Long trip report and Planet Snoopy review – Friday, 4/5/13

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May 28, 2011
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I thought it might be useful for folks to get a review of the new area from someone with children. I’ll also throw in an overall park review. A few words of context: I used to come to Kings Dominion a lot when I was younger, so I have a lot of fond memories of the park. Since I have grown up and had kids, we have generally gone to Busch Gardens as it is a nicer park, in our opinion, and we liked the charm of things like the Festhaus show, the scenery and the food. So this was the first full-day trip for me in a long time, and our first with the kids. I have 2 girls: a 4 year old and a 7 year old. The 7 year old is now over 48 inches tall and has inherited my love for coasters, so she will ride anything. I have also gained a lot of weight since my younger days, so I was concerned as to what I would be able to ride with her. If there are any overweight people reading this, I can try to give you a sense of what to expect – I am 6’2”, around 285 pounds, 52 inch chest, but pretty evenly distributed. We arrived around 12:15 – parking lot was fairly empty, so we got in easily. Grabbed pretzels and pizza for a quick lunch before heading into Planet Snoopy. Here are the attractions we visited, in order, with a quick review. There wasn’t anything that we had any real wait for as the crowds were so small.
•Joe Cool’s Driving School – fun for the kids, although most of them did not seem to know what to do. They really should have another attendant out on the course to help the loading/unloading. This may have been our longest wait of the day.
•Snoopy’s Rocket Express – this was a nice little ride, and it went faster than I thought it would, actually. It gives you a nice view of the new land, although I am puzzled as to why they didn’t extend it a little more to go over all of Planet Snoopy. They already had the hard part paid for (station, groundwork, vehicles), a few extra supports and some more track could not have been that much more. Although I suspect they may need to add a rule about not being able to ride without a kid as I can see this being trouble for groups of teens who want to cause trouble from above. Maybe that answers the question as to why they didn’t extend the course. Overall, a nice addition, easy loading with simple seatbelts, and you can keep your backpack with you.
•Great Pumpkin Coaster – still good – the kids enjoyed it.
•Scooby Doo Coaster – classic ride, one of my first and always one of my favorites. Both of my daughters rode it and loved it too, although the 4 year old was a little uncertain. I rode in a car by myself, and it is very accommodating for larger people, as long as they don’t try to sandwich a child in the same car with them.
•Woodstock’s Whirlybirds – A word of caution on this ride. I have ridden tea cups rides in many places over the years, but none of them made me as dizzy as this one. Parents, consider yourselves warned. Perhaps it has something to do with the small radius of this ride for rotation, compared with a standard tea cups ride, that amplifies the intensity of the spinning. Either way, both my wife and I felt sick afterward. The kids loved it, of course. They had seat belts on this one, which was interesting. Pretty much everything in Planet Snoopy had seat belts that required an attendant to release them, which is sensible given little children, but it does add to the unloading time for everything.
•Snoopy’s Junction – nice, fairly standard train ride that you can find in a lot of malls or the children’s museum, although it was a bit longer. I think they should try to find rides that you can’t get in too many places, and for the most part they did a good job of that, but this one was a bit disappointing in that regard. Kids still like it, though.
•Charlie Brown’s Windup – a nice addition. This one finds a good midpoint between the larger swings ride and the pathetic kiddie swings at Busch Gardens, which are basically pointless. As a general rule, if a child can run faster than a particular ride, and it doesn’t leave the ground, then it’s not a good ride. This one was nice, though – fast, but not so intense as to scare off the kids.
•Show at Peanuts Playhouse – we saw about 5-10 minutes of a baseball themed show here. I did not think it was anything spectacular, but it’s early and maybe they are still breaking it in. They gave out some flags for kids to wave, which was nice but I am sure will cause riots when not every kid can get a flag. The girls had no problems leaving when we called them to move on, so that should tell you something.
•Snoopy’s Space Buggies – very cool little ride that my 4 year old enioyed why the 7 year old was on the Linus Launcher. I was surprised at this one. It looks like it will be a standard spinner, but it has some cool bouncing effects that my daughter loved.
•Linus Launcher – neat ride – a more advanced version of the hang gliders at Busch Gardens, and not for smaller kids (had a 42” height requirement). Looked like a lot of fun.
•Flying Ace Balloon Race – I had never seen this kind of ride before. Similar to the whirlybirds, it was very easy to get dizzy on this, but going up in the air was a neat touch. When this was announced, I thought it would be another one like the balloons at Busch Gardens, but this is very different. It is a visually appealing ride, too, one which is fun to watch and adds interest to the whole kids area. The kids liked it.
•Lucy’s Tug Boat – an upgrade on what had been in this spot, definitely. Lots of fun for the kids – everyone on this one was enjoying it and they did some nice theming with it to make it look like the beach. You could also see here where they were rushing to finish, as the railings in the queue barely had a coat of paint on them and you could still see the lumber stamps on them. Maybe after Spring break they will come through again with a paintbrush.
•Scooby Doo again – my daughter wanted another lap, so who was I to say no?
•Snoopy vs. the Red Baron/Peanuts Road Rally – while we were back on the roller coaster, my 4 year old did the Red Baron and the Road Rally. Nice kids rides, nothing new.

Planet Snoopy is definitely an excellent kids area, and it’s almost a bit overwhelming how big it is. It is quite spread out and easy to get lost in – it’s almost like its own park within the park, except there are almost no food offerings. As a parent, I think this was a nice upgrade for Kings Dominion and it was about time to get rid of the older rides, although I missed Yogi’s cave.

We then did Boo Blasters and while I ran off to get in two laps on Dominator, my wife and the girls went to Sweet Frog. I would recommend people avoid this Sweet Frog. First, it was very hot inside. Second, they have jacked up the prices significantly from what you can get outside the park. I think it was something like 89 cents an ounce, compared to 39 cents at a normal Sweet Frog. If this was something unique to the park that you couldn’t get anywhere else, then perhaps that justifies the price. But my wife ended up spending $24 for ice cream for her and the two girls. Not going back there again. I should know what to expect from a theme park, where they have you captive and where kids will be clamoring for Sweet Frog, but this seemed particularly ridiculous.

A word about Dominator: I had never ridden this before and luckily I was able to easily fit into the big boy seats. I LOVED this ride – one of my top coasters now. Just a solid, solid ride. But you guys already knew that. There was no line – I got to re-ride it without getting out of my seat. This was at about 3:00. It was annoying to have to walk so far around the end of Planet Snoopy to get there, though. Then we hit the rest of the park:

•Avalanche – classic. I still love this one, even with a 4 year old in front of me getting crushed in the chest by the restraint. If you have a little one, make sure you grab the ends of the restraint and push upward to ease some of the pressure on them during the ride. They’ll thank you. She still liked it, though. I am blessed with adventurous children who share my love of theme park rides.
•Scrambler – good ride, as always. Although I still do not understand why they have one person working this ride. They do this at Busch Gardens as well. If any ride would benefit from having a second person to help check or release restraints, it would be this one. They had an extra guy just standing at the head of the line at Avalanche. They could have put him on this one to help out. Another candidate for longest wait of the day, and half of that wait was sitting in the ride car waiting for them to check everyone’s restraints.
•Intimidator – my family was nice enough to walk back with me to Intimidator to see if I would fit in the test seat. I did and I rode. Everyone already knows how intense this one is, so I won’t go into that. I had read about the blackouts and was surprised that it happened to me too (it doesn’t usually), but that was definitely a weird feeling on that first turn. Crazy ride. 2-train wait.
•Backlot Stunt Coaster – I was pleasantly surprised by this one – I thought it would be a short, one-trick pony, but it was a bit longer than I thought. I liked this one for 2/3 of the ride, but hated the dark tunnel part. That’s just me, though, I don’t like rides where you hurtle through the dark. 1-train wait.
•Triple Spin/Carousel – my wife and daughter did Triple Spin while I took the 4 year old to the Carousel. Again, I understand they want to reduce their staff costs, but both of these had one ride op and Triple Spin had one of the longest lines of the day. And I saw a lot of managers/supervisor types walking or standing around not doing anything. Let’s get them trained on the rides. 
•Rebel Yell - was not running, so we passed it.
•Ricochet – this one was a struggle for me to fit into as a big guy, and it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. The ride attendant was great, though, and he told me to switch seats with my daughter, and that worked. And with plenty of room to spare. So if you are big, sit on the left side of the car, not the right side of the car on this one. We really liked this ride. My 7 year old was surprised and really really liked it.
•Hurler – I convinced my 7 year old to ride the Hurler. I fit on the ride, but barely, and the hips were really the problem because they have those seat dividers. Fun ride, but suffice to say my hips were sore afterward. My daughter loved it.
•Rebel Yell – it was running now, so my daughter got her first ride on that one as well. I squeezed myself into the seat, between the seat divider. But that was a waste of time, as I came out of it as soon as the first drop. So that made for an interesting ride. Another classic I remember well from my youth.
•We then went to find dinner. As it turned out, every major eatery on the side of the park we were on was closed. I wish we had known that ahead of time. It seems odd that all three of them would have been closed at dinnertime. We found a stand that sold corn dogs, but even they didn’t have any food ready, so we had to wait while they made the corn dogs and fries. You would think at 6:00 they would have some food ready, especially if there are no restaurants open in this area (Country Kitchen, Wayside Grill, Johnny’s).
•Flying Eagles – very fun ride. Both daughters greatly enjoyed this one, and I did too.
•Blue Ridge Tollway – always enjoyable, although I don’t know how those employees work there with all those fumes. I hope they rotate them off frequently.
•The Grizzly – for our final ride, I took my 7 year old on the Grizzly, and she loved it. Having been on the Rebel Yell, the Scooby Doo and the Hurler, I don’t think she realized this would be much more intense than those ones, but she loved it anyway. I squeezed myself in again and once again had a painful ride, but it was worth it for my daughter to get to ride. Incidentally, this was my first coaster ever, as my brother made me ride it when I was a little kid (pretty crazy first coaster, I know). So this brought back good memories, despite the pain. It’s really a shame the trees are gone, though. It was great when it was back in the woods and you had no idea what it looked like. Walk-on for this one.

On our way out, we ran into a show at the Tower plaza – it wasn’t very good, although credit to the performers for working hard and trying. It was repackaged pop songs sung by girls in hot pants and pantyhose. They started playing Bruno Mars’ latest and I held my breath, hoping they censored it a bit – luckily they did. We went to get a treat to end the day and the ice cream/funnel cake store said they were out of ice cream. They told me to go to the other ice cream store by Tower pizza. I hauled the kids over there, and it was closed, of course. So then, desperate at this point, we went down to Chik-fil-a in Planet Snoopy and they had ice cream. Although I had to convince the employee that they did, in fact, offer ice cream in cups even thought he did not believe that to be the case. I pointed to his menu board and he still did not believe me. I think he and one of his co-workers then decided to just give the kids ice cream in soda cups, to they ended the day with like a gallon of ice cream. They enjoyed it, and they were so exhausted it ended up not mattering. We upgraded our tickets to season passes and headed out into the almost empty parking lot around 8:15. A few final observations:

•The food at Kings Dominion is way overpriced. I at least felt like I got value at Busch Gardens, but not here – the food was not that good. And it wasn’t just Sweet Frog. I understand that they jack up the prices of soda to get you to buy the souvenir cups, but it still seems a bit ridiculous. We have learned our lesson, though. Next time, we are bringing picnic lunches and more snacks and buying one souvenir cup to share. For those planning, through the course of the day I think we paid about $4.50 for a small bottle of chocolate milk, $4 or so for a large soda, $8 or so for a funnel cake, $25 or so for two corn dog/fries baskets and an icee (no drinks included with the corn dogs, although the dogs were double size), $24 for the Sweet Frog already mentioned, $4.50 for a cup of ice cream at Chik-fil-a. And so on.
•It bothered me that all of the main restaurants on the Old Virginia/Windseeker side of the park were closed at dinner time.
•Ride operations were inconsistent. One person on scrambler and triple spin with a long line, but a random person watching the head of the line on Avalanche, basically doing nothing. One person in the field on Joe Cool’s Driving school. The coasters were generally good. One train running on Intimidator, Rebel Yell, Hurler, Grizzly, Scooby Doo. Two on Volcano, Dominator, Avalanche, Stunt Coaster. The park layout was puzzling to me as well. It seems a few well-placed pathways would go a long way to making life easier for everyone (easier access to Dominator from Planet Snoopy and a path to Avalanche from Boo Blasters, for example).
•[/font]Overall, I did not realize how much there is to do at Kings Dominion. Significantly more than Busch Gardens, although BG has more shows to fill the time. I know some of Kings Dominion’s shows will get going later this year, and we may have gone to them if they had been running. But still, there really is a lot to do here. It is a very well-rounded park. They have just about anything you could ask for – solid flat rides, a large children’s area, a water park, water rides, wooden coasters, a megacoaster, an indoor coaster, an inverted, launching coasters, etc. I don’t think there is much they need to add, just improvement in operations. Although I think more water rides might be a good call, for people that don’t want to go to the trouble of changing into suits to go to the water park, but still want to cool off. They also need to balance out the park a bit by putting more into Old Virginia – right now there are three upcharge attractions and the two water rides – not much to anchor it, and that may be why everyone was on the other side of the park and the restaurants were closed. I would think a likely step would be to remove White Water Canyon and replaced it with either a large water ride or another anchor attraction like a coaster. That seems in line with where parks are going these days, removing those old water rides that take up a lot of space. There’s a lot of real estate to work with back there. We got the season passes primarily because there is so much to do, and since Busch Gardens is starting to lose some of its charm, there isn’t much to lose by coming here now. Things like the Oktoberfest show were like appointment viewing for us, but the Festhaus does not seem the same anymore. Also, the kids were ready to try new things and there is just so much to do at Kings Dominion.
 
Apr 29, 2011
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Great trip report!

Thanks for all the details on the new Planet Snoopy.
 
May 3, 2011
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Richmond, Va
Wow that was long! Kings Dominion really has some bad operations. I'm sure your park experience would improve greatly all around if they had employees that cleaned up everything, nice, ect.

It's also nice hearing a parent perspective of Planet Snoopy. I've only heard reviews from coaster-enthusiasts going and riding the rides and not the actual kids. :p

I have yet to go to the park and go see anything for myself (Bad KDFans writer, I know), work overwhelms my weekend sadly.

Kings Dominion is very conservative on their employees and trains on their low number days. I always go on Sundays and such and I always only see one train running on most of the rides or two trains on the rides that have three.

Glad you and your children had an overall great time! I think you might find this thread[/u] interesting also given some of the things that you stated in your report.
 
May 28, 2011
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Yeah, sorry for the length. I got on a roll. As far as operations, it wasn't really too bad, just a few questionable decisions here and there. I think given the crowds, one-train was about right in the places where they had it. And the park was much cleaner than I have seen it in the past, so credit to them for that. With one exception, that being the Carousel. It's a beautiful carousel - a true asset for the park - but they need to just give it a cleaning. There were cobwebs and dirt all over the panels, which to me seems like it would be easy offseason maintenance that would take about a couple of hours max. The paint on the horses was worn in some areas, but I am OK with that as it lets you see that they are real-wood horses.
 
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