As the economy improves so does Kings Island’s attendance, which ranked among the top 15 U.S. amusement parks in 2012.
Attendance at Kings Island grew 2 percent to 3.2 million in 2012 over the previous year, ranking 15th in the nation, according to a new report by the Themed Entertainment Association, which represents developers, designers and producers from around the world.
California and Florida dominated the 2012 rankings, with 13 of the 15 most-visited theme parks in the country. Ohio was the only other state to have a park in the top 15.
Kings Island ranked just one spot behind No. 14 Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. Both parks are owned by Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., which ranked as the seventh largest theme-park group in the world last year.
Kings Island’s attendance has grown for three consecutive years after suffering a sharp decline in 2009. That slide was blamed on the recession.
The attendance growth at Kings Island could be a good indicator for the local economy, according to Janet Harrah, senior director for the Center for Economic Analysis and Development at Northern Kentucky University.
“When the economy is doing better, people have more money to spend on entertainment,” Harrah said. Entertainment “is one of the first things people cut and (one of the first things) people spend more on when the economy improves.”
Harrah said strong attendance at Kings Island could lead to more hiring of teenagers, who have a higher unemployment rate than the overall population and need experience to help them prepare for the workforce as adults.
Kings Island doesn’t comment on attendance or revenue. A park spokesman, though, said the park in Mason has increased its seasonal staffing “by a couple hundred” since 2009.
“Overall, we fill more than 4,000 seasonal positions each year,” spokesman Don Helbig said.
Parents are taking to Facebook and online support groups to express frustration with what they say is a policy change at Kings Island that doesn’t accommodate the special needs of autistic children.
Sherry and Kendall Yuskewich at Kings Island in 2012. The Blue Ash family makes several trips each year to the amusement park, where they say Kendall, who has autism, has always been permitted to ride rides with little wait times. That changed this summer when the park changed its policy. Provided
In recent years, the Mason amusement park permitted riders with disabilities to enter a ride area with a companion through an alternate entrance and ride after just a brief wait, parents say.
That changed this summer when the park began requiring disabled riders to request a boarding time – equal to a ride’s anticipated wait time for all guests in line – and return at the designated time.
The policy change presents problems for children with autism, who thrive on routine and order and have difficulty waiting, in or out of line, parents say.
Officials from Kings Island’s parent company, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., say the boarding pass policy has always been in effect but may have been inconsistently enforced at the 11 amusement parks it owns nationwide.
The only change this year is that all parks must abide by the policy, said spokeswoman Stacy Frole.
Bill Shepherd of Mason makes up to 15 excursions to Kings Island each summer with his autistic son, Gage, 20, who struggles with crippling anxiety and impulse and aggression issues. Shepherd says the boarding pass policy doesn’t work for people with autism spectrum disorders.
“Once Gage discovered he couldn’t get on, he was biting his hand, angry and lashing out,’’ he said. “He mostly hurts himself, but he scares everyone around him.”
Chad Yuskewich said his family spent nearly $300 on season passes only to find them virtually unusable under the changes. The Blue Ash dad said he found out about the policy at the family’s first visit to the park this year.
“When I told her, ‘No, we’re not getting on right now, we have to wait,’ we had a meltdown,” said Yuskewich, of his autistic daughter, Kendall, 10, who began kicking, screaming and pushing.
Frole said Cedar Fair worked with the Autism Society, a Bethesda, Md.-based advocacy organization, to develop information for parents in planning visits to Cedar Fair parks. Those tips are published online on each park’s website.
“We review our policies on a regular basis and when we see inconsistencies, we implement best practices policies,” she said. “We do our best to accommodate our guests, and that’s why we have this equal access policy in place.”
Jennifer Repella, vice president of programs with the Autism Society, said her group supports the boarding pass policy, but had no role in its implementation.
“There’s no question that many people with autism can’t wait in line, but there’s no question that a kid with AD/HD or a person with a back problem can’t wait in line. Where do you draw the line?
“We don’t want preferential treatment, we want equal access.”
The endorsement isn’t shared by all Autism Society chapters. Patty Proctor, executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati, said her chapter has received dozens of complaints from parents since Kings Island opened April 27.
That prompted the organization to issue a statement to parents on its Facebook page on May 13:
“The procedure that was used in the past regarding avoiding lines was dropped by (Kings Island). In anticipation of making a policy change, The Autism Society of America was contacted to serve in a consulting role to help the park develop new procedures to assist our families. ASA and the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati did not suggest the park system drop the previous policy and there continues to be ongoing discussion with the parks as to how to best meet the needs of all guests, including those with autism.”
More than 75 volunteers marathon-rode the Racer roller coaster at Kings Island Sunday, June 9. The annual fundraising event benefits Give Kids the World, a non-profit organization that gives weeklong vacations to children with serious illnesses. Photo provided/Kings Island
Kings Island’s annual Coasting for Kids raised more than $15,000 benefiting children with life-threatening illnesses.
More than 75 people participated in the Sunday fundraiser, in which volunteers secure pledges to marathon-ride the Racer and Diamondback roller coasters. Proceeds benefit Give Kids the World Village, a Central Florida non-profit resort that provides cost-free, weeklong vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
KI officials designate special cars specifically for the Coasting for Kids group, who are allowed to ride continuously without waiting in line.
Each rider pledges to raise at least $75 in donations. Dave Cornell, of Cincinnati, was the top fundraiser at Kings Island, raising more than $1,000.
Ten other Cedar Fair parks — KI’s parent company — participated in the event, which raised a total of $150,000 at all the parks combined.
Ed Alonzo’s ‘Psycho Circus of Magic & Mayhem 2’ opens June 1
The magic and laughs continue this summer at Kings Island as Ed Alonzo returns with an all-new follow-up to last year’s popular ‘Psycho Circus of Magic & Mayhem’ show.
Located in the Kings Island Theater, Ed Alonzo’s Psycho Circus of Magic & Mayhem 2 will engage guests with thrilling vanishing acts and incredible stunts sure to leave the crowd in awe.
Alonzo, the self-proclaimed “Misfit of Magic”, is a two-time recipient of the “Stage Magician of the Year” and “Comedy Magician of the Year” awards from the internationally recognized Academy of Magical Arts (AMA) and is known for his role on the hit television sitcom ‘Saved by the Bell” (1989 to 1990) as Max, the proprietor/magician of the local restaurant hangout ‘The Max.’
Bob Reece, 71, a real estate agent who now lives in Florida, was brought on to help the park transition its safari-style monorail tour through an animal preservation from a third-party vendor, Lion Country Safari, into a park-owned attraction.
The renamed Wild Animal Habitat occupied 125 acres and housed 300 animals spanning 35 species, Reece said.
As director, Reece oversaw a $2 million annual animal budget and a seasonal staff of up to 90 employees. In 1982 he helped form the Cincinnati Wildlife Research Federation, a partnership of Kings Island, the Cincinnati Zoo and University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
The organization researched ways to remove embryos of rare or endangered species to implant in surrogate mothers – cutting-edge work that rivaled that of many national zoos, Reece said.
Started in 1980
When she started at Kings Island in 1980, Mary Reece never expected she would one day become the daughter-in-law of Bob Reece, who she remembers as a no-nonsense member of the park’s upper management.
Back then, she was Mary Beth Hunt, a 16-year-old in search of a fun summer job she could carpool to with friends.
Some roller coaster riders got more of a thrill than they expected Tuesday at Kings Island.
The Beast roller coaster got stuck while climbing the second hill — a height of 141 feet — about 11 a.m., park officials said.
The ride malfunctioned when a device on the coaster intended to keep cars separated detected a problem and didn’t release the car. Thirty riders were stuck for about 10 minutes before being escorted off the ride, said Don Helbig, the park’s spokesman.
“It is not uncommon for a train to stop briefly on the lift hill of roller coasters to wait for the train ahead of it to clear a certain zone,” explained Helbig. “That’s how the safety system is designed. And that’s what happened this morning but the ride did not re-start.”
One rider called 911 after the train stopped and was transported to West Chester Hospital.
The ride reopened at about 12:30 p.m., said Helbig.
The Beast, which opened in 1979, is the world’s longest wooden roller coaster.
Everything was fine really. It was kind of exactly what you would have expected.
Brady Bunch stars Christopher Knight (front row right), Susan Olsen (front row left) and Barry Williams (second row right) enjoy a ride on the Racer at Kings Island on Sunday. / Provided
Three former Brady Bunch kids — maybe you are never a “former” when it comes to the bunch — were going to Kings Island to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the summer when the Brady Bunch went to Kings Island to shoot an episode in 1973.
Barry Williams (Greg), Christopher Knight (Peter) and Susan Olsen (Cindy) were all there to tell some funny stories and show some classic clips. “Mom always said: don’t play ball in the house,” “Oh my nose!” “Pork chops and apple sauce.”
Donna Delph came from Hebron with her grandson Aiden. She loved the show as a kid, and now he watches it with her on the Hallmark Channel. “This is going to be so exciting,” she said as the lights began to dim.
Cindy, now 51, talked about being the mother of a 16-year-old son, with a Mohawk, and people began to realize that we have all aged together.
Peter, 55, was kind of the bad boy of the gig. He told the crowd that he has few memories of his time as a Brady and that it was fun to be able to recall these events through his fans.
But the show was really Greg’s. He came out first, and introduced the others. He talked about the clips, and he did a little Johnny Bravo. And in truth, Williams remains quite groovy. His skin is tan and his hair is dark and his pants still fit just right.
And everybody loved it. The noon show was the first of four on Sunday, and there was not a single empty seat in the 844-seat venue. People who couldn’t get into the first show were given wristbands for the second. There were already enough to fill the place for all four shows.
So what does Barry Williams remember about filming the “Brady Bunch” at Kings Island 40 years ago?
“That bear suit was very hot!” says Williams, 58, who flies in from Branson, Mo., to reunite with co-stars Christopher Knight and Susan Olsen (Peter and Cindy Brady) at Kings Island Sunday.
Williams, the teen hearthrob who played Greg Brady, shot a scene wearing the Hair Bear character suit in “The Cincinnati Kids” episode to impress a Coney Mall worker named Marge, and took his first ride in a hot-air balloon while shooting at Kings Island Aug. 20-24, 1973.
He also remembers huge crowds watching the Brady kids, Florence Henderson and Ann B. Davis looking for dad Mike Brady’s (Robert Reed) lost park expansion architectural drawings. The show aired during the fifth and final season (1969-74).
The Brady trio will share stories, show video clips, answer questions, sing and sign autographs in the Kings Island Theater on Sunday at noon, 2:30, 5 and 7:30 p.m. It’s free with park admission.
It’s that time again, when the Beast will roar across its wooden track at close to highway speed; the Diamondback will plunge down its 215-drop even faster; and Snoopy and friends will greet kids and the young at heart.
Kings Island, a warm-weather tradition for many Greater Cincinnatians, opens Saturday, with daily operations resuming May 10, the earliest the park has ever been open daily.
In addition to their favorite thrill rides, visitors will have a few new things to see, do and eat this year. Read on to find out about some of the park’s newest attractions.