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California’s Great America Celebrates National Roller Coaster Day with Tongue-in-Cheek Celebration of Kiddie Coaster

Warning: this is a really cute video.

As part of their National Roller Coaster Day festivities, California’s Great America commissioned arguably one of the best tongue-in-cheek social media videos this year: a celebration of their 1999 Miler Kiddie Coaster, Lucy’s Crabbie Cabbies.

Enjoy the hilarity (be sure to look at the titles) and well done, CGA!

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Fan Journalism has Officially Jumped the Shark

Remember when blogging was just a fun hobby? When you could start a website (or visit one) that covered all the cool happenings going on at your favorite theme or amusement park?

Well, those days are numbered – in the name of clicks and likes.

Over the past few years – and especially the past few weeks – amusement park fans online have been bombarded with fake stories, new ride announcements spoiled through “investigations” and general bad behavior.

And it’s ruining our entire community.

Let’s get one thing straight: just because you cover a park, it does not make you a journalist. All true journalists are bound by a code of ethics with the constant threat of losing their jobs if they get something wrong.

Theme park “journalists” have no such code and as such, can (and do) post malicious, false or confidential information, generally with little to no ramifications. Take it from a guy who’s worked both sides of this story: Fan journalism is rapidly running out of style at parks across the country.

Can you blame them? Investigating and “breaking” news like shipping documents or permits showing what new ride is coming next season…what fun is that? It’s akin to searching for (and finding) your Christmas presents hidden in the closet.

Not to mention all the hard work and planning that goes into these announcements from the park side. True, the general public will most likely never visit these sites, but don’t you want to be surprised on announcement day like them?

“Take it from a guy who’s worked both sides of this story: Fan journalism is rapidly running out of style at parks across the country.”

For all the good bloggers out there, all it takes is one bad apple to spoil the bunch. Some parks have even removed bloggers entirely from the equation, simply because of perceived issues with the greater community.

So what can we – as a community – do to stop it?

In so many cases, we cannot remove these people from our community – but we can take away from them the one thing they want: attention. Flag false stories. Don’t engage on tabloid-style stories. Basically, take back the community we worked so hard to create.

On the park side, actions must have consequences. Share problem bloggers with others in the industry and let them know (in no uncertain terms) why they’re not being invited to events anymore. Give them a road map to success and if they stray – it’s on them, not you.

These bad actors cannot be allowed to represent us as a whole, otherwise our community is doomed to toxicity (and irrelevancy) for eternity.


Why Virtual Reality Roller Coasters Seemingly Died

Galactic Attack VR Coaster

It seemed like virtual reality (VR) on roller coasters was about to be the “next big thing” in the amusement industry. Many parks / chains figured they could breathe new life into older attractions with a VR update. So why are we seeing less and less of them all of a sudden?

Slow Operations / Long Lines

The first thing folks noticed about VR coasters was their wait times – and it wasn’t because they had become instantly more popular. Ride dispatches, even on small trains could average up to 10 minutes+ making ride capacities plummet and wait times soar.

Plus, in many cases, there wasn’t a separate line for non-VR seats. Guests would have to wait the exact same amount of time to NOT experience VR as they did if they wanted to.

Galactic Attack VR Coaster

Galactic Attack was the “second generation” of VR on coasters for Six Flags. However, the long waits and malfunctioning headsets disappointed many guests.

The Experience Wasn’t Seamless

During my many experiences with VR coasters, the ride didn’t sync properly with the timing of the train or shut off completely, which led to queasy guests. Other times, the VR required people to do an action, like shoot space aliens – leaving their hands unable to brace themselves into corners and brakes.

Did it make the ride better?

But for me, the biggest downfall of virtual reality coasters is that they don’t make the coaster they go on any better. In fact, in the case of Ninja at Six Flags St. Louis, it made the ride WORSE. I couldn’t brace for the “transitions” and the ride ended up being very painful.

There’s Promise on the Horizon…

Where VR coasters appear to have failed, there seems increasing promise in VR drop towers. Parks with multiple towers or vehicles seem like they could benefit the most.

To me, these experiences are a vastly superior VR experience: smoother, one plane of travel and decreased forces, coupled with not slowing down the other towers or vehicles.

Drop of Doom VR

VR on drop towers has promise, but if it lowers capacity it may not be worth all the effort from a guest perspective.

So, to sum up, the VR experience is a novel concept but it’s not quite ready for prime time, at least with it’s current implementation here in the United States. If parks can ultimately work out the capacity and reliability issues with the headsets, it might be a novel way to breathe new life into older rides.

Otherwise, virtual reality coasters should be relegated to an up-charge attraction that only runs certain times of the year or specific hours of the operating day.

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What do you think? Do you enjoy VR on roller coasters, drop rides, or neither? Let me know in the comments below – and be sure to check us out on social media!


No More Free Rides: Companies Need to Stop Asking for Free Marketing from Fans

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a company puts out a call to its fans online, asking if they have any photos or videos of their product they might be able to use at upcoming trade shows.

The fans get the satisfaction of helping their favorite company. Sometimes, they get recognition for the project and some company swag.

Meanwhile, the company gets a life-long license to market and use that image or video to help sell their product(s), which can easily cost in the millions of dollars.

How is that fair?

As a whole, our industry has become too reliant on the kindness of our fans. Asking for free marketing material is reckless, outdated and insulting to professionals in the field.

It’s Reckless:

Were all the subjects in the photo aware they were being photographed commercially? Was everything properly permitted? Were there any releases signed for the photos or video?

If the answer is no to any of these, it could cost you hundreds of lost man-hours in the office and potentially thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.

And who’s to say the work you get back is any good? If they aren’t being paid, what motivation is there to give you their best material?

It’s Outdated:

15-20 years ago, there might have been the argument that allowing a company to use a work, “with attribution” in order to gain exposure would be a good idea.

But with the advent of social media, that model has fundamentally changed. Fans don’t need companies to get famous – they can do it on their own, now.

It’s Insulting:

You would not build a ride for free if someone asked, right? So why then would you ask someone to give you something they worked hard on?

For the cost of one or two Allen Bradley Safety Relays, you can ensure that your company will have powerful and flexible marketing materials for years to come.

Kris Rowberry, Great Coasters International photo

Yours truly in front of a photo taken for GCI that was properly executed and compensated.

Bottom line: fans are a wonderful resource for parks and vendors, but their fandom should never be exploited by the very companies they love the most.

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What do you think? Should companies stop asking fans for free stuff? Or do you think it’s harmless interaction with their fans? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on our social networks!


Disney Makes Unprecedented Statement Debunking Ride Removal Rumor from Internet

This week, a completely unverified rumor on the alleged fate of a ride at Walt Disney World grew so massive, the company took the unprecedented step of making a public statement saying that the rumor was completely baseless.

Let me repeat that: Disney. Had to make an official statement. About a rumor on the internet.

Just let that settle in for a moment.

With larger parks and chains, it’s become a cottage industry to report on park news and rumors, as if they were actual newsrooms, complete with reporters.

The only issue is, they aren’t.

These blogs and Twitter accounts can report on whatever they want, however they want, with no apparent recourse if what they report on is false or misleading. So why do we continue, time after time, to allow accounts like this to ruin the fun of our industry – and why do so many of the fans continue to believe them?

There is an elegantly simple solution, but it’s oh so difficult to implement: Stop giving them credibility. Not only as a fan, but also as a park / vendor / operator.

As park fans, just unfollow them. Don’t even let them know you haven’t forgotten about that one time they messed up. It’ll just give them better clicks and search results. We, as park fans, have an obligation to, as Ronald Reagan once told Gorbachev, “Trust, but verify.” Otherwise, we’re just as much a part of the problem.

Ronald Reagan portrait

The Gipper had it right when he said, “Trust, but verify.” We need to heed those words now more than ever.

If you are a park, a vendor or an operator, ask yourself, “Do these people get invited to media events or other special perks?”

If so, stop inviting them. Just because they have a lot of followers, that doesn’t give them the right to make your life as a Public Relations or Marketing Manager a living hell.

And to those who think I’m off my rocker, just remember this: Disney Parks have been around much longer without Walt at the helm than with him – so they must be doing something right.

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What do you think? Are bloggers and social media ruining the park fan experience? Or do you think it’s harmless interaction that doesn’t hurt anyone? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on our social networks!


Kris Rowberry Returns to Great American Thrills

Kris Rowberry

Hey everyone! It’s been awhile since we last talked. Two and a half years, to be precise.

No, it wasn’t you – it was me. A necessary hiatus what with me taking a position in the Communications Department of a major theme park here in the south.

But as of this week, that restriction have been lifted, so you’ll be able to expect hearing from me on a semi-regular basis once again.

I’m so sorry.

You’ll also be seeing some changes to the site over the next few months, with some new features as well as a new look. I’ll be sure to keep you all up to speed as we transition back into regular programming.

It’s been a long two and a half years – we’ve got a lot to catch up on.

But, just to be safe, let’s not wait that long to talk to one another ever again – okay?

– KR

Kris Rowberry

Kris Rowberry is back at Great American Thrills!


Winterfest at Great America Gives a Shimmering Debut

It is rare in the amusement industry to meet expectations, especially for hardcore park fans. It is an even rarer event to exceed those expectations.

After I experienced Winterfest at California’s Great America this past Friday, I am happy to report that my expectations for this park have been forever shattered, in the most wonderful of ways.

Star Tower has been magically transformed into the North Pole, complete with decorations and a new ob-board spiel.

Star Tower has been magically transformed into the North Pole, complete with decorations and a new on-board spiel.

With a little help from local figure skating Olympian Polina Edmunds and Snoopy, the park lit it’s impressive 60 foot tall tree:

Winterfest Main Tree

Now, if you live in Santa Clara and find it difficult to get a Christmas Tree in Santa Clara – blame this park – as hundreds of Douglas Firs are spread throughout it. They’re used both as ambiance as well as effective barriers to closed-off sections of the park. The result is quite striking: not only does it look like Christmas, it SMELLS like it, too.

 

Snowflake Lake:

Arguably the most striking feature of Winterfest, this honest-to-goodness ice rink is in the middle of Carousel Columbia’s reflection pond.

unnamed-2

If you intend on going skating, check-in first at the Stroller Rental. That’s where you’ll have to fill out the waiver (thanks, California) and if you’re under 18, you’ll need a parental signature to hit the rink. When we first arrived, it was unclear where we had to go to first, so we lost skating time as a result.

Also, you CAN bring your own skates, but the additional fee to skate still applies (I.E. no discount). Just be prepared to get a locker to keep them safe, unless you want to lug them around the park the rest of the evening.

Finally, if you happen to be late for your scheduled ice skating time (it’s given in blocks of 30 minutes) you’ll be given the final skate of the night by default.

Santa’s Reindeer:

Winterfest Reindeer

Sitting on the site of the much-beloved “Triple Play” Huss Troika, the reindeer paddock saw consistent crowds all evening long. If you’ve never seen a real one up-close, it’s quite a treat. Listen for the snapping from their hoof tendons as they prance around. The site also provides unique (albeit dark) photo opportunities for the Patriot coaster (nee Vortex) due to open in 2017.

 

Entertainment / Shows:

img_2442

Under the brilliant management of Entertainment Director, Clayton Lawrence, the quality of shows in the park and overall experiences available to guests during Winterfest has met or exceeded those of the Marriott-era.

Yes, I said it. Because it’s true.

As during “Taste of Orleans” – there were characters everywhere – happy to interact with you and your family. There was always a show you could go and see, all with high production value and jaw-dropping visuals. The decorations and lighting around the park brought it to life in a away none of us have seen before. When Santa appeared at the end of the show, the kids in the audience legitimately GEEKED OUT. It was fully immersive entertainment – my God it was a THEME park again.

img_2440

 

Be sure to get to the shows you wish to see early, as the best seats go fast. Both theatres saw STANDING ROOM ONLY crowds – and that was on a Friday night. Just imagine how packed it could be once the word gets out!

“It’s Christmas, Snoopy” was so good – after Linus’ famous speech on the true meaning of Christmas…people applauded. That tells you a LOT. And to ensure complete inclusion in this holiday event – in addition to a nativity scene, there’s a Hanukkah menorah and Kwanzaa kinara in the park itself.

 

Merchandise:

I have made it no secret my disdain for the merchandise offerings from corporate parks (The 8-car Demon shirt, the California’s Great Adventure Gold Striker shirts) but, I’m willing to forgive my home park for ALL OF THAT, when I saw this:

 

THIS is what fans want to see in their local amusement park!

THIS is what fans want to see in their local amusement park!

 

And this…

CGA Winterfest Merch 2

 

And finally, this:

CGA Winterfest Merch 3

Ladies and gentlemen, that is park-specific merchandise (which is increasingly rare in the corporate park world). It took effort to create and it can only be sold in one park in the chain.

I bought the ornament immediately and look forward to it gracing my tree for decades to come.

Want to make a park fan happy? Just keep making merchandise like this. Don’t keep pushing generic “I ride with Him / Her” shirts. I’ll never buy one of those. But I sure as hell will grab unique pieces like this – and happily hand over my credit card.

 

Coal in the Stocking:

But, much like Christmas morning, sometimes you don’t always get everything you want. For instance, with all the glitz and lighting around it, Carousel Columbia wasn’t very well lit or distinguishable once the sun set. Just leaving the regular white up-lights with those blue highlights would vastly improve everyone’s front entrance photos and ice-selfies.

Jaw dropping from Star Tower, but remarkably touch to spot from the ground, Carousel Columbia could use some more lights on the front to stand out better.

Speaking of Columbia, all of the park maps (paper, online and in-park poster) have three errors on them, including the misspelling of the iconic carousel (it’s misspelled “COLOMBIA,” like the country). It’s hard for die-hard park fans to ignore when someone misspells your signature attraction:

Insert head-slap here.

Insert head-slap here.

Gold Striker and Flight Deck are both on single train operation – which is understandable – given the three and-a-half weeks the park’s maintenance staff has had to do a complete winter rehabilitation (it’s usually several months). But, if you choose to go to Winterfest just to ride either of these e-tickets, expect longer than average wait times (you really shouldn’t be going for the rides, anyway).

Lines for food also seemed to be longer than usual. I’m chalking it up to having the main food service area (County Fair’s Food Festival) not open as part of the festivities. Also, because that and half of Planet Snoopy aren’t open for Winterfest (you’ll walk along a decorated part of the service road instead), the park can feel more crowded than usual, so just be sure to bring plenty of Christmas cheer on crowded nights.

Food lines CGA

Final Thoughts:

Despite these bits of coal, Winterfest isn’t just worth your time or money – it should be mandatory that every family in the greater Bay Area check it out sometime this holiday season. Winterfest combines everything that other holiday events do in the area (plus coasters and rides) in just one location. It’s worthy of “tradition” status and did I mention there’s a 100% chance of snow?

Winterfest Snow