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Six Flags Discovery Kingdom unveils Rage of the Gargoyles VR Coaster for Fright Fest

Being the closest Six Flags park to Silicon Valley, it seems strange to have it receive the virtual reality add-on to one of its coasters so late in the game.

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However, with time comes improvement and those lessons learned at other Six Flags parks were on full display at the media preview aboard Kong for “Rage of the Gargoyles” – a virtual reality experience powered by Samsung and Oculus.

The headsets have been completely re-designed, with a simple click wheel for tightening in the back and bungee straps with a single adjustment point. The phones themselves still have the occasional hiccup, which does add to dispatch times. But overall, it’s faster than other installations I’ve seen.

The newer headsets are easier to clean and adjust, which should speed up dispatches.

The newer headsets are easier to clean and adjust, which should speed up dispatches.

WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD:

The experience itself is fairly straightforward. You’re a gunner in a helicopter, slowly climbing to do battle with gargoyles – because, why not? At the top of the lift, a giant gargoyle appears and rips the top off your helicopter, rendering your gun useless.

During the ride, the gargoyles still come at you, move your head around to target them with missiles.

At the end of the ride, the “boss” gargoyle appears once again, so you have to do battle with him as the train slowly navigates back to the station. If you don’t do battle with him at the end – you actually end up losing the game!

END OF SPOILERS…

My biggest concerns going into the event today were shared by many others: how could a ride known for rough, jerky transitions be suitable for a “blinded” VR experience? I have to say, I did not experience significant headbanging on my two trips (it was far from smooth, however). On the second trip, however my headset did become loose and began bouncing around on my head, which was not pleasant.

Kong VR Instructions

With the large, Vekoma over the shoulder restraint, I also found it difficult to reach the side button to shoot during the game. It also limited my reach when the headset came loose.

Dispatch times were improved over what I saw this past summer at other Six Flags parks. At this special media event, they were averaging around 4-5 minutes. That is a vast improvement over the 7-10 minute dispatches I saw at Six Flags St. Louis, Over Georgia and Over Texas this past summer.

So, is it worth a trip to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to experience Northern California’s first Virtual Reality coaster? Yes, if you’ve never done it before. Just be prepared for long waits and slow dispatches. I’ll predict that the general public will eat this sort of thing up, while coaster fans (who already weren’t too hot on Kong) might give it a second look.

If you’ve been on a VR coaster before, it’s not much different from what you’ve already experienced. A ride on the Joker or Medusa might be a better bet if the lines are as long as predicted.

Understatement of the century when it comes to VR coasters!

Understatement of the century when it comes to VR coasters!

Overall, I still don’t like the idea of VR on rides, at least on the rides that they’ve been installed on in the United States. While the idea is there, the execution just isn’t worth the wait. At least, not yet. All that being said, this is one of the better VR installations that I’ve experienced.

Have you done battle with the gargoyles aboard Kong? Let me know what you think in the comments section below:

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Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s New for 2017 attraction is a real headscratcher

It’s the best time of the year for park fans – time to find out what that 2017 season pass will get you at your local or favorite bemusement and theme parks.

Early this morning, Six Flags fans got up early to see what was coming their way – and it was a lot of DC Comics-themed clones.

A lot of them. Several “Justice League” dark rides and Joker-themed 4D Free Fly coasters dominated the announcements, which isn’t surprising – considering the larger investments in parks last year across the chain.

But the real headscratcher in this chain-wide announcement is my local park, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Here’s why:

The park is adding a Zamperla Giant Discovery – a large pendulum ride that swings riders while the disc spins around:

There’s just one thing – the park already has something just like it – a very intense Huss Frisbee known as “Tazmanian Devil.”

Tazmanian Devil at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Call me crazy – but I think many would agree a better addition would have been a Zamperla Endeavour; the same model seen at Six Flags Over Texas:

Of course, Tax could also be having some serious maintenance challenges – and might not be there next year. But if it is – better get some Scalpicin shampoo to cut down on the irritation to your head.

Even more amazing – despite all the issues surrounding the closure of Vortex and subsequent communications afterwards – California’s Great America STILL has an opportunity to not only trump Discovery Kingdom’s announcement – but completely usurp the Vallejo parks’ new addition – if they play it right. Betcha did see that coming last week…

Personally – the biggest and most exciting news out of Six Flags this year – wasn’t even part of the annual announcement – it was released the day before it.

Jeffrey Siebert – long time Public Relations and Marketing manager for Paramount’s Kings Island, Schlitterbahn and Fiesta Texas was promoted to the role of General Manager of the San Antonio park. Anyone who has been to one of his events knows he is the prototype for all communications / public relations employees at an amusement or theme park. He isn’t just another employee – he IS the park. Lives, eats, sleeps and breathes it. It could not have happened to a better person – and I look forward to seeing what he does now that he’s his own boss (sort of).

What did you think of the Six Flags announcements for 2017? Leave a comment below and let’s chat!

Kings Dominion has the Worst Day Ever on Social Media After Allegedly “Trolling” Coaster Fans

On Saturday, Kings Dominion finally revealed their 2017 attraction that it had been building up on social media for several weeks – an expanded Planet Snoopy, along with a season-long photo service and in-park wi-fi.

And the reaction online was both swift and ugly:

KD Twitter Ouch 2

KD Ouch Twitter

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About 98% of the posts responding to the park’s announcements were negative. Park “fans” are incensed because they felt Kings Dominion staff purposely lied, teasing them into thinking something larger (and in their opinion, better) was coming (specifically, a Rocky Mountain conversion of their Hurler wooden coaster).

Here’s their reasoning – exhibit A is a tweet similar to this (which has been subsequently deleted). It features Snoopy looking at the Hurler roller coaster:

14030619_10154267595696023_1081570843_n Exhibit B (they say) is this video, in which their PR Manager read fan mail:

Chad Video

The first question asks if green colored roller coaster track in an Ohio foundry is destined for Kings Dominion. He responds, “Green? No. It’s red.”

Apparently his sarcasm didn’t translate to everyone – as “fans” immediately assumed he was hinting at the familiar red track from Rocky Mountain Construction. Some fans got the joke:

Chad Positive

But apparently, many did not – and therein lies the problem.

Exhibit C (they say) is the fact that the park announced the expansion as part of a big event, inviting pass holders and bloggers to come and hear the news first – two days after the rest of the chain announced their attractions. This led park “fans” to THINK the timing indicated it would be a major announcement.

The simple fact is this: coaster “fans” created their own narrative and reality, due in part to the echo chamber of social media and the constant searching for the latest rumors on ride additions. They had convinced themselves not only was a roller coaster coming to Kings Dominion – but that they the fans DESERVED one.

How can I say this with confidence? Because others did some research – yet were drowned out by all the fervor:

Not Near Hurler

Now – should the park have used photos of Snoopy looking at a closed Hurler? In hindsight, probably not. Is it worth getting so worked up about, that you threaten the park, sharpen your pitchforks and hope the PR guy is fired? Hell no! (I’m looking at you, Instagrammers)

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I want “ansers” too…like how you think your eight followers on Instagram constitutes a personal phone call from the park, apologizing for not putting in a ride that you wanted.

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“Hype” that was driven more by coaster “fans” online who wanted a narrative, and didn’t get it.

In the end, this tease campaign made perfect sense – Snoopy is looking around the park, “snoopin’ around” as they say for his Planet Snoopy expansion. But the scale of the announcement vs. the attraction, coupled with the “echo chamber” and “need to know” community that is the online coaster “fan” made this the perfect storm for full-blown virality – in the worst way possible.

Welcome to the tightrope that is social media. Hope you’ve got a net set up below.

And as for the coaster “fans” posting all the hate and vitriol against the park to social media or demanding the park add a coaster to satisfy you – good luck ever being invited to a media day or special event…

Amusement parks are not trying to purposely hurt or kill you

It seems like every week this summer, the news has stories of horrific injuries or deaths at an amusement park. With that, comes the predictable “I knew that ride wasn’t safe. They should have never opened it,” chatter online.

But, as hard to believe as it is: Amusement parks are not trying to hurt or kill you.

Around the turn of the century, things were different. Rides were a new concept and safety systems were, well – non-existent. In fact, a ride with a “killer” reputation was actually MORE popular, as people were willing to test their mettle against the machine.

The Revere Beach Lightning was one of Harry Traver's "Terrifying Triplets" and it earned that moniker by killing a rider on the first day of operation. Today a ride like this would never make it past the drawing board.

The Revere Beach Lightning was one of Harry Traver’s “Terrifying Triplets” and it earned that moniker by killing a rider on the first day of operation.

But as the industry matured, so also did it’s guests – and the demand went from a killer coaster to a safer one. Manufacturers responded with the lap bar, seat belt and over the shoulder restraint.

It’s no longer in the best interest of a park to have a ride that’s not safe – and that’s been the case since the 1920’s. Coasters and flat rides can be millions of dollars of investment – and one accident could turn that investment into a fancy lawn ornament. 

Yeah, there’s always the exceptions to the rule, but thankfully in this industry – they tend to be easy to spot. If a ride doesn’t “look” right – it probably isn’t. And if you don’t like the way it looks, you don’t have to ride.

So, with this rash of incidents across the country – could better oversight lead to safer rides? I’m not sure. Currently, the states regulate amusement rides, to varying degrees depending on location. Could a uniform standard be better? Maybe. But uniform rules have their drawbacks, too.

It’s hard to create a “one size fits all” methodology for the entire United States. If we can’t agree on anything in Washington, it would be tough to push through legislation that would work fairly for everyone.

I repeat this stat often, because it’s worth repeating: You have better odds of being injured driving to an amusement park than you do while inside. You may hear about a deadly crash on the freeway, only mentioned as a “Sig Alert” in a traffic update. A death on a coaster, however will cause the news choppers to be summoned to the scene.

So go to your local amusement or theme park with confidence – just follow the safety rules. A park doesn’t want to hurt or kill you, despite what the internet says. Because if they did – you wouldn’t be able to go back and spend more money there…

California’s Great America announces The Patriot for 2017

With no fanfare or any buildup, California’s Great America announced a long-standing rumor that it will convert it’s Vortex roller coaster into a floorless model, dubbed The Patriot.

Now, I’m all for improving the ride experience for any coaster – and certainly Vortex fits the bill for that. But considering that a longer, faster, taller (and better) floorless coaster is an hour’s drive north from Santa Clara – why would they try to market the world’s shortest floorless coaster in the same media market? (An ultra-competitive media market at that).

The Patriot at CGA 1

The Patriot will convert Vortex into a floorless coaster, with new trains and paint. Graphic courtesy of California’s Great America.

The press release sent out by the park also erroneously claimed that Vortex is the oldest stand-up coaster in the United States (“Apocalypse,” formerly “Iron Wolf” is the oldest at Six Flags America). It also said the ride’s name was inspired by the “All American Corners” section of the park – even though the ride shares no entrance or exit to the area (It’s officially located in Hometown Square).

Vortex Oldest

Not quite, California’s Great America…

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Don’t get me wrong – this is still a good move by the park. But it’s no slam dunk. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has the upper edge on this ride type with Medusa, so Great America must come with a really good angle to get their message heard.

Looking at the park’s social media feeds, members of the general public aren’t really sold on the idea:

Confusion

Park fans on CGA’s Facebook feed are a bit confused on the Vortex / Patriot conversion and sadly the park isn’t answering their questions…

For me, the park would have been better off converting the ride into a sit down coaster, such as Kumba, Wildfire or the Incredible Hulk. At least then it would have been unique to the area. But, it’s still a major improvement to a ride that desperately needed it.

Let’s hope the station is also improved, with actual shade and you know – a roof.

The Patriot 2

The Patriot will be one of the shortest floorless coasters when it opens in 2017. Graphic courtesy of California’s Great America.

But the one thing I can’t shake from all this is HOW it was announced. At least when Cedar Point converted Mantis into Rougarou – there was a fun teaser campaign (Squash the bug). You felt like you were a part of the park.

But the way The Patriot was announced this morning came off like a doctor giving you a bad prognosis: “This is coming. You’ve got two weeks. Buy a season pass.”

There’s no emotional connection to an announcement this big when it’s done via press release only. Honestly, I don’t feel compelled to buy a season pass at all. The two errors in the release certainly don’t help, either:

CGA Patriot Release Error

What lies “beneath their fee”? Isn’t that your admission? 😉

Overall though, the general public will welcome this change if it’s marketed well – and my hope is that it will be successful. But it will also be increasingly difficult to get the right message across – an emotional one – if the park does not connect better with the fans in the future.

What do you think of The Patriot? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

Social Media Strategies and Best Practices for Amusement Parks

Social media use has exploded over the past decade. Its presence is so big, many companies are hiring people solely based on their experience with these new, direct marketing channels.

But while a “like” can be earned quickly, those bonds can also be lost just as fast if the user has a poor experience with it.

So, if you follow these simple tips, you’ll be well on your way to having a superior social media experience for your guests, which will lead to more of those turnstiles rotating:

STEP ONE: KEEP IT UPDATED!

I can’t tell you the number of parks that leave their social media without updated content for weeks, even months on end. Common errors here can include outdated cover photos, profile photos and information. While one of the easiest to fix, this is also one of the most common mistakes many parks and FEC’s make on social media.

RMC Before and After Comparison

Keeping your content fresh on the landing page will encourage visitors to return to see what’s new and stay engaged with your company or property.

 

STEP TWO: STOP POSTING CRAP UPDATES!

Treating social media like a direct billboard or commercial to the fans of your park is instant poison for your social media. Consider a park with 400,000 fans, yet only receives 100 likes on average on their posts. Something’s wrong there – and it’s the content.

Mask the ad for your park or event in great content – make a cool video or post a beautiful photo that’s sure to be shared. Direct calls to action will turn off park visitors faster than an hour long wait in an un-shaded queue.

And don’t forget about video – it’s the best way to tell a story – and one of the most underutilized mediums on social media.

CGA Capture

Video is good – but when you can see the cell phone being used to capture said video in a reflection – that’s not good enough anymore for social audiences.

STEP THREE: INTERACT WITH YOUR FANS!

It should go without saying, but many parks neglect the “social” part of social media – that is, they post something to their account – and simply leave it there. That’s akin in the digital age of throwing crap on a wall and seeing if it sticks.

Social media allows guests to experience things they may have missed on their last trip, post about how much fun they had – or in some cases – complain about a negative experience they had while at your facility.

Not responding or interacting with guests on social media is no longer an acceptable practice. It never was acceptable, period. One can easily gain back a potential repeat customer simply by interacting with them, acknowledging their concerns or eventually resolving them.

Dollywood No Show

Dollywood was notably absent from social media; not answering questions of people who were led to believe their latest ride was going to open on time. It was not well received.

Yes, it IS a lot of work and yes, it CAN be frustrating at times with a never-ending deluge of comments – but that’s the world we live in. Consider it “job security.”

Plus, when a park or facility responds to a guest, they guest feels important – because they ARE! Remember who pays for the bills, folks…

By answering questions on social media, you’re also contributing to a higher engagement rating on many of the mathematical algorithms which dictate who sees what. Translation: responding on social media means more people see your post FOR FREE.

So, if you follow these simple steps, your amusement park or family entertainment center should see a nice bump in social media metrics – which should lead to more butts through those gates.

Got any other good suggestions? Leave a comment below or post on our social media channels. Don’t worry, we’ll actually interact with you!

Cedar Point announces Mean Streak wooden roller coaster to close in September

Never has a wooden roller coaster closure announcement been more gleefully celebrated by the ride enthusiast community…

On Monday, Cedar Point announced that they would be “giving the axe” to their once record-breaking wooden roller coaster, Mean Streak. There was no blowback; no online petitions; no hashtag activists. Quite simply, people were ready to let Mean Streak go. But why? Aren’t we supposed to celebrate and try to preserve the wooden coaster in America? After all, we invented them back in 1884 at Coney Island.

Photo credit: Cedar Point

Photo credit: Cedar Point

Mean Streak was part of a trio of massive wooden roller coasters built in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s. They were designed and built by Charles Dinn of Ohio and each (Hercules at Dorney Park, The Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas and Mean Streak at Cedar Point) were record breakers.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

They were also neck breakers. While the rides were massively popular their first year, the parks they sat in simply could not allocate enough man-hours or maintenance time to keep them running as smooth as when they opened. They quickly fell out of favor with not only ride enthusiasts, but also the general public due to their rough rides.

Of the 11 wooden coasters that Dinn designed and built – four have been demolished, one has been renovated into a steel coaster and now we await the eventual fate of Mean Streak.

The other massive woodies of the era (not built by Dinn) did not fare well, either. The Rattler at Fiesta Texas was renovated into a steel coaster in 2013 while Son of Beast at Kings Island was eventually torn down.

New Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas. Photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry.

The Texas Giant (one of Dinn’s designs) was converted into a steel coaster by Rocky Mountain Construction in 2011.

The closure of Mean Streak is a bookend to a unique era in the amusement industry, where we discovered there is an upper limit to what wooden coasters can do, bigger was not always better and sacrificing ride quality for records does not make for a good, long-term investment. Let us hope that we never see an era like it again.