Kennywood Park, located just outside Pittsburgh, is a large traditional amusement park that is celebrating its 86th season. There are four good (or great) roller coasters in the park, as well as a fine collection of older rides and more modern rides.
One of my childhood memories was of riding the Tumble Bug at Palisades Park, and Kennywood let me relive that memory with its Turtle, located right next to the Thunderbolt. They also have a Whip, a Paratrooper, three haunted-house ride-throughs, a Rotor, Pirate Ship, Musik Express, Flying Carpet, Swings, Kangaroo Ride (which was pretty cool!), Log Flume, Raging Rapids, Wonder Wheel, Paddle Boats.... The list goes on.
Parking at the park is free, and a ride all day ticket is $17 on the weekends. Individual ride tickets are also available.
The park is in great condition, and is very clean. All the employees we had contact with were very friendly and were happy to talk to us. One of the things that was a pleasant surprise, was the price of food and drink throughout the park. A cup of soda was $.90-$1.40, depending on size. This is much better than the $1.75 at most theme parks. All the food seemed very reasonably priced, even the world class french fries found at the Potato Patch, in front of the Thunderbolt. But enough about the park, let me tell you about the coasters.
This 1921 coaster classic is the first coaster you come to when entering the park, and is an outstanding ride. There really is no queue area to speak of, just a short line that runs next to the ride - gives you a quick visual indication of how long the wait is. I have no idea who made the trains, but they are a joy to ride. Lots of cushioning, fixed lap bars and a leather strap to go across your lap(s), and no seat dividers. The train they were running while we were there was pink, with layers and layers of old paint on it. My riding partner was someone who despises park-paint carousels, and she was less than enamoured with the paint job. There were two other trains off the side of the station.
The loading platform is very small, and they only let one train-ful of riders on it at a time. Subsequently, there really is no choose-your- seat option, but if you're in a good spot in line, you can walk to the car of your choice. You can ride solo or with 1 person, they don't care. A solid pull on the manual station brake, and you're off.
Turn around immediately after the station, right past all the people waiting in line, and then a nice short drop into a ravine. Up the other side, and into a tunnel. Unfortunately, not a very dark tunnel, nothing like the great Phoenix tunnel at Knoebel's. A pretty rough turnaround in the tunnel, and then down the ravine again and up onto the chain lift. Turnaround right after the lift and then the double dip. Or, more accurately, THEN THE DOUBLE DIP. This is a fantastic drop, giving immense air time, from the back of the train to the front. The first part of the drop gathers the speed, then you flatten out for a sec, a deliciously suspenseful second, and then the train drops out from under you. Why don't more coasters have this great feature? I had the chance to ride the second-to-back seat, with 2 friends in the back seat, and I turned around to watch them for the ride. The camelback drop (the DOUBLE DIP) gave them easily 8-12" of air underneath their butts. Up the other side of the ravine, turnaround giving a nice view of the RACER, down the final drop and back to the station.
The first thing you notice about the Racer (obviously) is the station. And what a station! Restored to its original look, unfinished wood latticework abound on the facade, with large neon R-A-C-E-R letters lighting up at night. The Racer is a continuous track racing coaster, meaning the train that leaves the station on the left side returns on the right side. You choose your seat and train from a central platform, making it easy for a group of friends to setup a race.
The trains are PTC, single lap bar with seat dividers. While we were there, they were only running one set of trains, one red and the other blue. At the sound of the bell, you're off.
Turnaround immediately after the station, through the structure, and then up the lift hill, the trains moving closer together as you reach the top. By the bottom of the first drop, the trains are close enough for riders on opposite trains to touch hands, pass objects back and forth, etc. Unlike other racing coasters, such as the Rebel Yell or Rolling Thunder, there is no dividing rail between the tracks. This is a coaster where a good group of people riding it makes a big difference. When we rode it in the morning as part of a club event, the trains were filled with enthusiasts, and everyone was hollering and hand slapping, and passing hats, and so on. It was a blast! Later that day, riding with the GP (general public), was quite different. No one was into putting their hands out, so it turned kind of boring.
I can't give you a blow-by-blow of the ride layout, but as a coaster it is just kind of there (IMHO). The drops are nice, the turns are nice, but nothing really stands out. It's the racing feature which makes this ride stand out, and if you have an uncooperative group of riders, it may not be a stellar experience. I may get flamed for this by Racer enthusiasts, but I was not terribly thrilled with this ride.
Oh yeah, this is more like it! To start with, it's a great ride to observe from the park. Unlike the Racer and the Jack Rabbit, which are pretty much hidden from view, the Thunderbolt's helix(?) 'mixing bowl' section are right there, in-your-face visible. This ride had the longest lines on one of the days we were there (Saturday), but was a walk-on on the other (Sunday). The station is small-ish, not as bad as the Jack Rabbit, but not terribly large. Fortunately, they let more than one train-full of riders on the platform, so you can choose your seat.
The trains are classic NAD (National Amusement Devices) headlight cars, and are both beautiful to look at and comfortable to ride. This was my first experience with NAD trains, and I was suitable impressed. I especially liked the padding for your knees, and the lack of seat dividers, seat belts, headrests, etc. Just a seat and a lap bar, the way it was intended.
Immediately out of the station, you are dropped down into a ravine, and the track for the Steel Phantom passes overhead. The back seat gives a bit of airtime going down this first hill, but not much. Turnaround, another drop and a pull up onto the lift hill. The front car gets some nice negative Gs cresting the hill with the chain lift. A short climb later, you are released into a 90 degree right-hander and dropped down into the 'mixing bowl'. For those of you with fragile bodies, make sure you DO NOT sit on the left side of the car! =:-> This one-and-one-half times around section of track is an absolute blast, with a lot of lateral G forces and slamming around. The person sitting on the right side has no choice but to repeatedly slam into the hapless victim on the left side, which could be a lot of fun, depending on your riding partner. At the end of this section, you make a braked 90 degree left turn, and start a long drop into the ravine the first 2 drops were in. The start of this drop should shoot the left-side rider up and over into the right-side rider for a hint of body-slam revenge!. A final turnaround (with a brake), and the last (and longest) drop, with some pretty strong positive Gs during the pullout at the bottom.
As is happens sometimes in life, the anticipation is sweeter than the actual experience. I have heard so much about the Phantom, and seen so much, I was totally revved up for this mega-steelie. Unfortunately, with the exception of the record-holding drop, there was not much to be happy about with this ride.
First thing is a LONG walk up a LONG narrow ramp paralleling the LONG lift hill. As you walk by the lift hill, you notice the very loud noise the car makes as it inches its way up the incline. What is it with Arrow coasters and their eardrum-busting chain lifts? You can hear the Steel Phantom's hill from way across the parking lot, much the same as with the Great American Scream Machine in SFGAd.
Once again, Kennywood saw fit to only run one train, a bright yellow standard Arrow steel coaster train. The loading platform is fairly enormous, and you can choose your seat. There's a separate queue for the front seat, and that's good - because that's where everyone was. For most of the day, the Steel Phantom was a walk-on, except for the front seat, where you might have to wait between 7 and 15 trains. With one train running, I never did get a front seat ride.
Leaving the station, you make a quick right and onto the chain. This is a lift hill you could knit on (and probably finish a nice sweater on). You could read a magazine, or get in a couple of hands of gin. Perhaps write a technical paper on the impact that mathematics has had on science. You get the point - it takes a LONG time to reach the top of this baby.
When you finally reach the top, you do a nice long swooping drop to the right, again like the GASM but reversed. At the bottom you straighten out for a preyy long section of straight track, and then up a hill. When you crest this hill, you are looking at (if you're lucky enough to be in the front seat) the longest drop of any roller coaster, 225' of steel tubing that ends under a section of the Thunderbolt. The drop ends in a sweeping, highly banked left-hander, and the feel of the speed is amazing - this train is really flying through this section. Unfortunately, it's also starting to get quite rough at this point. As you enter the vertical loop, there are brakes on the upslope, which make quite a racket.
After that, I'll have to leave you guessing. I don't remember what inversions were in what order, only that they don't last very long, and you are getting badly slammed around on this second half of the ride. I rode towards the front, in the middle, in the back, it didn't matter much. This is a head-slammer extraordinairre. Two consecutive rides was the most my group could handle, but I braved a couple more than that, as I thought the LONG walk back onto the train and the LONG lift hill cured any ill effects from the ride. Still, after 4 rides I was aching.
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