Traditionally, the final day of operations at California’s Great America occurs in the last weekend of October (or on rare occasions, the first day of November). But this year will be different – markedly different. Details are now being released on the park’s first-annual “WinterFest” – only the second time in it’s history the park will remain open past the first weekend in November. And if there was any doubt as to whether or not the park would go “all-in” the first year of the event – those questions have been quickly answered. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:
This is shaping up to be the “signature” attraction of the event – and for good reason. The reflection pond in front of Carousel Columbia will be frozen over (real ice from what our park contacts say, not plastic faux-ice) to create arguably the Bay Area’s most beautiful skating rink. No word if S.J. Sharkie or Santa Clara native, (and Olympian) Polina Edmunds will make an appearance, but I’m sure as heck sharpening my skates for this.
As part of the entertainment, there will be an Snoopy-themed Ice show, several holiday themed shows, a min-trolley filled with carolers and a nightly tree lighting ceremony behind Carousel Columbia. Aren’t you glad you upgraded to a Gold or Platinum Pass so you can take it all in over a few weekends?
After a test-run with the “Taste of Orleans” food festival earlier this summer, the “lighting competition” that will be staged inside Orleans Place should blow away park-goers. I’m thinking that it’ll rival Gilroy Gardens’ spectacular nighttime event, “Lumination.”
In Hometown Square, you’ll be able to see it snow – meet real reindeer and even browse the famous Christmas tree lot to find your own fern that “just needs a little love.” It also appears many of the food locations will be re-tolled and re-themed to reflect the holidays.
I’m also very happy to see the park create and use it’s OWN photos for the promotion of the event. By that, I mean most collateral in park chains is re-used (I.E. even though it’s Great America’s TV commercial – you’re looking at a ride from Knott’s). That is not the case with WinterFest – because that’s most certainly Maggie Brown’s behind the trolley. And who else is excited that the trolley is (sort of) coming back?!?
It should be noted that the entire park will not be open as part of WinterFest. Everything from just about Planet Snoopy over to Hometown Square will be – but don’t expect to challenge the Demon, Drop Zone, Psycho Mouse or the rest of County Fair this winter. Also, some of these activities will require an additional fee to participate (mostly out of capacity concerns, I imagine).
There are two major challenges the park faces in order to make this event an annual tradition: the weather and 39 years of learned, guest behavior. First, let’s talk about rain. It’s always a threat here in Northern California (except the past 5 years thanks to drought) so hold off your rain dances on the weekend – otherwise the event could be a complete wash.
Coasters generally do not run as well in the cold, at least B&M’s tend to be like this. If temps are around 45 or so, I’d expect to see fairly short lines for most of the park’s bigger attractions.
The other big challenge the park must overcome is the public itself. Not since opening season in 1976 have guests been able to enjoy the park after October (and even then it was rained out most of the time and never re-attempted). In addition, the nearly four week closure (needed to move things around and set them up) between Haunt closing and WinterFest starting up will be crucial to keeping the park “front of mind” with guests. Remember, most people throw away their old passes after the last day – and many might still think that’s October 30th.
Also, the Bay Area is also a very crowded market when it comes to holiday events, with several very established events in the South Bay. The park will have to do a masterful job of building the awareness that they’re still open and ready for fun nearly all the way to the New Year. (Both the Boardwalk and Six Flags have already established
So, who’s ready for a little winter cheer in Santa Clara next month? Let me know what you think in the comments section below:
Hidden in plain sight above Bourbon Street in Orleans Place, lies a little bit of Disney magic inside the confines California’s Great America:
Known as “The Consulate” – it’s primary function is a meeting room, where some of the biggest decisions about the park have gone down.
But that wasn’t always the intended purpose. In fact, it was originally built with the idea that the Marriott’s would use the space to stay during trips, a la the apartment above the firehouse at Disneyland. That is, until the Marriott’s realized they had nice hotels already near their properties with concierge service and a lack of crowds.
So while the Consulate is still used today for business – what if it’s wrought iron gates were opened to a select few park-goers as a VIP lounge? And what if you could upgrade your Platinum Pass to a “Consulate Pass?”
The idea isn’t that far fetched – several parks have hosted hospitality centers for bloggers and other influencers, where they could store items and get free refills and snacks, all away from the crowds. Why not give guests the opportunity to pay for that same, sweet access?
Plus, the pass could add a few other perks, maybe higher discounts for food and merchandise – or even a single fast lane per visit. It’s a Platinum, Platinum Pass.
Since upgrading to a Platinum Pass isn’t worth the cost for most Bay Area folks, with the exception of those who want to go to Knott’s (and I’ve covered that in a previous article) and considering an upgrade from a Gold Pass to a Platinum Pass doesn’t add any more value to a visit at CGA, maybe this benefit might be the incentive people need to pony up those extra bucks. And since we’re here in Silicon Valley, receiving that “premium” experience is not a hard sell.
Should it be by invite only? Probably to start. Parks tend to (or should) know their heaviest users and could easily identify probable candidates from common knowledge – or just looking at pass usage data.
What do you think? Would you pay up to get access to the Consulate? How much would you be willing to shell out to step up to the second floor? Let me know in the comments below.
Again, special thanks to Kurt (The Coaster Guy) for permission to use his photos of the Consulate during ACE’s Coaster Con XXXVII!
In light of the closure of Fear:VR at Canada’s Wonderland, Great America and Knott’s – after a protest from the President of the Orange County chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Health – a person who admitted he never actually experienced the attraction for himself – Great American Thrills is proud to present to you five more offensive rides that should be shut down, torn down and never spoken of again.
(If you haven’t already gathered, this is all sarcasm – please be offended if you did not get the joke already).
1.) Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Walt Disney World
Offends: Little People
As our good friend Eric the Actor from the Howard Stern Show always used to say, the correct term is “Little People.” Who thought to name a ride after seven height-challenged people, and then make then sing as if they were merry? Oh – it was a famous KIDS movie? So we’ve inoculated our children that it’s okay to say this, too?!?
2.) The Demon, Great America
Offends: Church-going folk
Sadly, this is the only one on our list that played out in real life. Turns out back in the 1980’s, people were not down with the idea of theming a coaster after a devil-like apparition that was eating guests randomly. Thankfully, people got over themselves and not only is the ride still around – but it tweets, too!
3.) All water rides
Seriously – how can you in good conscious place all that water around a log and let people float in it? What a disgusting insult to people who fear water…
4.) Gold Striker & Gold Rusher, Great America & Six Flags Magic Mountain
Offends: Mine Workers
How can either of these roller coasters accurately portray the savage life endured by miners, all in the search for rare minerals…they should be ashamed of themselves.
5.) Top Thrill Dragster, Cedar Point
Offends: Decent people
Have you seen that thing? It looks like a giant wanker. A hot dog. A gentleman’s “special region.” We can’t have our kids grow up in a world like this…
You see how slippery this slope is? If you don’t like something about a park – just do what everyone else does – don’t support it. Don’t impose your beliefs on them, it only makes you part of the problem…
Great America and Knott’s pull Fear:VR from Haunt lineups after criticism from mental health advocates
After a name change before it opened to the public and just three days of operation, both California’s Great America and Knott’s Berry Farm removed their “Fear:VR” attractions from their Halloween Haunts after mental health advocates in Southern California cried foul.
In their letter to Cedar Fair, the President of the Orange County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said, “The attraction adds to the hurtful, dehumanizing, discriminatory, prejudicial, insensitive, offensive and stigmatizing of mental illness. (We believe) it is in the poorest taste that mental illness stereotypes are being used by entertainment sources for commercial gain.”
Cedar Fair – corporate owner of both parks – issued a statement late Tuesday night:
“For nine years we have delivered unique and immersive haunted experiences to our fans and loyal guests. Our evening attractions are designed to be edgy, and are aimed at an adult-only audience. Over the past week we have heard from a number of people expressing their concern that one of our temporary, Halloween attractions – FearVR – is hurtful to those who suffer from mental illnesses. Contrary to some traditional and social media accounts, the attraction’s story and presentation were never intended to portray mental illness. As it is impossible to address both concerns and misconceptions in the Halloween time frame, at this time we have decided to close the attraction.”
For those of us who DID experience it, the consensus was clear: it WAS scary as all hell. It was a better, overall use of VR than on a coaster – because you didn’t know what to expect. It truly immersed you in the program. But – was it offensive, insensitive and stigmatizing? And more importantly, should that matter when it comes to a fantasy event like Halloween Haunt?
On the one hand – it’s a Halloween event. It’s supposed to be a little “off.” Hell, Knott’s regularly MURDERS and HANGS celebrities (in effigy) twice a night in Calico Square. Yet, you don’t hear from those who decry the death penalty or for those wanting more gun control – because everyone knows it’s fake. It’s built into the event.
I don’t remember the “hospital” in Fear:VR focusing on mental health in the storyline. We went into the room for an “ocular” exam. There was a backstory about a young girl who was possessed in some way, but it was never made clear that the facility we were at was anything more than a regular hospital.
On the other hand, is mental health a huge stigma in our society? Absolutely. Could this attraction possibly play into those stigmas? I suppose you could say, “yes” given the reality many interpreted it as. But then again, the whole Haunt experience is one big stigma / stereotype when you think about it. Are all farmers murderous, un-educated hicks? Then Cornstalkers must go. Are all clowns homicidal maniacs? Killer Klown Town has to go too – it could be offensive to genuine, circus performers. Is a hospital full of half-dead zombies going to trying and kill you if you check into a mental clinic? No, it isn’t.
Cedar Point tried a similar attraction a few year ago – and it met the exact same criticism and ultimate demise. How the company thought that in CALIFORNIA of all places that this would fly, is a question for someone above my pay grade. One must also wonder if the park’s “INsanitarium” maze might be in the cross-hairs as a result of all this activity.
The other question that I don’t think we can answer is this: Where do we stop with this? I don’t claim to have the answer – I don’t think any of us do.
Recently, a lot of people were pretty “upset” that In N’ Out Burger didn’t offer a vegetarian burger. They made a petition that got a ton of play online and loads of media attention. Yet, do you see meat eaters going into vegan or vegetarian restaurants, demanding beef? But I digress, let’s get back to the parks…
There is one thing I think that we CAN agree on: there is difference between fantasy and reality – and there’s no reality in a park’s Halloween event.
The chainsaws don’t have chains, the monsters have no magical powers and all of the blood is fake. Are we laughing at the dead, the murderers among us or the worst of our society by celebrating Halloween like this? Of course not. It’s just fantasy.
What do you think? Should the parks have shut down the attraction, or is this just a massive blow up for nothing? Let me know in the comments section below – but please keep it civil:
Northern California’s marquee morbid event, Halloween Haunt, returns to California’s Great America in 2016 with a few tweaks and added shrieks.
I don’t want to give a blow-by-blow review of each and every maze – you really should go out and explore them for yourselves. However, I will be giving you an overall picture, with some detailed insight.
The marquee attraction for 2016 is “Fear:VR” a virtual reality experience using Samsung phones and the Oculus headset. They are the same headsets used by Six Flags for their VR coasters – but that’s where the comparison ends.
Fear:VR (the name was changed due to complaints from mental health advocates) uses 8 stationary “wheelchairs” set up in one of two rooms, dressed just like a doctors office. The “nurses” allow you to get comfortable, then quite literally strap you in. The “Nurses” then place on the VR headset and earphones. The simulation (they call it an ocular exam) proceeds and uses several extra-sensory tricks, similar to a 4D theater in addition to the VR screen.
Overall, it is a fascinating, psychological trip that shows the potential of VR without having to strap you into a moving coaster. But, it will also set you back $10 per person. Normally, I’d be against this – but once I saw the slow capacity, I understood the necessity of making it an “upcharge” attraction. The ability to schedule your “doctor’s appointment” and realistic looking ID wristband you get to take with you are very nice touches.
One of the biggest changes that Haunt fans will notice is the separation of the Skeleton Key rooms from the mazes. Now they are in their own, individual sites (mostly stores). This has alleviated one of the chief criticisms of last year’s Haunt, in which Skeleton Room patrons waited LONGER to experience the maze than those who had not purchased an upgrade.
This separation keeps the uniqueness of the rooms, while preserving the Fast Lane that comes with it. The five rooms are: Bone Crusher, Dominated, Vanity, Sorority Slaughter and Hoarder House. Their experiences vary from standard “walk-though” maze to full-on “escape from the room.”
Cornstalkers received a much-needed refresh – and it paid off nicely. Great to see the older mazes get some love here, too.
However, the event is not without it’s wrinkles to iron out. For example, the Fast Lane entrance for Insanitarium was difficult to find – and when I did find it, it wasn’t separated from the other guests, which led to some confusion. Thankfully, crowds were very light for a Friday night.
Also, the area around “Fear: 5150” is quite bleak – and not in the good, “Haunt-ish” sort of way. It’s actually quite difficult to FIND or even SEE the attraction as you’re walking past it. With Planet Snoopy completely dark, I struggled to see the sign for the attraction – and many guests probably walked right past it without even realizing it was there. Maybe some extra “nurses” could be stationed around the area, and used like carnival barkers to ask if people have made their appointments” to see the good doctor.
Now, I know I’ve written at length before about this last gripe, but it bears repeating: How can a park, with a ride themed after a demonic creature, not do ANYTHING to plus the ride during a Halloween event? Of course, I’m referring to “The Demon” – and it befuddles me each and every Haunt to ride it, only to find nothing has been added, changed or put into it. Heck, at least the other Demon at Six Flags Great America brings back the kitschy theme song that used to play in the queue during their Fright Fest! Here’s the complete soundtrack, in case anyone at the park is reading this:
The event still suffers from a lack of talent, both in the scare zones and mazes. Hopefully, it will fill out as the event progresses.
Finally – this is something that I’ve watched become more and more of an issue with each Haunt season: parking control.
While I realize that security is more focused on the guests inside the park, it may be time to address the parents picking up their kids outside the gates.
You see, this isn’t the line to get into the park for Haunt – these are all parked vehicles, blocking the entrance to the parking lot. It extends all the way onto Great America Parkway. If I were a guest who didn’t know better, I’d assume it was the line to get into the park – and promptly change my mind about going that evening:
What’s more frustrating, is that in addition to all of that roadway being a red zone, the drop off / pick up area is right across the way, designed for easy entry and exit. It was only about half-full when I took these photos. But, come peak Haunt season, it will be full and overflowing. It would be nice to see the park and city come up with a better, higher capacity waiting area, so that more people would use it. Where’s Stanley Roberts when you need him?
So is Halloween Haunt a good bet for you and your friends in 2016? Absolutely.
Should you pony up a few extra bucks for the unique, Skeleton Rooms and Fear:VR? Yes. You probably had a Gold Pass anyway, so why not spend a few bucks every now and then to “plus” your experience? I know I’ll be returning to the fog…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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!