Wooden coasters are a big part of Kings Island‘s history.
It all started with The Racer in 1972, which ignited a brand new interest among amusement parks for building large-scale thrill coasters.
Then in 1979, The Beast came along, earning a legendary status of being the “biggest, baddest, longest wooden coaster in the world.”
Then in 2000 during the Paramount years, the park attempted to build the world’s largest wooden coaster with Son of Beast, but it didn’t last. The coaster succumbed to structural issues, closing permanently in 2009 before being demolished in 2012.
When Cedar Fair acquired the park in 2006, I started to wonder whether another wood coaster would be built at the park again. Well to my excitement, I was thrilled to see King Island announce Mystic Timbers, a smooth, twisted wooden coaster through the woods and back provided by Great Coasters International Inc., along with a perplexing question.
What’s in the shed?
Months went by, and my excitement grew as I watched this beautiful timber structure be assembled. A curved first drop, ground hugging track, lots of changes in direction, and 16 airtime moments! But the shed mystery continued. May rolls around, and it’s finally time for me to check this fresh pile of lumber for myself.
Since the Mystic Timbers experience involves a story, allow me to set the scene.
It’s April, 1983. You, a civilian, have discovered a recently abandoned lumber mill. A rusted 60s GMC pickup sits there, lights flashing, keys still in the ignition, radio still playing, apparently crashed and abandoned by whoever was driving. There sits an entry point and security booth. It sits empty, but a video monitor inside shows security footage is rolling in the area. A warning message blares over a loudspeaker, announcing a mandatory lock down and telling everyone to evacuate the area immediately. It’s clear something bad happened here.
The queue winds along the property, lined with old wood fencing, passing under a few sheltered lumber storage areas, standing in the shadow of a large work shed. This is the central headquarters of the mill.
You work your way up a set of stairs into a garage attached to the work shed. There you board one of three trucks (the coaster trains) also left behind in the mill. You climb in, turn it on, and start exploring the property (make your way to the lift hill).
Headed up the lift hill, a security guard spots you and yells through the loudspeakers, ordering you to turn the truck around and leave, because the area is dangerous, but in traditional horror movie fashion, you continue on anyway. At the top of the lift, the man says one final warning. “Whatever you do, don’t go in the shed!”
The speakers feed back a bit as he turns his mic off, but then a mysterious ringing sound echos through the woods, and you panic, hit the gas, and try to escape (aka drop down the first drop and into the coaster’s layout).
(Video filmed by Kings Island)
What follows is a fast, wild trip through the woods, dodging trees and riverbanks, and hopping over hills at speeds up to 53 mph. Despite your desperate attempt to escape the lumber mill, you ultimately end up at the very place you weren’t supposed to go to: The Shed. Another warning message plays outside the wide open gate. “Warning! Don’t go in the shed! This is a restricted area!” But suddenly, the message starts skipping and distorting, before mysteriously uttering “Go in the shed… Go in the shed… Go in the shed…” Before you slowly roll in…
If for whatever reason you haven’t found out what’s in the shed by now, I’ll offer a big fat SPOILER ALERT.
Inside the shed, tree vines can be seen sprawling across the room. You come across a work space with various items strewn about, such as a desk, a locker, a radio, and a coke machine. Saw blades line the walls, and the overhead lamps are barely giving any light. You come to a dead stop inside the shed. Doors in front of you are swinging in the wind, and the shed wall to your right reveals daylight through its missing planks. All is quiet…
Suddenly, the radio kicks on by itself and starts playing some early 80’s tunes (“Cars” by Gary Neuman, “Maneater” by Hall and Oates, “Can’t Take my Eyes Off You” by Boys Town Gang, or “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler). Spooked, you start to creep forward, but then the radio stops, and several sets of red eyes pop up everywhere. The lamps begin to flicker and swing. The saw blades begin to bounce off the walls. The locker jumps forward from the wall. Large creatures (either giant bats, giant snakes, or a giant living tree) start to appear to your right outside the shed before they come around the corner and jump at you from the doors. Scared out of your mind, you roll out of the shed, back into the garage, leave the truck behind, and get the heck out of there!
Ok, that’s really just the concept of the ride, which I absolutely love. I think it’s just creepy enough to keep you on edge, but just engaging enough to keep you intrigued. Here’s the thing though. As fun as the coaster itself is, I’m not sure if Kings Island executed this story concept quite to its fullest potential.
While the queue has some good theming, I’ve noticed that most guests don’t seem to take the time to watch any of the security footage, which really doesn’t show a whole lot other than the occasional guard popping up and talking into a radio or what not, so it doesn’t generate a whole lot of suspense, and it’s not quite clear what’s going on unless you know the ride story going into it. Also a couple of the TVs show Cedar Fair’s FunTV programs, which totally clash with the mood that’s trying to be established.
Then of course there’s that shed. When Kings Island announced the ride, they focused the marketing almost completely on the shed alone. In their defense, they did do a fantastic job of keeping the shed elements secret, and that in turn generated a ton of curiosity for the attraction, so a lot of people came to ride it on opening weekend. Isn’t that the point of marketing in the first place? Get people to spend money and come to the park? Marketing did their job well in that sense. I can’t criticize that.
BUT two problems stick out with focusing on the shed.
- It unintentionally creates high expectations that can potentially be very hard to meet.
- The rest of the coaster, itself having a great layout with some great elements, is almost completely ignored in the general public’s eyes.
So when people showed up to ride, many spent the entire duration of the coaster anticipating the shed while virtually ignoring everything else, hoping whatever was in the shed would just blow their minds.
So with the ride’s concept in mind, what’s really in the shed?
Two projection screens, blended together with a live set featuring some moving props and moody lighting, and that’s really it. That is the climax of the ride.
But is it really a climax though?
Through interviews from Mystic Timbers’s media day, it was revealed by Kings Island staff that the real purpose of the shed was to give the guests riding the ride a fun little something to keep the ride story going so guests wouldn’t get bored waiting to roll back in the station. A bonus feature if you will. After all, the ride runs with 3 trains and no midcourse brake, so stacking is inevitable.
In that regard, I don’t have any problem with the shed itself. It does indeed provide a fun ending to a very fun roller coaster. Holovis, the company chosen to theme the coaster, put in a bunch of little details all over the ride, especially in the shed. The coolest parts of the shed to me are all the references to current and past attractions at Kings Island. The bats reference the Bat roller coaster, and the snakes reference Diamondback. I think my favorite touch though is all the Son of Beast references. The hazard warning label from the defunct ride’s trains can be found in the transfer track area, and the red eyes that turn on in the shed are a reference to the Son of Beast logo.
All that being said though, I heavily, heavily criticize the marketing team for setting up the shed to be the ride’s climax when it seems it wasn’t meant to be one. If seen as a climax, it feels just plain awkward to have this big jumpscare moment and then just slowly roll away from it into the station. There needs to be some sense of escape. Let’s say the shed wasn’t the very end of the ride. It would’ve had a much more lasting effect on riders if instead of just rolling directly into the station, the ride launched out of the shed into a whole other short section of coaster before hitting the final brakes, sort of like Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which coincidentally shares a very similar theme with Mystic Timbers.
The other option would’ve been for the marketing team to not mention the shed at all, and have it be a complete surprise for everyone. That way no unrealistic expectations are set in riders’ minds, and they would get off the ride thinking “Man how cool was that?”
After all, the real star of the show here is the roller coaster itself. Mystic Timbers is one of the best GCI roller coasters out there. It may not have any record-breaking stats, but it’s got speed, it’s got lots of airtime, and lots of quick twists and turns that weave around trees. It’s also ridiculously smooth and comfortable, which makes it VERY reridable. That is the best part of this coaster. It’s a quick ride (right around 50 seconds from the top of the lift to the brakes), and it’s paced just right to where I really want to ride it again and again, and it doesn’t get old.
If I were to describe Mystic Timbers to the average Kings Island guest, I would say it’s a faster, smoother, and more twisted version of Racer in the woods. In that way it works as a nice bridge coaster between The Racer and The Beast; just thrilling enough to satisfy the thrill seekers, and just comfortable enough to be approachable for families. It’s layout is fast and low, with only two large drops on the whole ride. The rest of the coaster is nothing but tight, smooth, fast-paced, ground-hugging hills and turns; a brand new experience in the park’s coaster line-up, and frankly, my new favorite coaster at Kings Island.
I only say that because Mystic Timbers is exactly the kind of coaster that I tend to like the most. I like rides with a quick pace and a lot of speed. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy rides like Diamondback, Beast, or Banshee. Those three rides are all great in their own right, but man, Mystic Timbers just hits right in my sweet spot. Everyone’s got different opinions. That’s the beauty of this hobby.
But yeah, I can’t ignore that the shed seems to have an identity crisis, as it seems like it can’t decide whether it’s a ride climax or a ride bonus. As the former, it’s pretty darn disappointing, but as the latter, it’s pretty darn cool, so I guess it depends on how you decide to look at it. Personally I choose to see it as a bonus as it helps me enjoy the ride more overall. I went ahead and spoiled the ride ending for myself at opening, because I didn’t really care too much about the shed. I knew it wouldn’t be a drop track (Ugh. That rumor was annoying.) or anything else super fancy, so for a mid-range regional park, projection screens and some moving set pieces feel about right. I also didn’t get around to riding it until May of this year, so I felt it wasn’t worth the trouble to keep the shed a complete surprise for a whole month.
Think about this, though. Mystic Timbers was built by Cedar Fair, a company that, for years, worked off the premise that building giant thrill rides with no theme whatsoever will attract guests from all over, so I find it really impressive that the coaster actually has a real story to follow, with elements that help guests feel like they are a part of it: the radio playing in the crashed truck at the entrance, the security footage playing on the queue TVs, the audio clips that play outside the station, the 60s era truck grilles and rusty paint jobs on the trains, the engine start-up sound when dispatching etc. I find all of these details to be really really cool, and I just love that Kings Island decided to give this ride a story at all and theme it as much as they did. I give the park two huge thumbs up for that. I really hope this is the beginning of Cedar Fair implementing more theming into its major attractions as it really does help rides feel all the more special and unique.
With the opening of Mystic Timbers, Kings Island now has the world record for most wooden track in one amusement park, with 18,804 feet. I’d say that’s a worthy record to have for a park with such a passion for wooden roller coasters.
MYSTIC TIMBERS RATING: 9 / 10 (Excellent!)
Please tell me what you guys think of Mystic Timbers in the comments below! Do you agree with me? Disagree? Think the shed sucks? Let me know.
Until then, I’ll catch you in the front seat!