Opening a new park can be a nightmare. No matter how ready you think you are, there are always things you overlook, attractions not quite ready and staff that still needs time to adjust for massive crowds. Kentucky Kingdom, which just reopened on Memorial Day weekend of this year, is having a heckuva time adjusting.
Lightning Run, Kentucky Kingdom’s signature roller coaster, had a video go viral over the first week of operation. A guest filmed the coaster hopping over a bunny hill where the supports seemed to sway back and forth after the coaster left that section of track. Indeed, all coaster tracks need to have a certain amount of give, or else the steel will crack or snap due to stress from the coaster trains.
Kentucky Kingdom’s PR department contacted the manufacturer, Chance Rides, and posted this on the KK Facebook Page: “Regarding the questions we’ve received about the movement of one of the columns supporting Lightning Run, we’ve contacted Chance Rides, the manufacturer of the coaster, and spoke with the president of the company, Mr. Mike Chance, who had this to say:
“This structure has to move, that’s the way it was designed. This kind of movement (or deflection) is perfectly normal for this type of roller coaster. The coaster has been thoroughly analyzed and tested and is 100% safe to ride.”
A few weeks after, another issue popped up regarding the park’s wheelchair policies. A local television station did an undercover investigation after a wheelchair bound guest was denied access to many of the rides in the park even though he was perfectly capable of transferring and was able to ride. Park operations employees told the man that it was park policy that wheelchair bound guests couldn’t ride certain attractions, but the employees weren’t given an explanation as to why.
According to an interview with the Director of Operations of Kentucky Kingdom Lesly Birkner, they saw it as a safety risk. The Director was quoted as saying: “The policy was created to be more restrictive to the loading and unloading process as we began from square one.”
With the park just a month old, Birkner said inexperienced staff members couldn’t perform the specialized loading procedures for people in wheelchairs while still maintaining the security of the general public. “We have to make a line on that,” said Birkner. “Safety is first. We’re starting with a new team.”
Personally, while I know it’s hard to get your operations staff getting used to a new park and summer crowds, using an excuse of “we’re new” makes no sense. Wheelchair guests pay the same amount to enter the park and frankly, need to be given a reason as to why they can’t ride if there is one. Luckily, Kentucky Kingdom has trained their staff properly and now guests with disabilities can ride all the attractions, provided they meet the requirements.
Yesterday, a woman was asked by a female employee to leave a park bench and head into the women’s restroom while she was breastfeeding her baby. According to Kentucky state law, a woman is allowed to breast feed wherever she chooses and a business can’t override her right to do so.
Kentucky Kingdom again took to their Facebook page and posted a statement, which unfortunately, I did not get a chance to read as they took it down. However, this one is still up as of the writing of this article: “At Kentucky Kingdom mothers can and have always been welcome to breastfeed anywhere in the park, providing they use discretion. However, for those who desire privacy, Kentucky Kingdom has several locations at their disposal, including three health service buildings and two bath houses with private stalls located in Hurricane Bay.”
The word “discretion” is making some moms a little crazy and rightfully so. Not only is discretion an ambiguous term and can be interpreted many different ways, according to the law mothers don’t have to. As of this morning, the CEO took to the Kentucky Kingdom Facebook page and posted the following: “As President & CEO of Kentucky Kingdom, it is my responsibility to set policy which is in the best interest of all our guests. To that end, I want to make it absolutely clear that Kentucky Kingdom totally supports the benefits that accrue to mother and child from breastfeeding. We have absolutely no restrictions on breastfeeding at the park, and will leave it up to mom to determine and know when and where she desires to breastfeed – whether publicly or privately (in the several buildings available for that purpose). Regarding displaying “discretion,” we will leave it up to mom to make that determination and in no way will our staff interfere with mom’s decision. We have instructed our staff accordingly. I am sorry for any confusion this issue has caused, and I personally apologize if we have offended anyone.”
For now, it seems that Kentucky Kingdom has learned from its mistakes. The purpose of this article is not to call them out, but rather, if you work in operations in this industry, to learn from their mistakes. Running a theme park is a lot of juggling across multiple lines of business. Just a few mistakes can tarnish the reputation of a park that has a lot of great potential. Here’s hoping that Kentucky Kingdom finishes out their season scandal free. Your thoughts?