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Sunday, November 6, 2011

King Louie At Kentucky Kingdom

What do you get when you cross Prince John the lion from Disney's Robin Hood with Chester Cheetah, the spokesman for Cheetos? King Louie, the former mascot of the Kentucky Kingdom theme park in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kentucky Kingdom opened in 1987, starting out small on a parcel of land near the Kentucky Exposition Center, the site of the Kentucky State Fair.

Kentucky Kingdom is very close to the Louisville International Airport (basically, it's across the street).

The layout of Kentucky Kingdom is very unusual, due to the park's location near the Kentucky Exposition Center. Note the walkways over the road that cuts through the park.

The location of the park turned out to be a factor in its demise. Yes, Kentucky Kingdom recently closed.

By the time I had family members preparing to move to Louisville in 1993, Kentucky Kingdom was growing quickly.

The park was small in scale, but did well. The Flying Dutchman wooden shoe ride seen here looks like the one from nearby Kings Island in Ohio.

Kentucky Kingdom started out as a kiddie land style park, but thanks to park owner/manager Ed Hart, it gradually changed its focus to become a popular thrill ride park.

Kentucky Kingdom had a strong marketing strategy. It was hard to miss commercials for the park on TV.

King Louie represented a rare breed in the theme park world. He was a theme park mascot that was not a famous cartoon character.

I have been to Kentucky Kingdom, but I've never been on the rides. How's that?

When the Kentucky State Fair hit the Kentucky Exposition Center, the nearby Kentucky Kingdom park was open for free. Riding the rides cost extra.

Because of the Kentucky Kingdom park, the Kentucky State Fair probably had one of the best Midways of any Fair ever.

On one of my visits to Kentucky Kingdom, I got a pressed penny of King Louie.

I'm glad I got this when I did, because King Louie was eventually dethroned.

The Kentucky State Fair was a great place to get freebies.

In addition to the exhibitions and Kentucky Kingdom, there was an additional "traditional" Midway.

I still have whatever this toy is featuring SEGA's Sonic the Hedgehog on one side and Cherry Coke on the other.

I also tried an ostrich burger at the Kentucky State Fair. It was tasty! I want to open a Fast Food Restaurant Chain called "Game Change." It would feature Ostrich Burgers, Fried Alligator Tail and Frog Legs.

In 1994, the Looney Tunes characters made their debut in Louisville at the Warner Brothers Studios Store at the Oxmoor Mall. I loved this store.

Sadly, all the Warner Brothers Studio Stores were eventually shut down in 2001.

By 1995, Kentucky Kingdom was establishing itself as The Thrill Park.

Kentucky Kingdom started adding some big new rides.

The park took some bold risks with its attraction names. Heck, yeah!

During the cold winter months when the park was closed, I would enjoy seeing the quiet park when I would visit the awesome Flea Market at the Exposition Center.

Seen among the big coasters in this picture is Vekoma's Roller-Skater Junior Coaster.

Customized versions of the Roller Skater can be found at many theme parks, including Disneyland (Gadget's Go-Coaster), Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom (The Great Goofini---AKA The Barnstormer), Universal Studios Florida (Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster) and Tokyo DisneySea (Flounder's Flying Fish).

Kentucky Kingdom combined a traditional ride park with a water park (originally called Hurricane Bay).

This kind of hybrid theme park seems to be very popular these days.

King Louie hosted the rides aimed at children.

I thought the Balloon Race ride looked like fun, as did the creative Concert Carousel (themed to musical instruments).

For such a small park, Kentucky Kingdom had plenty to offer.

The people that worked there seemed to be friendly, which is always a good thing.

Hurricane Bay's buildings reminded me a bit of Disney's Typhoon Lagoon.

Take a spin on The Giant Wheel then surf the Big Kahuna at the Wave Pool.

I can remember seeing lots of commercials for the park's newest ride, Mile High Falls.

This was a bigger version of a ride I knew from Six Flags Over Georgia called Splashwater Falls.

The park had some cool shops and restaurants.

I think I got my King Louie button and pressed penny at The Gift Box.

When you take a picture of someone on a roller coaster, be sure to use Fuji Film.

Please refrain from using your camera while you are riding the roller coasters.

By 1995, the park had an impressive roster of attractions.

There's that pesky road running through the park. It's a reminder of the fact that part of Kentucky Kingdom is located on land leased from the Fair.

By 1997, it was clear that Kentucky Kingdom's location was more that just a visual problem.

In summary, the Fair Board says that Life's Not Fair.

Kentucky Kingdom reminds me of one of the Expert Challenge Park Scenarios in the Roller Coaster Tycoon computer game.

The Roller Coaster Tycoon games would challenge players to create a successful park in unusual conditions.

What Ed Hart did for Kentucky Kingdom is rather amazing. By 1997, the little park that could attracted the attention of Premier Parks, owners of the Six Flags amusement park chain. In 1998, Kentucky Kingdom became Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom.

Eventually, there was a Six Flags Roller Coaster Tycoon Expansion Pack. It was fitting that this game included Kentucky Kingdom's new coaster from 1997, Chang.

I thought it was incredibly exciting that Kentucky Kingdom joined the Six Flags chain.

This little park now had brand recognition and famous characters.

It felt like Louisville had a big new tourist destination.

How would the park expand? My imagination ran wild.

Bugs Bunny changed King Louie's Kingdom to Looney Tunes Movie Town in 1999.

I think The Penguin's Blizzard River is the coolest idea for a Rapids Ride ever.

The Concert Carousel was a natural fit for Bugs Bunny.


The ride was created by Zamperla, and according to Kentucky Kingdom's Facebook page (where this picture is from), the Concert Carousel/Musical Carousel exists in only one other amusement park besides Kentucky Kingdom.

The Looney Tunes also got a big new store.

The T2 roller coaster was supposed to change into a Batman ride, but that did not happen. Batman did get a new stunt show, though.

By 2000, Bugs and his friends were settled in as Kentucky Kingdom's new mascots.

Chang and T2 were still a big marketing focus.

For 2000, the park got a new coaster called Road Runner Express.

The Twisted Sisters coasters were eventually renamed to Twisted Twins.

The Warner Brothers and DC invasion was swift.

There was a rumor that Chang would be re-themed to The Riddler, but that did not happen.

For 2003, the park got a coaster called Greezed Lightnin. Riders raced past scenes featuring animatronic figures of Danny Zuko, Kenickie and Sandy from Grease.

Not really. This was a coaster imported from Six Flags Over Georgia, where it had operated as a ride called Viper.

The marketing for Kentucky Kingdom focused more and more on "two parks for one price."

I was happy that Kentucky Kingdom now had some clout, but was disappointed that the park was getting hand-me-downs as new rides.

Were the days of the park getting cutting-edge new coasters like Chang a thing of the past?

Well, sort of.

By 2004, the park was coasting in more ways than one. The Six Flags parks, like so many companies, were having financial difficulties. The smaller parks in the chain seemed to get smaller additions, while the bigger parks like Six Flags Magic Mountain in California (open year round) got bigger new attractions.

I have to say that I do like the character designs of the Looney Tunes that the park used at this time.

This appealing look for the Looney Tunes was established for merchandise tied to the 2003 Brendan Fraser movie, Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

It's too bad the movie wasn't better than it was.

Ironically, at this time, many kids were probably as unfamiliar with the Looney Tunes as they would have been with King Louie the Lion.

The Looney Tunes cartoons were no longer being seen regularly on TV. That seems to be changing today.

For 2006, Mr. Six was the big mascot.

Even though the character is a little creepy, he is memorable.

At this point, the water park was getting most of the attention.

Having been in Louisville during the cold winter months, it is kind of funny that the water park is such a popular place.

Don't worry, Bugs and Tweety. You still have a job here. For now.

I think the newest ride was that orange and blue ProSlide Tornado Rattler water slide.

Daffy Duck should have been the main mascot for the park by now, with the water park expansion craziness.

For 2007, the park got the new Deluge Water Coaster. That looks like fun!

The focus at Kentucky Kingdom became Six Flags Splashwater Kingdom, the updated water park with the catchy slogan.

The last ride added to the park was the Mega Wedgie Bullet Bowl water ride.

In 2009, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom closed, due to problems with the park's lease.

So now the park is closed and nothing is there, and nothing is on the horizon. Isn't something better than nothing? Six Flags should have been given whatever they were asking. Now Louisville doesn't have a theme park at all.

Ed Hart tried to get Kentucky Kingdom up and running again (if anyone could do it, it would be him) but his attempts were thwarted by some folks who are clearly delusional. They had a big tourist attraction and threw it away.

Louisville losing a Six Flags theme park is one of the biggest fumbles in theme park history.

Playtime Is Over.

UPDATE 2/24/12:

This story has a happy ending now. In 2013, Kentucky Kingdom will re-open as Bluegrass Boardwalk, a new theme park (with an appropriate Carousel Horse logo) lead by the folks who run the successful Holiday World theme park in Santa Claus, Indiana (not too far from Louisville). If Bluegrass Boardwalk is anything like Holiday World (which offers perks like free soft drinks and sunscreen), Louisville will have a fantastic theme park, and it could be more popular than Kentucky Kingdom ever was. Wonderful news!

UPDATE 4/12/13:

Bluegrass Boardwalk is not happening, but today it was reported that Kentucky Kingdom WILL reopen!

This is wonderful news, and I'm so happy I could eat a delicious Kentucky Hot Brown and wash it down with a Kentucky Mint Julep!

UPDATE 5/31/14:

Kentucky Kingdom is back!  King Louie's agent, Jacob Zimmer, contacted me to let me know about the return of Louisville's own lion king.

Check out The King and I: An Interview with King Louie about his "triumphant return" to Kentucky Kingdom.


6 comments:

  1. It's a real bummer the park closed. Too bad that more folks didn't have the vision of Ed Hart.

    So were all the rides removed from the property? Or are they still there, just standing idle?

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  2. Hey A Snow White Sanctum! My Louisville family members moved away from Kentucky years ago, so I haven't been following this story as closely as I used to. I think that quite a few of the rides are still on property. Chang was removed and sent to Six Flags Great Adventure, where it is now called The Green Lantern. Road Runner Express was sent to Six Flags New England and is now called Gotham City Gauntlet: Escape from Arkham Asylum (talk about a theme change!).

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  3. I also like the style of that Bugs Bunny. It looks close to the original version of Bugs.

    Greezed Lightening....ha! I like your idea for a "Grease" themed rollercoaster. Knott's Berry Farm had a "Himalaya/Bobsled" sort of "spinner" ride called Greased Lightening and it ALWAYS made me think of the the song from the movie.

    I think it's always very sad when an amusement park closes. Something that brought so much happiness and fun to so many people and then one day it just ceases to exist.

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  4. TokyoMagic!: There was a line of merchandise that used that cool retro Bob Clampett-ish Looney Tunes design style. I especially like that version of Daffy, which looks more like the original, crazy character (before he got mean and obsessed with money).

    It seems like a Grease theme, with a Greased Lightning roller coaster, would have been an obvious choice for one of the Paramount theme parks. Too late now...

    A closed amusement park is sad enough, but an abandoned one can be downright creepy!

    ReplyDelete
  5. How about a closed amusement park with zombies running around it.....ZOMBIELAND!!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sounds like a winner to me, TokyoMagic!

    ReplyDelete