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Published: Sunday, 7/3/2005

Ohio blessed with top theme parks

BY MIKE KELLY
BLADE TRAVEL WRITER
Geauga Lake's 100-foot-tall waterslide complex, formerly called Hurricane Mountain, has been renamed Thunder Falls and moved to the new Wildwater Kingdom. Geauga Lake's 100-foot-tall waterslide complex, formerly called Hurricane Mountain, has been renamed Thunder Falls and moved to the new Wildwater Kingdom.
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Not many states can boast of having a world-class amusement park within their borders, and even fewer can claim two of the rare species. (Of course, we're talking here about normal states, not places like Florida or California, both of which are in a fantasy-land theme park league of their own.)

Ohio happens to be one of the few places with double-shock theme-park power, with both Cedar Point in Sandusky and Paramount's Kings Island near Cincinnati.

As an added kicker, we've even got a third park, Geauga Lake in Aurora, which keeps making sounds like it wants to join its Buckeye brethren in the Big Leagues of thrills, chills, and spinning turnstiles.

For an impressive seventh straight year, Cedar Point was voted in 2004 the "Best Amusement Park in the World" in an annual poll that's conducted by Amusement Today, the monthly trade newspaper that is considered the bible of the industry.

Not to be completely upstaged, Kings Island last year got its own accolade from Amusement Today's poll: it was voted as having the best kids' area of any amusement park - the fourth consecutive year that Kings Island has captured that ranking.

That brings us to Geauga Lake, whose fortunes have been plummeting in recent years faster than a roller coaster screaming down from the top of a monster hill. A smaller amusement park, it was gobbled up along with the neighboring Sea World of Ohio by the giant Six Flags chain in 2001. The two parks were then folded together to create something called Six Flags Worlds of Adventure, which was billed as a triple-threat combination of thrill park, water park, and marine life park.

Six Flags soon found that the mix didn't work, and it wound up dumping the property last spring. The buyer was Cedar Fair LP, owner of Cedar Point and several other amusement parks, but the new owner had little time to make any changes, and last year wasn't much of a season for Geauga Lake. Attendance was about 700,000 - a 75 percent decrease since 2001 - and the former Sea World property across the lake sat empty, a silent reminder to patrons of what they weren't getting for their $35 admission fee.

This season, though, Geauga Lake is counting on a new water park and lower ticket prices to bring back the crowds.

Here is a quick look at what's new at each of Ohio's major amusement parks:

PARAMOUNT'S KINGS ISLAND

The big addition this season is a coaster-type ride called Italian Job: Stunt Track, based on a 2003 Paramount action movie. In an approximation of the experience of a Hollywood stunt driver, riders strap themselves into replicas of Mini Cooper cars, which then twist and turn through a parking garage, dodge explosions and near-collisions, race down stairs and through tunnels, and wind up crashing through a billboard and splashing down into an aqueduct.

Also new this year is the Happy Days Diner, based on the long-running TV sitcom, where patrons can have their burgers and fries while looking around at memorabilia and cast photos from the show.

"School of Rock Live in Concert" is a live concert that combines scenes from the Paramount film with live music and theatrics performed by a 10-member cast.

GEAUGA LAKE

The opening of the park's new Wildwater Kingdom water park, located on a portion of the former Sea World property, was delayed several weeks by weather-related construction issues. About half of the $24 million project is open this year, with the rest scheduled for the 2006 season.

Included in the water park - which is free with admission to Geauga Lake - is a 60-foot-tall, funnel-shaped raft slide, a 1,000-foot-long action river, an aquatic play area, and a relocated water slide complex.

CEDAR POINT

New this season is a spinning and swinging ride called maXair, which spins outward-facing riders on a large ciurcular disc, which is also swinging back and forth like a pendulum. At the peak of the pendulum swing, riders are upside down 140 feet above the ground.

Cedar Point's new rotating pendulum ride is virtually identical to Kings Islands' Delirium, which has been in operation there since 2003. The maXair, however, has a longer ride cycle.

Also new this season is a 30-minute Peanuts ice show that features Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and other characters, as well as more than a dozen professional skaters.

Contact Mike Kelly at: mkelly@theblade.com or 419-724-6131.



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