Monday, May 28, 2001

Roller coaster ready for crowds

Kings Island expects smoother season for Son of Beast

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Son of Beast had an up-and-down first year in 2000, and not in a good way.

Son of Beast rises to 214 feet.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        The record-breaking wooden roller coaster at Paramount's Kings Island debuted late and then was immediately shut down for several weeks.

        This year, park visitors and officials agree, things have smoothed out for the coaster — the park's single most expensive ride ever.

        “I've already been on it a few times this year, and it's a lot smoother,” said Don Helbig of Fairfield, a member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts.

        “Any time you build a roller coaster the size of Son of Beast, it's going have some bumps. If you go back to 1979 with The Beast, it took a while to work out the kinks with that, too.”

        Meanwhile, much of the hype about the world's tallest and fastest looping wooden coaster has faded. With Kings Island open daily starting this weekend, its marketing efforts have shifted to the new kids on the block: 3-D ride simulator 7th Portal, the inverted kiddie coast er Rugrats Runaway Reptar, and The Wild Thornberrys River Adventure.

        “Every year we pretty much focus on what's new,” park spokesman Jeffrey Siebert said.

        Still, Kings Island's plethora of coasters, especially wooden ones, is a major draw. That's why David Bowes, 34, of Clifton visited in April — his first trip to the park.

        “We rode several roller coasters, and (Son of Beast) was my favorite of the day,” Mr. Bowes said.

        Visitors have taken more than 780,000 rides on Son of Beast since it opened, Mr. Siebert said, and he expects the millionth rider to board sometime in July.

        Its papa, The Beast, retains the record as the world's longest wooden coaster more than two decades after its debut.

        “We have more wood coaster track than any other park on the planet,” Mr. Siebert added.

        But that wasn't enough to counterbalance the impact of too many rainy weekends last year. Kings lsland saw about 3.2 million visitors, according to the trade publication Amusement Business — a 4 percent drop from 1999's atten dance and a 6 percent drop compared to 1998.

        Many of those who did visit in 2000 found Son of Beast idled. Officials played down the problems, saying they were not safety issues but merely a matter of wanting to smooth a 15-foot section of track.

        After the park closed for the season, however, it filed suit against three companies involved in Son of Beast's construction, alleging shoddy design and materials that the park was forced to correct. The case has not yet been heard.

        Kings Island made additional adjustments to Son of Beast in the off-season, as it does for all rides, Mr. Siebert said.

        Meanwhile, riders seem little concerned. Mr. Helbig is particularly reassured because he gets to the park earlier than most visitors and sees how thoroughly workers inspect the rides.

        “Their safety record has always been very good,” said the coaster enthusiast, who visits Kings Island about 50 times a year. “... The fear that something could go wrong is the last thing on my mind.”


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