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Posts tagged “great america

Log flumes are worth keeping around

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.

Arrow Development Log Flume Prototype

Photo credit: Nancy Bacon-Francks. Used with permission.

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 still very popular; this is an hour-long wait for Logger's Run at California's Great America.

Flumes are still very popular; this is an hour-long wait for Logger’s Run at California’s Great America.

  • 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.

Logger's Revenge at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

  • 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.

There is no better place to snap a funny photo than the log flume...

There is no better place to snap a funny photo than the log flume…

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.

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What do you think – are the days of the log flume numbered? Tell me in the comments section or on my social media links!


Taste of Orleans Festival at California’s Great America Serves Up Food, Spirits and Nostalgia

 

Great-America-Taste-of-Orle

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:

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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:

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The lighting has turned Orleans Place into it’s namesake – and we couldn’t be happier!

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:

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Note the fireworks in FRONT of Flight Deck…

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Fireworks line the Rue in Orleans Place and surround the audience a la a Disney show.

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.

Photo credit: Kris Rowberry

Street performers dance in front of the newly re-themed “Trending Now” store.

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:

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A live marching band continued their show atop the Consulate’s balcony, much to the delight of the crowd below.

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.

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The stilt walking ladies were already popular; when they started giving away beads they were MOBBED!

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.


Mass Effect New Earth Opens at California’s Great America Review

After several weekends of “beta testing” California’s Great America officially opened “Mass Effect: New Earth” to the general public today.

So, did the park finally “dial in” the attraction?

In a word…yes.

Mass Effect 2

Photo credit: California’s Great America

I’ve written about the ride experience previously, but that was based on the “beta” experience. Thankfully, the park took feedback from guests and made many of the necessary adjustments to make the experience even better. (Still need more shade in the line, though!)

Photo credit: California's Great America

Photo credit: California’s Great America

Speaking with the people who worked on the attraction after the “first ride,” many of them had been on the project from the initial concept nearly 18 months ago. You got the sense talking to them that this experience is just the beginning for this technology.

But don’t take it from me – see it for yourself:

Even the CEO of the company who created the over 4K display screen told me, “We could have pushed the envelope even further.”

Further? I’m not sure how much more realistic it could be. Remember, this is the same technology that was supposed to debut for Michael Jackson’s “This is It” tour – and the tech has only become better since then:

Photo credit: California's Great America

Photo credit: California’s Great America

With all the sound channels now perfected and all the effects now working – Mass Effect: New Earth is worth a trip to California’s Great America.

However, I do echo the sentiment of at least one other reporter, who mentioned in their review that while gamers will love this ride and understand it top to bottom, but those who have not played the series may have a difficult time discerning what’s going on in front of them.

As much as video game people like to think otherwise, it’s still a niche marketplace and doesn’t have the mass appeal that say, “Star Tours” or a “Star Trek” themed ride would have. A bit more background and storyline in the queue would certainly help that.

Overall though, I think we’re looking at a solid new attraction for a park that needed it, and it just might the ride we look back on a few years form now and say this is where the amusement industry stepped up to the tech plate and started a truly digital revolution.

You read it here first, people.

For more information on “Mass Effect: New Earth,” visit: www.CAGreatAmerica.com


Mass Effect ride at California’s Great America Review (Soft Opening)

California’s Great America this “soft opened” their latest offering: a 4D holographic experience called, “Mass Effect” – themed after the popular video game series from Redwood City, CA based Electronic Arts.

After being lucky enough to experience it for myself this past weekend, does it live up to the pre-opening hype?

Well, yes…and no.

If you are a fan of the video game series or a serious tech nerd, this will probably be a mind-blowing experience for you. The amount of technology behind the screen alone is unlike anything that has been placed inside an amusement or theme park – ever.

But, if you’re not really into “geeking out” on technology, or playing the video game that inspired the attraction, you may end up passing on this attraction if the line is too long.

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Let’s begin with the positives:

Upon walking inside the theater, you might think the screen up front is a prop – but no – that’s a massive LED screen you’re looking at. The resolution is incredibly high and feels like you’re looking at real pod bay doors.

A live actor / actress at the ship’s helm instructs you to place all loose belongings in the ample area in front of your seats, which are bundled 4-abreast. That captain will stay with us throughout the ride.

When you sit down, you’ll immediately notice the first bit of the 4D experience – vibration synced to sound effects – as your ship goes through pre-flight checks. It definitely adds to the realism.

After placing on our 3D safety goggles (which ALL real commercial flights have you do, of course) we embark on our space journey to a resort. The holograms are VERY impressive and are even customized for the park, which is a nice touch in an era of generic attraction films.

The experience plays out much like other motion simulator experiences – a fairly routine flight suddenly has everything go wrong – and guests are soon wrapped up in a fight for their figurative lives. Along the way, the film is accompanied by appropriate visuals, sounds, feelings and smells.

Yes, SMELLS. Suddenly, Soarin’ over the World has some decent competition…

Of course, the good guys eventually win and we limp to our original, intended destination, albeit a little worse for wear.

In the main gift shop at the front of the park, you’ll find Mass Effect models, jackets and even a custom display case – which really stands out from the rest of the generic stuff the park currently offers.

So, what could the park do better before officially opening the ride to the public later this month?

There were some moments where I had trouble following the action on-screen. It moved too quickly in spots for my taste and the audio was tough to process at points, especially coming from the holographic interface.

The capacity for this ride is going to be bad, period. The cycle lasts four minutes and thirty seconds, and only one side of the former Action Theater was renovated. Translation: expect to wait in long lines on the busiest days. Speaking of waiting…

The outside queue has no shading in a majority of the switchbacks (some of which were added anticipating larger crowds). If you plan to get in line before 4-5:00 p.m. this summer, expect to be out in the direct sunlight until you get to the final grouping section.

Why this park is so adverse to shade structures, I will never know. It would be nice to get that shade up, especially if they’ve already anticipated long waits with that extended queue.

No shade means you'll need to hydrate before taking on this long line.

Note the level of misery on those waiting in the un-shaded queue. And this was a mild day…

There are some things to look at in the line, but not much, considering the subject matter. Original plans called for a line with tons of plexiglass in it, but after seeing what guests already do to Star Tower’s windows and Gold Striker’s wooden queue, those plans were thankfully abandoned.

Also, the unique seats that hide all the fun 4D effects have one noticeable feature that’s missing – a restraint.

Take that, CalOSHA!

It turns out that the motions of the seats are not violent enough to warrant a restraint system, such as a seatbelt. Only time will tell if this becomes an issue with guests who try to exploit this and ruin the ride for others. I hope it doesn’t occur. But if it does – you heard it here, first.

I was also let down by the exit from the ride. Before, it housed an arcade with a myriad of games. This weekend, it was just empty. While it was a soft opening (and not everything may be finished) I do hope they fill that space with actual gaming consoles, so that guests can experience the game that inspired the ride they were just on.

Despite the potential for guest stupidity, lack of shade and taking into account this was only a soft opening, Mass Effect is still a VERY GOOD and SOLID attraction for California’s Great America.

But, it’s not 40th anniversary GREAT.

Yes, it is a much needed refresh of an under-utilized and outdated motion theater – and yes, Cedar Fair spent a LOT of time, effort and moolah to spruce it up. All are admirable coming from a park that most people had written off just four years ago.

However – at the end of the day – it is still just a motion theater.

Mass Effect at California’s Great America is fun and worth a trip to experience for yourself. But as a “repeat ridership” attraction or “destination ride,” I cannot see it having the pull that Gold Striker did in 2013 or that the Joker at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom will become when it opens later this month.

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Did you experience “Mass Effect” yet – if so, what did you think? Tell me in the comments section below or on our social media links!


California’s Great America Announces Massive Capital Investment and Retail Project

How long have we heard that California’s Great America doesn’t have anywhere to expand? “The park is landlocked – there’s nowhere for them to go.” And what about, “Cedar Fair doesn’t care about this park – they want to sell it.”

Well, this aught to shut up the naysayers…

In an unprecedented announcement on Wednesday, the park announced that it has applied for a rezoning from the City of Santa Clara, which will allow it to add significantly more attractions with less red tape, intends on purchasing the land on which the park sits on and will build a massive retail and entertainment complex near the front gate of the park.

CGA fans, get ready to drool:

Photo credit: 1590 KLIV-AM (Used with permission)

Photo credit: 1590 KLIV-AM (Used with permission)

To think this was a park that looked like it was about to close just a few years ago – now look at all the new stuff that’s planned and proposed…

The official notice from the City of Santa Clara, announcing the proposed change in zoning

The official notice from the City of Santa Clara, announcing the proposed change in zoning

There’s a lot of verbiage to get through, but here’s the most important part (in my opinion). Long time fans of this park may recall the proposed “Front Gate” project during the Paramount era, before the land was converted into two office towers. Well, long time fans, your patience has finally paid off:

CGA Entertainment District

This gives the park a major, strategic advantage over it’s competitors – no other park in Northern California offers this sort of experience. If it reminds you of Knott’s Marketplace, Universal CityWalk or Downtown Disney – that’s no mistake.

And for fans of the park itself, they didn’t forget about you, either. The rezoning will allow the park far more flexibility in building new attractions – and it’s all spelled out, here:

You read that right - 6 MORE attractions proposed OVER 200 feet tall. Need a towel?

You read that right – 6 MORE attractions proposed OVER 200 feet tall. Is your jaw on the floor, yet?

Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet also told those in attendance that any change in the use of land would have to first be approved by the City of Santa Clara AND Cedar Fair – which all but ensures the park will be around through 2074.

So, CGA fans – who’s ready to watch their park transform into an entertainment destination? Tell us in the comments section below or on our social media links!


California’s Great America is Staying Put

Photo credit: Kris Rowberry

As the sun rose on it’s historic 40th anniversary this morning, the fate of California’s Great America still seemed very much up in the air.

With a pending sale of the land it sits on and confirmation from our own investigation that several members of the Santa Clara City Council have entertained redevelopment proposals – all of which called for demolition of the park – it seemed that we would soon be watching our 39th Lost Park in the Bay Area.

However, there is some potential, good news to report. Speaking to the San Jose Mercury News, park General Manager, Raul Rehnborg said that Cedar Fair, “…intends to keep and grow the park exactly where it is through the year 2074.” That’s when the current lease on the park expires.

He added that there is no more debating the park’s future – they are here to stay. You can find the full article, here.

I’ve written at length here before about why Cedar Fair should’t and wouldn’t let this park go – so it’s great to hear directly from senior management that this is indeed, appears to be the case. We’ll now look forward to the actual sale proceedings from the City of Santa Clara come this June and official statements from the park as well.

What do you think of this news – are you excited or still not convinced the park is staying? Let me know in the comments section or on our social media links!


California’s Great America’s Winterfest forgot New Year’s Eve

Yesterday, California’s Great America made their official announcement on Winterfest – a holiday-themed event that will extend the season nearly to the end of the calendar year.

And yet, the park appears to have missed out on a major marketing and event opportunity…New Year’s Eve.

For decades, the South Bay has tried to find its identity, beyond the shadow of San Francisco. For those of you not from the area, it’s actually a big deal to South Bay people, especially considering we’re the larger population area. One only has to look at the coverage for the recent Super Bowl for evidence of that. San Francisco also has a tradition of a massive fireworks show at midnight to commemorate the New Year.

In sharp contrast, the South Bay does not have a marquee New Year’s Eve show. Instead, we have to remind our residents not to shoot their firearms into the sky.

So, it was a bit shocking to me to see in the park press release yesterday that Winterfest festivities will end the day before New Year’s Eve, which this year falls on Saturday night.

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Are you catching my drift yet?

Simply put – how can you put on a first-time holiday event and not throw a New Year’s Eve celebration – especially if you’re already open the day before and more importantly, in an area DESPERATE to find such a tradition? Just imagine for a moment: an evening of fun capped off with one of the coolest new traditions in the South Bay – falling into 2017.

Wait, what?

You heard me right. New York says they “drop the ball” in Times Square, when in reality a computer controlled winch slowly lowers that ball down a flagpole. Why can’t California’s Great America use the park’s tallest “flagpole” – Drop Tower – and give 24 lucky people the opportunity to leave the ground in 2016, and “drop in” to 2017, all at the stroke of midnight?

But Kris – how are you going to ensure they drop precisely at midnight?

Easy! The ride has a manual mode – which allows the operator to release the cabins manually from the ground. When the clock strikes 12, all they have to do is push the button on the control panel and wheeeee here comes 2017, complete with fireworks going off in the distance (or even better – off the top of the tower itself).

And here’s the best part – the 24 seats could be auctioned off, with the benefactor being local charities.

Okay Kris, but what if the weather isn’t conducive to riding Drop Tower and what about families who may want to come? (I.E. rain and wind)

No problem – you simply move to the other “ball drop” – or in this case – “ball raise” – the Star Tower. It’s enclosed, also able to do manual modes and breaks down maybe once every other season.

That same auction could take place, albeit with more participants – and anyone can ride (with chaperone, of course).

To me, this seems like a no-brainer, probably because I proposed this very event all the way back in 2003. I was much younger then; a wide-eyed, new employee of the park who didn’t understand how corporations worked. The idea never made it past the suggestion box and I didn’t make it past my second season.

Nonetheless, if you’re going to make a new event stick in this industry, you have to go big that first year to make it beyond memorable. Otherwise, it won’t warrant additional capital for the next year and worse – people won’t come back.

Discovery Kingdom did it their first year by bringing in the world’s largest Christmas tree – what will CGA’s big selling point be?

To sum up – without a New Year’s Eve celebration to cap it off, Winterfest at California’s Great America isn’t really as good of an event as it could or more importantly SHOULD be.

Oh and since I’ve been giving away so much free advice in this article, CGA folks – you may want to A.) just hire me to do this full time for you or B.) check out several other ways how you can score big points for your 40th anniversary.