Let’s help Give Kids The World even more!

Thunderbird and Give Kids The World

New deadline: 3pm CDT on Monday, April 20!

When Kaylee from Give Kids The World called to tell us we’d raised more than enough to fund a family’s week-long visit to their incredible Village in Florida, most of us got a little misty-eyed.

Families with children who have life-threatening illnesses deserve a blissful week of carefree fun.

And so we’ve decided to raise enough to sponsor a second family.

With your help.Thunderbird and Give Kids The World

Although Thunderbird’s First Flight Auction has concluded, there are still plenty of rides to be had during the rest of our Media Preview Day on Thursday, April 23.

Would you like to be one of those riders? You’ll get to ride all day long on Thunderbird, Voyage, and Crow’s Nest, take a behind-the-scenes tour – plus we’ll throw in a few surprises. Oh, and some really good food. Including Thunderbird Ice Cream.

All it takes is a $50 donation per person and we’ll add you to our Guest List for the day. (Participants must be at least 52″ tall but no taller than 6’6″ to ride Thunderbird.)

Here’s where to make your donation to Give Kids The World. We’ll follow up with an emailed agenda.

We’ll accept up to 100 of these $50 donations through this Sunday night at 11:59pm CDT, so please don’t wait.

Thank you. Just … thank you.

The long-awaited Thunderbird POV

For the uninitiated, let us explain:

POV = Point of View

POV footage at a theme park customarily shows the viewer what the rider sees while riding.

A birds-eye view, if you will.

But in this day and age of selfies, we just had to take a Reverse POV of our adventuresome test dummies riding Thunderbird just as the sun set one evening this week.

They could hardly contain themselves!

Oh, you thought we were ready to release a standard POV of Thunderbird? Soon. Very soon.

Confessions of a screaming grandma

Staff rides Thunderbird roller coaster

Ever since we announced Thunderbird last July, I’ve been asked over and over:

So. Are you gonna ride?

And my answer has not wavered: “I honestly don’t know.”

As excited as I’ve been about Thunderbird ever since I was invited into the “cone of silence” 18 months ago, the thought of riding it was, frankly, incomprehensible to me.

You see, I have a long history of complicated relationships with rides.

It started when I was just three years old. My family lived in Connecticut at the time and we visited Quassy Amusement Park (then called Lake Quassapaug) for the day.

There was this incredible attraction – a helicopter ride – that I was determined to ride. Looking back now, I realize it was a kiddie ride, but back then it was the hugest, most daunting ride out there.

“Are you sure?” My parents knew me well enough to ask this and I stubbornly insisted it was the only ride that mattered to me.

And so they tucked me into my own little helicopter and started up the ride.

Only thing is, no one mentioned that clutching the bar and pulling it down toward me would make my helicopter soar into the upper stratosphere.

And stay there.

And so I screamed.

And screamed.

So much that they stopped the ride mid-cycle and let me off, still screaming.

Flash forward to my teenage years. We’d moved to Indiana and there was this park a few hours away called Kings Island. The Brady Bunch went there, and so did we. (Although, truth be told, I was more of a Partridge Family kind of gal.)

A bunch of us from Carmel High School convinced our parents to let us take a day trip. First stop at the big Cincinnati park: The Racer.

Once again, I was overcome with an uncontrollable need to scream. Something in my psyche trips a switch, telling me the only way to endure the terror is by wailing from the lift hill to the brake run. The only way.

The Racer has two trains. Upon exiting our train, I continued screaming like a banshee, calling to the riders in the second train to reconsider their decision to ride. “It’s terrifying!” My embarrassed friends dragged me away before Security was called.

And so, as I’ve told my boss repeatedly, I have no business working at a theme park.

The thing is, I’m a very bad rider. I don’t relax and let the train carry me away. I clench and grip. And scream. Twenty years ago, I rode the brand-new Raven with a reporter and grabbed her lap bar as well as my own.

Irrational, I know.

It’s not a safety thing – I know the people who build and maintain our rides. They ride them, too – and bring their families.

Is it a height thing? Sure. An “I’m not in control” thing? Oh, probably.

It’s definitely a scream thing.

But, being in the position I hold here, it wouldn’t feel right for me not to ride Thunderbird. How could I describe it here on the HoliBlog, on our website, in conversations with reporters, with only hearsay to guide me?

And so, during our staff breakfast yesterday morning (thank you, Lori!), when Matt announced we could ride at 3pm, my heart skipped a beat. Joy filled the room and nearly everyone cheered. Angie in Guest Services beamed like never before and our Attractions management team grinned from ear to ear.

By three o’clock, I still hadn’t decided.

I told Matt, “You know, I was working on the ride-announcement scripts today and now that I’ve read through them, I think I may have developed all the warning signs – a crick in my neck, a touch of high blood pressure – and you know, I just might be pregnant!” He laughed a little too hard at that last part. I’m a grandma, after all.

After working the crowd and watching Dee Ann and Vanessa overcome their fears and ride, it was time.

“Hey, Eric – wanna ride?”

His face broke into what I can only describe as a look of glee.


We clambered on board and the train slide into the launch room.

The special effects are incredible. A simulated storm, complete with fog and rolling, then crackling thunder.

And screaming.

Who has time to scream when you go from zero to 60 in just over three seconds? It was incredible.

I continued my terrible riding habits by not only screaming throughout, but also riding with my eyes closed. Tightly.

Whoa! Upside down – and again! I’ve studied Thunderbird’s layout and construction process well enough to know what was happening and what was ahead.

Four inversions.

The fly-through barn. That’s still ahead. And we go through it twice.

Staff rides Thunderbird roller coasterI must say, it’s incredibly smooth. And non-stop thrilling. And comfortable. Really comfortable. Even when you’re upside down. Which happens four times, have I mentioned?

That last inversion – the barrel roll – felt surreal. As we pulled into the brake run, several riders from seats behind us shouted, “Paula, was that you?!”

“No way! That was Eric!” I hollered back. My cracking voice betrayed me, though. I’d blown my pipes.

As Thunderbird slid back into the station, Eric hopped off his seat, with a grin the size of our Immelmann loop.

“That was the BEST coaster ride I’ve ever taken!”

Still in my seat, still clutching the restraints, I had to admit: It was.



How many degrees?

Rayvon Owen

Okay, so we’re not talking about Thunderbird’s barrel roll or the three sections of 90-degree track on Voyage.

This time we’re talking about degrees of separation. You know, like the movie.

The “six degrees of separation” theory goes something like this: everyone is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world.

Thanks to this guy, our small world (oops, wrong park) just got smaller.

That’s right – American Idol Top 8 Finalist Rayvon Owen performed here at Holiday World back in 2011.

Talented guy.

Rayvon OwenAnd even more important – really, really nice guy.

And thanks to Rayvon, if you happen to see Matt , Leah, Lauren, Lori, Sandi, Eric … the list goes on and on … in the park this season, you will be Two Degrees from Rayvon.

And you know what that means? Three Degrees from J-Lo! And Keith Urban, Kelly Clarkson, Boy George, Ryan Seacrest, Aretha Franklin, Salt-N-Pepa – the list goes on and on! (And don’t even get me started on the Four Degrees list!)

Oh, and Harry Connick, Jr.

But I’ve got a bone to pick with ol’ Harry. He’s critiqued Rayvon several times for being too happy.

Really. Too happy.

For smiling too much.

Harry – leave our guy alone! After all, Rayvon attended our Hospitality Training when he performed here. One of the tenets in our Friendliness Forums is that our Guests simply ask for us to “Smile At Me.”

Frankly, he can’t help himself!

American Idol plans to whittle their list of finalists down to the Lucky 7 tonight. We hope you’ll join us in cheering (and voting) for Rayvon.

Going, going … almost gone!

Thunderbird First Flight Auction

Thunderbird First Flight AuctionYou’ve been meaning to check out our Thunderbird’s First Flight Auction for Give Kids The World, haven’t you?

But you’ve been busy. We understand. Boy, do we understand!

The deadline to place your bids for the First Flight on Thunderbird is just a few days away. We’ve got an incredible day planned for April 23 – plus the auction benefits the incredible Give Kids The World Village.

So here’s your video reminder (with some awesome Thunderbird footage) – and here’s the auction link – as time is running out.

A family tradition

Lori and Leah Koch on Thunderbird

Paula’s note: It was pure delight watching the Kochs ride Thunderbird for the very first time. Our owners – Lori, Lauren, Leah and William – were beside themselves as they scrambled to switch seats and ride again. Later that evening, I texted them to ask for a volunteer to continue Will’s tradition of blogging after riding a new coaster for the very first time. His middle child, Leah, grabbed her journal and captured her memories before they faded even by a few hours:

When Paula first asked us to write down our thoughts about riding Thunderbird our first time, at first I thought it wouldn’t be very interesting. I figured it would read something like, “WHOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAA!!”

Then I actually thought about it and started actually remembering the first ride.

First of all, before we ever got on, I looked like I had ants in my pants. Seriously. I was so excited I was dancing around.

I called dibs on Front Outside Left months before, so I claimed my rightful seat there, and Mom sat next to me.

Lori and Leah Koch on Thunderbird

Once in the seat with restraints ready to go, my mind started racing.

Suddenly, I remembered all of the concerns I read from fans on ThemeParkReview.com, and started worrying:

“What if the launch is boring? Or it doesn’t deliver as promised? What if the launch is good but the rest is lame? What if we’ve spent all this money, and I don’t like it? What if we’ve spent all this money, and our Guests don’t like it?”

As we rolled from the station and into the launch room, I cleared my mind for a moment, and allowed myself to enjoy what was about to happen. I was about to ride a steel coaster that my family and I chose to build. All of the agonizing over the name, our announcement video, and every little thing led to this moment.

First Thunderbird rides

Mom and I exchanged an excited, but nervous glance, grabbed hands, then placed them back on the restraint, knowing the launch was coming soon.

In the split-second before the launch, one thought came to the front of my mind: “Please let this be good.”

Then the LSMs catapulted us forward, and I knew I had nothing to worry about.

It is such a good launch.

I kept waiting for the intensity to stop, but it didn’t. Before I knew it, I was staring at the Indiana skyline upside-down for the first time ever (of course, I didn’t actually realize this until the second time around).

That’s when more thoughts started creeping in.

“Whoa that loop went quickly!”

“The supports themselves feel like a near-miss!”

“That tree in the horseshoe is awesome!”

“What a perfect day!”

“This is so smooth!”

I finally realized I would have all the rides I could possibly want to analyze this coaster, but only one chance to enjoy my first ride. So I shut the analytical part of my brain down for a second, took a breath of the spring air, and enjoyed it.

I enjoyed that the ride was beautiful.

That this is going to be a hit.

That all of our hard work is about to pay off when our first Guests get to ride.

That my family and I have worked so hard and endured so much, and finally our greatest tribute to my father is reality.

I snapped out of these deep thoughts in time to analyze the fly-through barn (it did not disappoint), and roll into the brakes.

My final thoughts as we rolled into the station? “Holy cow! That was awesome! Let’s do that again! Is Stephen taking pictures of us? What does my hair look like?! Meh. Whatever. Dad would be so proud.”

Thunderbird: All it takes is Will Power

Leah, Lauren and the Will Power sign

When we announced Thunderbird nearly nine months ago (I’ll refrain from any “giving birth” jokes, for now anyway), it was the start of an incredible journey.

At the same time, it was the last high-banked turn in a much longer journey – the realization of a decade-long dream to add a remarkable steel roller coaster to Holiday World’s line-up.

Will’s dream.

At our announcement in July, the crowd of a thousand or more made their approval known quite enthusiastically when Will’s daughters, Lauren and Leah, announced we would name Thunderbird’s “flywheel building” the Will Power building in honor of their dad, who passed away unexpectedly in 2010.

The time has come to put up the sign

Leah, Lauren and the Will Power sign

That’s Leah on the left and Lauren on the right in the photo above. They want to share a bit more of their dad’s legacy, including a look at the designs he’d worked on for a steel roller coaster back in 2008. We’ll also travel back a decade for Will’s unscripted response when asked during a CoasterBuzz podcast what he would want his legacy to be.

Will always got a big kick out of replacing our test dummies for the first live test rides of any new roller coaster, water coaster – or, really, any ride at all.

It’s tradition!” he’d proclaim.

And so, when son and namesake William was available to dash home from his university studies on a recent day, the family took their first ride on Thunderbird.

Koch Family's First Thunderbird Ride

It was a glorious day, as the sun was setting and Thunderbird launched into the sky over and over. In the picture above, we see William, Lauren, mom Lori, and Leah as they complete their first flight together.

Will’s true legacy.