The world's most authentic roller coaster and amusement park expert!

Posts tagged “carousel

Carousel Columbia at California’s Great America is a part of Hollywood

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:

Carousel Top 2

 

Look what also shows up in the actual film:

Carousel Pinnacle The Swan

 

Need a better angle? Here you go:

Carousel Top 3

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:

Photo by Kris Rowberry

The pot bellied stove that sits atop Carousel Columbia

Photo by Kris Rowberry

The two Hollywood props that make up the ornate detail of Carousel Columbia.

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:

Can you spot one of the caps from Carousel Columbia in the background?

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!


North Korea’s Great America?

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? Well, sometimes it’s not flattering – it’s just blatantly ripping off. Case in point: Kaeson Youth park in North Korea. Now, I’m pretty familiar with both entrances to the two Great America’s here in the United States (they were built as twin parks after all, back in the mid 1970’s…) They both feature a unique, double-decker carousel, which is actually just one carousel with two individual decks.

World's Tallest Carousels

Santa Clara’s (left) and Gurnee’s (right) nearly twin carousels. Santa Clara’s is a foot higher, but the perspective is off due to non-matching focal lengths. Photos © 2008 & 2013, Kris Rowberry.

And apparently, someone who was allowed to make decisions in North Korea was familiar with the (almost) twin carousels, too. So much so, they decided to pluck it . The similarities are just uncanny – and with the worn-down look of the Korean park, it’s downright EERIE:

Kaeson Youth Park Carousel Columbia

This is why knock-offs are never better than the original – no matter what the price!

Kaeson Youth Park Carousel Columbia

At least they got the staircases right – albeit, they put them in the front instead of the rear…wait – where IS the front?!?

This just goes to show the impact of Randall Duell’s design – a ride as iconic as Carousel Columbia was actually copied (albeit badly) thousands of miles away. Just don’t get me started on the abnormally long first drop of the coaster next to it – that’ll be for another post!


Reaching for the Brass Ring

Odds are, you’ve heard the phrase, “reach for the brass ring” at least a few times in your life. Heck, there’s even a website with the same theme.

But, I’m willing to bet a Fast Pass that you probably don’t know where the phrase originated – turns out, it’s amusement park related and it’s also one of the greatest pieces of nearly lost Americana.

In fact, according to the National Carousel Museum, there are only 12 places left in the United States where you can still, “reach for the brass ring.”

A carousel brass ring machine is similar to a lottery – catch the lucky ring on your ride, and you usually got a free re-ride. Only come up with a steel or iron ring? Just toss it into the (insert open mouth item here).

Reaching for the brass ring at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Reaching for the brass ring at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Once a staple of every carousel (just like a live band organ), the ring machine slowly feel out of favor with most parks.

Ring machines are generally a pain – literally. Anyone caught not paying attention could be in for a nasty surprise if they leaned outward at the wrong time. Plus, there’s the toll the rings take on the horses, themselves. Ring throwers aren’t always the most accurate – and ricochets also take their toll on the wooden carvings.

In addition, while brass is certainly beautiful, it has one minor flaw – it’s incredibly malleable. (Easy to bend and shape). So, while it’s great for making rings, it’s even better at jamming ring machines when they eventually deform from wear and tear.

With higher insurance premiums, threats of litigation and soaring maintenance costs – most parks opted to remove the finicky machines in order to cut costs.

Even the Santa Cruz Boardwalk , seen today as a champion for amusement history and preservation, removed its ring machine back in the 1970’s. As a result, ridership plummeted 50%.  Needless to say, the ring machine was back up faster than you could say, “Welcome back, riders.”

But, for the parks that have kept this great tradition alive – it’s worth the sacrifice. For the riders, it’s just another reason to visit these traditional parks.


Image

Photo of the Day: Looff Carousel Ring Machine

As the last of the great seaside amusement parks, visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is like literally stepping back in time. It is home to not one, but TWO national historic landmarks (The 1911 Looff Carousel and 1924 Giant Dipper roller coaster.) Both of these federal landmarks are unique, in that people can actually ride them, rather than admire them from a distance.

This shot was one of my first forays with the stunning Canon 5D Mark III – and the results were simply spectacular. Look for the cut on the finger from the previous pass at the ring machine…now THAT’S dedication!

Looff Carousel at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Photo (c) copyright 2013 - Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

The 1911 Looff Carousel at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of only 5 left in the world with an operating ring machine.

As always, a big thanks to my friends at BorrowLenses for allowing me to capture such beautiful photos with their gear.

Interested in purchasing / using some of my photos? Check out my 500px: http://500px.com/GreatAmericanThrills

View my videos on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/GreatAmericanThrills

Follow me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GreatAmericanThrills

Tweet me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/krowberry

+1 me on Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/1/115502587437263155125/posts

Follow me on Instagram: http://instagram.com/krowberry


Image

Photo of the Day: Carousel Columbia at “Blue Hour”

Carousel Columbia at California's Great America. Photo (c) copyright 2013 - Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Quite simply, this is one of the best long exposures I’ve ever taken. Done with a Nikon D7100, 24-70mm lens and NO tripod – just stayed as still as possible. Columbia is still the World’s Tallest Carousel as recognized by Guinness World Records at just over 101 feet tall.

Carousel Columbia at California's Great America. Photo (c) copyright 2013 - Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Still the tallest carousel in the world, Carousel Columbia makes for a stunning subject at night. Now, if only all the accent lighting were working…

As always, a big thanks to my friends at BorrowLenses for allowing me to capture such beautiful photos with their gear.

Interested in purchasing / using some of my photos? Check out my 500px: http://500px.com/GreatAmericanThrills

View my videos on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/GreatAmericanThrills

Follow me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GreatAmericanThrills

Tweet me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/krowberry

+1 me on Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/1/115502587437263155125/posts

Follow me on Instagram: http://instagram.com/krowberry


Featured Post on BorrowLenses Blog

Hey everybody!

I was just featured on the BorrowLenses.com blog, giving away some of my Top Ten Amusement Park Photo Tips. (Hint – use a nice camera and have tons of patience!)

You can find the link to the blog post by clicking here:

Featured Story on BL Blog

Or using this hyperlink:

http://www.borrowlenses.com/blog/2013/04/top-ten-tips-for-amazing-amusement-park-photography/


GAT Introduction Video!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you our first compilation video – welcome to the introduction to the concept of Great American Thrills!

Hope you enjoy it!


Park Preview: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

1001 Fairgrounds Drive

SFDK's logo is unique among the rest of the Six Flags chain

Vallejo,CA 94589-2001

(707) 644-4000

www.sixflags.com/parks/discoverykingdom

Brief History:

Originally started as an oceanarium inRedwood Cityback in 1968, this hybrid park has not forgotten its roots as an educational outlet for the animal kingdom. Today, hundreds of species of birds, fish, tigers, sea lions, dolphins and orca live at the park, giving guests a stark contrast to its larger thrill rides.

Built next to the bay along Redwood Shores, Marine World was a small oceanarium whose mission was to educate as well as entertain. In the mid 1970’s, the park merged with the fledgling Africa USA fromLos Angeles. By doing so, it infused many more species of animals that guests could only dream about seeing on an African safari.

Rising land prices eventually forced the park to search for other locations and found one at it’s current site,Vallejo,CA. Today, the park has grown quite a bit since its inception. There are now eight roller coasters to its colorful collection. However, the park keeps a firm hold on its mission to provide a thrilling, memorable experience while taking away a greater appreciation of the animal world.

The Three Areas of Six Flags DiscoveryKingdom

The park has recently spent several million dollars upgrading the interior of the park, most notably in themeing each third of the park for easier navigation. For the casual visitor, this makes navigation much more simple.

Land This area is where most of the animal species reside in the park, and is the oldest section of the park. Don’t miss: Odin’sTemple of the Tiger, Elephant Encounter, Giraffe Dock and the Butterfly Encounter.

A quick side note on the Butterfly Encounter: if you’re not a fan of flying insects or extremely squeamish, I suggest you just visit the gift shop. Butterflies (although perfectly harmless) grow quite large in here and can get very friendly with guests. Plus, they don’t like being swatted or smushed.

Sea Home to most of the park’s aquatic species, attractions here include:

Sea Lion Stadium: Let Odin & Seasil bring smiles to everyone’s face with their wild and wacky antics.

StingRayBay: Pet a real Sting Ray.

Dolphin Encounter: See and feed Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins.

Walrus Experience: Them tusks are big!!!

Penguin Encounter: These adorable flightless birds show their true talent, “flying” through the water.

For the thrill seekers, three of the park’s coaster’s reside here:

V2– Vertical Velocity: A unique inverted shuttle coaster, it takes passengers from 0-70mph in just a few seconds through a barrel roll and then backwards up a vertical spike. The ride will perform three “circuits” before coming to a stop back in the station.

Roar: A throwback to the classic wooden twister coasters of the 1920’s, Roar is a powerful and intense wooden coaster that is not for the faint of heart.

New for 2012 is the completely unique Superman, Ultimate Escape. Concept art courtesy of Six Flags.

Superman, Ultimate Escape (OPENING SUMMER 2012): Discovery Kingdom shocked the coaster world in late 2011 with the surprise announcement of this prototype attraction from Premier Rides, the innovator of the linear induction or LIM launch. While the park already has a LSM launching coaster in V2, Superman is a complete circuit coaster complete with a NON-inverting loop.

Sky – Aptly named area of the park; this is where you’ll find most of the larger thrill rides in the park, literally right up front.

Boomerang: Shuttle forward and backward through three mind bending loops. This coaster is very intense – all the inversions (loops) are one after the other, with only a small pause in-between.

Medusa: The park’s signature attraction; riders are whisked 150 feet up, only to flip through eight different inversions, all while riding above the track, with no floor below! Don’t look down, she could turn you to stone…

Kong: This inverted coaster packs a punch not many other coasters can. Five dizzying inversions will leave you speechless; it’s all done while hanging below the track!

Where to Eat – 

Besides the usual theme park fare found in the food court (which is located just past the games areas) the park offers several unique food options to parks, including: Gordon Biersch Oasis Club, Panda Express, Johnny Rockets, Subway and a Cold Stone Creamery.

Six Flags recently began an “Online Meal Voucher” program, which claims to save you both time and money by purchasing your meals ahead of time, and redeeming your vouchers for food the day of your trip. Although innovative, I’ve found it really doesn’t save you much time. The only way it really saves you money is by preventing you from eating more food at other locations.

This is a good idea for those who love to have everything planned about their trip well ahead of time. (Even what you may feel like eating that day!) Be advised, if you feel like eating something else when you’re at the park – there are no refunds or exchanges on your meal vouchers.

Plans – 

Thrill Seekers:

It’s not very difficult to find the major coasters here, as they stick out predominantly on the park’s skyline. If the park looks or even feels crowded, the best course of action is to hit every major coaster as if you’re circuit training. Start at one end of the park, and work your way to the other. If time is a significant issue, consider investing in a “FlashPass.” For $15 per person, you can reserve your space in line, while you visit other attractions. When your predetermined time comes up, simply enter through the “FlashPass” entrance and your wait will be significantly reduced if there’s a wait at all.

Families with Children:

When you arrive, make sure to pick up a park map and show schedule. Try to convince the kids to save the rides until later on in the day and see every show you can. Your kids will thank you when they get to play tug of war with an elephant. (Spoiler alert: The elephants have never lost!) Another must-see show is the Shouka Spectacular. If you want to stay dry, stay away from the lower bowl of seats. The kids on the other hand, should experience what it’s like to be hit with several hundred gallons of cold salt water at least once in their lifetime. Try to keep the rides to a minimum until later in the day, when most of the shows are no longer scheduled. If you have time flexibility, be sure to check out Thomas Town and Looney Tunes Seaport. This can also be the same plan used to tackle the park if you’re bringing grandkids.

Other Tips – 

When walking to or from the parking lot, be mindful it’s a long ½ mile walk. To get the juices flowing at the start of your day, you should make the walk to the park from the lot. But definitely wait for the tram when you head back out, no matter how long the line appears.

Once inside the park, jet on over to the all-day use locker pavilion past Guest Relations and behind the funnel cake restaurant. Make sure to bring along anything you might want for the rest of the day, to avoid the long trip back out to the car and back. This includes pants and a sweatshirt if the weather is expected to be cool later in the night. This way, you’ll have more time and energy to spend in the park, rather than walking back and forth that ½ mile to your car and back. These time-costly trips can easily take 30 minutes away from your day inside the park.

Final Tips – 

If at all possible, avoid visiting this park on weekends during the summer as well as during any Cheerleader Competition or live concert by Lake Chabot. The park can be quickly overwhelmed with people and crowding can become an issue in smaller pathway areas.

If you’re a fan of being scared or really love Halloween, be sure to experience Fright Fest. Zombies take over the midway, haunted mazes pop up inside the park. You might even catch an authentic “freak show.” This spooktacular event begins around 4p.m. each October operating day and is not recommended for those under 14 years old. You have been warned!

Also, make sure to try and visit during the winter “Holiday in the Park” event, as this is one of only two parks open for significant periods of time in the winter here in Northern California.


The Day Finally Arrives!

It’s here! It’s here! After all your pre-planning, hype and waiting – the big day has finally arrived! You’ve walking up to the entrance right now and you’re ready for a day of fun and excitement. But, like all good theme park fans, you’ve also got a plan to execute. It starts with when you’re going to refuel your body…

“When should we eat?”

The traditional eating times (11am – 2pm, 5pm – 7pm) are some of the best to ride the park’s bigger and more popular attractions. If you can offset your meals by a few hours you’ll find yourself going on more attractions and having much more fun.

Your host is no fan of "extreme water effects"

Water rides traditionally get large lines during the hottest part of the day. If you don’t mind it being a little cooler, you can hop on these attractions just as the park opens. Night time or the half-hour before closing is also a perfect opportunity to tackle the water rides…but just be mindful that you might be driving home a bit moist!

“What should we ride when?”

This can vary with each park, and when you visit. Check out each individual park’s section for a more detailed plan on tackling the, “big ticket attractions” of each park. General rule of thumb is that the newest, latest and greatest ride is best to ride at the start or very end of the day.

Should I purchase a season pass or just purchase my tickets at the gate?

Season passes are best to purchase at either the very start or very end of the season. (Photo illustration by Six Flags, Inc.)

A season pass is a good idea only if you’re going to visit the park multiple times a year (or are planning a trip to several parks in a national chain).

One of the best ways to save time and money at amusement parks is to check their website. Most now offer the option to purchase discounted tickets online, which will almost always save you money versus paying for tickets at the main gate. Be sure to also check if any promotions are being run, such as bring a soda can in for discounts.

Well, there you have it. The complete pre-planning guide to all theme parks, regardless of location. If you follow these steps and suggestions, you will not only save yourself money, but also get more for your money.

With all that generic planning complete, let’s now take a weekly look at the California parks, starting in the North and working our way down South…

Be sure to check Great American Thrills each week for these updates. You can even send us your ideas or thoughts too via WordPress!


Staycation Planning Beings NOW!

With gasoline expected to hit $5 a gallon this summer, it’s no surprise that that smaller, regional theme parks will see a significant jump in their attendance this year, while the larger, destination parks will see a hit (a la 2008, when gas spiked over the summer as well).

The difference between these two scenarios, however is the cost and fragility of the economy. Sure, we all want to give our families a good time, but in the back of our heads, we’re all still worried if our job is going to be there when we return from our vacation (Funny story – back in 2009, I went on vacation and returned to find out I had been laid off…so I know what I’m talking about here.)

So how then, does a family of four save money at their local amusement park while not skimping out on the experience?

Our host on the Looff Carousel in Santa Cruz

Our host on the Looff Carousel in Santa Cruz

Plan ahead.

Sounds simple, right? but when you’ve got a few caffeine-filled kids running amok down the midway, it can be difficult to pace yourself. So start your planning NOW for trips, especially if you plan on driving any significant distances to visit a theme / amusement park.

I calculated that back in 2008, when gas was (at that time) a record cost, I ended up SAVING the amount I spent in gas for my 1400 mile road trip just by thinking ahead and purchasing season passes “with benefits,” most notably, a parking pass.

Because I visited several parks owned by the same chain, I never once paid for parking or admission at full price.

So with prices as low as they’ll be at the start of the season, my first tip to save you money at your local park is to seriously consider those season passes, especially if you’re planning on staying close to a park this year. It could save you a ton of dough! Don’t forget about adding extras too, such as meal plans or parking. Yes, it’s more money up front, but consider this: it’s an investment in six months of fun up front. Spread that out over that time and you end up saving money over paying for items (such as parking) individually.

In my next post…

“Is packing sandwiches in the car REALLY saving you money on theme park food?”