BY CHARLES INFOSINO
Change can be a good thing. Most businesses make changes to keep customers interested, and that´s why Paramount´s Kings Island tweaks its entertainment mix annually. For 2005 changes include a new roller coaster, new dining options and a largely smoke-free environment.
For coaster fans, Kings Island has created The Italian Job Stunt Track, based on the 2003 film, The Italian Job. This steel roller coaster was manufactured by Premier Rides in the Coney Mall section of the park. Each train can hold 12 riders. Guest must be at least 48 inches tall to experience this 40 mph, two-minute family thrill ride.
The Italian Job combines the best of Hollywood special effects and coaster thrills, says Marketing Communications Manager Jeffrey Siebert.
The line has video monitors and themed décor, which provide a pre-show that teaches guests how to be Hollywood stunt drivers. The dock station and track look like a studio with scenery drawn from the movie. With this ride, Kings Island is following the lead of America´s major theme parks -- Universal Studios or Disney MGM Studios
Guests board the coaster cars, replicas of BMW Mini Coopers, and peel out through the parking garage. They dodge police cars, narrowly miss freeway signs, race down subway stairs, avoid open fire from a menacing helicopter, chase through storm sewers, punch through billboards and then splash out through the L.A. River before the director wraps it all up, shouting, Cut. The Italian Job Stunt Track premieres unofficially later this month with some sneak previews. It opens officially on May 20.
For older patrons, Kings Island has replaced Preston T. Tucker´s Roadside Café with Happy Days Diner in Coney Mall. This newly themed eatery opened April 9, Kings Island´s officially opening day. Actress Marion Ross, who played Mrs. Cunningham on the long-running television series, made a guest appearance. The diner is decorated with a classic jukebox, a vintage TV set and memorabilia from the series. It´s a burger-and-milkshake kind of menu; servers wear classic 1950s diner uniforms.
Other dining news: Magilla Gorilla has perhaps moved back into Mr. Peebles´ pet shop. At any rate, he´s gone, replaced by a Chick-Fil-A. And even better news: Graeter´s Ice Cream is now offering 25 flavors in a dine-in shop covering 1,700 square feet.
Also new this year, Kings Island is smoke-free -- almost. The park has 19 smoking designated areas, identifiable on the park maps. Pamela J. Henderson, a representative of ACE (American Coaster Enthusiast), says, I applaud Kings Island for its no-smoking policy and for being at the forefront of taking a stand on this controversial issue. As a family park, the no-smoking policy further ensures the safety of all guests, especially children.
Nickelodeon Central introduces a new character, Diego from Dora the Explorer. The Nickelodeon Parade will return and will be, bigger, longer, more exciting, and more characters, according to Siebert.
Kings Island thrives on repeat business, so change is essential. The Italian Job Stunt Track will please roller coaster aficionados and movie buffs, and diners seem likely to enjoy the new options. The new smoking policy will appeal to many. And rest assured that in 2006 there will be more changes. That´s a sure thing. #180;
Paramount's Kings Island
Open weekends in April and Friday-Sunday in May until daily operations commence on May 20.
Admission: $44.99 (ages 7-59); $26.99 (children 3-6 years old and adults 60 and older). Discount tickets are available at www.pki.com, Blockbuster locations and AAA (for members).
Season pass: $95.99 (ages 7-59); $73.99 (children 3-6 years old and adults 60 and older).
Parking: $9 daily. Parking pass: $29.99 (for season pass holders).
For more information: 800-288-0808 or www.pki.com