and ornate. My daughter Julie gave it the name because when lit up at night it looked somewhat like a cake with frosting. As there were paintings of pretty 19th C. women underneath, my daughters would sit in their seats and do the "I'm her" game. It was also the scene of great sorrow one year, when Julie was too little to ride by about an inch or two and tearfully had to stay with Grandma and watch us ride. I was heartbroken. (Really, I was!) But it was a scene of triumph the following year when she grew some, and was able to ride.
I also have pleasant memories of the King's Dominion Avalanche, a smooth, bobsled style ride. I once rode it something like ten times in a row with my kids and another family's kids we took.
My hand's down favorite ride at King's Dominion, however, is the Grizzly, an old school wooden roller coaster based more or less upon the famous (but now defunct) Coney Island Wildcat. But this coaster has an advantage that the Wildcat didn't have: trees. It races around a nice Virginia forest. (The photo on the link gives you a good idea.) Very scenic... a thrill ride with wooden soul within and without.
The great thing about King's Dominion is that it has three top class wooden coasters which hardly ever have long lines, most parkgoers flocking instead to the more modern higher and faster rides. Fine by me!
The older and fatter I get, the more disinclined I am to be atop high places, unless, of course, they are buildings or mountains (which are more secure). What am I talking about? Rides like the mega-Cake, which at King's Dominion is called the Windseeker. Thirty stories up - 301 feet - at the end of a skinny strut, whirling around at a 45 degree angle at 30 MPH. No, thanks. It makes my palms sweaty just looking at it. Or the Drop Tower, a 272 foot downward plunge. Barf!
I have to give credit to King's Dominion... they have managed to constantly improve the park over the years. When we first visited in 1988 it was dreadful, and we determined to never return. The food was expensive and lousy, the rides needed painting and the whole place seemed to be on the edge of being rundown. The entire park struck us both as being teenage and cheesy.
One very weird experience on that visit was the train ride, which is normally a pleasant, unremarkable thing. The young woman who did the narration on the public address system, however, seemed to be hung up on scofflaw horses. I have since wondered whether she was deviating from the park's scripted spiel and being wildly creative, or if that's the presentation the park actually wanted. But every time we came across a burning house, or two legs sticking out of a well or some other mishap it was due to a herd of pesky, dangerous horses. Bizarre.
But, as I wrote, the park has improved greatly since then. Even the food is better.
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