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Getting aHEAD of myself
Advisory Panel
Feb 12, 2011
It's taken me a while to get around to this, but there seems to be a variance in opinions over Kings Dominion's standing in the theme park world.  It's been said in other threads before, but I think we need a place to clearly explain exactly where Kings Dominion stands, and to clear up any confusion.

To begin, I would like to start with this comment:
Party Rocker pid=92237 dateline=1392339575 said:
In regards to Kings Dominion, I haven't been there because of the constant bad reviews I keep hearing. The most common complaints is there isn't a lot of shade mainly it is a parking lot park, the place is typically littered with trash on the pathways frequently, and the staff is overall rude. I do want to visit and form my own honest opinion of the park, but really why would I visit a place with a negative reputation that was only just recently starting to change. As the park is celebrating it's history recently and working on many renovation and quality projects, it's seemingly sounding better than what I have heard. It is making more and more inclined to visit, but I still don't get a good feeling about it.

Party Rocker is far from alone in saying this.  This is a very common thought about Kings Dominion either for those who have not visited the park ever, or those who last visited between the late 90's to the mid-2000's. While neither of these views are close to accurate in the present, I find it unacceptable that some people bag on the park without even having been there themselves.

I honestly don't think the park was ever as bad as described above, although the park certainly has cleaned up their act from where they once were.  First, let's examine what "where they once were" means by taking a look at the park's rich history.

Kings Dominion was constructed by the Taft Broadcasting company, the same company that built Kings Island in Ohio.  Kings Island, a tribute to legendary Coney Island, was built to be a larger version of the famed park. Kings Dominion, with its name derived from Kings Island and Virginia's nickname, the Old Dominion.  Kings Dominion opened officially in 1975, just two weeks before the opening of Busch Gardens just down the road in Williamsburg.

"Only Kings Dominion has five big worlds of fantasy" was the slogan of Kings Dominion during its run with the original owners.  Indeed it did.  One would find themselves walking into the grand entrance area, International Street, where magnificently detailed European and Asian buildings stood around a grand stretch of royal fountains, with a one-third scale replica of the Eiffel Tower standing at the end.  Old Virginia was next, a wooded and old-fashioned country-style area.  Candy Apple Grove, a charming midway dotted with giant candy apples, followed next.  Lion Country Safari, later Safari Village, was an African-themed section with tribal architecture and later the Lost World Mountain, a beautiful landmark.  For the kids, there was the Happy Land of Hanna Barbera, a trip into the world of the whimsical cartoons.  At the back of the park was the enormous Lake Charles, a massive body of water with a huge fountain topping it all off.

The almost two decades under the original owners, Kings Dominion was all about just having fun, everywhere you go.  While Busch Gardens always had the edge over them in terms of shrubbery and food, the greenery and food was still said to be very close to that of Busch Gardens.  There were live shows, street actors, and many other surprises- and, of course, thrilling rides.  Groundbreaking rides, from the Rebel Yell to the King Kobra to the Shockwave standup to the Grizzly, there were many exciting rides to try- but all still fit with the theming.

The last year under the original original owners saw the loss of two thirds of Lake Charles, which was mostly filled in to create the Hurricane Reef water park.  The remaining third remained because the Anaconda roller coaster took up residence over part of the lake.

The next season, Paramount bought out the Taft/KECO parks and for the first few years did fairly well; an ice skating show was even added to the Mason Dixon Music Hall/Paramount Theatre/Kings Dominion Theatre.  When Paramount became part of Viacom, however, is the time things started getting ugly.

Paramount began taking out classic park icons and everything beloved about the park (for those of you having trouble picturing this, see the Banbury Cross retheme thread...).  They plopped rides and roller coasters themed to Paramount movies everywhere, taking no care in matching the area's theme.  Safari Village lost a massive amount of theming in its transformation into Congo, and Candy Apple Grove pretty much lost its theming entirely when it became the Grove.  The park was becoming a coaster collector.  Show venues were ripped out in favor of rides, many of which didn't even work properly.  The food quality dipped.  The new children's area was really only half-done and quickly fell into disrepair. Instead of trying to keep up with Busch Gardens, Paramount didn't take the care to replace/remove the asphalt walkways or plant more trees. The shows the park did have lacked talent and were extremely lackluster. Pop music blared all over the place.  It was awful.

The last few years under the Paramount name, leading up to 2006, were horrible.  This is where the idea that Kings Dominion is an absolute wasteland stems from, undoubtedly.  The hot asphalt lining the midways was cracked, the horrid pop music was enough to drive people mad, and the place was really only good for unruly teen thrill seekers.

Then came the fateful day where Paramount announced its intentions to sell their amusement parks.  After a fierce bidding war, Cedar Fair emerged the winner after already having boatloads of debt.  

In 2007 "Paramount" was dropped from the park's name and the unsuccessful Hypersonic XLC coaster was removed, but for the most part things remained the same around the park.  In 2008, the relocated B&M coaster Dominator took up residence on International Street. This certainly didn't help deter the "coaster collector" image, but for the first time in ages it was actually a "quality" coaster.  2009 saw the addition of two more rides from the defunct Six Flags Geauga Lake park: a magic carpet-style ride and a Ferris wheel.  The park became much more Cedar Fair-ized as the last of the Paramount references were removed: rides were renamed, Nickelodeon Central was transformed into Planet Snoopy (in correlation with Cedar Fair's license with the Peanuts characters), and the wonderful interactive Boo Blasters on Boo Hill dark ride replaced the Scooby Doo and the Haunted Mansion's residence. Also new for the 2010 season was the Intamin giga coaster Intimidator 305. Oddly enough, Cedar Fair pulled a Paramount and plopped this Nascar-themed ride in the back of the park's Congo section.

2011 is when things really started to change.  Brick pavers started to replace the cracked asphalt.  Landscape islands were placed throughout the pathways.  New trees were planted, and the landscaping started looking better.  New paint was breathed onto International Street, and beautiful and fitting music made its way back to where it belonged.  Also in 2011 was the debut of Snoopy's Starlight Spectacular, a truly astonishing lights show on International Street's center street synced to unbelievable music; it really was (and still is) incredible.

2012 continued the break from the coasters, bringing us Windseeker, a fairly tame combination of a swing ride and an observation ride- it is incredible.  Dinosaurs Alive also opened in the Old Virginia section in 2012; while the attraction obviously isn't a perfect fit for the country-style theme, it's tucked well off to the side and fits perfectly deep in the woods adjacent to the Grizzly wooden coaster.  It really is a great educational, walk-through attraction with awesome animatronic dinosaurs at every turn in the woods.  With Dinosaurs Alive came an enriching 3D documentary film played in the park's air-conditioned Action Theater.

2013, in my mind, was an enormous leap for Kings Dominion.  No, we didn't see any giant coasters, but we saw tons of vast improvements all over the park.  Sure, some smaller things had been changed throughout the park earlier on, but the changes made in 2013 really made it a totally different park than what it was less than a decade before.  KidZville, the parks "ghetto" and rundown children's area was demolished and Planet Snoopy was expanded into the area.  This brought much-need life, brightness, and charm to the area and really made the entire front part of the park amazing.  Amazing. 2013 also saw a much-needed improvement in the entertainment lineup, with many more shows than the park had seen in decades.  Two fun new children's shows started up in Planet Snoopy.  A new stage was built and placed in one of the Grove's most bare areas, where two shows- a country show and a karaoke show would play. An epic BMX stunt show took up residence in the enormous Peanuts Showplace theater, and On Broadway was the first Broadway-style show the park would see in decades.  Dominion at Dusk also began in 2013, an after-dark summertime event including shows, fireworks, and Snoopy's Starlight Spectacular.

As I said, the front half of the park looked amazing in 2013.  As this would imply, the back half still needed some work.  Many improvements to the back half of the park (i.e. Congo, the Grove, Old Virginia) like added shade and greenery, pavers, and the like were added, but these areas desperately needed some love.

Then came the big announcement.  Kings Dominion would be celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2014 with beloved park icons making a return, with the entire park to get a revitalization (the fourth year in a row without a new thrill ride).  Not only would a few dying rides get some love, but so would the entire look and feel of the park.  While we have yet to see the improvements they are making in person, the construction photos we have seen and the news we have heard are already fantastic.  Much of the asphalt is being replaced with those pretty pavers.  Everything will seem alive and charming once again, just as it was 40 years ago.  We will see homage paid to the park's rich history all over, from new performances including live musicians to the park's famous Singing Mushrooms to just seeing the park be a place to have fun all over, once again.

This concludes the main history of Kings Dominion, but as this title suggests, I wish to explain what this all means.

People say Kings Dominion is a dump.  If this were 2006, then they would probably be spot-on.  Kings Dominion was indeed a coaster collector then, a teenage thrill seeker's paradise.  While they still offer many great coasters, Kings Dominion has definitely shifted their focus into the family market.  Instead of what they have done for many years by taking the approach opposite that of Busch Gardens, it seems as though they are trying to capitalize on Busch Gardens' market.  

A few years ago, Kings Dominion continually aired a commercial with a jingle singing "This place... has got it all!" This makes me think of exactly what Kings Dominion is now trying to do: have it all.  They already have thrill rides galore, so they're running that market to its full potential.  I'd be willing to bet someone high up in either Kings Dominion's or Cedar Fair's workings had the idea to try to dip into both markets: the thrill market they're already in, and the family market their closest competitor is after.  Clearly this is what Kings Dominion wants to do, they want to please both thrill seekers and families so they really do "have it all."

Referencing Party Rocker's post (again, this is in no way meant to be an attack on him- he shares this opinion with some fans and members of the general public, as well), he mentions overall rude employees.  This thought really gets me.  I can certainly conjure up some things about Kings Dominion I don't like (I try not to be biased and let my mind cloud my view on reality), but rude employees is just not one of them.  I was at Kings Dominion about fifteen times in 2013, and not once did I come across a rude employee. In fact, the employees are one of my favorite part of the park experience.  Many of them are very outgoing and pretty much everyone is very enthusiastic about their job- they all seem to have fun doing their jobs. And I'm not just talking about the ride ops (who, by the way, are great.  They're very engaging with the guests and often take advantage of their microphone by entertaining guests waiting in line and keeping them happy.).  The game operators sometimes sing, make jokes, or simply welcome guests as they walk by.  Even the security guards make sure we are not only safe, but happy- two of them even know us from always lining up at their posts and like to joke with us. Not once have I encountered a rude employee at Kings Dominion.

It's also stated that Kings Dominion "has no shade" or that it's a "concrete jungle."  This is a very biased opinion that is clearly, clearly false.  There are trees everywhere.  Some places are every bit as shady as Busch Gardens is.  The greenery and landscaping has also become much prettier lately.  The term "concrete jungle" really bugs me for a couple of reasons.  One, Kings Dominion never was covered in concrete- it was covered in asphalt. :p  If you are going to bag on the park, at least get your facts right!  Anyway, most of that concrete/asphalt has been removed anyway, in favor of brick pavers.  Kings Dominion is really a beautiful place to just spend the day and relax.  International Street in particular is just drop-dead spectacular.  

Kings Dominion has gone through an interesting (and somewhat rough) history. It went from great, to bad, to good, to great again.  I am in no way related to Kings Dominion, I don't work there; I'm just an avid fan of it.  In fact, I used to hate Kings Dominion because of its dumpiness- which is saying something since I was a kid and they had Spongebob. :p I really did used to share the hatred of Kings Dominion. The number of times I used to visit was a tiny fraction of how often I used to visit Busch Gardens.  But now that Kings Dominion has great rides and is just a wonderful experience all around, I have chosen to visit Kings Dominion much more than I do Busch Gardens.

If you haven't visited Kings Dominion lately (or ever), I highly recommend you do.  It's a wonderful park, practically a different park entirely from what it used to be.  I think the praise for Kings Dominion on this site is almost unanimous, actually. The only person I know of to have a bad experience at Kings Dominion recently is Cody. While I fully respect his opinion, I don't think one view should cause you to not want to take things into account yourself.  

It's almost like green eggs and ham- you won't know until you try.  And chances are, you'll probably like it.
WoW! I think a 'personal' Thank You is in order for that very respectful post Joe. KD has been just down the road from BG for all of these years for a reason, and that reason isn't because it sucks. You were spot on with your description of the ride operators expressing enthusiasm! The Grizzly and Shockwave both come to mind and I think you would probably agree with me.(although Shockwave the ride itself has a wee bit to desire on the comfort end of things) I also visited the park this year about as much as you and also had NO bad experiences with rotten employee attitudes. Haters just want to hate. I remember when the Mountain opened and there was magic in Kings Dominion. Cedar Fair is flatout awesome for bringing back anything from KD's rich history. Maybe BGW should bring some things 'back' for the true fans of their park. Thanks again Joe! Great read!
Yes, thank you Joe for this post! Kings Dominion isn't going to fixed overnight, but these past few years certainly have been great!

I also would like to talk about the employee bit because the past two season I have have drastic changes in the employee moods. Everyone always has a smile and is helpful. A few times, if an employee didn't have any customers and saw me or someone else looking at the map trying to figure out what to do next or how to get somewhere, then they would provide as much help as they could. I think the key point is that they did this willingly on their part and we (I) didn't go up to them.
Joe I do want to thank you for taking the time to write all that out. I will say that while it does seem slightly biased due to your choice in descriptive words, I still actually really look at it as a great outline of the park history that I don't think many people really knew. I myself was not clear on the history of the park at all, and to know it's history feels good. 

I also want to thank you for pointing out specific examples of changes that have and are being made to improve the park to a higher quality. many people have tried to make an argument similar to your point of view, but their argument typically fails because they don't provide specific examples, just generic comments along the lines of some work is being done or they are improving where they can. 

I do feel I have been given a better understanding of the park because of your post and it actually makes me strongly considering to visiting the park more now. For me, it is mainly a time and money sensitive issue for visiting; however, if I had the capability, I may actually strongly consider visiting.
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I'm sold....KD will be our "new park credit" for this year, after years of putting it off because of all the horror stories that KD was just a larger version of Six Flags America.
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Wow, thanks for the positive feedback, everyone!  Mazakman, you are very welcome.  I'm glad you liked it! :)

Party Rocker, thanks for your feedback, too.  I tried not to be biased, but  after a while you kind of get into a rhythm and just write whatever feels right. :p By the way, BGW and KD are only an hour apart, and an adult admission costs only forty-some dollars, which is rather manageable.  You definitely should check it out!

How many of you would be interested in a "BGWFans Kings Dominion Meetup" for a chance for the regulars to guide the first-timers around the park?  Would it be something anybody would be interested in doing?  If so, I'll definitely look in to making something like that happen.
I'd be interested Joe. I've been visiting the park since 1978 when I was 2. I wont call myself a 'knowitall' but my history with the park may provide interesting perspectives. Set it up for a Friday!  This is usually when I visit and there's not much waiting. I avoid Saturdays.
Joe, nice write-up above. Just want to throw my 3 cents into the ring.

This is more of a general perspective on reviews of places/events/attractions than just about Kings Dominion or about anyone who participates in any of the park forums on this site.

I have learned that you have to filter out some reviews when reading them and sometimes need to "read between the lines" of those you pay more attention to. This goes from social media sites like "TripAdvisor", "Google", or "Yahoo" to any sort of fan site of any particular subject.

I usually take the 70/30 approach to reviews. I usually skip the top and bottom 15% of the reviews for a place/event/attraction. I found the very top and very bottom reviews are too biased one way or the other.

Those that gush positive to the point that they think "Jesus walked on water there" makes me think they could be a "plant" to create a positive review to generate traffic. I am leery of those corporate "ambassador" programs where there is no balanced feel to the review. "The toilets flush with perfumed water! I just could stay in the bathrooms all day and be happy!"  . . . Next

Those reviews that are extremely negative, I usually ignore as well. There are those out there that think the world owes them everything or are so hyper-sensitive to a situation, that they can never be satisfied no matter what the person/place/thing does to rectify the issue. And, they take that out in a vindictive review ("Miner's Revenge" Haunt attraction anyone?). The same goes with current reviews written about a visit long ago. "I went there back in 1492 and it was awful! . . ."  Moving on. . .

99.9% of the reviews I read are from total strangers. I don't know these folks. I don't know their likes/dislikes, personal preferences, general expectations, and how sensitive they are to those personal preferences/expectations.

The example above about "trash just strewn all over the walkways" at Kings Dominion makes me feel that review is suspect. I been a frequent visitor to the park last season and when I read that, I visualize being up to my ankles in trash on a walkway with drifts of trash all along the curb. Not so. Have I come across a napkin, wrapper, or something else, especially on a crowded Saturday in the summer, on the pathway. Yes, and it gets swept up eventually.

But, the reviewer felt strongly about that issue to make it a negative. Maybe there are places where, if you accidentally dropped a piece of trash, 3 street sweepers come out of nowhere and all dive for the trash and try to catch it before it hits the ground. That's wonderful that a place can staff that many folks to be able to offer that level of service.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, on several forum threads, Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens are in the same business. But, they came from two different organizations with two different approaches/operating philosophy's when it comes to entertaining guests. (See the Kings Island video I linked on the KD history thread to understand how and why the Family Leisure/Taft/KECO park chain came to be). This encompasses everything, including how the parks are laid out to food, entertainment, and rides

I don't expect Kings Dominion to be a clone of Busch Gardens Williamsburg no more than BGW being a clone of KD. I appreciate having both parks so close to visit on a regular basis. And I like what both have to offer. I have had season passes to both parks. Due to economic reasons, I dropped my BGW season pass and still have a KD pass (park is only 30-35 minutes away and I have history with that park (worker). But, it does not mean that I don't appreciate what BGW has to offer and the level of customer service they provide.

If you decide to visit Kings Dominion this season, keep an open mind. Remember, when you walk though the gates, that you are not in the "Old Country".
I totally agree with the sentiment of Joe's post, but as a long-time KD visitor, I would like to provide a slightly different perspective.

I agree that in some areas there are trees and shade, but in many other areas, especially the Grove, I feel as if I am going to die from the sun and heat.  Unfortunately for me the shaded areas in no way correlate with the rides I want to visit.  Last year I solved this by going mid-week before schools were out.  But going in the Summer can be murder.

As for park cleanliness, I will agree that it has improved since the year I went and was chased around the Grove by bees.  That said, KD still has a gum and graffiti ambiance that they need to address.

For me these issues are highlighted, because BGW provides a stark contrast.  I am simply physically more comfortable and less grossed out at BGW.

All that said, I agree that the reputation KD seems to have gotten over the years is fairly undeserved, and I certainly enjoy going there.  So much so that I have an annual pass.
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Hi Nic, thanks for the input!

I've seen you mention chewing gum and graffiti at the park before.  I'm not saying you're wrong, but I would like to know where you see this?  I've never seen such stuff at the park.
Eww... now that you mention it, you're probably right.  One of my biggest gripes about Kings Dominion is the aesthetic care they put into things like that.  Many rides and structures are missing paints, or are badly faded.  Rebel Yell certainly comes to mind here.  I wish they would work on that a lot, it would make the park look so much fresher and nicer altogether.

As a side note, I'm surprised Rebel Yell won't be getting repainted for the season, but maybe we'll see something happen in 2015?  Hmm...
It would make my year, if they spent some time on the Rebel Yell!

But maybe I'd miss knowing LD + MF 4Ever!!!!!!
I would like to quickly point out they have no mentioned what is happening to Rebel Yell. They designed and built a new retro sign and then hinted that wasn't the only thing to happen for this ride.
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That's true.  The only reason I don't think it will be painted this off-season is that they told us Anaconda would be repainted.  You'd think they would tell us at this point if Rebel Yell were also getting repainted.
There used to be a tree at the Grizzly entrance ramp to the station that was covered in gum. I haven't paid attention to whether it is still there or not. There was a whole wall in the Time Shaft tunnel dedicated to gum disposal at one point. It was really gross. Which means this problem has existed for decades. The older rides certainly get a sticky gross feeling to them on hot/humid days, especially the rubber padded lapbars. Replacing things like this probably seem trivial to the park, but ignoring little things really does impact a persons impression of the place.
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