Surprise: a park no one cared about 10 years ago is now one of the leading regional parks in the country. Carowinds, you will always be remembered as the ugly duckling that built the country’s top Giga coaster, then followed up with (probably) the most expensive launch coaster in this country since Kingda Ka. If it weren’t for the glaring lack of water rides and natural foliage, Carowinds might actually be the park here coming the closest to achieving its full potential.
The future for Carowinds might be the most exciting part. Will the rapids ride come back? Will the new onsite hotel start a trend? Will Vortex become a floorless coaster? Will Hurler be RMC’d (and, if so, is a GCI hiding somewhere in the 10 year plan, too)? Nothing seems out of the realm of possibility when you consider that 10 years ago, Carowind’s “new” coaster was the Boomerang from Geauga Lake.
4. Kings Dominion
What is the real test of a solid park? One that really sells you on a feeling, not just on a coaster? Kings Dominion showed us that, yes, even in the wake of demolishing a flagship ride, you can still be irresistible in the eyes of those you hurt most (“hurt” I use gently, here. We’re not even sure if Volcano made our KD Top 3, but I digress). Also, let’s acknowledge that singing mushrooms make the tears dry faster.
1975 was an interesting year to live in western Virginia: the other Kings Island and the other Busch Gardens: The Dark Continent opened their doors, offering two strong (and diverse) products. The fact that both parks have flourished is a testament to the coaster enthusiasm you’ll find in Virginia, and the great rides that departed the region (Big Bad Wolf, Volcano, Drachen Fire, Hypersonic XLC, etc) demonstrate that these people know that parks are more than just their coasters.
3. Cedar Point
Of all the positions on this list, I would imagine that giving Cedar Point the bronze prize would be the hardest to defend. Then I considered: “maybe it’s not hard to defend this. Maybe people are just hard to reason with.” Is this the case? How can anyone know anymore when Cedar Point is the park that everyone either loves to love, or loves to hate?
The meat of this issue is Cedar Point’s figurative and literal flatness, a lack of trees/character/polish on the park’s front end, and some glaring holes in the ride roster (I will not, under any circumstances, be convinced that a park is “whole” without a dark ride of any kind whatsoever. Maverick‘s tunnel effects almost count. Almost). Nevertheless, the coaster collection here is nothing if not a neurotransmitter-crashing-rush-of-dopamine incarnate – I can admit in this case, more actually is more.
2. Kings Island
Yes, we like Kings Island better than Cedar Point. Yes, we think Kings Island is the best park in Ohio. Yes, part of that has to do with Paramount Parks forever beefing up their flagship park enough to occasionally steal the limelight from Cedar Point – but credit must be given to Cedar Fair for its commitment to maxing out the park’s potential (even if we can’t help but nitpick their more recent coasters to death).
What’s interesting about Kings Island is its long history of taking equal-but-opposite directions from Cedar Point. Giga coaster? Hyper wood coaster with a loop. Giant wing coaster? Giant invert. Gemini? Beast. Cedar Point is (arguably) the steel coaster capital of the world? Kings Island is (arguably) the wood coaster capital of the world. Nowhere on the timeline is this more clear than now, with Cedar Fair continuing to diversify their Ohio parks to the nth degree (after all, people in Dayton and Columbus won’t buy a Platinum Pass if the parks are too similar, right?), so it really just comes down to preferences. We like forests. We like log flumes. We like blue ice cream. We like that Boo Blasters On Boo Hill exists, even though it’s not very good. Er go, we’re Kings Island people.
1. Knott’s Berry Farm
Hot take: Knott’s Berry Farm isn’t perfect, but it’s still the best thing Cedar Fair has going for it. If the park with the most rides or “the best” coasters was at the top of this list, it would be equal parts lazy, uninteresting, and wrong – for sheer volume/excess alone does not a great park make. If things like food, dark rides, comfort, local color, and seasonal events in any way tip your scales, Knott’s really is the only answer. Knott’s Scary Farm outperforms Halloween Horror Nights and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party every year, and despite an annual attendance nearly twice that of Cedar Point and Canada’s Wonderland, you can still take a Tuesday afternoon in February to enjoy homemade garlic fries from La Papa Loca in peace.
Orlando aside, the greater Los Angeles metro is the most ferocious theme park (and tourist destination) battlefield in the world. You have global brands (Disney, Universal, Lego), the largest coaster collection on Earth (Six Flags), and the tremendous SoCal tourism sect. Stakes are incredibly high. And then there’s Knott’s Berry Farm, the impossibly cozy “America’s First Theme Park” that had the audacity to build the World’s largest (at the time, by a huge margin) log flume the same year that Disney gave us Pirates of the Caribbean. In 1978, Montzooma’s Revenge gave the park more total coasters than Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain combined. Xcelerator still has the most powerful acceleration of any coaster in the Western Hemisphere. The *rapids ride*, of all things, now has dozens of audio animatronics. The list of power moves goes on.
If “rising to the challenge” had a flavor, it would be Boysenberry.
We hope you enjoyed our Cedar Fair Top 10 (even if you’re mad that Cedar Point isn’t #1), and thanks for reading.
Check out some of our most recent Cedar Fair Trip Reports: