WILD WORLD has finally found its identity, and in the process has arranged for patrons to lose their lunches. A gut-wrenching, rattle-and-slambang rollercoaster called the Wild One has put the park on the fast track with arch-rival Kings Dominion.
Wild One, which is the reincarnation of a famous old New England ride, is everything coasters are spozed to be. It's made of wood, and the cars shake, clatter and lurch so violently that even though your brain knows the thing can't leave the track and go careering off into the Prince George's Countyside, your heart isn't so sure, and your butt feels decidedly insecure.
Wild One's cars, track and machinery were picked up for a song from Boston's Paragon Park, where it was known as the Giant, but by the time the ride had been trucked to Largo and rebuilt, Wild World was out-of-pocket to the tune of more than a million dollars.
It was cheap at the price, allowing the park to trump Kings Dominion's 1986 ace, the $3 million, standup Shockwave rollercoaster.
Shockwave otherwise would be this season's standout new ride. It's neat and novel, with a hundred-foot plunge and both vertical and horizontal loops, but like most thrill rides developed in the past decade, the thing is so smooth, and the rider so securely embraced by the rigid restraint harness, that both head and heart know there's nothing to fear.
Riders who do not require or desire psychic uncertainty will find that Shockwave's standing position heightens the effect of its wiggles and loops, making it comparable to the larger and far more expensive Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens. A Shockwave veteran's tip, offered here at no extra cost: Stand as tall as you can while the attendants are fussing with the harness, so that when it locks there'll be at least some room to breathe. If you don't resist it, the mechanism will ratchet you down into a semi-crouch.
Wild World concedes it has a long way to go before it will be able to compete on even terms with the other regional theme parks, and says its new world-class rollercoaster is just the first step. "We're going for it," a spokesman said. "From now on we'll be adding at least one major new thrill ride every season."
Not only is Wild One a great ride, it makes Wild World finally look right, giving it the classic amusement-park skyline. Builder Charles Dinn ("rebuilder" wouldn't do him justice, because fully 90 percent of the woodwork is new) has not only re-created but improved on the Giant, which had lost its final sweeping roundabout in a fire some years back. The view from the top of the hundred-foot first lift is both beautiful and terrifying, and it is impossible not to appreciate the structure as esthetic even as it reduces your condition to pathetic. When a ride on the Wild One is over, riders are glad they came, and just as glad to get off.
The 1986 dates and prices and directions to the region's theme parks:
WILD WORLD -- Half an hour from downtown Washington at 13710 Central Avenue (three miles beyond Capital Centre). Or Beltway exit 15A. By Metro: Blue Line to Addison Road, Metrobus T10 or T11. Open weekends through May, daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and some weekends in September. Park opens at 10 a.m.; closing hours vary. Admission $10.95 adults, $8.95 children 4 through 10, $7.95 senior citizens. Season pass, $34.95. Group and coupon discounts available. Wild World also offers catered group picnics. 301/249-1500.
KINGS DOMINION -- About 75 miles south of Washington on I-95. Open weekends in May plus Memorial Day; daily from May 29 to August 24; weekends only August 30 through October 11, plus Labor Day. Park opens at 9:30 a.m.; closing times vary. Admission $14.95 ages 3 to 65; senior citizens $10.45. Group and coupon discounts available. 804/876-5000.
BUSCH GARDENS -- Williamsburg, Virginia, about 160 miles from Washington via I-95 south and I-64 east. Open daily through Labor Day and weekends in September and October. Park opens at 10, closing hours vary. Admission $15.95 ages 3 to 65; two-day tickets $18.95; night-entry, $10.95; season pass, $54.95; group and coupon discounts. 522-1387 (local call from Washington area).
HERSHEY PARK -- About 140 miles from Washington via I-270 to Frederick, U.S. 15 north to Harrisburg, and Pennsylvania 322 to Hershey. Open May 17-18 and daily from May 27 through Labor Day, plus weekends in September (except the 27th) and October 4-5. Park opens at 10 a.m., rides begin at 10:30, closing hours vary. Admission $14.95 ages 9 through 61; $11.95 ages 4 through 8; $8.50 seniors. Free parking (!). 717/534-3900; for accommodations in Hershey, call 717/534-3916.
SESAME PLACE -- Langhorne, Pennsylvania (owned by the Busch beer folks and designed for families with pre-adolescent children). After passing north of Philadelphia on I-95, take the U.S. 1 south exit and look for Oxford Valley Mall. If you come to a restaurant with an airplane on the roof, you've gone too far (as have they). Open daily through September 7, weekends only September 13 through October 12. Park opens at 10, closing hours vary. Admission $12.10 children 3 to 13, $9.90 adults; about a dollar less early and late in the season. 215/752-7070 or 215/752-4900.
GREAT ADVENTURE -- Jackson, New Jersey, 190 miles from Washington via I-95 to exit 7A on the New Jersey Turnpike to exit 98 on the Garden State Parkway. This is the region's top park for the serious thrill-rider. Scheduled to open in June is the Ultra Twister, a combination free-faller and rollercoaster solemnly promised to Wring You Out. Open Wednesday through Sunday through May 25; daily through September 7; and the other three weekends in September. Park opens at 10, closing hours vary. Admission $16.95 combination park and (outstanding) drive-through animal area; $15.95 park only; safari only, $5.95; half-price for those over 54; under 3, free. 201/298-3500.