Here’s a story about a lovely Ohio theme park that you should most definitely visit.
That was my half-hearted attempt at a not-so-topical “Brady Bunch” reference, but in my defense, the show’s 1973 visit to Kings Island remains one of the Mason, Ohio park’s biggest claims to fame.
These days, Kings Island is better known as the home to a stellar and growing coaster lineup, including the world’s longest wooden coaster, along with one of the nation’s best kids areas and most efficient operations. After years of reading all the hype, I had to see Kings Island for myself in August 2023.
Spoiler alert: The park more than earns the praise it gets.
Like nearly all Cedar Fair and other regional parks, Kings Island’s main draw is its coasters — and its lineup is one of the most well-rounded in the world.
The 14 coasters run the gamut from an eight-foot-tall kiddie ride with Great Pumpkin Coaster to a giga-sized behemoth in Orion (and yes, coaster enthusiasts, the 300-foot-drop makes it a giga coaster in my book).
The latter and its hypercoaster cousin, the 230-foot-tall Diamondback, bring loads of smooth, sustained airtime you’d expect from the Swiss coaster firm Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), while being intense enough to impress even the most jaded thrillseeker. And you have to love the splashdown finale.
The park’s original coaster, the double-tracked wooden Racer, is often credited with reviving interest in roller coasters, but two of Kings Island’s other woodies are the better rides.
The Beast has been the longest wooden coaster in the world since it debuted in 1979, and its 7,361 feet gives it nearly 900 feet over its closest competitor in that category. While you may not find all the airtime you’d expect on a modern coaster, there is nothing comparable to a long night ride on The Beast, tearing through the woods in near-total darkness at 64 mph.
Mystic Timbers, the park’s newest woodie, tops The Beast in terms of a more consistent ride experience with more airtime without losing that runaway-train type feeling.
If you’re more into going upside down on your coasters, there’s the 167-foot-tall Banshee, a graceful B&M inverted coaster with seven inversions.
The indoor launch coaster Flight of Fear sports four inversions, with the added thrill of the ride being enclosed in near darkness.
If pressed to rank these coasters — and I do like ranking coasters! — I’d put Diamondback in first, followed by Orion and Mystic Timbers. Diamondback may be shorter than Orion, but the airtime is a little more sustained and is arguably the best B&M hypercoaster anywhere.
I can only manage minor quibbles about Kings Island coasters like Banshee lacking some of the whippy inversions you’d expect on an invert or Invertigo being just another Vekoma Boomerang clone. Depth, however, is perhaps the greatest strength of this coaster lineup.
Beyond the top tier rides I’ve already mentioned, the supporting cast offers enough variety for riders either too young or too timid for the bigger rides. It’s easy to imagine a theme park newbie using Kings Island to test their coaster mettle; if they can handle Flying Ace Aerial Chase, maybe then it’s time to try the slightly more thrilling Bat suspended coaster, and so on.
Outside of coasters, Kings Island can’t match the offerings at some of its Cedar Fair siblings, but there are some standouts.
For thrillseekers, the best flat rides are the 315-foot-tall Drop Tower and Delirium, the 137-foot-tall pendulum. Both are staples of the Cedar Fair chain, but the rush of those drops and swings can’t be denied. If you prefer swinging and staying really high up — or maybe you just like lower-capacity rides — there’s the 301-foot-tall WindSeeker in the back of the Coney Mall section of the park.
Speaking of Coney Mall, this is the home to several of the park’s oldest flat rides, such as the Monster and Scrambler, which actually date to its predecessor, Cincinnati’s Coney Island. They’re just the typical spinners, but the historical value gives them some added charm, as does the Kings Mills Antique Autos.
The park has some added depth in its water rides. It’s typical, almost expected, for a regional park to have a log flume and a river rapids ride. Kings Island has both plus a Shoot-the-Chute attraction called Congo Falls.
There are also two purely scenic attractions, a category too many parks seem to have ignored nowadays. Kings Island’s icon, the one-third scale replica of the Eiffel Tower, does have an observation platform offering a birds’ eye view of the park and the surrounding area.
There’s also an operating train within the park, the Kings Island & Miami Valley Railroad, giving the park a traditional transportation ride option. Besides scenery and some Old West-styled scenes, the railroad also has the practical purpose of shuttling guests back and forth between the main park and the Soak City water park.
What should be the star non-coaster attraction at Kings Island is the space currently occupied by Boo Blasters on Boo Hill, an interactive dark ride that dates back to 2003, when it opened as Scooby-Doo and the Haunted Castle. More on that later in the review.
I tend to mention two caveats to my theme park food reviews; first, I’m admittedly a picky and unadventurous eater, which usually isn’t an issue with the typical nuggets-and-burgers fare of theme parks. Second, there’s no way to judge all — or even most — of a park’s food offerings in a single visit. My stomach is only so big!
What I did have at Kings Island was a lunch and a snack, both of which were better than your average amusement park meals. There were plenty of counter-service options to pick from — including local favorite Skyline Chili and the Grain & Grill, which I experienced at Kings Dominion — but for my lunch, I decided to try Coney Bar-B-Que.
Despite the enticingly-displayed rotisserie chicken, I opted for the pulled pork sandwich with fries, an extra side of mac and cheese and a hush puppy. While not quite on the level of something you’d get outside the park, the pulled pork was tender without being dry, the mac and cheese had just enough extra seasoning to elevate the dish, and the fries and hush puppies topped off the meal well.
My snack probably should’ve been the Graeter’s Ice Cream, a longtime Cincinnati-based chain that Oprah Winfrey once called the best ice cream she’s ever tasted. Alas, I’ve had Graeter’s before, so I went with something new: Kings Island’s famous blue ice cream.
This soft-serve cone tastes a bit like blueberry, but in a very artificial way, comparable to flavored cough syrup. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t end up finishing the whole thing, either. Fun coloring aside, you’d much be better off getting Graeter’s, especially if you’ve never had it before.
What’s missing and what needs to go
The biggest flaws in Kings Island’s ride lineup center around Boo Blasters on Boo Hill.
The park’s one dark ride feels cheap with its flat sets and sparse targets for a shooting-based dark ride. The technology feels prehistoric compared to what you can find at other parks, including the Justice League clones throughout the Six Flags chain.
What makes Boo Blasters more sad is that it was built from the bones of the park’s earlier Omnimover dark rides, the last iteration being Haunted Mansion-esque Phantom Theater. Nostalgia for this attraction is strong enough that Kings Island created a stage show based on it for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
So if I may play an armchair designer, I’d suggest Kings Island take a page out of the Knott’s Berry Farm playbook and bring back Phantom Theater as a modern interactive ride.
Knott’s did this with Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair, not only providing the park a better shooting dark ride but also playing up to the park’s history. (For Kings Island, it would also be a better option during the cold WinterFest months.)
I’ve advocated in the past for regional parks to invest in having both an interactive dark ride and a traditional, passive experience. For Kings Island, I’ll just settle for the park having one dark ride that’s worth the wait.
Cedar Point may be the king of regional amusement parks for now, but its southern Ohio brother may someday take that throne.
Outside of one lackluster dark ride, there’s little to dislike or even criticize at Kings Island The park has a deep attraction lineup, including one of the best coaster rosters anywhere, along with stellar operations, solid food choices, quality atmosphere and reverence for its own history.
Kings Island more than lived up to my expectations as one of the best regional parks in the country. Do yourself a favor and visit as soon as you can.
DISCLOSURE: This review is based on my own opinion and perspective. I paid for my park ticket. Kings Island did not grant me any special access to the park and no employees were aware that I was conducting a review.