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Kings Island hopes a towering swing ride will draw the crowds this year

A rendering of Kings Island's new Windseeker thrill ride. 
Rendering courtesy Kings Island
A rendering of Kings Island's new Windseeker thrill ride. Rendering courtesy Kings Island

Six months ago, when it was warm out and people wore one layer of clothing, if that, Kings Island's newfangled 301-foot swing set was introduced as a family-friendly yet potentially much more thrilling ride on paper.

It quickly became the subject of much theme-park geek analysis, and on it hung the hopes of the next rosy summer season for one of the nation's most important theme park companies.

Today, the massive swing set is being shaped in the midst of the Mason, Ohio, park, where visitors used to stroll Coney Island unconcerned by what — or who — might be overhead. Having moved nothing out of the way over by the Vortex ride's exit, and in the very deadest of winter, no less, WindSeeker is becoming a reality.

It's being done by fastening a dozen 42-inch diameter structural steel mounts 33 feet below ground, then coming up to a depth of 8 feet and adding a 6-foot thick, 45-inch wide octagonal foundation cap. Making sure that was secure, the finishing touch of a 16-foot diameter pedestal was cemented to the top of the cap and screwed on with 176 anchor bolts.

It isn't a thrill ride yet but, come March, just about the time the dandelions get to rising, so will the 30-story tower that will, come April 30, take the first pair of 32 pairs of riders up for a twirl. They will then swing round at the rate of something like 30 mph, which will seem so much faster than that when their legs are dangling free, and some 45 degrees out from center, for greater Cincinnati and a lot of Kentucky to see.

That last Saturday in April will mark the debut of the first of four such contraptions to be unveiled this year at theme parks around the continent.

It should be a heck of a sight at night, says Kings Island spokesman Don Helbig. At the commanding height of 301 feet, it's only 14 feet below Drop Tower, Kings Island's and the world's largest gyro drop, but a whopping 71 feet higher than Diamondback, the park's 230-feet tall roller coaster.

So is it a swing? Or a height-dare? Or a family draw? Or a sure-fire financial bet for the company that owns the park?

Thus the fulcrum on which all the analysis of the true theme-park thrill-ride connoisseur teeters until tested.

"We were looking for something with broad appeal," says Helbig, adding that those who might not like roller coasters "may love this."

And yet, on the Web site Behindthethrills.com, which is devoted to theme park thrill rides, there's a post titled "11 Things for Theme Park Fans to Look Forward to in 2011." In it is this: "When many thrill seekers heard of (WindSeeker) from the park chain that brought us Top Thrill Dragster they were all like 'It's a swing ... lame.' Then you get up to the monster and look up and realize, yeah it ... will take riders up a huge tower, and spin the living bejeezus out of them before sending them back down to earth to try to keep their lunch down."

Erik Yates, editor of Behindthethrills.com, says the buzz is definitely out there now for the WindSeeker, given its height and limited restraints. "It's going to be like you're free-flying," he says.

"It's intense," agrees Jordan Hill, 16, of Georgetown who is registered with Kings Island fan Web site Kicentral.com, "and while it may not be another coaster like the general public would love to receive, it is going to have a lasting impact on not only the park's skyline, but also the ride selection that the park offers. I'm personally ready to see it run."

Yates says Hill's sentiments are common. A lot of folks thought that Kings Island, which is in, says Yates "the heart of the roller-coaster capital of the country," would compete with another coaster. Instead, he says, they've gone with the family product that's got an edge.

It's interesting because it's a competitive choice in a really competitive business. This year, for example, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles went big, trying to wrestle roller-coaster supremacy from the Midwest, by adding two new coasters and refurbishing another.

But judging from the recent success of Legoland Florida, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and others, says Yates, this broad appeal to family thrills might be smarter.

It's what the financial minds at Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. are banking on.

In early November 2010, Cedar Fair, which owns and operates 17 amusement and water parks in North America including Kings Island, reported revenues and attendance that were up over the previous year. The company credited aggressive marketing, good weather and a mild nationwide recovery for the uptick.

Reports also said that the company was looking for continued good health for the opening of the 2011 season, in part, and specifically, because of the introduction of WindSeeker at four of its most popular parks. In addition to Kings Island, it will open at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif.; Canada's Wonderland in Vaughan, Ontario; and at Cedar Point in Sandusky.

Kings Island's Helbig said the park management is in "the discussion phase" on how to handle the first-day, first-ride crowd because, among a certain group of riders, it's a huge coup to be among those who can say they were there that day.

People, he said, have been known from all parts of the world to be first-day participants for new rides.

Maybe special T-shirts, maybe more, is in store.

Behindthethrill.com's Yates, for the record, thinks the Mason, Ohio, park "will do (the opening) up big and hard and will see lines all year long for this ride."

In anticipation of the crowds, Coney Island is getting a re-do with 400,000 new brick pavers also being installed along with new curbing. There has been no revitalization of that part of the park, says Helbig, since 1986.

Which brings up the inevitable question of why such a skyline-stunner as WindSeeker was maneuvered such that no other attractions had to be re-situated? Is the park running out of room?

Helbig scoffed. No, the park owns enough adjacent land to double its current 354-acre park footprint, he says.

All, he says, in due time.

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