We had just gotten back in the Fast Lane line for another ride, but then we realized...we still had yet to hug the support! It was 6:20 at this time. So instead of riding again, we hopped out of line (we were not yet to the bridge so it was easy) and went all the way back past the batwing to the famed midway support, where we proceeded to take pictures of us hugging the support. We literally had a support group meeting, featuring an actual support. I discovered how to listen for a train by putting my ear against the support and listening to how loud the rumble was (and it was crazy loud when a train passed overhead!). That was cool.
Someone had written "We Love You" on the support, which was sweet! I got the picture as a train entered the batwing, which is barely visible beyond the foliage. But it's in the picture.
It was 6:40 by the time our support group meeting concluded. 20 minutes left! As much as we wanted to squeeze in another ride, we didn't want to take any chances. We wanted to enter the line right before 7:00 so we could at the very least be on any of the last ten trains.
Kayleigh and I got our picture in front of Vortex's ID sign, joining the ranks of many others who were doing the same for the same reason.
Now it was starting to get crazy. The line had grown to where it wrapped around the Urgent Scare ambulance and back toward WindSeeker's entrance. Security personnel were beginning to show up so nothing ugly would happen. We joined an entire GROUP of 30-40 people who were standing and waiting for the exact same reason we returned: to hop in line right before/at 7:00. We knew a number of people in the group, so at least we got to reminisce some more. All of us had one common interest: to get on the last train or at least get close to it. There were definitely more than 28 people here so I had no idea how this would work out. As 7:00 drew closer, the line got longer, and our anticipation grew. In just minutes, Vortex would close for the last time.
In the meantime, the setting sun brilliantly colored the sky, with the dominant colors a fitting blue and orange. Vortex was riding into not just any sunset, but one of its own colors. Even the weather was assisting in its sendoff.
Suddenly, people started scrambling to get in line. My group got swept up in the action as we tried to find a spot as close to the back as we could get. However, many other people had the same idea. My group ended up trying to find the back of the line twice until we decided to stay where we are. We ended up in line next to the restrooms, with the end of the line now by Antique Autos (where the brick wall ends).
I looked at my Fitbit, on which the time read 7:02. The park was now closed for the season, and Vortex was now closed forever. We weren't as close to the end of the line as we hoped, but at least we were in line. One of my supervisors came out with the "We're Sorry, This Ride Is Closed" sign and stood at the end of the line, with several security officers. One other officer stood in the middle of where the line wrapped around by WindSeeker and the restrooms. I saw a group of WindSeeker riders exiting and marveling at how long the line was. I wondered if any of them were hoping to get in line for Vortex by closing. This massive line was and always will be the longest line I have ever seen for Vortex.
The line had moved a little bit by the time I took this picture, as we couldn't see the end of the line from where we were at closing.
We slowly moved around past WindSeeker and the ambulance as the line moved toward Vortex's queue. As we moved closer to the ID sign, I noticed a group of six people wearing matching airbrushed shirts that said "Original Vortex Crew" on the front and "One Final Ride" on the back. Wait...original Vortex crew!?!?! Once Kayleigh and I realized this, we got really excited. We had the chance to meet people WHO WORKED AT Vortex IN 1987. I always thought that it would be cool to meet even one person who worked there back in the day, but I had long accepted that it probably wouldn't happen because everyone would be who-knows-where at this point. But now...it was about to happen. We, members of Vortex's final crew, were about to meet members of Vortex's first crew.
I noticed that they weren't moving with the line, but rather letting people pass them. That was good since I was hoping they wouldn't have moved on before we got the chance to meet them. Nonetheless, they were still in the same spot by the time we reached them, and we promptly struck up a conversation with them and how cool it was that members of the first and final crews were together. Of course we had to get a picture.
The line kept moving, so our initial conversation had to be short. They told us that they would wait for us to come around through the queue entrance, as they wanted us to join them on their final ride. We were ecstatic at the thought of original and current Vortex crew members taking a final ride together! But first we had to wait for the line to take us all the way around back to the ID sign.
Other enthusiasts/fans were in line around us which sparked even more conversations and reminiscing. We even watched a couple of NoLimits concept videos (of Arrow rides of course) together as the line entered the queue. A couple of them asked me what my count was up to. Numerous other guests in line were hyped and were sharing their excitement and appreciation for Vortex. As trains returned, some in line would shout "HOW WAS YOUR RIDE?" to the train and the riders cheered loudly in response. I heard one rider shout "Vortex FOREVER, BABY!" as his train rolled into the ready brakes. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Vortex was getting a lot of appreciation from the guests, making for a wholesome sendoff surrounded by loyal fans. Even with all of us here, we still made up just a mere fraction of over 46 million guests whose lives Vortex gripped in one way or another.
In the meantime, we noticed the group of original crew members talking with a couple of security guards. We initially feared they would get kicked out of line, but we would later learn it was because some other guests were giving them trouble. By the time we reached them, two security guards now accompanied them, and now us as they included us in their group. They had gotten permission, and security clearance, to ensure they would be on the final public train. And since they invited us to join them...we would get to ride with them on that train. We were over the moon that we would be among the final public riders with the original crew! It felt like a dream, even though I knew and acknowledged that it was actually happening. This was real.
While waiting for the rest of the line to pass, we asked about what it was like for them and what was similar and different in 1987 vs. today. Of course Vortex was brand new in 1987 (that was obvious) but also in 1987 the crew rotated every half hour (we rotate every hour), there was no dual dispatch (yet) and there was no exit gate (we'd get in serious trouble if we ever sent a train with the exit gate open today!). Vortex was its own crew, and it was not yet paired with a neighboring ride. The trains had no seatbelts at the time as well. Of course their favorite position was driving the ride, which is the same for us.
Eventually, the queue began to clear, and soon the security guards began escorting us through the queue as we continued our conversations with them. They were really nice and willing to answer our bombardment of questions. We greatly enjoyed talking with each other and hearing how the same job changed so much over the years, and we especially enjoyed the simple fact that the first and final Vortex crews were meeting. Think a movie or TV crossover, but in real life.
The station was emptying out, and we stayed in the switchback until the station was cleared. I felt a little bad for the guests who were wanting the last train but were told by security to board now or else not ride. Apparently it would be just us on the last train. Honestly I didn't care if anyone else was on our train, as long as it was the last. I took a moment to thank the security guards for their help in getting us on the final train, as surely it was not the easiest task for them to insist the guests ride now. As we continued to wait, the minutes seemed longer and the excitement seemed to increase exponentially. We were the last public riders, about to ride WITH THE ORIGINAL CREW. It felt so surreal, but still in the moment.
Finally, we were let loose to pick our rows. Cheers erupted as we chose our seats. Train 2 was waiting for us. My friends headed for the back, but the original crew headed to the front. I had already planned to ride in the back for my final ride with the crew, so I joined the original crew, who boarded in 1-1, 2-1 and 2-2 and left 1-2 empty. I hopped into 1-2 for the momentous occasion. I looked around and saw numerous cameras pointed at us from the exit and Fast Lane bridge. Don was among the paparazzi. I was in awe of this beautiful moment, seated on the last public Vortex train surrounded by original crew members whom I thought I would never get the chance to meet, immortalized by the cameras capturing the moment that the last public riders would depart the station. I was absolutely star-struck.
The station went quiet. The floor operators' "Clear!" calls broke the quiet. The park's loudest lift was waiting to haul its next train up the 148-foot incline.
At 7:48 p.m., Train 2 was dispatched, with original and final Vortex crew members aboard. Instantly cheers resounded from riders and spectators alike as gravity pulled us out of the station and onto the lift in normal fashion. The cheering faded into the distance and the Arrow anti-rollback ear candy took over. I took in the view of the ride and the park. As it was nearly 50 minutes after closing, the lights on top of the Eiffel Tower were already on. The other rides sat closed and dark, even The Beast. Vortex was now the only ride operating in the whole park. I took in every moment of the 56-second ascent and made sure I was there in the moment to enjoy the final public ride, as it would never happen again. We cheered again as Train 2 crested and soared into what was the world's tallest drop 32 years ago. I screamed "Bend it like an Arrow!" going into the drop. We cheered and screamed our way through the inversions, and I enjoyed the view of what would be my last ride ever in the front car. When we hit the safety brakes, our cheers resumed and were joined by numerous others watching along the queue in front of the entrance. We waved at each other as we once again had cameras pointed at us, and started chanting "Vortex! Vortex!" as Train 2 returned us to the station where we cheered all the way to the end. I thanked the original crew members for letting them join us as they headed out the exit first. My friends rejoined me as we followed them. A whole slew of people were waiting and gave us high fives as we walked out. I felt like we were celebrities for a moment. This was all a pleasant surprise to me. I expected some excitement with it but this still exceeded what I thought would happen. It felt so good to see all the appreciation everyone was showing to Vortex, and how hyped they were to witness the final public ride. I am humbled to have been able to join six original Vortex crew members on the final public ride; it was such a privilege and a moment I, my friends, and those crew members will never, ever forget. I am truly forever grateful.
I shared hugs with my friends as our euphoria turned to raw emotion. We and the original crew members exchanged thanks for our riding together before they headed out. Several others were vlogging the moments as they unfolded, including our emotional hugs. I wasn't crying just yet, but my friends already were and I felt them.
The exit cleared out, I got the on ride photos from our train, and joined the rest of my crew as they "closed" Vortex. I say "closed" because we still had one event left: the associate rides night.
We walked back towards Troika where many fellow associates were lining up to get their last rides on Vortex. The rides night was supposed to start at 7:30 and go to 8:30, but obviously that had to change due to it taking nearly 50 minutes to cycle through the line at closing. At the top of the hour, Vortex reopened for the associates. We still had until only 8:30 to ride, but I was still able to get in two more rides before then. This time, the wait was a lot shorter and we were able to choose wherever we wanted, as opposed to earlier in the day where there was no preferred seating. It was nice waiting only five minutes once more. I rode Trains 2 and 3 once each, which ended up being my last rides ever on both of them, in 5-2 and 6-2 respectively.
After those rides, I met up with my crew at the exit as we waited to board for our final ride. The anticipation returned.
At 8:40 p.m., the line was cleared once again, and we headed through the exit into the station where Train 1 awaited us. The same train that took me on all but one of my milestone rides would now take me and my crew on my last ride ever. I kept saying "We're going, we're going..." as we walked in to pick our seats. My three supervisors got their picture taken in the last car and, knowing that 7-1 was my favorite seat, invited me to sit with them. The train had locked when I joined them, so I got to pedal the car one last time to release my restraint. I stepped aboard for the final time into 7-1. "Last ride, here we go!" I said, trying to fend off my disbelief. "This is it, Carolyn!" one of my sups said. This last ride would be my 1,221st complete ride, so I would be ending on a palindrome.
After buckling my seatbelt and having my restraint checked for the final time, Train 1 was on its way, with the crew on board, at 8:41 p.m. We chanted, "Feel the Grip!" as we rolled out for our last ride ever.
"This is so surreal," we mentioned as we began our final 56-second ascent. I then proceeded to say, "I can't believe it...it's time for a thank you speech," before I proceeded to yell,
"Vortex, thank you for an amazing 12 years, including 3 years working here and 9 years riding! You helped me become the person I am today! I know but I can't believe that I'm on my last ride ever. I'll miss you so much!"
as the anti-rollback rang out. "You guys ready?" my sups and crewmates shouted as we neared the top. "This is it!" as we crested. We screamed our way down the first drop as the ejector air sent me up against my restraint and put a good couple inches between me and my seat. "Here we go!" I screamed as we soared through the loops. We hollered our way through the corkscrews and whooped through the batwing (posing for our pictures on the way) before hauling up the helix and hitting the safety brakes hard with an abrupt stop. We sat there for a little bit as the areas and full timers were still boarding the train behind us (they were last train, we were second to last. It was the same with Firehawk last year.). Even if we were second to last train ever, we were the last riders ever on Train 1.
My last ride on Vortex...was amazing. I know I say that for every ride, but this one was absolutely amazing. It was hauling, it was smooth, and it ran wonderfully to finish out its last operating day. There was nothing bad about this ride. I must add that Vortex had no downtime on this day, as it should be. I got emotional while waiting on the ready brakes and heading back into the station as we chanted "Vortex! Vortex! Vortex!" once again. As we disembarked, I hugged the headrest of my seat and said "Thank you" before walking out the exit for the last time (other than when we got our picture on the train after everyone else got off).
Maintenance took over and began to transfer the trains off in preparation for their removal from the track the next day. They transferred Train 3 into the storage shed, got Train 1 onto the ready brakes...and cycled Train 2 one last time. For one more time we listened to the lift running, the anti-rollback, and the "ring ring" of the bell as the train crested, after which the lift went silent for the final time.
We as a crew made our way to the ID sign for the picture together. As we reached the sign, Train 2 came to its final stop in the safety brakes...and Taps began to fill the air as it played over the lift speaker.
We stood silent as Taps played on. The other rides stood silent, paying respect to their fallen neighbor. All of Kings Island went silent. The only other sound was the nearby traffic on I-71. Emotions finally broke as I silently said, "Goodbye, best friend..." with tears filling my eyes. We had just witnessed the end of an era.
After getting one last group picture in front of the ID sign, it was time for us to go.
It was hard to walk away from Vortex. I know I will see it again for now, albeit with no trains and likely no power, but the fact that it will never operate nor take anyone for a ride ever again hits hard.
Vortex had a wonderful 33-season run at the park, and it got to end on a high note, giving its final rides while surrounded by loyal fans. It is now time for it to join Firehawk, Son of Beast, King Cobra and the ranks of defunct coasters in roller coaster heaven. Saying goodbye is never easy, but we have to anyway. At least my 12 years of memories with Vortex will help me feel a bit better, and will live on.
Vortex may have lived only 33 seasons, but our memories of it still continue to live on in our hearts. As long as that's true, Vortex will not be completely gone. It will live on, in some way or another.
Thank you, Vortex. Well done on your 33 seasons and 46 million rides. You will be deeply missed and fondly remembered.
First Ride: July 23, 2010
Final Ride: October 27, 2019
Final total: 1221 1/3
+Linus' Launcher: 1
+Boo Blasters: 1
BONUS PIC: Brian Lamm got not only the aforementioned FYE Coasters group photo, but also this pic of Vortex where I happened to be in the second row (far side) of that train!