Eli Bridge supplies icon to sporting goods store
AT: Tim Baldwin
THE COLONY, Texas — It is often said in whimsical exaggeration and false bravado that things are bigger in Texas. That boast stands true when it comes to the opening of the latest Scheels store.
“This store is 331,000 square feet, which makes it the largest sporting goods store in the world,” said Events Coordinator Alex Koob.
The new store hoped to open in early April. As the coronavirus reared its ugly head in a nationwide shutdown, Scheels was not able to open until May 1.
Amusement Today asked why a Ferris wheel was a good fit for a sporting goods store.
“All Scheels stores are dedicated to that customer experience. As you walk in you see our 16,000-gallon aquarium,” said Koob. “A Ferris wheel is fun, but it is also nostalgic. The flashing lights kind of draw you in. For those people who have ridden a Ferris wheel before and know it as a fun centerpiece, that’s why it is in the middle of our stores. It kind of brings you back to a simple way to have fun.”
“It’s very family oriented,” said Bill Peterson, one the supervising operators of the wheel. “It’s how they want this company to be.”
Scheels’s new Ferris wheel is the latest top-of-the-line model from Eli Bridge. It stands 65 feet tall.
“It has a touch-screen operation. It’s pretty cool,” said Patty Sullivan, president and CEO, Eli Bridge. “The biggest difference [at the new Scheels location] is that it is handicap accessible.”
“If you use the computer system, I can tell it to automatically load the next car,” said Peterson. “It will go to the next car [on its own] to keep it in balance.”
Peterson noted that if operators observe that a heavier load is followed by smaller children, for instance, the capability of manual loading is always available.
“The computer speeds up loading and is an added level of safety,” said Sullivan.
“This lift chair is for people who can’t get up the stairs on their own,” said Peterson. “There is a [computer] mode for handicap, and it will come down and space automatically.”
One of the 16 baskets on the ride is handicap accessible loading from the left side. The chair will lift the passenger up the ramp, and a sliding board on the platform allows the visitor to transfer.
Sullivan feels this is a more efficient solution than trying to make a car that is wheelchair accessible, as a wheelchair would be required to lock into place, regardless of its size and model, which would be challenging on a Ferris wheel vehicle.
“This way anyone can get on and off on their own and be able to ride, and no [physical] training on the ride operator is necessary,” said Sullivan, noting liability of staff members if they had to transfer riders.
During recent surges in COVID-19 cases in Texas, operation of the wheel is suspended as are other entertainment attractions within the store.
“When that time comes to offer operations, cleaning procedures will be very standard. Sanitizing to all of the baskets, line spacing — it will be similar to our other shops,” said Koob.
International Ride Training (IRT) partnered with Eli Bridge once again for guidance. “We have trained every Ferris wheel for new stores for the past 16 years,” said Patty Beazley, owner, IRT. “They are a great group. Scheels is an awesome company, and we couldn’t be prouder to be associated with them.”
One of the safety features at Scheels is that the gate to the barrier surrounding the ride must have a magnetic key fob held by a ride operator to open. If the gate were to open during a time the wheel is in motion, the computer would automatically stop the ride.
Sullivan points out another safety feature of the computer program. “If you see someone misbehaving, you simply press that seat number, and the wheel will bring them down and you can invite them to ride something else,” she said with a smile.
Vehicle baskets are decorated in branding, both national and local. Koob points out it is a way to recognize their partners in the sporting goods business.
Rides on the Ferris wheel cost only $1, which correlates to both the family-friendly atmosphere and a value-oriented guest experience.
Riders that are 36 inches can ride with a companion. Those 48 inches and taller have no restrictions.
The wheel is one of a handful of attractions within the store, which also include a shooting gallery and a mini bowling alley.
Candymonium opens at Hersheypark
AT: B. Derek Shaw
HERSHEY, Pa. — It has been a two-year, $150-million-dollar project that finally opened to the general public in early July. Chocolatetown is a 23-acre addition to Hersheypark that includes a brand new entrance, a hyper roller coaster, relocated carousel, and numerous retail shops, restaurant and bar, ice cream parlor along with the first Starbucks inside the park.
“One is only happy in proportion as he makes others feel happy,” Milton Hershey once said. That philosophy is engrained in the plaza entrance. The area between Tram Circle and the front gate, named Compass Rose, features a series of large round medallions. First there are the directional ones (north, south, east and west.) The others highlight significant areas in Milton Hershey’s life that offer a piece of historical information to visitors. Each marker covers something from four broad topics: Sweet Beginnings, The Greatest Gifts, Monuments For the Ages and The Legacy Lives On. Depending on where the item being highlighted is located in Hershey, the marker points in that direction.
Laura Krolczyk, assistant general manager of Hersheypark is glad they are open. “We started planning Chocolatetown about four years ago. It’s been a wonderful project — a very large project in scale with a lot of fun things for our guests. We have a very wide sweeping gate for our guests to enter quickly into the park.”
The new entrance area is the first major redesign since Randall Duell & Associates created the Tudor Square area that led to the main gate in 1973, when the park was beginning to transition from a traditional non-gated venue to a hybrid theme park. Homage is paid to those days with a plaque and three bricks within the brick work on the southeast corner (left side) of the Starbucks building. On that spot, 12 feet below, is where the entrance gate once stood. A picture, as part of the marker, helps guests visualize the past. The bricks are from that former entrance area.
Architecturally, the new area pays tribute to styles that Mr. Hershey liked and used in construction of his plant and attractions. Some of these features include four-sided pitched roof towers; Dutch gables; five different colors of clay bricks, including beige; arched windows and blue porch ceilings. Painting a porch ceiling blue is a tradition rooted in the South dating back to the early nineteenth century. This was a way to deter insects and gave the impression of a blue sky and longer days. This can be found on the ceilings of the Ticketing and Guest Services buildings. In addition, there are plenty of chocolate accents throughout the entrance area promoting the Hershey’s brand.
Immediately after passing through the gate, visitors will see the massive Candymonium roller coaster on the right where a portion of the track circles the Hershey Kisses fountain. On the left is the recently relocated 101-year old Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC #47), 66-horse carrousel. Since 1972, the carrousel had been located further into the park in an area known as Carrousel Circle. A new pavilion-style roof was made, complete with clerestory windows, (a small band of upper windows that let natural light into the covered space,) paying tribute to carousel buildings of the past. The old metal red, white and blue canopy still sits on its original site with picnic tables and skill games this season, perhaps becoming home to another attraction in the future. It is not known if the carrousel will operate year-round as had been rumored throughout the construction.
Standing 210 feet tall, Bolliger & Mabillard’s (B&M) latest creation, Candymonium, dominates the right side of the entrance area experience. Of the 23-acre addition to the park, the 4,636-foot-long coaster (or 10,279 bars long in Hershey's Milk Chocolate bars) occupies seven acres. Candymonium is billed as the tallest, fastest, longest and sweetest coaster at Hersheypark and its 15th one.
Part of the queue traverses back and forth underneath the station that is made of traditional brick. Once ascending to the second level, the waiting rider is greeted by neon lighting. This B&M hyper coaster has a secondary restraint system: ratcheting seat belts. The coaster uprights are light blue while the track is a Hershey milk chocolate color. Three trains navigate the track with their own candy-product paint schemes: Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Twizzler twists.
Candymonium begins with a quick 210-foot ascent up the tallest coaster hill in the park. The train then plummets quickly heading toward Spring Creek before it proceeds into an airtime hill, followed by a 123-degree hammerhead curve. Next comes another airtime hill, a speed hill and an upward climb into the first helix, a Stengel dive element (over-banked turn with a camelback hill,) another floater hill, and a final airtime hill. In all, there are seven hills, most over 100 feet in height. The ending features a panoramic banked curve around the Kisses-designed fountain. The two-minute and 26-second ride reaches speeds up to 76 miles per hour.
Sophie Bolliger, vice president and head of sales and marketing at B&M, talked about design considerations. “Candymonium’s track crosses Spring Creek on ten distinct locations. At each of these locations, the design of the track and columns has been specifically adapted with long spans between columns to avoid foundations in the creek bed. Part of the layout consists of two tracks running parallel to each other. To reduce the number of foundations and make the ride more aerial, single columns have been used to support both tracks.”
The coaster has a pair of short trim brakes along the layout. “It is a standard policy from B&M to provide, for long and fast coasters, one or two trim brakes along the ride to adjust the train’s speed. This is especially important for Candymonium which is long and fast with multiple camelbacks. An accurate speed is necessary to create airtime and weightlessness — the most of any of the coasters at Hersheypark,” said Bolliger.
Hersheypark previously worked with B&M when Great Bear was introduced in 1998. “They are an absolute stellar company. It was very evident when you work with a project going through something so serious as COVID-19, just how committed they are to their product; the safety of their employees, the safety of our employees, about making sure the ride is on time. It was just a joy!” said Krolczyk.
The assistant GM talked about commissioning of the coaster. “In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, during our COVID-19 lockdown, construction was not permitted. Everything paused. We were able to come back and finish the construction of Chocolatetown and Candymonium,” said Krolczyk. “In six weeks we finished the commissioning of the ride. It is a multi-part commissioning. The manufacturer does portions of it. Our maintenance assists in a portion of it and then there’s a separate section for just the operations piece of it as well. You’re going through your programming, then going through your maintenance to get laps on your trains and then you’re going through the entire safety systems checks with the operations portion of it.” Finally there was at least 40 hours of operational run time with opening and closing every restraint during every ride cycle. Thousands of laps were made with each of the three trains before they were ready for the public to enjoy.
The park opened three months later than originally scheduled due to the pandemic. “We’re just so happy to have our guests back. Our guests seem to be really happy to be back, and have a little bit more of normal, which includes some fun on a roller coaster in the sweetest place on earth,” said Krolczyk.
The current pandemic situation forced a few pieces of Chocolatetown to not open until next year. This includes the Chocolatier Restaurant, Bar and Patio, Milton’s Ice Cream Parlor and The Sweeterie Confectionery Kitchen.
Kings Island welcomes arrival of Orion
AT: John W.C. Robinson
KINGS MILLS, Ohio — With an opening delayed by nearly three months, Kings Island debuted its newest addition on July 2 when Orion roared to life for the park's passholder preview period. The B&M giga coaster, had been tantalizing riders since even before it was announced in 2019. The sight of its intimidating lift hill waiting above the park's horizon — alongside the iconic Eiffel Tower — only served to whet the appetites of park guests waiting for Ohio to once again allow theme parks to open after the COVID-19 stay-at-home order was lifted.
Now the tallest and fastest roller coaster at Kings Island, Orion plunges riders down a 300-foot first drop at an 85-degree angle, sending them on a high-speed journey over seven more hills and 5,321 feet of track at speeds up to 91 mph.
“It is fast, smooth and provides plenty of air time,” said Mike Koontz, the park’s vice president and general manager. “I can tell you from experience, I’ve ridden it four times now, the views from the top of the lift hill are nothing but spectacular.”
The park has added soundtrack by IMAscore and added extensive theming elements to transform the former X-Base area around the ride to resemble a top secret government compound dubbed Area 72. The name references the year the park was founded, and the queue area for Orion features easter eggs from many of the park's former attractions.
Two years in the making, the $31 million project is almost equal in cost to what it took to build the entire park in 1972, making it the biggest single investment in Kings Island’s history. Its massive layout sees the coaster extend nearly the entire length of the park's Coney Mall midway area. After that initial drop, guests experience five airtime hills, a giant rolling wave turn and 360-degree helix near the end of the 5,321-foot track.
It is the third time the park has partnered with B&M, after the success of Diamondback in 2009 and Banshee in 2014.
The ride proved popular with guests immediately, with opening day wait times exceeding four hours at points, even with all three trains operating continuously (at 50% capacity in order to comply with social distancing protocols). On day two of operation, the park introduced an access pass requirement for the new coaster's line.
“With the reduced capacity of Orion to 50%, we created the Orion Access Pass to assign guests a one-hour window to ride the coaster,” said Chad Showalter, director of communications at Kings Island. “They are distributed on a first come, first served basis when the park opens each day. This gives our guests the opportunity to enjoy the rest of their day at Kings Island, and come back to the ride at their assigned ride time.”
Access passes and social distancing are not the only changes present at Kings Island with the shadow of COVID-19 still present. The park has installed over 600 additional hand sanitizing stations throughout the grounds. All shops and restaurants have been assigned an official entrance and exit, and social distancing reminders are prevelant throughout the walkways and lines.
"Face coverings are required at the park for anyone that's over the age of two," added Showalter. "We will have ambassadors walking around to help remind our guests and also to tell them where the closest relax zone is." Relax zones are semi-secluded, often shaded areas within the park where guests can safely social distance and remove their masks for comfort.
"Our guests and associates have been very supportive regarding our face covering policy."
As is becoming common practice in 2020 for all major theme parks, the park has implemented an online reservation system for all guests who plan to attend each day. In addition, upon arrival all guests have their temperatures checked.
In order to reduce high-contact areas, Kings Island has removed all of its park map stands which were a common area for congregation of large groups of visitors. Instead, the park is actively encouraging guests to use the Kings Island App for information and directions within the facility. In addition, several large, billboard-style maps have been installed on the park grounds.
“Our guests have appreciated the extensive measures that Kings Island has put into place to reduce the spread of germs and COVID-19. We’re all in this together, and our guests know that safety is Kings Island’s top priority,” said Showalter. “We’ve found that when we focus on safety, they can focus on fun and making memories with the people who matter most to them- their family and friends.”
Not all of the COVD-19-releated changes are restrictive. Kings Island has remembered that it's a place for family fun and entertainment. With that, in 2020, the park introduced the pop-up show Scrub Club.
“Scrub Club is an unannounced, pop-up show that happens throughout the day,” explained Showalter. “They perform in various spaces throughout Kings Island. The performances are in large midway areas where there’s plenty of room to maintain social distancing. Since the shows are not promoted, our guests do not gather or congregate in advance to watch it.”
After a week of passholder-only previews, Kings Island opened to the general public on July 10. The park is maintaining shorter operating hours thus far in the summer, with the gates closing at 7 p.m. on most nights.