Coasting into another season
|If you go|
Tarentum native and entertainment author Charles Jacques knows a thing or two about what makes a good roller coaster.
At last count, he has ridden 470 of them in North America and Great Britain, including 10 new ones last year.
Like any good coaster enthusiast, Jacques is chomping at the safety bar to ride Kennywood Park’s new Phantom’s Revenge when it is completed this spring (anticipated before Memorial Day).
Park management is taking what it believes are the best elements of the Steel Phantom coaster, closed after last season, and transforming it into the Phantom’s Revenge.
New is a 230-foot-long ravine under the Thunderbolt. The four inversions are gone from the old coaster, and the second drop has been lengthened to 232 feet for increased speed.
The track exits between the Thunderbolt and the Turtle ride. The shoulder harnesses that pinned riders into their seats have been removed, replaced by a lap-bar restraining system allowing for a more free ride experience.
‘I think it’s a great idea,’ Jacques says. He is the author of four books on amusement parks, including two on Kennywood, is former editor of the national Amusement Park Journal and is a member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts, as well as past president of the National Carousel Association.
‘The part they saved from the Steel Phantom is the really good part, that wonderful first turn, then going up and going down through the Thunderbolt,’ Jacques adds. ‘That really always was the good part. It’s going to be very, very fast and a lot smoother.’
Jacques details his love of Kennywood coasters in his books ‘Kennywood: Roller Coaster Capital of the World’ and ‘More Kennywood Memories’ (both available in bookstores).
His favorite coaster in the world always will be the Thunderbolt, he says.
‘Any coaster is a good one when you can ride it 20 times in a row,’ he says. ‘What makes a good roller coaster is a ride that ends up doing something from beginning to end, that really does not have any slow periods. And I would much prefer a smooth ride rather than one that knocks you around. I’ve ridden some coasters across America in the last five years that almost beat the death out of you.’
‘Smooth’ really is the word with the Phantom’s Revenge, says Rich Henry, Kennywood’s director of facilities. ‘We’re looking forward to an exciting season with it. It will be an exciting ride you will want to get back on.’
He says the amusement industry will be watching closely to see how the Phantom’s Revenge is received. ‘This is the the first time a major change has been made on a steel roller coaster, just as the Thunderbolt was the first time there was a change on a wooden roller coaster. It was tremendously successful and still is,’ he says.
‘Tradition’ is another word when you are talking about Kennywood’s success, says Carl Hughes, park chairman emeritus.
‘That’s what it means to the people here. That, of course, is the nature of the park. It is a traditional amusement park,’ he says. ‘I was pleased when I saw the California Adventure (park) Disney spent I-don’t-know-how-many-millions–on. When they put in a rocket ship, a wooden coaster and a Ferris wheel, they truly built a traditional amusement park. It was just flattering that, after all these years, they copied us a little bit.’
There are very few traditional amusement parks left, he says.
While there always seems to be something new at Kennywood, many people come back for a sense of tradition, adds Mary Lou Rosemeyer, the park’s public relations director. ‘It’s the memories they made here as they grow up and bring their own families,’ she says. ‘It’s always a surprise for people when they come for the first time. This isn’t just a little bitty park. It’s a beautiful, beautiful amusement park. I think they are surprised at the variety that makes Kennywood Kennywood.’
That connection with the past is important, she says. ‘I watch people on (old rides like) the Kangaroo and the Turtle, and they still have a really good time. Little children can care less if they are new or old. They have fun on those rides. That’s the bottom line: to come and have fun.’
People have been doing that at Kennywood for 103 years.
The Parkside Cafe, one of the the park’s original buildings, has been refurbished with new windows, doors, awnings and lighting.
The Crazy Trolley, a new kiddie ride, is expected to open sometime in May.
The games department has unveiled some new diversions, including ‘Bombs Away,’ in which participants attempt to throw balls into a – surprise! – toilet bowl.
‘We do this kind of stuff all the time,’ says Rich Kimak, who oversees the games and gift shops. ‘There are not too many new games in the world. ÔBombs Away’ is a play on the peach basket games, which has been around for 50 years, at least. We took it another step further. We were looking for a big baskety-type container. My assistant Dan Hanchulak was in a home store at the time and passed the toilets. He said, ÔHey, that’s a big bowl, just like a basket.’ ‘
Inspiration was born and is translating into more fun for visitors.
Kimak believes Kennywood is generous with its prizes. ‘We try to make our game prizes the most exciting people can find in the country. When they walk by, they have to have that,’ he says. ‘We try to make sure our games give out a lot of stuff. We go through probably more than 50, 50-foot trailers of plush prizes,’ he says.
Kennywood changes and stays the same, Henry says. ‘We’ve kept a lot of the older rides and the charm of Kennywood,’ he says. ‘We’ve got a great mixture of the most modern high-tech and high-speed rides and some of the classics you can’t find in any other park any more. They are still kept up and are in great condition. It’s kind of neat you can experience the new and old.’