Coasterstock: First-Timers’ Review of Kings Island’s Roller Coaster Event

Four members of the Coaster101 team made their way to Cincinnati this past weekend to attend Coasterstock at Kings Island. Since its debut in 2015 this event has been one of the top enthusiast gatherings in the industry—with tickets always selling out in a matter of minutes. The two-day extravaganza is full of ERT (Exclusive Ride Time), behind-the-scenes tours, speakers, and great food with roughly 600 attendees. For three in our group, this was their inaugural trip to the event.

Fresh off our whirlwind weekend, I wanted to capture their first-time thoughts on the event and our experience at Kings Island. Here’s what they had to say:

What about Coasterstock drew you to the event?

Andrew: I have to give a quick shoutout to Justin at CPFoodBlog for putting Coasterstock on my radar. He’d been trying to get me to go for a few years, but for one reason or another, I was never able to make it from North Carolina to Ohio for the event. After my plans to visit during Coasterstock 2020 were ruined, I knew 2021 had to be the year. Obviously, there’s the ERT and Behind-The-Scenes tours, which we all love as coaster fans, but his description of Coasterstock as more of a family reunion than an enthusiast event really intrigued me. That, and I hadn’t been to the park since before Mystic Timbers opened. I was long overdue.

John: Coasterstock is an event that’s been on my radar for a few years now. Kings Island isn’t too far from me, but I haven’t been able to spend much time at the park. So this seemed like the perfect event to catch up on my Kings Island coaster rides.

And admittedly, the Great Pumpkin Coaster — usually not open to adults without kids — has been an elusive entity on my coaster credit bucket list for years. The fact that it’s open to all during the event was also a contributing factor to my attending the event.

Nick: What drew me to Coasterstock was the opportunity to visit the park for a full day and ride good coasters with friends. Living just an hour-and-half away in nearby Columbus, you’d think I would’ve visited the park quite frequently. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case. My last several visits to the park were all either first rider events (Banshee, Mystic Timbers, Orion) where only one new coaster was open, visiting the park with my kids who aren’t tall enough to ride the majority of the coasters yet, or visiting during Winterfest when only a handful of rides are open. I realized I hadn’t ridden The Beast since 2013! This had to be remedied.

Which Kings Island coasters or attractions were you most excited to ride during ERT?

Nick: Antique Autos ERT! Really though, I was looking forward to seeing how the return of the old fashioned cars turned out. But the number one thing I was looking forward to was getting back on my favorite GCI, Mystic Timbers, and being able to ride it at night.

Andrew: I was most excited for Mystic Timbers ERT, because of all of the great things I have heard about the coaster – from the Coaster101 team and elsewhere – and I was ready to get inside “the shed” after remaining mostly spoiler-free for the entirety of the ride’s lifespan. Also, you can’t go to Kings Island without night rides on The Beast, so that was another highlight for me. (I was also excited to ride Orion, but quarantine wasn’t as kind to my waistline as I wanted it to be — that said, I’m still excited to try to ride Orion in the future!)

John: Nighttime rides on Beast and Orion were two of the main draws for me. Although I was able to ride Orion last year, the park’s shortened hours (due to the pandemic) prevented me from a nighttime ride. So that alone was worth the price of admission. And The Beast at night? Say no more.

What coaster did you enjoy the most going behind-the-scenes?

John: My first nighttime ride on the Beast nearly 10 years ago was such a defining moment in my coaster enthusiast career. I can still remember almost every detail about the ride so vividly (although since it’s pitch black, there isn’t much to visualized). Regardless, seeing such an iconic coaster from “the other side” was so surreal and special. I very easily could have spent an entire day traipsing up and down the trails that parallel the coaster’s wooden structure.

Nick: I always enjoy going behind the scenes of the Beast because you get to see views of the coaster you would never get to see otherwise. For my first time, we were able to stand in the eye of the hurricane known as the double-helix finale. The Orion walk-back was cool too; I was surprised we were able to walk the entire length of the coaster (a long walk).

Andrew: The Beast/Diamondback and Orion/Racer tours were both incredibly special. I’m a big coaster photography nerd, so having the opportunity to capture these legendary roller coasters from a unique angle was worth the price of admission for me alone, and that’s not even taking into account the jam-packed two-day special.

Which special speaker was your favorite?

Andrew: Listening to Mike Koontz, Kings Island’s Vice President and General Manager talk really demonstrated to me how much pride he took in his job. While he’s only been in his current role a relatively short time, as a fan of theme parks and the industry as a whole, it was refreshing to hear him talk about things like how happy he was to have events again and guests in the park. Also need to give a quick shoutout to Chef Major. That guy has an incredible stage presence.

John: As someone who has written a book about an amusement park, I enjoyed listening to Evan Ponstingle speak about his experience writing Kings Island: A Ride Through Time. He is incredibly well-spoken (and a gifted writer), and his remarks about the joys and challenges of writing an amusement park book really resonated with me.

Nick: As an engineer, I loved listening to The Gravity Group geek out about the refurbishment work they did on the classic Racer. I thought it was interesting when they said the stats on RCDB are probably incorrect now: the reprofiling of some of the hills resulted in them being slightly higher or with bigger drops and radii, meaning the track length of the ride is now actually a little longer than the original. I also found it interesting that they wanted to make the airtime on the wood coaster even stronger than they already did but they couldn’t due to the limitations of the trains.

The ASTM safety committee sets G-force limits for what type of restraints are used on the ride. The trains on Racer use an older Class-4 restraint system. To have stronger airtime they would have had to replace the trains with ones utilizing a modern Class-5 restraint.

As far as theme park catered dinners go, how did Kings Island’s spread compare?

Nick: Probably the best catered dinner I’ve had at a park. What I really love about the planned meals is, just like ERT, it takes away one of the potential pain points of a normal visit to a park. I hate waiting in lines for rides so ERT takes care of that. I especially hate waiting in long lines for food, and trying to get a meal around the usual dinner time is the worst. Catered meals relieve this pain point as you’re not waiting in a frustrating line only to have to fork over an arm and a leg for a sub-par meal. At Coasterstock, your meal is already paid for so you’re not getting angry you’re about to pay $18 for a sandwich you could get for $4 outside the park; you can focus on catching up and having a good time with friends.

Andrew: For me, it was the side dishes at dinners that stole the show — and that’s by no means a slight towards the entrees, which were delicious. Friday night’s Baked Potato Salad was incredible, and the one-two punch of Saturday’s Mac & Cheese and Corn Souffle were the perfect accompaniments to Saturday’s “Smokehouse” dinner. It was the little things, like grilled onions in the pans with the burgers and hot dogs, that really put the two buffet meals on a pedestal.

John: Oh my gosh. So good. Everything. All of it. From the donuts during ERT on the first day to the cookies at dinner on the second night, the food was scrumptious. I’m a fairly (okay, very) picky eater, and I had no issues stuffing my face at both dinners.

How does Coasterstock measure up to other enthusiast events?

John: Coasterstock 2021 has set the bar high for all enthusiast events I attend moving forward. It is rivaled only by Coastermania at Cedar Point. The ERT, programming, food, competition, etc., all combine to form a can’t-event for any coaster enthusiast.

Nick: Coasterstock blew me away. The schedule was packed. There was so much to do they couldn’t fit it all in one day. It’s the first multi-day coaster event I’ve been to. I had actually done an enthusiast event at Kings Island before – BeastBuzz in 2013. While that event was fun, Coasterstock was much improved and twice as long. Plus they have better coasters now than they did then.

Andrew: Coasterstock was the best in-park event I’ve ever been to. You could tell that the park really wanted Coasterstock attendees to have a great time, and from meals, to multiple ERT sessions, to behind-the-scenes tours, to even non-coaster riding activities like Coasterstock Feud and KI-Opoly, there truly was something for everyone. It helped that the attendance for the event was capped, so the ERT actually “felt” exclusive, and you were rarely waiting in line at all during the ERT sessions. (I think our longest wait was for Great Pumpkin Coaster.) It quickly turned into a must-do event for me going forward.

Do you have a favorite moment from Coasterstock?

Andrew: We got dealt a bad weather hand during ERT on Saturday night, but being able to end the weekend with a night ride on Mystic Timbers while fireworks were going off in the distance was an awesome experience. If you ever get the chance to ride a roller coaster during fireworks, take it. An honorable mention goes to chatting with fellow enthusiasts throughout the two days. We’re all there for the same reason, to have a great experience. I go back to what CPFoodBlog told me about the event — it truly felt more like a “family” than any other event I’d been to. (Also, winning the social media rock star trophy was truly icing on an incredible cake!)

John: This is a tough one. There were so many. I’ll go with my night ride on the Beast. Since nearly a decade had passed since my last night ride, it was well overdue, and just as exhilarating as I remember.

Nick: Our last ride of the weekend, riding Mystic Timbers at night during the fireworks. Epic.

Was there a surprise hit of the trip?

Nick: I was blown away by how good The Racer was. Even though it was once the marquee attraction of Kings Island, it’s kind of forgotten about now, overshadowed by newer and better rides. It had also gotten a reputation as being terribly rough. I went into the event thinking Racer would be a “one-and-done” ride for us. I was pleasantly surprised by not only how smooth the ride was but the airtime was outstanding! Major props to Kings Island and The Gravity Group for vastly improving the ride experience on The Racer.

Andrew: I’d ridden The Bat before, but I think I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. If there was one coaster I could ride at Kings Island on a continuous loop, it would be The Bat. It’s a shame that these Arrow suspended coasters are a bit of a dying breed, but I love them so much.

John: For such a popular event, I was surprised by how relatively short the waits were during ERT. I know that’s the whole point of ERT, but at some enthusiast events the waits can be just as long (if not longer) than the typical daytime queue. If “marathoning” coasters is your thing, then Coasterstock is the event for you (but you do have to exit the train and reenter the queue between each ride).

Do you have any tips or tricks for someone who’s thinking about attending next year’s event?

John: If at all possible, be at your computer ready to buy tickets as soon as they go on sale. And if you’re unable, try to get someone who is. Be sure to read all correspondence carefully, because you’ll be sent a lot of important information ahead of your arrival. Also, rest up before the event, and, if possible, schedule some time after the event for recovery. You’ll need it — the itinerary is jam-packed.

Nick: When attending Coasterstock be sure to pace yourself. Don’t think you have to marathon the coasters all the time. Kings Island has a lot more to offer, from great food to fun shows. You have two full days. Use them to slow down a little and take everything in. Overall, I cannot recommend attending this event enough. It makes visiting the park more enjoyable than it already is. See you next year!

Andrew: What John and Nick both said. Coasterstock is popular for a reason, and deservedly so. When ticket on-sale dates are announced, come up with a plan to get your tickets…but only after we order ours. Two days at Kings Island can be a daunting task, but also allows you to take your time and experience EVERYTHING the park has to offer, from Boo Blasters, to Live Entertainment, to food. You can go up in the Eiffel Tower and just look around without feeling rushed. Your feet may be sore at the end of the event (I think we ended up just shy of a marathon’s worth of walking for our two days), but you’re going to have a blast.

Did you attend Coasterstock this year or in a previous year? Let us know what you thought in the comments section below!