Today, California’s Great America announced “Winterfest” a spectacular larger than life holiday event. The event will be in direct competition with Six Flags’ “Holiday in the Park” which has been running for several years now up in Vallejo. “Winterfest” will be free to attend for anyone with a Gold of Platinum season pass.
Included in the winter wonderland will be a skating rink in front of Carousel Columbia, light displays, holiday shows, limited ride operation and holiday themed food options.
It will be capped off with one of the Bay Area’s tallest Christmas trees and even giant toy soldiers greeting guests.
Not too bad.
The five-week WinterFest celebration begins November 25 for weekend operation. Daily operations run December 19th through 23rd and 26th through 30th.
Suddenly, buying a season pass to the park this year got a whole lot more enticing. Certainly the addition of “Mass Effect” wasn’t enough to bring me back for another year – but this might do the trick.
Now, the park HAS tried something similar in the past – in the first season, back in 1976. Those small rings near Carousel Columbia’s top were to help mount Christmas lights. Unfortunately, it didn’t do so well, mostly due to poor weather. However, with the success of Six Flags’ “Holiday in the Park” in nearby Vallejo – it seems like a no-brainer to capitalize on the demand.
The other major issue is ride rehabilitation schedules. Staying open longer means some rides won’t be ready in late March, when the park opens for its 2017 season. Disneyland has perfected this art with a complete schedule of when rides will be down.
However, no other park has been able to duplicate this, usually resorting to single train operation for a majority of the early-season. We shall see how this park is able to handle the lack of time for annual rehabs.
California’s Great America has been a fixture of the City of Santa Clara and for that matter the entirety of Northern California since late 1975. But a recent story by SanJoseInside.com pointed to several sources inside Santa Clara City Hall, that said they don’t expect the park to be around for much longer.
Now, I know something about “Lost Parks” and this story doesn’t feel like the pattern that those parks have followed.
Specifically, the story claims that Mayor Jamie Matthews, along with Councilwoman Lisa Gillmor oversaw a presentation by the Irvine Company (who have ties to the 49ers) that showed the Great America site replaced by an office complex and high density housing (condos).
I reached out to Mayor Matthews, who told me he, “…did not recall any such presentation,” and added that his preference, “…would be to see the park stay. I was there opening day.”
Repeated calls to Councilwoman Gillmor were not returned.
So why are we even entertaining this idea that the park land is being sold off?
Well, when the City of Santa Clara bought the park and land from Marriott’s back in the 1980’s, it was to stop the hotel chain from building – you guessed it – an office park. Santa Clara purchased the park via it’s redevelopment agency and wrote into the city’s master plan that the land was to be used for an amusement park/ The park would be owned by the city but assets (I.E. rides and improvements) would be owned and operated by an established amusement park operator.
Fast forward to the 2000’s, and California’s legislature effectively raids redevelopment agencies coffers to pay down the defect – and eventually disbands them, forcing them to sell off all their assets. The land under Great America, along with the golf course and convention center in Santa Clara are part of the redevelopment agencies’ assets.
Indeed, the park does sit in the middle of a real estate buying boom (where the average household rent is in excess of $2300 for a one bedroom apartment). Commercial real estate is just as in-demand.
However, several sources tell Great American Thrills an entirely different story. They say that Cedar Fair is indeed, committed to keeping Great America around for the long haul, citing the length of the current lease – which was recently extended to 2074 – a recent re-zoning application, which will allow for newer attractions and several clauses in the lease itself that give the park the upper hand.
Here’s the full statement from the corporate office in Sandusky, OH:
“We believe that Great America has compelling potential for future development as an amusement park and entertainment venue. Consistent with our long-term vision for Great America we have filed a rezoning application with the City of Santa Clara that would allow for the addition of new attractions, shows and events that will enhance the guest experience. In light of the fact that our ground lease runs through 2074 we have the necessary control of the property to pursue our long-term vision. In addition, we have also created enough financial flexibility to exercise our right of first refusal for the purchase of the property and that option will be considered as the land sale process moves forward.”
So what does this all mean? To me, it says the park isn’t going anywhere. Cedar Fair has already spent too much to NOT buy the park land for themselves – and breaking a lease with over half a century still left on it will be tied up in court for years.
This isn’t the Kinzel-era, anymore. His obsession with garbage cans is not the top priority anymore. It’s claimed that current CEO Matt Ouimet (who comes form Disney) said after touring Great America for the first time, that it was, “…a diamond in the rough,” and, “Why did we treat this park so badly?”
Yes, the park hasn’t received that monster attraction in recent years – but neither has several other parks in the Cedar Fair chain. The investments that have come in the past few years over the LONG TERM are going to keep the park in far healthier shape fiscally than any one coaster would. And the key words there are “long term.”
Now, if the park DOESN’T buy the land underneigh it – that’s something to watch for. There’s still the lease to break AND the master plan, which would need a vote by the residents of Santa Clara in order to change…
To sum it up: Don’t write off Great America just yet – keep enjoying it.
If I told you you could legally enter a theme park without paying, you’d probably call me nuts. But that’s just the case at Knott’s Berry Farm, thanks to their unique, “Shopper’s Pass.”
The Shopper’s Pass is a timed-entry to Knott’s, originally intended for someone to enter to either purchase or peruse the park for something to buy within a limited time. In this case, 45 minutes. Say for instance you wanted to get an item the night before, but forgot to – this pass allows you to grab it before you head back home.
And as great as it is for that, there’s a second use that gaining popularity. If you’re willing to roll the dice on short lines and think you’re a decent power walker – you can go into the park, ride one or two attractions and then bolt back to Guest Services before your time is up.
Now, there’s a BIG catch to this too-good-to-be-true admission: if you fail to return in the allotted 45 minutes – even by just one second – you’re getting charged for a full day’s admission. How does the park guarantee that? They’ll ask for a deposit that’s equal to your full-day admission up front, fully refundable upon your timely return.
If you’re easily distracted or forgetful, this is not a good ticket option for you. Plus, Knott’s is worth AT LEAST a full day’s worth of exploring and riding.
The good news: If you are one of those forgetful types, you can always take that paid admission and apply it to an annual pass in the same building. That way, you can spend as much time as you want in the park for an entire year!
But, if you’re looking to do some shopping at Knott’s and are in a time crunch, the “Shopper’s Pass” is the best kept non-secret in the amusement industry.
After an 11 month wait, Halloween fans can once again rejoice – the Haunt has returned to California’s Great America!
We’re in the park this evening as part of the media preview night – and if the hype is true – this could end up being the best Haunt in California. (That’s right – we said it, Knott’s fans…)
If you want to experience Haunt with us as-it-happens, be sure to follow us on Twitter.
Also, be sure to check back here next week for a full review, including photos and interviews.
Happy hauntings, everyone! Buhahahaha!
A major incident tonight on a Six Flags Magic Mountain roller coaster has capped an already tragic day in the amusement industry.
First, a young, British teenager was killed after being allegedly ejected from an Intamin ZacSpin, called “Inferno” at Terra Mitica park in Europe.
Then, just moments ago – reports came in that Ninja, Six Flags Magic Mountain’s suspended coaster – had a major derailment, with at least one car wheel assembly completely separated from the track. At least four people have minor injuries, according to local media. Crews from the local fire department, as well as Magic Mountian maintenance staff are on scene, assisting riders as I type.
UPDATE: A statement from Park Public Relations Manager, Sue Carpenter: “The issue was caused by a tree branch fell on the track of the roller coaster obstructing the train.
In situations like this – and I cannot stress this enough – we need to let the investigations run their course. There will be much said over the next few weeks about maintenance, ride safety and parks in general that will be absolute junk and rubbish. “Coaster experts” will pop up all over the media, spouting off things that they have no qualifications to say, with their only qualifications being that they’ve ridden many rides.
You will not find any of that type of speculative reporting here.
Let’s allow the facts to come out – as speculation will only lead to rampant misreporting and really ends up being a complete disservice to everyone involved.
The thoughts and prayers of the entire Great American Thrills staff is with the friends and family directly affected by this difficult day.
Remember when new rides and attractions opened with the start of the season at your local amusement or theme park? That’s certainly not the case this year.
A record number of attractions are still fighting to open up for the season, this as many parks pass the halfway point of their operational calendar.
And it’s not just one factor that’s throwing things off – it would appear the entire industry ran into a figurative “buzz saw” when it came to opening attractions on time this year. Here’s a list of attractions off the top of my head that have found themselves “behind the 8-ball” just this year:
Now, I say “behind the 8-ball” for this reason: parks advertise their newest product to get people excited to come back next year. But if you (or your group) came early in the season, you more than likely missed out on the new attraction completely (at least, this year).
Even professional park travelers like myself plan for and anticipate delays for new rides – but even we’ve been taken aback at rides opening beyond the Fourth of July – especially in seasonal parks closed in the winter.
So what’s behind all these rides having what I consider to be major delays in opening? Are they too extreme or complex? Or is it sometime much simpler? Let’s take a closer look:
This was the worst winter on record east of the Rocky Mountains. In many cases – construction couldn’t even start until the snow was moved and the ground thawed. Sadly, that didn’t happen until April in some places. (It was still icy in the Great Lakes in JUNE).
There are only so many pieces that can be built by these companies, some of which employ less than 50 employees. If a company waited to buy a product until late in the season, they’ll be at the end of the line, so to speak to receive their new products.
If you’ve ever played the game “RollerCoaster Tycoon” you know it’s quite easy to build new attractions. But if the game were to be truly accurate, players would have to spend more time in the local permits office than managing their park. The litany of paperwork and regulations ended up killing a famous water park here in California.
While most point to the Golden State as the epicenter of red tape (See Gold Striker’s struggles to finally open) the East Coast is now getting into the act.
After a brutal winter prevented construction for most of the off-season at Six Flags Great Adventure, Zumanjaro – a world record free fall in New Jersey, was finally ready to open for season pass previews after months of delays…
…only to be told by the State that their ride inspector would not be able to get out to the park to officially sign off on its operating permit. Whoops.
Design Flaws / Challenges:
Whether it’s too complex in terms of computer and electrical systems – or just a bad design to begin with – sometimes rides don’t transfer perfectly from the computer and drafting board to the real world. All parks (except the old Action Park) have guests’ safety as their number one priority – and if it means opening a ride late to ensure it does not hurt, maim or kill people – it’s a delay that’s always worth taking.
So will all of the rides and attractions open by the end of THIS season? Only time (and a host of other factors) will tell. One can only hope that parks can get “back on schedule” next year and start debuting rides when the season begins (or shortly thereafter).
What do you think? Are there any other factors I might have missed? LEave me a comment either below or on my social media channels – I’d love to hear what you think!
Not even a day after our story aired on KSBW – leading off the newscast, no less – KION Central Coast News got in on the “Lost Parks” action, with their own report!
Special thanks to reporter Cassandra Arsenault for coming out and recording us! (And for nerding out briefly on Boston area amusement parks, too!)
On a side note – what is it about Boston area-born reporters and the Bay Area? That’s two now!
Second side note – we’re filmmakers – someone reported it – so it’s official!!!
Jump to the story by clicking the link, below:
Chalk another news outlet onto the list that’s discovered the charm and passion of the “Lost Parks of Northern California” series…KSBW Central Coast News led their newscast with a story on our project!
Check out the the video, by clicking the link, here:
We decided to let you open one of your gifts a bit early – and we really hope you don’t return it to the store after the holidays…
Be sure to like, comment and SHARE this video with all your friends and family; it’s time to go back and re-discover SANTA’S VILLAGE of Scotts Valley! (Just click the link below to take you to the video page):
Have you been naughty, or nice so far this holiday season? Either way – we’re happy to release a preview to our Santa’s Village episode of the Lost Parks of Northern California!
Find out how eating at McDonald’s may connect you to the park – in addition to the many pieces of Santa’s Village strewn throughout Northern California!
Stay tuned here to Great American Thrills for the latest updates, including a release date!
Diane Disney Miller, the last surviving , direct descendent of Walt and Lillian Disney passed away earlier this week in San Francisco, from complications due to a fall she sustained several months ago. She was 79 years old.
Miller is best known as the champion of the “Walt Disney Concert Hall” in Southern California, as a winery proprietor in Napa at Silverado Vineyards as well as the backing behind the Walt Disney Family Museum, located on the Presidio in San Francisco.
But perhaps Miller’s greatest contribution to the arts has been missed by many – mostly because it came when she was only a young child…
It is said that Diane and her sisters’ favorite book growing up was a book by British author, P.L. Travers. The story, about a magical Nanny was so popular in the Disney household, the sisters would routinely beg their father to make a movie of the book – an odyssey that took Walt Disney 20 years to complete. The upcoming Disney film, “Saving Mr. Banks” tells the behind-the-scenes story of how Walt was able to finally get the rights to make “Mary Poppins” (considered by many to be the greatest Disney film of all time).
Miller was a philanthropist by all definitions – donating millions to causes near and dear to her heart, usually related to the arts. She will be sorely missed in the arts, wine and amusement park communities.
She is survived by seven children, 13 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Bay Area residents – be sure to tune in this evening to NBC Bay Area (KNTV) at 5:00p.m., as you’ll get a behind the scenes look at our latest “Lost Parks” project, “Santa’s Village of Scotts Valley.”
If you’re not in the Bay Area, you can catch the segment here, once it’s posted online.
Garvin Thomas (Emmy award winning journalist) followed the whole Lost Parks crew for most of the day, to highlight the work we’re doing. For those who have not seen the show, “Each week NBC Bay Area’s Garvin Thomas profiles the people, the groups, and the companies making the Bay Area, and the world, a better place to live. Bay Area Proud stories are success stories; inspiring profiles of those making a positive change in our communities.”
Check out our video series here.
So, who’s inspired to go preserve a piece of history?
Tomorrow afternoon is my “Lost Parks” presentation at the San Mateo County Museum.
The presentation starts promptly at 1:00pm – don’t be late!
Learn more here: http://www.historysmc.org/main.php?page=docket
No, it’s not a broken record you’re hearing – I really am featured in / on a major news outlet for the second time this week!
This time, it’s the San Francisco Examiner, who were very kind to promote my “Lost Parks” presentation at the San Mateo County History Museum.
Let’s hope to keep this remarkable streak alive and continue to build awareness for the brand – feel free to share Great American Thrills with all your friends, family and favorite television stations / networks!
Read the article here:
Or copy / paste this link:
Planning your weekend already? Don’t forget about my “Lost Parks” presentation at the San Mateo County History Museum at 1:00pm this Saturday.
Join me as I take you back in time to five different defunct amusement parks from the greater Bay Area, as well as explain why our history is so important to preserve. In addition, you’ll see how you can still experience pieces of these long gone parks in our modern world. See you there!
Learn more, here: http://www.historysmc.org/main.php?page=docket
It’s both an honor and humbling to see your work in print – but to see it in the prestigious TIME Magazine – well, that’s just awesome!
Not only was I quoted several times in the piece, but two of my photos (El Toro and Bizzaro) were featured as the top two images! (I’m a little excited if you can tell)
You can read the full article here: http://techland.time.com/2013/09/19/the-top-10-roller-coasters-in-the-u-s/
Looks like there’s a new roller coaster expert in town – and this one can photograph AND write well, too! Another great milestone on my journey…
We’re hoping that by choosing this park, we just might bring summer back this year…it’s freezing in the Bay Area right now!
Well, you know it from it’s catchy jingle or if you ever drove through the Central Valley on the way to Yosemite or Sonora…
That’s right! We’re going back to the “famous” MANTECA WATERSLIDES!
(SKIP to 2:40 for the good stuff…)
After two weeks of soft testing, a lavish grand opening ceremony and over a month of regular operation, the Gold Striker wooden roller coaster at California’s Great America is closed temporarily to allow for additional sound mitigation to be placed on the ride. But don’t hit your panic buttons – published news reports say the ride is expected to be back up and running by the July 4th holiday – NOT an extended, unknown period.
According to the City of Santa Clara’s “Smart Permit” website, Gold Striker had several criteria to meet in order for it to open permanently, the biggest of which states: “Should the additional testing reveal that the coaster is not in compliance with Condition 23 (amount of sound coming from the ride) or any applicable City ordinances, Cedar Fair shall undertake Remedial Measures, as defined in the Settlement Agt Agreement.” Apparently, the ride was just shy of making all those criteria.
Many industry watchers and local boosters see this addition to the park (and the subsequent work to ensure everyone is satisfied) as a serious commitment from corporate owner Cedar Fair, LP to both the park and the local economy.
“Cedar Fair elected to close the ride to install additional sound mitigation upgrades,” said Santa Clara Mayor, Jamie Matthews. “Those upgrades should bring the ride into full compliance with the previous settlement. I’m hoping to see it open here for the 4th of July.”
He added, “I am very happy with the way this is situation is working out – it shows responsible citizenship – that we can all work together and come to a solution.”
Since “soft-opening” in May, Gold Striker has seen major additions, most notably the addition of plywood walls and white foam along the sides and underside of the track. By coincidence, these spots pass closest to or face the buildings located on Great America Parkway. During initial construction, the park added what was dubbed an, “initial descent tunnel” onto the first drop of the ride. This feature was presumably added to mitigate the sound from the first drop of the ride.
Trying to build this ride has been quite the roller coaster ride in and of itself – the plans go back to 2007, when the park first began the permitting process. In addition to the standard permits, three hearings were held on potential noise levels – all of which were initiated by appeals from the owners of the buildings closest to the proposed ride.
Billy D’Anjou, a local roller coaster enthusiast, has logged 80 circuits on the coaster since it opened in May and is hoping to hit his 100th ride in July.
“I personally don’t mind more enhancements (to the ride) but I think the whole noise mitigation issue has gotten out out of control,” he said. “In the end it makes me worry what limitations Great America will have in the future. (Prudential) should expect noise from a theme park. It’s not a library or fine art museum.”
Gold Striker is the first wooden roller coaster built in Northern California since 1999. It boasts the tallest and fastest drop in Northern California and is the largest capital investment in the park in over a decade. The ride was built partially on the footprint of another ride, Willard’s Whizzer – a steel coaster that operated from 1976 to 1988.
The land that Prudential’s buildings sit on was originally an auxiliary parking lot for Great America. The land was sold in the late 90’s during the dot com boom. Prudential acquired the buildings in early 2002, according to a press release on their website.
Marriott’s Great America opened in 1976, as a celebration of America’s bi-centennial. The concept was to create a chain of parks to become an answer to Disney’s theme park empire.
With Gold Striker now officially open to the public at California’s Great America – enjoy this on-ride video of myself and “Lost Parks” Producer, Nicholas Laschkewitsch (who is also the ACE NorCal Asst. Regional Rep) taking in a ride.
Yes, it’s official. As of this afternoon, the Gold Rush has officially met your adrenaline rush – GOLD STRIKER at California’s Great America is now offically OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!
Look for a full media review in the next few days – but for now, get out and enjoy Gold Striker at California’s Great America!