Hollywood spills over into thrills at amusement parks Thrills & chills

June 26, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

What's new at theme parks this summer? Lights, cameras, action -- the movies!

Amusement parks popular among Baltimore-area vacationers have gone Hollywood, from "The Great Race" kiddie car ride at Maryland's dressed-up Wild World, to the "Days of Thunder" and "Batman" attractions at Paramount's Kings Dominion in Doswell, and Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., respectively.

In part, the trend linking rides and other offerings directly to the movies grows directly from the ownership of some parks.

The 18-year-old Kings Dominion near Richmond, for example, was purchased last year by movie-maker Paramount Communications Inc. And Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey is part of the national theme park chain now owned by Time Warner, which boasts venerable Warner Bros. studios as an affiliate.

Kings' Dominion, particularly, carries the Hollywood link through the park. Visitors are greeted by costumed characters from "Star Trek," sidewalk plaques on a "Walk of Fame" highlight memorable Paramount films and an ice show in one of the theaters has skaters dancing to themes from Paramount movies.

More than that, however, "the criterion in this business is coming up with changes so that people want to keep coming back," observes Tom Hall, general manager of Wild World in Largo, the nearest theme park to Baltimore.

What other mass medium offers more theme potential than the movie industry?

Well, television for one -- which helps explain the new "Totally Television" attraction at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., and a variety of TV themes running through other parks.

Here is a park-by-park introduction to what's new in 1993 at five regional attractions which draw many visitors from this area:

Wild World

A 115-acre water and theme park on Route 214 in Largo, about a 45-minute drive from Baltimore. Admission: $18.99 adults; $14.99 kids 4 to 8, senior citizens $9.50. Season passes and group rates available. Information: (410) 792-2703.

Now under its second summer of management by the Tierco Group Inc., a small company with two other parks, both in Oklahoma, Wild World originally opened in 1974 as an animal park, then was converted to a water park with long slides and a wave pool.

This summer, it boasts the addition of several new rides aimed at emphasizing the park's family nature, says Mr. Hall, a former employee with Six Flags and theme park consultant who oversees operations from the seat of a wheelchair.

"I know how to get around the whole park going downhill," he jokes, noting that Wild World and other theme parks generally rate well in accommodating physically disabled visitors. He suffered a skiing accident as a young man, but says he has no trouble enjoying the park's thrill rides.

The amusement ride side of Wild World received the most emphasis this year, whereas last year's work went into improving the long-established water side of the park, now named Paradise Island.

"The Great Race," for example, offers young kids a relatively placid ride as they pretend to steer flivvers around a wooded course, evoking the great Jack Lemmon-Natalie Wood-Tony Curtis movie of 1965.

It is the newest attraction in the "Day at the Circus" kiddie ride area of the park, in which a variety of mini-rides, including a roller coaster, carousel and even a mini-bumper car track, have adopted the look of an outdoor circus.

The park has also added a Ferris wheel, and just this week celebrated the 100th anniversary (June 21) of the ride devised by George Ferris for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

But a couple of new thrill rides also beckon older visitors and, according to Mr. Hall, project Wild World's future into competing more directly with the bigger parks.

On Shipwreck Falls, a huge flume-style ride, visitors board a mock logging mill cart to plunge down a ramp into a pool, sending up a huge wall of water that splashes people who have just gotten out of the previous cart -- and anybody else not careful about tracking the flood's path.

"I recommend you do this last, for you definitely will get wet -- either that or bring a change of clothes," said Mr. Hall. Wild World allows visitors to move back and forth between the water area and the theme-ride area, but they must don shirt and shoes to enjoy the rides.

The Python, newly purchased from Six Flags Great Adventure, doubles Wild World's appeal to lovers of roller coasters.

On this straight-line looping coaster, you climb stairs to board the cars. The 60-second ride rockets forward and then drops you into an eyeball-wrenching loop before jerking to a halt -- then repeats the whole ride going backward.

Combined with the venerable Wild One wooden coaster operating since 1986 -- rated by the American Coaster Enthusiasts as among the top 10 wooden coasters in the nation -- The Python gives Wild World a respectable one-two punch for gravity defying enthusiasts.

Paramount's Kings Dominion

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