The magic is back, for the most part…

When I was a kid I loved Kings Island. I can’t remember exactly what age I was when I first had a season pass to the Mason, Ohio amusement park, but I think I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. That would make sense, since I started giving my summers away to the YMCA when I was 13 as a day camp counselor – 20 years ago this summer – and would doubt I had time to go then. But maybe I did?

Anyway, I loved the place. I had several friends who had a season pass and we would go together often, usually just a pair of us at a time. If we had $10, that was enough for a large LaRosa’s pepperoni pizza and a coke for each of us and that would keep us satiated for the whole day. We would be running ride to ride, on good days going from nearly empty queue to nearly empty queue, literally getting on just about every ride without waiting. It was heaven.

During that time I remember riding the King Cobra – the roller coaster you rode standing up, which is now no longer at the park – for the first time and being completely nervous the whole time I was in line waiting for my turn.

So, as I often do, I found someone to talk to about my nervousness, just some random dude in line. I can still remember that guy (who seemed so much older than me then, but was probably just 14 or 15 years old) who calmed me down enough to get me on the ride and then asked me how I was doing when I got off. I actually liked it. Despite those adrenaline-driven feelings of euphoria, I would later have a recurring nightmare about the coaster derailing in the corkscrew portion of the ride, sailing off the track and landing in the thatch roof of the safari gift shop nearby. Guess I was still a little scared…

In the intervening years since my season pass days I have not been back to the park much, except for Winterfest, which I loved. It was sold to Paramount and became Parmount’s Kings Island, or PKI (which I always thought was lame), in 1993. The new owners promptly killed Winterfest and, thus, my interest in the place. I was getting a little older, too.

The few times I went back – usually when a friend had a free ticket – I left disappointed at how dull the place looked. The Festhaus no longer had the stage or its German theme (though the glockenspiel is still above the Festhaus’s main entrance, it’s appears to no longer work, with one of the little wooden people half out the left door – it looks awful).

They no longer serve sauerkraut and potato pancakes in the Festhaus. It’s LaRosa’s pizza and Panda Express, for God’s sake (I need to talk to management about that). The representation and acknowledgment of Cincinnati’s German heritage has been allowed to wither away, then was lightly painted over. But they still call it the “Festhaus.” I wanted to barf.

Let’s just say the Festhaus pissed the living shit out of me and I’ll leave it at that. (That feels better.)

Safe to say: The park just does not look itself these days. It is no longer well cared for anymore. Many of the buildings need paint, grass needs to be mowed, weeds pulled, mulch put down, pavement repaired. Light bulbs were burnt out throughout the park. The bathrooms were disgusting. And not trying to sound like an old geezer or anything, but, kids, it just wasn’t that way when I was a youngin’. It used to feel magical being at that place.

But Saturday was not all bad. Not at all. I did have a great time with my company, aside from the two operators at “Delirium” (which is a very thrilling, great ride, by the way – at the site of the former King Cobra roller coaster) who had their PA system cranked way too high and felt it fun to keep talking on it while we all plugged our ears.

I rode The Beast (by far my favorite ride) twice – once in the daytime and another at night, just as the fireworks were about to begin – and got to hang out with my cousin, Marianne, who is in town from Grenada, and three of The Post’s very cool interns.

Marianne and I stayed past the fireworks, grabbing some Graeter’s on the way out. The interns left earlier in the day. All told, it was a great day.

And I guess I will be going back to Kings Island this year. I have a season pass again. It was a gift from my parents – the whole family got them this year to go with my nephew and three nieces. I am looking forward to sharing Kings Island with them, hoping they will build some memories and get to be like their old Uncle Joe, remembering what it was like and what ride was where when they were a kid.

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

4 thoughts on “The magic is back, for the most part…”

  1. Sounds like a fun day!

    I do agree with you about the condition of the park – it hasn’t been the same since Paramount took over.

  2. I worked at Kings Island for a summer back in high school…and I remember it being one of the best summers of my youth. I don’t know if I could call it ‘magical’ but it certainly was a great summer working with a bunch of young people like myself. If it weren’t for the commute I would have returned.

    *BTW, my home ride was the Wild Thornberry’s River Adventure (aka the smaller of the two log flumes).

  3. Melanie: It was a great day – a day better than most of the ones I’ve had there since my tween years. But also glad that I’m not the only one noticing that the place isn’t looking itself these days.

    Randy: I’ve had some fun jobs in my life – vendor at Riverfront Stadium, roller rink deejay, walk-around character at Chuck E. Cheese (yeah, I was Chuckie) – and I never find those places too exciting to go to anymore. I always think about what it was like to work there. I always wanted to get a job working at Kings Island but feared two things might happen: I’d end up dreading the place and/or I’d get a job as roving broom-and-dustpan person sweeping up the cigarette butts and spilled ice cream cones of ungrateful patrons. I’m glad now I didn’t, because I still have great memories of the place.

  4. Dude, I was at Winterfest the winter of 2005. The scroge puppet told me to light my electric manorah.

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