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Five Ways California’s Great America Can Make It’s 40th Anniversary Better

Photo by Steven Wilson

Can we talk?

California’s Great America is about to celebrate it’s 40th anniversary this year. And from the feeling I’m getting via their social media and press releases, it sure is starting to feel like the park is about to blow a major opportunity to celebrate it properly.

Yes, the park is getting a revamped 4D theater – but that’s all so far for their 40th season. A milestone season. A season many people didn’t think the park would ever get to the first place (if you know it’s history).

Maybe I’m nuts, but as a fan, here’s five things the park can easily do to make the 40th beyond just “good” – they’ll make it GREAT:

 

5.) Bring back the history museum:

One of the coolest parts of ACE’s Coaster Con for me two years ago was the opportunity to be involved in designing and curating the history museum at the park. It was hoped it would help the park do a better job of bragging about it’s history – and gave the park the excuse to dust off a WORKING model of their Flight Deck coaster.

Great America history museum

Photo © 2014, Kris Rowberry

Sadly, the very next day – it was closed to the public. All that work for less than 12 hours of total operation. If you’re going to celebrate your history – you better be prepared to be PROUD of it and COMMIT to it.

 

4.) Have roving, themed performers in the park:

Again, a highlight of Coaster Con a few years ago (for local park fans at least) was the apparent return of themed dancers and singers to Orleans Place. Even the general public stopped in awe. This piece of Marriott-era showmanship evoked Disney-like tones and really should be made permanent, rather than just used for one event and discarded.

Photo © 2014, Kris Rowberry

Photo © 2014, Kris Rowberry

 

3.) Bring back the Demon’s theming:

A sore spot with me for YEARS (Ha! It’s funny ’cause it’s an older Arrow coaster, get it?) I’ve got on at length about this before, so I’ll make it as clear as I can – the Demon MUST have it’s special effects brought back for the 40th anniversary. Bonus points if you re-create the “Turn of the Century” sign.

Demon Great America night

Photo © 2003, Kris Rowberry

Speaking of nostalgia…

 

2.) Retro merchandise in the gift shops:

Nothing is hotter right now than nostalgia – and theme parks tend to accumulate a ton of it in their lifetimes. Great America is no exception. If you’re looking for a perfect example of how to pull this off, take a gander at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, who’s most popular shirt this year – was for a ride that’s been gone for three seasons now (The Big Bad Wolf).

Busch Gardens retro shirts

Photo © 2015, Kris Rowberry

Admit it, you don’t just want a Sky Whirl, the Edge or Tidal Wave t-shirt now…

…you NEED one.

 

1.) Nix the fountains up front and bring back the swans:

Quick backstory: The fountains were added in 2001, to celebrate the park’s 25th anniversary. I think it’s time to revert the front pool to what it was originally intended as – a reflecting pool.

And what better way to class up the joint, than to bring back the elegant, trumpeter swans!

Photo by Steven Wilson

Photo credit: Steven Wilson collection, http://www.GreatAmericaParks.com

And yes, California’s Great America, I’m available for consulting – perhaps compensation via funnel cake is in order. Either way, you have my info…don’t keep me waiting.

What do you think? Are there any other things the park can do to help truly celebrate it’s 40th season? Leave me a comment below, or chat with me on your favorite social networks!


The Most Celebrated Amusement Park Insider Experiences

It’s good to know people. But it’s even better to know there’s all sorts of things inside our favorite amusement and theme parks that can make your day that much more special, IF you know them! Here now is my top six most celebrated amusement and theme park “insider” experiences as parks open up for full time operation this week:

6.) Dole Whip:

Once reserved for trips to Disney Parks, this sweet treat has been popping up at more and more regional parks every year.

The Dole Whip is heaven in a plastic cup. Don’t believe me? Try it and tell me otherwise…

Once only reserved for visitors to Disney’s Tiki Rooms, this Polynesian frozen treat is slowly making its way out from the mouse and into regional parks, to the delight of pineapple fans everywhere. If you haven’t experienced one yet – hunt it down or request it be brought to your park.

5.) The Rollback:

We ain’t talking about WalMart here…an exclusive experience to Intamin cable-launched coasters, this delightful event occurs when the launch isn’t quite strong enough to get you over the first hill, resulting in screams of euphoria from enthusiasts – and shrieks of horror from the general public.

In reality, it’s all perfectly safe and for the lucky riders, it’s like getting 1.5 rides for the wait of just one!

4.) The Round-Trip Skyway Ride:

These clowns took too many round trips...

These guests took too many round trips…

Because nothing’s better than watching all those people in line scratch their head over why you’re not getting out of your sky bucket. But, with so many of these rides being removed in recent years, plus the increase in overall park attendance (which means longer lines for rides) this experience has become far more difficult to cross off your list.

3.) The Track Walk / Evacuation:

While a rare event, a lift walk is one of the coolest things you can experience.

While a rare event, a lift walk is one of the coolest things you can experience.

A very rare event that you don’t necessarily want to root for experiencing for yourself. Why? Because it most certainly means the ride will be down for at LEAST the rest of the operating day.

But the experiencing of walking a coaster lift is most certainly a memorable one.

2.) The Last Ride of the Night:

Something about no one standing behind you in line that's really special...

Something about no one standing behind you in line that’s really special…

There is something oddly cathartic about knowing you’re the last person to experience all that fun. Well, at least until the mechanics come in tomorrow morning to start checking on things. this fun. But, until then…

And the number one most celebrated amusement park insider experience?

1.) Exclusive Ride Time (ERT):

ERT is the best benefit to being a member of ACE!

ERT is the best benefit to being a member of ACE!

The only thing better than the last ride of the night, is having the ride all to yourself or the group you’re at the park with!

Just think about it – no line and fast operations. It doesn’t get any better than that. Heck, it’s one of the biggest reasons I joined ACE!

Did I miss an experience? Do you have one to add to the list? Tell me about it on my social media channels or leave a comment below!


Thanks for the Follow, Destination America!

It’s always great to receive new followers on social media – but some, such as the one I received last evening, are very special!

Destination America follows Great American Thrills

Thanks for the follow, Destination America – glad to have you along for the ride! This tweet brought to you by Verizon Wireless 4G LTE…

Destination America is a partner channel with Discovery Communications, and would be a WONDERFUL place to have Great American Thrills show just how amazing our amusement parks are – (wink wink, nod nod) after all…we invented them!

I look forward to sharing my passion of amusement and theme parks with you, Destination America – in addition to my extensive knowledge of Talkeetna, AK ; ) Have you ever tried their pancakes?

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We’re Presenting at the San Mateo County History Museum!

Great American Thrills is honored to announce that we’ve been selected as a presenter in the San Mateo County History Museum’s “Courthouse Docket” series, exploring the rich history of the region.

Come down on October 26th at 1:00pm and see “The Next Huell Howser” – aka Kris Rowberry – show you how you can still experience some of our bygone amusement parks…today!

Who knows, you just might learn something, too!


#Hashtag Etiquette – Social Media and Your Amusement Park

#Hashtags – arguably one of the more confusing elements of social media.

For many, they’re seen as useless – for others, they’re invaluable tools for social media. So which one are they for social media and the amusement industry?

They’re actually both.

In laments terms – a hashtag is like a folder on your computer – it’s a depository for anything that uses that phrase of tag. So, if you’ve just opened up a new coaster called, let’s say Iron Rattler for example, the logical hashtag you’d want to promote is: #ironrattler. Got a halloween event coming up? Why not use #HauntCGA (If it’s Great America for instance) or #KnottsHaunt for the Knott’s Berry Farm’s event.

The whole idea behind hashtags is to get people’s attention, quickly – as well as help people discover content they’re interested in.  That’s what keeps the user engaged and ultimately through your turnstiles. Because so many social networks are adopting this #hashtag feature, it behooves you to understand what they are and how to use them properly for you amusement park:

1.) Keep it simple!

The longer a hashtag, the more often it will be misspelled. In addition, the harder it will be for people to remember. Say you want to promote a specific ride one day. Your park can post “Have you ridden #theplunge today? One lucky rider will receive a backdoor pass after their ride! #YOURPARKNAMEHERE

Then, you can watch the #theplunge tags, even if you don’t have social media management software (which you SHOULD be using, if you’ve read my previous posts HERE).

2.) Make it unique, but relevant!

Say you’ve just opened up a new coaster called, let’s say Iron Rattler. The logical hashtag you’d want to promote is: #ironrattler. Got a halloween event coming up? Why not use #HauntCGA (If it’s Great America for instance) or #KnottsHaunt for the Knott’s Berry Farm’s event. You wouldn’t want someone else to be getting web traffic because of your event / advertising campaign, would you?

Not to be a shameless plug here, but whenever we shoot our “Lost Parks of Northern California” series – we always send out social media updates using the hashtag: #lostparks. Not only is it easy to remember, but it’s also unique in that it wasn’t being used before – therefore all the content using that hashtag is ours.

A logical, simple and relevant hashtag makes search engines (and users) easier to capture.

A logical, simple and relevant hashtag makes search engines (and users) easier to capture.

3.) Do NOT make it long!

Remember that some social networks, such as Twitter – give the user only 140 characters to get your message out. A hashtag like #welcomebackspaceexplorers probably isn’t the best bet. But, breaking them up into two smaller hashtags is a better alternative, say #spacemountain #disneyland for instance.

Stick to these guidelines, and you’ll find your SEO increase as well as your interaction via your social media pages. Just be prepared to actually interact with your users – it is SOCIAL media, after all!

In my next post, I’ll discuss the top ten post ideas you SHOULD be doing at your amusement park, regardless of size.

– – –

Kris Rowberry has been following the amusement industry for over 15 years. He has curated social media accounts for several companies, totaling over 450,000 followers across multiple social channels. In addition, he is working on his latest video project: “The Lost Parks of Northern California”

Check out my other postings about Social Media and the Amusement Park HERE.


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Photo of the Day: Gold Striker at California’s Great America

After many years of becoming a park known for REMOVING rides rather than ADDING them, California’s Great America in Santa Clara, CA made a major statement this year with the addition of Gold Striker. Billed as the tallest, fastest (and certainly most intense) coaster in Northern California, Gold Striker is easily one of the top five wooden coasters I’ve ever had the privilege of riding – and should be under consideration for the Top Ten in the United States.

Despite some minor setbacks and delays in opening, mostly due to ongoing noise abatement issues – the ride is now roaring every operating day, to delighted and packed crowds.

A winner all around, this coaster is seen by many as the catalyst for revival at California’s Great America – and fans are loving every moment of it. But don’t take my word for it – check out Westcoaster’s recent review.

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Big thanks goes out 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/sets

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


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Photo of the Day: Asiana Airlines Flight 214 Wreckage at SFO

Asiana 214 wreckage. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Now, I’m a big fan of all things aviation – but to take these photos yesterday was both a sobering and ethereal moment for me.

To think of what this aircraft and more importantly, it’s occupants had been through made this one of the more difficult subjects for me to shoot.

Nonetheless, it’s important to document – to think so many people WALKED AWAY from this wreckage is simply astounding.

Asiana 214 wreckage. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Big thanks goes out 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/sets

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


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Photo of the Day: Batman – the Dark Knight at Six Flags New England

There’s nothing like a custom roller coaster layout to get an enthusiast excited. Batman: The Dark Knight is a custom designed B&M “floorless” coaster.

You got to love the facial expressions I find in these shots! Always a delight when I’m post processing these types of photos.

Batman: The Dark Knight at Six Flags New England. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Big thanks goes out 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


How Much Posting is TOO Much on Social Media?

Continuing my series on how social media can be used more effectively at amusement parks / FEC’s – just how many times should you be posting to your social media accounts on a daily basis?

Some experts feel that the higher quality the post, the less often you have to post it, while others feel that with all the filtering being done online, the more often you post, the better chances you have of actually being seen and / or heard.

The New York Times – arguably the most respected news source in the country – posts on average, seven to eight times per day. As much as you’d like to think your attraction has that much to tell the world – it simply doesn’t.*

Posting even HALF that often is enough to turn off your potential viewers. Yes, you are being filtered by Facebook and the new algorithm – but it’s not worth over-posting if most of your “likes” are going to mute your posts or worse, mark them all as spam.

If RollerCoasterTycoon had a social media option, I’d be posting a maximum of three times a day while open, once a day when closed.

Post #1: Morning, Before Opening

Post #2: Midday

Post #3: End of Operating Day

Rotate the timing of each of these posts (i.e. Don’t post a funny / cool photo each day at 3:00pm, spice it up a little).

It should go without saying, but you simply MUST be scheduling posts – to try and keep up with each post each day will ultimately drive you nuts. To assist in keeping your sanity, a scheduling software solution, such as TweetDeck or HootSuite is an absolute must! (I’ll be going into more detail on how to use HootSuite with my #Hashtag post soon)

hootsuite

Also to help with keeping up with your quota – consider “banking” photos over your operating season, as well – if you can’t find anything interesting to post about one day, use one of those banked photos.

Remember that while rides are fun, most people visit parks to enjoy the fun WITH OTHERS. Highlighting unique groups in your attraction, big game winners and specific attractions is sure to bring in more views (plus more turnstiles rotating).

Fan submitted photos are also a great (and often overlooked) way to have your social media content create itself. But, as I said in my first posting on this series – never forget that the entire purpose of social media is NOT to sell to your followers directly – it’s to start a conversation and interact with them.

Once you throw up an update, be prepared to interact with people. “Like Bait,” as it’s known, has a place on Facebook, but it will never convert those eyeballs to your turnstiles unless they can feel a connection to your attraction. For instance, posting a cool photo of your roller coaster may get 1,000 likes, but people will also ask questions, too. Each one of those questions is an opportunity to connect (and THEN sell your product to them AND all their friends).

If you’re a seasonal park, take advantage of the off-season to show all the transformative work going on behind-the-scenes. Just be aware that trying to sell a season pass in the middle of the winter with a photo of a dry waterslide probably isn’t going to go very viral. However, a video of employees sliding down said slide in a bathing suit – in the snow, now THAT’S different!)

If you’re shooting your own photos to post on Facebook, Twitter and / or Google+ (and you should be) and you’re using a DSLR (i.e. NOT a cell phone camera) adding a watermark with your website or hashtag is absolutely necessary. People will inevitably share quality or memorable photos – and with watermarked information on them, your logo and website will be sitting right there in front of all those shares for consumption.

wologo wlogo

Which one of these social media update photos would YOU want to be saved as a follower’s new computer background? (Airship Ventures, 2007 – 2012)

So, don’t fill guests (or potential guests) feeds, walls or updates with tons of info, photos and sales pitches – just nurture them. There’s no reason to go crazy and post 15 Instagram shots of your newest ride. You’ll see your following grow and ultimately see more butts through the turnstiles.

In my next article, I’ll be talking about #hashtags – what are they? How can you use them to promote your attraction / FEC?

*The only exception to this rule is when your attraction is facing a crisis situation or dangerous weather conditions.

Review my prior posts about “Social Media and the Amusement Park” here.

About the Author:

Kris Rowberry has been following the amusement industry for over 15 years. He is the creator and host of both “The Lost Parks of Northern California” and “Great American Thrills®


How to use YouTube to Combat Cell Phones on Coasters

Seems counter intuitive, right? How can the very thing that allows dangerous, illegal POV video to be so popular be used to stop it? Well, read on and find out:

Arguably, cell phones are one of the greatest inventions of the past century – the convenience of being on contact whenever, where ever. The freedom to upload photos and videos at any moment – including while guests are on your rides and attractions.

You don’t have to hear me tell you that cell phone filming on rides is an epidemic in our industry. It’s pushing insurance premiums higher and higher. A projectile of that density, loose at 65mph could be several injury lawsuits just waiting to happen, not to mention the bad publicity in the media.

Before the Gold Striker wooden roller coaster even opened to the public at California’s Great America this past month, guests were seen filming on the ride using cell phones. When opening day came, the second train of the day that featured general public passengers had three (3) cell phones out.

“But we already provide guests with storage options while they’re on rides!”

Sadly, that doesn’t matter. The mentality of guests today, specifically Millennials, is to not experience the ride they’re on, but to record and share the experience with all their friends. The more “Likes” on Facebook, the higher “Thumbs Up “ count on YouTube, the better.

 “But, it’s free publicity!” 

Yes, it is free publicity – telling everyone online that it’s okay to film on your rides – and risk the safety of everyone around them. It’s nothing a good marketing campaign of your own marketing team couldn’t accomplish (see #3).

So how then, does your park stop this major liability and potentially lower your insurance premiums at the same time? It’s actually a simple, three step process:

1.)  When it Comes to your Park’s Policies, “Grow a Pair”

Stark as it is, it needs to be said. For so many years, park guests have received warnings about what NOT to do at a park. They’ve received so many that they’ve become complacent to them. A good comparison would be to think about the last time you actually picked up a safety card in an airplane and read it. That’s the same mentality going on with your younger guests.

Also to consider – Millennials expect warnings. They’re willing to go right up to the warning and only back down when confronted. This is a generation where “everybody’s a winner,” and there’s little to no consequences to their actions. If your sign says “anyone caught with a camera on a ride will be removed from the park” then DO IT. (While deleting or confiscating the offending device.) The only way to change guests’ behavior is to show them that you mean business.

For example, Six Flags New England has a single warning sign at every high profile attraction. It reads, “Any cell phone or filming on this ride will result in immediate ejection from the park, no refunds and a 5 year ban from the park.” That gets people’s attention. In addition, all of their ride auto spiels also include a warning: “Anyone using a cell phone or MP3 payer to record while on the ride is subject to immediate dismissal from the park by Six Flags Security.”

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk goes a step further. Ride attendants actively monitor the lift hill of the Giant Dipper roller coaster via security video. If a cell phone or other recording device is seen, the ride is immediately stopped and will not start again until the offending device is put away. If the device re-appears after the lift, security is called to wait at the station, takes away any tickets or passes the guest may have and is escorted immediately off park property.

Now that you’ve taken the first steps to stem the flow of content at the source, it’s time to move onto where the content lives…online.

2.)  Actively monitor and police social media, especially YouTube.

This should go without saying, especially if you read my last post – but if you don’t watch your social media channels continuously, you’re in for a shock…

What’s your signature ride at your park? Go ahead and search it on YouTube, I’ll wait…

Okay, you’re back? Great – how many results came up? Each one of those videos are potential lawsuits from injured guests, who will blame you for allowing people to film on rides. The real scary part – these are only the videos that were tagged properly on YouTube – many more could potentially exist without proper tagging or incorrect spellings. (Not to mention Facebook videos as well.)

Remember, this is your property people are filming on. You are well within your rights as a park to have videos on YouTube flagged or taken down for safety, security or other reasons.

Use the ban as an opportunity. In the complaint, be sure to add a link to an authorized POV (point of view) video that came from the park, with a friendly reminder to not film on rides.

Some park-centric websites have gone so far as to monetize videos filmed at parks . Yes, you heard me correctly – they were filming commercially – and they paid none of your fees, had no insurance coverage AND you didn’t even know they were there. You wouldn’t allow a film crew to just wander around the park without your spokesperson, so why would you allow this?

3.)  Film (and share liberally) professional, on-ride video that you created or authorized.

Gone are the days of needing a film crew, jibs, cranes and more when it comes to making high quality video. A simple GoPro Hero with accompanying mounts will run your department about $400-$450 after tax. That’s a small price to pay to avoid millions in lawsuits.

Mount the camera on either the handlebars of the front car, or via the suction cup mount to a flat, non-porous surface. Duct tape can be used to stabilize the rig, but it’s not necessary in many cases. Never use any footage that could come across as shaky, or handheld. You’ll run the risk of having it look too much like a cell phone video; guests will be only encouraged to film on their own.

Now that you have authorized POV, post your video everywhere – not just on YouTube. Link to it via your other social media outlets – have it available for download for free (just be sure you include your personal watermark to show it’s really from the park). Have a QR code posted near the ride exit, so guests can scan it and receive a link to the video. It takes the work (and risk) of filming on a ride out of the hands of the guests – it’s already been done for them!

Combine that with active monitoring and better training for ride attendants, and you’ll see a significant decrease in after the ride and receive it on their phone. Take all the work out of guests filming and put it on yourself – you will see results quickly and hopefully, watch your insurance premiums decrease as well.

Review my prior posts about “Social Media and the Amusement Park” here.

About the Author:

Kris Rowberry has been following the amusement industry for over 15 years. He is the creator and host of both “The Lost Parks of Northern California” and “Great American Thrills®


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Photo of the Day: Boomerang at Six Flags St. Louis

Boomerang at Six Flags St. Louis. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Yesterday, Six Flags St. Louis unveiled their latest coaster in their collection and Great American Thrills was there on OPENING DAY to see what the venerable Vekoma design had in store for guests.

Amazingly, the ride is SMOOTH for a Vekoma – and the park is working diligently to improve the catch on the second hill to eliminate that traditional “thud” that’s so common on this model. The ride sits between the Tidal Wave flume, Sky Screamer and venerable Screamin’ Eagle wooden coaster at the top of the park.

Boomerang at Six Flags St. Louis. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Big thanks goes out 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


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Photo of the Day: Loose Articles under Mr. Freeze

Cell Phone carnage at Six Flags St. Louis. Photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

This is the reason that parks don’t want you to have loose articles onboard roller coasters – because this is almost ALWAYS their fate!

Cell Phone carnage at Six Flags St. Louis. Photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Big thanks goes out 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


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Photo of the Day: Bizarro at Six Flags New England

Bizzaro at Six Flags New England. Photo (c) 2013, Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Originally called Riverside Park, Six Flags New England is by definition the oldest in the chain (opened in 1840) – however, it has only been a Six Flags branded park since 1999.

One of the first major attractions added was Superman: Ride of Steel. The ride was recently re-themed to Bizzaro, complete with mist, sound and lighting effects (That weren’t on during my visit – which wasn’t a bad thing, actually.)

This coaster has won several Golden Tickets (Five in total) – and it’s easy to see why – this turn has become the de-facto “photo” of SFNE and was even featured in an episode of Family Guy! (See below)

Bizzaro at Six Flags New England. Photo (c) 2013, Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

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Big thanks goes out 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


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Photo of the Day: Roar! at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Roar at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2013, Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

When it opened in 1998, Roar! was the first modern wooden coaster to feature “Millennium Flyer” trains. Using patents and designs from the 1920’s, Great Coasters, International were able to make this version of Roar! with tighter curves and sharper transitions, simply because the trains’ were able to negotiate them better. All GCI installations since now feature these “throwback” trains.

Sadly, this coaster has deteriorated rapidly in the past few years – and is so rough, that I’d have to recommend a PASS on riding it – which is hard to do, considering it’s amazing layout and speed.

Roar at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2013, Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Big thanks goes out 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

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Photo of the Day: El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure

El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure. Photo (c) 2013 Great american Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Since opening on June 11th, 2006 – El Toro has maintained the #2 or #1 spot in the world for wooden roller coasters. With the second steepest drop in the world (78 degrees), speeds up to 70 mph and airtime hills that would make any coaster phobic just looking at them, you can see why this next generation wooden coaster ranks so high.

I swear that I caught Bubba the Love Sponge and (then) wife Heather Clem in the front row that day. Can anyone validate that claim?

El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure. Photo (c) 2013 Great american Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Consistently ranked the #1 wooden roller coaster in the world since opening. The smiles say it all.

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Photo of the Day: World of Color at Disney California Adventure Park

World of Color at Disney California Adventure Park. Photo (c) 2013 Great american Thrills and Kris Rowberry

There are theme park shows – and then there are Disney theme park shows.

Then there’s “World of Color.”

In my lifetime, the best show that I ever saw at any park was EPCOT’s Illuminations – the sight of the night sky turning to daylight for that brief moment still resides with me. I thought that memory would never be supplanted – until I saw “World of Color.” Years in the making and millions of dollars in R&D, and it’s safe to say that those Imagineers got it right…again. To think this photo was shot AFTER the show ends.

Just be sure to bring a rain jacket – a slight change in wind direction will leave you soaked.

World of Color at Disney California Adventure Park. Photo (c) 2013 Great american Thrills and Kris Rowberry

In terms of event entertainment, “World of Color” takes the cake. People will begin lining up for showings two (2) hours prior.

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Social Media and Your Amusement Park

Arguably, the biggest change in terms of marketing in the past decade has to be the meteoric rise of social media.

In the past (referred to as web 1.0), parks and attractions had fan pages or message boards that covered daily events or changes. In some cases, these outlets also promoted the park in a positive light, but that wasn’t always guaranteed.

Today (in web 2.0), parks now have the ability to schedule and control messages to potential and repeat customers on an ongoing, daily basis. Even the best television campaign could not reach such a targeted audience.

But, being relatively new to the game, many parks don’t quite understand how to use social media properly to benefit them. Sadly, in many cases, parks are shooting themselves in the digital foot.

So how then can your park or attraction avoid the most common pitfalls of social media?

1.)    Social media means just that – BE SOCIAL!

The point of social media is to start (or maintain) a conversation. Whether it’s between you and your customers, or your customers and potential customers – once a story or idea starts online it can quickly lead to revenue, if it gains enough traction and virality.

However, simply throwing up a daily update on something cool about the park is not going to reach most of your audience. Just because you have 50,000 likes on Facebook, does not mean all 50,000 are seeing your post.

Not everyone enjoys pretty pictures – some are more engaged with a “What’s this Part” or “Flashback Friday” post. Create a weekly checklist of specific post types so that you can reach a greater majority of your online audience.

2.)    Always promoting an item or product is social media poison.

Yes, we’re all looking for a quick return on investment, but consider this: If you throw away junk mail whenever it comes in your mailbox at home, why wouldn’t you do the same if presented with the same situation on your social media channels?

While a thinly veiled call to action is okay every now and then, it’s not good to fill your feed up with “BUY THIS!” in each and every post you put out. Simply put, lose the 1960’s “Mad Men” advertising jargon that we all have had been beaten into our heads over our lives, and be more, “real.”

That being said, don’t forget that your social media posts are a major (and instant) public-facing outlet that has the potential to reach millions if something goes awry.

Simply put, social media is not something you assign your seasonal marketing intern as a fun project. It should be a full-time position, as it can actually keep your audience engaged (and spending money) even in the off-seasons.

3.)    While your park or attraction may close for the night, your social media feeds don’t.

Remember that the internet is on 24/7/365. While a majority of posts are made between 8:00am and 8:00pm, that can change depending on your audience and operating hours. Responding to posts, both good and bad, in a timely manner can mean the difference between closing a sale and losing a customer for life.

In addition, the larger your social media audience becomes, the more susceptible you become to nefarious postings, such as links to pornography on your public facing wall or feed. The faster you can pull them down, the less people will have seen it.

4.)    Negative feedback on your social media feed is an opportunity, not blight.

The absolute, worst behavior a park could do when managing negative feedback on social media is to simply ignore it. There are very limited circumstances where a deleted comment or all-out ban from the page could be necessary, but if managed properly, these situations are rare.

Nothing will make an angry guest feel better than to know that someone is listening or trying to rectify the situation. Even if it’s simply re-iterating a policy that the guest does not agree with, it’s still better to show the effort to others on the feed than to delete it or worse, ignore it altogether.

5.)    Stir (and track) conversation with park centric hash tags, but don’t make it too complicated

Remember the old “Kodak Photo Spot” in your park? Hash tags are the new photo spot. Create a simple one to see what people are doing and saying in your park, along with mentions of things that people may talk about, such as new attractions.

Because you’ll be tracking mentions and hash tags, you’ll quickly discover that a good majority of your social media content literally writes or creates itself. You can share guest photos, positive experiences and interact directly with them. I guarantee they’ll want to share with all their friends and family that, “…’So and So Park’ re-tweeted my pic!” That’s social media at work.

6.)    Use cell phone photos only when absolutely necessary – have a DSLR with you.

Cell phone cameras are convenient, yes – but they have limitations in terms of quality. While it’s easy to post an update from inside your park via phone, try to resist. A higher quality photo – from a SLR style camera – will allow you to add logo watermarks back in the office. A higher quality photo will also encourage people to save it on their desktop or share it with others – where it will always be in front of them at work, home or their mobile device. And your logo is right there next to it.

Shares and re-tweets, however can be cell phone shots – as these are directly from guests. A higher quality photo automatically sets the parks’ content above the guests, so it becomes more recognizable.

7.)    Use the outlets that work the best for your skill and for your park.

While it’s not a bad idea to get your feet in the water on as many of the popular social networks as possible – beware that they all have different audiences and content requirements. Google+ tends to be a more educated, affluent crowd. Instagram requires only photos, while Pinterest is weighted heavily towards women.

Don’t try to overreach when you first start off – go with the outlets that make most sense to you and your audience. Once you’re comfortable, slowly begin to expand. Sometimes too much of a good thing is well, too much!

Review my prior posts about “Social Media and the Amusement Park” here.

About the Author:

Kris Rowberry has been following the amusement industry for over 15 years. He is the creator and host of both “The Lost Parks of Northern California” and “Great American Thrills®


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Photo of the Day: Honolulu Halfpipe at Waterworld Concord

Honolulu Halfpipe at Waterworld Concord. Photo (c) 2013 Great american Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Whenever I’m walking around a park, I’ve always got my camera ready – just in case an opportunity presents itself. Of course, at a waterpark it tends to be a bit more difficult. Not only do you have to worry about the water hitting your camera, but you’ve also got to be careful not to look like a total creep taking photos of half naked people. (Unless that’s what you’re doing, in which case please stand out so security can escort you out).

Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about that second part when I took this shot – I was working for the park at the time and in full uniform, too. “Honolulu Halfpipe” sends riders sloshing back and forth until they stop at the bottom – and simply step out to the side of the half-pipe. Great for the quick shot of “airtime,” too!

Honolulu Halfpipe at Waterworld Concord. Photo (c) 2013 Great american Thrills and Kris Rowberry

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Photo of the Day: Thunder Run at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom

Thunder Run at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. Photo (c) 2013 Great american Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Just shouting distance from both Churchill Downs and sitting between the flight path to Louisville Int’l Airport, (Then) Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom had a tough life. The park was poorly designed, owing to it’s confusing layout and bisected sections. While it WAS part of the Six Flags chain, it stood on state fair land – and had to relinquish control (and profits) of all it’s rides and attractions for two weeks, while the state fair was occurring.

When I visited in 2008, the back half the park was closed due to financial reasons. The park closed that next year.

Closed for several years now, Kentucky Kingdom park is looking to make a comeback in the next few months by re-launching without a major brand behind it. (I.E. it is no longer part of the Six Flags brand).

Ed Hart, the former park president who famously posed for this photo,will once again head operations.

Thunder Run at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. Photo (c) 2013 Great american Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Thunder Run was a highlight of the park, even in the “lean” years before it closed.

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Photo of the Day: Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Photo (c) 2013 Great american Thrills and Kris Rowberry

When you build a ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain, there’s an expectation that it has to be bigger and badder than the rest. Tatsu is definitely one of those coasters.

Built on the top of the large hill that defines the park, Tatsu is easily the most intense flying coaster built by Bolliger and Mabillard. I dare you to find a better lift on a ride – as you climb, the terrain falls below you, giving the illusion of rising much faster than you actually are!

Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Photo (c) 2013 Great american Thrills and Kris Rowberry

When it opened, Tatsu featured the largest inversion on a flying coaster – the VERY intense “pretzel loop” element.

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

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Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (Show Review)

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Yesterday evening, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom was kind enough to invite Great American Thrills™ out to the park for an exclusive preview of their latest entertainment offering – “Cirque Dreams – Splashtastic.”

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom - photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

The colors of the performance – just like the performers – are vibrant & stand out.

This program is unlike anything we’ve experienced here at a Northern California park – it’s very glitzy and the production value is VERY high. If you were a fan of the “Marriott Era” of entertainment offerings at, say Great America, or the quality of shows that Disney parks offer – then this show will bring back good memories for you.

It also sets a very high precedent for entertainment offerings in the coming years at all the Bay Area amusement / theme parks. (I.E. You’re on notice!) Unlike many other shows at parks which are produced in-house, Cirque Dreams – Splashtastic is a partnership between Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Cirque Productions.

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom - photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

There are seven individual performances in all, this one featuring a hula loop artist.

If you’ve ever been to a “cirque” style show before, you’ll see many of those elements in the program (we can’t really call this a show – it’s much more than that). The program features a showcase of talents, that as the park says, “…combines the grace, power and agility of our bottlenose dolphins and the amazing spectacle of of true performance artists…”

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom - photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

If you don’t feel out of shape after looking at this, you must be one of these two performers!

As you would expect, the entire program is themed with an aquatic flair to it. Costumes mimic sea life, actors are adorned with prosthetics to give them a more “fishy” quality and the entire amphitheater (formerly Dolphin Harbor Stadium) is adorned with colorful graphics strewn about the facility.

There are seven parts to the show in all, each with their own featured characters and skills on display. During pre-production of the show, nearly 300 acts auditioned to be one of those seven featured performances.Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

The pace is good and the program keeps moving for the most part with no real lag time. During the human performances, the dolphins show off their stuff as well, including a particularly entertaining dolphin hula hoop behavior that you’ll simply have to see for yourself.

The show was created, produced and directed by Neil Goldberg, an acclaimed Broadway director who also founded the Cirque Dreams troupe over 20 years ago. In other words, this guy knows what he’s doing.

“Our goal was to complement the personalities of the dolphins and performers through playfulness…and unparalleled showmanship,” said Goldberg. “It will be one of those unique, memorable entertainment attractions rarely experienced.”

I’ll be posting a full, exclusive interview with Goldberg later this week.

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2103 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Colorful characters abound in this production – the first for a Northern California amusement park.

The only thing that I can find wrong with the show, is that it has a limited run – just from Memorial Day Weekend though August 11th. But in a way, that works – it makes it a limited engagement, so the performances are better and more special to those who witness them as spectators. It’s quality over quantity, and something that most parks would not think twice about.

I’ll be posting a full interview with the Creator and Director of Cirque Dreams Splashtastic, Neil Goldberg, later this week.

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2103 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

The dolphins are not always at center stage, unlike how most aquatic shows tend to be – rather, they work in tandem with the performers to create a sort of serendipity on stage.

For now – get your plans in now and get out to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to experience this one of a kind piece of amusement park entertainment – it’s certainly worth the trip.

As always, Great American Thrills™ would like to thank those who made this post possible: Neil Goldberg, Nancy Chan, Lee Munro as well as the entire staff and crew of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Cirque Dreams – Splashtastic!

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2103 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

The entire cast takes a bow at the end of the program – to a standing ovation no less – during the first public performance.

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Top Five Most Terrifying Amusement Park Mishaps of All Time

You see it all the time come the summer months, “Killer ride injures passengers,” “Man dies after roller coaster ride.” Heck, search, “roller coaster accident” on YouTube, and you’ll find no shortage of videos – mostly of rides undergoing a “safety cut out” where all trains simply stop where ever they are in the circuit.

While these “stories” are mostly media spin, incidents have and still do occur – however many are a direct result of disobeying park rules and regulations. With that being said, here now are the five most terrifying (actual) amusement park mishaps:

5. Happiest Place on Earth?

Monorail track is not an alternative to the front gate.

Monorail track is not an alternative to the front gate.

Disneyland has certainly seen it’s fair share of problems over the years. Nine people have been killed in the park (although officially they all died ‘on the way to the hospital, as no one ever dies in Disneyland‘).

Seven of the nine deaths can be directly attributed to disobeying park rules or trespassing. Two have drowned in the Rivers of America. An employee who wasn’t aware of her surroundings was crushed in the “America Sings” Theater.

But the one we’ll focus on is the story of Thomas Guy Cleveland, who at 19 years old, had the brilliant idea of getting into the park via the monorail track.

Amazingly, he scaled the 15 foot track, avoided the 240V power line and began his trek to get into Disneyland immortality.

When security spotted him – naturally he began to run down the beam to avoid them. What he didn’t realize, was that they were trying to warn him that a monorail was approaching and that he should jump off the beam.

He didn’t jump off – and he didn’t get into the park for free, either.

This is certainly not the first time that someone has been killed jumping fences or at least trying to at an amusement park. This kid is lucky he still has life after diving into Jurassic Park: The Ride to retrieve his lost hat – while the ride was running. Not the brightest bulb in the set. Even if you’re not a fan of amusement parks – this video will make you cringe.

It just proves – you can’t stop stupid – no matter how many fences, gates and signs you put up.

4. Perilous Plunge – Knott’s Berry Farm, CA (2000-2012)

Perilous Plunge was plagued with delays, malfunctions and modifications in its' 12 year run.

Perilous Plunge was plagued with delays, malfunctions and modifications in its’ 12 year run. (Photo by Knott’s Berry Farm.)

When it opened in 2000, Perilous Plunge was the tallest, fastest, steepest (and wettest) flume ride in the world.

It was also the most temperamental advanced water ride of its’ time, requiring complete computer control and even a magnetic braking system built into the base of the ride to stop it in the limited space available for a splashdown pool.

During a special event at the park, a woman somehow slipped out of the ride’s lap bar restraint system on the drop, killing her instantly. Investigators believed that because she was so overweight, her mass shifted violently in the steep drop, causing her to fall out.

The boats on the ride were later modified with 5-point racing harnesses as additional restraints – then converted to standard, over the shoulder “horse collar” restraints. The entire attraction was scrapped in late 2012 for future expansion.

3. Crystal Beach Cyclone – Ontario, CN (1927-1946)

Traver's most successful of his "terrifying triplets."

Traver’s most successful of his “terrifying triplets.”

The most famous of Harry Traver’s designs, the Cyclone was and still is considered to be the most intense roller coaster ever built. With speeds approaching 55 mph and g forces in excess of +5, there aren’t many steel coasters today that can pull that off. (And the Cyclone was wood, with a steel lattice structure.)

Considering the ride ran for nearly 20 years with only a single fatality was mind boggling – how it happened is even more head turning (Literally).

Turns out in 1938 – on opening day of the season, no less – Amos Wiedrich allegedly stood up to take his coat off, after the ride had begun. Because he was out of his seat on the first drop, he simply fell out from the forces. To ad insult to injury, he was hit seconds later by the train he had been riding in when it came back around through the circuit.

Oh, did we mention this was the only roller coaster in history to have a Nurse’s Station at the exit? (Apparently it was all for show, but considering the damage this ride could have done, it may have been a worthy investment to keep the insurance down!)

2. Action Park “Cannonball Run” – Vernon, NJ (1985-sporadically into 1996)

Someone apparently thought this was a good idea.

Someone apparently thought this was a good idea.

Yes, you heard me right, looping water slide. Long before parks were marketing 45 degree pitched slides as “looping” Action Park in New Jersey had them beat with a bona fide vertical looping water slide.

According to most reports, the ride was open for one month in the summer of 1985, then was opened sporadically through 1996, when it was eventually torn down.

By principle, it *should* have worked – but that wasn’t the case…ever.

Concussions, abrasions and the possibility of being stuck in the slide were all risks people were willing to take to get on this ride – well, that and allegedly $100 bills that park management bribed them with to try it.

You can read a first hand account of the ride from someone who actually experienced it here.

On a related side note – Action Park (and many of it’s “groundbreaking, people breaking” attractions) was closed in 1996, and re-opened as Mountain Creek Resort in 1997. All of the non-conforming (i.e. unsafe) rides, including the looping waterslide were destroyed – with newer, safer ones replacing them (Though, that’s up for debate).

1. Lightning – Revere Beach, MA (1927-1933)

Revere Beach's "Lightning"

Revere Beach’s “Lightning”

The last of Harry Traver’s infamous “Terrifying Triplets” – Lightning was so twisted, most riders could not handle the brutal forces exerted on them.

On the second day of operation, a young girl was somehow ejected from the ride and died after hitting the track below. According to lore, the ride was shut down for 20 minutes, “…so they could remove the body.”

That’s right – the ride was back up and running after only 20 minutes. Odds are, the line increased quite a bit, too.

Back in the 1920’s it wasn’t unheard of for a ride to become more popular after it killed someone. Today, we have a bit higher standards and regards for our personal safety, thankfully.

Roar! at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA

Roar! at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA

Sharp eyed coaster fans will notice that both the Lighting and Cyclone first drops have a modern counterpart. Both the “Roar” wooden coasters at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Six Flags America share the similar first drop with Traver’s triplets.

So, will we ever see another Crystal Beach Cyclone, or looping water slide? At the rate safety technology is going – I certainly wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility. Just look at how far we’ve come in just the past 90 years!

And there you have it – ten of the most terrifying amusement park mishaps of all time.

It should be noted, that while awful and scary as some of these incidents are, they are also an infinitely tiny minority of the total rides taken over the course of history.

Many of these instances occurred before the advent of safety regulations, government oversight, understanding of g-forces or restraint technology.

The odds of you being injured at a modern amusement park are actually lower than when you are driving to the park itself. So be smart – obey the park rules and you’ll have a fun and safe time!


The Arkham Haunted Mansion

Gotta love this take on the famous “Stretching Room” in Disney’s Haunted Mansion. THis one is themed after the Batman saga and features Harley Quinn, The Joker, Poison Ivy and Batgirl.

Gif art and artwork by Abe Lopez.

Gif art and artwork by Abe Lopez.

Fun fact: The stretching effect is achieved two different ways at Disneyland and Disney World. One has the ceiling rise, the other has the floor descend. Can you identify which one is which? Leave your guess in the comments section below!


REVIEW – Halloween Haunt 2012 at California’s Great America

First off, my apologies for the delay in updating lately. Unlike some others in the theme park fandom community – I actually hold down full-time employment in a separate career…

In only it’s fifth year of existence, California’s Great America has taken their “Halloween Haunt” from a paltry offering that used “long retired” mazes from other parks – to a bona fide, macabre extravaganza worthy of a separate gate admission.

After parking the car and meeting up with my group for the night, I immediately noticed the attention to theme and detail. Carousel Plaza was lit up (and so were the teenagers I was surrounded by).

In Hometown Square my fellow “scared-y cats” and I gathered, awaiting the Overlord (the de facto leader of the monsters) to rise up from the depths and “plug” all the fun activities for the evening (literally as if he was plugging a product on the Howard Stern show) as well as command his minions to go forth, “…and terrorize!” The ropes were dropped and the night of fright officially began.

HAUNTED ATTRACTIONS:

Figuring the front mazes would be crowded at first, I made my way to the back of the park, where the familiar sounds of “Toy Factory” could be heard.

“Toy Factory” is set in it’s namesake – a not so abandoned factory inhabited by deranged dolls and other toys, who were more than willing to help unsuspecting guests join their ranks. Some of the best effects are found in the the strobe rooms, but if you’re claustrophobic – this is not the maze for you.

“Werewolf Canyon” was sadly at the bottom of my list this year, mostly because it was practically empty by all standards. While most of the mazes will will up nicely as we get closer to Halloween, I didn’t get one good fright out of the entire attraction – which is a sharp contrast from last years maze in the same location.

Next up was arguably the best of the mazes at this event, for several years now, “Cornstalkers”. Set in the back of the park, through the Picnic Grove and under the Grizzly, this maze had the best scares of the night, by far.

Not only does it feel like the longest of the mazes, but it’s use of open air and lack of soundtrack gives you the false sense of safety – which the talent in the maze use perfectly to their advantage. The addition of actors blending perfectly into the corn maize walls towards the end of the attraction adds to the suspense and fright.

“Madame Marie’s Massacre Mansion” is a new addition to the maze lineup this year. Built into it’s own building (ironically next to First Aid) “Mansion” is one of the best themed mazes I’ve walked through in quite some time. It also commanded the longest line of the night.

It was clear there was attention to detail at every level – it truly made you FEEL as though you were in a 1920’s (or so) mansion, that is, if you didn’t look up to the ceiling and see the shed you were actually in! This is in sharp contrast to most of the mazes at events like this, where it’s just painted particle board.

The effects were nothing short of impressive and the costumes were excellent, to boot. It’s clear that this maze took some serious investment to get it right – and in my opinion it was well worth the time and effort put into it. One can only hope we see it return next year.

Vegans beware! “Slaughterhouse Annihilation” just might make you sick. Based around an abandoned meat processing facility, this maze is one of the more gruesome of the bunch – and rightfully so. Expect to be thrown in a meat grinder in this maze at some point – and whatever you do – don’t show the pigs any fear!

“CarnEvil” is the reigning patriarch of the mazes at this event. Originally a maze down at Knott’s Berry Farm, “CarnEvil was the first maze to make it’s way to Great America when the Halloween Haunt debuted five years ago.

This maze is by far, the most light-hearted of them all, which attracts the multitude of fans to it. That is, of course, if you’re not afraid of clowns.

Built into the Rue le Dodge bumper car arena, “CarnEvil” is also a 3D maze – used to brilliant effect in the opening room. Just don’t walk too quickly or you just might run into a wall or three.

Herein again, I found the lack of talent inside to be the only disappointment. At previous events, it would have been impossible to throw a pie and NOT hit a homicidal clown. Instead, I was hard pressed to see more than 7-10 actors inside!

“Club Blood ReVamp’d” was sadly the one maze I was unable to get to in my time at the park. Though, from the scantily-clad zombie and vampire ladies that were going inside – I’m certainly regretting not making the time to get in!

As the night progressed and the temperature dropped, the scare zones (and the fog) only warmed up in terms of action. The purposely dimmed lighting certainly did its part as well. Nothing beats walking through the arbor arch at the back of the park and seeing about three feet in front of you!

ENTERTAINMENT:

“Blood Drums” is a high energy, outdoor show that’s best described as “Stomp” meets “zombie apocalypse.”

Set in the premium venue at the park (directly behind the Carousel Columbia) “Blood Drums” is a 3-4 member band in full zombie attire that uses metal objects and “industrial tools” to create music.

If you’re into loud, ear-splitting music – this is definitely the show for you. If you’re not – steer clear, hombre. Many times, I found myself reaching to plug my ears, as the volume was up so high it physically hurt – and I was standing about 100 feet away from the stage. How the guests standing at the front of the stage are not deaf today, is beyond me.

In fact, the best music the team played during their set, again in my opinion, was when they TURNED OFF the backup bass and drumbeats – and simply played live.

“CULTure Pop” is in the Showtime Theatre – and can best be described as “The Hanging” without the blood, stunts or punch of the actual hanging.

Cedar Fair Entertainment certainly seems to have a fascination with pop culture, to the point of being painful to watch. Expect to see pop culture “icons” appear throughout the show, with many of them that just don’t work. Cedar Fair also seems to have a fascination with effeminate men playing the supporting role to the “straight man” in the show…go figure.

There were some good moments though, including a cameo by a hairy “Honey Boo Boo” and a dismissal of the band, “New Direction.”

But the lack of a “finale” (I.E. someone has to die at these types of shows) and several VERY adult themed dance numbers (We’re talking full on groping and humping!) really hurt the overall entertainment value, especially for an event marketed to kids ages 13+. Have your scantily clad ladies, that’s fine – but tone down the sexual overtones – it’s shock value and really does not add to the show.

But what REALLY shocks me, is something that’s completely out of the parks’ control – the lack of understanding about what these events are all about. I’m talking about how I lost count of the number of STROLLERS and CHILDREN who were clearly too young to be at such a mentally-intense event as this.

The park certainly does their part to curb this; warnings abound on park literature and signage. Heck, even the security guards were warning parents – but it didn’t seem to dissuade the “Parents of the Year” from continuing their march towards the inevitable child psychologist appointments.

So, overall – I see nothing but good things for this event in the future. While it may not have the star power of the original Halloween Haunt at Knott’s Berry Farm, if it continues on this path that it’s on, I see no reason why it should not have the same staying power and clout as it’s namesake does.

If you have not already purchased a Season Pass for this park, what exactly are you waiting for? In addition to admission to Halloween Haunt (depending on the level of pass you purchase) you can receive free parking, free admission to Gilroy Gardens, as well as merchandise and food discounts in-park. (We saved $20 collectively on our dinner!)

Oh, not to mention Gold Striker, CGA’s first roller coaster in over a DECADE (yes, it’s been that long, people) and second wooden coaster!

Top Tips:

  • If you don’t like being scared – save yourself the trouble and don’t go.
  • Friday nights tend to be a younger crowd than Saturday nights.
  • Arrive at the front gate at opening to maximize your stay. You’re going to need as much time as possible to experience everything.
  • Take on the outdoor mazes AFTER the sun sets, focus on indoor mazes during the twilight.
  • Try to find the pockets of people and then avoid them – to keep lines to a minimum.
  • Go in late September or early October to avoid the expected, larger crowds as Halloween approaches.

For more information, visit: www.cagreatamerica.com/haunt2012