December 17 happened to be a day I was off work, so of course I had to spend it...at Winterfest as a guest. In 30 degree weather. Fun, I know.
I reached out to several of my friends to find out if they too were planning to attend Winterfest the same night. Three of them said they were coming. Perfect! I already could tell that this night was going to be fun. As much as I like going by myself, planning out how I spend the evening gets challenging when the park is open only five hours and time to see a favorite ride dwindles by the day. Since I had friends coming, I no longer needed to stress over planning beause now I could play it by ear and make plans based off on what they want to do. And no matter how those plans would go, memories would be made that we would all love.
I arrived at the park at about 4:45 to find a nearly deserted International Street. We would later learn that the park would look like this for the entire evening. It was a Tuesday night, it was cold, and some schools were still in session this week.
I milled about International Street before joining the waiting group at the rope just before 5:00. What ensued was the calmest, most orderly running of the bulls I had ever seen. In fact, no one was running at all so it was more like Walking/Speedwalking of the Bulls. If every rope drop was like this, it'd be a lot less stressful for sure!
I hit Mystic Timbers first just in case it got more busy later. I rode three times, with bats twice and snakes once. One of my rides was in the front seat and it was (literally) cool to see snow on the track as I flew past White Water Canyon and the train tracks. It was about 5:30 after my third ride and I hoped to be on Troika at just the right time to see the Eiffel Tower tree light up as I was riding it. I sang along to "You Make It Feel Like Christmas" as I skipped past Vortex.
However, Troika was down...but the Antique Autos were not. So I hopped on them instead. Even though it was nearly 5:30, I was their first rider of the evening and had the entire track all to myself. I had just crossed the bridge and rounded the turn to where I had a clear view of the tree as the countdown flashed and it lit! Kings Mills Antique Autos is officially the first ride from where I counted down and watched the park lighting ceremony!
Upon returning, I saw two other guests in the queue who happened to be two of the three friends I would see tonight. They were about to ride and I had just gotten off, but I was able to join them and ride again. Essentially, I got a reride on the Antique Autos. Fittingly enough, we ended up in car 1, the one with Vortex (VRT-X87) on its license plate! This was my first time riding Antique Autos as a passenger, so I had to get used to not driving. My double ride on Kings Island's current newest ride was fun.
I must mention that many of my Vortex crewmates are still here working Winterfest. Most of them work at either Antiques/Troika or Coney Flats (Carousel/Scrambler/Dodgem/Zephyr), though a couple are also at Skate Rental. Seeing them every time I pass or ride the Coney Mall rides is always a highlight.
The first ride we rode together was the train. We sat toward the front so we could be closer to the steam which in turn would feel warmer. We sang along to every song!
Mystic's line was still nonexistent, so we rode it a couple of times together. Got more bats and snakes.
All of us were hungry, so we decided on dinner at Coney BBQ. I had not eaten there all season so I was excited. I remembered people saying great things about the rotisserie chicken, so I tried it this time. I liked it! It was tender, had just enough seasoning to add to the flavor, and it was filling (which was a given since it was half a chicken!). I missed eating at one of my favorite in-park food locations (and I don't eat there often because it's expensive) but eating there again with several friends made it more worth the $12 I paid for the yummy rotisserie chicken, brussel sprouts, and of course the free hush puppy. I had never thought that brussel sprouts were a food option at Kings Island, let alone any amusement park, but I am glad to be wrong and actually eat healthy here!
During our meal, we discovered that the horse carriage rides were having a special where it was $10 per ride instead of the usual $40. Since five of us (me, my three friends, and one other friend who happened to be here as well) were present, we had an ideal opportunity to ride the horse carriage together while being easier on our wallets since $10 for five of us means $2 for each of us. It would be my first time riding the carriage, which was something I hoped to do but wanted to do with other people to make the price more worth it.
The carriage ride was nice and a unique way to see Coney Mall. I would say it is worth the $10, especially if you're with friends.
Next came the main reason I wanted to see if my friends are coming. If you read my Closing Day trip report, you may recall reading about a "support group meeting" we conducted during the last hour of operation. The three friends with me were also there that day, plus one more who couldn't make it tonight. Two of the three friends were also on the last public train with me and the original Vortex crew (and of course were recalling that night as we walked by).
As a refresher, the "support group meeting" I speak of is just an informal getting together by Vortex's support that touches the midway. On Closing Day, we were there taking pictures by it just like how any group of friends would get a group picture (and yes, Vortex is included as a "friend."). We agreed that we should conduct another such meeting during Winterfest, and since most of us were together again, tonight was the perfect night for the Winterfest edition.
After more reminiscing and friend group pictures that included our favorite Arrow looper, we rode Troika now that it was back up. In the queue line, I showed them a friend I had made the previous day:
I kid you not: I had enough free time during my previous shift to build a little snowman at Vortex. I decided to build it by Troika's queue to see if many guests would notice it. In the picture it's slumped forward a bit due to the previous day's rain, wind and sun, but on my next shift I touched it up so that it once again stands tall, much like the ride behind it. I can now check "build a snowman by Vortex" off my Winterfest 2019 bucket list!
We ended up getting Troika all to ourselves. During our earlier picture-taking we were making remarks about how loud Troika's riders were screaming...and now we one-upped them. There may have been only three of us on the ride (one friend didn't ride), but we sounded as loud as a full cycle. I'm surprised my throat didn't give out. My ride op friends who were running the ride played trivia with us and interacted with us as if there were more than three of us on the ride. Another fun time!
Earlier, I had suggested that we try the blue hot chocolate. Thanks to my consulting the 2019 Winterfest Experience Guide a few weeks back, I knew that Graeter's isn't the only location selling blue hot chocolate. Blue hot chocolate is also offered at the funnel cake stand in Rivertown, which is where we headed. We each got a blue hot chocolate (and we all LOVED it!) and shared a funnel cake. Sugar high impending...
We sat by Vortex and continued to sip our blue hot chocolate, which was another item to check off my aforementioned bucket list.
After we were mostly finished (and to keep moving since it was getting pretty cold) two of us went to ride Scrambler while the other two would meet us back at Antiques. By this time, the sugar kicked in and so we were definitely excited to ride Scrambler! I can say with complete confidence that I have never laughed so hard during a ride. The only other experience that comes close is from July of 2013 when I rode Vortex right after drinking a souvenir cup full of root beer, which had me laughing from the first drop all the way to the safety brakes.
We met back up and rode Antiques again. This time, each of us had our own car for another nice drive around the track.
Next, we rode Zephyr, as no other riders were there and I wanted to give my ride op friends something to do. This became our third (and my fourth) zen ride of the evening and it was COLD! Dare I say it felt as cold as I remember my 9-degree ride in 2017! Since we were somewhat crazy (and still feeling the rush from our sugar-filled desserts) we rode again! Both times were fun, though we did end up ducking into the arcade to warm up. Closing time was drawing near, and we wanted to get another ride on Mystic, so we took off skipping (literally SKIPPING). It's amazing what sugar can do. The Mistletones had just started performing since it was 9:30, so we stopped to watch (and sometimes dance to) them. It was fun for all of us.
When they finished, we headed back to Mystic for our last ride of the night. Since there was no line, they had closed off the regular queue and were letting people in through the single rider line to minimize the time spent walking to the station. Still no tree ending, but still a fun, face-freezing ride nonetheless.
What a fun five hours on one of my favorite off days! Taking advantage of no crowds with friends is always fun.
+Mystic Timbers: 6
+Kings Mills Antique Autos: 3