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Expedition: CONGO

Image: Joel Rogers, CoasterGallery.com (Used with permission)

When Volcano: The Blast Coaster debuted in 1997, it brought with it a change to Paramount's Kings Dominion's Safari Village. The adventurous, African-set land was renamed Congo (more than likely, an allusion to Paramount's 1995 film Congo, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton). It was a fitting name given the thatch-roofed remains of Safari Village, now "plussed" by pervasive theming owed to the newly-active volcano looming over the land.

In fact, we could jump forward in time to 2005 when the Congo area would go on to be largely overtaken by Paramount's Tomb Raider film score.

Image: Cedar Fair

That's also when the remote jungle outpost would be joined by the sensational TOMB RAIDER: Firefall (an outdoor spin-off of Kings Island's Lost Legend: TOMB RAIDER - The Ride) cast as an ancient altar where mist, fire, water cannons, and fountains synced up with a musical score.

But that expedition will have to wait... Because today, our destination is the 150-foot tall volcano itself. Passing through ancient stone arches, the sound of tribal drums grows stronger and stronger as we approach the expedition camp set up at the base of the volcano.

Image: Intamin Worldwide

A perilous rocky trail weaves up the side of the mountain and into an open-air queue house with views across the forested Congo. Gazing upward, Volcano's track look almost like archaeological scaffolds surrounding the peak, in a most unusual combination of burgandy and gold... Even here, gazing up at those long, stretched inversions a hundred feet above the park, it's odd to imagine that in mere moments, we'll be up there...

Then, the queue passes into the mountain and down a flight of stairs to the loading area inside the volcano's chasm... It's there that guests jump aboard the suspended trains and prepare for the ride of their lives...

Volcano: The Blast Coaster

Slowly, the trains advance out of the station and around a bend, rolling painstakingly toward a straightaway tunneling through the mountain's side. Even as the first riders roll past the first LIM motors embedded in the track overhead, nothing happens... Gravity alone seems to be propelling the train as it inches forward – a gut-wrenching, nervewracking build-up... 

Then, with an electronic hum, the LIM motors spring to life. The train's wheels screech as the coaster is propelled forward like a catapult, racing through a cavern in the mountain's side.

Spots of light stream in through mountain's side and its network of supports, pierced with holes by the roller coaster's footers.

Image: KDGoldenYears group, Facebook

We've been launched into Volcano's first surprise: a massive, enormous banked helix hiden behind the mountain. 

With no significant change in elevation, the train barrels out of the volcanic chasm and races headlong, hauling riders at its full speed: 70 miles per hour.

Image: Intamin Worldwide

As the path forward ends, the track banks wildly, sweeping us into a massive, continuous curve with the trains suspended at nearly 90 degrees. Then, ahead, the path realigns with the tallest peak of the mountain... here we go.

The coaster rockets into the mountain's core, gliding through still more LIMs. A second electronic hum boosts the already-speeding coaster just as it hits a curve ahead, sending the train vertical. Of course, this is the moment we've been waiting for – Volcano's signature move.

Image: Joel Rogers, CoasterGallery.com (Used with permission)

The train races vertically up through the mountain, past fog and flamethrowers and bursts out of the peak, flipping us onto our heads as the train rolls out from the manuever. This high-speed explosion has literally seen us erupt from the volcano, heels-over-head. It's the world's tallest inversion – 155 feet over the park.

Now, Volcano changes. With much of the unstoppable momentum having burned off (pun intended) in the eruption, we now find ourselves gliding along the track... 150 feet high. The train arcs through a banked turn, then races forward. From here on out, our ride will take on the role of a lava flow, gradually and somehow beautifully carrying us down and around the mountain. The trick is in a coaster manuever called a heartline roll.

Image: Coaster Studios, YouTube

Unlike an in-line twist where the train is flung around a twisting track, in a heartline roll, the track twists around the train. By design, if you were to draw a line in space from the position of your heart while passing through this manuever, the line would stay at the same level. It's a graceful, powerful, but comfortable inversion that somehow mimics the fluid flow of lava.

Volcano twists its way through the roll, which effortlessly leads into a banked turn back toward the mountain. Another clockwise heartline roll acts as a near-miss with the volcano's peak, then another descending turn to a third roll. 

Image: Joel Rogers, CoasterGallery.com (Used with permission)

In an inversion of the typical roller coaster formula, Volcano’s final manuever is its largest drop: an 80 foot descending banked plunge back into the mountain’s core, where our world class custom coaster expedition comes to a close. Short but fierce (and wiith more personality than most people), Volcano was a star.

Ready to take a ride? We always like to end our Lost Legend ride-throughs with a point-of-view video that perfectly captures the experience of a closed classic. Face the heat of Volcano here:

But don't misunderstand – though our ride may be over, the story isn't... Despite its more-or-less successful second opening in 1998, Volcano retained the temperamental and unpredictable nature of its namesake. Like many prototypes, the ride's complexity sometimes overwhelmed its operations, and even as newer, faster, taller, and more popular coasters joined the park's lineup, Volcano's line grew. It wasn't just that the ride was popular; it was also relatively low-capacity, hindered further by technical issues that eventually cause some real problems...

Dormant

Image: Coasterforce

On June 24, 2006, a launched train failed to crest the peak and rolled back (again – a normal occurance well within the ride's operational design). However, it's believed that the brakes designed to catch the returning train and reset it for a second launch faulted, bringing the ride to an abrupt stop, allegedly in a rain of sparks and debris. Riders were stuck on board for hours. Eventually, all 15 riders had to be evacuated by a cherry-picker, and one was hospitalized leading to a multi-week closure as the ride was inspected.

Six days later, the Paramount Parks were officially sold to Cedar Fair – Ohio-based operators of Cedar Point. Kings Dominion lost its cinematic ownership and movie licensing (renaming the Italian Job: Turbo Coaster to the Backlot Stunt Coaster, and TOMB RAIDER: Firefall as The Crypt). Still, Volcano erupted on, maintaining a piece of the park's history as well as Paramount's flair for the dramatic in one iconic coaster package perfect for the park's new thrill-focused owners.

Image: P. Kevin Morley, via Richmond Times-Dispatch

Just a few weeks into the 2018 season, the ride experienced technical difficulties that paused its performance. The ride remained closed for the remainder of the 2018 season. It's not unusual for roller coasters to endure lengthy downtime as owners await, install, and test custom-manufactured replacement parks from European ride manufacturers, so fans lit up message boards with rumors about Volcano and when it would reopen. We may never know the answer...

On February 8, 2019, Kings Dominion's spokesperson Maggie Sellers announced, "After thorough evaluation, the decision has been made to remove Volcano: The Blast Coaster. This wasn’t an easy decision for us, because we know that people love this one-of-a-kind coaster; however, over time it became nearly impossible to keep the ride up to our high standards of reliability and guest satisfaction, and for these reasons we had to make the tough call."

In other words, Volcano had unknowingly given its last rides in Spring 2018 – a full year earlier. The ride would never re-open.

Demolished

Image: Brian P, YouTube

In May 2019, both Volcano and the mountain it resided in were demolished. That winter, it was announced that The Crypt would also be retired, emptying out a large portion of the park's nostalgically-renamed Safari Village for future development. No matter what that development ends up being, it's unlikely to match the scale and scope of Volcano, a truly cutting-edge ride that could only have been born from a fusion of technology, thrills, history, and storytelling.

Volcano: The Blast Coaster was a stunning, spectacular, ultra-intense ride; an unusually poetic balance of both strength and style; powerful, but smooth; brawns and brains in one; a new-age classic. In its lifetime, this sensational ride became a must-see icon of Kings Dominion, and a test of bravery for a generation of young Virginians. A blend of thrills and theme, this explosive coaster may be gone, but we just can't let it be forgotten.

That's why it's earned this in-depth expedition through its story, and why we need your help: take a moment to share your thoughts and memories of Kings Dominion's Lost World and Volcano: The Blast Coaster to preserve this ride for the next generation of thrillseekers! Then, make the jump to our Legend Library to set course for another closed classic... See you on the next adventure!

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Comments

In this era of copycat coasters (it seems like everyone has one giga coaster, one drop coaster, one flying coaster, etc) Volcano was truly the most unique ride I have ever ridden. I miss it terribly.

You hit the nail on the head. One-of-a-kind. Purpose-built. Designed around an existing structure... We don't see many rides like this anymore...

Wonderful article. Thanks for all your effort in this.

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