While Kings Island’s major addition for the 2011 season is the WindSeeker spinning tower ride, the park has also introduced a new upcharge attraction and made a host of updates to existing rides.
Situated towards the far end of Coney Mall, a new pathway has been constructed under The Racer and leading into the woods north of the park. And where WindSeeker fondly recalls classic yo-yo swings of the past, the new Dinosaurs Alive! Exhibit loudly recalls giant reptiles of the past.
Brought to life by the animatronic forces at British Columbia’s Dinosaurs Unearthed, the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit is a welcome change of pace from the rest of the park. The attraction is a walk-through – the world’s largest animatronic dinosaur park – and contains over 50 animatronic dinosaurs. Quite literally nestled into the woods and preserving the natural terrain of the previous-untapped land, Dinosaurs Alive! snakes over rivers, hills, and valleys.
Back from extinction
And the dinosaurs are very well done. The medium-sized ones especially look as good as anything Universal has come up with for their various Jurassic Park attractions, with fluid and realistic movements and well-synchronized sound. The proximity to the figures is also astounding, as guests are usually within a few feet of the unfenced dinosaurs. The hike through the woods itself is beautiful and, thanks to the upcharge required for entrance, much quieter and more respectful than the rest of the park tends to be.
Guests receive a map upon entering the exhibit that lists the different “scenes” they’ll encounter. Each scene, too, is set off by a sign that notes a bit of history and explains the scenario, some of which are actual recreations of found fossil placements - for example a group of herbivores who became hopelessly stuck in the mud calling frantically for allies. Of course, their allies came, and so did their predators. The meat-eaters ate them all, and then got stuck in the mud themselves. Is that a happy ending?
Three or four of the dinosaurs have a control panel where guests can choose their actions, moving their head, neck, arms, and tail. One button also emits their roar, which is pretty startling when you least expect it. Each figure also has an informational sign in front of it, so if you wished to linger in the exhibit and read about each type, you certainly could. There’s also a great natural feel in the sense that the dinosaurs’ tails sometimes whack into trees, or their feet paw at the ground and rustle leaves. Most all appear to “breath” and they all blink.
Roaring with a whimper
Some of the figures are so incredibly massive that it takes a minute to wrap your head around it. Sure, we’ve seen the Tyrannosaurus Rex in films. We may have seen his head biting down at us at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. But to see the full figure, to scale, standing next to you is really very strange, and inspires a great sigh of relief that they’re no longer around. My only real problem was that instead of speakers in their mouths, the dino calls emanate from speaker-rocks at the foot of each figure. Combined with extraordinarily low volume levels, that sort of damages the believability, especially on 40-foot tall dinosaurs whose roars come from the rock at their feet.
In addition, most of the figures seem to move for 15 – 20 seconds, then stay still for 15 – 20 seconds (watch the video above to see one in action). Hit the wrong rhythm and you’ll spend more time waiting for them to start moving than you will watching them move. Even at the dinosaur exhibits at local zoos, I’ve always seen the figures move continuously, or perhaps stop for 3 – 5 seconds at most.
Dinosaurs Alive! requires a $5.00 up-charge for entry. The pricing seems fair for the scale of the product, but I couldn’t help but wish there was a discount for season pass holders. Even $3.00 seems a fair price – enough to keep the troublemakers out, but not too much to ward away a family of four (who are otherwise looking at dropping $20.00 on top of park admission, food, games, and souvenirs and seem infinitely less likely to return without a season pass discount).
The exhibit also features a kid’s dig area with real sand, where employees dressed in excavation equipment are available to help uncover massive dinosaur bones. The pit seems to get a bit soggy after the rain, but because of the attraction’s upcharge, it’s almost a V.I.P. playground, with just a few kids who all help each other out.
3D dinosaurs…for a price
Down the way, the park’s Action F-X Theater has diverted from its four clones at the other former Paramount Parks (who are all showing “SpongeBob Squarepants 3D” for a ninth consecutive season) in favor of playing “Dinosaurs Alive 3D.” The film alone is a $4.00 charge, but can be added to the dinosaur park for $2.00. The problem, however, is that that theater has been running the motion simulator SpongeBob film for eight years... for free.
And while the conversion to “Dinosaurs Alive 3D” did bring in new HD Dolby 3D glasses, the motion simulator seating was removed. An upcharge for a down-grade at first sight, and considering my party was the only one in the theater on a busy summer day that saw each other ride garnering hour plus lines (highly unusual for Kings Island), I’d say that the pricing scheme isn’t working too well. And while it’s fun and interesting, I don’t think that "Dinosaurs Alive 3D" would play to a full house even if it were free...
Dinosaurs Alive! is a very nice addition to Kings Island, with promises of expansions in future years to keep things fresh already coming from the park’s social media. It offers a break from the madness, a shaded, forested setting, and some really nice animatronics. It’s nice enough that I’ve visited two times and wouldn’t mind doing so again. And while I see the necessity of an upcharge to deal with maintenance and to keep crowds light and appropriate, I think that $7.00 for the full experience is a bit much. Despite slight flaws, Dinosaurs Alive! is a worthwhile exhibit.
Updates to existing attractions
In the years since the departure of the movie references from the once Paramount’s Kings Island, small details seem to have been lost from the rides and park in general. Thankfully, the park has seen fit to make some upgrades in time for the 2011 season.
The park’s TOMB RAIDER: The Ride (the world’s only HUSS Giant Top Spin) was transformed into the lackluster Crypt, which removed its former incarnation’s “lava pool,” fountains, fog, synchronized music, goddess statue, and dramatic pre-show, replacing the ancient treasure theme with a dark burial chamber. For 2011, however, the ride’s queue and the ride itself play moody music from the film “Inception.” New lighting has been rigged throughout the line, and while the ride still performs only two flips and clocks in just over a minute, the former “lava pit” has been re-illuminated with hundreds of sparkling orange, red, and yellow LED lights.
Backlot Stunt Coaster
When The Italian Job: Stunt Track became the generic Backlot Stunt Coaster, the ¾ scale MINI Cooper trains were sent to the strip shop, the on-ride audio was gutted, the once-menacing helicopter was left motionless, and the water was removed from the splashdown. While the trains are still amorphous, vaguely-car-shaped blobs, the mid-course "helicopter" scene has been given new life.
Whereas Canada’s Wonderland’s clone of the ride completely bypasses the once-special-effects-laden scene, Kings Island’s has been restored with new LED lights on the helicopter’s gun barrels and on the far wall, appearing to ricochet as the helicopter shoots. Additionally, the adventurous score from “Ride of the Valkyries” plays dramatically during the scene as three plumes of fire erupt around the train. Music from the film “Oceans Eleven” also resonates through the queue, establishing the suave, spy-type atmosphere of The Italian Job without actually referencing the ride’s past life.
Flight of Fear
And in the mysterious and menacing government hanger queue of Flight of Fear (once themed to The Outer Limits television show), the “house lights” have been shuttered while the dozens of movie-lighting rigs angled at the signature space ship have been re-lit and given new colored gels, restoring the entire line to an eerie, atmospheric brilliance.
"Song 2" by Blur plays during the dizzying spin cycle of the park’s HUSS Giant Frisbee, Delirium, and the dramatic piano intro of Van Halen’s “Right Now” triggers the revolving ascent of Drop Zone, the world’s tallest gyro drop. Flight Deck (formerly themed to the film “Top Gun”) now sets the mood with adventurous, rock-oriented music that mimics the rides former film-based soundtrack and has missiles have been affixed to the ride’s queue railings (a simple gesture, but representative of the new detail-oriented direction of the park).
Looking to the future
And while many speculate that the addition (and indeed revitalization) of the themeing component of these attractions may have been a subtle way to impress new CEO Matt Ouimet of Disneyland Resort fame, I can’t help but just be thankful.
It’s fantastic to see that Cedar Fair has embraced the idea of a theme park and set out to use simple but wildly effective methods like gel lights and music scores to improve guest experience. I can only hope we’ll be seeing more and more of this as the years pass, and judging by this season’s emphasis on moderate, but well-done additions, I think the best is yet to come.
Share your thoughts
Have you experienced Dinosaurs Alive! at Kings Island? Did it live up to your expectations? Let us know by adding your own review and rating.
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