Kings Dominion: Big Thrills in Central Virginia

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It’s no secret that we here at The Roarbots are big theme park fans. It was therefore surprising that we’ve lived in the Washington, DC, region for as long as we have and never made it to Kings Dominion. It’s a couple hours south, just outside of Richmond, and we’ve certainly passed it a number of times. The sign is visible from I-95, and every time we’ve driven down to Busch Gardens Williamsburg or other points south, we comment that we really should check it out one of these days.

Well, this summer, we finally did it. And I’m so glad we did. It’s actually a great park with a lot to do for all ages!

The summer season for mid-Atlantic theme parks might be drawing to a close, but it’s not over yet! And now’s also the perfect time to pick up 2016 season passes, if you’re so inclined. As an added incentive, the park recently announced a new ride coming next season: Delirium — a powerful, spinning pendulum.

Delirium rendering

Kings Dominion has actually been open since 1972, and it’s been through a few owners since. Having spent a fair number of years in the area, I remember when it was Paramount’s Kings Dominion and boasted a number of attractions themed to Paramount properties. These days, it’s owned by Cedar Fair, who happen to know a thing or two about theme parks.

I’ve long since had the impression that Kings Dominion is just a “coaster park” — in other words, a lot of concrete, a lot of roller coasters, and very little theming. (To be fair, that assumption is why we’ve always opted for nearby Busch Gardens, which is dripping with gorgeous, immersive theming.)

Although the park has an impressive 13 roller coasters (among its more than 60 rides and attractions), it also has an impressive amount of thought and design behind its various lands and plenty to occupy younger/shorter kids.

We enjoy roller coasters, but I’m not big on the technical stuff (I’ll leave that to other blogs). Here, I want to focus on the kid-friendly aspects of the park…and why we’ll definitely be making it part of our regular summer rotation.

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If you’re wondering why this post is a little photo-light (especially when compared to most of our other posts), it’s because the day we visited saw mostly torrential rain. I just didn’t take many pictures, unfortunately. All the more reason to go back, if you ask me.

So, the park is divided into five different “lands” (not counting the attached water park): International Street, Old Virginia, Candy Apple Grove, Safari Village, and Planet Snoopy.

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Kings Dominion’s “Haunted Mansion” ride: Boo Blasters on Boo Hill

International Street is the main entrance area (think Main Street, USA, at Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom). It’s mostly shops and restaurants, but it’s dominated by a 320-foot-long fountain pool that leads to a 1/3-scale Eiffel Tower, which is more or less the centerpiece of the park (yes, you can go to the top). True to its name, the storefronts and facades represent various European designs and architectural influences. It’s actually an incredibly inviting entrance area.

Old Virginia brings a bit of the colonial flavor to the park. It certainly resembles Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg, but that’s not a bad thing. Tree-lined walkways, a replica Liberty Bell, colonial-inspired buildings, and several appropriately themed rides complete the illusion.

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Candy Apple Grove is the geographic heart of the park, and it’s also the largest area. It’s gone through a few different themes during the years, but it feels like a generic carnival area today. A bulk of the park’s rides are in this area, so you may never even notice the relative lack of theming.

Safari Village is an African-themed area with plenty of wildlife and safari designs and decorations. It’s also home to seven (count ’em, seven) roller coasters, so if you’re a coaster hound, you’ll likely be spending much of your time here.

Planet Snoopy is, obviously, the kids area. Surprisingly big, the land packs in 18 rides for the wee ones. Remember what I said about plenty of rides for all ages? If you’ve got little ones, Planet Snoopy is where you’ll want to be.

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In terms of rides, this place feels like it’s all about the coasters. But, like I’ve said, they haven’t neglected everyone else. There’s no way you could possibly ride everything in one day — not even just the roller coasters. It was a rainy day with minimal lines when we were there, and even we couldn’t get them all done (and I tried).

Kids rides are scattered throughout the park, and you’ll find at least one in every land, but Planet Snoopy obviously has the highest concentration — including two roller coasters! It’s always a good idea to check height restrictions before planning a visit, so take a look here if you’re curious. Kids under 36″ tall have the fewest options, so if you’ve got really little ones, make sure there’s enough to occupy them.

The coasters do range in terms of speed and thrill. The Intimidator 305, though, claims to be the tallest and fastest (90 mph) on the East Coast. For my money’s worth, not one of them was a dud. Backlot Stunt Coaster, Dominator, and Volcano are all fantastic.

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Intimidator 305

Non-coaster rides include most of the standards: a scrambler, a ferris wheel, a carousel, swings, a log flume, a water rapids ride, bumper cars, etc. Nonstandard rides worth mentioning are Avalanche (a trackless bobsled ride) and The Crypt (a suspended top spin ride that’s balls-to-the-wall crazy). My kids adored the former and rode it several times. The latter? Not so much. But their old man rode it!

(Note: Not my video, but I did ride it!)

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Avalanche

There isn’t much in the way of live entertainment at Kings Dominion, but with this many rides, can you really complain? Planet Snoopy has several Peanuts-themed shows for the kids, and the Cirque Imagine acrobatic show is quite good. We were pleasantly surprised, and even the kids — who are veterans of Cirque du Soleil — enjoyed it.

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Cirque Imagine

There are a few attractions within the park that cost extra (not a fan), including Dinosaurs Alive, which is a walkthrough attraction featuring a collection of more than 40 life-size animatronic dinosaurs nestled along a wooded path. If you like dinosaurs, this might up your alley, but I just can’t bring myself to pay for additional attractions inside a theme park. Call me spoiled.

All in all, Kings Dominion is well worth a visit. If you live in or are traveling near the area, you should really add it to your itinerary. To top it all off, the 20-acre water park with 15 attractions is included in regular park admission. Remember what I said about there being no way to do everything in one day?

We’re thrilled that we finally made it a point to visit the park, and it’s fairly safe to say we’ll be back. Yes, I’m looking into season passes for next year.

IMG_8570(Disclaimer: We were guests of Kings Dominion for the day. All opinions remain my own.)

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