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:
In light of the closure of Fear:VR at Canada’s Wonderland, Great America and Knott’s – after a protest from the President of the Orange County chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Health – a person who admitted he never actually experienced the attraction for himself – Great American Thrills is proud to present to you five more offensive rides that should be shut down, torn down and never spoken of again.
(If you haven’t already gathered, this is all sarcasm – please be offended if you did not get the joke already).
1.) Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Walt Disney World
Offends: Little People
As our good friend Eric the Actor from the Howard Stern Show always used to say, the correct term is “Little People.” Who thought to name a ride after seven height-challenged people, and then make then sing as if they were merry? Oh – it was a famous KIDS movie? So we’ve inoculated our children that it’s okay to say this, too?!?
2.) The Demon, Great America
Offends: Church-going folk
Sadly, this is the only one on our list that played out in real life. Turns out back in the 1980’s, people were not down with the idea of theming a coaster after a devil-like apparition that was eating guests randomly. Thankfully, people got over themselves and not only is the ride still around – but it tweets, too!
3.) All water rides
Seriously – how can you in good conscious place all that water around a log and let people float in it? What a disgusting insult to people who fear water…
4.) Gold Striker & Gold Rusher, Great America & Six Flags Magic Mountain
Offends: Mine Workers
How can either of these roller coasters accurately portray the savage life endured by miners, all in the search for rare minerals…they should be ashamed of themselves.
5.) Top Thrill Dragster, Cedar Point
Offends: Decent people
Have you seen that thing? It looks like a giant wanker. A hot dog. A gentleman’s “special region.” We can’t have our kids grow up in a world like this…
You see how slippery this slope is? If you don’t like something about a park – just do what everyone else does – don’t support it. Don’t impose your beliefs on them, it only makes you part of the problem…
Great America and Knott’s pull Fear:VR from Haunt lineups after criticism from mental health advocates
After a name change before it opened to the public and just three days of operation, both California’s Great America and Knott’s Berry Farm removed their “Fear:VR” attractions from their Halloween Haunts after mental health advocates in Southern California cried foul.
In their letter to Cedar Fair, the President of the Orange County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said, “The attraction adds to the hurtful, dehumanizing, discriminatory, prejudicial, insensitive, offensive and stigmatizing of mental illness. (We believe) it is in the poorest taste that mental illness stereotypes are being used by entertainment sources for commercial gain.”
Cedar Fair – corporate owner of both parks – issued a statement late Tuesday night:
“For nine years we have delivered unique and immersive haunted experiences to our fans and loyal guests. Our evening attractions are designed to be edgy, and are aimed at an adult-only audience. Over the past week we have heard from a number of people expressing their concern that one of our temporary, Halloween attractions – FearVR – is hurtful to those who suffer from mental illnesses. Contrary to some traditional and social media accounts, the attraction’s story and presentation were never intended to portray mental illness. As it is impossible to address both concerns and misconceptions in the Halloween time frame, at this time we have decided to close the attraction.”
For those of us who DID experience it, the consensus was clear: it WAS scary as all hell. It was a better, overall use of VR than on a coaster – because you didn’t know what to expect. It truly immersed you in the program. But – was it offensive, insensitive and stigmatizing? And more importantly, should that matter when it comes to a fantasy event like Halloween Haunt?
On the one hand – it’s a Halloween event. It’s supposed to be a little “off.” Hell, Knott’s regularly MURDERS and HANGS celebrities (in effigy) twice a night in Calico Square. Yet, you don’t hear from those who decry the death penalty or for those wanting more gun control – because everyone knows it’s fake. It’s built into the event.
I don’t remember the “hospital” in Fear:VR focusing on mental health in the storyline. We went into the room for an “ocular” exam. There was a backstory about a young girl who was possessed in some way, but it was never made clear that the facility we were at was anything more than a regular hospital.
On the other hand, is mental health a huge stigma in our society? Absolutely. Could this attraction possibly play into those stigmas? I suppose you could say, “yes” given the reality many interpreted it as. But then again, the whole Haunt experience is one big stigma / stereotype when you think about it. Are all farmers murderous, un-educated hicks? Then Cornstalkers must go. Are all clowns homicidal maniacs? Killer Klown Town has to go too – it could be offensive to genuine, circus performers. Is a hospital full of half-dead zombies going to trying and kill you if you check into a mental clinic? No, it isn’t.
Cedar Point tried a similar attraction a few year ago – and it met the exact same criticism and ultimate demise. How the company thought that in CALIFORNIA of all places that this would fly, is a question for someone above my pay grade. One must also wonder if the park’s “INsanitarium” maze might be in the cross-hairs as a result of all this activity.
The other question that I don’t think we can answer is this: Where do we stop with this? I don’t claim to have the answer – I don’t think any of us do.
Recently, a lot of people were pretty “upset” that In N’ Out Burger didn’t offer a vegetarian burger. They made a petition that got a ton of play online and loads of media attention. Yet, do you see meat eaters going into vegan or vegetarian restaurants, demanding beef? But I digress, let’s get back to the parks…
There is one thing I think that we CAN agree on: there is difference between fantasy and reality – and there’s no reality in a park’s Halloween event.
The chainsaws don’t have chains, the monsters have no magical powers and all of the blood is fake. Are we laughing at the dead, the murderers among us or the worst of our society by celebrating Halloween like this? Of course not. It’s just fantasy.
What do you think? Should the parks have shut down the attraction, or is this just a massive blow up for nothing? Let me know in the comments section below – but please keep it civil:
Over the past several years, many parks around the world have decided to remove their flume rides.
But I’m here today to come to the defense of the lowly log flume, even though they rarely defend me from their chlorinated waters.
Much like the roller coaster, the log flume has become an integral part of any amusement or theme park. Invented by Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan of Arrow Development in the 1963, the flume came about after hearing of stories of loggers riding trunks as they traversed the narrow, fast troughs of water.
But with the rise of water parks, many companies are making the choice to eliminate the flume – because of on-going maintenance and operating costs.
Here’s why they should reconsider:
- Flumes are multi-purpose:
Any good amusement park should have three different types of water rides: A spillwater, white water rapid and a flume. Two of the three are just about guaranteed to get you soaked.
But a flume is different.
Don’t want to be soaked but want to cool down? Then you go on the flume.
It’s also a great ride EVERYONE can enjoy in the family. From the kids to grandma and grandpa, you can share the experience of a log ride. You can’t do that with a water park.
- Flumes aren’t water parks:
Unlike a water park, you don’t need to change clothes to go to and from a log flume. There’s no need for a locker and they have wonderful capacity compared to a waterslide.
Guests get more bang for their buck, too – as flumes tend to be one of the longest length attractions in most parks.
- Flumes are heritage:
They were invented here, in America. In fact, they were invented less than 10 miles from where I currently type. The first one was so popular at Six Flags Over Texas, they built a second one to handle the crowds.
They suck in tons of people on hot days and provide some of the best photo opportunities for any park photographer.
Most importantly, they are part of the fabric that keeps parks together. Removing a flume is like removing a coaster these day – and every one that has been removed has been sorely missed.
Simply put, the flume deserves to be preserved – and revered.
What do you think – are the days of the log flume numbered? Tell me in the comments section or on my social media links!
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.