It gives me no pleasure to write a piece about this, but I think it IS important to see what happens when societal paranoia meets the reality of our society.
On Saturday night, reports began to circulate online of a group of disruptive teenagers inside California’s Great America. As part of a strong-arm robbery attempt inside the park, someone began shouting “SHOOTER,” inciting mass panic among the attendees.
Guests began running for any exit they could find, including making their own by scaling large, barbed wire fences in backstage areas.
Police scanner traffic reported a few some minor to moderate injures, consistent with trampling crowds, but that no shooting had occurred. There was no word if the group responsible for the false shooting reports were taken into custody.
The park put out a statement about 30 minutes after police arrived, saying:
They concluded with, “The safety of our guests and associates is our highest priority.”
Now, growing up at this park, it is beyond heartbreaking to watch a place I had so much fun in, turn into a place of pure, unadulterated terror. In an era where we drill our students about mass shooters in school, is it much of a stretch to see theme / amusement parks as a soft target? Sadly, no.
That being said, the security to get into theme / amusement parks like Great America is very good. I’ve never felt unsafe at a park event, except for what no security checkpoint can detect: bad actors. A person or group of people who are determined to hurt others in order to make themselves feel better.
The physical damage to the park is repairable. However, the reputation damage to the park and mental damage to those who were in attendance (both guests and employees) is not as easily repaired.
Are there are lessons to be learned here? Absolutely. I imagine parks across the country will be taking a look at their emergency and crisis plans to ensure this never happens at their parks.
But truth be told, we (as a nation) cannot allow ourselves to be so paranoid – and yet, here we are. That being said, after seeing all of these videos over and over, if I were placed in their shoes, I ask myself, “What would I do?”
I finish this op / ed with a question for all of us: Is this the type of country we want to live in? A country in which one bad actor can incite a mass panic, over the generally unfounded fear of someone gunning us down?
Because as much as we want this to be an isolated incident – barring radical change in our society – I’m fearful that this sort of occurrence is only the tip of the iceberg.
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:
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…
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!
Rarely do I find myself speechless after coming home from a park. After hundreds of different parks, it’s difficult to impress me.
However, I am proud to report that after taking in the first day of “Taste of Orleans” at California’s Great America, this is one of those moments. Not only were all my expectations met, they were exceeded.
Let’s begin with a quick background: “Taste of Orleans” is a first-of-it’s-kind for Great America – a food and wine festival, themed with Cajun dishes and flavor. But, it is much more than that. In my eyes, it is the re-birth of both Orleans Place and of theme inside the park.
I’ll get into that a bit later – let’s head back to the food for now…
After picking up your tasting card for $25, you can visit six different food stations, which feature different, Cajun-inspired dishes. They are: Creole Meatballs, Bourbon House BBQ Chicken Wings, Crawfish Etoufee, Chicken-Andouille Gumbo, Red Beans and Ride and two Beignets for dessert:
Portion sizes were quite liberal compared to other tasting events I’ve attended – and I found that I was quite satisfied after sampling everything (sans the beignets – I saved those for dessert later on in the day). All the food was fresh and full of flavor – definitely not your typical amusement park fare.
But where this event really took off for me was after sunset.
In what must be a “dry run” for their upcoming “Winterfest” in November and December, the park has placed quite a bit of LED lights throughout the area, similar to International Street at Kings Dominion. The effect is stunning – and the area once dark and dreary at night is now colorful and welcoming:
Consider just a few years ago, park employees had to fight to get the lettering of “ORLEANS PLACE” back on the brick entrance to the area. Now, it’s full-on Mardi Gras. Did I mention the stilt-walkers handing out beads to everyone; the live bands playing zydeco music or the theme-appropriate employee uniforms? It doesn’t just evoke New Orleans – it SCREAMS it.
Then for the highlight of the night – a Cajun-themed fireworks show. I must have spotted three or four fire marshals in the park, with extinguishers at their side – that’s when you KNOW it’s going to be one hell of a show.
And was it ever.
While difficult to capture perfectly, these two shots say it all – California’s Great America went FULL-ON DISNEY with their first attempt at what they call, “Immersive Fireworks.”
Sign me up. Permanently:
Now, one of the benefits I can see of events like this: All the decor and lighting CAN STAY UP throughout the season. Move it earlier in the season (say to a traditionally non-busy day) and you’ve themed the area for the rest of the season.
In essence, “Taste of Orleans” has un-done decades of de-theming at this park and brought back the magic and majesty of the Marriott-era…and I do not say that lightly.
The “Paramount Blue” benches in the area are being swapped out for more traditional black iron, brown wood models. The “Girl Space” store was changed to the new location of the Great America Outlet and both it and the “Trending Now” shop sport more authentic, theme-appropriate signage.
Zydeco and jazz permeated the area on new speakers – a much-needed upgrade from the ground box models (that sounded worse than a subway announcement) found elsewhere in the park. And when that music wasn’t playing, live performers were – either a local group of high schoolers, marching through the Rue and eventually making their way to the top of the Consulate balcony, where they drew quite the crowd.
Anyone who says people go to parks for just the coasters does not understand the industry. Guests go to be ENTERTAINED. And was I and thousands of others ENTERTAINED at this event? Oh hell yeah:
When you see people openly dancing in the streets to the music being played – you have hit that perfect nerve inside them that only theme parks can do: make a guest forget they’re in Santa Clara, CA – and transport them to a completely different place.
After seeing just how spectacular this event was, I was surprised to not see any promotion about the event on any media that I saw or heard (TV or radio). The Bay Area has quite a “foodie” culture – and I can easily see hundreds, if not thousands of “foodiphiles” showing up to see what all the hub bub was about – so long as they knew about it. Maybe I just missed the spots…
My only real gripes from the event itself were minor: a lack of water cups at the food booths, lack of dedicated seating areas to sit and relax and no dedicated line for beignets at Sweet Tooth. But that’s about it.
Knott’s has the Boysenberry Festival. Carowinds has a Taste of Carolina. And now, NorCal’s Cedar Fair park finally has a marquee foodie event to call it’s own.
If events such as “Taste of Orleans” is (pardon the pun) a taste of the future of this park, then the future smells pretty good from where I stand. Do yourself a favor and plan to visit California’s Great America on July 24th, 30th or 31st and experience the earnest revival of a legendary theme park.
“TASTE OF ORLEANS” FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL TIPS:
Don’t wait in line for a food or wine card in Pizza Orleans or Sweet Treats – the tasting cards are available at the smaller merchandise booths as well.
Watch out for chalk art along the Rue – you might be stepping on a Picasso and not realize it!
Best spot for fireworks viewing is along the Rue in Orleans Place.
California’s Great America this “soft opened” their latest offering: a 4D holographic experience called, “Mass Effect” – themed after the popular video game series from Redwood City, CA based Electronic Arts.
After being lucky enough to experience it for myself this past weekend, does it live up to the pre-opening hype?
Well, yes…and no.
If you are a fan of the video game series or a serious tech nerd, this will probably be a mind-blowing experience for you. The amount of technology behind the screen alone is unlike anything that has been placed inside an amusement or theme park – ever.
But, if you’re not really into “geeking out” on technology, or playing the video game that inspired the attraction, you may end up passing on this attraction if the line is too long.
Let’s begin with the positives:
Upon walking inside the theater, you might think the screen up front is a prop – but no – that’s a massive LED screen you’re looking at. The resolution is incredibly high and feels like you’re looking at real pod bay doors.
A live actor / actress at the ship’s helm instructs you to place all loose belongings in the ample area in front of your seats, which are bundled 4-abreast. That captain will stay with us throughout the ride.
When you sit down, you’ll immediately notice the first bit of the 4D experience – vibration synced to sound effects – as your ship goes through pre-flight checks. It definitely adds to the realism.
After placing on our 3D safety goggles (which ALL real commercial flights have you do, of course) we embark on our space journey to a resort. The holograms are VERY impressive and are even customized for the park, which is a nice touch in an era of generic attraction films.
The experience plays out much like other motion simulator experiences – a fairly routine flight suddenly has everything go wrong – and guests are soon wrapped up in a fight for their figurative lives. Along the way, the film is accompanied by appropriate visuals, sounds, feelings and smells.
Yes, SMELLS. Suddenly, Soarin’ over the World has some decent competition…
Of course, the good guys eventually win and we limp to our original, intended destination, albeit a little worse for wear.
In the main gift shop at the front of the park, you’ll find Mass Effect models, jackets and even a custom display case – which really stands out from the rest of the generic stuff the park currently offers.
So, what could the park do better before officially opening the ride to the public later this month?
There were some moments where I had trouble following the action on-screen. It moved too quickly in spots for my taste and the audio was tough to process at points, especially coming from the holographic interface.
The capacity for this ride is going to be bad, period. The cycle lasts four minutes and thirty seconds, and only one side of the former Action Theater was renovated. Translation: expect to wait in long lines on the busiest days. Speaking of waiting…
The outside queue has no shading in a majority of the switchbacks (some of which were added anticipating larger crowds). If you plan to get in line before 4-5:00 p.m. this summer, expect to be out in the direct sunlight until you get to the final grouping section.
Why this park is so adverse to shade structures, I will never know. It would be nice to get that shade up, especially if they’ve already anticipated long waits with that extended queue.
There are some things to look at in the line, but not much, considering the subject matter. Original plans called for a line with tons of plexiglass in it, but after seeing what guests already do to Star Tower’s windows and Gold Striker’s wooden queue, those plans were thankfully abandoned.
Also, the unique seats that hide all the fun 4D effects have one noticeable feature that’s missing – a restraint.
Take that, CalOSHA!
It turns out that the motions of the seats are not violent enough to warrant a restraint system, such as a seatbelt. Only time will tell if this becomes an issue with guests who try to exploit this and ruin the ride for others. I hope it doesn’t occur. But if it does – you heard it here, first.
I was also let down by the exit from the ride. Before, it housed an arcade with a myriad of games. This weekend, it was just empty. While it was a soft opening (and not everything may be finished) I do hope they fill that space with actual gaming consoles, so that guests can experience the game that inspired the ride they were just on.
Despite the potential for guest stupidity, lack of shade and taking into account this was only a soft opening, Mass Effect is still a VERY GOOD and SOLID attraction for California’s Great America.
But, it’s not 40th anniversary GREAT.
Yes, it is a much needed refresh of an under-utilized and outdated motion theater – and yes, Cedar Fair spent a LOT of time, effort and moolah to spruce it up. All are admirable coming from a park that most people had written off just four years ago.
However – at the end of the day – it is still just a motion theater.
Mass Effect at California’s Great America is fun and worth a trip to experience for yourself. But as a “repeat ridership” attraction or “destination ride,” I cannot see it having the pull that Gold Striker did in 2013 or that the Joker at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom will become when it opens later this month.
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Did you experience “Mass Effect” yet – if so, what did you think? Tell me in the comments section below or on our social media links!
How long have we heard that California’s Great America doesn’t have anywhere to expand? “The park is landlocked – there’s nowhere for them to go.” And what about, “Cedar Fair doesn’t care about this park – they want to sell it.”
Well, this aught to shut up the naysayers…
In an unprecedented announcement on Wednesday, the park announced that it has applied for a rezoning from the City of Santa Clara, which will allow it to add significantly more attractions with less red tape, intends on purchasing the land on which the park sits on and will build a massive retail and entertainment complex near the front gate of the park.
CGA fans, get ready to drool:
To think this was a park that looked like it was about to close just a few years ago – now look at all the new stuff that’s planned and proposed…
There’s a lot of verbiage to get through, but here’s the most important part (in my opinion). Long time fans of this park may recall the proposed “Front Gate” project during the Paramount era, before the land was converted into two office towers. Well, long time fans, your patience has finally paid off:
This gives the park a major, strategic advantage over it’s competitors – no other park in Northern California offers this sort of experience. If it reminds you of Knott’s Marketplace, Universal CityWalk or Downtown Disney – that’s no mistake.
And for fans of the park itself, they didn’t forget about you, either. The rezoning will allow the park far more flexibility in building new attractions – and it’s all spelled out, here:
Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet also told those in attendance that any change in the use of land would have to first be approved by the City of Santa Clara AND Cedar Fair – which all but ensures the park will be around through 2074.
So, CGA fans – who’s ready to watch their park transform into an entertainment destination? Tell us in the comments section below or on our social media links!
As the sun rose on it’s historic 40th anniversary this morning, the fate of California’s Great America still seemed very much up in the air.
With a pending sale of the land it sits on and confirmation from our own investigation that several members of the Santa Clara City Council have entertained redevelopment proposals – all of which called for demolition of the park – it seemed that we would soon be watching our 39th Lost Park in the Bay Area.
However, there is some potential, good news to report. Speaking to the San Jose Mercury News, park General Manager, Raul Rehnborg said that Cedar Fair, “…intends to keep and grow the park exactly where it is through the year 2074.” That’s when the current lease on the park expires.
He added that there is no more debating the park’s future – they are here to stay. You can find the full article, here.
I’ve written at length here before about why Cedar Fair should’t and wouldn’t let this park go – so it’s great to hear directly from senior management that this is indeed, appears to be the case. We’ll now look forward to the actual sale proceedings from the City of Santa Clara come this June and official statements from the park as well.
What do you think of this news – are you excited or still not convinced the park is staying? Let me know in the comments section or on our social media links!
Yesterday, California’s Great America made their official announcement on Winterfest – a holiday-themed event that will extend the season nearly to the end of the calendar year.
And yet, the park appears to have missed out on a major marketing and event opportunity…New Year’s Eve.
For decades, the South Bay has tried to find its identity, beyond the shadow of San Francisco. For those of you not from the area, it’s actually a big deal to South Bay people, especially considering we’re the larger population area. One only has to look at the coverage for the recent Super Bowl for evidence of that. San Francisco also has a tradition of a massive fireworks show at midnight to commemorate the New Year.
In sharp contrast, the South Bay does not have a marquee New Year’s Eve show. Instead, we have to remind our residents not to shoot their firearms into the sky.
So, it was a bit shocking to me to see in the park press release yesterday that Winterfest festivities will end the day before New Year’s Eve, which this year falls on Saturday night.
Are you catching my drift yet?
Simply put – how can you put on a first-time holiday event and not throw a New Year’s Eve celebration – especially if you’re already open the day before and more importantly, in an area DESPERATE to find such a tradition? Just imagine for a moment: an evening of fun capped off with one of the coolest new traditions in the South Bay – falling into 2017.
You heard me right. New York says they “drop the ball” in Times Square, when in reality a computer controlled winch slowly lowers that ball down a flagpole. Why can’t California’s Great America use the park’s tallest “flagpole” – Drop Tower – and give 24 lucky people the opportunity to leave the ground in 2016, and “drop in” to 2017, all at the stroke of midnight?
But Kris – how are you going to ensure they drop precisely at midnight?
Easy! The ride has a manual mode – which allows the operator to release the cabins manually from the ground. When the clock strikes 12, all they have to do is push the button on the control panel and wheeeee here comes 2017, complete with fireworks going off in the distance (or even better – off the top of the tower itself).
And here’s the best part – the 24 seats could be auctioned off, with the benefactor being local charities.
Okay Kris, but what if the weather isn’t conducive to riding Drop Tower and what about families who may want to come? (I.E. rain and wind)
No problem – you simply move to the other “ball drop” – or in this case – “ball raise” – the Star Tower. It’s enclosed, also able to do manual modes and breaks down maybe once every other season.
That same auction could take place, albeit with more participants – and anyone can ride (with chaperone, of course).
To me, this seems like a no-brainer, probably because I proposed this very event all the way back in 2003. I was much younger then; a wide-eyed, new employee of the park who didn’t understand how corporations worked. The idea never made it past the suggestion box and I didn’t make it past my second season.
Nonetheless, if you’re going to make a new event stick in this industry, you have to go big that first year to make it beyond memorable. Otherwise, it won’t warrant additional capital for the next year and worse – people won’t come back.
Discovery Kingdom did it their first year by bringing in the world’s largest Christmas tree – what will CGA’s big selling point be?
To sum up – without a New Year’s Eve celebration to cap it off, Winterfest at California’s Great America isn’t really as good of an event as it could or more importantly SHOULD be.
Oh and since I’ve been giving away so much free advice in this article, CGA folks – you may want to A.) just hire me to do this full time for you or B.) check out several other ways how you can score big points for your 40th anniversary.
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.
It seems like a match made in heaven…err, HELL perhaps.
Since California’s Great America began their annual Halloween Haunt, it has missed out on what would be the EASIEST haunted attraction – ever. That’s right, I’m talking about the Demon.
If you were ever looking for an excuse to bring back some of the older theme of this classic Arrow Development ride, wouldn’t Haunt be the perfect opportunity?
Let’s start with the queue line. By now, every park fan has probably heard of the infamous “Demon Song” – a nearly twenty-six minute loop of a custom theme song for ride, coupled with skits between. And there’s no need to look for it, CGA – here it is…in it’s entirety:
This “demon-itization” could also include sprucing up all the accent lighting around the ornate rock work. And you know what, why not throw in some zombies on the other side of the fence just to make things interesting?
Now, let’s get to some of the most contentious, yet easiest to accomplish items, if you use a little creativity.
1.) Fog in the Tunnels:
We can all see the light sockets are still there from the 1980 season (check out how amazing it was, too):
…and while they’ve just been DYING to be reused (couldn’t resist), why not do a much cheaper alternative for now by just throwing some white (or red strobes) inside the tunnel, with two of those Haunt fog machines at the entrance to it? The train will naturally draw in the fog into the tunnel and the effect will be both disorienting and amazing at the same time.
2.) The Bloodfall:
This one is arguably more complicated. We’re guessing the pump may have gone out a few years ago and it isn’t too easy to get out to be replaced. But – that doesn’t mean you can’t fill the pond below with that eerie red liquid for effect or throw some more strobes and fog out there…
.2.) The Demon Himself:
Sadly, last weekend when I stayed until closing, the head wasn’t even lit up. Not even the eyes. Too bad, because when he is – it’s awesome:
People give the Paramount-era at this park a bad rap – most of the lighting and water effects WORKED during this time (sans the big tunnel).
Need we remind everyone the 40th park anniversary is coming up in 2016 next year. With nostalgia a BIG seller these days, what better way to throw it back, then to finally see a return of our terrifying Demon…
What do YOU think? Tell us in the comments section below or on our social media links!
If this photo doesn’t capture my love of amusement and theme parks, then I’m not sure what photo could…
Yours truly on the venerable (and sorely missed) Triple Wheel at Great America in Santa Clara, CA. Here’s hoping it brings as much joy to you as it did to me finding it in an old photo album.
For those wondering what the ride looked like that I’m pictured on, this great video from GreatAmericaParks.com should help you out – the sound ALONE should spark your memory:
With the announcement of Carolina Harbor (and the all-but-certain expansion of the water park at California’s Great America in the near future), it got me thinking…
Could California’s Great America score some MAJOR brownie points and pull off one of the biggest throwbacks EVER with the re-branding of their Boomerang Bay water park to one of the classic Marriott-era themed areas – Yankee Harbor?
During the Paramount-era, it wasn’t uncommon to use a singular brand across multiple parks. After all, it was cheaper and the design team only had to do one thing. But the Carowinds announcement may signal that Cedar Fair is looking to create not a singular brand identity across all their parks, but an INDIVIDUAL PARK IDENTITY.
Boomerang Bay was originally themed after Crocodile Dundee movies – but once Paramount bailed on the park, licensing forced a slight change in name. But the name really doesn’t work with the rest of the park. (Aussie area in GREAT AMERICA?) The park has already made significant efforts to revive Orleans Place, with signage and background music, so could this be the next, logical step?
What better way to mesh the old theme of the park than with a newly expanded, American-themed water park that – let’s face it – would be the GREATEST THROWBACK EVER (I.E. even I’d buy merch if it had the classic logo integrated somehow). Nostalgia sells these days – just ask the people at Busch Gardens Williamsburg who can’t keep up with demand for their Big Bad Wolf shirts…
Plus, maybe the park could get the old lighthouse to spin up and shine again.
What do you think – would you welcome a return to “Yankee Harbor” or does “Boomerang Bay” still work for you? Leave a comment below and tell me what you think:
There’s been quite a bit of chatter over those few weeks in regards to rides and attractions that could be coming down the pipeline, so I figured I’d take the time to address one in particular – Vortex at California’s Great America being next in line for a floorless conversion.
Let’s start with how this rumor even came about. Longtime Cedar Point Public Relations Manager, Janice Witherow apparently told the paper (and was printed as saying so) that, “…Cedar Fair plans to do the same with other aging coasters in its portfolio, including one next year at its park near San Francisco.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen another park spoil the announcement of a new ride…for another park. Let alone one in your own chain. That being said…
Why this would be a good idea:
1.) Standup coasters were a fad. They require two different locking systems which slows down capacity – and they aren’t the most comfortable riding position. Basically, it was throwing the adage of, “…don’t stand up on a coaster” to the wind. But that was about it. The last new standup to be built: 1999’s “Georgia Scorcher.”
2.) Also, the conversion could theoretically smooth out the ride, the second B&M ever built. It’s a marketable product with a minimal investment. Seems like a safe, economical idea. Even if the conversion isn’t that popular, it’s only about the same amount as the revamp of Planet Snoopy – as opposed to a new, $22 million hypercoaster from B&M.
Why this would be a bad idea:
1.) This is the park’s 40th anniversary. It’s been through some rough times in the past decade, but most will argue the park has emerged from the doldrums and is making strides to become a destination park. This addition (if true) just screams, “meh” to me.
But, upon further research, recent “anniversary” celebrations haven’t been very stellar or marketable at this park for awhile:
2001 – 25th Anniversary: Removal of the beloved Scenic Railway for cancelled S&S Hypersonic coaster. Addition of Psycho Mouse and used Wave Swinger from Carowinds.
2006 – 30th Anniversary: Survivor: The Ride re-named Tiki Twirl.
2011 – 35th Anniversary: Invertigo removed; three new shows; Halloween Haunt expansion.
You have to go all the way back to 1996 and the 20th anniversary season to see a record breaking or marketable new attraction in an anniversary year: Drop Zone Stunt Tower.
2.) The park’s direct competition (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom) already has a taller, faster, longer and smoother version of this ride. (Medusa). I can speak from personal and direct experience – Rougarou didn’t make Mantis much better, if better at all. It’s still rough in spots, although the capacity is slightly higher now due to faster loading. Not that we waited longer than 10 minutes to ride (Millennium Force and Maverick had hour long waits while we were there, for comparison).
Let’s just hope that if the conversion takes place, it’ll include a covered loading station…like they should have done back in 1991 when it first opened…
Now, this is ALL conjecture – no official announcement has been made – but if the park does decide to convert Vortex to floorless, they’re going to have one HELL of a time in a market that is already ultra-competitive for entertainment dollars. Plus, we haven’t even addressed that RMC rumor up in Vallejo…
In light of recent events at Six Flags America, as well as a haunted house that literally scared someone to death (albeit with a pre-existing heart condition), some people – including myself – are questioning if we’ve gone too far with Halloween. Now, before you go jumping down my throat, I’m specifically questioning the experiences being offered / encouraged (not necessarily the crowds that it attracts).
Full disclosure, us Americans tend to do two things with holidays: ruining the true meaning of them and over-doing them. Halloween is no exception. But when events begin to leave such a large psychological mark on people – to the point that some now require you sign waivers – are we really having fun, or just harming ourselves?
I actually enjoy these events – and while I don’t live for it every year, I’ve noticed a ramping up as of late with the realism…and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. For instance…some events now offer “terrorist experiences” where you can feel like an ISIS hostage, without the actual pain and suffering. How is that FUN, exactly?
Even more traditional events have felt the pressure to be more realistic. The rope drop at Halloween Haunt at California’s Great America now features a large mass of people being run after by monsters. Now, normally, I’m a big fan of this park and while I get the idea of building up the atmosphere – I’m no fan of being trampled when I’m trying to have fun.
So, are the events getting too intense for you? Or do you see it as simple, harmless fun? Keep the conversation going on our social media pages, or leave a comment below – we’d love to hear from you!
After a lengthy wait, California’s Great America finally announced their 2015 attraction – an expansion of Planet Snoopy and significant renovation of the Kidzville area.
According to the park, “…three new Planet Snoopy rides will be introduced and be in place for opening day in 2015 when Great America begins its magical 39th season. The entire area known formally known as KidZville will be morphed into the expanded Planet Snoopy.”
These rides include: Joe Cool’s Gr8Sk8, Peanuts 500 and Snoopy’s Space Buggies. Gr8Sk8 will be an interactive ride atop Snoopy’s giant skateboard with the feeling of going off the edge. Peanuts 500 lets racers zoom around the track and slingshot around the track ends, while Snoopy’s Space Buggies will lift astronauts into the air for a gravity defying lunar landing.
“Great America is known for its thrill rides, but we pride ourselves on a being a park for everyone. Enhancing Planet Snoopy and introducing three attractions parents can ride with children adds to our inclusive family atmosphere,” said Great America Vice President and General Manager Raul Rehnborg.
Sharp-eyed observers to the park had noticed a new tombstone appear in the “Ride Graveyard” section of Haunt this year – indicating the change:
This is a welcome addition for the little tikes that visit the park. The Kidzville brand had been largely unchanged since it’s introduction in 1999. The area was well overdue for a refresh, and these rides (originally from Knott’s) will certainly do the trick.
Now, there undoubtedly be some of you that say, “That’s all – first a new Pavilion area, now this?!?” but hear me out:
The Great America Pavilion has been, by all accounts – a stunning success. The park needed to re-invest in it’s own infrastructure to give a more year-round ability – and the Pavilion has done just that. It’s a new, modern facility that can attract new groups to spend their money there. It’s also a long term investment that will pay off for decades, especially with the 49ers next door.
2016 will be the park’s 40th season. (Opened in May, 1976). Traditionally, parks like to “go big” for significant dates, as it’s more marketable. An expansion / refresh of a kids area is a relatively economical new product, that sets the stage for a much larger capital investment in 2016. Park historians will recall that when Kidzville debuted in 1999, “Project Stealth” followed soon thereafter – a $17 million investment.
Also, take a look at the other recent capital investments in Cedar Fair parks: two have received entirely new entrance plazas, capped off with (you guessed it) massive coasters. California’s Great America is one of two parks in the Cedar Fair chain to not have a high capacity, long length hyper / giga coaster (non-looping, steel coaster over 200 feet tall). The park does have a height limit of 224 feet, but also has plenty of space inside the park to build on.
Let the waiting game and speculation begin!
Do you think Halloween is the best time of the year?
Does the thought of scaring, startling or shocking people get you up in the morning?
Do you enjoy sliding across hard surfaces on your knees and hands, sparking all the way?
If so, you might want to consider a part time gig at California’s Great America – they’re still hiring for monsters, zombies and maze attendants as part of their Halloween Haunt event.
As they say, the more monsters in the park, the merrier the experience will be – so apply today – and get paid for having fun!
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!
Carousel Columbia is a stunning park icon. It’s taller than Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle by 33 feet!
But, has it been living a lie for nearly four decades? No, it really is the tallest carousel in the world (by one foot).
You see, since Marriott’s Great America opened up back in 1976, its been considered fact that the base of the ornate spire on the roof is actually a potbellied stove from the 1938 film, “Marie Antoinette” while the column caps are from “The Swan” in 1956.
So, having no social life on a Saturday night, I decided to see if I could spot the future carousel bits in some photos or video online. That’s when my jaw hit the floor – which if you know me well, is ACTUALLY a possibility.
Check out these screengrabs from the Swan’s theatrical trailer, via YouTube:
While we see what looks like the column caps in the sketch here:
Look what also shows up in the actual film:
Need a better angle? Here you go:
Now, for a comparison – here’s two shots from this week (2014) thanks to the magic of a 400mm lens with a 1.4x crop sensor:
Then, I was able to find a clip of “Marie Antoinette” and saw this, what appeared to be the capstone of the columns, but not quite:
That being said, has the park been getting it wrong for nearly 40 years?
Well, that’s where it gets tough. Hollywood is notorious for re-using props and sets. It’s very possible that the props could have been used and recycled in both films. Considering the artistry that went into building them, wouldn’t YOU want to recycle them to lower costs?
So, did the park get it wrong 40 years ago – what do YOU think? Watch the trailers and check out the photos for yourself – see if you can spot a piece of Carousel Columbia!