Two months after Kings Island's original opening date and three months since COVID-19 threatened to keep the park closed all year, the Mason, Ohio, theme park is finally opening for the 2020 season.
And the highlight is Orion, the coaster that the park started teasing in summer 2018 and called "Project X" during its planning phase. It's now Kings Island's longest, fastest and tallest steel coaster.
Season pass holders can begin riding Orion and Kings Island's other rides July 2, with the gates opening to the general public on July 12.
For general manager Mike Koontz, it's been a long spring waiting and planning for this day.
"Like a lot of businesses, we had to wait our turn," he said. "And we've been patient."
That patience was worth it in the end.
Kings Island is a whole new experience with new COVID-19 safety measures in place, from the mandatory temperature check at the gate to all the six-foot distance markings in ride lines to hand sanitizer stations everywhere.
But the pandemic was quickly forgotten as fans climbed aboard the $30 million Orion for their first-ever ride and experienced the thrill of a 91 mph drop.
First riders give their review
Teenager Luke Miller, who was among the first riders, was stunned.
"I loved it," he said. "It was so fast."
That first 300-foot drop, which officially makes Orion a giga coaster, is what Brendan Murphy will always remember.
"The first drop was the best part," he said.
But Orion has other thrills up its sleeve, as this reporter soon found out.
After that initial drop (80 feet higher than the park's old tallest coaster, Diamondback), you experience five airtime hills, a giant rolling wave turn, and an unexpected 360-degree helix near the end of its mile-long run.
Not sure a 300-foot coaster is for you?
Nedra McDaniel, who writes the Adventure Mom travel blog, says Orion is so smooth that even skittish parents might want to consider riding it with their kids.
"It was great! It's really fast, but it's really smooth," she said.
The coaster was built by Swiss manufacturer B&M, considered the "Cadillac" of coaster designers. It is so smooth that you are never thrown sideways, nor are you thrown forward in the final brake run like so many lesser coasters do.
If you have ridden Diamondback, it will feel very similar, though it is faster, with a much steeper initial drop.
The best part: I survived.
Be sure to make reservations
If you want to experience Orion for yourself, everyone is now welcome to make a reservation on Kings Island's website or app for a visit sometime this summer.
Just remember you have to have a reservation and cannot simply show up at the park as you could in the past.
But a ride on Orion makes all the pandemic-related changes so worth it, and you don't waste your money.
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