Monday, March 31, 2014

NPN Exclusive: Dorney Park's 2014 Wildwater Kingdom Expansion Update

2014 is all about a bigger, better and wetter Wildwater Kingdom at Allentown, PA's Dorney Park.  For Wildwater Kingdom's 30th anniversary, the park is spending over $8 million to add an enormous new six slide tower named Snake Pit to the lineup, refurbishing existing attractions, performing major cosmetic and infrastructure changes and renovating amenities left and right.  When all is done, Wildwater Kingdom will look better than ever before.  How do I know?  The park was kind enough to invite me out for a tour to see the changes underway and share them with our readers.  With so much going on there is a lot of ground to cover, on with the tour!

Curently the parking area adjacent to Wildwater Kingdom is a sea of colorful slide pieces.  Once they arrived at the park and were unpacked the process of assembling them began.  Above is one of the unique sections of the Boa Blasters, two of the new slides that utilize single or double tubes for the ride down.  Some parts of the tubes are lined with colorful transparent sections, varying widths apart, that will enhance the sense of speed for riders.  You can get a nice feel for how brightly the sun shines through the colored sections in the photo above, especially in the back of the slide where it is darker.

These assembled sections are for the Constrictor, another one of the new slides that make up Snake Pit.  Constrictor is made of four 360 degree helices that are extremely tight in radius, creating some of the tightest turns in the industry.  That translates to some extreme banking for the riders, and an experience that sets it apart from other slides.

This is just one part of the area where the slide pieces are being kept.  All of these have already been assembled by workers since they are shipped to the park in stacks.  The pieces in the foreground are somewhat transparent so that riders can be seen by folks on the ground as they zoom downward.  They will eventually form the three courses of the Python Plummet, body slides that start with the floor dropping out from beneath riders' feet.  The floor drop start to a body slide is all the rage in the water park industry right now, with several parks also debuting them in 2014.

Seen above at the top, workers in the staging area first put together the two halves of one slide section - holding things steady with some temporary supports.  Once each section is completed, a handful of them are connected to form a larger segment of the slide.  That process is taking place in the photo on the bottom.  The assembled sections can't get too big, however, since they have to be carefully lifted into the park at some point.

And once they are lifted into the park, they patiently wait in another holding area.  Wildwater Kingdom is using this open space by the original wave pool to store completed sections.  It's not too far from where Snake Pit is going up, so as construction allows these sections can be taken over and put into place.

Moving inside Wildwater Kingdom from the parking area, the changes and improvements for 2014 quickly become obvious.  Pretty much every single building in the park has received a vibrant new paint scheme.  Above are a few of those, but everywhere you look are bright colors on everything from food stands down to the restrooms.

Snake Pit has caused the removal of the Oasis pool, but this year the section where grown ups can relax with an adult beverage will move near Wildwater Cove.  The adjacent cabanas will also receive all new coverings, furniture and amenities, and are currently stripped down to their support structures.  Around the whole park new lounges and chairs will be available for guests as well.

As I hinted at earlier, change can be seen almost everywhere inside Wildwater Kingdom.  Once you enter the park and move to the left around the changing rooms, you're hit with just how substantial the improvements are going to be.  Above is the view as you enter the area that used to be home to lockers and repurposed picnic pavilions that dated back to the park's opening.  It wasn't the nicest section of the park, and management has decided to totally clear it and change it into a more modern and useful area.  A 'do over,' you could say.

The structure going up in the foreground of this photo will be a new home for many of the water park's lockers.

© Dorney Park, used with permission
The new building will contain rows of lockers that park guests need for their day in the sun, though the lockers will be electronic and function based off a pin number the guests select instead of a traditional key.  These lockers were added to Cedar Point last year, and will make the renting process simpler and faster.  The drawing above is of the structure that will house the new lockers, painted in vibrant colors that will match the rest of the park.  Just as with the previous lockers, the new structure will have two entrances so guests may still access them once the water park closes for the day.

Beyond the new locker structure, where several old pavilions were, will be a new shaded 'market' area, filled with seating for guests.  In the photo above there isn't much more than leveled ground, but the new structures will go up quickly.  The area is located just around the corner from one of the largest selections of food outlets at Wildwater Kingdom, so the additional seating will be welcomed - and so will the shade on a hot July day!

© Dorney Park, used with permission
These plans show more of how the new seating area will fit into the construction site seen in the last photo.  The covers will also give a splash of color to the area, which before felt a bit awkward and definitely was under utilized.  All new walkways will be poured along the stretch as well, totally transforming the look of the area.

Moving further into the park we find even more torn up sections, above is the path that leads between Aqua Racer and Jumpin' Jack Splash.  Back when Aqua Racer was added this became a tight squeeze, as there used to be a large landscaped island in the middle of the area.  The park decided to break up that congestion and has removed much of island - some can be seen on the far right - to help the flow that will be moving toward the all new Snake Pit.  If you look close you can see workers pouring the new curbs for the paths.

The addition of Snake Pit has required some dramatic changes in the center of the park.  For the structure to fit properly the splash pool for Jumpin' Jack Splash had to be removed.  This slide tower has a lower height restriction and thus is especially popular with the younger crowd that is not ready for the more daring slides.  Above is the former pool all filled in, with gravel placed on top and leveled.

The removal of the catch pool also meant the removal of the large fake rockwork that once was home to some short slides that dropped into it.  When completed the Jumpin' Jack Splash slides will each finish in a trough that will extend to the concrete base on the far left of the above photo.  Personally I'm thankful that the park was able to keep these slides amid the construction, since they fit a specific demographic.
© Dorney Park, used with permission
Before we take a look at the construction of Snake Pit, here is a view of the new slides from above, set onto the existing park.  As you can see the new slide tower takes up a lot of real estate and a big area had to be cleared for it.  That meant some changes had to be made with regard to existing attractions.

This is how Snake Pit will look when finished, since it is technically a clone of the attraction that opened at Worlds of Fun's Oceans of Fun last summer.  Original concept art for Snake Pit had the slides shown in different colors, but after seeing the pieces in the parking lot I can confirm that they are the same as in the above image.  

In this vantage point, Aqua Racer would be on the right, and the catch pool for Snake Pit is on the far left.  The entire area has been changed, as there were originally a series of pools that ran through this land.  They started with the catch pool for Jumpin' Jack Splash, moved down into one for the lily pads, and then there was the final one for the Oasis.  That last pool would have been right in the foreground - now Snake Pit's Python Plummet body slides will have their run outs in the area.

This view was taken to the left of the one above, looking ahead at the whole construction area.  You can see the catch pool already poured for the Boa Blaster and Constrictor tube slides in the foreground.  The cement structure seen further back on the left is the start of the mechanical building for the new slide tower.  Much further back on the hill are some completed footings for the tower, with others currently being worked on.  When completed the Snake Pit tower will stand 65 feet tall, around ten feet shorter than Lightning Falls - the slide tower seen in the background center - quite imposing if you ask me!

This area has been leveled out dramatically - there was an elevation change here originally where water from the Oasis pool fell into the final part of Riptide Run, and from a pathway perspective it created stairs that led to no where.  All that has been smoothed out and a nice new walkway will surround the new slides.

A big part of the expansion for 2014, taking up nearly half the budget, is the refurbishment and improvement of several popular existing attractions.  Aquablast, the park's hugely popular family raft ride, has received an all new tower support structure made of galvanized steel - sure to help the slide stand for another generation at least.  While replacing the existing one, the park also added additional stairs to help with capacity and for a new program at the park this year, Fast Lane Plus.

Like at other Cedar Fair parks, Fast Lane Plus gets riders on especially popular attractions with minimal waits, and at Dorney Park that means water park rides.  Included in the "Plus" list are Aquablast, both lazy rivers, Aqua Racer and all the slides that make up Snake Pit.  New entrance paths are being created at all the participating attractions, which also means another new staircase will go up on the side of Aqua Racer.

As a special treat, I got to head up to the very highest part of Lightning Falls to get a better view of the work taking place.  Above (when you stop staring at the nice shot of Talon) is the expansive area currently torn up that will be home to the new lockers (the pad on the left) and the Market seating area.

© Dorney Park, used with permission
And in case you had any trouble visualizing how the new setup with be, here are the blueprints for that area on top of the existing park.

Here's two photos that show just how much the area for Snake Pit has changed.  The top photo is looking down at the overall construction site, and the bottom one is an aerial view of the area last year.  The red X is where I took the photo from, to help those not familiar to see how dramatically different this section is.  The series of pools are gone, along with Riptide Run coming down the hill.  All the elevation changes have been smoothed out, which will make navigating the park easier for visitors.

Panning left from the first view, the work next to Aqua Racer is visible.  This includes the new slide run outs for Jumpin' Jack Splash and all the midway changes.  Also if you look close you can see a section of assembled purple slide in the deep end of the wave pool - soon that whole area will be filled up with pieces before they are placed on the towers.

Many footers for Snake Pit are completed, but others are still being poured.  The optimistic hope is that the structure will start to go up within a couple weeks.  Once that process starts it won't take long to have everything up since so many slide sections are already assembled. 

It is not often that you're at the top of a water slide with such a great vantage point - so I figured I'd take as many photos as possible.  This overview shows all of the slide pieces coming together before being brought into the park, with Wildwater Kingdom's second wave pool, Wildwater Cove, in the foreground.  The white looking piles further back are actually the support structure for Snake Pit wrapped and glimmering in the sun.

This is a different view of Aquablast's new support tower with some work still taking place on the new set of stairs.  The attraction will also receive several hundred feet of queue space (previously only the stairs were the queue) at the base of the tower where the "kid wash" was.  That relic has been removed and now the attraction's line will no longer flood out onto the midway.

Finally, something most have expressed the desire for will take place - Island Water Works will undergo a full repaint and refurbishment.  As you can see all those years of spilling chlorinated water has taken its toll - but it is sure to look like brand new once work is complete.

There you have it, a comprehensive look at what's going on at Wildwater Kingdom at the moment.  Many thanks to the park for sharing what's going on - we will be sure to check back in as work continues.  Dorney Park opens for the 2014 season on May 2nd, and Wildwater Kingdom opens on May 24th.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Carowinds Kicks Off 2014 Season

© Jay via Carowinds Connection
I must admit, I was looking forward to seeing if any construction had started on Carowinds' big 2015 coaster project when the park opened this weekend - alas it was not meant to be.

There are a lot of other fun changes at the park to check out, however.  I love a nice, concise look at what's different, and this post over at Carowinds Connection does that perfectly.

The park's Sky Coaster has been moved and renamed, and the go-karts closed for good (both presumably for the aforementioned coaster project), and one coaster has a shiny new paint job.  There's also some big food changes coming to the park, including a new Chickie's and Pete's.  Also, and seen at the top, Carowinds is building a large new dining structure, named the Harmony Hall Marketplace.  It will have different food outlets within it along with live entertainment.

Plus, the park will open new waterslides this summer!  Those aren't finished yet, but work has certainly begun. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Casino Pier Adds Three New Rides for 2014

After last summer's triumphant return from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey's Casino Pier will again expand in 2014 with the addition of three new rides.

The first, pictured above, is a Musik Express.  The park had one of these before it was destroyed by the storm, so fans will remember the thrilling fun and thumping beats the Musik Express provides.  Just like its predecessor, the new ride will also travel backwards to add another thrill into the mix.

The second new ride will be equally thrilling, an Air Race from Zamperla.  The wild ride places riders in plane-themed cars that zoom, soar, and invert as the entire attraction spins.  The Air Race ride has quickly become one of the latest and greatest in the industry.  For smaller riders, the park will also add a Zamperla Jump Around, featuring buggies that kids can ride in that gently move up and down.

Casino Pier is still planning on rebuilding their upper deck, the part of the park that used to be home to their roller coaster.  Once the rebuild is complete it sounds like coaster thrills will once again return to the park!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Zumanjaro Nearly Complete at Six Flags Great Adventure

© Six Flags Great Adventure
This one is certainly not for those who are afraid of heights!  Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, NJ, is nearly finished with installing the three drop tower tracks that will make up Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom.  When complete and opened, the new attraction will take the record for the world's tallest drop ride, standing a dizzying 415 feet tall.  This photo shows off the three orange drop tower tracks that have been added to the front side of the Kingda Ka roller coaster's tower.

© Six Flags Great Adventure
With only four pieces of orange track yet to be added, the park is almost done with the heavy lifting portion of construction.  There's still plenty of electrical and mechanical work to be completed before Zumanjaro is complete.  High winds held off the completion of the track so far, but plans are to place the final pieces on Monday - weather permitting.

“Wind is certainly a factor at 415 feet,” said Mike Fatovic, construction supervisor at Six Flags Great Adventure. “It can seem very calm on the ground, and sometimes it is a very different story at the top of the tower.”

© Six Flags Great Adventure
According to the park, "following the topping off, the construction, maintenance and engineering teams will focus on adding three gondolas that will whisk riders to the top of the tower, installing the lift mechanism—a winch and cable system--and ride controls, followed by extensive ride testing, inspections and certification before the first passengers board the ride later this spring."  Just when exactly will you be able to get in line for a drop on Zumanjaro?  The park is officially planning a Memorial Day Weekend debut.  Count me in!

© Six Flags Great Adventure
They actually arrived a while ago, but here is one of the three gondolas that will be installed on each of the orange tracks.  Eight passengers at a time will go up to 415 feet, pause briefly to take in the amazing view, then plummet down at an astonishing 90 miles per hour.

The park also released some footage of the tower that really helps to show the immense size of the attraction.  This is going to be one stellar ride and I cannot wait!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Aquatica Orlando Tops Off Ihu's Breakaway Falls

Last night Aquatica Orlando added the top to Ihu's Breakaway Falls, completing the structure and making the tower stand the full height of 105 feet.  The roof structure that was added to the slide tower weighs an impressive 53,000 pounds and covers 1,000 square feet.  The roof gives the slide a nice 'complete' look, and should provide some shade for both guests and workers.

As you can see there's still slide pieces to be installed, but the twisted nature of the new slide is already apparent.  Three of the tower's slides will start with a 'breakaway' box that drops the floor out from below rider's feet.  The fourth slide, which you can see on the far left of the above photo, will start from a more traditional laying position.  Ihu's Breakaway Falls will open at Aquatica Orlando on May 9th.

Scott And Carol Present - A ride on Dollywood's FireChaser Express!



Here is a video giving you a front seat ride on FireChaser Express, the only roller coaster in North America that launches you forwards, backwards, and has a traditional lift hill in the middle. It includes the soundtrack for Crazy Charlie Cherriebaum's Gas and Fireworks Emporium, but if you want to see the whole show you should go to Dollywood and sit towards the back of the coaster. If you missed the original story, you can find it here.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Exploring the Treats in Pantopia at Busch Gardens Tampa

Busch Gardens Tampa's latest webisode gives us a look at the new area surrounding Falcon's Fury, known as Pantopia.  The new themed area features not only bright colors and a fresh look, but also new retail and food locations.

The Painted Camel Bazaar will offer shoppers a unique selection of goods, and the store itself is filled with recycled items from the construction of the area.  The recycled items are used as both decoration and functional display areas, an example of the park's commitment to the environment.

I must admit that I'm a tad bit hungry as I write this, so the next item to cover is driving me a bit nuts.  Pantopia will also be home to the Twisted Tail Pretzel, where you can get every sort of pretzel known to mankind - salted, cinnamon, pretzel sandwiches, hot dogs and more.  But the mother of all pretzel creations is above, and that is the Bacon Pretzel Fury.  Applewood bacon is twisted along with the pretzel and baked to perfectness - and will only be available in Pantopia.

The park promises one last webisode with a peek from the top of Falcon's Fury - till then I gotta go get a snack!

Horror Comes to San Francisco with Merlin's Dungeon

I've never been able to visit one, but I've always thought that the "Dungeon" attractions that Merlin Entertainment operates throughout Europe seem pretty interesting.  A mix of horror comedy based on history, the attractions are like mini-parks that have a couple experiences that tell the dark stories of the area's past.

Now, I might have a much better chance of visiting one as Merlin has announced the San Francisco Dungeon, set to open in summer 2014.  The attraction will be located in the famous Fisherman's Wharf area, already a popular tourist destination.

"The San Francisco Dungeon highlights 200 years of San Francisco’s past with tales from the early missions of San Francisco, through the Gold Rush and to the beginning of Alcatraz. As a 60-minute experience, it will guide visitors on a walk-through journey of nine actor-led shows, featuring dozens of authentic local stories, 360-degree theatrical sets, special effects and an underground boat ride. The attraction is designed to make guests laugh and jump in a live action journey featuring stories spotlighting the “underbelly” of the city’s history, with tales of Shanghai Kelly, Miss Piggott’s Saloon, Gangs of San Francisco and Alcatraz."

“Through a storytelling journey, The San Francisco Dungeon sheds a whole new light on San Francisco’s rich and authentic history,” said Adrea Gibbs, General Manager.  “Against the backdrop of vibrant sets, authentic costumes and detailed make-up, our actors will portray characters from specific periods in history to tell the stories of San Francisco. It will not only deliver scary fun, but provide a walk into the Bay Area’s unique past,” added Gibbs.

It sounds as if this opening is a bit of a test for the American market - if successful I would expect to see plenty more Dungeons open up in cities across the nation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Miracle Strip @ Pier Park Shows Off New Starliner Coaster Animation

Plans continue to move forward in the quest to see the famous Starliner rebuilt at the all-new Miracle Strip @ Pier Park.  The park is opening next month and has already made it clear that they intend to rebuild the Starliner in 2015.  Now with a new animation of the coaster released, we're able to get a much more clear idea of the park's plans.

The first thing that I noticed is that the new Starliner is obviously being designed by Great Coasters International!  The second thing is that in order for the ride to fit in the new park, the lift hill and drop had to be turned 90 degrees from the main section of the ride.

That means the new Starliner (or Starliner 2.0 as the park has called it) will not be an exact replica or 'rebuilt' at Miracle Strip @ Pier Park as it was when it moved to Cypress Gardens.  Purists will also notice that while the ride's track generally follows the same layout, it's been amped up a bit using GCI's trademark moves.  There's also some changes to the size of the air hills on the return run, with one larger one appearing to replace some of the smaller bumps.

With the lift hill turned that also means there's a curving first drop, one of the larger changes that came with the rearrangement. 

I would think the new Starliner would have Millennium Flyer trains
You could really say that the new Starliner will be "inspired" by the original John Allen design, but looks to be a brand new ride from GCI from the ground up.  With the cost of actually using the old structure, trains, etc - I can't say I'm surprised the park just went with a totally new ride.  For comparison, here's a link to a point of view of Starliner when it was at Cypress Gardens.

There's also some similarities between the new Starliner and White Lightning at Fun Spot, another GCI ride in Florida.  I would guarantee changes will be made to the design before it goes up, hopefully as planned in 2015, but this sure is exciting news!

Scott And Carol Present Dollywood's Firechaser Express

Dollywood created a second firefighter themed ride, with the first being Blazing Fury, to commemorate the volunteer fire departments that protected the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the 1940's. And last Friday Dolly revealed it to the world.

She invited volunteer firefighters from all around the area to help with the celebration. Here she is directing them to speed up their bucket brigade so "we can get this ride open." 

Once the full bucket tipped the scale, the bell rang, and the inaugural launch took place. Here is a look at FireChaser Express as it is launched from the station and travels through the first half of it's course.

This pictures epitomizes what Dollywood expected from FireChaser Express. Children 39 inches tall, their parents, and their grandparents all riding together. And from the smiles, everyone seems to have found something to like on the new attraction. 


Sweeping banked turns with gentle drops and floating airtime, FireChaser Express launches forwards and backwards, with a traditional  lift hill in the middle.

There is also a brief visit to Crazy Charlie Cherriebaum's Gas and Fireworks Emporium.

We caught up with the President of the Dollywood Company Craig Ross, who took a few minutes out of his very busy day to share his insight on FireChaser Express and  Mother Africa, the show headlining The Festival of Nations.

Through the fire tower and around the waterfall, expended fireworks litter the mountain after the Crazy Charlie's experience. With some toppled telephone poles thrown in for good measure, the fourteen passenger trains take a fun ride before returning to the station.

The station is finely detailed, like most public buildings were in the 1940's, and the trains have lots of extras also. This is an example of the extensive theming throughout Dollywood.  Scott was able to get Dollywood's Senior Art Director Ralph Nielson to share some details.

This old fire truck looks in good enough shape to respond to the call, and it really sets the stage for those wanting to go from "Zero to hero." Dolly hopes FireChaser Express will reinforce the belief that "We can all be heroes if we'll just step up and help others, whether it's in a small way or a big way." What a nice lesson from the "Volunteer State."

This video shows the complicated operation of FireChaser Express. If you look close, you can see how the track changes direction outside both the station and Crazy Charlie's. While riders of one train are being blown up, the track changes, another train launches out of the station, that track changes, and the train at Charlie's launches backwards to return to the station. There is so much going on, people gathered in the midway just to watch.

If you look closely, at the back of the first car you can see something different on FireChaser Express. Mounted to the track are green arms with rubber fingers. They are there to remind riders who might have played basketball in their day to pull their arms in, because of the railings coming up next to the track. This is required because of the wide variation in heights of the riders who choose to enjoy the roller coaster.

This is a cam action anti-rollback that Gerstlauer has begun using on their recent family coasters. The cars have a drive sword under the floor with a textured finish where the launch wheels engage, both forwards and backwards. If the train should somehow slip the lift chain, the cam locks pinch the drive sword and hold the trains still until they can resume the climb. They have the advantage of being quieter than regular anti-rollbacks, the better for riders to enjoy the sirens.

We also talked with Joel Manby, CEO of Hershend Family Entertainment Company about where Dollywood is headed for the future.

Here is the progress to date on the resort, you can see the construction crew working on Saturday to prepare for the next big expansion for Dollywood.

As we take a final look a FireChaser Express, we would like to say thank you to Dolly, Craig, Joel, and Ralph for their time. Also, a big thank you also to the crews of FireChaser Express and Wild Eagle, for their assistance. And Pete, we couldn't have done this story without all your help. Thanks!