Trish and I are big fans of theme parks, and consider ourselves experts. But honestly, early childhood for our girls was so dominated by Disney (Paris, Anaheim and Orlando) that our recent experience with ‘normal’ parks is lacking. We are trying to hit more non-Disney parks in the US and abroad and starting locally.
Kings Dominion is our closest, non-skanky, amusement park. (Sorry Six Flags America, but we’ve heard too many bad stories.) From some parts of DC it’s less than an hour away, but for us it’s closer to two without traffic.
We went on the weekend after Virginia schools open. The associated water park was closed, but the main park was nearly empty. I even recognized some of the same people over and over: the goth teenager, the mom with the rubik’s cube t-shirt, the young boy with roller-sneakers. The one-day cost ($45) is almost the same as a season pass (about $60) so locals get a good deal.
Food was okay. It was way better than Disney or Universal Studio’s but it’s still an amusement park. They had a Starbucks. Music was mostly oldies and it was generally inoffensive. It was clean.
The park isn’t designed very well. It takes a long time to get from place to place and the entrance/exits are oddly situated. There are no single rider lines, which is a real drag for us because we like to split up and hit an attraction multiple times, quickly. Bathrooms are hard to find.
But it’s about the rides, isn’t it?
No wait. It’s really about the roller-coasters, isn’t it?
Overall, the coasters don’t disappoint. The Volcano is in the top-50, Dominator is a record-holder for the largest inversion, and next year they will have to world’s third tallest coaster with a 305 foot drop.
The Volcano (see video on this post) is short (~1 min), but it’s a fun magnetic-launch, floorless, surprise coaster that you should do from the front the first time you do it. (Same goes for the Hulk at Universal Studios Orlando.) I don’t think it has much replay value, but Volcano is a memorable first-time ride.
Dominator, is a steel, floorless, highly enjoyable coaster with 4 inversions and a ~2 min ride. I could have ridden it many times.
The other 10 coasters are kinda meh, except two that find middle ground between kiddie coasters and adult mega-rides – a rare find in theme parks. One was the Scooby Doo coaster (below), on a wooden track that’s been in operation since 1974 and looks it. Avalanche, a bobsled style coaster, was Lily’s favorite, having no drops but lots of twists and turns. (She cried fearfully, but we made her get on. The rest of the day all she wanted to do was Avalance again. )
Other rides are decent. They put in a new laser-shoot, duck-hunt ride like Buzz Lightyear in Orlando. The girls would have done that more than twice if we hadn’t moved on. Nothing else was eye-catching except a drop ride, which I regretfully didn’t do. And there are two extra-pay rides: go karts, and a 150-foot free-fall bungee ride called Xtreem SkyFlyer.
There is a capable, but simple kiddie area. This trip, Emma and Lily have finally graduated from the kiddie rides. Our funniest moment of the day was when ‘Boo Boo’s flying chairs’ opened up. The girls excitedly got on, but the thing barely moved. Emma had to pick up her feet to avoid scraping the ground. On Emma’s first time around, she gave the attendant a WTF? look. The second time around she yells ‘Turn it on, MAN’. And the third time, exasperatedly, ‘Okay, can I get off this thing then?’. It was shortly over.
Good park. We’ll go again although I think we would be dissapointed if it got too crowded. It’s not good enough to stand in line for an hour per ride. Any tips on what time of year to go?
Go to Great Adventure. They have some great areas for the kids. Most people are familiar with the Kingda Ka (which is pretty awesome), but of all the parks I’ve been to, the Nitro is without a doubt my favorite coaster. It is just a great smooth ride and the seating is so unique.
Yeah, it’s on our list. And people like El Toro too.
It’s a little far away (3.5 hours from us) but we can meet family and old friends there too, something we can’t do in DC.