When I was growing up in Virginia in the 1980s, Kings Dominion offered me some of my first and most memorable roller coaster experiences -- from Grizzly's rumbling ride through the woods, to Rebel Yell's head-to-head duel, to the forward and backward shuttle loop of the now-defunct King Kobra.
During a recent visit to Kings Dominion, I expected the fleeting summer memories of my once-a-year trips to my "home park" to come rushing back to me. But mostly I was taken by how much even the familiar things had changed. I remembered Grizzly being more shrouded in trees, Rebel Yell being faster and Anaconda being scarier.
In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised at how unfamiliar the park was to me -- both of us are more than a quarter-century older now. But, like long-lost friends, we became quickly reacquainted, reminisced about the old times and made a few new memories.
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Located just outside Richmond, Va., Kings Dominion traces its history to 1975, when the park was built by Ohio-based Taft Broadcasting, which had opened Kings Island in Ohio in 1972. Kings Dominion became part of Paramount Parks in the early 1990s and was sold to Cedar Fair in 2006.
Kings Dominion's eclectic ride collection ranges from classic wooden coasters to one-of-a-kind steel behemoths to state-of-the-art thrill machines.
Before my trip, I was excited to climb aboard a number of rare rides, including the top-billed Intimidator 305, the odd-ball Volcano and the not-long-for-this-world Shockwave. While there were a few disappointments (I'm looking at you, Flight of Fear), there were several unexpected surprises as well.
Let's take a closer look at Kings Dominion's top 10 roller coasters:
1) Intimidator 305: At 305 feet tall and with speeds reaching 90 mph, Intimidator 305 is one of the tallest and fastest coasters in the world. The $25-million ride built by Switzerland-based Intamin is known as a giga coaster, a designation for coasters over 300 feet tall. The ride pays tribute to the late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, known at The Intimidator, with trains themed to his black No. 3 race car. Following the first season, a high-speed turn was widened to reduce the G-forces experienced on the coaster after riders reported greying or blacking out at the bottom of the initial 300-foot drop. Since the ride's 2010 debut, Intimidator 305 has remained in the Top 25 of Amusement Today's Golden Ticket Awards for best steel coasters. During my visit, I found Intimidator 305 to be relentlessly intense. The drop was steep, the turns were extreme and the twists were tight.
2) Volcano: The Blast Coaster: The $20-million ride built by Intamin in 1998 was the world's first launched inverted coaster. Following the second of two launches, a vertical section of track simulates an eruption with the train shooting out the top of the man-made volcano. A unique roll-out element at 155 feet in the air remains one of the tallest inversions in the world. For a first-timer like me, Volcano was packed with unexpected surprises and near-miss elements that left me wondering what's next.
3) Dominator: The Bolliger & Mabillard floorless coaster features five inversions, including a cobra roll and interlocking corkscrews. The ride's 135-foot-tall vertical loop remains one of the tallest in the world. After starting life in 2000 as Batman: Knight Flight, the coaster was relocated from Geauga Lake following the closure of the Ohio amusement park in 2007. I loved the twin passes through the interlocking corkscrews.
4) Rebel Yell: The racing wooden coaster was designed by renowned ride builder John C. Allen and built by Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters in 1975. Featured in the 1977 movie "Rollercoaster," the 85-foot-tall ride reaches more than 50 mph over twin tracks each stretching nearly 3,400 feet. Rebel Yell was named an American Coaster Enthusiasts Coaster Landmark in 2003. During my recent visit to the park, I found Rebel Yell to be a little slower than I remembered from my youth but just as fun as it was a quarter-century ago.
5) Grizzly: The wooden coaster with the double-figure eight layout races for more than 3,000 feet through a wooded forest. Grizzly was built by Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters in 1982 with a design based on the defunct Wildcat coaster at Ohio's Coney Island park. Grizzly was the popular "new" ride when I was a kid and still holds up pretty well after all these years.
6) Woodstock Express: The 1974 wooden coaster was also designed by John C. Allen and built by Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters. Woodstock Express was the biggest surprise of my visit, offering a lot of hop for a little ride. It's a bit of a tight fit for most adults and a little rough on the knees, but the family ride remains the perfect first coaster for many kids visiting the park.
7) Hurler: The unusual name references the 1992 Paramount film "Wayne's World," whose characters often used the word "hurl." The ride originally featured a queue that passed through Wayne and Garth's basement hangout. The 3,100-foot-long out-and-back wooden coaster was built by Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters in 1994. An identical Hurler debuted at Carowinds the same year. I found Hurler to be jaw-rattling in the turns but still tons of fun for an older wooden twister.
8) Avalanche: Built by German-based Mack Rides, Avalanche's coaster train travels inside a trackless chute that mimics the experience of an alpine bobsled run. The 1988 ride is one of the last bobsled coasters still operating in the world, according to Roller Coaster Database. Such coasters first gained popularity in the 1930s but fell out of favor after the 1980s. The fun family ride was filled with plenty of 90-degree banked turns and swooping S-curves that proved much better than expected.
9) Backlot Stunt Coaster: With trains designed to look like sports cars, the Premier Rides themed coaster features special effects such as pyrotechnics, water blasts and simulated machine gun fire from a hovering helicopter. The triple-launch coaster was briefly themed to the car chase scene from "The Italian Job" when the ride debuted in 2006. Similar rides were introduced at Canada's Wonderland and Kings Island the year before. During my visit, the thematic elements and special effects of Backlot Stunt Coaster looked like they could use some TLC.
10) Anaconda: The 1991 Arrow Dynamics looping coaster features an underwater tunnel and four inversions, including a 90-foot-tall sidewinder and a double corkscrew. The 128-foot-tall ride reaches 50 mph over a 2,700-foot-long track. The elements over, near and even under the water help keep the aging coaster fun for new generations of riders.
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