To Be or Not to Be?
Attractions rely heavily on the loyalty of their guests, as return visitors are not only a dependable and crucial revenue base—they also provide priceless social media and word-of-mouth advertising. When amusement parks decide to retire or refurbish venerable older rides, anticipating guest reaction should be part of the preparation.
Two Cedar Fair parks share with IAAPA News the process and insight behind the decision making.
Over a 12-month period spanning 2019 and 2020, Kings Island in Cincinnati, Ohio, grappled with the fate of two roller coasters: Vortex and The Racer. The steel Vortex designed by Arrow Dynamics had given rides to more than 46 million guests over its 33-year history. Remarkable from day one, Kings Island claimed Vortex was the tallest full-circuit coaster—with the highest drop in the world—when it opened in 1987.
The Racer was drawn up by legendary wood coaster designer John Allen and gave more than 106 million rides between its 1972 opening and the conclusion of the 2020 season. The roller coaster is one of the park’s most popular rides, and in 1982, became the first full-length coaster to travel backwards over its circuit.
Chad Showalter, the park’s director of communications, shares with IAAPA News what Kings Island had to consider when deciding the fates of these two rides. For Vortex, it was retirement time.
“The decision to retire or refurbish a ride is based on many factors, including ridership, planned future development, estimated maintenance costs, and more. Unfortunately, in 2019, Vortex reached the end of its service life and Kings Island made the difficult decision to retire the ride.” The park sent Vortex’s trains to Carowinds for use on the Carolina Cyclone, an older ride also from Arrow Dynamics, but Showalter says transfer of the ride vehicles wasn’t a factor in the closure decision.
However, for The Racer, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2023, Kings Island decided to replace 500 feet of track, as well as some running rails, support bents, and ledgers. The ride reopened in spring of 2021 sporting the improvements.
Yet, the park had something more in mind for the hardcore fans of both these rides. In 2020, it encased slices of the original track of Vortex in decorative metal plates mounted on display stands and sold them for $198.70, playing off the ride’s opening year, 1987. The pieces came with a certificate of authenticity signed by the park’s general manager and two limited-edition Vortex postcards. These track pieces sold out.
Kings Island offered a similar set of collectibles for The Racer track in 2022, and again, coaster fans gobbled up the keepsakes.
Knott's Berry Farm
For Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, when the time arrived in 2022 to decide whether to retire or refurbish a 44-year-old ride, Montezooma’s Revenge, there were some mitigating factors that were hard to ignore. The shuttle-loop steel coaster was built by the renowned German manufacturer Anton Schwarzkopf from plans created by legendary coaster designer Werner Stengel. In 2019, the ride was honored with a plaque from the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) recognizing it as an historic landmark—the last operating shuttle-loop coaster in the United States and the only one in the world operating in its original location.
Due to the coaster’s historical significance, Knott’s opted to invest in a major refurbishment of the ride. Kristan Saldivar, the park’s public relations representative, says several factors played Knott’s decision, including the age and popularity of a ride, capacity, area development objectives, as well as the history and traditions of the park.
“Reimagining one of our classics was a great opportunity to add to the refresh of that [park] area while still celebrating our roots,” she tells IAAPA News. “The new name, MonteZOOMa’s Revenge–The Forbidden Fortress, reflects the updated experience that we believe will excite long‑time fans and usher in a whole new generation of fans. Our story will begin in the queue and culminate in a [new] show sequence before launching.”
Saldivar adds that when making such decisions, the park looks at the success of past projects and incorporates guest feedback. When Knott’s announced the ride would close on Jan. 11, 2022, for the renovation, the park received an outcry from fans who wanted one final ride on the original coaster. The feedback prompted the park to delay the refurbishment by a month and keep the original Montezooma’s Revenge operating for loyal enthusiasts.
The new MonteZOOMa’s Revenge–The Forbidden Fortress roller coaster is slated to open later in 2023.