Meet Orion: Kings Island’s delayed opening brings biggest investment online

The Orion giga coaster is new this year in the new Area 72 at Kings Island in Mason. Orion is 5,321 feet long, 287 feet tall with a first drop of 300 feet and will reach speeds up to 91 miles per hour. Kings Island opens to pass holders July 2 with numerous protocols in place to decrease the chance of spread of COVID-19.  NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
The Orion giga coaster is new this year in the new Area 72 at Kings Island in Mason. Orion is 5,321 feet long, 287 feet tall with a first drop of 300 feet and will reach speeds up to 91 miles per hour. Kings Island opens to pass holders July 2 with numerous protocols in place to decrease the chance of spread of COVID-19. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Kings Island’s new giga coaster is already garnering positive reviews from guests.

Now the tallest and fastest steel roller coaster at Kings Island, Orion is one of only seven giga coasters worldwide, part of a class of coasters having a height or drop of between 300 and 399 feet. Riders on the new coaster plunge down a 300-foot first drop at a 85-degree angle, sending them on a high-speed journey over seven more hills and 5,321 feet of track at speeds up to 91 mph.

Park officials said they were excited to finally introduce the ride to season pass holders Thursday nearly three months after its initially scheduled April 11 debut.

“It is fast, smooth and provides plenty of air time,” said Mike Koontz, the park’s vice president and general manager. “I can tell you from experience, I’ve ridden it four times now, the views from the top of the lift hill are nothing but spectacular.”

The project, two years in the making, got its start as “Project X.” Last August, the park unveiled plans for the ride, now the 10th fastest roller coaster in the world. The $31 million project is almost equal in cost to what it took to build the entire park in 1972, making it the biggest single investment in the Kings Island’s history.

The park opens to the general public July 12.

Designed exclusively for Kings Island by Bolliger & Mabillard, a Switzerland-based company that also created Diamondback and Banshee and one that Koontz said is “without equal.” Seven of the top 20 ranked steel roller coasters in a 2018 poll conducted by Amusement Today were designed by B&M, the most by a ride manufacturer on the list.

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Orion, which replaces Firehawk, isn’t the only thing new to Kings Island this year.

The park has used various details and theming elements, including a soundtrack by IMAscore, to transform the area around the ride into faux top secret government compound Area 72. It has branded the area immediately adjacent to Orion as Fort Mason and highlights Kings Island rides past and present as part of the overall "top secret" research vibe.

Also new to the Area 72 is Meteor Canteen, which offers Afterburner Fries and four “Missile Launch” options: Italian Sausage with Peppers, Beer Bratwurst & Sauerkraut, Jumbo Chili Dog with Cheese and vegan option Trailblazer Sausage along with Frozen Lemon Slush, Frozen Blue Raspberry Slush and bottled water.

Since acquiring Kings Island in 2006, Cedar Fair has constructed four roller coasters. Diamondback debuted in 2009, in place of the former Swan Lake. Inverted roller coaster Banshee opened in 2014, replacing go-kart attraction Thunder Alley and wooden coaster Son of Beast, which the park shut down in 2009. Mystic Timbers launched its first riders in 2017 in the park’s Rivertown area.

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Five Things to Know About Orion

• Orion is the tallest (287 feet) and fastest (91 mph) roller coaster with the longest first drop (300 feet) at Kings Island. At 5,321 feet, it is the park’s longest steel roller coaster and second-longest overall behind The Beast (7,359 feet).

• Orion is the seventh giga coaster in the world, the fourth in the USA and the fifth in North America. A giga coaster is one with a height or drop between 300-399 feet.

• The first drop on Orion takes riders down the length of a football field. At 300 feet, it ties for the seventh longest drop on a roller coaster in the world.

• At 91 mph, Orion is the seventh-fastest roller coaster in North America and 13th fastest in the world.

• Orion is the third roller coaster at Kings Island designed by Swiss manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), joining Diamondback (2009) and Banshee (2014).